Back in the day, there was a national pastime called the Sunday Drive. The big three would have billboards advertising a well-dressed family, just out of church, cruising in one of their tail-finned shinny chromed sedans. Gas was cheap, life was looking up.
It’s Sunday and we’re going on a picnic cruise down through Baja Arizona along the west side of the Huachuca Mountains. Our ride is a tight little Honda Civic, not a historic floating boat from yesteryear.
We’re just down the road and it’s about 11am. I’ve been sick and felt pretty bad the night before. There is no telling what this will bring to me today, but…I’m stir crazy and determined.
We grab some eats from Trader Joe’s. With DF at the wheel, I get undressed, as we head out of town. I tell DF of my notion of the obvious, “Everything, even sick, can feel just a bit better when the clothing comes off.” Naked and making myself at home distracts from my insides and brings my attention to my outsides.
We take the winding scenic drive down through to Sonoita. On the map it is just a small black spot at a crossroads of lines. It is charming all along here. Its rolling hills are hosting vineyards and white board fences more and more, as the years go by. It feels kind of like a drive through gentrified California countryside.
The grasses are green and the trees small. Every so often, a stream crosses the road and there is usually a taller shade tree at its side.
Down further, California turns to Kansas. Straight dirt roads go to the horizon.
Today, the sunflowers are as high as the speed limit signs. If we were in Kansas, they would say that the snow this winter will be as high as the sunflowers, but this is Arizona. It doesn’t work like that here.
One inviting hacienda on its acreage gives over to the next.
This is the high desert grasslands. Miles of tall grass stretch out before us, clear into Mexico. There are different ecosystems here, depending on elevation and water, but it all blends together into gorgeous vistas.
The road continues its back country feel, as the hills become a little steeper and juniper and scrub oak fill in the sides and gullies. There is even an occasional taller pine, as if in the mountains. This is National Forest Land.
The road leads to a nearly hidden dammed lake called Parker Lake. Most people that use this road go there.
It is quiet. I’ve taken the wheel on this meandering conveyance.
The other population that frequents this area is the Border Patrol. It is sudden, when we find ourselves with a Border Patrol truck parked sideways in the middle of our lane. It is confusing. He looks as surprised as us. I swerve to the other lane to pass him. His cab is tall, but the sun’s glare on our window probably has him blinded to the two nude tourist in the front seats. We pass and continue. No telling what he was up to, but it had nothing to do with us. He was in a seriously dangerous traffic violation.
The signs are confusing, as we come to an intersection. I know that one way will go to the Lake, but one sign says Nogales several miles away, and one says Sierra Vista several miles away. One might mention the less important spots in between. Sierra Vista is far on the other side of these Mountains. Nogales is miles upon miles away, along the Mexican border. I dig out my map and it just doesn’t jive, but enough confusion is ended to gamble and be on our way.
We find that the road that we have taken brings us to some familiar landmark vacation houses. Soon, we are taking pictures of the lake below and I have my bearings.
These hills of trees fall away to a vast stretch of grassland. We stop to take pictures of the vistas, which stretch west into Mexico and east up into the Huachuca Mountains. We are parked in the road. It is straight both ways. We can see anyone coming a mile away. We’re out snapping photos, feeling the breeze blow across the prairie and our bodies, while watching the grass bend.
We should feel absolutely free and unencumbered, but there is something here. These are the borderlands and it is being watched like a war zone. There are cameras, and agents with binoculars watching everywhere, and maybe here, or maybe not. We just have to accept that we are minding our own business and someone might be watching. We take DF’s binoculars, drawing the mountains closer and survey. There is something further down the road.
We drive a bit further and find a cell tower with a military-like pillbox building. There are no trucks here. Who knows in a surveillance state.
Something Catches Our Curiosity:
We continue along, seeing no one for quite a time. We are looking for the Forest Service roads that lead into the mountains for future reference. Most of the Forest Service roads have a small stream running next to them, or actually the streams have a road running next to them.
We come to a one lane bridge and DF persuades me to stop. I stop on the right side of the road and we get out. There’s a little walk-through gate, with some illegible old signs, which are bleached by the sun. One whispers “flash flood” a sort of last gasp.
I walk through and notice that there is water down there. I take a snap. It looks a bit rugged, but DF wants to explore. I back down the road a few hundred feet to a spot where there is a fork, a turn off. There is a nice space in the “Y” to safely park the sedan.
