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Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Bowie, AZ

Louise Speaks:   As well as visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are also planning on visiting all the National Parks and Monuments.   A National Monument is a protected area that is similar to a National Park,  but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government. Under a proclamation by the President of the United States, it is labeled a National Monument. National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: including the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act  of 1906.  This trip was to include two National Monuments but one was not accessible by RV so we will have to come back and visit Ironwood by car.  However, Fort Bowie Natinal Historic Site is on our agenda.

Following directions from Catalina State Park in Tucson, led us in the middle of nowhere.  Then we hit freeway construction and of course our exit was closed.  That made us take the next exit and enter the town of Bowie from the back side.  Luckily for us there was a sign showing us which way to go to reach the fort.  We drove along this very narrow highway until we saw a road that we think we were suppose to turn on.  See just another adventure.  Anyway, we turn on the road, and it’s a dirt road.  Did I mention we are in a motor home?  A fairly large motor home?  Traveling with Thelma and Louise is not always about the destination, it is almost always about the adventure.  So we continue on this dirt road with the dirt in our rear view mirror.  Finally we come to a sign and it says straight for trail or left for handicap and Fort.  Not sure which way to go, we go towards the Fort.  Now let me back up.  We were already informed that this was a “hike in Monument”.  We were told that you had to park and hike in a mile and a half to get to the Visitor Center.  Of course that means you have to hike a mile and a half out and back to your car.  We weren’t sure if we were going to do that, but we knew we had to at least get a picture of the sign.  So now we are headed off to what we think is the fort.  We drive at least 5 miles, still on a dirt road and we see a turn off…up a hill…and it says “Park Residence”.  Well that’s not where we’re headed but we knew we couldn’t go straight as that was through a very small gate and there is no way we would fit.  So up the hill we go.  At list this part was paved, but it was nothing more than a driveway.  We get to the top and there is a very small parking lot…room for maybe 3 cars.  So we just park as best we can and we take up at least two spaces and most of the driveway but it does appear that we are the only ones here so we’re not too concerned.  We look around and see no one.  We do see a building that bears a sign “maintenance”.  We walk around looking for someone or something to let us know where we are.  Finally there is a piece of wood, with painted on writing that says “Visitor Center 500 feet”.  It points up a dirt stairway up a small hill.  Not really sure where it leaves, we head up the hill.  At the top is…well we are shocked.  It is the Visitor Center.  The one that we were told was a 3 mile round trip hike to reach.  Right in front of the Visitor Center is Fort Bowie in all it’s glory.

Fort Bowie was a 19th-century outpost of the United States Army.   This particular location was picked due to the water supply available.  The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches.  The most violent of which was the Battle of Apache Pass in July 1862.  The fort was named in honor of Colonel Bowie  commander of the 5th Regiment Infantry  who first established the fort.  The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post.  In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital.  The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards  to the east of the first site. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass  were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches.  The fort was abandoned in 1894.

The Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station.    The mile and a half hiking trail to the old fort passes other historic sites such as Apache Spring, Siphon Canyon, the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Stop and Bascom’s Camp.  We missed these sites because we found this short cut and we are happy we did.  We still didn’t find a sign and were told the only sign is by the parking lot where you park and take the trail to the fort.  So we managed to get out of that small parking lot and head back to where we made the original turn and headed for the hiking trails.  We found the parking lot and the Fort Bowie sign and then continued down the 8 mile dirt road to the Freeway.

Some interesting facts.  In 1958 a Western entitled Fort Bowie was made, starring Ben Johnson.  This was before it was declared a National Monument.  The film charted one of the disputes between the US Cavalry based at the fort and the Apaches.  The Chiricahua Apaches were first sent to Fort Marion in Florida, then Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  If you go to our Ft. Sill Blog you will see Geronimo’s Grave site.

As I have mentioned many times before, I’m not that much into history, but setting out a goal to see all the National Monuments is giving me a history lessen whether I want it or not.  There is a small museum in the Visitor Center and you are able to spend as much time as you want walking around the fort and seeing what remains of the various buildings.  The fort is pet friendly so Gracie was able to join us on our adventure.  There really isn’t much here but remains of the fort.  They have done nothing to perserve the fort, but I guess that was history.  If you are out this way, when the weather is good, NOT in the summer, it would be an interesting stop.  But the trouble to get here, I’m not sure it’s worth the time.  Fort Bowie gets  a C rating.  It’s okay, because we stumbled on it by accident, but I wouldn’t have made the 3 mile round trip hike to see it.

 


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Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Heading SE and not too far from McFarland State Historic Park are the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  The national monument consists of the ruins of multiple structures surrounded by a compound wall constructed by the ancient people of the Hohokam period, who farmed the Gila Valley  in the early 13th century.  Archeologists have discovered evidence that the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built the Casa Grande also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections which lasted over a thousand years.  The ruins are situated in the flat plain of central Arizona in between the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers, just north of Coolidge and about 15 miles from the larger town of Casa Grande.

 

 

Casa Grande is Italian and Spanish for “big house” .  These names refer to the largest structure on the site, which is what remains of a four story structure that may have been abandoned by 1450. The structure is made of calich,  and has managed to survive the extreme weather conditions for about seven centuries.  The large house consists of outer rooms surrounding an inner structure.  The outer rooms are all three stories high, while the inner structure is four stories high.  The structures were constructed using traditional adobe processes.  The wet adobe is thicker at the base and adds significant strength. Horizontal cracks can be noticed and this defines the breaks between courses on the thick outer walls.  The process consisted of using damp adobe to form the walls and then waiting for it to dry, and then building it up with more adobe.   Father Kino  was the first European to view the Hohokam complex in November 1694 and named it Casa Grande. Graffiti  from 19th-century passers-by is scratched into its walls; though this is now illegal.

Casa Grande Ruins became the first prehistoric and cultural reserve in the US.  It was then re-designated a national monument by President Woodrow Wilson on August 3, 1918.  As with all historical areas administered by the National Park Service, Casa Grande was listed on the National Register of Historic Places  on October 15, 1966.  The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals.  The area has a low elevation and hence is very hot – often over 110°F for several months in the summer.  During spring, this part of Arizona is sometimes the hottest place in the whole USA, and even in winter, daytime temperatures can reach 80°F.  We are lucky, there is a slight breeze out and the weather is quite nice.

 

However, due to the extreme heat, in 1932, a Ramada  was built to shelter the ruins from weathering.  It was made of wood and tin and other than protection from the wind, didn’t really help to protect.  In the early 21st century, a pair of Great horned owls  took up residence in the rafters of that shelter.  Over the years the shelter had to be replaced.  The current protective structure covering the “Great House” replaced the previous ramada and was  built of steel with steel pillars able to stand 100 mph gusts of wind, which is common in this area.  Due to the fragile nature of the “Great House”, visitors to the site are not permitted inside.  Observation is permitted outside the structure only for visitors to protect its integrity.

Touring the ruins is done by self guided tours or if fortunate like we were, you arrive at a time when a schedule tour is taking place.  These volunteer tour guides can give you more information than you can read in the pamphlets handed out.  The scale of the ruin is best appreciated from close up – it is 60 feet by 40 feet wide at the base and the walls are over a meter thick.  Although visitors are not allowed into the building owing to its delicate state, much can be seen from outside including details of the construction with wooden beams supporting the clay walls, and various internal features such as stairways and windows. However, besides the protective canopy, the interior contains other modern items such as re-enforcing beams, metal ladders and measuring devices on the walls, all contributing to the slightly unnatural scene.  I know this building has been up for years, but it is deteriorating.  They are trying to keep the walls standing, but it appears it is just a matter of time before the ruins will crumble.

If you have followed along with our blog over the years, you know we have seen many, many adobe structures throughout Arizona and New Mexico.  This was an interesting stop if you are visiting Arizona, but I would not make a point of stopping here again.  I know I live here and it is a piece of history, but it is an old adobe structure that is falling apart.  I guess that alone is interesting, but I’m not much into history.  We stopped, because it is on our list of National Monuments so we can cross it off, but I’m only giving it a rating of a C, because it just didn’t impress me.

 


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Agua Fria National Monument, Mayer, AZ

Louise Speaks:  This stop is not really a stop.  As you know it is on our bucket list to visit all the National Monuments in Arizona.  Well that is our reason for stopping here today.  We’ve gone by this turn off almost weekly as it is in between our Mesa home and our Prescott home…we just never turned off.  Today we made the time to stop.  Turns out it is a sign at the entrance to a dirt road that is not drive able.  Maybe by 4 wheel drive, but not by a regular car.

 

 

Agua Fria National Monument is approximately  north of downtown Phoenix.  Created by Presidential  proclamation on January 11, 2000.  The 72,344-acre monument is managed by the BLM.   The Bureau of Land Management already managed the lands; however, under monument status the level of protection and preservation of resources within the new monument have been enhanced.  In doing my research I guess I’m giving too little credit to this monument.  Turns out if we were able to go down this unpaved road we would find Indian ruins and large pueblos.   Over 450 distinct Native American  structures have been recorded in the monument, some of the large pueblos  contain more than 100 rooms each.  Although these pueblos were massive in the past, they seem to currently just be piles of crumbled rock.

 

The monument now is primarily composed of semi-desert grassland but also contains extensive riparian stands of cottonwoods and willows which are tied to the Agua Fria River.  More than 140 bird species have been recorded at the monument. There are also species of wildlife and many endangered species calling the monument home.  The enhanced protection status also provides greater habitat protection for the numerous plant and animal communities.

We can say we have been to this National Monument.  We have a picture of the sign.  We took a few pictures of the terrain and we are done.  It is right off the 17 Freeway, but it is in no way worth a stop.  In fact I’m not even going to rate it.