Saturday, March 24, 2012

Desert Appreciation Day

Yesterday was an "eat no dust" ride in the desert. I'm calling it "desert appreciation day" because there was no destination on this ride. It was strictly for fun and education and seeing a few things you just don't see if you pass them by too fast. I'll try to share a few of the experiences with you using photo images to illustrate what we saw and experienced on this day.

In this first shot there is some scrub brush... and then sticking out to the right of the shrub is what looks like a dead branch of some sort of old wizzled up cactus. But that cactus is alive. It is a variety of night blooming cereus. Frank, our leader and teacher for the day, tells us that the cactus has looked like this for three years now. Every time he and his wife Dolores drive out into the desert, which is pretty much daily, he brings a gallon of water to give it a drink. This species of cactus blooms one day (make that NIGHT) a year, normally in June some time. Although it looks like a dead stick, there is a root weighing probably close to a hundred pounds below the dust and sand of the desert surface- so when the time comes it will be ready to do its thing. This one has not bloomed the last three years because of the drought, but Frank is hopeful that this will be the year. While this cactus is deemed very rare, Frank knows where to find a number of them. And judging by the way they look right now, no one else is gonna find them any time soon.

This is Frank again in this shot. Not Moses. But look closely at the next several shots and you will see "the burning bush." Well, not exactly a bush. Rather, a teddy bear cholla. The scourge of the desert hiker or rider. Those barbs on the spines of that cactus will stick to anything and everything, and should they make contact with your foot or your hand, or anywhere else for that matter- it hurts! We carry a pliers to pull them out when we get stuck- they are so bad that when they are stuck in you somewhere, you can't really grab them with the other hand to pull them out.

BUT! The cactus is edible and provides water when all else fails in the desert. A match or lighter applied to the base of the cactus will "torch" the entire plant in a matter of seconds. No accelerant is used- it isn't necessary. And the plant is not harmed by the flash fire that occurs. But the spines are burned off (for the most part), at least to the point where you can then hold a section of the plant, peel it with a knife, then eat the soft and somewhat slippery meat of the inside of the plant. These cactus are pretty much everywhere on the desert and are sometimes burned in this fashion by desert farmers and ranchers so that cattle can eat them. They tasted very good!

Tom samples the "toasted"cholla."

If you told me to go find Lichens in Alaska I'd have no problem. Neither would the reindeer that love to eat them. But in the desert. Well, I would never have found them, but Frank did!

They call this Valentine Rock because the "window" through the rock is in the shape of a heart. Really? It looks like a chicken laying an egg to me. What do you see??? There were nine more windows in the valley we rode through next.

But big animals always seem to steal the show and on this day there was no exception. Two of the largest rams we have ever come across anywhere performed on the almost perfectly vertical slope just beyond the plain and the wash we were riding when we spotted them. They allowed us to come very close. Maybe too close for my comfort, but sometimes you just can't help yourself- they are just so magnificent.

Way Down Upon The Swansea

I know what you're thinking: Ha! He spelled Suwanee wrong. And he doesn't even know it's not in Arizona. But no-I really did mean Swansea, the town site, not the river. It went from a vital mining town producing 50 tons or copper ore a day when it was an upstart in 1910 to a bankrupt operation a year later. There was plenty of ore, and they built the infrastructure needed to move the ore to market, but the operators spent so much of their revenue and resources on building the town, that the mines never were fully developed in time to save the operation. By 1937, it was already a ghost town. And what a fascinating spot it is. It is as though time froze. Mineral outcroppings still stick out of the ground and it is a rock hounds heaven. Even the old town dump was a "gold mine"- old glass bottles, tin cans, stoves, everything that made the town tick is still laying in the desert for one and all to see. A self registration kiosk provides a map and flyer so you can take a self guided tour. The property is enormous. We had only about an hour and a half to explore since we rode the quads all the way from Brenda....and we weren't gonna trip all the way home in the dark this time. Here are some images from another great ride and another great site we explored in the desert:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More Fun Stuff...

March 11, I reported that the Hedgehogs would be the next cactus in line to start their bloom. Exactly a week later, sure enough, here they come:

The fact that the new catus started to bloom has nothing to do with the fact that desert weather can and will deteriorate whenever it darn well feels like it. Today the wind came up big time and so did the thunderstorms and the hail. It wasn't sooooo bad- just interesting. Check out the hail on top of the shade cloth to the salad patch.

Still, most days the heat comes up during the day and the heavenly night air blows cool and refreshing. Daytime requires, or at least makes a serious request for SHADE! So we added a shade cloth to the western part of the shade structure that we built (which by the way....WE LOVE!!!!) Some people however, choose to carry their shade with them and so the photo that follows is not all that terribly unusual....

