Archive for November, 2008


Saturday, November 29th, 2008

December 6 (Saturday) 8:00 AM - Site of Old Fairbank, AZ. Day Hike along the San Pedro valley to near St. David. This will be a 14 mile hike. You are invited to come along, but please be prepared with sufficient water, snacks, good shoes and legs that are “broken in” for accomplishing this distance.

December 6 (Saturday) 7:00 PM, the St David Arizona Heritage & Cultural Arts Society will host us for a lecture and camp display. This will be held at the St David School Lansing Auditorium on Highway 80 in St. David. Donations toward preservation of the historic school will be accepted.

December 13 (Saturday) 7:00 PM at the Presidio Tucson city park (Washington and Church St) we will present along with many other living history reenactors. This will be a major event and we highly recommend your attendance if you are in the area.

December 14 (Sunday) 7:00 PM at the LDS Tucson Stake Center. We have been asked to participate on the program commemorating the Battalion.

Saturday, November 29 – West Paul Spur, AZ

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Today I reenacted “Mr Fix-it.” Plumbing, electrical, remote electrical (house in Michigan), cleaning, shopping, etc., were all on my “to do” list.

Early this morning, I had a dream. Normally I wouldn’t mention such, but some of the Battalion members relate their dreams, so I’m going to relate this one. It was unusual because I don’t remember dreaming often.

In my dream , I was hiking through an area where a hurricane was approaching. It was still calm but the area had evacuated and I found myself alone and seeking shelter. Nearby was a nursing home, so I went in and found many unresponsive patients still in their beds with no one to care for them. After determining there were more people than I could help, I dialed “911” to see if there was anyone coming to take them away. “No,” replied the dispatcher, “and you’d better get out of there yourself.”

When I woke up, the dream stayed with me and upon considering it some today, I decided it presented me an ethical/moral question; what would I have done if the situation had been real? If I had stayed, how would I have triaged my care? At what point would my life’s preservation have taken precedent over the lives of those soon to die anyway?

These are interesting questions because to some extent, some Battalion members were faced with such choices.

Finally, I was able to complete updating the blog and now I’m sending if off to you for your consideration, Gentle Reader.

Friday, November 28 – West Paul Spur, AZ

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Ours was a quiet day, completing preparations for next week. We were in contact with some of the locales where we will be staying and making arrangements for events.

Thursday, November 27 – Douglas, AZ

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Thanksgiving Day - as a holiday - had not been declared in 1846, so the original Battalion didn’t celebrate as we do now. They were hiking into the modern area of Cloverdale, New Mexico from the area of Bercham Draw. It was about a fifteen mile day and they estimated this distance fairly well. Perhaps it was because the route was mostly flat and they didn’t have much pioneering to do, so they could keep to a normal hiking pace.

Our day was spent preparing to participate in a “pot luck” Thanksgiving. The RV owners host an annual Thanksgiving feast and everyone brings a dish. There was tons of food – plenty of leftovers for all. One gentleman said grace before we ate – a five year tradition for him to say the Thanksgiving prayer.

This is an eclectic RV park. It’s not fancy, schmancy, but it works for us. The owner is a retired music teacher. Some residents are full-timers, others snowbirds that come most years; a few like us are transients just here for a few days at most. But, we’ve been welcomed here at Twin Buttes RV Park. It’s east of Douglas about twelve miles on highway 80. Check it out. Good rates and good people.

Just south of us is the Elisha Smith gravesite which we will visit Sunday and hold a memorial service to remember him.

Wednesday, November 26 – Somewhere Out There

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

At the request of the property owners, we will not divulge our hiking location today – either online, by GPS or in future discussions. We respect their request for privacy and deeply appreciate their kindness towards our little project.

Some general observations from today can be shared.

The three of us, Denny, Mike Bilbo and myself attempted to cram four Battalion hiking days into eight hours. We did not see all we had hoped to see, nor did we hike all the places we desired, but what we did was sufficient to better appreciate the 1846 experience. The high desert plains are marvelous. Surrounded by high mountain chains, they are a fragile environment, but resilient enough that some of the prior abuses are being healed through careful management.

The Battalion’s passage with approximately 30 wagons, 400 persons and perhaps 500-700 animals did not have a profound effect on this land. Traces of their route are few and difficult – nearly impossible – to find.

