Monday, January 12 - Gordon’s Well, CA

January 12th, 2009

By golly, we’re in California! There are only 18 days remaining until we reach San Diego (officially) and it’s almost unbelievable to us that we have reached the “Golden State.”

The original plan was to hike this week as close to the original trail in Mexico and the same schedule as the 1847 Battalion members did. Sadly, it just isn’t going to work out that way for us.

1 – Again, we’ve been counseled by local law enforcement and knowledgeable locals that it is not advisable to hike in Mexico at this time. Given my experience in Sonora, I’m convinced the perceived danger is much higher than the real danger, but I will go along with the advice at this time. We can document the area later.

2 – Staying north of the international border, we find the Border Patrol has closed the area immediately beside the “fence” (built with your tax dollars may I remind you) due to drug trafficking. Seems the border fence isn’t high enough to prevent drug runners from chucking parcels of drugs over the fence. An accomplice on this (the US) side of the border grabs the package of drugs and skadoodles off to sell the bad stuff (which of course means we need more police, lawyers, courts and jails).

Well,”It’s OK” I tell myself and the others “because there’s always the All American Canal access road we can hike.”

3 – Oops! The All American Canal is being rebuilt and its access road has been closed to public traffic.

< Kevin exhales a long, heavy sigh of exasperation and a mild case of defeatism >

On the positive side of today, as we cross into California, we reset our clocks to Pacific Time, thereby gaining an extra hour. “Pacific” means “peaceful” and I intend to be “peaceful” for an additional hour tomorrow morning.

And, if those two reasons aren’t enough reason to be happy, we start hiking near the small “new age” town of “Felicity” which means “great happiness” or “bliss.” The California Legislature, has officially recognized Felicity as the “Center of the World.” There’s a “cosmic pyramid” of sorts, a “Stairway to No-where” (a spiral staircase taken from the Eiffel Tower and most appropriately named in this current setting), a collection of memorials and of course, a gift shop. It must be California’s version of a Florida Tourist Trap.

Enough ranting and rambling – you’re interested in the Battalion’s experiences.

Wherever the Battalion crossed the Colorado River, the journalists all are definite that the Imperial Sand Dune field was on their right hand and clearly visible. These dunes look just like the Sahara Desert dunes. Heck – most movies you’ve seen with desert dunes were shot here, so you know exactly what they look like. But movies and TV doesn’t do justice to the visual sweep of this much sand all around you.

We are actually crossing the dunes – or more accurately, hiking the roads that cross the dunes. These mobile dunes (meaning the wind is still moving them around) are up to 300 feet tall here at the pass. The strong prevailing winds from the northwest have piled up the eroded sand against the base of these eastern rock mountains. It’s an Off Highway Vehicle Paradise. Folks come from VERY far away to play here with their ATV’s, motorcycles, sand rails and anything else that will work in sand.

In 1847, the Battalion said they avoided these dunes and travelled further south around the “toe” of these dunes – inside the borders of modern Mexico’s state of Baja. The route there is also “down” – lower off the base mesa that forms the foundation upon which the dunes move.

As they hiked, the men and women would have looked up to the north – off their right shoulders – with a certain degree of apprehension to see these tall, light tan dunes that stretch for miles and miles away to the northwest. From their lower altitude, the visual effect would have emphasized the apparent height. Mountains of rock are scary, but you can get wagons over them. Mountains of sand you had to go through would make you weep because wagon wheels would sink into the sand, your feet would sink and slip on the hills – and you just would despair at the thought of having to drag the wagons through even a short distance. Way back on the Rio Grande the Battalion had their first experience of “wagon draggin” and they didn’t think much of it.

After about seven miles of dunes, we break out onto the base mesa again. It’s made of Colorado River sediments washed down from the Colorado River Plateau to the northeast. Small rocks, cobbles and lots of sand are our roadway. This is the same kind of terrain the Battalion hiked. There is scattered mesquite, creosote and a few other plants, but no cacti to see here. It’s too dry.” Forbidding” is much too polite to describe the area.

