Author Topic: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona  (Read 1226 times)

JFanaselle

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Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« on: November 26, 2017, 08:10:10 PM »
As some of you already know, my parents moved from So Cal to the southeastern part of Arizona about a year and a half ago. I've been out there to visit a half dozen times, and had managed to do some light exploring in my "commuter car" during those trips. But I've always been dying to bring the Xterra out there and do some real exploring. Well, over Thanksgiving weekend, my two brothers and I finally had the chance to make that happen!

The area they moved to is called Sierra Vista. It's a city of about 45,000 people that sits in Cochise County, south of Interstate 10, about 10 miles north of the Mexican border and 50 miles west of the New Mexico border. It's about a 15 minute drive from both Tombstone and Bisbee, if you're familiar with either of those two towns.

So we started out right where they live, near Army Base Fort Huachuca. We traveled south on State Highway 92, up into the Huachuca Mountains to the Montezuma's Monument Overlook. From there, we continued west into the Coronado National Forest.

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If you notice the small white dot in the sky in the second photo, it's known as a Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS. It's essentially a drone blimp that is connected to a 14,000 foot long rope that is launched from Ft. Huachuca to monitor the border. It's primary purpose is to utilize radar to detect small aircraft entering US airspace over the mountains from Mexico, but it is also equipped with tons of visual surveillance cameras. It is rumored to have cameras so advanced, they can read license plates and see drivers' faces on vehicles traveling along Interstate 10, which is over 30 miles to the north. Here's a close-up shot of it from my parent's house, using my 600mm lens:

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We traveled about 20 miles deep into the mountains on a dirt road before we came upon a small recreational lake known as Parker Canyon Lake. The lake is managed by the forest service, and features a boat launch, marina store, and first-come/first-served campground. As you'd expect on a holiday weekend, the lake was packed, so we didn't stick around long, but I did snap a photo as we dropped into the valley and saw the lake.

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After circling the lake and checking everything out, we proceeded south along some dirt forest roads toward the Mexican borer. Our plan was to spend most of the day traveling about 45 miles (on dirt) to the southwest to have lunch in Nogales, then take paved highways back into Sierra Vista. The roads and the countryside are so beautiful in this area. It's prime ranching territory, with tall grasses as far as the eye can see and a few scrub oak trees sprinkled in.

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The further southwest we traveled, the more ranching activity we came across. We stumbled upon this cool windmill at a watering station:

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JFanaselle

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2017, 08:12:52 PM »
We continued moving southwest, and somehow ended up inside the property limits of a ranch known as the PO Ranch. The ranch owners came along and weren't upset at all. They welcomed us to the area and gave us some advice on the best way to get where we wanted to go (we were equipped with maps from the ranger station, but there were TONS of roads in the area). We moved along and started to spot tons of wildlife. My understanding is that turkey hunting season is in full swing in this area. We spotted a group of 16 wild turkeys that were quite lucky that we aren't hunters.

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After chasing the turkeys around and photographing them for awhile, we continued along our journey. We traveled west through the San Rafael State Natural Area, which is essentially a massive former private ranch that used to be known as the Greene Ranch. It was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in the 90s and converted into an open space preservation area. The land is beautiful, but it was kind of a bummer that everything was so "locked down." As you'd expect in an area managed this way, there weren't many roads or areas to explore. In fact, most areas were closed off to ALL use, including hiking.

We skirted west along the border, eventually coming into the former town of Lochiel. This townsite has some interesting history. It was originally founded in the mid-1800s by a group of Mexican ranchers. In the 1870s, the town was starting to grow. It served all of the ranches of the San Rafael Valley, as well as the nearby mining operations of Duquesne and Washington Camp, which were a few miles west in the Patagonia Mountains. A smelting operation was constructed for the mines in 1881, along with several stores, saloons, a brewery, a butcher shop, and a boarding house. The town was originally named Luttrell, after the businessman/doctor who ran many of the local businesses. About 400 people lived in the town around this time, and most of them worked in the nearby mines or at the smelter. In 1884, a wealthy cattle rancher established the San Rafael Ranch (which later became the Greene Ranch I referenced above, and then became the nature preserve) and convinced the postmaster to change the name of the town to Lochiel, which was the name of the Scottish homeland of the cattle rancher. A few years later, the area was surveyed by the USGS and it was discovered that half of the town was in the United States, and the other half was in Sonora, Mexico. The town was split in two (the Mexican side became known as La Noria), and an international border crossing was established. Throughout the 1900s, the border crossing consisted of a chain link fence gate with a padlock, and had minimal operating hours every day. There was a customs house on the US side and one on the Mexican side. The crossing remained active until the late 1980s, when it was shut down for good. The abandoned US customs building is still standing, but is not accessible without crossing private property, so I wasn't able to access it. However, there is a really awesome red adobe one-room schoolhouse in the town, which dates back to around 1904. Today, only a few people still live there, and as I mentioned, the border crossing is no longer operational. There's a few cool photos of the border operation in the 1970s and 1980s in this old article: http://tucson.com/news/local/photos-lochiel-border-station-in-s--s/collection_c9cb079a-997d-5d7e-b69d-4a02c7da5a98.html#1

