Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pioneer Pass, Arizona

When I was little my Dad took me camping a lot, and my favorite place was always Pioneer Pass, in the Pinal Mountains up a windy dirt road from my hometown of Globe, Arizona. 

Pioneer Pass Campground, near Globe, Arizona
Sometimes it was just the two of us, and he'd make fancy food in the Dutch oven and we'd go looking for deer at dusk.  Once we built little houses out of the sandy dirt at one of the campsites, and he figured out how to light tiny fires inside, so when night fell we had our own glowing little village.  He taught me how to pick the best firewood and how to lay a fire and how to light it with my boy scout hot spark. (I always wanted to be a boy scout...if only they let in girls.)

Sometimes the whole family went.  We'd play Rook, a card game I always associate with the outdoors.  We read a lot.  I remember devouring The Black Cauldron there when I was quite young, sprawled on the big boulders that were so fun to climb around on.  I pretended I was Princess Eilonwy, a character in the book, and made up my own scenes around her.  When I try to think back on when I started writing stories, I often find myself there, clinging to a rock and imagining trolls and bandits around me in the woods.

My brother David has always liked hiking.  The mountains rose gently up and up away from Pioneer Pass, and the two of us would climb, climb, climb up the slope slippery with fallen pine needles.  It would look for a moment like we were almost to the peak, and David would call out "to the TOP of the MOUNTAIN!" like a hiker's battle cry.  We'd reach the point we thought was the top, only to reveal more mountain above.  We never did reach the top, but I didn't mind.

Alligator bark, Pioneer Pass, Arizona
My church had group camping trips there too, where all us kids would have pine cone fights and elaborate cross-country games of capture the flag.  We'd use those pine-needle-slick hills like sledding runs.  Once we went on a magical midnight hike, with the owls and other nocturnal birds providing creepy background music.

A butterfly that literally flew into my camera frame, Pioneer Pass

Arizona wildlife:  a sleepy black rattler
When I was in high school, one of those years so dry we were all praying for rain daily, the heavens answered, pouring water for days, flooding low-lying towns and saturating the normally parched ground.  The Pinals, soaking with moisture, finally gave way into mudslides, one of which crashed right through Pioneer Pass, grinding boulders through the campsites, destroying the water system, burying picnic tables in rubble, washing out the road.  I cried.  Pioneer Pass had been such a part of my childhood.  Though the Forest Service slowly began to rebuild, I couldn't stand going back for years.  Finally, Dad took me.

The old-fashioned water pumps are gone.  The sites have rearranged themselves.  I can't recognize where we hung the pinata on one church campout, or where Dad and I made the village of sand and fire, or where I and all the characters from The Black Cauldron fought off the bad guys.  But I remember the feel of it.  The quiet happiness.  The times I spent with my dad.

And at night, in the crisp mountain air, the stars still shine as bright.

1 comment:

  1. There really are snakes at the campground like the one pictured!