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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 5:12 am 
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We are fortunate to enjoy mild winters here in southern Arizona with many recreational opportunities nearby. Our first hybrid excursion in the New Year with the Blue Chinook was in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area that transitions the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. It is bounded by the western flank of the rugged Whetstone Mountains and the expansive Sonoita grasslands of western movie fame to the south.

The entrance is past Empire Ranch that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preserved by the award winning Empire Ranch Foundation. Cattle ranching is still active in Las Cienegas across six diverse ecosystems comprising cienegas (marshland), cottonwood/willow stands, sacaton riparian grasslands, mesquite bosques, oak woodlands and semi-desert grasslands. Each has their own unique characteristic plant and animal life.

The main road in soon becomes dirt and leads to dispersed camping areas suitable for relaxed boondocking in the Chinook lifestyle. Our 4x4 was towed along to venture beyond with an extensive network of backroads from ranching and mining days just waiting to be explored. These often follow ridges above deep serpentine washes that form a natural barrier to the more direct route.

We camped near the dusty Empire Ranch airstrip with only a few other RV’s off in the distance. Our destination next morning was Apache Springs Cabin, nestled in the foothills below Apache Peak off to the east. This 7,714 foot summit of the Whetstone sky island is actually just outside Las Cienegas NCA and part of the Coronado National Forest.

We rose before dawn to enjoy a full moon illuminating the landscape through a light cloud cover that later dispersed. Then the colorful sunrise could be enjoyed over a cup of strong English tea before embarking in our noisy Honda Pioneer and disturbing the scene. The balmy 45 degrees was chilling enough for we spoiled Arizonians so multiple clothing layers were the order of the day. Actually a good windproof jacket helped delay the intrusion of fine road dust, that eventually permeated every nook and cranny regardless.

The journey traversed a most beautiful landscape with sweeping vistas and was the main adventure with the cabin a bit of an anticlimax. Our puppy thought otherwise and was glad to get out of the noisy 4x4 machine and follow his nose into the juniper and oak forest that harbors large game. There we met a local rancher with his hired help who were repairing a water pipe from the spring. The black PVC pipe had been breached after the road was recently graded in an effort to render it more negotiable for those without a Caterpillar.

Our return was complicated by many choices without our Jeep navigator, who had returned early. The junctions all looked different on the way out with few distinctive landmarks, so it became wise to follow tire tracks to avoid running out of gas on unplanned detours. Fortunately few vehicles had been in recently to confuse the trail.

It took maybe an hour to reach to our campsite where the insistent puppy had to be fed as first order of business. The Honda was cinched back on the trailer and our clothing decontaminated from loose dust before we could we re-enter the Chinook with a clean conscience.

More dust was blown off the rig the natural way by wind turbulence back on the highway but lots of detailed cleaning chores remain now we are home. I am content to be indolent and put this off till tomorrow. Time enough to try out the leaf blower and large exhaust fan for the interior, methinks.


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File comment: Setting up for the evening with 4x4 launched in readiness after arrival
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File comment: 6:30 am under a full moon while tea is brewing inside
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File comment: Sunrise over the Whetstones, our destination for the day
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Ted C. / SW Arizona
"The Blue Chook" 2002 Concourse Dinette on 2001 E-350 chassis w V10
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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 5:16 am 
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Joined: December 31st, 2016, 5:57 am
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More pictures to defy the 3-per-post restriction


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File comment: The road in to Apache Springs Cabin has been recently graded. This smooth condition is not usual
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File comment: The rustic cabin and surrounding forest held many interesting scents for our puppy
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File comment: My wife spotted this “angel’s wing” cloud on the way out
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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 8:13 am 
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Joined: February 17th, 2015, 1:57 pm
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Location: Marysville, WA
Great pictures and narrative Ted. Is that a Century plant in the last pic? We haven't been to Arizona since right after 9/11 when we scattered my Dads ashes. Your pictures bring back great memories. We hope to get back there this year.

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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 10:07 am 
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Yes Steve, that is indeed a century plant. Empire Ranch itself is well worth a visit so I add a few more pictures to tempt you. These were taken around the ranch house and show the cottonwood grove, Heritage Discovery trail and some of the wildfire damage to the magnificent trees from last year. Unfortunately the main ranch building is presently under reconstruction and off limits. Let me know when you are in the area as it would be great to meet up. Cheers, Ted


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 12:50 pm 
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Location: Marysville, WA
Ted I will certainly let you know. My cousin recently bought a home in Tucson she is using as a vacation rental to be able to afford. We plan on meeting her there sometime in the coming year.

We have loved our trips to Arizona to visit my Dad. He had all kind of informative stories about all the flora and fauna there. His 12 years there was all pretty much spent boondocking in the desert in the winter and pine forests in the summer.

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PostPosted: January 4th, 2018, 9:01 pm 
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Joined: July 31st, 2014, 1:01 am
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Location: 1999 Concourse
Thanks for defying that 3-photo restriction :D

I've had Las Cienegas on my "ooh, neato!" list ever since I saw one particular photo of it. Twas acres of rippling grasses in saturated late afternoon light and just caught my eye.

So... great to read about it and to see more of it. Thanks!

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