Off to our left – the south – we parallel the All American Canal’s route. It carries a large percentage of what water hasn’t been allocated to Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, other sections of California and the Republic of Mexico. The canal is some forty feet wide, nearly as deep and seems to be about half-full with a healthy flow of water going hither and yon. There are a couple small power generating plants that sit astride the canal, making it work all the harder before it escapes its confines. We squeeze every last ounce of work out of the Colorado River before we let it go.

After our allocated seventeen miles for today, we end our hiking next to our campsite – one of the few times we are able to do that. The RV is parked at Gordon’s Well and we are able to quickly set up, have dinner and spend some time planning for our upcoming week.

Sunday, January 11 - Yuma, AZ

January 11th, 2009

Francisco, the guide who is mentioned in connection with the Colorado River crossing area, is another of the Battalion’s entourage whose history is shadowed by an unfortunate lack of details.

Who was Francisco?

Here at the Colorado River crossing near modern-day Yuma, Colonel Cooke relates that a Maricopa guide named Francisco plays an important part in helping Cooke get the Battalion across.

We find in Bartlett’s 1857 Survey Report, that his group had interaction with a young Maricopa chief whose name was Francisco.

I shan’t detail more at this time, but it’s my belief that the Battalion guide and Bartlett’s “Francisco” is the same person. Perhaps someone can help find more information about Francisco?

In the evening, we provide a program for the Yuma LDS youth. Jack and Erlene show up – bless their hearts. They’ve driven all over the area taking care of and encouraging us. Not wanting to repeat myself all the time, it’s kind of good to have to make new presentations. It forces me to present material in a different way rather than being stale and doing the same presentation every time.

One thing that chapped me though: one of the young women was asked to conduct the music. Sadly, she hadn’t had any instruction to speak of and it showed - both in her ability and in her countenance. What REALLY set me off was the fact that some of the other young women were snickering at the conductors’ efforts.

It was another busy weekend. Another weekend that has left us more exhausted than before. So much for the “Day of rest” concept. We’re looking forward to completing the Trek.

Saturday, January 10 - Yuma, AZ

January 10th, 2009

We’re up at sunrise. There are lots of “bodies” lying on the ground. It’s cold – but not for long. We’re off and hiking another five or six miles to where we will get breakfast. The day hiking is a lot less fun. The sun gets quite warm. We’re low on water and food.

Our final destination is not well defined for us – just a general direction to take. Very much like the Battalion’s experience – just go ahead; go ahead.

All safely arrive by 10:30 AM, are fed a good breakfast and then return to our vehicle. Off we go, back to Yuma. It must be how the men felt who were sent back to rescue the food from the barge experiment. What? Go BACKWARDS! Hike it again? NOOOOO!!!!!

Upon our return, we clean up, get some grub and I start working on my presentation for tomorrow night. It’s a busy day. Denny and Jerry have done the wash, shopping and cooking to help get us taken care of - and I appreciate it very much.

Friday, January 9 - Yuma, AZ

January 9th, 2009

We begin our morning before sunrise as the city parks crew finished preparations for the memorial service. The “Army of the West” – the local Yuma Battalion commemorative group – shows up and we get the chairs and all the other stuff ready. There are breakfast burritos – not those “fast food” types. These are locally made, authentic Amerixican breakfast burros. Yum.

At 9 AM there are about 75 folks that show for the commemoration service. We speak some and share our thoughts on being here - finally - at the Colorado River crossing. One main thought keeps coming to me: Just three weeks left to San Diego.

And yet, the Battalion was about to commence a march through the most inhospitable area they had to face. Almost no water. Temperature extremes. Food rations almost completely gone. The draft animals are giving out. Many tents have been abandoned. They are almost at their limit – but not quite. The next week will take them there. And quite honestly, the prospect scares me.

Peter, Mark, Denny and I – as well as the Army of the West reenactors are able to interact with the local folks. Many stop to talk about the tents, the equipment, the guns and our experiences. It’s a fun morning.

In the late afternoon, Peter, Mark and I say goodbye to Denny and Jerry, then drive into California, west of Caliexco. Here, we’re to meet and hike with some Scouts. It’s an annual event for the Imperial Council to hike about fifteen miles along the Immigrant Trail. It’s a thirty year tradition commemorating the Battalion’s passage. The Scouts earn a historic trails award and learn a lot of lessons.

