Home, Home on the Blue Range

June 27-30, 2015

+110-degree temperatures in Tucson gave us good reasons to seek out a well-shaded high elevation camping spot for Amateur Radio Field Day. In years past, it was always Rustler Park in the Chiricahuas, but with that former oasis now burnt to a crisp and shorn of its generous canopy of Ponderosa pines, we set our sites on the campground at Pueblo Park in the Blue Range.

We left Tucson on Saturday, June 27, but turned back when over lunch at the Alma Grill, we heard reports of a hailstorm south of Reserve that broke windows. We high-tailed it back to our usual bail-out location at Faywood Hot Springs and took another run at it Sunday morning.

Major washouts and downed trees along the Pueblo Park Road made it clear that these highlands received the brunt of the storm. But the sky wasn't as inky blue as the day before, so we forged on with our original group now reduced to our friend Ann H, Dennis and me.

There are 10 sites at Pueblo Park, tucked into the tall pines along Pueblo Creek. Only one other site was occupied, and no other cars came up the road while we were there. We parked the Tacomas butt to butt with the truck tent and a big tarp in between, but despite the dark clouds and gusty winds from a passing front, we only had a few light sprinkles. After dinner we checked out the nearby "Trail to the Past", and were a bit chagrined to realize that despite a Master of History and a Doctor of Anthropology in our group, we had not guessed the origin of the name "Pueblo Park". The path winds 1½ miles through the remains of a 12th century village inhabited by Tularosa people, a branch of the Mogollon family. Large pits and mounds marked the locations of kivas and pit houses that dotted this broad hilltop a thousand years ago. Tributaries of Pueblo Creek provided water for beans, corn and squash, supplemented by water from a nearby spring.

The next morning we continued exploring west along Pueblo Park Road, and were very surprised when the forest opened up into a high pass with sweeping views of the Blue Range ... and a three-bar cell signal!

Near the high point we stopped to check out a roadside sign, and found ourselves examining a dark rock nicely decorated with petroglyphs. And high on the cliffs behind this rock was a very well-preserved pueblo. A vein of quartz points to the dwelling like a giant arrow.

We stopped for lunch at Blue Crossing, a campground built by the CCC in the 1930s, and equipped with adorable Appalachian Trail lean-tos. A short trail led to another series of petroglyphs, and when we wandered down to the stream, we found an enormous beaver dam that braided the flow into many threads.

We briefly surveyed the trailheads for Lanphier and Bonanza Bill trails, both part of a huge network of interconnected trails that would lend itself to multi-day loops.

The afternoon sky was roiling, but since it hadn't produced more than a light shower, we wandered down the road to Saddle Mountain Lookout. It was only five miles, but as the "good" road deteriorated into serious 4WD, and the clouds darkened, we decided to save it for another day, although we could see an intact tower on the summit at 8340 feet.

Obviously we need to spend at least another week getting to know the Blue Range, but next time it will be after the monsoon storms have passed!