Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wandering in the Desert - Part 1: Kearny, AZ

When we all got the final tour schedule, there was a bit of grumbling about the scheduled lay-off week between Tucson and Orange County. A lay-off with just two weeks to go seemed like kind of a bummer. As we got closer, though, most everyone started to warm to it. Normally, I would have been happy for a free flight home; but with just two more weeks until I'd be home for good, I decided to enjoy a week in the desert!

Scotty, our Prop man, invited a bunch of us up to his folks' house in Kearny, Arizona for the day on Monday. Kearny is just two hours north of Tucson and is home to the Ray Mine and the Hayden Smelter. The town was built in the 1950's to accomodate the employees of the Kennecott Mining Company and to relocate the residents of Ray, Sonora and Barcelona as their towns would be swallowed by Kennecott's giant open-pit copper mine. When I say that three towns would be swallowed by the mine, that gives you some idea how large the operation is.

From this vantage point, the Ray Mine stretched nearly as far as I could see in 3 directions. The pictures simply cannot do the scale of the mine justice.

Each of those terraces is big enough to allow giant dump trucks to drive along. Whole mountainsides have been removed.

Kearny sits on the Gila River. (Fun fact: the Gila was the southern border of the US from the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 extended the territory southward.) Once again, it was strange to see so much water in the desert - just yards from giant cactuses! The Gila is a wide shallow river in Kearny, but farther west so much of its water is diverted that it is a dry river for much of the year.

Scott, Berg and Cuz dip their toes in the Gila

After everyone got settled, we met up at Scott's parents' house and prepared to go four wheeling! We slathered up with sunscreen, filled coolers with beer, piled into a couple of trucks and headed out into the desert. Scott's former in-laws own a sizable cattle ranch across the river and we went exploring!

Scott's dad pilots the truck while Cuz and Miss Suzanne enjoy the ride

All of us (Berg, Suzanne, Scott's Mom, Myself, Cuz, Scott, Dumas and Scott's Dad) take a break

We visited an abandoned silver mining claim, roared up dry washes, chased off a rattlesnake and a few of us even climbed up the windmill that keeps a supply of fresh water pumped for the cattle in the middle of the desert. It was a grand afternoon out in the sunshine!

The cattle were not impressed

Dumas at the base of a giant saguaro

Yup, that's a ball of cactus stuck in my knee. I was explaining how the cholla cactus drops off parts of itself and how these balls attach to passing animals to spread the cactus, when one of the balls attached itself to me. Not to worry, I'd had several beers by then and thought the whole situation was HILARIOUS. Before I could grab it and pull it off with my hand (which would only have gotten the cactus stuck to my hand AND my leg), Scotty came to my rescue with a couple of sticks and popped the little bugger off.

As the sun started to get low in the sky, we headed back toward town.

Scott's former in-laws hosted us for dinner. As his father in-law is a cattle rancher, there was no question what we'd be having for dinner! He grilled us up some amazing steaks that had, not so long ago, been part of the herd we'd been bothering all afternoon.

A cattleman's barbecue is not a trifling thing

Both the company and the food were wonderful at the ranch. We sat and talked about Scott's exploits as a kid in Kearny while we listened to the coyotes howl in response to the whistles of the Copper Basin Railway in the mountains. It was a great way to kick off my weeklong adventures in Arizona!