For Saturday's jeep road ride in the Dragoon Mountains, I join Southern Arizona Mountain Bike Association riders Tom, Dick and Susan. We drive to Tombstone and take a left on Middlemarch Road toward the Dragoons. We hit National Forest roads and stop at Tom's campsite to begin our ride. It's hot in the mid-day sun, and I can't belive Tom's weather forecast of "50% chance of thunderstorms," never mind those dark clouds in the southern sky.
The jeep road meanders over the rolling foothills at the base of the Dragoons as we head toward West Stronghold Canyon where the Apaches hid among the rocks for years, evading U.S. Army cavalry troops. But that seems many miles from here in the grassy valley. (Click on any picture in this post to see a larger image.)
I bump along the rocky road with Dick and tell him,"I just felt a rain drop." I look up and there is a black cloud above, with the sun next to it. "I felt one too," says Dick. "It's just sweat," says Tom in disbelief. Five minutes later, we're all believers as giant raindrops pelt us with no shelter in sight. After few minutes riding with splattered sunglasses, we huddle beneath a scrawny mesquite. "At least it's cooling off," says Susan optimistically. In fact, it gets so cool so fast I wonder about the need for a space blanket for warmth. Reading my mind, Tom says, "We'll get warm once we start riding again."
We stand in beneath the dripping mesquite and snack and chat. The rain lets up slightly, we remount, and ride toward the sunshine. The rain has cooled off the high desert road, but we soon start sweating again. Soggy from rain, then sweaty, no real escape from wet shirts today. We reach the event ruttier road to West Stronghold Canyon and gain elevation, riding through juniper trees which would have been better protection from the rain.
We ignore the lightning and thunder to the north. "The storm's moving north," I say, because that's the way I want it to be moving. And it turns out I'm right--no more rain for the rest of our ride.
We cross a dry and sandy stream bed, then Tom leads the way up the Conchise Stronghold singletrack, followed by Dick. I push my bike, remount, can't quite get going and fall, butt-first, into an agave plant. Ow ow ow ow ow. For the five spikes that drive through my bike shorts into my skin. So I wait for Susan, and we push on a bit, I ride a bit, then Tom and Dick return saying that the waterbars are getting too steep and it's not ridable.
Cochise was chief of the Chiricahua band of the Apache tribe during a violent time in the mid-1800s. Although he was captured by the U.S. cavalry and escaped several times, he was undefeated in battle. U.S. troops "captured" him on peace and trading trips. For ten years Cochise and his warriors raided ranches and attacked stagecoaches and miners in and around the Dragoon Mountains. The Butterfield Trail stagecoach route at the north end of the Dragoons was a favorite target.
When Cochise retired, his son Taza succeeded him as chief. Cochise died in peace on the Chiracahua reservation in 1874, and legend says he is buried somewhere in the Stronghold. Not surprisingly, no Apache told the white people where he is interred.
After a brief discussion, it's time for lunch! During lunchtime's show and tell, Dick pulls a random seed pod from an oak(?), and pops it open to find air. It's the size cherry, and sort of fuzzy inside. I'm actually much more interested in my sandwich than in non-edible empty seed pods.
After lunch, the fun descent down the hiking trail is without agave incidents. Soon,we're back on the jeep roads, riding downhill out of the juniper forest.
On the way back, we visit Council Rocks, the site of huge boulders covered with petroglyphs. Some believe Cochise signed the treaty with the U.S. Government here. Archeologists believe it was an important gathering place for ancient natives related to the Mogollon people, as well as 18th century Apache tribes.
We hide our bikes behind one of many large boulders and scramble up the hill. Mountain bike shoes are not the best for climbing over slick rock, but we quickly reach the shade of Council Rocks. We climb in and out of narrow "caves" among the boulders.
Below are close-ups of the images:
The pictures below show ancient grinding mortar stones for nuts and seeds, located next to the rock art.
We admire the petroglyphs, view, and Tom searches the landscape for single track to explore on his solo ride tomorrow.
We finish the ride in the shade of overcast skies. Bombing down the jeep road, I reluctantly stop when I see Tom stopped ahead, his hand raised in the air. A four-foot long rattler lays across the road. Tom can't get it to move, so I ride around the far tail end of it, even though it is a slow plod through sand. Dick and Susan arrive and the snake finally slithers to the side of the road. "No rattle," I comment, surprised by its silence when surrounded by four mountain bikers. "It's too young," explains Tom.
Clouds shade the west slope of the Dragoons.
After about 4 and a half hours in the saddle, we dismount by the cars and enjoy beer and limonata. I dream of my next trip to the rocky Dragoons for camping, hiking and biking.
For more information about Cochise and his Apache descendents, check out this article from the Tucson Weekly.