Saguaro East, Sabino Canyon and Boyce Thompson Arboretum

April 7-12We pulled into the Crazy Horse RV Park in eastern Tucson early in the afternoon. This is another of those basic gravel pit parks. The spaces are narrow with only some skimpy oleanders serving as dividers between spaces. Fortunately there are not many campers in the area we were put, so we felt like we had some space. The parks only advantage is proximity to what we want to do while here.

It’s going to get really hot in the next couple of days so our plans are evolving as we go, depending on the days’ forecast. Our hiking will be early morning only, but since we were here now, and it was hot, we decided to go into Tucson proper to the Center for Creative Photography on the University of Arizona campus. There were 3 interesting exhibits to view and we spent a couple of hours enjoying the exhibits and air conditioning of the galleries. Saguaro West – Rincon Mountain District
In the morning, we were up and out just after dawn. The 7 mile drive into the park went quickly and were driving the 8 mile loop road by 7:30. The plan was to walk several of the shorter hikes leaving from various points along the loop road. This worked quite well. We made a loop out of 3 of the intersecting trail and I was quite pleased that not so many people were on the trails yet. This district section of the park seemed quite lush compared to the west section. There were at least some wildflowers and cactus blooming, and the palaverde trees were just spectacular with there green bark and bright yellow blossoms.The saguaro’s were budding already. Usually they don’t bloom until late May or June, so this seemed early. Too early for us however. We probably won’t see them in bloom this trip. The ocotillo were particularly fun to photograph. Here, they were in a transitional stage – going from yellow to green before they drop all their leaves and play dead. They remind me of those party favors you blow through to uncurl and go, “bleeeeet!” Backlit and translucent, I loved the way they caught the light.
This nest looks like a cactus wrens work, but it’s in a palaverde tree. Go figure. We stopped at a few other viewpoints and did a few more short walks, but by 11:00 it was already into the high 80’s. We headed back to camp.But before arriving there, we stopped outside a storage area for the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Driving by earlier in the morning, we were pretty shocked at how many giant aircraft were mothballed. Must have been hundreds between this field and another nearby. In the evening, we met up with a friend of Mary’s for dinner. While at home, Mary volunteered for a time at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, assisting in the archiving information of past exhibits going back to the 1930’s. Jane, who directed her, moved to Tucson after she retired and it was a nice opportunity to catch-up.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Monday April 9We didn’t have to arise at the crack of dawn for this days’ hike in Sabino Canyon. Strangely, it does not open until 9 A.M. We didn’t have to pay the $20 entrance fee, but our National Parks Senior Passes didn’t apply to the tram ticket needed to motor up and down the canyon. Ten bucks each – a wash! The plan was to take the tram up to it’s furthest point in the canyon, then walk back down the road. around 4 miles. On a hot day, we had the option of walking it all or jumping on the tram if too hot. We arrived at the canyon just in time to catch the first tram of the day at 9:30. It was warm already, but a nice cool breeze followed us up the canyon. There was narration along the way pointing some of the landmarks and talking about the construction of the 9 bridges spanning the stream running through the canyon. When we got to the final stop of the tram, 4 miles in, we took a look at the trail that rose up maybe 600’, then ran back down the canyon to the starting point. It didn’t look to tough and we still had a cool breezed. We decided to give it a go. We could abort about a mile by taking a spur trail if it got difficult.The first half-mile were switchbacks up the Phoneline Trail we would take to return. The trail gave us a much better view of the canyon and surrounding terrain. We found many more wildflowers along the trail than were evident below and there were pockets of shade to rest in. It was getting hotter though, and the shady spots were pretty much gone. We are always prepared with plenty of water and sunblock, hats and the like, but because we changed our minds about hiking this trail instead of the road, we didn’t have our hiking pokes. The trail itself was pretty good. Pretty rocky, but only gradual up’s and down’s once we were walking the high trail.The hillsides were all quite lush with desert plants. Backlit saguaro and ocotillo kept me amused, while the broad landscapes looking out the other way inspired. About the last 2 miles, it got really hot. We’d lost our breeze and the shade had vanished some time earlier. We were feeling pretty baked by the time we reached the final cut-off to a tram stop. Still another .9 miles to go, and we just missed a tram pick-up when we got to the road. That just meant a 30 minute wait in the shade until the nest one. We were back at the visitor center by 1:30 and were quite happy to ride home with the air conditioner blasting.