We start soon after dark. Our instructions: “Hike towards the while glow on the horizon – not the yellow glow.” And off we go with the thirty plus hikers into the desert. It’s an interesting experience. For Mark and I, our Scoutmaster brains take over and at first we worry about the apparent lack of safety factors. After awhile, we calm down and start enjoying the experience, trying to learn the Battalion lessons we came here for. And, I should mention this is not a criticism of the event organizers. They have a great safety record to show for their work.

We’re in full Battalion regalia tonight for this hike; white belts, pack, blanket, clothing, canteen, musket. Only one thing – the Scouts won’t let us carry our muskets. The REALLY want to carry the guns, so we let them. Most trade off, but one young man carries a musket the full ten miles during our night walk. The packs get progressively heavier, more uncomfortable, irritating our shoulders and backs.

Eventually, we reach the fire, get some hot chocolate and bed down in the sand with our bags and blankets. It’s a cold, bright night with the full moon getting into my eyes every time I roll over.

Thursday, January 8 – Yuma, AZ

January 8th, 2009

Well, officially, Peter and I reached the Colorado River today. We hiked only three miles to arrive at the Pilot Knob Emigrant Crossing – which the Battalion may or may not have used. Downstream a few miles is the crossing location used by General Kearny, but uncertainty exists as to whether the Battalion crossed down there or up here at the west end of 8th Street. There’s one of the Arizona “keyhole” Mormon Battalion Trail Markers right at the water’s edge.

Most of the river water has been bled off for irrigation purposes, so there’s not a lot of water as there was in 1846. What does flow here is clear and cold – taken from behind dams on the Colorado River, so all the sediment is pretty much settled out upstream somewhere. It’s a “cleaner” water – at least from the standpoint of clarity. I can’t speak about dissolved minerals and chemicals. Along the river banks are canes, tamarisk and some cottonwoods.

The journalists describe the river as being a few feet deep in some sections - deep enough to float the small mules and allow the wagons to be floated. Nearly a mile from the east bank put-in to the west bank take-out downstream, the crossing was very difficult. The water was cold - made more so by the cold air temperatures. In the morning, the ice was said to be an inch thick along still water sections.

Late at night, Mark Woodbury arrives from St. George Utah. Mark and I served as missionaries in Bay City Michigan some thirty-three years ago. Mark is a Scouter also, so we’ve lots in common. It’s so late that we briefly rejoice at seeing each other after so many years, then I show Mark to his “deluxe” accommodations in one of our tents. We’ve pitched them next to the Battalion monument in anticipation of tomorrows event and visitors, but for now, it’s really late (about 1 AM) and it’s time for bed.

Wednesday, January 7 – Yuma, AZ

January 7th, 2009

Denny and Peter take the hiking responsibilities for the day while I work at the trailer office. With all the upcoming presentations and events we’re to participate with, I need some time to organize myself. So, being largely ignorant of what went on, I defer to Denny’s notes for the day.

Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, White Egrets and other birds are seen. Back in 1847, a pelican was shot and its crop made into a hat for one of the men. Denny notes the wide variety of irrigated crops being raised in the valley and the great industry it is to pack them for market.

At noon, they meet one of Peter’s friends from California, Benton Sealy. Benton is a former military pilot, so he and Jerry hit it off. The hiking crew goes off for lunch at a famous Yuma restaurant (while I slave away at the trailer – mutter, mutter) and finish their walk just short of the Colorado River.

Returning to the trailer, we’ve made arrangements to go to a movie – “Valkarie” – our first in months. Being history buffs, we know the outcome before we start, but the details we were ignorant of. The importance of a single individual standing up and taking action regardless of what anyone else may do is a strong message.