We get out and gather water and cameras. Our bare feet are replaced with toe shoes to navigate the rock slope. Sometimes, one gets the urge to just feel free. DF is in that state, maybe from the sense of freedom in wide open spaces, but she just doesn’t want to have anything to do with cover-ups.
I grab my sarong and place it in my shoulder strap and mention that Border Patrol, if they happened along, might investigate a lone abandoned car. She reluctantly pinches her sundress into her water bottle strap on her shoulder.
It is quiet. We should be able to hear a car coming at a distance. We walk through the little gate and make our way down the steep slope.
There is a bedrock of reddish conglomerate rock, with a stream cutting through it over centuries.
Highlighting this in contrast is a riparian area with bright green grasses and some shady trees.
It is cute and beautiful.
We are not even to the bottom, when DF drops all of her gear on a ledge and begins to wander.
Sometimes that call to feel the abandon of being naked is very compelling. Neither of us expects company, neither of us is in the mood to care about strangers that probably won’t show up. It has been quite a while since we have seen anyone. It’s Sunday mid-afternoon, here in the tooleys.
We decide to explore under the bridge and begin to make our way.
We hear a sound of a motorcycle. A dirt bike, is crossing the bridge above us. We are utterly exposed. I watch to see what happens, as there’s nothing else to be done. The rider is standing up as he cruises. He has a space alien style helmet on with a large dark facemask. He is watching what he is doing and fails to notice us.
We have moved only a few more feet upstream, when a white pickup truck goes across the bridge and is slowing down. We didn’t hear the truck for the noisy motorcycle. DF is under the bridge, but I’m still out helplessly exposed. They may have seen me, but again, there isn’t much to do, but mind my own business.
I keep hearing a rhythmic boom boom noise. I’m wondering if it is blaring rap music in an approaching vehicle. Finally, I find a spot in the twisting rock conveyance, where the water is creating the rhythmic sound. It also echoes under the concrete bridge in places. It is like a big speaker box, amplifying.
We are safely tucked under the bridge, admiring a graffiti of two ducks.
We hear the sound of an ATV up above. There is no one for miles and miles, except here at this bridge. Sometimes,….
We take the channel to the other side and wander upstream, just to see what’s there. I can hear the ATV. It is visible up on that other road, which forks with the main road where we have parked the car. They are blocking our continuation.
We have to wait for them to wander away, leaving their cloud of dust, or we’ll be seen.
DF is ready to eat. Having a picnic under the shade of a tree by the creek is inviting. We saw a spot when we first arrived. It is level there, pleasant.
We will have to go back to the car to get the food. I suggest a shortcut up to the road that is right where we are. Her sundress is downstream with our other belongings. She decides to not risk walking exposed up the remote little route that we came down.
When we arrive out where we are helplessly exposed in the creek, the white pickup truck comes back and slows nearly to a stop. The driver is sitting closer and hanging out the window, his female passenger is up on her knees to get a better view. She begins to wave, and he cautions her to politely settle down. When they start to wave at you and smile, you have been seen. The timing is uncanny. We are just out having a walk away from the road and have seen no one for miles!
We continue. Nobody has been offended that have seen us. The others concentrated on their driving on the thin little bridge, like they should.
We climb our way down the zig zag creek on the bedrock of the gorge, until we come to DF’s dress. I’m exhausted and again feeling sickish. This driving and short jaunt have worn me down. I tell her that I need to rest. I’d not make it back here, if I went to the car. DF volunteers to get the lunch and leaves me to recover.
I settle in to our chosen spot in the shade. We will be enough away from the bridge. With the line of sight, one would have to stop on the bridge and look pretty hard to disturb our picnic.
DF is happily nude in the sun and air, as she returns with her ice cooler.
We begin our meal, when a Border Patrol truck is seen above on the bridge, taking no notice. It is perplexingly uncanny, how chance brings all of the traffic of two hours, here, now…
…The quad drives back and across the bridge.
There are wading holes with fresh water. I sprinkle some of the water on me to refresh myself. DF is talking about taking a dip. We have spread out a picnic sheet, and are enjoy some very good food. The shade has a whole new message for our bodies to enjoy.
We figure by the sun, that it’s about 3:30. We have a goal to see Montezuma Pass and then, we’ll have to drive to Tucson through Sierra Vista. We need to get going.
The disturbances haven’t been heard or seen in a while. There is the sound of the babbling brook and then, nothing. DF hands me everything that isn’t the cooler and we climb up the rocky ridge. She is still feeling her sense of body freedom. She boldly walks up the road, without inhibition, to our locked car. I like her spirit.
