We Don’t Need No Stinking Guardrails

Coronado National Forest is one of the wonders of the world. It is not contiguous and comprises many mountain ranges in various parts of southern Arizona. I live near the Huachuca Mountains district. The forest is named after Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, born to a noble family in Spain in 1510.  In 1535 he sailed to Mexico and explored much of what is now the American southwest. During his expeditions, many native tribes of Indians were massacred or enslaved, and Coronado became known for crushing slave rebellions. He was not the first conquistador to commit atrocities, Pizarro was a ruthless explorer who brought down the Inca Empire, and Cortés conquered the Aztecs. Though the Aztecs had a complex civilization, they made enemies because of their customs of slavery and human sacrifice, and some tribes sided with the Spaniards.

The standard Spanish requirimiento to native peoples was to “acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen” (of Spain). In 1540 Coronado commanded an expedition of 1400 soldiers and slaves and found Cibola, a Zuni settlement in what is now New Mexico. Disappointed that there was no gold, he ordered the Zuni to submit. When they failed to obey, “with the help of God we shall forcefully… make war against you… take you and your wives and children and shall make slaves of them.” The Zuni resisted, but were no match for the Spanish military.

A few years later Coronado retired to Mexico and held a governor’s position. Because of his many atrocities, he was demoted to a lower government position in 1544, and died several months later. There are differing views of the conquistadors, from hatred to admiration.

I have ambivalent feelings toward Arizona, but what I love most is it is not a nanny state. As you drive up through the mountains on winding, narrow, pitted dirt roads, the sheer unrailed drop is both scary and exhilarating. Coming from Connecticut, I never fail to note how this simply would not be allowed there. Instead of a warning sign, they’d have a “closed to public” sign.

I lay down in the tall grass along the main road leading into the park.

Beautiful old oak on the road in.

Sign warning of border dangers.

Border patrol on guard, but way too few of them.

Warning sign

View of US land from hilltop

View from hill, looking toward Bisbee.

What Coronado saw: view from hilltop, US land. The ribbon-like line behind this range is the San Pedro River.

View of Mexico from hilltop

Dead tree twisted into exotic shapes.

Fires are a major problem here. This tree has been burned.

A tree root that looks like a bird head.

Tough old yucca—it’s so windy here that everything is weather-beaten.

Den of small animal, unknown what kind though, maybe even rattlesnake.

37 responses to “We Don’t Need No Stinking Guardrails

  1. How beautiful. Raw and gorgeous America!

  2. the word of me

    Great post D.

  3. Thanks for sharing the magnificent photographs of your area. I feel in many ways that I know it. Some parts of Namibia are similar. And we also have the yuccas!

    The history is tragic. Unfortunately I see it repeating itself in other part of the world. Sad that things never really change.

    The sign warning of border dangers is intriguing. Do locals ever get ambushed/attacked/harassed by those crossing the border illegally? It’s something I never considered, but could imagine happening on rare occasions.

    • Hi Andrew, some things never change.

      I don’t know if locals get harassed, but it would be unwise to hike in there without a gun.

      • I remember the volunteer who works at the little shop in the park saying that the illegals will start fires to divert attention, then pass through somewhere else. And I have come across piles of garbage from their camps.

        • Wow – that makes sense on some level (the making of the fires). But definitely not good for the local environment.
          Again, it is not something I would have considered – that the locals would have to hike armed – but I guess desperate folks go to desperate measures.

  4. Every time i try to get to my admiration for the conquistadors, i find it’s in an adult-proof pill bottle. Never managed to open that sucker. Gorgeous views!!! that hole must be from a smallish animal, cuz it appears that you don’t need no stinking badgers. See, the Spaniards were civilized, tho, as opposed to the natives, because the Spaniards used iron weapons, not obsidian ones. Or something like that.
    In my dotage, I find I talk to trees. haven’t brought myself to hug any; my arms could only fit around a sapling, and I’d rather not be a sap, or corrupting the young. Who knows what a tree thinks about unwanted intimacies? I’d say unwarranted intimacies, but but lately we don’t seem to require warrants; the intimacy of a cop’s nose is adequate for breaking a door down. They might call that dogged pursuit, I suppose.

    • Hi Joel, I have no admiration for conquistadors in my soul. They often took the tribes by surprise. They had fine swords and lances made in Toledo, and the best armor of the day. They also had crossbows and primitive muskets, which were cumbersome but were great for creating terror.