And that hummingbird, hawk, sphinx moth guy has been coming around often. Fast little booger. Here is another photo, but this is taken on my "sports" fast mode so I don't know if I will ever get a stop action picture of the wings that carry this little angel over all the flowers.

The moth eats the nectar. Me? I like chicken. So we rotisserie-d our first ever chicken on our new grill and man o Manachevits ( no idea how to spell that one) was it good. We used our "flavor injector" to pump some rosemary and olive oil and butter under the skin.... scrumptious and moist to say the least. Here is the work in progress...

And my favorite moment of the week was this.... I flamingo-ed my neighbor a while back. In turn, Marilyn, bunny-rabbited my salad patch. But this week Tom and Michele "Kokopellied" the front of my coach where the saguaro and new plant station is being created. Kokopelli with golf clubs! Gag me with a spoon! I don't need no stinking fertility god in my yard, dear!

And that was the week that was.... Thanks for all the many wonderful and often creative birthday wishes, one and all!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Desert Spring...OR...Mr McGreggor Gets His Comeuppance

The Beaver-tails, the first of the pad cactus to begin blooming each year are just now starting to do their thing. The Hedgehogs will be next. Strange that the first two cacti to bloom are named after animals, I know, but why not? The red Aloe Vera are already blooming, and the yellow variety are sending up their spikes now and should be coming along nicely in the next couple weeks. It is so interesting to see all the sizes and shapes of the buds that each kind of cactus sets in preparation for the main event.

Of late, I have been paying attention as much to lettuce as I have to the cactus gardens. The stand-up living salad bar we built at the beginning of the season is now starting to be harvested- in fact we enjoyed the first two full specialty salads last night with dinner. Some neighbors have threatened good hardheartedly to "graze" on the crop when I wasn't looking. But all have noted that at waist high production, the rabbits that frequent camp would never be able to reach the greens.... Last week we "Flamingoed" Michelle next door, so I auto-assumed she was responsible for the herd of rabbits that I found in the patch this morning when I first stepped out to water the crops. What a good laugh. But it was my wife who did the dastardly deed, which I suppose makes it even funnier, because had she not admitted doing so I would still be trying to get "even" with Michelle. How many of you think it would be funny if in response to Marilyn's trickery I hide the chocolate for a while???

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hard Headed Robert

Robert is a handy man. And a handyman. And a friend. But Robert owns a park model. He doesn't have to worry about ducking when he walks under slide out room like those of us who have more moveable rigs with slides. Thus Robert drove the sharp corner of Michelle's slide out into his forehead while turning the corner during the wiring of their new shed. Ouch!

But not to worry, Robert! You can borrow Marilyn's pink hard hat again any time you need it.

Project "Thanks"

We've had projects of one kind or another going full steam ever since we arrived back here in early December. There were some projects that just required some advice. There were some that required borrowing a tool or two. There were some that I could carry off entirely on my own. But the shade structure, the grand-daddy of them all, required some expertise and some heavy lifting as you have seen previously. At every turn in the road, the neighbors and our Brenda friends were there to help in whatever way needed and whenever needed. To say thank you very much, we made a couple giant pots of chili con carne and smoked 15 pounds of pork butt for making pulled pork sandwiches. We had plenty of beer and soda, and some chose to bring a salad or side dishes and Linda made enough cake style desserts to go around (a couple times) which worked out super well because it was the other Linda's birthday- so we had all the bases covered. It's good we have a big lot. We needed it. The circle of helpers was a big one! We traveled around the circle at Jude's suggestion and introduced ourselves with a bit of fact and history and a significant amount of humor. It made for a wonderful time, and at least from our standpoint, the evening could not possibly gone any better. A small group stayed back when the majority took off for the evening and Robert played his guitar around the fire pits set up in our yard and Michelle's next door...and we stayed until the full moon lit the desert sky.

We hadn't asked anyone to bring anything because we wanted to do this as a thank you. But looking back, we are very thankful for all the contributions- ESPECIALLY THE SALADS. Because after all, I do have the largest "growing salad bar" in all of Arizona- and it totally survived the night!

Thanks everyone!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Off To The Left...

I'll begin with the only thing about this post that is uncomplicated. I saw my first "hummingbird MOTH" this week. I didn't even know there was such a thing- so that by itself is a bit of a marvel. The little swift flying critter buzzed around Michelle's petunias next door and she called me over to see it. Grabbed the camera and took off, then chased it round and round the plants until it stayed still barely long enough for the only shot I have that's worth a darn. As it is, it looks like the rascal only had one wing, but seriously both wings were going so fast it's a miracle that even the one came out in the photo. I couldn't believe the resemblance to an actual hummingbird either in body build or speed-ability. Guys like me who didn't know of their existence would simply think they were seeing a different kind of hummer. Very nifty!

