The southeastern corner of Arizona is a broad, elevated plateau punctuated by small mountain ranges. They have been likened to islands in an archipelago, separated by desert and grassland rather than by water. In the early 1960s, Weldon Heald gave this 70,000 square mile territory a name: the Sky Islands.
In 1937, Aldo Leopold wrote this description of the region: “These oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near being the cream of creation.” More than half of the bird species of North America travel through this isolated section of the United States.
When I bicycled through, with PacTour’s Desert Camp 2009, however, all that I perceived was bone-dry land, with a little cactus and many blackened shrubs, alternating with resplendent fields of thinly spaced native grass, two feet high, waving gently in the desert breeze. After the week-long ride, I read more deeply into the history and geography of this region and wrote a travel narrative: Sky Island Soliloquy: Body Dissolving, Spirit Strong as Always.” It tells about a week of challenging and satisfying cycling with the premier travel company operated by Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo.
This week of their annual Desert Camp is called “The Chiricahua Challenge” because it includes cycling to the high point in the Chiricahua National Monument, 6,870 feet in elevation. As the oldest rider in the group, the week provided me the opportunity of learning a new skill: how to come in last and feel good about it. After the trip was over, I learned that chiricahua means wild turkey. Instead of the romantic title “Sky Island Soliloquy,” my travel narrative might better have been entitled “An Old Buzzard in the Land of Wild Turkeys.” To read the full story, including “the truth” I learned, click here.