Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – one of my favorite places to visit in Tucson (January 2013)

Napping Javelina

What better way to start off a blog than to show a picture of a napping pig? But wait! It’s not a pig, it’s a javelina! They are NOT pigs, they are members of the Peccary family and while they might LOOK like a pig, they are very different evolution-wise. The peccary family developed in central and south America, while the traditional pig developed in Afro-Eurasia.

When you visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, you will almost always see a javelina or two (they tend to nap next to the bridge in the lower portion of the park) and you will also see signs explaining the difference between an ordinary pig and the wild javelina. Out in the “wild” I have seen them crossing country roads, walking in the woods, and roaming through neighborhoods. Continue reading

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Boondocking near Yuma, Arizona – November and December, 2012

Map of Yuma, Arizona

Since about the 10th of November, I have been “boondocking” near the Yuma Proving Grounds in Southwest Arizona, 20 miles NE of Yuma. “Boondocking” means basically camping without any amenities. I’m not hooked up to electricity, and I have to drive about a mile to dump my tanks, refill with water and get rid of trash. I do this about once a week. I am on BLM (Bureau of Land Management, i.e., federal) land, in an area where many “snow birds” come and stay in their RV’s and trailers for six to seven months each winter. Because it’s such a popular place (read, “warmer  and sunnier than just about anywhere else”), BLM manages it a bit differently. Instead of offering free camping for up to two weeks which you can do on most BLM land, they charge a small fee ($40 for 2 weeks; $180 for 7 months) and provide a dump station, water supply and garbage service. It’s a great deal!

When I arrived, there were maybe 150 rigs spread out over several square miles. Not crowded at all. It’s still not crowded, but there are probably closer to 400 or 500 rigs now. Before the economy tanked, I understand this area had a lot more people coming for the winter.

Many of the folks who come to this “Long Term  Visitor Area”, or LTVA,  have been spending their winters here for a long time. They’ve created a nice community. There’s a “liberry”, a small trailer that has books you can borrow or trade for. Folks monitor Channel 12 on CB radios and have a check in every night to make sure systems are working. If there’s an emergency, you call on the CB first and one of the 24/7 monitors calls in the appropriate emergency service. Someone is sent out to the highway to lead them into the area because the dirt roads are hard to navigate unless you know where you are going, especially at night. I hear the system works really well.

I have to share some of the CB radio handles”, or call names that people use instead of their real names, with you. They are just very cute, and give you an idea of the whimsical nature of life in the desert:

Vixen and Slobberjaws, Pistol Pete, Curious George, MacGuyver, Roadrunner and Porch Pup, Lefty and Lost & Found (that’s Rod and Candice – see below for more information about them), Liberty and Ginger Snap, Backpacker Hiker (no, not me, but Sam, who runs the exercise class), Lost Canuck and Cocker Spaniel,  Captain Bligh and Little Beaver, Angel and Red Neck, Butterfly Rose and Slip Knot, Bean Sprout and Spud, Peg Leg and Wildflower, Fly Rod and Tackle Box, War Whoop and Hula Hoop, and Uncle Monkey. There are lots more!

Last year I met some nice folks from California and met up with them again this year. We all arrived on the same day within about a half hour of each other. I am camped about 100 yards from them in an area called “Boot Hill”. Here’s a photo of Rod and Candice’s 5th wheel and truck (note the four solar panels on the roof aimed for the southern exposure – a nice amenity to have if you are boondocking):

Rod and Candice's fifth wheel trailer and truck

Right behind their rig is a wash. The area is riddled with deep washes where water flows from the hills when it rains. There are palo verde and mesquite trees growing in the washes, along with various shrubs… and the wild burros hang out in them…it’s warmer and less windy there. It’s also common to see jack rabbits.

The day after I arrived, several momma burros and their babies came to check me out and see if I had anything to eat. You’re not supposed to feed the burros, and I recently heard that someone was asked to leave  because they had been caught doing just that. I didn’t feed them of course, but Candice and I couldn’t help engaging them. They were curious but cautious. You have to move slowly and speak softly or they run away.

