Friday, January 07, 2011

A RETURN TO OLD FORT RUCKER & MEMORIES OF AN OLD RANCH HOUSE

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INSIDE THE OLD ORIGINAL BARN FROM MARY KIDDER RAK’S BOOK, ‘A COWMAN’S WIFE.’

I remember the working days when TGIF actually meant something, but nowadays Friday is just another ordinary day.   No weekends to look forward to anymore but no stressful work weeks to worry about on Sunday nights either.  Glad that whole era is finally behind me.  It was a loooong time coming!!

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ON THE WAY TO RUCKER CANYON

Always great to see that big warming sun creeping up over the Swisshelms Mountains.  It poured through our windows at precisely 7:49 this morning.  So nice to feel those warming rays.  WOWZERS:))  Night time temps bottomed out at 33F & today climbed to a very pleasant 70F under a big blue Arizona sky.

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Since reading the book, A Cowman’s Wife’ by Mary Kidder Rak, I have had it in my mind to return once again to Rucker Canyon & Old Fort Rucker.  It was here that Mary lived with her husband Charlie & operated a struggling cattle ranch back in the early part of the 1900’s.  We had found the old abandoned ranch house last year but didn’t know the story behind it at the time.  Thanks to a blog reader we found out the lady who once lived in that house had actually written a book about her life & times there.

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HEADING FOR RUCKER CANYON IN YONDER CHIRICAHUA MOUNTAINS

We had the Jeep rolling by 10:15.  Gassed up in Elfrida & headed north up highway 191 a few miles before turning east on Rucker Canyon Road.  Within seconds we had great volumes of billowing dust rising high into the Arizona sky behind us.  We set our sites dead ahead on the Chiricahua Mountains.  It was just another totally gorgeous morning in Cochise County.  Have I ever told you how beautiful the American Southwest is & how much I love it:))

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We passed the Iraqi tank column off to our left & moments later actually saw 2 A-10 Thunderbolt Warthogs make an electronic bombing run on them.  IRAQI TANKS??  WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT!!

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THREE TANKS IN SINGLE FILE SPOTTED ABOUT A MILE AWAY 

We often veer off our destination when things of interest are seen along the way & today was no exception as we followed a gravely road leading into the heart of the Swiss Helm mountains.  No idea where it was going but the further we went the more beautiful it became.  Finally reached a cattle guard with a no trespassing sign.  Before us lay a beautiful valley with what appeared to be a ranch at the far end tucked up against the Swisshelm Mountains.  I could tell from the peaks that our Motor Home was on the other side of the mountain & if we could have ran fast enough with a big stick we could have poll vaulted right over those mountain tops & landed in the yard right beside our rig.  If I ever win a big lottery I’m going to come right back here & make this valley ranch owner an offer he can’t refuse!!

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AT THE FAR SIDE OF THIS VALLEY WE COULD SEE THE ROOF TOPS OF A RANCH….IF I WIN A LOTTERY I’M GONNA COME  BACK HERE & BUY THIS PLACE

Turned around & made our way back to Rucker Canyon Road & then to Leslie Canyon Road where we made a left turn & headed up into Rucker Canyon.  Say, have I told you how much I love this…..well, you know. 

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Passed a couple ranches that I figure were the same one’s mentioned in the book, ‘A Cowman’s Wife.’   Before long we were gaining some altitude into the tree line & came upon a few skiffs of snow along the road side.  I tried to imagine Mary & her husband Charlie nearly a hundred years ago coming & going on this very same road with their horses, wagons & later an old rickety car.  They had to come this way to make the 5 hour journey to Douglas for supplies or transport cattle to market.  My mind was in nostalgia overload for the next few hours as pages of the book passed by reminding me of things I had read. 

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Old Fort Rucker is not an easy place to find & had we not known exactly where it was we would have driven right by it just as we had the first time coming up into the canyon looking for it a couple years ago.  Upon reaching a fork in the road we knew enough to keep right along the tree lined road.  Reaching a second fork a couple miles later we again stayed to the right along the now snow covered road.  Our eyes began scanning the tree line to our left as we followed along a dry creek bed.  This is White creek which will lead us up the road about mile to Fort Rucker. 

