About 237 million years ago theMoenkopi Formation rocks were deposited in a coastal plain that covered what is now northern Arizona and surrounding states. The plain ended at the shoreline of a sea in Utah. Seasonal stream beds crossing that plain deposited thick sheets of sand. Over millions of years, “another 10,000 feet of Mesozoic sedimentary rocks accumulated.”
All of these sedimentary layers have been warped, twisted and eroded, ending up being uplifted by molten lava between 70 million and 30 million years ago as a huge chunk of thick crust. This was the origin of the Colorado Plateau, a 130000 square-mile block. In time, that molten base began to erupt in the San Francisco volcanic field, creating thousands of cinder cones, long lava flows, the stratovolcano known as San Francisco Mountain, and lava domes like Mount Elden near present day Flagstaff. Volcanic activity continued, with the most recent eruption occurring in AD 1064. At that time, the Sinaguan people found that the loose cinders made a good mulch for growing crops, and they created Wupatki. They used the red Moenkopi sandstone exposed in the area along with Kaibab limestone and black basalt from the volcanic field to build substantial buildings.
Centuries later, when the railroads necessitated the creation of the town of Flagstaff, the buildings were made of wood. However, over the years the citizens learned the same lesson that many cities of the day learned, as fires consumed the town. When reconstructed, the materials of choice were identical to those of the ancients, Moenkopi sandstone, Kaibab Formation limestone and volcanic basalt.
Used copies of the Stone Landmarks are available for purchase at various booksellers. Photos are my own.
Prospectors and investors moved into Arizona after the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. To obtain the silver and gold they hunted, miners dug into the sides of hills and into shafts dug down into the earth. Boom towns like Tombstone called to talented hard-rock miners world-wide, who came to Arizona to find work and a future underground.
My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather all worked underground in the mines of Bisbee, Arizona. I grew up listening to tales of the dangers and excitement of the mines. The near-misses, the rescues, the mammoth roaches and the temperatures. Two thousand miles of underground tunnels hollow the earth beneath Bisbee and the surrounding countryside. Sometimes Dad worked the night shift and we would go pick him up after work still in the dark. The daily afternoon blast siren was a normal occurrence. Every Bisbee child was well-versed in blasting cap safety.
I recently taught several groups of first graders a bit about Arizona geology, and was surprised to realize how little students today know about mining. “Who can tell me what a mine is?” I asked. The quick response was, “like Mine-Craft?” I realized it will be a large task, helping Arizona’s future know about Arizona’s past.
Please take time to enjoy this terrific video presented by the City of Bisbee, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and the Bisbee Queen Mine Tour. Watch the video here.
Underground miners were certainly aware of the monetary value of the silver, gold and copper that they mined, but they also were awed by the beautiful caverns formed deep underground and covered with the secondary forms of the ore they blasted, shoveled and hauled up from the mines. These often take the form of delicate crystals with wonderful colors. As a child I was lucky to visit one such crystalline cave. In 1997 the Smithsonian Museum in Washington recreated one of these Bisbee caverns in the Museum. I keep a copy of the book commemorating it in my rock case, Treasures of the Queen by Richard Graeme.
If you drive a car on I10 in southern Arizona, you will undoubtedly see sign after sign asking “The Thing?” In fact, a miracle in advertising, the first signs begin near El Paso, TX, traveling west. By the time you arrive at exit 322, in the middle of the desert between Willcox and Benson, Arizona, your curiosity should be aroused. For a whole dollar, you can find out just what The Thing, the Mystery in the Desert, is. And you can buy an ice cream cone, or other tourist delights.
In the same southeastern corner of the state you will encounter beautiful Texas Canyon, rich in the history of Arizona Territory, the Butterfield Stage Route, ranching, and Apache country.
A few minutes driving will take you to famous Tombstone, Arizona. In 1877 Ed Schieffelin announced to cavalry stationed in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, that he intended prospecting in the valley of the San Pedro River. He was warned that he would only “find his tombstone there.” It was a dangerous time in Arizona Territory because this was Apache country. But he persisted, found silver and staked the Tombstone and Graveyard claims. Soon other rich deposits were discovered and more prospectors came and the town of Tombstone blossomed. It was a rough, tough boomtown until 1886 when fire destroyed the pump works and the mines flooded. Tombstone remains as a thriving tourist attraction, complete with shootouts in the streets, busy saloons, stagecoaches and people dressed in the best of western wear.
I know, today was supposed to be all about “T” on this A to Z Challenge, but sometimes a road block stops all progress.
We were driving along I17 north toward Flagstaff yesterday. As we topped the steep hill near Sunset Point, all traffic began to slow and we could see that it came to a standstill not far ahead. Knowing about the old back road from the Bumblebee exit to the town of Mayer and hence back to the I17, we took the exit and enjoyed the drive. You never know quite what surprises you will find on a detour.
Known as the Tree of Life to the Pima Indians, the Mesquite (mess-KEET) is common in the deserts of Arizona. There are three native species in Arizona, the Honey Mesquite, the Velvet Mesquite and the Screwbean Mesquite. Mesquites can grow into large, shady trees and are used in landscaping as well as found growing wild.
Mesquites are members of the Fabaceae Family, one of the largest plant families. A familiar member of this family is the pea plant. The unifying characteristic of these plants is the seed pod they create, called a legume. Many legumes are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into compounds useful to plants, through the nodules they have on their roots. Mesquites are able to do this and this makes them valuable to the other plants in the poor growing conditions of a desert. They also act as nurse trees for slow-growing plants. Birds, insects and other animals rely on the Mesquite beans as a food source and for shade and nesting. Often the Mesquites found throughout the desert are no more than a shrub, but under good conditions, they become large trees. Mesquites bloom in the Spring with creamy yellow dense, narrow clusters.
Historic records show that every part of the Mesquite had a use to the native peoples, for wood, for flour made of ground pods (pinole), the bark for baskets, medicines, and fabric. Today they are used in much the same ways. Mesquite burns slowly and is nearly smokeless, so it is popular as fuelwood. It makes an aromatic charcoal for barbecuing. Mesquite honey is very popular.
The Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is very common in the southern part of Arizona. It is remarkable in appearance because of fuzzy, short hairs that cover the entire tree and pods, making it look velvety. The pods when ripe are narrow and brown and up to 8 inches long. This tree can grow a very long taproot, allowing it to access water deep underground. The Velvet Mesquite can get quite large, with a two-foot trunk and 30 feet tall or more. They can be found along streams or washes in shady thickets. Along some desert rivers, like the Verde and the San Pedro, dense mesquite bosques (forest in Spanish) can be found.
The Honey Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, has large spikes or thorns of up to three and a half inches and a sweet taste that make its beans delicious. The bean pods are mostly straight and up to 8 inches long. Its flower is a favorite of bees. It is a smaller tree than the Velvet Mesquite.
The Screwbean Mesquite, Prosopis pubesens, like the Velvet Mesquite, has rough bark that separates into long, narrow strips. The bean pod on this tree gives it the name, Screwbean, because instead of a long straight pod, the pod is tightly coiled and spirals to 2 inches.Tweets by @fanofnmtn