It’s amazing how the babies are almost identical to their mothers…grey burros have grey babies, brown burros have brown babies. We saw one family group where all the members were grey and every one of them had brown spots on their white muzzles!

Mom and baby wild burro stand in the shade of an RV and watch me approach to take this photo

This baby is all ears!

Baby burro with large ears

Candice plays with a momma.  They are amazingly gentle with their mouths.

Candice engages a wild burro...not very wild, eh?

About a ten minute walk from our campsite is the covered pavilion located in a low area called the gravel pit. This is where Sam leads the exercise class three mornings a week. It’s free. Someone then leads a yoga class. It’s free, too. On Sundays is a music jam and Thursday nights is karaoke. There was a Thanksgiving potluck here which was yummy. For New Years Eve, there was a bonfire where folks roasted hot dogs, told stories and sang a few songs (this event is affectionately called a “dog burn”).

Covered pavilion used for exercise classes and other social gatherings at the Long Term Visitor ARea near Yuma

On Wednesday mornings some of the guys get together and practice their golf swings on a small makeshift golf course…

Several guys practice their golf swings on a makeshift golf "course" in the desert

There are also remote controlled car and plane enthusiasts here, and folks have created  areas to play with these high-tech toys. I didn’t get any photos…

Every few days we would venture into Yuma…to watch a movie, go out to eat, buy food, mail packages, etc. Rod and Candice were extremely kind in asking me to accompany them into town. This saved me the hassle of packing up my rig and driving it to town for supplies. And I really enjoyed their company. One weekend in November there was a balloon festival in town, so we went to the evening “Balloon Glow” (we didn’t get up early enough to go into town at dawn to watch the balloons fly). Many of the balloons that flew in the festival came into the local outdoor stadium at dusk and were inflated by their crews…

Many colorful hot air balloons are being inflated at dusk in preparation for the evening's event called Balloon Glow

Then, when it got dark, they would all activate their “burners” at the same time and make the balloons glow. It was quite a sight.

A stadium full of hot air balloons show off their colors

On another adventure into town, we decided to walk into Mexico. This is a common activity in Yuma. Just west of town, you can walk across the border into Los Algodones. The town is just a few blocks long, chock full of little stores and many, many people trying to sell you things. A lot of folks come here to get dental work done, and apparently it is about half price and good quality. I found the constant harangue of folks trying to sell me stuff  was a drag. There were even young guys asking every passerby, “Need dental? Need pharmacy?” That was weird. I’d spend more time looking at things on display if they didn’t do that. We did have a great lunch and Candice showed me this cool medicine shop with lots of dried herbs for sale:

Sacks of dried herbs in medicine shop - Los Algodones, Mexico

Back out at our campsite, Rod, Candice and I got into a routine of going for  hikes every few days (and also we shared dinners almost every night, which was wonderful). There is an abandoned turquoise mine claim a few miles from here, so one day we packed water and lunches and went to investigate, starting off in their truck, then hiking in for about an hour. We discovered the foundation of the miner’s cabin (I’m standing behind the foundation in the photo below, looking out at the area where the RVs are parked in the far distance in front of the darker band of hills a few miles away). What a view!

Piles of rocks form the foundation of an old miner's cabin

After our lunch of sandwiches and apples, we continued up and over the hill behind the cabin and located several excavations into the side of the hill where small mining operations had taken place. We found quite a few small rocks in the left over mine tailings that appeared to have some turquoise in them – a beautiful color! We returned home, however the following week we came back with a few tools and spent more time poking around in the old mine holes. One hole in particular had what looked like a vein of very colorful turquoise colored rock. Thankfully, Rod was willing to do most of the dirty work, crawling down into this hole and bringing out some beautiful specimens (see bottom right corner of photo below). He got very dirty…and a little bloody in the process!

Rod and Candice extricate beautiful blue rocks from a hole in the side of a hill.

