Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Coronado National Forest: Cochise Stronghold

Cochise Stronghold is a section of a canyon in the Dragoon Mountains that is famous for being the spot where the famous Chiricahua Apache warrior Cochise is buried. Cochise fought both the Mexicans and the U.S. military, but agreed to a peace agreement after becoming friends with the local Indian agent. During hostilities, the Dragoon Mountains had served as a base for the Chiricahua. Various vantage points in the mountains ensured Cochise and his people could see troops approaching from many miles away.
The above photo, for example, is taken from a point on the nature trail where if I had been a foot taller I could have gotten a shot that showed that from that particular spot on the hillside it's possible to see anything approaching the canyon from 20 or more miles away. A little higher up the hillside and the view would be even better.

After hostilities ceased, the Chokonen Chiricahua were moved on to a reservation. They remained there until Cochise's death, possibly from stomach cancer, in 1874. When he died, a small group of warriors and one white friend took his body into the Dragoons to bury him along with his favorite horse. According to one account, the warriors found a deep cleft in the mountains, lowered Cochise's body into it, and then killed the horse and dropped it in on top of him along with other grave goods. Another report described it as an actual burial and describes the warriors leading their horses around to obscure the gravesite. In either case, only a handful of people knew where Cochise was buried and took the secret to their graves.

Cochise Stronghold is located on the Coronado National Forest. There's a nice little campground, only 12 sites, that is designed for small equipment. There are paved parking pads, but none of them are very long. Several sites are handicap accessible. The guide we have to RV Camping in National Forests says nothing longer than 21 feet, but I think the Guppy (27 feet) would fit because there's adequate space between the curb at the back of the parking pad and the concrete picnic table (for sure no one is stealing those suckers) for the back end of the Guppy to hang over with no trouble. Not that we have any intention of ever camping at Cochise Stronghold. It alls into the same category as the campgrounds I mentioned the other day that are located on Mount Graham: it's too close to Safford to ever be an option for rustic camping.
The campground, incidentally, is a nice example of the effects of dwindling budgets on recreational facilities in the national forests. It used to have water; it doesn't anymore. There's still a water pipe in place at what appeared to be the host's site, but there's no faucet on it. The only amenity is a vault toilet -- a very nice one, to be sure, one that's fairly new and has multiple stalls, but still only a toilet. At some point the water supply got interrupted -- it was being piped in from somewhere outside the actual campground -- and it's never been restored. The Kid tells us that she was told there have been 3 attempts to drill a well for the campgound but none have succeeded.

We almost applied to be campground hosts at Cochise Stronghold. It was tempting, at least to me, despite its total lack of amenities. I'm not sure the S.O. would have been too thrilled with it -- it's a total dead zone thanks to being located at the bottom of a canyon -- but there are times when the notion of being off the grid feels remarkably attractive. No Facebook, no television, no radio. Just a stack of old Smithsonian magazines and some books for entertainment. It was looking good in the weeks leading up to the election, not quite so much now.

The Coronado did supposedly find a campground host for Cochise Stronghold, but there was no sign of one at the actual campground. The Kid said she'd heard they were actually using a house the Forest Service owns nearby because there's water and electricity there. I don't know. . . that strikes me as a bit odd. I mean, what's the point of having a campground host if there's no evidence at the host's site that one exists? Although I suppose as long as they do the important stuff (keep the toilets clean and check the campground periodically to make sure anyone who's using it has actually paid the fees) it doesn't really matter if they're continually on site or not.

Anyway, in addition to the campground, there are two short loop trails at Cochise Stronghold: a paved, accessible trail with interpretive signs providing information about the canyon and the Apache people and a longer, not accessible nature trail with interpretive signage describing local vegetation. There is also a trailhead for a 5-mile long trail that goes through the Dragoons to West Cochise. Doing the nature trail definitely gave us some appreciation for what The Kid goes through doing field work. Between the cactus, various thorned plants (there's a type of mimosa that is remarkably vicious looking), and the yuccas, trying to walk in a straight line while doing an archeological survey can't be much fun.

The original development at Cochise Stronghold was done in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which is no doubt one reason why the camp sites are on the small side. There's obviously been a lot of work done since then, like making some sites handicap accessible, and probably repaving the campground loop a time or two, but doubt any changes have been made to the original layout. One of the odder things about Cochise is that you get to drive over a few miles of some truly horrible dirt road (once again the term "washboard" doesn't come close to capturing it) and then as you roll into the actual campground the road turns to asphalt. Of course, we saw the same thing up at Riggs Lake, and it felt even weirder there.

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