variety reflects special environmental circumstances. The fundamental one is
that in the U.S. there is no area so high so far south, and therefore many
diverse climate zones are jammed together in a very small space. In deep
arroyos at the foot of the mountains, conditions are subtropical. Above are
desert, short grass prairie and oak, juniper, sycamore, walnut, pine and fir
forests. At the top of the mountains are stands of aspen and alpine plant
The peaks, rising
so sharply from the desert, intercept weather systems and receive almost twice
the precipitation that falls elsewhere in south and central Arizona. When it is
bone dry in the rest of this arid country, there will be mists and showers on
the highest ridges. Above 8,500 feet, snow persists from December into May.
out of springs, runs down the slopes, dampens the canyon bottoms and the valley
grasslands and even collects in bits of bog. Everywhere the wetness combines
with the elevation to further diversify the habitat. In a 10-mile walk across
the Huachucas one encounters microenvironments that approximate nearly all the
macro-environments between Mexico and Canada.
ecology encourages trailing, which I have enjoyed in many places but never as
much as in the Huachucas. The best time to be there—the best time to trail
anywhere—is winter. Snow cover or, at least, moist muddy ground makes a better
surface for this sport than bare rock and hard, baked caliche. Last winter
local operatives called me shortly after the first of the year to say that
there was an unusual amount of snow, down to the 4,500-foot level, that the
canyons were filled with water and that the ground was splendidly plastic. In
response, as others headed toward Maui and Martinique for their midwinter
R&R, I set off to the mountain islands for mine.
is the southernmost major canyon in the Huachucas, and I make a beeline for it
whenever I am in southern Arizona. In an ascending order of importance, the
reasons for its attraction are:
?One of the few
roads leading into the mountains suitable for such transport as a rented car
goes toward Montezuma.
part of my heart remains in this canyon. About 6,000 feet up, half a mile from
the road, is an old stone cabin where three students and I lived for a year,
studying a tribe of coatis then occupying Montezuma.
?Will and Deane
Sparks and their brood of little Sparkses live there. They were our nearest
neighbors during the coati year and remain our close friends.
I first met Will
Sparks when he was remodeling a mining camp that had been in his family for
generations. He is a large man who looks and acts remarkably like John Wayne
when the Duke was in his prime. Will can strap on a pound of turquoise or a
.45, sit or shoe a horse, play a soft guitar around a campfire or dance like a
butterfly-bear to one, keep a bar in laughter with country stories or empty one
in righteous indignation—all without pretense. There is not a bit of rhinestone
about him. By birthright, experience and temperament he is a natural Western
man; a compassionate conservative, a libertarian populist, a tender hardhead.
Especially, he is a Huachuca mountain man, having roamed this island since his
boyhood without ever having lost his admiration for or curiosity about it.
I had first
visited the Sparkses' place when we were scouting the mountains, trying to find
some evidence of coatis. Will and his brother-in-law Bob were knee-deep in mud,
working on a well. I asked them if they knew anything about the animals. In the
slow, choreographed Western manner that lends emphasis to words, Will put down
his tools, leaned back against a rock, squinted and said, "Yes."