Friday, March 25, 2005

Among Silent Volcanos

Most of spring break I spent working around my house, organizing things, cleaning up the yard, doing laundry and the like. The weather was wonderful -- typical springtime in Tucson -- with daytime highs in the 70's and nice 50-degree nights. The time of year when you don't think about the heat, or the A/C, or what to wear when you go outside -- it doesn't matter much, it's that perfect time of year when everything is in thermal equilibrium and outside becomes inside... or vice versa. Arizona really has an outdoor climate (8 months of the year).

Sabkha and I toyed with the idea of doing a trip the last 3 or 4 days of break. New Mexico looked tempting, but I decided it was too far. Sabkha is also a liability when exploring new places: who wants to drive 3 hours and find a "no dogs allowed" sign at the trailhead? Often, dog rules are poorly posted and inconsistent. Just in time, my friends Matt and Nadin called soliciting advice on where to go camping for a few nights. I rattled off a number of options: Atacosas, Fresnal Canyon (west side of Babaquivori Mts), Superstitions, Chirichuas (Onion saddle, or elsewhere- so much in the Chirichuas!), Galiuros... Last year I was considering starting up a decorative rock quarry with Erik Flesch. I did some scouting trips, both with (ironically) fellow GVSU geology graduate Robert Graves of Safford. The second trip (in early spring 2004) was to the Little Dragoons, just north of I-10 and the Cochise Stronghold, popular multi-pitch climbing area (where I did the fairly easy 6-pitch Moby Dick about 3 years ago). I met Rob and his g-friend Lisa at The Thing (tourist trap on I-10 an hour east of Tucson). We drove up into the Little Dragoons, past some menacing looking no-trespassing signs along the edge of an operational mine. Next to the mine, lo and behold, was a decorative rock business! We explored the Little Dragoons and ended up working our way on backroads up to the Muleshoe Reserve at the southern end of the Galiuro mountains.

The Galiuros have a curious place in Arizona geology and topography. They are a sneaky range, hidden between two relative towering giants: the Santa Catalina-Rincon complex to the west, and the Pinaleno (Mt Graham) edifice to the east. SC-R's are about 9600 feet, and the P's are around 10500 feet. The Galiuros top out at nearly 8000 feet, but because of the surrounding ranges they seem smaller and nondescript. They are far from it, however.

On our last trip (spring 2004) we all piled into the Forester and drove about 8 miles up a "4WD only" road leading through Muleshoe and into the Galiuro mountains National Forest. The scenery was spectacular, and the hillsides were intermittently blanketed with yellow flowers -- mostly poppies. We turned around at an old homestead/ranch and headed out, due to lack of time.

Since last year, I've wanted to get back to the Galiuros and explore their deserted grandeur. After I suggested that Matt and Nadin go camping there, they invited me along and I agree to join them. On Friday noontime, we piled into their early-00's Nissan Pathfinder with all our gear, the three of us, and Sabkha and Guiness (aka Guin-Guin). We drove east on I-10 to Willcox, exited and proceeded west toward Muleshoe. We then turned NW onto Muleshoe road. At Muleshoe ranch itself (apparently a visitor ranch with cabins for rent, etc.) the "4WD" portion of the road begins. From Tucson to this point was about a two hour drive. The next 14.2 miles to the end of the road took us another ~2.5 hours. The first section (5-7 miles) of the road is not truly 4WD, but you'd be hard-pressed to make it in a passenger car (unless you really don't care about your car). The road deteriorates from this point on, eventually reaching so true high-clearance sections, although 4WD is probably not truly necessary if your vehicle has the appropriate ground clearance and you have some experience driving such roads.