We hauled about 50# of rocks back to the truck…our packs felt very heavy so we weighed them when we got home. I could have sworn my pack weighed 30 or 40#, but it was only 25#! Here’s Rod and Candice with our bounty…

Rod and Candice with Chrysacolla

It looks like the rocks are solid blue, however in most cases, the blue is a thin layer caused by mineral laden water seeping into cracks in the rocks and depositing the minerals. In areas where there is copper present, there are often “copper silicates” like turquoise, chrysacolla, azurite and malachite present. I took some of these rocks up to Quartzsite where the TWITTS are camped (Travelling Women In Tin Trailers) and Sandy, who is a miner herself, explained this all to me. She said she thought most of this rock was chrysacolla, with perhaps a bit of turquoise and maybe a bit of azurite. We had great fun making our discovery and have a few treasures to take home.

When we got back from our second mine excursion, the weather was changing and rain was predicted. The  wind was picking up. We were unloading the truck. Suddenly Candice told me not to move. There was a tarantula near my feet and she was afraid I’d step on it. This really big tarantula had apparently come up out of the wash because it knew the rain was coming…and was looking for a safe place. It started crawling up the “skirt” of their rig (a protective vinyl fabric buttoned along the lower parts of the trailer to protect from wind). We enticed it onto this shovel and Rod found a safe hole for it to crawl into that would be away from the water. What a beautiful creature!

Right before a rainstorm this tarantula was seeking safe shelter

Last week, we took a drive toward Picacho Peak State Recreation Area, which is located in California just north of Yuma. On the way, we stopped at the Valley of Names. This is a curious place where people have created, and continue to create, rock art to commemorate loved ones and families.

Desert rock art commemorates loved ones

It goes on seemingly forever. I understand that some of the art dates back more than 50 years. Most of the art we saw had dates ranging from the 80’s up through our current time. Although we would have preferred to explore the Valley of Names on foot, it was quite chilly and windy on this day, so we drove around admiring the creativity. It felt like a special place.

More desert rock art

On another hike closer to “home” we discovered an area where emergency helicopters can land. Someone has made a sign out of rocks, visible from the air, and it says, “HI CHOPPERS”.

Landing area for emergency helicopters is clearly marked with stones forming the words "Hi Choppers"

Not too far away is an old abandoned vehicle where folks come to practice shooting. Well, after all, this is the desert, and we ARE in Arizona! This is one dead car!

An old abandoned car is used for target practice

Today is New Year’s Day, 2013, and it’s my last day here at Imperial Dam. We went on a short hike into a nearby slot canyon/wash.  Then Rod made some excellent BBQ ribs, and along with that we had salad and baked squash for dinner. Yum. What a way to cap off a wonderful 8 weeks of hanging out together. Thanks, Rod and Candice, for your generosity and friendship. See you again, soon, I hope!

Carolyn poses for a photo while hiking in a slot canyon

Best wishes to you all for a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2013. Be sure to go outside and play!

Posted in Boondocking, Hiking, Nature, Rock Art, RV Camping | 6 Comments

Birding at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, December 2012

A couple of weeks ago I ventured north from the Imperial Dam area where I am camped (about 20 miles north of Yuma, Arizona) to the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. It’s located on the Colorado River, along the California/Arizona border. To get there, I drove north from Yuma into California for about 50 miles, then crossed over a funky old bridge back into Arizona to get to the refuge headquarters.

This refuge has a two mile drive around loop where you can watch the various bird populations that either live there full time or are migrating through. At this time of year, there are large groups of sandhill cranes and snow geese, as well as ducks, Canada geese, yellow headed blackbirds, redwing blackbirds and more.

One of my favorite  birds is the sandhill crane. They mate for life, there are several different migrating groups around the country, and they make the most amazing sounds that I call “purring”. I was hoping to upload a video of them so you could hear it, but I don’t seem to be able to upload video to this blog. Maybe I’ll post something to YouTube.

