The Chiricahua Experience
On Saturday, November 1, I (Matthew Flowers) had the opportunity to journey with five other adventurers into the "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks," as named by the Chiricahua Apaches, but better known as the Chiricahua National Monument. This 73 year-old national monument serves as home to some of the most amazing rock formations, as well as an amalgam of plants and animals typical of both the Mexican Sierra Madres and the southwest US mountains. Following a week of exams (three exams for me), this trip provided refuge from the books, and a chance to observe one of Arizona's beautiful treasures.
Early Saturday morning, (7:30 am to be exact!), a small group of six departed for Willcox, Arizona. To all of you who chose to sleep in that morning, you really missed out. Even though scarce in numbers, the company was great. Dr. Giancarlo Pepeu, Professor of Pharmacology (neuropharmacology) and his wife, Dr. Ileana Pepeu Marconcini, Associate Professor of Pharmacology (dermopharmacology), from the University of Florence, Italy; Dr. John Aronson (Teaching Associate, Molecular and Cellular Biology); Carol Bender (UBRP Director); Kirstin Grahn (UBRPer in Dr. Sterling's lab, Veterinary Science); and I arrived at the monument at approximately 10:00 am and embarked on a sight-filled hike along about seven miles of the park's trails.
The unique rock formations feature towering spires of stone that makes one wonder how mother nature could have created them. Geologists believe that following a volcanic eruption about 27 million years ago the white-hot volcanic ash settled to form a near 2,000-foot thick layer of volcanic rock known as rhyolite. Over time wind, water, and ice eroded along weak cracks in the rock to form an array of columns. Some of the more amusing members of the park are Duck on a Rock, Totem Pole, Old Maid, and the Kissing Stones, which all resemble the names they have been given. Also taking our breath away were Big Balanced Rock and Pinnacle Balanced Rock. How do there enormous rocks perch themselves on such tiny pedestals?
Dr. Aronson did a great job of leading our group. He has a sharp eye for spotting wildlife and interesting plants. During the hike, we spotted deer, chipmunks, Chiricahua fox squirrels, blue jays and lizards. Even though all of us could smell a skunk-like odor, we never spotted the foul resident. Both Kirstin and I believed that the scent stemmed from the trees around us, but Carol adamantly held to her skunk theory. As for plants, the alligator juniper tree beguiled our group the most with its twisting bark pattern showing a strong likeness to alligator skin. Many of the rocks were densely covered with lichen as well. Dr. Ileana Pepeu found much enjoyment in all of these spectacles, and seized the opportunity to take many pictures.
The trip allowed for great conversation, too. With a lengthy drive there and back and about five hours along the trails, we had ample time to chat. Topics of discussion ranged from research to drug use in schools to the differences between driving the US and Europe. A peaceful lunch break also let each of us tell our stories.
As the six of us departed the park and headed back for Tucson, the setting sun cast a sublime glow upon us. We all regretted leaving, for we had seen only a fraction of the entire monument. The awe-inspiring power of this national monument made me realize that sometimes our own endeavors blind us from seeing the true beauty of the world around us.
Matthew Flowers, UBRPer in Dr. Wells' Lab, Biochemistry
The University of Arizona
22 September 1997