Mt. Lemon and Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Globe
After yesterdays too hot hike, we were of the mind of not doing a heck of a lot today. The heat is going to spike to the upper 90’s this afternoon. We’d left the 28 mile Mt. Lemon scenic drive till now for this very day and reason. It rises into the mountain 6000’ and will be much cooler up there. But honestly, I was not into making photographs the entire day. The air around Tucson was kind of thick and really clogged the views. I was along for the ride.

The drive up the mountain was a really quite nice. Going from a saguaro forest to aspens at the top, we watched the terrain and plant-life change as we rose. We stopped often to check the views. We spent a pleasant time at the top enjoying the quiet and especially the cool.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Globe
Thursday, April 12After getting baked out of Tucson, we headed north and up a bit to Globe, AZ. It is a little cooler here for the next couple of days, with a much larger cool-down coming. The Gila County RV Park, the only RV park in Globe was not good. Another gravel pit, but right next to busy highway 60. There is another portion of the park down below on the other side of the highway, but this portion had a laundry and really fast 5G wifi. We had a lot of uploading and updating to do.We’re here sort of as an interim place to hang while we wait for some reservations at Deadhorse State Park, further north. We decided to stop here to visit the arboretum tomorrow morning while it’s cool. High winds and severe dust are forecast for the afternoon. We need to be  back before that happens. Boyce Arboretum contains exhibits from a number of different desert types. We walked the desert exhibits of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Australian and South American deserts. Within these exhibits, we also found a nice cactus and succulent garden, and a eucalyptus forest. Quite a few species of birds were seen including a Hooded Oriole (below) and the one above (perhaps a fly-catching Phainopepla)

A walk through a couple of hot houses (hotter houses) revealed some other lesser seen succulents. There was even a section of Boojum trees, which must be one of the odder trees of the world. This was not a place that I would go out of my way to visit, but since we had the time, it was an enjoyable way to spend a warm morning. By late morning it was getting beyond warm again. We sat for a while on a bench in the deepest part of the gardens next to a small reservoir listening to the breeze as it rustled grasses along the shore. Those breezes were gaining in strength now, so we decided to come back to camp before it really started to blow.On the way, we stopped by the side of the road next to more tailing piles. Unbeknownst to me, Globe and Miami (another small town adjacent to Globe) are also mining towns. Looking on Google Earth, I could see this was in fact another huge pit mine and the mountains of tailings belonged to it. It seems everywhere one goes in southern Arizona, a copper pit is waiting. It is the Copper State after all. Back in Globe, we watched as the wind increased all afternoon. By 2 P.M. the sky had turned a yellowy smudge of 40 mph wind gusts. Dust was thick in the air and thousands of feet in the air. This may not have been one of those epic dust storms, but I would not have wanted to be driving or walking through any of that mess. The winds calmed some after sunset and the promise of cooler temps the wind represents will be welcomed for the next couple of days.

Tonto National Monument
Saturday April 14
We still had a couple of days to kill until we could check into Deadhorse, so we motored a little further north to Roosevelt Dam – the largest lake in Arizona – just a quarter mile from the Tonto National Monument. Roosevelt Lake and Dam is a Forest Service area and there are a number of large campgrounds along the edges of the lake.