A Pair of Sandhill Cranes walk in alfalfa field at Cibola NWR

Sandhill cranes and snow geese tend to hang out together. In the image below, the snow geese have decided to go somewhere else and are flying away. The blueish shapes on the ground are cranes. This is a field of corn that was allowed to mature and dry, and then cut down for easy access by the birds.

Snow geese in flight over cornfield full of sandhill cranes

When the snow geese are not feeding in the cornfields, they may be found in the loafing ponds with lots of different kinds of ducks. Note the goose on the left has tilted his/her head to look at several other geese that are coming in for a landing. (I wasn’t quick enough to catch that photo!)

Three snow geese standing in shallow water

In the image below, you’ll notice the third bird from the front (its orange beak is pointed to the left) doesn’t quite look like a snow goose. I didn’t notice when I shot the photo, but it made me chuckle when I saw it. I believe this is a cattle egret…perhaps trying to pass as a snow goose…

Cattle egret in group of snow geese

I have discovered that yellow headed blackbirds like to visit this refuge. I saw them here last year and they were here again this time.

Yellow headed blackbird

Each morning I got up before dawn and drove to the loop to watch the cranes and geese come in from their nightly roosting areas to feed. The large flock of yellow headed blackbirds would arrive about the same time and land right on the road in front of me! I’m not sure why they did this, but it seemed like they were coming to watch the sun come up. After just a few minutes, they left. And, interestingly enough, there were no redwing blackbirds present during this gathering (these two birds are related and often hang out together).

Large flock of yellow headed blackbirds gathers to greet the sunrise

Later in the morning, I found lots of blackbirds in a field of still-standing cornstalks. This little industrious bird was poking around in the ear of corn and finding a yummy breakfast:

Yellow headed blackbird perched on corn stalk

Cibola NWR is a relocation area for displaced burrowing owls. You can see them here every day of the year. They are active during the day (most owls are nocturnal).  The refuge has created numerous burrows, each one requiring two orange Home Depot buckets, two 6″ diameter insulated pipes, and some large rocks to keep coyotes from digging into them. The conditions are great for these little owls…pre-made burrows, a water supply, and fields with rodents in them!

Close up of burrowing owl

My luckiest image was this peregrine falcon…I was driving slowly on the loop and was not looking up (often you can see one of several resident kestrels as well as this falcon), I was focused on the sandhill cranes in the field nearby. I noticed some little black feathers floating down in front of my windshield. Looking back in my side view mirror, I saw the falcon on top of the power pole behind me. I backed up a little, grabbed the camera and got one image before it flew away with dinner in its claws. While I’m sure this bird was not happy with me for disturbing its meal, I was very happy to see later that the photo was in focus! Yay! If you look closely you can see that there is a dead blackbird under the falcon’s talons, and there are little fuzzy feathers stuck to its beak.

Peregrin Falcon perched on top of power pole after catching a blackbird for dinner

That evening, after two days of totally enjoyable bird watching, I was treated to this beautiful sunset:

Colorful sunset at Cibola NWR

Cibola NWR is a remote refuge, doesn’t get that many visitors, and has become one of my favorite places to visit. There is BLM land across the street where you can camp for free. I have seen fox, coyote, blue herons, great white egrets, lots of little birds (I’m not that great at identifying them…yet…), and the scenery is really pretty. Sandhill cranes and snow geese are at their peak populations in December and January each winter.

I’m posting this on the Winter Solstice. I hope this reaches you in good health and good spirits, with many exciting hopes and dreams for the coming year.

My sister, Vonda, sent me a haiku she created earlier this morning while taking a walk in her Seattle neighborhood after midnight (the rain had stopped, the clouds had dissipated a bit, and it was, after all, the beginning of Winter Solstice day). I thought I would share it with you:

Haikupalypse

Bright solstice half moon
Dives into the western clouds
The world is still here.

Thanks, Vonda!

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Hiking in the Granite Dells of Prescott, AZ

While I was in Prescott, Arizona, I housesat for my friends, Ski and Dicy. Part of my job was to care for Boo and Sadie, two wonderful dogs who kept me company and well-entertained! Boo is on the right, Sadie is on the left.