Because alternate routes, better, safer, less demanding routes were located after their passage, some sections of the original Battalion’s route have been spared major development. For example, Foster’s Hole (aka, the “Lost Well”) has probably not been visited by 1,000 persons since its “rediscovery” some twenty years ago. Consequently, it is well preserved and though difficult to visit, one can see it as it basically was 160 years ago.

As a society, we have “loved” some sections of our county nearly to death. Consider Yellowstone National Park. It’s unnerving to watch a tourist get into the face of a bull buffalo or to tell their kid to “get closer” for a picture. Fire-rings are everywhere in some forests. A 25-mile stretch of our route in December has been closed because some ATV riders have been indiscriminate in how and where they’ve gone off road – destroying OUR common history.

Water is everything here. A small surplus means marvelous growth. A small deficiency, if prolonged, will seriously upset the balance. A spring creates luxurious growth on the shaded side of a canyon while the opposite side is baked by strong sunlight each day all year.

We exit the property at sundown as the owner provided us a ride to the gate where Jerry is waiting for us.

While we cannot conclusively claim we have found wagon ruts, swales, artifacts or definite proof of the Battalions’ passage, it was a good day and a privilege to hike this ranch. It was wild country back then and it still is today.

Tuesday, November 25 – Douglas, AZ

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Nothing of importance occurred today. We spent the day planning, catching up on work requiring communication capabilities and preparing for tomorrow’s exceptional opportunity to hike part of the route.

In particular, we are excited about the upcoming events in St. David, Tucson, Yuma and wilderness areas of Arizona. Much of our day has been spent in communicating with local folks working on those events.

Monday, November 24 – Sonora, Republic of Mexico

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

This morning started early as we moved the vehicles to Douglas Arizona. We are “officially” through New Mexico, but will return for one more day of hiking in that state. It’s been a wonderful two months of great people, tremendous experiences, interesting history and opportunity to help clarify the Battalion’s movements.

My original plan for this week was to hike the section of Sonora between the Guadalupe Canyon exit and Agua Prieta Spring. Recently, there has been increased violence in this area and upon advice of the US Consulate and local persons with cross-border experience, we decide to not hike Sonora. Dang!

Instead, I’ve hired a local guide with thirty years experience taking tours to the LDS colonies. We discuss our Trek goals and decide that it should be safe to drive the MX-2 highway corridor today. This will allow me to photograph some key locations, to get the “feel” of the locale and see if the previously proposed routes jibe with the journals.

First, we drive out to Guadalupe Pass. Now, here’s an IMPORTANT item for those of you interested in the route: Guadalupe Canyon is different from Guadalupe Pass. The pass is NOT in the canyon of the same name. Go figure. It has taken me three years to finally come to that realization.

Guadalupe Canyon is a north-south canyon which they joined after coming down the cliffs off the Animas valley. The canyon the Battalion wanted to go down was further south from where they actually went down. Mexico Highway 2 probably follows closely to their intended route. But, as is well known, the guides didn’t find it and Colonel Cooke took the command through a horrifically difficult canyon. More about that later in the week.

The San Bernardino valley is wide and deeper than I imagined it would be. We can’t get to the ruins of the rancho, but get some distant photos. Across in the US is the John Slaughter Ranch which is accessible and has sections that still resemble the valley in 1846.

The guide takes me back along MX-2 towards Agua Prieta. We pass one of the campsites and their description accurately portrays the actual geography. It fits well and makes sense that they should have passed this way.

A mild surprise for me is that there is water flowing at Agua Prieta. The town has built up around the spring. There are a few non-east, west, north, south streets that take into account the old stream bed but for the most part it’s urbanized. As we approach the stream, there’s actually a small amount of water in the bed. Sadly, there’s lots of garbage and refuse too, but still, it’s kind of neat to see water here. So many places have gone dry due to well pumping.

That was a quick drive through, and I appreciated the help and the opportunity to get into Mexico and document some of the sites that do match their descriptions. I didn’t get onto the “Capital Gem” mountain, but with luck, I’ll get back here someday to find it.

Sunday, November 23 – Cotton City, NM

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Attended church at the Cotton City LDS congregation today. This is another one of those congregations and towns of old style ranchers, solid men and women who don’t flinch.

