Clouds shroud the base of the Mustang Mountains on a September morning in Elgin. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Here it is. Summer 2022. Our second year of retirement. Our second summer in southeastern Arizona and it is a monsoon in full.

I’ve taken a few weeks off from rockhounding to take stock of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and what, if anything, that I have learned.

Summers here are not the ideal time to go off-road and hunt for minerals. There are snakes to be respected. There are washboard roads with washouts to contend with. There are days and adventures cut short by late morning or early afternoon deluges. I hope to avoid ever being someplace in a car high up in a canyon waiting for water to recede before I can continue back to civilization. 

And then there is the lightning. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention there were 444 deaths from lightning strikes in the US from 2006 through 2021. Florida was cast as the lightning capital of the U.S. for 2021. Last year it averaged 223 lightning strikes per square mile. Arizona didn’t even make the top nine states in that category.

Last year’s monsoon, following two years of “nonsoon,” was spectacular. I heard it described as once in a generation. I wasn’t expecting much this year. This year did not disappoint though.

From my vantage point, at the 4800’ elevation in Elgin, I have watched storms from both my west-facing front porch and my east-facing back porch. By observing distant storms in progress and then referring to the doppler radar on the Elgin page of the wunderground.com website, I think that I have seen storms happening as far southeast as Cananea, Sonora, 50 miles away, and, to the northwest, in Marana, at 71 miles. I have seen giant, towering, formations of cumulonimbus clouds in a train heading north from Sasabe 62 miles to our west. When storms scoot along the US/Mexico border we can see them 35 miles away in Nogales.

I’ve popped popcorn and gone from porch to porch to watch a long parade of storms discharging bolts at a rate of one per second for hours at a time. My wife calls it “Close Encounters” lightning. It’s as if every day the monsoon moist winds blow and say, “I am here” but the desert, hot and hard in its dryness, says, “but not for long.” The battle plays out nightly in the form of lightning, but lightning as a variety of pulses and spears, forks and sheets. Serpentine curly cues.

I’ve sat and watched as clouds flashed pink somewhere 50 miles into Mexico at the same time that an angry brew in Whetstone was attempting to come for me by going up and over the Mustangs, and thought that I really do possess the finest wide screen TV ever made.

As for accounting for my ‘monsoon hiatus,’ I consult my journal of places visited in pursuit of rocks, and sense the hopes and dreams of prospectors, long deceased, in the names that they gave these mines and I think poetry. Four Metals. Buena Vista. Red Racer. Gladstone. Golden Rose. Big Lead. Martha Washington. Paradise Canyon. Onyx Cave. The Billy D. Tres De Mayo. Perseverance. Old Timer. Cox Gulch. Big Stick. Old Dick. Missionary. Standard Tungsten. Silver Bell.

The specimens that I’ve found tell the story in a different way. Scoria. Fossil. Agatized Coral. Pyrolusite. Limestone. Caledonite. Chalcanthite. Crysocolla. Azurite. Jasper. Carnelian Agate. Creedite. Quartz. Turgite. Langite. Diorite. Chalcopyrite. Calcite. Turquoise. Rhyolite. 

If I had to choose a favorite it would be a coin toss between the Langite, because I chipped it off from the inside of a shaft in the Patagonia Mountains, and a large chunk of petrified wood that I found on Salero Ranch, because it was so unexpected.

The last three or four mornings have been among the most unusual that I have witnessed while in Arizona. Overcast, with dense rolls of clouds on the ground at the bases of the Santa Ritas, the Whetstones, the Huachucas and the Mustangs. As I watch the low clouds that are finally lifting out, and I look at the 10-day forecast, it looks, too, as if the monsoon itself is beginning to lift out. The maximum is past. Time, soon, to return to rockhounding