Boo and Sadie, dogs I was caring for while in Prescott

We enjoyed our walks each morning and evening. In the mornings we walked 10 minutes to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper; evenings were spent just before sundown on the nearby “Flume Trail” that eventually leads to a small dam. Ski and Dicy’s home is located in the Granite Dells, a beautiful area a few miles from town that features rock formations, a lake and great trails. This is Watson Lake, controlled, I believe, by a dam on Granite Creek.

Watson Lake in the Granite Dells of Prescott, AZ

I took several hikes in this area, some with friends Toni and Mary (see previous post), and some by myself. On this day, several kayakers were out enjoying the water (you can see them in the center of this photo):

Kayakers on Lake Watson

Lots of lovely granite rocks! Often the  trail runs across the large slabs of rock which are rough-surfaced, so feet have good traction. A local trailmaker developed a way to mark the rocks with white dots so hikers always know where to go.

Rock formations in the Granite Dells of Prescott, AZ

More granite rocks

Reflection in Watson Lake

One day, Mary and Toni invited me to join them on an exploratory walk. They had been told about an area where they could hike, but there were no formal trails. We found the area, it was not very far from where I was housesitting. At the beginning, there was a bit of a trail along Granite Creek. It was a pretty, forested area:

Cottonwoods shade Granite Creek

We proceeded to explore the area and were rewarded with some nice views and lots of burrs in our socks and shoes because there really was no formal trail!

Closer to home, fall colors were starting to show on the cottonwoods along Granite Creek:

Golden Cottonwoods glow along Granite Creek

Mary and Toni invited me for dinner. They served one of my favorite dishes, roasted veggies:

Roasted veggies for dinner!

Here’s my recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut up a quantity of several of the following vegetables (this recipe is very flexible – pick your favorites from the list below, but best results are achieved when the veggies are just one level “deep” in the pan):

Onions, garlic, beets (peeled), yams (peeled if you prefer), potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, rutabagas. Toss with a small amount of olive oil, just enough to coat veggies lightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are cooked. Yum, enjoy! Years ago a friend introduced me to this dish and called it “Rooters and Tubers”. I love that name!

Posted in Fall Colors, Hiking, Nature | Leave a comment

Hiking with Friends in Prescott, AZ

I had the opportunity to spend almost a month in Prescott, Arizona in October. Prescott is an historic city with a colorful past. It sits at about 5000′ elevation. If you’d like to learn more, visit http://www.cityofprescott.net/history/historic.php

The map below will give you an idea of where Prescott is located in relation to Phoenix and Flagstaff. It’s a fast growing area because a) it’s beautiful, b) has two colleges, c) is progressive, d) has gobs of wonderful places to hike, and e) has four real seasons, yet lots of sun even in winter (winters are not as severe as in Flagstaff to the north). There are probably many more good reasons, not the least of which is that the people (at least those that I have met so far) are very nice.

A few years ago when I first started travelling in the area, I met Mary, Toni, Ski and Dicy through a mutual friend. While I was in Prescott this time, I housesat for Ski and Dicy. Mary and Toni were in town and invited me on several hikes during my stay. On this day we decided to go on an 8 mile round trip hike to the top of Granite Mountain. Yep, 8 miles. With a 1500′ elevation! The photo below is  from early on in the hike…we made it to the top!

Continue reading

Posted in Hiking, Nature | 3 Comments

Exploring Grand Canyon’s North Rim

This was my first visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because it’s at higher elevation than the South Rim, which is open year round, the road to the North Rim closes due to snow in October and usually doesn’t open again until mid-May.

On the way I passed numerous large fields, lined with evergreens and aspens. The aspens were turning a gorgeous glowing gold:

Move up closer to the trees and you see their lovely white trunks…

Aspen trees showing golden fall color and white trunks.