After meetings, we shared a pot-luck lunch with many who stayed then we made a Battalion presentation to about 75 folks that endured another hour and a-half of history. Fortunately, most of it was their local history, so they were patient and kind with my ramblings.

One day I will get back here and let them tell me all the things we didn’t have time to hear during our quick pass through the Animas valley.

Saturday, November 22 – Rough Mountain, NM

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

During the night, a coyote came into camp – standing just a few feet from one of the boys. A Great Horned Owl parked in a tree nearby and hooted all night long. It’s odd to see them here in the daylight. In Michigan, we rarely see them even at night.

Since we didn’t get over Rough Mountain pass yesterday, this morning we discussed whether to hike up the Animas Valley towards Bercham Draw (as originally planned) or go investigate Rough Mountain’s north pass. Because the most widely used Battalion trail guide supports a route that isn’t the logical one, we decide to see if there’s evidence to support that route.

The locals accompanying us tell us that in the early 1960’s, a bull-dozer was used to carve a road up to the pass. That modern trail is getting washed away and there is little evidence to support the Battalion traveling this way. Nearly at the saddle, to the left of the road, there is some indication of an older road, but below, where it counts, there is no evidence of trail swales, artifacts, road improvement (such as seen at Cooke’s Pass on Nov 13 & 14) or any other consideration that would make this their likely route. Because of the bulldozing, it the trail WAS here, it is buried now, but truthfully,I don’t think it was ever here.

If we can find an old map that shows where the period road went, I think we’ll have a better feeling about what the truth is concerning this section of the route. We retrace our route back down to camp, catch a lunch, pack up and head back to town.

When I get back to the trailer, I reread the journals VERY carefully – about six days worth of notes and notice that the day AFTER the Battalion marched this section, Colonel Cooke wrote that they had gone over “a low mountain pass.” So, there is good evidence that Rough Mountain is NOT how they crossed the divide and went a more logical way - probably over Whitmire Pass.

Friday, November 21 – Playas Valley to Animas Valley, NM

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

The Scouts from Cotton City arrived promptly at 6:15 AM for today’s hike. After swearing them in, we drove out to the western edge of Playas Lake, hopped out and got our gear on. The leaders got out their mules and acted as scouts – the route finding kind.

The mesquite, creosote and other “prickley” kinds of plants are prolific here. The “soil” is actually dust of the finest sort being tiny clay particles washed down from the hills and collected in the lake bed which has dried out. The dust is comparable to the Loess Hills clay back in Iowa and Missouri. One can imagine lots of dust in the air as the men hiked and the draft animals pulled the wagons along.

We’ve planned a two day event here, searching for the route between the Playas and Animas valleys. There are two historical springs along the west side of the dry lake bed. The 1971 route study prefers the southern spring and the pass just north of Rough Mountain. Standing at the springs, one has to question why the original Battalion scouts would have advised to go to Rough Mountain when a much lower pass is visible just slightly north.

In fact, none of us have been hiking this side of the mountain range before. The day slips along and we find we’re not going to get through Rough Mountain pass before darkness arrives. The leaders consult the maps and our mule riders head off to see if they can find the route southward. After they leave, one of the youth mentions to me that he knows a route that leads through another canyon just north of our location.

After questioning him a little more, he tells me that his dad manages a ranch on the back side of this range and he (the youth) has been up and down the area a number of times. His description of the area coincides with the maps, so we make a quick decision to hike far enough to see check his other details against “ground truth.”

We drop off a ridge into the next hollow and sure enough, there is the windmill and tanks just as the youth described. We call on the radio over to the mule-men and decide to high-tail it along that route to camp. We arrive just as darkness falls.

The group cooks up a great dinner and we bed down fairly early. It was a long, hard day of hiking uphill almost all the way. Lots of angst also that saps your energy.

Take away lessons for the day:
1 – It’s important in life to have someone who knows the way as your guide.
2 – Youth sometimes have much to add in terms of experience and knowledge. Don’t discount them. Get them involved and listen to them – even if sometimes they’re wrong. Often though, they’re right.
3 – Follow your instincts. When the planned approach to a problem isn’t working out, isn’t meeting your needs, think it through and take the best alternative you can find.
4 – Stay together as much as possible. Do tough things together.