Friday, January 9, 2009

Learn Your Arizona Landmarks...

Growing up a Midwesterner, the Arizona landscape took some getting used to, but I've come to appreciate the beauty of the desert and stark landscape. With lots of mountain ranges and desert plains between, it is a long way from the cornfields of Iowa and Illinois. One thing that took some getting used to was that in the Midwest, a water tower or other feature on the horizon might have been at most 10 miles away. If you spot a landmark in Arizona, it might take an hour to reach it at highway speeds! The low humidity, elevation and clarity of atmosphere allow routine visibilities in excess of 100 miles. As a result there are a number of spectacular landmarks in southern Arizona that are special to me.

First up is one that we saw several times yesterday on our day trip to Animas, NM and to Whitewater Draw. It is called Cochise's Head - the profile of some side hills of the Chiricahua Mountains forms the outline of the great Apache chief. What makes it interesting is not only the accurate profile of a human face, but that it can be seen from the north or south! When driving into Arizona on I-10, it can be spotted well east of Lordsburg, NM, at least 30 miles east of the state line, and is a prominent sight for nearly another 20 miles in Arizona. It can also be spotted from Whitewater Draw, a good 40 miles to the southwest. But the absolutely best viewing spot is from Massai Point at the Chiricahua National Monument. From there you are only about 5 miles from the outline and can even spot a tree that forms part of an eyelash. Cochise was one of the most famous of the Apache leaders to resist the settling of the Arizona Territory. The more you learn about him, the more it seems appropriate to name the profile for him.

Another landform favorite of mine is the mountain peak named Baboquivari. I posted a blog entry a couple months ago about a day trip near the peak. It is a spectacular sight, made more striking for the lore surrounding the peak as the center of the universe for the Tohono O'Odham Indian Nation. Also, I spent many years working at Kitt Peak National Observatory, about 15 miles to the north, and it was a beacon on the horizon, denoting nearly due south. Geologically, it's striking shape is explained by it's formation - it was a lava plug from a now-extinct and since eroded-away volcano. It is about 60 miles southwest of Tucson and can easily spotted as a nearly 8,000 foot elevation pimple on the horizon.

And of course, nearly anyone in Tucson can point out "Finger Rock", a distinctive formation in the front range of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Found beyond the north terminus of Swan Avenue, it can be seen throughout Tucson except for the development on the northwest side of town. This shot is taken from the parking lot of Finger Rock Trail at the north end of Alvernon Avenue. The hike takes you quite close to the formation, and I've read of hikers that bushwhack to it and climb the 50 foot high spire.The Rock may perhaps be a silent suggestion to "Keep Watching the Skies", which I'm trying to do and promote in my small way!

1 comment:

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