The visitor’s center at the North Rim is a rustic building from the early 1900’s. There are a number of cabins there that you can rent for overnight accommodations. There is a large campground as well. In the lodge is an observation lounge that perches on the edge of the canyon with amazing views:

Observation Lounge over the Grand Canyon: North Rim Visitor's Center

But the views are much better from outside!

The multi colored layers of the Grand Canyon

Another view from North Rim showing large white rock formation in the foreground

I took a walk out to Bright Angel Point which is quite a walk…no guard rails, just a very low wall on either side, on a narrow walk with sharp drop-offs! Yikes! In the photo below notice the canyon “view” to the right of the path…nothing is keeping anyone from going over the edge…

Walking out to Bright Angel Point

After my little adventure I drove back outside the park boundary about 5 miles and then took a gravel road back toward the canyon and found “dispersed camping” areas. A park ranger told me about these and I was very happy. I found a campsite all by myself, no one else around for a couple of miles. It was very beautiful…

My campsite

From where I took the above photo, if I turned around 180 degrees, here’s what I had for a view:

The view of the canyon from my campsite

Not too shabby for a free campsite. I took a walk and found other views to enjoy, including a group of deer foraging for dinner. It was quite chilly at night, I could tell winter was coming (this was in the first week of October). I was lucky and made it in before the snow and got to see the aspens turn to gold! There’s a lot more to explore at the North Rim, along with some great hiking. I had a timeline for arriving in Prescott for my house sitting job, so I didn’t linger…will have to go back another time for a longer visit.

Posted in Fall Colors, National Parks, Nature | 1 Comment

Magical Morning Light at Zion National Park

As I made my way through Nevada, I contemplated the route I would take to get to Prescott, Arizona, where I was scheduled to housesit in mid-October. I thought I might visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This would take me near Zion National Park. Whenever I get near Zion (located in southern Utah), I make a point to visit. The rock formations are just amazing.

The map below shows the location of Zion NP. It’s part of a huge area called the Colorado Plateau, which includes a number of national parks including the Grand Canyon, Arches, Natural Bridges, Capitol Reef, etc. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an area to explore, hike, camp, take pictures, etc.

Map showing location of Zion National Park

The campgrounds were full in the park, this being the perfect time of year to visit. The weather was very nice. I found a place in the little town of Springdale, located just outside the park boundary, where I could park for the night. I walked into town and ate dinner at a small bar and grill that had outside seating. Soon after I sat down lots more people arrived. Two women were looking for a table so I invited them to join me. Ruth and Angie were on a road trip from their home town of Santa Cruz. We had a nice time swapping travel stories.

The next morning I got up before dawn to catch the sunrise, a favorite activity in this park. The rock formations are so high and so dramatic, making sunrise truly magical. There were a number of others waiting for the sun to come up:

Dawn photographers at Zion National Park

The sun was coming up behind us. Here is what we were looking at:

Morning Light on the Rocks at Zion

The following are images from my morning spent exploring the park.

More Zion Rocks

I took a short hike through the rocks that took me to an overlook. This is a small bridge that led to this rock overhang…

And then the trail continued to this overlook. The dark shadows in the foreground are from large rock formations behind me.

Canyon Overlook

So many different kinds and colors of rocks!

Rock Formations in Zion National Park

Many kinds of rock

more rock diversity

The photo below is from a visit in 2008. I didn’t go into this area of the park on this trip,  but I wanted to include a photo of the “Court of the Patriarchs” simply because they are so impressive. They hold court over Birch Creek Canyon and that section of the Virgin River. In 1916 Frederick Vining Fisher, a Methodist minister, gave the religious names to the peaks. On the left you can see Abraham Peak (6890 ft; 2101m), in the center you’ll find Isaac Peak (6825 ft; 2081m) and on the right,  (5690ft; 1734m), is Jacob Peak (6831 ft; 2083m).

Court of the Patriarchs

This final photo is of Checkerboard Mesa. If you’d like to learn more about the geography of Zion National Park, here’s a link to the park’s web page that explains it:

http://www.zionnational-park.com/zion-national-park-geology.htm

Checkerboard Mesa

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