A Winter Wander Through Southwest New Mexico

December 28-30, 2018

The fall of 2018 was remarkable both for unusually cool temperatures and higher than average rainfall. Freezing temperatures and a big rainstorm on December 27 capped the mountains with snow and dusted the valley floor, just as we were preparing for our usual between-the-holidays camping trip.

Willcox Playa, covered in snow!
Ash Peak near Duncan, Arizona
At the last minute we opted instead to spend two nights at the Simpson Hotel in Duncan. We met our friends Ann H. and Dave T. from Silver City and spent a delightful evening in front of the fire plotting the next day's adventures.

We decided to return to an area in southwestern New Mexico that we last visited in 2013.

The drive was much easier this time, but the cliff-side scramble was challenging, scaling steep talus slopes, crawling under rock falls and hauling ourselves across a tumble of Volkswagen-sized boulders.
But soon we were rewarded with a dazzling array of petroglyphs.
I haven't been able to learn much about these panels, although some scholars have speculated that they were created by Apaches who moved into this area in the 1500s.
I love these petroglyphs because they appear to recount elaborate stories.
It's a bit faded, but it appears to be a woman in a very fancy dress.
Both the face and the edge are inscribed.
An eye?
View from below the cliffs, with a fisheye lens.
And the mother lode, an elaborate panel including a jaguar.
We sat by this panel while we ate lunch and tried to decipher its meaning.
Lunch on a knoll overlooking the river.
The right side of the jaguar panel.
As if we hadn't hiked enough that day, we decided to search for more petroglyphs on the nearby mountain.
The trail was steep and stony and spiked with prickly pear, cholla and catclaw.
But oh the views, across the valley to the snow-covered mountains!
And after a long and difficult climb, we realized that between us and the summit was a saddle and another big climb! we wisely made our way back to the trucks via a steep and rock-strewn ravine.
On the drive back to the Simpson, we spotted a group of more than 20 coatis.
But they quickly split into smaller groups and dashed into the underbrush without allowing a single decent photo.
Carlisle Mine
The next morning we wandered into the rugged mountains north of Duncan, home to the annual Javelina Chase mountain bike race (scroll for panorama).
We wandered through the ruins of the old Ontario Mine, part of the Steeple Rock Mining District, which produced gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc from the late 1800s through the 1950s.
Ann tries out the rumble seat.
We followed Pennsylvania Canyon downstream, marvelling at the magnificent sculptures created by a sudden desert snowstorm.
We delayed our departure as long as we could, picking at colorful stones and delighting in the frosty air and the warm sun on our backs.