Part 3: Morenci, AZ to Guadalupe Mountains, NM


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The Trip

We spent the night beside the Gila River.  Next morning, we broke camp and headed into Clifton, AZ to see what was there.  From Clifton, we headed into New Mexico.  We spent the next night at the "City of Rocks" state park.  From there, we crossed most of New Mexico headed toward the Sacramento Mountains and from there into the Guadalupe Range just north of the Texas border.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

There is not much in Clifton.  Basically, it is a burned-out hulk of a town that passed it's prime in the early 1900s and has been supplanted by the bigger mine in nearby Morenci.  The railroad station above is a testament to earlier glory.

Approaching the Freeport McMoRan pit at Morenci, you get a good feel for the amount of material that has been moved over the years.  The dark dot on the hill is a HUGE earth-mover truck.

When we got closer, we got a shot of the trucks doing their thing.  They dump the overburden near the edge and a dozer, visible on the left, pushes the spoil over the edge.  They don't let the trucks get too close to the edge for fear of a collapse and/or backing over the edge.

Because of the high angle of repose of the dumped material, and the fact that it is loose, the mine had to construct a series of check dams at the base to stop mud slides that are likely during heavy rains.  Note the first dam is made of old (huge) truck tires.

We headed back through Clifton and got a view of one of the old steam engines that serviced the mines.

Back in the day, Clifton had a smelter for the copper.  They dumped the slag right next to the town.

We headed over the mountains into New Mexico and the road was quite steep.  At a turnout we got a nice view of some of the awesome cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon.

We continued on to Silver City for lunch and at one of the intersections, we spotted this fine ride.

After lunch, we headed east past the Santa Rita mine.  This mine, also owned by Freeport McMoRan, is one of the larger mines on the planet and has been worked since the time of the Spanish conquistadors.

Note the colors in the overburden pile.

From the overlook point, we could see the large shovels loading trucks.  Note the truck next to the shovel on the right.  He is backing into position to get loaded.

This equipment is indescribably huge.

From Santa Rita, it was a short hop to City of Rocks.  We drove up to a view point and got a nice view of the weather that was brewing north of our position.

City of Rocks is an odd place.  The boulders just jut out of an otherwise flat plain.  There were camping sites interspersed in the rocks as well as the trailer sites in the foreground.  Since we need no services to be comfortable, we chose a secluded spot among the rocks and settled in for a nice night.  The weather was cool, so we slept well.

We headed south from City of Rocks to I-10 and encountered a convoy of these tank carriers.  There were 30-40 trucks in the convoy and I assumed they were coming from Ft. Bliss but their destination was not clear.  These units are huge and they have dual massive winches on the rear of the tractor.

The convoy was followed by a fuel bowser.  This truck, even compared to Thor is huge, but is puny compared to the tank carriers.

We restocked in Las Cruces and then headed north to Alamogordo, then east into the Sacramento Mountains.  Note the folding in the bedding on the west flank of the range.

The road was steep; more than 6% and we had to go through this tunnel.

In the old days, the Sacramento Mountains provided timber for the railroads.  This railroad trestle was built to deliver the timber to the flat lands below.

We had to go to a number of USFS campsites before we found one that was open.  Along the way, we spotted these deer feeding in the open area.  There were 5 in the herd.  Our campsite was at 9,000 feet and needless to say it got cool at night.  But, the wind was calm.

Next morning, we broke camp and headed south along the rim of the Sacramento Range.  Looking to the east we could see the Tularosa Basin and the White Sands gypsum dunes (upper left of the photo above).

Enroute to Sunspot, we passed this Haglund snow tractor on the side of the road.

The photo above shows a solar telescope that was deployed at the South Pole.

The visitor center wanted cash to go in, so having already paid and paid through my taxes, I told them to kiss off and we headed out on foot.  The device above is a solar clock.

The first building we encountered had a solar telescope in operation.  This booger was too tall to get in one photo.

The upper end of the 'scope has the pointing mirror that reflects the sun into the analysis chamber.

This instrument is the big bad boy at the Sunspot installation.  Built in the middle 1960s, most of the device is below ground level.  The pit that contains the balance of the optical path is about 260 feet BELOW the foundation.  The above ground part is about 100 feet.  The whole device runs on a floating mercury bearing assembly.  The optical path is "evacuated" (a vacuum) to prevent distortion from the heat of the sun.

This is a panorama from my Fuji X10 of the valley to the west of Sunspot, NM.  Click here to see the full size image.  When the image is displayed, you can use the browser to zoom in further.  Use the "Back" button in the browser to return to this page.  The Tularosa Basin, the valley to the west, includes the White Sands gypsum dunes as well as the White Sands Missile Range.  WSMR is the home of Trinity Site, the location of the first atomic bomb explosion.

As we were walking around, we spotted this crew modding some of the existing infrastructure to accommodate new instruments.

This facility is used for instrument development and calibration.

From the upper view point, we could see the Apache telescope facility to the south.

From Sunspot, we headed south into Timberon and got "positionally uncertain", so we stopped to check our maps.  A local fellow stopped to assist us, but in reality wanted to check out Thor.  He was a nice fellow and led us to the correct turnoff.  He carries his dog outside and I am not so hot on that arrangement.  I had a hound fall out of my pickup some years back at about 45 mph.  Lucky for him, he hit the only part of his body that could not be damaged -- his head.  To say he was thick-headed would be an understatement.

From Timberon, NM we traveled many, many miles on dirt roads across the Ft. Bliss range and into the hills beyond.  The terrain is harsh and dry.  There is minimal vegetation due to the minimal rainfall.

We traveled perhaps 75 miles of dirt to get to the Guadalupe Mountains. 

Our destination for the evening was Dog Canyon within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  But, frankly, the site was not acceptable.  The campground was a dirt parking lot.  So, we both agreed to do a backcountry camp and we headed north into the boondocks.  We found a nice spot that was secluded and away from the county road.

Tomorrow, we conclude our off-road travels and hit the asphalt to make a speed run across Texas to the hog hunt site.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2012, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.