And the road goes on forever...

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Gilas

They loom over our lot regardless of what we do, what time of day or night, whatever the weather. I’m talking of course about the rosy-hued mountain range of rugged rock practically right outside our doorstep, the Gila Mountains. They run northwest-southeast, about 26 miles long is all and are a *fault-blocked range attached in the south to the Tinajas Atlas which continue onto into Sonora, Mexico for another 30 miles.
*According to Wikipedia: Fault-block landforms (mountains, hills, ridges, etc.) are formed when large areas of bedrock are widely broken up by faults creating large vertical displacements of continental crust. Vertical motion of the resulting blocks, sometimes accompanied by tilting, can then lead to high escarpments. These mountains are formed by the Earth's crust being stretched and extended by tensional forces. Fault block mountains commonly accompany rifting, another indicator of tensional tectonic forces. Tilted type block mountains have one gently sloping side and one steep side with an exposed scarp, and are common in the Basin and Range region of the western United States. Lucky for us, we get the steep side here on the west.

One of the oldest sections of the interstate highway system in the US goes through two-tiered Telegraph Pass at the north end of this range. The I-8 road cuts in this area exposed some of the oldest metamorphic rocks in the state of Arizona, outside of rocks exposed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Somehow, looking at the majesty of this small mountain range, you can feel the power of those eons of time etched on her face.

Sheep Mountain is the highest peak notable in this range, with a height of nearly 3600 feet which climbs steeply from the desert floor just beyond our subdivision at an elevation of 800 feet. The foothills just below it are criss-crossed with dirt Jeep trails, deceptively steeper than they look from a distance. On this day Marc asks me “Let’s go up and watch the sunset?” “OK”.

Marc enjoys four-wheeling in our old Dodge one ton dually—for one thing, it is geared very low with lots of low end torque and power and a 5 speed manual transmission which in low range first gear will cruise at idle speed without need of even stepping on the gas pedal. What it lacks in narrow maneuverability it makes up for with its slow speed power, allowing us to climb very steep hills without spinning nary a tire. The axles carry its weight and distribution evenly, which also helps as we wallow down one side of a wash and up the other side but unlike most trucks it is not light in the back end. The Jeep trails are very narrow however, skirting the tips of the flowing escarpments Wikipedia talks of as they climb yet higher. Sometimes with only the sky for a view as we crest a hill and not knowing what’s on the other side, Marc hikes his head way out his side window to see that all six tires remain on the trail and not over the steep hillside. This would be a nasty place to roll a vehicle.

Finally, we reach the apex of the circle loop of trail we are on and find a fire pit, obvious evidence of other sunset watchers and I take some pictures of the lackluster sunset and our neighborhood—appearing as an island in a sea of flat desert disappearing into the dusk. Just minutes later we creep down in low gear without lights; wrapped in the cocoon of desert solace and peace.