Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cave Creek Canyon, Arizona: Shining Colors

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Normally, I don't push the colors of my pics via my photo management application unless I'm being artsy, but in the case of the rhyolite bluffs in Cave Creek Canyon, it was necessary to push hard so I could show you how colorful these rock formations are in real life. Indeed, when I look for good images of the bluffs on the web, I find the same weak representation of my untouched photos. In real life, the rhyolite are a startling, shining orange, yellow, and green.

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Cave Creek Canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest. The national forest straddles New Mexico and Arizona.  

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

I'd seen a sign back at Rodeo, NM, for the Wonderland of Rocks, which sounded cool. The Portal librarian told me getting there would require going over the mountain and it had been closed because of snow, last she'd heard. So I allowed as how I'd just see how far I could get and enjoy the view along the way. "Along the way" being Cave Creek Canyon.

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Shortly after departing Portal, I came to a fork in the road. To the right was Paradise; to the left, Cave Creek Canyon.  (Foreshadowing: I would have another opportunity to go to Paradise later.)

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

I took the fork to the left, leading me into the Coronado Forest, a world of high, tri-colored bluffs on both sides of the tree-canopied canyon. I saw the giant maws of caves that scooped into the bluffs.


I passed a number of campgrounds, sadly, most closed. Although it was Saturday, the park office was also closed.

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

There was a large sign cautioning users that smugglers and illegal immigrants frequented the territory.

Presently, I left the pavement and continued on gravel. I came up to the Southwestern Research Station, and turned in to check it out. The station is owned by the American Museum of Natural History. Academic and amateur birders come here from all over. The woman in the gift store explained to me that this little corner of the U.S. is a special place: It is the northernmost point of migration for many birds that come from the south; it is the southernmost point of migration for many birds that come from the north; and it marks the traditional boundaries for many eastern and western birds. WildBird Magazine ranks this area as the 3rd best birding location in North America.

After using the facilities, I continued my way up the mountain road. Saw a sign noting that 18 more miles til ... I forget what. Pavement?

Eventually, I arrived at what I thought might be the mountain summit. No snow, cool.

Mountain Road, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

 Until there was.

It was just a little, so I continued on. And then the dirt road got muddy and slippery and then there was more snow and then, sheesh.  Oh, good, I see a stop sign and a road sign pointing to the right --> Paradise. Only five miles or so. I saw snow going forward. Snow turning right.

Given my antipathy toward backtracking, I took a s-l-o-w and slippery right down onto the road to Paradise. That way led into the sun, I knew, from when I encountered that fork in the road. And as I slipped and slid a bit in the mud and saw more snow ahead - with the road going down, I reconsidered my not-turning-around history.

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

As I did at the Antelope Wells portal, I paused. [Note: Long time ago, I read an article that it's the people with the most vivid imaginations who have the keenest phobias. I don't know if there's truth in that.] I considered what it might be like to get stuck in a muddy, slippery road overnight on a road that may not see traffic every day. And I thought about bears. I thought about how I would make a 3-point turn on a slippery-slidey muddy road with a drop-off on one side and a bluff on the other, about whether I should continue on. Oh, and did I mention that I have kind of a phobia about driving in snow?

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

OK, yes, so it was a little scary (because I am a wuss), but I successfully backtracked and went back down the mountain. I passed a red car with three people in it - who'd also been at the Southwestern Research Station - going where I'd just come from. We paused to say, hey, and I explained that thar was snow further up and I'd turned back - but I acknowledged my wussdom. Later, when I was down in the flats and had gotten out for a walk, I saw them returning - they'd also turned back.

Once I hit pavement again, I took this movie - note the deer at about :38.


Here's a handy guide to the area.

This had been a big, beautiful day: Rodeo, Portal, Cave Creek Canyon, and the Mountain Road.

Cave Creek Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

I could see myself returning to this area in the future.

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