We are off toward the Pass at the southern tip of the Huachuca Mountains with windows down. It is a not so dusty road and the wind is in our hair.
On to Montezuma Pass:
We can see the road creeping up the side of the mountain ahead and realize that we are getting closer to our goal. The terrain is looking more rugged as we get closer to the western slopes. I see a ridge high above that appears to have a rainbow plethora of different color rock. It is all magnificent.
We can see Miller Peak, where last year, we hiked in a million yellow blooms.
I stop the car for some quick photos. Very soon, a pickup truck comes down the hill. I wave out the window as they pass, blocking the view of our nudity with my arm.
I notice in my rear-view mirror that as he goes down the road a short distance, he stops. The good Samaritan is concerned that we are stopped and may need help. He begins to back up. I put into gear and we move away, leaving our true message with the driver.
One purpose of this trip is to gather photos for a story that I wrote many years ago. On that occasion, our camera died of age. The plan is to republish the story with new photos. The area at that time was a florescent green, like the hills of Ireland in Arizona, which has been yet another piece of variety on this fun road. Today, that coloration isn’t to be found. Seasons change everything.
We pull into the paved parking lot at Montezuma Pass. DF had been married in this place as a remote spiritual spot many years before. These days, there are toilets, all sorts of signs and enough history to educate a school field trip.
There are a few cars and a Border Patrol truck. A uniformed military looking guy is scanning the nearby mountains and valley with binoculars.
I slip on my kilt and DF her sundress. The toe shoes are already to go. Having felt weak all day, I assume that the walk up the hill is only a short one. We make the first kiosk sign with its inviting bench and I realize that the lookout may be further than planned.
There is a next plaque, this one also with a bench. I strip for some air and to feel defiantly sneaky.
When I have reached yet another kiosk, it informs me that each spot is one tenth of a mile. I hear the blast of a trumpet with horrible tonality up above. I notice that it is disturbing the local raven population. That must be the top.
Finding that I have just walked a stair step, uphill a half of a mile, pleases me. Perhaps I am on the mend and the end of this fatiguing illness is in sight.
We reach the top, realizing that we are alone up here. We have greeted as many groups of people coming down as there are cars. The view is grand and sweeping. We see the border wall running out to Naco and then Bisbee beyond.
We are looking up, standing close to the base of Miller Peak.
We are looking deep into Mexico and unfamiliar mountains.
We drop our clothing. It just seems appropriate. We do it just to do it and take pics. It is a conquering, a liberation of Montezuma Pass…and it feels pretty good up here. The sun is setting, light sprays everything as if on fire.
The air cools.
The kiosk tells us how Coronado brought Spanish influence to the region in his quest for illusive gold. It explains how they learned of the food of the desert. We imagine a mass of 1000 people and 6000 head of cattle, walking in the valley down below. What the locals must have felt!
We head down the hill all in one burst and I’m further encouraged about my health. A guy gets sick and tired of being sick and tired. A nude walk down a hill can be a great liberation after weeks of illness. We can’t see any cars in the parking lot, but also don’t see our own. It must be behind the tree.
It looks like we will continue to have the place all to our nude selves, but then, as I begin to cross the parking lot, a white sedan with Texas plates pulls in. The kilt must go back on, until they disappear up the hill.
We continue our drive down the narrow winding road.
We pass a pair of middle aged women getting serious workout by walking their two dogs up the steep hill. Next to me, I see DF in deep contemplation. When she was twenty, she moved to Arizona and worked on an organic farm here on this border. She has been looking for the remains before, but it has been elusive.
She tells me to stop where a dirt drive intersects the road. She tells me that she is certain. The old ranch entrance is here. Beyond, there is a steel building. I pull in for her to take pictures.
She is standing out in the drive nude, when a border patrol truck comes barreling up the drive from beyond. We turn the car around and wonder if they might stop naked us for being at their facility suspiciously.
I suggest getting something on and requesting to tour the old place. She declines. This Border Patrol truck follows us all the way out to the highway. It’s creepy. At the stop sign for the intersection, they turn right and we turn left.
It is a long drive back to Tucson. The sun has set and dusk is arriving. Heading north, I’m pleased at our timing. At this time of year, the equinox sun sets directly in the middle of the road. By our timing, we’ll avoid that. We stop at the Border Patrol highway checkpoint. We cover loosely, laying our clothing across us like paper dolls. Nobody smuggles naked. We’re waved through at a glance.
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