Unfortunately, we were running low on time, so I didn't take many photos here, but the school house sure was awesome!

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The town also features a monument to honor the first European explorer to ever enter what is now the state of Arizona (and the first European explorer to travel west of the Rocky Mountains), named Fray Marcos de Niza.

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From Lochiel, we continued west into the Patagonia Mountains, passing through the old operations of the Duquesne and Washington Camp. Again, because we were short on time, I wasn't able to explore the area much. I'll definitely be traveling back to this spot and exploring many of the old mining works around the area. According to the topo map I was using on my tablet, the area was littered with old buildings, mine shafts, and potentially mining equipment.

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We traveled through the Washington Gulch and well up into the Patagonia Mountains, where we spotted a bunch more deer. Much like the Huachuca Mountains before we entered the San Rafael Valley, this area was so beautiful.

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« Last Edit: November 26, 2017, 08:54:35 PM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2017, 08:12:59 PM »
Did I mention we spotted a bunch of deer?  :D This particular one posed nicely for us and let us take her picture.

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After we dropped back out of the Patagonia Mountains, we entered an area known as Kino Springs, which featured some interesting houses and a golf course. We aired back up, and proceeded into Nogales to find ourselves some awesome Mexican food. We decided to try a taco truck that was parked under a freeway overpass, and the food did not disappoint! After finishing up lunch, we proceeded to take Arizona State Highway 82 to the northeast. We passed through the town of Patagonia (interesting little place), and then through the town of Sonoita. Apparently Sonoita is known as the wine country region of the area, and is the location of many vacation homes of wealthy Arizonans. Eventually, Highway 82 connects with Highway 90 before continuing east to Tombstone, but we took the 90 south back into Sierra Vista and back to my parents' house. Along Highway 82, just west of Sonoita, we spotted a herd of antelope that were taking a rest.

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After dinner that evening, we enjoyed our day trip so much, that we decided to head back up into the Huachuca Mountains to get some night shots of the city lights. My parents live right at the base of an area known as Carr Canyon, which is essentially a steep canyon that ascends from about 5000 feet (the elevation of their home) to about 10,000 feet. There is a road that will take you most of the way up into the canyon, but it ends at about 7800 feet at a wilderness boundary and you have to hike the remaining distance to the peak on foot. We weren't about to do that, but we did get some great photos from the highest places we could take our vehicle. I added some labels to one of the photos, so you can get an idea of the location of the different towns in the area.

In the final image, the orange glow on the far left is light pollution from Tucson, which is about 80 miles away. In both of the two final photos, you'll also notice a double red light in the the sky toward the upper-left of the images. That is the TARS blimp hanging out at around 12,000 feet above sea level.

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« Last Edit: November 26, 2017, 09:07:47 PM by JFanaselle »

EJsarus

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2017, 10:20:15 PM »
amazing shots joe!

those turkeys though..... makes me want to head over there right now!!

beedee

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2017, 09:42:35 AM »
I feel like a broken record each time I reply to your Excursion Pix, because all I can say is WOW!!! Thanks for taking the time to share the pix and stories Joe!

Jayrat

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2017, 10:10:38 AM »
Awesome as always Joe
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RBduffer

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2017, 10:16:00 AM »
I feel like a broken record each time I reply to your Excursion Pix, because all I can say is WOW!!! Thanks for taking the time to share the pix and stories Joe!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Yeah, what Beedee said.^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

I would not have guessed the size of the mine timber, if not for your rig offering perspective.  Well done, and thanks.
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ShockBlue_Scott

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Re: Thanksgiving Trip Report - Southeast Arizona
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2017, 02:37:34 PM »
Those are some amazing pictures. I love living out here and what AZ has to offer as far as wheeling and just being able to get out and explore. 
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