Last October, I took a quick trip to the Chiricahua Mountains to do some hiking and camping. I’d been hearing for years that the aspens up on the crest put on a lovely show in the fall, so I decided to check it out.
The Chiricahuas (cheer-uh-cow-uhs) are one of the largest of the isolated mountain ranges that make up the Madrean Archipelago, linking the Sierra Madre of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains in the western US. They provide some of the best camping and hiking in the region, and wonderful opportunities to see birds and mammals that are usually found in Mexico. The slopes are covered with pines and oaks, many of which have the centers of their ranges in Mexico. It’s also a fire-dominated area, and has endured a number of extensive fires in the last decade or so, some of which damaged the aspen stands that I was hoping to see in full color.
Although it was a gorgeous day for hiking, I missed out on most of the fall color. Up on the crest trail, the aspens that had survived the fires had already started to lose their leaves. I did find a little hint of color hiding among the conifers on a north-facing slope:
After a nice day of hiking, the dog and I headed over to Chiricahua National Monument, which has a nice little campground nestled in among some tall Arizona cypress and dramatic hoo-doo rocks. The campground was only half-full; mostly with RVs and one other tent-camper. After setting up camp, cooking dinner, setting up my microphones, and listening to the evening quietly descend, the campground host wandered by to say hello. We chatted for a moment, and I inquired as to how quiet the campground was. He mentioned that he’d only been there a couple of weeks, having recently arrived from Yosemite where his campground host duties involved a lot of closing and opening campgrounds in response to the huge wildfires that area had suffered over the summer. But since he had arrived at Chiricahua, he was enjoying the quiet, laid-back demeanor, and he was sure I would enjoy a nice, restful sleep.
The crickets starting calling as the last light left the canyon. Slowly at first, but louder and louder as more individuals and different species joined the chorus. Western screech owls soon joined in, calling back and forth, constantly interrupting each others calls. Adult and juvenile Great Horned owls called in the distance once or twice, and so did Mexican Whippoorwills. I woke up repeatedly to record the owls, barely able to fall asleep before they woke me up again.
I recommend you listen to this twice. The first time, listen to the screech owls, and they trill back and forth. The second time, listen to the crickets, and listen to the different cadences of the different species calling. Bonita Creek, which runs through the middle of the campground, provides the background noise.
As the night cooled and dawn approached, the crickets slowly halted their chorusing. Acorn woodpeckers and Mexican jays started calling loudly at first light, apparently not happy about the fuzzy microphones I had set up on the picnic table. At one point, a Mexican jay even landed on the metal picnic table and stomped noisily over to the mic, before flying off. They were soon joined by nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and ravens. I waited for the birds to finish their discussions before climbing out of the tent.
The campground host arrived just as I was finishing up my last cup of coffee. He inquired as to how I slept, and I replied horribly, but that was ok. I explained that I was there to record sounds, and that the crickets and owls had kept me up most of the night. He looked surprised – ensconced in his RV, he hadn’t heard a thing.
Recordings from the Chiricahuas appear in the album Crossroads.
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