May 2019 - Geronimo

May 13, 2019
Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 13 in the month May, Earth Calendar year 2019.

Geronimo. The term brings to mind many things but most of all a fearless warrior of the Apache Nation, the last to surrender to the U. S. Military. It's also a word I heard when jumping out of from airplanes in the army to show a lack of fear (or stupidity, in leaping from a perfectly reliable machine).
Gila River, New Mexico
As you are reading this Captain's blog I can only assume you share a love of the land and wild spaces, as do I. I recently flew the Gila River and its surrounding wilderness; these remote and fragile yet ferocious landscapes always move me. It made me curious as to who inhabits these lands both now and historically.
The Apache were the last tribe to be subdued in the southwest, and the region they roamed was some of the wildest in the continental U.S. Here, the Gila River winds its way through magnificent canyons from nearby Bald Mountain at 12,441', down through New Mexico and then into Arizona. It was in this landscape that Aldo Leopold wrote about wildness personified when he witnessed a dying wolf, "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes... But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view". It was a turning point in Leopold's life. He advocated for these wild lands to become the first designated wilderness, not only in the US but in the world, known as the Gila Wilderness.
Mogollon Apache ruins
The Gila was one of the areas the Apache inhabited until being relocated to places like Fort Sill, Oklahoma and imprisoned in Florida. It was evident from the air how impregnable the canyons and cliffs were, an ideal spot for defending their homelands and waging guerilla warfare.
We began this series of flights battling terrible spring weather in Kayenta, Arizona, in the heart of Monument Valley, working with the Navajo doing restoration on riparian areas. From there we made our way down to Cottonwood, west of Sedona, and then to Silver City, New Mexico, northeast of Tucson. Truly remarkable country. Flying around 200mph for a couple of hours, seeing nary a road or settlement.
Verde River in Camp Verde, AZ
Flight missions included both the Verde and Gila Rivers. On the Verde, many groups are invested in protecting the river in diverse ways - the Yavapai-Apache doing restoration projects, The Nature Conservancy highlighting development threats on the upper Verde, Friends of the Verde working on sustaining river flows and Wild & Scenic designation, and IMBA working on trails and restoration. On the Gila, our lead partner was New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and we flew elected and community leaders and the press to highlight the Wild & Scenic proposal for the headwaters of the Gila. I always marvel at the difficulties trying to get Wild & Scenic Designations. Designation basically protects all current uses and traditional values of the river in perpetuity. It does not limit the public from access, does not open private lands to access, it has no effect on existing valid water rights, and yet many view it as a threat. Our ecoflights helped educate the public about this, and media onboard the flights asked the right questions, producing multiple press articles.
A local business owner on the flight said it so well, "The Gila Wilderness is home to exceptional biodiversity. The rich blend of plants and animals in the Gila is much a result of its position between four different bio regions. It is bounded by the Colorado Plateau and the Rocky Mountains, the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts. The free flow of the Gila River supports some of the healthiest riparian habitat in New Mexico and the southwest. The Gila River is a pathway between the mountain and desert ecosystems. The future movement and survival of many plant and animal species will surely be tied to the Gila Wilderness and its life blood, the Gila River".
Whether it was the stalwart Apache or the settlers both old and new, it is all about taking care of the land so that it can take care of you.
Bruce Gordon