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As per usual we totally forgot to take our GPS along a few days ago on our Fort Rucker drive.  I am just going to have to staple that thing on my arm & that’s all there is to it.  I went to Google Earth this morning & zeroed in to the exact spot of Mary Kidder Rak’s ranch house in the trees.  The numbers are… 31*45’12.89”N by 109*21’28.84”W.  You will see the large barn near the house.  The sun is casting a shadow at the top end of the barn & that arrowhead like shadow points directly to the visible foundation of the original house (burned down) a hundred yards away which before that was the Forts Commissary.  Also visible is the brown roof of the Fort’s Bakery just up from that foundation. (added this Google Earth location later)

Just an ordinary gate with room enough to park half a dozen cars marks the location of Fort Rucker.  The small weathered sign with the words, ‘Camp Rucker’ is now gone from the gate.  On the other side nothing is visible except fields of grass, trees, rocks & the surrounding mountain ridge lines.  Nothing visible, that is unless a very keen eye happens to notice a small plaque sticking out of the tall yellow grass about 3 or 4 hundred yards off to the left.  The gravely laneway on the other side of the gate leads in about a hundred yards or so then disappears into a tree line.  In those trees lay old Fort Rucker, the ranch house, barn, cattle pens & all the marvelous memories of Mary Kidder Rak’s book, ‘A Cowman’s Wife:))’

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BARN IS ORIGINAL BUT ROOF IS NEW

We spent about an hour re-walking the grounds of the fort just as we had done a year ago.  The old barn & small ranch house hadn’t changed as we walked quietly towards the silent house in the trees.

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MARY KIDDER RAK’S LITTLE RANCH HOUSE AMONGST THE TREES

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My mind was awhirl with memories of what I had just read about all the happenings within these very walls   The fireplace where Mary lost control of a fire & nearly burned the house down.  The narrow spot in the bedroom where she physically wedged the bed into place.  The now crumbling kitchen where she made so many meals & the wooden ledge outside the kitchen window where pies were left to cool.  

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Outside, more memories as I imagined Mary & Charlie heading out to the barn in the frosty pre-dawn morning air to tend their cattle day after day,  year after year.  The old wooden corral fencing is still in place as are the old concrete watering troughs.  The barn is as it was back then except for a new roof.

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We saw evidence today that an effort is now underway to preserve the house.  A roof has been built over the original roof to protect the original shakes.  New lumber is in place to shore up sagging roof lines.  A fireplace chimney has been rebuilt from the outside & we noticed shiny new galvanized gutters now in place to handle water coming off the roof.  Several skids of bricks are stacked nearby to possibly rebuild a second fireplace.  I am happy to see the house is going to be restored & preserved but I am also happy that we had the opportunity to see this house in it’s original state as well.  The restoration people certainly have their work cut out for them & I bet Mary & Charlie will be there looking over the worker’s shoulders making sure things are being done right.  Mary was kind of like that:))

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NEW TIMBERS IN THE COVERING ROOF & GUTTERS ON THE OUTSIDE

The walk back to the Jeep was sad for me as I looked back at the house for the last time remembering the many memories Mary has left in my mind.  The book has already gone back to the Cochise County Library but as soon as we got home I had Kelly searching the internet for, ‘A Cowman’s Wife.’  I wanted my own copy!!  As I have blogged about before…..some books are like old friends & I felt right from the beginning of Mary Kidder Rak’s book  that I had just met & wanted to keep a good old friend nearby.  You can read a couple book reviews here at, READER'S REVIEWS.  And yes, I have already ordered the book:))  And, just in case anyone does read the book & is interested in seeing pics of the house I am going to work on putting an album together of the grounds & house & will post the album online for anyone to see.  There, I have just added a commitment to myself:))

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Nice drive back out of Rucker Canyon to Leslie Canyon Road with more photos along the way.  What a beautiful day it was as we made our way south through Leslie Canyon & then up & over a small pass through the Swisshelms to McNeal, Elfrida & Home. 

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Say, have I told you lately how much I love the great American Southwest……….:))  And that little bit about lettuce on a wafer in last night’s bog…….just a joke folks, just a joke.