      I’m sure a young sapling wouldn’t mind a nice hug and wouldn’t report it. We do need tree police, but they do not exist so hug away.

  5. Nice pics of the desert, Debra. I always love how the lack of humidity and haze in the air lets you see for miles and miles. I also love how the plants and animals are so perfectly adapted to the harsh conditions. Gives me hope for us all!

    • Hi Harry, thanks. It actually was hazy that day because the high winds kick up so much dust. When the winds die down in the summer, you can see even further. Isn’t it amazing how creatures survive with no water…which is why monsoon season (starts around late July) is so important to the habitat. It fills washes and makes pools and everyone parties!

  6. In general European explorers were terrible. From the conquistadors to the Pilgrims they all wreaked havoc on Native American populations. No doubt about where America got its roots, it seems as though we may be carrying on the tradition.

    These photographs are beautiful Debra. I lived in New Mexico and Colorado for a while and I forget how beautiful the southwestern US is. I can see your passion in the pictures.

    • Thank you Bill. The high desert (5000 ft and up) is even more beautiful than the flat plains of for example, Phoenix, which is around 1000 ft and is much hotter (though they have mountainous areas too, but not like this). It’s quite lush up here, especially when the rains start. Sometimes driving by the Huachucas when they’re green they remind me of Switzerland or some other magical mountainous area! It’s a wonderful respite from daily burdens.

    • You have a way with words, Hudson. Thank you! Come visit!

      • A real wordsmith I am. Was going to just Grunt but that would not make sense at this point -stay tuned for my next blog post, for explanation of Grunt.

        But ‘Damn’ says it all, I think. I have gone up a couple mountains in Western Canada. Some the easy way and some a slightly hard way. The exclamation once at that top is always the same ‘Damn!’.

        Have always meant to share a story with you. A roommate of mine from my college days, had a experience in those very mountains. It happened before we met, but it was a story of his I always remember. He was climbing by himself somewhere in the southern range and fell. Was unconscious for 3 days. Had a broken leg, arm and some ribs. Still managed to crawl and make his way back after another four days. So when I look at your pics I’m in awe at landscape and that Stewart ever made it out for us to be friends. Stewart was slight and reserved but never but brave beyond his demur.

        • These mountains here that I’ve described? He was out there for 7 days by himself with broken arm and leg? Then what happened? If he made it to his car he wouldn’t have been able to drive. Did someone finally find him? Wow what an ordeal.

          • All I remember about the story was it the Southern Range in Arizona. I can not remember the face he was going up or how high he was when he went down. I know he was free climbing -he admitted that was not his finest moment, free climbing by himself. To know Stewart, you would think ‘weakling’ -hundred pound vegetarian. Dumb thing number two, he did not tell anyone of his location. So as he put it, it was either crawl out an die doing so or stay put an die. Went with option one. Truthfully I don’t recall how serious his fractures were. Surprised a concussion did not do him. His saving grace was he had water and some food. He fought all that way to get back to his vehicle and just minutes from his vehicle he met a group who had just started the trail to climb. I guess what doesn’t kill you. Stewart was a potter and pushed the limits with his pots , though an exploding pot in the kiln would not get one killed.

            • I think nowadays most hikers consider it unwise to climb alone or not tell anyone where they’ll be. Can’t count on cell phones up there. Stewart sounds like one tough potter with a strong sense of self-preservation—-good for him!

  7. Arizona is a huge change from New England for you! I never imagined it being so windy there. The tree pictures you took are interesting, as was your entire post.

  8. Hi Patti, thank you. It was quite a culture shock when we first got here. It’s windy all the time, except for a few summer months before monsoon. The wind does a lot of damage, blows shingles off roofs and stings your eyes. I miss the natural world of CT, but not the culture. No way will I ever have enough money again in my life to live there. Thanks for writing.

    • I don’t know what kind of a place is CT, but I have fallen in love with Bisbee, AZ, for sure, D! Why would you want to go away from here to anywhere! Patrols, cartels, wind, sun, horses, people, dogs, graves, sunsets, mountains…Oh, I can spend my whole life there! DAMN!

      • Yes but the beauty of those mountains was before the fire. This area has its own beauty, you just have to look for it! Red, I’m trying to email you—can you give me your email address, or send me an email to the address on my blog?

