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July 23, 2005

Where was it?

Mike Lerch was the first one there, with an answer technically accurate and a bit telegraphic. I should have known. Mike is the one who introduced me to the backcountry of the Mojave, and has about a hundred times as many desert hours under his belt as I do.

And Beth, skilled and dogged researcher that she is, fleshed out Mike's poetic answer with a place description and a link for more info.

The photo is of the Pinacate region, a volcanic field just south of the US-Mexico border near Organ Pipe National Monument, in one of the hottest, driest, most desolate sections of North America.

And it's the heart of what some folks would like to make a new cross-border National Park, along with el National Monument Organ Pipe, the Natural Refuge of Wild Life Dark Head and the field of practices bombing Barry Goldwater (a.k.a. Organ Pipe National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Goldwater bombing range.)

Pinacate is described by Sonoran Desert National Park project director Bill Broyles:

"The 600-square-mile mountain rises from near sea level to almost 4,000 feet. Surrounding it are nine gaping maar craters, over 400 cinder cones, all now dormant, and an enormous sea of sand. In the west, a remote range called Sierra El Rosario stretches across the sand like prayer beads."

A maar crater is one formed when a mass of magma reaches groundwater. Explosions ensue.

Ed Abbey confessed to being intimidated by the Pinacate, a bit more than by any other part of the Sonoran desert. He wrote of El Pinacate: "This is the bleakest, flattest, hottest, grittiest, grimmest, dreariest, ugliest, most useless, most senseless desert of them all." They were terms of endearment. He said that facing the Pinacate, he wondered whether he was really a desert rat, as the shimmering black expanse of lava made him feel more a timorous desert mouse.

And we're talking someone here that would set out into the Cabeza Prieta and Goldwater Range for extended trips in a two-wheel drive truck across miles of sandy ruts. On one such trip, Abbey related in his journal, he ran into Bill Broyles, they parted, and he got himself into trouble shortly thereafter, stuck in a bottomless sand pit. After two days unsuccessfully trying to free his truck in 110 degree heat, Abbey briefly considered walking sixteen miles to Papago Well, hoping to meet Broyles there. But a last-ditch attempt to free his truck - using Air Force bombing targets as traction beneath his tires - at last succeeded.

Broyles himself is no stranger to such desperation in the desert: he made a couple friends one day when he emerged half-mad with thirst, probably only a few hours from death, into the backyard of a family in Mexico not far from Pinacate. He survived in excellent shape, as evidenced by a recent photo taken by his wife Joan Scott on the North Kaibab Trail at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Bill's on the right.

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 23, 2005 07:45 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs