Days of Nights

in search of dark skies

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Whitewater Draw. Cochise County AZ

Three days to camp out before I could get into Chiricahua National Monument. Only 12 miles from the RV park. Moving day in the pouring rain. Relatively easy set up. But the mud is horrible. Like brown cement. Any amount of walking outside results in large heavy clumps on the boots. Developing a strategy for keeping mud out of trailer. Remove the boots in the truck, scraping the mud off with the machete. Remove the clogs on the trailer steps scraping the mud off on them, and wearing the slipper socks exclusively inside.

There are according to the literature 20,000 sandhill cranes wintering over here. They spend the night in the water, then fly off in the daytime to feed in nearby agricultural fields. They fly in v-formations with as many as 60, keeping up a noisy conversation amongst themselves. They are very large birds with long necks outstretched and their long legs trailing behind them. Their summer home is Alaska and northern Canada. Quite an unexpected and awesome experience.

There are other birds around. Ducks, swallows, and the one vermilion flycatcher I spotted. A hawk spent his days perched on a utility pole down the road from my camp.

I made another trip into Bisbee to see if my mail had arrived from Pahrump. It had not. Also an opportunity to pick up a few groceries I had failed to plan far enough ahead for.

Saturday morning I was up before sunrise to drive over to the main viewing area to observe the cranes before they flew off. Very foggy. Only one group was close enough to actually see. They were many others beyond visibility that were very audible. The birds prolonged their departures and left only in small groups.

The day was sunny but it was too muddy to do anything outside around camp. Cooked inside. A large of number of cranes appeared in the field across the road. Gunshots from beyond startled them suddenly and hundreds took to the air all at once. Amazing. I had the place to myself for two nights but some campers pulled in the afternoon. This area could easily accommodate a couple more.

A great sunset that evening, and an equally impressive sunrise on Sunday. And then hitching up to move up to Chiricahua.


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.

Patagonia Lake State Park. Santa Cruz County AZ.

This was an unscheduled stop on my way to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. I started out emptying my waste water and filling up with fresh at La Siesta and having a long conversation with Steve. I stopped in Nogales for gas and groceries. I was a bit behind where I had wanted to be, but that was all right. Two sheriff’s vehicles sped by in quick succession. One of them created a road block up ahead. There was a bad accident further along and the highway would be closed for several hours. Wow. Where to spend the night? Fortunately I was right at the road to Patagonia Lake State Park. In my research I remember this having campsites for $30 a night. It was Monday so maybe I would be lucky. Otherwise I would drive back to La Siesta and pay $25 and use more than $30 worth of gas. Well there were two sites available for a trailer. It was a decent spot, with electricity and water. I sprayed the inside of the trailer when I connected the water because the kitchen faucet had been turned on. Oh well the floor needed mopping. The only casualty was a box of baking soda which I don’t use anyway. There is a lake with boat ramps and a swimming beach. Trees. Mostly mesquite but a few pines. In the morning I made use of the free showers. On my way out I made the acquaintance of one of the two Escape owners parked nearby. They are both traveling together. The one I spoke with are from Kelowna BC. The others not home are from Washington. Now I was on my way.

The road accident was a head on collision that killed the drivers of each vehicle. I passed the scene near milepost 18. The pavement was blackened and the roadside shrubbery was charred. A state employee was taking pictures.

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.

Seligman AZ. Route 66.

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