Darryl Montgomery, who recently published a monograph on the Battalion route in Yuma County, stops by and we chew over various details. Darryl’s work in the area is a great example of how a local person can use local materials to research and add to the Battalion story. Darryl’s article; “The Mormon Battalion in Present-day Yuma County” may be obtained at:

http://www.usarmyofthewest.org/Articles/MormonBattalionInYumaCounty.pdf

Darryl and I interpret the campsite dates somewhat differently – by one day. This is probably a function of whether you think the journalist is writing in the morning about the prior day or writing at the end of the day to describe how his current day went. It’s not a serious issue and I look forward to further discussions, research and discoveries to help clarify these points. Darryl is quite the gentleman and he’s doing a great service for the Battalion.

In fact, Darryl’s “Yuma County” article is similar to the Santa Fe Trail county map we noted back in Kansas’s Marion County (August 25 blog post). A little longer, and it has photographs, but something that could easily be produced and distributed in nearly every county along the route. Each county has a “Visitors Bureau”, Chamber of Commerce, tourism board Historical Society or similar group that functions to share the local history. It wouldn’t cost much and could help spur local interest in the Battalion.

Tuesday, January 6 – Blaisdell, AZ

January 6th, 2009

Starting our hiking day, we’re paralleling the canal. The Butterfield Stage line road is up against the base of the mountains.

A local truck driver stops and talks with Jerry and Denny for awhile. Marvin pulls up again later and presents us with a batch of tangerines off his tree. In the heat, they are succulent and tasty. Marvin will probably never appreciate how much those tangerines refreshed us and how much we appreciated them.

Denny, our family gardener, stops at a “U-Pick” field. She can barely contain herself, so I’ll let her describe that experience in “the book.”

We round the north point of the Gila Mountains, the first major range east of Yuma as you ascend the Gila River valley. The peaks are much like the Mohawks a few days ago but not quite as sharp. If you want a sample view of how rugged this area is, go to:

http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/153488/sheep-mountain.html

The canal attracts wildlife. Denny walks to within about 15 feet from a Blue Heron before it takes flight. Two hawks circle us overhead – always a good omen. We don’t see convincing trail today but the contrasts between lack of and abundance of water is a forceful reminder of parables in the Bible, clear and convincing examples of how small things matter.

It’s an easy day and we make good time into the east side of Yuma valley. All day long as we hike we hear strong “booms” from the north where the Yuma Proving Grounds is located. Peter and I decide we’d really like to get to see what’s being tested out there. Munitions of some sort. General Kearny had some mountain howitzers (small cannons). We suspect the stuff being tested is a little more powerful.

In fact, in the evening, Peter and I are standing outside and we see a series of flashes refracting over the northern horizon – in the Proving Grounds. It’s not a single flash; it’s a string of flashes – moving across a distance. We start counting seconds (5 seconds per mile of distance, like lightning) and we determine that whatever is being tested is about fifteen miles away. The shock wave is a long, rolling thunder. We’re treated to three such bombing runs. Our tax dollars at work.

Monday, January 5 – Ligurta, AZ

January 5th, 2009

The Dalton family – Brynne, Mike and their 4 kids arrive early to hike with us today. Little Daisy at only seven months old is officially our youngest participant. They are a delightful family. Of course, the boys are boys and enjoy finding rocks, sticks, bugs and everything else along the way. Hiking and history aren’t quite interesting to them just yet, but hopefully it will be someday and they will remember this experience. Oldest brother Taylor is 10 years old – just about to become a Boy Scout, so I share some thoughts about the importance of Scouting and how my Scouts inspired this Trek.

We are enjoying the sight of vegetation – and it’s EDIBLE vegetation. For the first time in 150 miles we’re passing through irrigated fields. After days of brown sand and rocks, the sight of green, red and purple lettuce varieties gladdens the heart. Denny talks to a property owner and is given permission to “glean the fields.” She snags some lettuce for salads.

In the early afternoon, Jerry (Denny’s dad) returns after spending holiday time with his family in Salt Lake. It also gave him a chance to see his doctor. Grandma DaNece also came along to see us and we all had a happy roadside meeting. This reminded me of when our friends, the Kruger family, stopped by at Council Bluffs to see us; and when our kids and family members stopped by along the trail for quick visits. These experiences helped me understand the joy felt when Battalion met the Mississippi Saints on the prairie and when they finally returned to their families.