Other than nifty bird-imitating moths, it was an interesting week as, coughs or no coughs, we joined the Brenda Blenda Riders on our first of the season 100plus mile ride on the quads. Good to get out and see the scenery we love so much, explore the many mysteries past and present of the desert....and suck some dust into our lungs. Let's say right up front- it was a good ride. It was a most enjoyable day. We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

But that's really not the whole story at all. It was an "off to the left" kinda day. Only five minutes into the ride, my left side rear view mirror fell off as we bounced over the rocky desert trail. You may not think rear view mirrors are important for trail riding, but actually they are. For starters, in Arizona we can ride on the roads, even the highways, so that mirror serves the same purpose as the one in your car. It also serves to keep track of the rider behind you in line especially on long or complicated or not previously traveled trails. Each rider has the obligation and the responsibility to make sure the riders that follow know where the rest of the group is, is going...and that there has not been a problem develop somewhere back in the line. Bottom line- without taking your eyes off the often treacherous trail before you, you need to know what is going on behind you. I count most heavily on my left rear view- although my bike is fitted with two others. Gundy redundancy! I can do without it, but didn't really want to. We stopped to put it back on, braced it with some electrical tape and took off again. I used my pinky finger on my left hand to help secure it in place, but by the time that little finger felt like it wanted to fall off, so did the mirror again, and so this time we went to the alternative mirrors.

The morning went well otherwise. That is, until we stopped to stretch a bit and when Marilyn took her helmet off, the left lens of her glasses was missing. Off to the left. Eventually, that showed up inside her dust bandana, in her helmet, and we popped it back in to her frame. That lasted considerable longer than the rear view mirror repair, but still not a good fix. I wrapped the entire left lens in electrical tape and gave it back to her to the amusement of the group. Aye, I mean, eye matey!

No serious problems from the above. Better repairs can be made when the ride is over. We stopped for lunch at one of the geocache sites we visited and then rode on to the Cinnabar Mine, a site where mercury was produced from the only known ore than contains it. It was a fascinating venue. We had poked around for quite a while before heading home and frankly we may have started back a bit late considering how far out we had traveled. The sun began to set as we traveled along the route home and we had yet to cross the mountains we needed to cross to reach home by a decent hour. We allocated some time to searching for a short cut, but to no avail. Ultimately we had to decide to take a difficult (by my standards for sure) trail called the Razorback that crossed the mountains by riding along the very sharp ridge of the pass itself. I swallowed hard when they pointed out what looked like a nearly vertical passage that crested over the highest peak. Surely this was a joke.


Twenty minutes or so later we were way the heck up there trying to make it over that peak and stay on the trail at the same time. Night was falling. The last vestiges of colored desert sunset light turned to blue, then purple, then black. This trail was a challenge in daylight. In darkness, it was a nail biter and worse. We reached the peak as the very last of the light departed. Only the moon was left to do what it could do. It was a help. A small one.

The trail up had terrorized me a mite, I don't mind telling you. Maybe more than I a mite, but I wasn't crying so I guess I felt like I was handling it. So far so good. Lynn was leader as he often is. We trust him. He keeps good tabs on us all to make sure the same number of us come home as start out for the day. I like that. Especially at this point- I liked that a lot!

"And now we go down," he said as we started to search for the brakes instead of the throttles in the dark.

"Is it any better than coming up?" I queried.

"What goes up, must come down."

And down we started.

Well the down made the up look like a cake walk. Some might call this a trail. I think I prefer to call it a dry waterfall- a bit more descriptive. At one point I made Marilyn jump off the back while I drove down a big rock step that would surely have created a torrent had it been a waterfall. I figured that even if I bounced when the bike landed and I went over the edge, she could hitch a ride back with someone that had actually stayed on the trail at this point. I don't know how deep the ravines were "off to the left" on the way up or the way down, but even if I had gone over the edge, I'm pretty sure I would have had time to count to ten like this: one thousand one, one thousand two, etc. before I even bounce off the wall, let along hit bottom.

I should probably tell this story like the brave bike warrior I have become, he said as he cleared his throat. But the truth is that somewhere on the way down the other side of the mountain, in the dark of night, I think I figured out that my left testicle had gone into hiding. It seems that fear does about the same thing to those little guys as ice water does. I didn't care so much that it was temporarily gone, but that starts to hurt after a while bouncing over those rocks if you get my drift. But before you could say "Hey where the hell is it," we were down at the bottom to relative safety. Marilyn gave me a little pat on the back for getting her back to where it no longer mattered whether she had a lens in her frames or not....and my left testicle dropped back into place which made the remaining hour or so of the ride home much more comfortable.

Wondering where they go when they disappear , aren't you? Well now I know. You see I thought I had developed a tumor in my left armpit while on the way over the mountain...but that simple pat on the back made everything better again. There must be a moral in there somewhere, huh?