There are lovely mesquite and palaverde trees for shade and covered picnic tables at every site. No power, but water and a dump station are available. This is a big boating and fishing hang-out for most folks. But lots of birds are about – many gathering nesting materials. Right now, even on a weekend, there aren’t a huge number of people here. We set up camp and will see the monument in the morning.The Tonto ruins are best viewed early during the morning hours. They are high up in a natural alcove that faces east. After noon, they are in deep shadow and difficult to photograph. A half-mile paved path winds up 300’ along the hillside beneath the ruins and leads to the alcove that holds the structures. Along the path on both sides, a heavy growth of all the desert plants we’ve been seeings on this trip serve as nice foregrounds for the long views. While it is a 300’ rise in a half-mile, the paved path makes it very easy, and there are benches and shady spots for those who need them. Once up in the ruin, we could walk around in several of the rooms. A ranger was posted inside to answer questions and keep people from climbing the walls.At something like 300 year, this place is not as old as some we’ve visited in the southwest. It has been a monument since the 30’s, but like so many sites, it was never funded to provide protection from vandalism. So we see graffiti on the walls and rebuilt walls. There was still quite a bit of the original structure to view, but much had been “restored”. Some of the original walls with mud plaster and 400 year old tree branch roofs were still in place. We’ve seen dozens of Indian ruins over the years all over the southwest. While this doesn’t rank with the very best, it was another interesting example of the “Ancient Ones” lifestyle. Of course, it was a different scene when they were here. Roosevelt Lake did not exist then. The residents used the valley for crop planting. Many old irrigation ditches were discovered in the process of exploring the area. We were done here by 11 and returned to camp. Tomorrow we move north to Deadhorse Ranch State Park for a few days. What will we see there?

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Asarco Pit Mine and a couple of stops in-between

April 3After leaving the Bisbee area, we headed west 90 miles to Patagonia State Park. It was just going to be an overnighter, but once there, we decided to stay another day and enjoy the peaceful lakeside setting. Our campsite there was underwhelming at best though. Lots of nice sites overall, but reserving online, one does not get much sense of what the spaces are like. Ours ended up being in a busy section just across from the dump station. No smell, but the big diesel pushers liked to just sit and idle while they waited for their turn at the dump. The park is also a premium birding area, so we enjoyed a nice morning walk before the heat drove us inside again. Neither of us made photographs here – just enjoyed some down time and caught up on image processing and writing.On our way north to Green Valley, we decided on a couple of short stops. The first was the historic town of Tombstone – Home of the OK Corral and Boot Hill. I think we stopped here once before in 1983 and saw that is was purely a tourist trap. Well, I can’t blame them. There really isn’t anything else to support the town, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. At least in 83’ the street wasn’t paved. There were lots of authentically dressed folks walking around, but most were barking to try the ribs around the corner or come in for something “free.”I was pretty turned off by the whole affair – didn’t even make a photo of the town, but we did stick around for the re-enactment of the famous gunfight. We purchased our tickets and were herded along a path mixed with artifacts and child attractions, to a small corner of what was originally the entire OK Coral. Up in the stands, we had a nice view.The performance was as cheesy as you might expect. The actors kept it pretty light. It was somewhat informative, and of course ended in a 15 second shoot-out. By the time I could focus on a shooter, it was over. There was a little bit of history included at the end as we learned what became of those who survived. I did enjoy the costumes they wore. In fact, those images were the only ones I made here.

Mission TumacacoriA little further up I-19, we stopped at the National Historic Park – Mission Tumacacori. This was originally a Jesuit mission, who began building the church there. Later, after the Jesuits were removed by the king of Spain and replaced by Franciscan priests, work continued, but never completed.The self-guiding tour begins in a courtyard garden with lots of interesting desert plants to find images in. We wound in and out of the restored buildings before moving over to the church ruins themselves. Inside the church it is clear how much work is left to be done. Original adobe bricks are visible in all of the walls. It really gives one a sense of how it was constructed. Really glad Arizona doesn’t have earthquakes. The best preserved areas show remnants of frescos painted on the walls. It looked to be wildly colorful  in it’s original state.  There are graves throughout the courtyard and a large round building used for religious ceremonies. Surrounding the complex of buildings is a 10’ high adobe wall exhibiting evidence of long past graffiti and probably more recent as well. It was getting quite hot by now. Temps in southern Arizona are in the upper 80’s this week, and upper 90’s by next. After 10 or 11 each morning, it starts to be pretty uncomfortable outside for very long. We were ready for some air conditioned driving time and decided to move on.Asarco Pit Mine – Mounds of Tailings
April 05Our destination for the next couple of days was Green Valley, just 6 miles from the Asarco pit mine I wanted to visit. Even as we approached the town, I could see in the distance the incredibly long terraced mounds of tailings from the mine. Just from what I saw I knew the mine was big. It is in fact among the worlds largest. After getting settled and later in the afternoon, we decided to take a drive up to the mine for an initial look-around. Driving up I-19, I could see an exit with a road that pointed right down between two giant tailing piles. It was public, so we took a look. We drove the road. Mile after mile we watched the berms and terraces go by. Photographing from the road was difficult. There simply is no high ground from which to find a perch. I looked for breaks in the thick brush on either side. Occasionally I could find a bit of a rise to peek through to inspect the sides of the piles more closely.In the soft afternoon light, colors were revealed that were otherwise not particularly evident. What I was looking at was a combination of plain waste rock after being separated from the ore, and slurry, a wet/dry mixture of mining waste.Each of these terraces is 400’ high. In some places, I saw terraces stacked 4 high. 1600’ of tailings. We continued up the road between the piles just to see how far back they went. At the 5 mile mark, we came the the end of the piles. They also spread another 5 or so miles wide.  25 square miles of waste rock. Of course, the mine itself is in the middle of all this, but seeing the way these piles have spread out over the desert is daunting. They seem to just dump it out over the desert floor. There are dust mitigation procedures they follow, but the desert is smothered.We’ve signed up for a public tour of the pit itself for tomorrow. There was a safety issue that closed the main pit overlook for a time, but it has been cleared up and we are set to go. I don’t know how extensive our tour will be, but there is no other access except from the peripheral roads around the tailing piles.

