Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another gem in the Park Service's crown

On my way back from Madison last week (or so) I passed a sign for Chiricahua National Monument on I-10, and later looked it up. When I read that it's the Land of Rocks or something, I told HH I knew where we were going on Monday, one of my days off.

It's about a three-hour drive over, partly on the interstate, partly on state roads, and is another of those places that's in the middle of nowhere. But it's the kind of nowhere that even if it wouldn't suit full time, it would be a calming, centering place to go for a a couple of weeks now and then. My goodness, we have a gorgeous country.

The entrance sign gives no hint of what lies beyond.

The first stop was the Visitor Center, a CCC-built stone structure.

There was something about the interpretive exhibits that was familiar; the style and the font niggled at the back of my mind. They're really well done, informative in a simple way without being dumbed down, and not too many words. That sounds funny but no one wants to stand there and read a placard full of words. Too much information, too much time. These, though, are classic.

Chiricahua is the first place I've heard the term Mountain Islands or Sky Islands. They're vast mountain ranges that are isolated from each other by valleys of grassland or desert. From an informative website I learned that these areas encompass most of Arizona’s biotic communities - tundra (in Arizona!), coniferous forests, deciduous forests, desert, chaparral, grassland, and thornscrub, which I had to look up and means an intermediate zone between desert and tropical forest. Arizona doesn't strictly have a tropical forest but it does have the intermediate zone. 
More information from the website: "Sky Islands are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world. As the meeting point between desert and forest, they offer a blend of tropical and temperate climates that can sustain many creatures, and are often the location of streams and other riparian areas. The Sky Island Alliance notes that the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals." Ahh-mazing.

One more old-fashioned sign, below, which is just as on-point now as when it was made, back in the late 50s - early 60s. I told a ranger how much I liked the exhibits, and she said they're pretty old, which is when I realized these are Mission 66 projects. 

Post WW2 America hit the roads in droves, visiting national parks in unprecedented numbers. The parks had been underfunded for years (jeez, sounds familiar) and were not equipped for this new visitation. Long story short, Mission 66 poured money into the parks' infrastructure: employee housing, roads, utilities, and most visibly, Visitor Centers. The idea was to have it all done by 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Park Service. Some of the projects have already been destroyed, like the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg, a real shame. It was, coincidentally, designed by the same architect that designed the Painted Desert Community Complex at Petrified Forest, which included the Visitor Center, employee housing, a clinic, and a school building.

What these displays reminded me of were oversized ones at Petrified Forest hanging on the walls in the archeologist's, paleontologist's, and Resource Manager's offices. They were being thrown away several years ago and the paleontologist went dumpster diving to rescue them. Of course the content is not the same, but the style is unmistakably similar.

An exhibit case that tells a brief story about the Chiricahua Apaches looks pretty good for being almost 50 years old.

And some pretty birds.

This cute little whatever-it-is was parked outside the Visitor Center. I was going to say they ran out of letters but I think it's more a matter of running out of vehicle to put the letters on.

Then we headed to the drive through the park, oohing and aahing all the way.

This formation is Cochise Head, with an eyelash made from a 100-foot Douglas fir. Or so they say; I'm not sure I see it. The formation is made from welded tuff, a rock formed from volcanic ash.

A nearby volcano erupted at least nine times with the resulting accumulation of ash and pellets of molten pumice reaching 2000 feet. And then proceeded to erode.

I'm not entirely happy with these photos. I used a fancy adjustment on my camera without testing it first, with the result that these look flat to me. I couldn't do a lot with them in processing. That'll teach me.

 This is a CCC-built overlook. Doesn't it look like a castle?

Way over on the right of the overlook is what I thought was a telescope. It's not but it's an ingenious scope of a different kind. These curves are cut into an arc of steel and have a caption of what the view is. Move the scope to each curve and zero in on a different view. Low tech, high cool.

This is the view when the scope is nestled in the arc above the "rounded peak" caption above.

The CCC were a productive bunch. Here are statistics from a Visitor Center exhibit about them. I've seen their work in nearly every park I've visited, especially in the southwest.

I think, though, that the Value of Work statement might be a mistake. Instead of $21 today, I'm sure they meant $21 billion.

Eighty-six percent of Chiricahua National Monument is designated Wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964, (making it 50 years old this year), defines it as "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . ." Which means no development, no roads, no porta-loos, no concessions. I think it's pretty nice that 53% of all Park Service lands have been thus designated.

After we made our tour we stopped for a picnic lunch and were visited by some gray-breasted jays.

It was time to leave when we were presented with this.

Thought of the day:

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt we must leave them with more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it. - Lyndon Johnson