        • You know, D. If I had wings (or money :-)), I would have flown right there, right now. The world that you have shown me through your eyes (and camera lens!) has left a gaping hole in my heart — if only I could show how deeply that beauty has touched me. I feel I can be at ‘home’ there, D.

          I sent a reply to your mail. My email is gupta.vandana10@gmail.com—the same you mailed me at.

          • Red I wish you could visit! Arizona is not just a big desert like many people think—I live at 5,000 feet and the forests are a couple thousand feet higher. Do you think you will ever have the opportunity to visit the US? Travel is ridiculously expensive I know. I’ll never again have the chance to travel.

            I just got your e-mail, it was in my spam folder, damn! So good to talk to you—I’ll reply soon.

  9. I must admit I skipped all the historical stuff but found the photographic snippets fascinating; you sure do live in a picturesque environment though I would think one which is subject to weather extremes. Those twisted gnarled trunks sure are poetic.

    • It is a vast and much more diverse landscape than people think of Arizona. Yup, lots of weather extremes. After months of high winds though, it can get annoying. Impossible to keep your hat on even with straps!

  10. Ah human nature. What is the purpose of our drive to conquer?

    But I believe it’s only a few of us who have that drive. Everyone else just wants to live and let live. Unfortunately, those are the ones who become victims.

    Arizona is a magical place. I know someone who is traveling through Utah right now. I am sick with envy.

    • Here it is 500 years later and we still have conquistadors all over the Mideast, only difference is they use bombs and Kalashnikovs to terrorize anybody who disagrees with their laws/religion, including their own people.

  11. Beautiful photographs. I always feel sorry for the people who will never experience that….who will never get out of the cities.

  12. I love your photos. Such a different look from Maine. Both places have beauty, though, just a different kind. Some day I would like to head west for a visit. This makes me more determined to see what your eyes have the privilege of seeing.

    • Hi Char, thanks. I hope you can visit someday. There are so many areas right here in AZ I would love to see but can’t—like the Grand Canyon. Maybe some day. It’s a long way away.

      When I lived in CT, and could afford to get away, Maine was my first choice. I did a lot of paintings of Schoodic Point, and had a favorite little cabin on Frenchman’s Bay, where you’d hear the loons all night long.

  13. Such a beautiful state. it’s been over 20 years since I have seen AZ but we were further up North. We don’t deal with many illegals here in KY…or if we do it is an unknown fact. On my acres we get hassled with trespassing…people just assume they can ride quads anywhere. Hope to get out west soon, hub hasn’t been very many places that way. Thanks for sharing the beauty.

    • Hi livestronger, OMG don’t get me started on quads! I hate them, just hate them. The only people using them should be BP, search and rescue, agencies like that. What do you do when you find people riding quads on your property?

      Yes AZ is beautiful but so is KY. I passed through there a couple of times in my youth, all on back roads. Gorgeous and a little scary in spots.

      • Try to catch them. The PD would never get here fast enough. We have a natural gas line running perpendicular to the end of our property. That’s how they find our trails. This summer we had been tracking them, but four weeks later we still couldn’t get them. Figures I’d be the only one home when they got caught. My Jeep, my Pitbull and my G26 all head out to the end of the ridge not exactly sure what we will find. My stomach was so nervous. It was six college kids riding double, of course no helmets.

        I was tough on them, gave them legal warnings* and a momma speech then told them to get the heck out of there and to be careful.
        That same day I stopped by the PO Department to file a report. * The verbal warning I gave holds up in court and is just as good as if I DID call the PD and they issued the warning. If I hadn’t filed a report, then next time called the PD, and if they were able to catch them, then all they could do is start over with a verbal warning.

        So now we wait. I won’t go in again, too dangerous for me and it’s an altercation that I really don’t want to be in the middle of for a second offense. If they are stupid enough not to heed my warning, they won’t be as polite next time. I don’t want to be in court defending myself against some idiot who is stupid enough to trespass on my land.

        I’m fascinated by your border patrol writings. Illegals really make me mad and we aren’t even near a border. The only time we have them here is if they are working on a green card, they get some gal pregnant, shack up with her and never go home. They are the ones getting hauled away here.
        For about two months I did the Texas Cyber Border patrol…you watch two places at a time and report any activity. It was really crazy! I became very aware that those boys are SO understaffed.

        Sounds like it’s a daily thing there. Stay safe.

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