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
For many, the southern Arizona town of Tombstone embodies Arizona’s frontier days. That would be true. Tombstone was once bigger than San Francisco. In the 1880s it had quite a reputation as a boomtown of the West. But Tombstone wasn’t alone in its notoriety. Around the same time as Tombstone’s heyday, other towns in Arizona were equally lively. Just 24 miles from Tombstone is Bisbee, my home town.
Just as gold and silver had motivated the Spaniards to search for mineral wealth in southern Arizona, it seemed that everyone was a prospector after the discovery of gold in California. The Mule Mountains where Bisbee is located first gave a hint of a wealth to a cavalry scout. Just as other boomtowns were doing, Bisbee attracted prospectors and investors from the 1880s on and grew and prospered. At the turn of the century Bisbee housed 20,000 inhabitants and Brewery Gulch hosted 50 saloons, gambling establishments and brothels. It even had its own Stock Market Exchange. Its reputation as the wildest city between St. Louis and San Francisco was well-earned.
Bisbee was built along two canyons. The main canyon came to be called Tombstone Canyon, and the other was Brewery Gulch.
The original mineral exploration in Bisbee was for silver and gold. But as the demand for copper grew, Bisbee’s rich copper ore built large mining corporations and Bisbee was one of the biggest cities in Arizona. The copper ore was accessed deep underground. Immense bodies of high grade ore made Bisbee mines some of the richest in the world.
By 1915, times had changed. Families lived in Bisbee, and the brothels and gambling had been shut down. Prohibition had been declared in Arizona and the bars in Brewery Gulch disappeared. Bisbee had a railroad, street cars, churches, schools and celebrations. There were hard rock drilling contests between miners from all over the West. Every fourth of July there were coaster races down Tombstone Canyon, parades and fireworks.
The mines closed in the 1970s and Bisbee avoided becoming a ghost town because its wonderful climate made it attractive to retirees and artists. A visit to Arizona should include a trip to Bisbee. Much of the Main Street and surrounding homes on steep hillsides have been well-preserved and you have choices of great places to stay. The Copper Queen Hotel pictured in the Cuprite photo above, other historic inns and bed and breakfasts, even an old jail! The Queen Mine tour is not to be missed. The mine opened in 1877 and will give you a tiny taste of what made the Bisbee miners such well-thought of workers:
The Spanish Period 1528-1821
The Mexican Period 1821-1848
Nearly two centuries after the decline of the large Archaic cities, when the first Europeans arrived, most of the natives were living in simple shelters in fertile river valleys, dependent on hunting, gathering, and small-scale farming for subsistence. (More at link.) Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, and a dwindling number of would-be settlers roamed the desert of the southwest from 1528-1536. Cabeza de Vaca became one of the first Europeans to encounter the indigenous peoples of North America. He found those nomadic groups who spoke of the magnificent cities built to the north of Mexico. Upon his return to Spain, his writings stirred interest in further explorations of the land he had travelled because an old Portuguese legend spoke of lost cities of gold. The expeditions of Fray Marcos de Niza, and Coronado followed, all in pursuit of the riches they imagined from the tales told by the indigenous for whom the pueblos of the Zuni seemed marvelously rich.
The Arizona Indians they encountered belonged to three linguistic families: Uto-Aztecan (Hopi, Paiute, Chemehuevi, Pima-Papago), Yuman (Yuma, Mohave, Cocopa, Maricopa, Yavapai, Walapai, Havasupai), and Athapaskan (Navaho-Apache). The Hopi were the oldest group, their roots reaching back to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi); the youngest were the Navaho-Apache, migrants from the Plains, who were not considered separate tribes until the early 18th century.
The first Europeans to live in Arizona were Franciscans, who in 1629 established a mission to the Hopi at the village of Awatovi in northeastern Arizona. This did not end well for the Franciscans and it wasn’t until 1692 that San Xavier Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in southern Arizona. The Spanish quest for riches continued and in 1736 silver was reportedly found near a Pima Indian village southwest of present-day Nogales. This brought more settlers and Spanish prospectors north out of Mexico. The Pima people were uneasy with the Spanish incursion and as a result, Spain created a military outpost at Tubac. The garrison was moved to the new fort at Tucson in 1776.
As missions, ranching and mining prospered, Spanish troops campaigned against the Apache in southern Arizona and eventually worked out a peace. The attention of the Spaniards turned to the Revolution and in 1821 Mexico gained independence. Most of modern-day Arizona was part of Mexico at that time. The 1835 Texas war against Mexico weakened its hold over the land in the southwest. The US Army of the West fought the Mexican War and the US took control over New Mexico (including Arizona) and California. With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the war ended and the US gained title to Texas, California and New Mexico.
In 1910 a devastating wildfire tore through Idaho and Montana. In just two days’ time, the Big Blowup consumed almost three million acres of forested hillsides. Drought and high winds created the perfect conditions for a firestorm. The National Forest Service had recently been created, but fighting the fire required additional help from the US Army and the local miners. At last, a cold front brought a rain storm that put the fire out. Eight-nine lives were lost and the horrifying stories of the survivors motivated the country to create a fire suppression policy.
For most of the last century, the Forest Service put out almost every fire. The result, unfortunately, has been severely increased forest density. The first settlers in northern Arizona described the forest as possible to ride a horse through at a full gallop.
Today riding at a gallop through the woods around Flagstaff would not be advisable. According to turn of the century reports from the early 1900’s, northern Arizona was mixed conifer forest with grassy undergrowth and large, open areas. Because of the distance between the large old growth trees, when a wildfire occurred, it burned along the ground, not in the crown of the tree as today. This allowed the trees to survive a fire, whereas today, everything is killed.
You can see a burned off area at the top of this hill, with standing snags. The area below the hill was saved by fire-fighting efforts.
Arizona has a dry climate. Arizona has experienced long drought periods in the past. When the Ponderosa Pines are distressed by lack of moisture, they are prone to the Pine Bark Beetle. In 2010, 9.2 million acres (Out of 749 million acres of forest land in the United States) of tree mortality was caused by insects and disease. 74 % of that damage was done by the Bark Beetle. Once these stands of trees die, they are tinder waiting for the next lightning strike, careless camper, or tossed cigarette.
The problem is compounded by the number of homes built in the interface area between the forest and the urban areas. Firefighters are put at risk to save homes from the fast-moving fires. Much has been learned about caring for our wild lands, and one of the projects now underway is 4FRI. This is the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, working to restore the structure, pattern and composition of fire-adapted ecosystems, which will provide for fuels reduction, forest health, and wildlife and plant diversity. 4FRI aims to implement comprehensive restoration over the next twenty years, including thinning of predominantly small trees across one million acres, and safe controlled burning and natural fire management on much of the landscape.
Bark Beetle-downed trees
Slash piles ready for burning
A controlled burn
Hopefully 4FRI is a solution for implementing landscape-scale forest restoration. It is a problem that will take twenty years or more to solve, with new fires happening each year. Home owners in the urban interface areas attempt to clear areas around their homes, and create emergency plans for escape should a fire start.