And somehow, I’ve lost ANOTHER radio. Dang! It’s hard to keep track of those little beggars.

Our last part of today’s hike takes us northwest to the canal that follows the Butterfield Stage route. As in other places, railroads, power lines and modern roads have mostly obliterated the Immigrant Trail pioneered by the Battalion.

Previously, Jack and Erlene Bracht made arrangements with us for dinner at the Wellton VFW. Jack promised us that they would serve the “Best Hamburgers in the World” (as he talks, Jack can emphasize words just like that). We get back to the trailer in time to “freshen up” somewhat, then head over to the VFW. It’s BUSY! There are at least a hundred “snowbirds” all here to get their Monday night hamburger. Truthfully, it is a very good hamburger.

There are other aspects of the Battalion that need research. How about their diet? What kind of caloric intake did they have on quarter rations? What kind of energy expenditure were they making? We know from many sources that the old mountain men had trouble getting enough fat in their diet. A nice juicy burger tonight tastes really good. The Battalion men write frequently about how famished they are even eating four pounds of meat a day. My suspicion is that they weren’t getting enough fat. Some fat is essential to our dietary health and this burger fits the bill. Thanks, Jack and Earlene.

To close out our day, Jerry moves the trailer over to a park on the east side of Yuma. We’re not expected at the West Wetlands River Park for a couple days but the drive is starting to get long if we don’t move. Yuma has lots of trailer parks to accommodate all the snowbirds and truthfully, the park owners “pack ‘em in.” The lots are small and so are the streets. Pull-throughs are rare. Jerry truly is amazing as a driver. First attempt, in the dark, he slides the RV into a spot so tight I wouldn’t have tried it. For this, and many other reasons, we are SO glad to have Dad back with us.

Sunday, January 4 – Wellton, AZ

January 4th, 2009

It was a cold night in 1847. It seems at least one of the tent wagons – perhaps Company B’s – had been abandoned about this time. Azariah Smith relates that he and his father slept “out of doors.” But, Azariah had an advantage – of a sort, since every advantage comes with a disadvantage as well. Somewhere along the way Azariah had obtained a “Buffalo sack” – a sleeping bag made from a buffalo hide. In it, he slept “as warm as a pig.” One is left to wonder how he transported such a heavy item, and I’m here to tell you, buffalo robes/sacks/bags are heavy by any definition.

We’ve been fortunate to have a buffalo hide donated for use during the Trek. I had mentioned “Buffalo Bill” back on November 7, but forgot to explain just who Buffalo Bill is. Paul Lyman of our Board of Directors raises bison and shared a hide so we could use it for some research.

Church for us today is at the Wellton Ward and was a slightly different situation. The local membership is fairly short on numbers, but once the cold weather strikes the northern states, the “Snowbirds” migrate south. Here they are called “Winter Visitors” and constitute a fairly large percentage of the people attending services during the winter. Another interesting fact is that you have to speak loudly to be heard. REALLY LOUD.

The Yuma LDS church leadership requested an evening presentation for the adults. Next Sunday, they’ve scheduled a repeat event for the youth. I’m starting to think about how to condense our experiences into a hour or two. Not an easy task what with all the background plus the photos, having to explain where we are and why this or that site is important. About 150 folks are present and we hang around answering questions afterwards for awhile.

Now, we need to introduce a couple who’ve become entwined in our lives. Jack and Erlene Bracht have been married since just last October. They travel full-time, selling products at craft fairs, flea markets and have a busy mail-order business that they love. Jack is a history buff and has become interested in our Trek after reading about it in the Yuma paper. In fact, Jack has been shadowing us for a couple days now and refers to himself as a “Trek groupie” – in the good sense, I assure you. The Bracht’s are slightly older than middle age and are most gracious and wonderful people. They’ve invited us to have dinner with them tomorrow night, so more about that in the future.

Saturday, January 3 – Wellton, AZ

January 4th, 2009

One of our Trek contributors has arrived and will hike with us today. Trace Skeen is a descendant and he is “on fire” with excitement about his Battalion heritage. In fact, Trace is one of those multi-talented people who sings, plays instruments, composes music and probably dances as well, but he didn’t demonstrate that for us. But, I fear I get ahead of the story.

