Days of Nights

in search of dark skies

Category: culture (Page 1 of 3)

Graham County AZ

I needed 3 days to camp out over the weekend before I headed for Tucson Mountain Park. I thought about Cochise Stronghold to the west in the Durango Mountains. But first I needed to empty my tanks and get gas and I would have to go to Willcox for that. Doubling back to Cochise did not seem practical. And the sites in the National Forest did not contain enough information to make me feel confident in this destination at this time. Dispersed camping on BLM land right off the highway on the way to Safford at a lower elevation made more sense. There was snow on the top of Mount Graham. And I found out there is an astronomical observatory up there managed by the University of Arizona. There is a visitors’ center at the Eastern Arizona University Discovery Center in Safford. They were not open on the Saturday I went into town. Interesting stuff going on around here. Cotton farming. Many churches. Not a bad location.

Chiricahua National Monument AZ. Rocks, Weather, and Culture.

Bisbee AZ

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Pima County AZ.

Two nights instead of three. Still left me a full day to explore this area. Its center is the old Empire Cattle Ranch. Cows from three different companies still graze the grasslands. Empire was organized in 1874, though an existing ranch was here probably much earlier. Nothing about what was going on here before that is related in the interpretive material. This was Apache homeland. They created problems for the European-Americans by trying to protect their territories and resources. “Renegades” they are called. Geronimo and his family among them.

I am impressed by the variety of the landscape here, notable among the trees that grow here. The grasslands are populated by mesquite. Around the springs and the waterways that flow from them are large cottonwoods. And up one wide wash are stands of big spreading Arizona white oaks. They grow up the hillside in smaller sizes. Reminds me a lot of California.

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Pima County AZ.

After a week of Phoenix and Tucson and spending a large chunk of money on truck repairs, it was time to retreat and park myself for awhile. No driving. No spending money. Buenos Aires was just what I needed. In addition there are very dark skies and I stayed to watch the lunar eclipse. This became an experiment in managing my water resources. I ran out of fresh water in the trailer and maxxed out the gray water both on the 9th day. I had an extra 12 gallons in the truck and drew of 5 of the gray water into a separate container. There are those who scatter their gray water in the bushes. I am not doing that. So practically speaking, the way I do things, I am good for 8 days. Which includes doing dishes twice daily, a light laundry, a body wash, and washing my hair.

This area is 10 miles from the Mexico border so there is a lot of Patrol activity. White SUVs along the roads, including driving through the refuge, and overhead aircraft, F-15s, surveillance jets, and helicopters.

The nearby town of Arivaca is interesting. It has been here since the 1700s. Formerly had its day when mining was going on about 100 years ago. Now being populated by artists, humanitarians, and tourists. Just outside of town is the unique La Siesta RV Park. Steve has been theme-ing it with vintage travel trailers. Nice park. Nice guy.


Lazydays KOA

Steward Observatory

Flandrau Planetarium

Department of Anthropology. Haury Building

I decided it was about time to have my truck serviced. I haven’t had anything done to it since I left Salt Lake City in August. There are two Toyota dealerships in Tucson. I picked the closest one to where I decided to stay, Lazydays KOA. KOA is pricey but it is convenient. Dealerships I know are expensive, but I don’t know any mechanics in Tucson. This gave me opportunity to visit the campus of the University of Arizona and pick up my prescription at CVS. The repairs on the truck involved ordering some parts and could not completed in one day. I was able to secure an extra night at the trailer park. And my service representative at Toyota provided me with a free rental car. In addition the dealership gave me a ride up to the university and back. I am not used to this kind of service. That’s part of what you pay for.

I made a visit to the offices of the International Dark Sky Association and was warmly received by one of the directors, John Barentine. We had a lengthy discussion, mainly about light pollution, but some serious astronomy as well. It was very gratifying to be talking at this level. I am not the only crazy person in the room.

Picacho State Park. Pinal County AZ.

To take advantage of the University of Utah Women’s Basketball games at Arizona State and the University of Arizona I parked myself at Picacho Peak State Park for four days. 70 miles north to Phoenix on Friday. 40 miles south to Tucson on Sunday. $30 a night with electricity and free hot showers in the bath house. Utah won both games.

A heretofore unknown bit of history is commemorated here. In April of 1962 the army of the Confederate States of America was pushing westward to eventually secure a Pacific Coast stronghold. The army of the United States of America moved in to block their progress at Picacho Peak. A gun battle ensued in which 3 USA soldiers died. The CSA retreated and abandoned Tucson. On the way to Tucson the US Army encountered a blockade of 600 Apaches. In order to get to the precious spring water the Army brought out the two Howitzers they were carrying and started blasting away at The People who were protecting their homeland. 66 People died. Their leader Mangas Colorado was taken prisoner and executed. American history. Every spring there is a re-enactment of the white soldiers’ skirmish, not the Peoples’ massacre. According to the text of this plaque, some people still believe that the formation of the Confederate States of America was a good idea and those who waged war on the United States of America were heroes.

Reasonably dark skies considering the location. Stars visible to 5.5 with these old eyes.

A cloudy then rainy day on Saturday. I made a decision the start the charcoal, and then the precipitation started. I went ahead anyway. Why waste a good fire? Cutting up vegetables and cooking them in a cold, persistent rain. Food preparation has become rather important to me.

Theodore Roosevelt Lake Recreation Area. Gila County AZ.

Yavapai County AZ.

towards Sedona

Humphrey’s Peak


Verde Canyon Railroad. Clarkdale

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot facing north

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Well National Monument

Wet Beaver Creek. Montezuma Well National Monument

After visiting these three ancient dwelling sites I feel a much deeper connection with the landscapes, both terrestrial and celestial. When I set up a new camp I try to determine true north and identify prominent features of the horizon. If Polaris is visible at night then I can adjust my intuitive daytime guessing. My morning yoga routine is done facing north. If I am going to be stargazing in my lounge chair I try to have it facing south. Sources of light pollution force me to adapt. From this site even with light glow from Phoenix I was able to see stars down a magnitude of 5.3, the Milky Way, Praesepe, and Coma Berenices. For the first time in many years I have been able to witness the brightening of the variable red star Mira in the constellation Cetus. An added treat is Jupiter and Mars rising before sunrise, followed by a thin crescent moon, and Saturn and Mercury. Very nice.

There is record of human habitation in the Verde Valley for 13,000 years. The so-called Sin Agua people who built these stone dwellings apparently migrated from the south 1500 t0 2000 years ago. They farmed along the rivers growing corn, squash beans, and cotton. They were excellent weavers and pottery makers. They abruptly left the area about 600 years ago for unknown reasons most likely to higher elevations to the northeast. The people who claim to be their descendants say they will some day return.

The People of the Verde Valley now are the Yavapai and the Apache.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Lincoln County NV.

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