The road penetrates an amazing variety of landscapes, and the view is always changing. Always ahead and to the right, however, is a substantial bluff of what appears to be volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks. As one progresses down the road, even higher cliffs, fringed in forest at the tops, become visible. These are more sub-horizontal layers of what appear to be basaltic-andesitic lava flows and pyroclastic deposits. Criss-crossing the face of one large slope is a number of dike sets, making a true visual feast for any type of geologist. Or the non-geologist. The early part of the road crosses a series of interesting alluvial (gravel) deposits, probably less than a few million years old, and only partially consolidated. In places, these gravels appear to be overlain on pink to white intrusive rocks ("granites"), and possibly intruded by dark, fine-grained, gabbroic dikes. The gravels are clearly tilted, at various angles, perhaps part of a growth structure (or fill structure?) related to progressive basin normal faulting. However, the tilt sequence seemed to be opposite, with younger (top) units tilted more than underlying units. This seems indicative of thrust-related sediment deposition. Regardless of the geologic mysteries on the first part of the 4WD road, we soon entered hard rock territory, and the road worsened considerably. Eventually, after much more scenic beauty you'll have to see for yourself, we came over a pass and beheld a valley below us. In the valley was a white-roofed cabin, Jackson's Cabin, which marks the end of the road. The road used to extend to Jackson's mine, but is now overgrown (and closed off, since the area beyond JC is now designated wilderness). Two older travelers from Colorado saw us coming and packed up camp right quickly, leaving us alone in our solitude. We found a tidy little cabin with fireplace, supplies, cots, and a map of the area. Out back was an outhouse, and in the stream valley alongside were some deserted corrals. We opted to sleep in tents due to the mice and spider population of the cabin, but it served well enough as a cooking area.

After a typical evening of cocoa, a campfire in the fire ring, and unidentified animals walking around my tent at night, we arose. The clouds rolled in from the west, dropping a few sprinkles now and again, but the sun peeped out too. We were still alone in this little valley. Sabkha and Guinness spent their time exploring the surround hillsides, and occasion "hunting yips" from Sab let us know the presence of deer, or rabbits, or black bear-- but we never saw any (one downside of having dogs along). After doing the obligatory "milling about", we five started up the trail, following the pipes that lead into camp from some spring in the surrounding mountains. We eventually found the spring and wandered around for a while, admiring flowers and examining the rocks (um... we didn't collect any of either). Back at camp we milled about some more, then Matt and I headed off down Jackson Canyon, headed for Redfield Canyon. The latter is a fairly major N-S drainage in the western Galiuros. It is supposed to hold a perennial stream coming down from headwaters in the heart of the Galiuros. Jackson Canyon was gorgeous. A smallish stream trickled and tinkled and gurgled its way along, and the dogs splashed and played and drank their fill of cool, limpid water. A number of deep, clear pools looked like they would be very inviting on a hot summer day. The volcanic walls of the valley began to rise up, and we went around a corner and found ourselves in the lovely Redfield Canyon. A rather sizeable stream slowly poured through, and the dogs played fetch in a pool while Matt and I admired a huge hoodoo (column of rock detached from the cliff) near the junction of the two canyons. Cottonwood and sycamore trees grew around, although I couldn't tell them apart. Some had rough, craggy grey skin, while others where white and had leaves reminiscent of aspen. Although we didn't know their names, we enjoyed the trees just the same (a rose by any other name...). Sab chased some animals and Guin-Guin the good little hiker tailed our heels.

Geologists either love volcanic rocks, or they hate them. I tend toward the latter opinion. Volcanic rocks tend to be dark brown or black, and boring. However, the streambeds in volcanic areas often have the most amazing array of colorful rocks! We hiked up Redfield Canyon admiring the multicolored streambed. The walls around us were buff to red-brown, monotonous. But the streambed was chock-full of green, blue, purple, red, and even yellow. Flowing water and the abrasive action of stream flow brings out the true nature and color of a rock: it rubs away the outer coatings of oxide and clays and reveals the actual rock beneath.

After about two miles we turned back. One could continue up Redfield and pass by a string of cabins, built by homesteaders, ranchers and miners beginning in the latest 1800's. Their time here ended in the late 1950's, when the area became wilderness and off-limits. Up Redfield is Hooker and Powers cabin, the last of which is also accessible by foot from the west and east sides of the Galiuros.

The next day all five of us repeated the Redfield hike. Then we packed up camp and rolled back to civilization. The dogs were tired, and we were too, a little bit. But I felt rejuvenated by a few nights under the stars... or under the clouds, as the case was. We drank a lot of cocoa, burned a lot of sticks, and walked a few miles. Best of all, as usual, we got to know a place we hadn't known before.

View pictures of this trip.

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