Trace contacted us some time ago and offered to support the Trek by providing our medical first aid supplies. We have enjoyed the blessing of having available all the mole-skin for blisters you can imagine. We have been well supplied with band-aids, peroxide, cold packs and all the basic first aid supplies appropriate for our needs. That was something Trace could do because he works with American Medical Response, a global ambulance service company. We thank them and refer you to their website at:

www.amr.net

After Trace arrives and we get introduced, we all pile into the car and drive back to yesterday’s stopping point at Tacna. Again, through most of this area the trail has been obliterated by agriculture and river course changes (think “floods”). But still, the geographic view is much as the Battalion would have experienced it.

Hiking along in the bright, brisk morning air, we proceed west about four miles to Antelope Hill. The original Battalion camped here January 4, 1847. The hill sticks out all by itself – an isolated remnant of sandstone. Trace spots one of the “keyhole” Battalion marker so we stop to take a photo op session.

After making camp, a couple of noteworthy events occurred at the hill.

First; Col Cooke was worried about how much food was left, so he ordered an inventory made. Afterwards, some of the men became curious about their personal weight and according to Nathaniel Jones, they “had a weighting frolic.” Jones recorded the following: “I weighed 128; weight when I enlisted,198.”

Of all the journal entries about how bad their march was, how much they had to endure, the reduced rations and all the other vicissitudes they had to face, this quote actually scared me. This man has lost more than one-third of his adult body weight – and he still has the worst part of the journey ahead of him.

Second; We know that members of the Battalion climbed Antelope Hill because some wrote about the scenery while others amused themselves by rolling boulders down the talus slope. Apparently it made quite a noise as the rocks crashed downhill.

Peter and I decide to reenact the “boulder rolling” event while Trace judiciously decides to stay lower and provide the videography documentation. After climbing a short way up the steep hill, Peter selects a reasonable looking boulder about a foot in diameter and we give it the old “heave-ho.” It makes a great “Clack – Clack – Clack” sound as it bumps into other boulders, working its’ way down about fifteen feet, then stops. Darn!

Too wimpy, so we look for a rounder candidate and give it another go. This one is MUCH better making nearly fifty feet before sidling up to another boulder that stops its progress. We’re impressed. If we were a little more ambitious, we would climb higher and get a really BIG boulder to roll down upon lesser mortals. HA!

The journalists record there were lots of petroglyphs visible. They still are. At the north end of the hill, there is a set of interpretive panels that help explain the significance of the area – especially regarding its’ importance to the natives.

If you are interested in an explanation of how the Antelope Hill sandstone was used in making matates for grinding foodstuffs, we refer you to the following article:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/530484

We follow another canal until we hit a cattle feed lot – the first we pass in a long time, then turn south and pass Radar Hill. The hill had been “dozed” off many years ago, taking petroglyphs and other native artifacts. Without asking anyone, we suppose a radar was positioned there, probably in support of the Yuma Proving Grounds to our north. Not long after, we have another Sheriff Stop. Seems there has been a suspicious brown Suburban vehicle in the area. Hummm. Could that be us?

Eventually, we arrive in Wellton (more about it tomorrow), take a short rest, then start working on dinner. Trace is treating us tonight to a steak dinner. Yumm. His two sisters, Pam and Nancy are coming over from San Diego to let us hear some of the music Trace wrote for his upcoming “Battalion” musical.

Pam and Nancy drive in, bringing all the fixings for dinner which we all enjoy immensely.

We sit around and share stories about our lives and doings, then Pam and Nancy join Trace in singing some of his songs. “The Old Iron Spoon” pokes fun at Doctor Sanderson and is both lively and cute.

“Bring Them Home” is a plaintive piece, symbolizing the prayers of all the women who send their men off to war. Having a son who
has served in Kosovo and Iraq, the piece is particularly touching to Denny and I.

“Battalion – the Musical” will be presented at Huntsville, Utah’s Outdoor Theatre on June 26th and 27th, 2009. For more information. Go to the website at:

http://battalionmusical.blogspot.com