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FORT RUCKER & THE RANCH HOUSE ARE JUST BEYOND THAT RANGE OF DARK HILLS COMING IN FROM THE RIGHT

GROANER’S CORNER:((   An elephant was drinking out of a river one day, when he spotted a turtle asleep on a log.

So, he ambled on over and kicked it clear across the river.
"What did you do that for?" Asked a passing giraffe.
"Because I recognized it as the same turtle that took a nip out of my trunk 53 years ago."
"Wow, what a memory" commented the giraffe.
"Yes," said the elephant, "turtle recall".

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The only thing better than right now will someday be the memories of right now...... AL.

20 comments:

  1. Thank you for the pictures and commentary. I was born in Douglas and my mother grew up in and round the area. It was like coming home.

    Emjay

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  2. I sorta get the impression that you love the American Southwest!

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  3. Any idea who owns this place today, or who might be restoring the buildings? I am always too shy about going in and having a look see, but surely the owners wouldn't care much since it is so old.

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  4. Always enjoy your posts, Al, we are history buffs. Speaking of memories, we remembered the Sons of the Pioneers today!

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  5. I love exploring old houses. This house looks great.
    So glad it's warming up for you.
    That books is at Amazon.ca
    Happy Trails....

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  6. Excellent tour and photos Al, thanks for bringing us along for the ride.

    John
    relaxedrush.blogspot.com

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  7. In your first paragraph you wrote about no weekends, every day another day. Yes that's true in this lifestyle, but then -- we never get a day off or a vacation, either! Thanks for showing us Rucker Canyon again. Do you suppose Suzy and I will EVER get there?

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  8. Great photos today Al! And we see Kelly is sporting a new shorter hairdo!

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  9. What a great post! Wilma and I will make a point to see this area in the near future. As I read your post to her, she looked up the book on her Nook. There it was, available for FREE, a book 202 pages long. How excited we are to read this prior to seeing the area. Thank you for such a wonderful post.

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  10. Isn't it great she wrote that book so all this wonderful history wasn't wasted? I wish my mother had done that about our old home place. I did get my Dad to write an autobiography. I haven't read that in years. You raised my interest, I need to read that again...Aw Shucks its up north..;-(

    I enjoyed the ride Al...
    So sorry you don't like the Southwest!!;-)

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  11. What a wonderful trip! and pictures jlonumust place you right there. Looks like a must have book!!

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  12. Gee, Al, have you tried the southwest in monsoon season? We have neighbors here in Rocky Point, who have a home in Tucson, and come here for the summers. BUT! They go back to Tucson every August when it's so hot just because the monsoons are so gorgeous. I can just imagine your photos of those monsoon sunsets!

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  13. Back to the simple life, or was it so simple?
    I love the pics, the history is awesome.

    Great post!

    Stay safe

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  14. As we continue to read your blog it seems we keep crossing paths -- yesterday we visited Chiricahua National Monument and also enjoyed the lovely warmth of the sun and the mountains all around us. Last week we thought we saw Kelly at the Bisbee Food Co-op! One of these days maybe we will bump into each other!!

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  15. We are so glad you love where you are at..physically and emotionally!..no more TGIF and the dreaded Sunday nights..and as for the American Southwest..simply breathtaking!..thanks for yet another 'jeep tour'

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  16. Steveio and I shared your blog pics over coffee this morning. LOVED the fence pic! We too noticed Kelly's shorter do--- now we need to see it from the front!

    Just went to Ebay and bought that book. Will be good reading till we get there ourselves!

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    Karen and Steve
    (Our Blog) RVing: Small House... BIG Backyard
    http://kareninthewoods-kareninthewoods.blogspot.com/

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  17. Whoever is doing the restoration might be interested in your documentation (pictures) of how it looks now. Good post! )

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  18. Psst got some GPS coordinates to this place? I would love to mark it on the Streets and Trips map.

    Karen

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  19. Why in the heck aren't you and Kelly buying some land and living down here????

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  20. Certainly my kind of Jeep day Al!

    Is that all the snow you could find??? You have to go higher!

    John

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