Asarco – The Pit
April 06I was absolutely overjoyed upon waking in the morning to see high clouds coating the sky. On a day I expected to see no cloud cover at all, the soft light this will provide is a gift. Our tour was set for 9:30 am, but by the time we boarded the bus, the clouds had really dissipated. Still, the light was satisfactory.  Our tour took us up 5 miles onto the main rim of the pit. From this high point we would have an amazing view of the active work going on below. On the way, our guide, Ron, pointed out occasional wild horses grazing on the spare brush growing on the terraces. We came to a main intersection where giant dump trucks come barreling down the steep roadway. This intersection was the source of concern earlier and we had to wait for an escort to be sure none of the trucks we en route. It is difficult to get a sense of how big these trucks are, so I asked my trusty assistant to stand in front of one. A little later, I watched as a giant steam shovel (actually electric, not steam) machine filled a truck with 1 giant scoop.We crossed safely and arrived at the overlook. Simply amazing and awe inspiring. The things humans are capable of. Just below us, a drilling rig was preparing a new blast site. The holes are drilled at particular angles in the ground to direct the blast in a certain way. I watched a video before the tour that showed how the blast happens. Starting at one end, the charges are set off in order and the ground lifts and drops almost like the swell of an ocean wave as it approaches the shore. It is impressive.

I only had about 10 minutes (it just seemed that short – I think we were there maybe 20 minutes) in this spot before Ron herded back onto the bus. I lagged behind, as I tend to do, to squeeze out a few more images. It was an intense period of ignoring Ron and focusing on the landscape about me. We then moved to a processing area for the ore. Outside were slurry ponds that began the process of separating the copper from the ore once it’s been crushed. The greenish portions of the pond is nearly pure copper that then  goes on to further processing. Inside the building, we could see the oversized tumblers breaking down raw ore.There is far more to this place. Off in the distance I could see a vast man-made lake the plant uses for it’s water needs. Ron told me it is just a couple feet deep, but we did not get near it. Our tour ended here and there was nothing left but to head back to the visitor center. I am extremely pleased with the work I came back with.

Mission San Xavier del BacIt was still early when the tour finished. We had another stop in mind though. Just another 10 mile up I-19 was Mission San Xavier del Back (White Dove of the Desert). Founded in 1692 by the Jesuits, it was the Franciscans who began the present church structure in 1783 and finished in 1797.The mission had fallen into much disrepair over the years. Restoration work could only be done when funds existed. This is an erratic process even to this day. Our last visit here in 2006, one of the towers was encased in scaffolding and a shroud while it was restored. The difference was clear this time.The inside is more impressive however. Amazing intricately carved figures of saints and angels adorned the walls all brightly painted. It is an active church, so respect for others present is required. Looking overhead to the beautifully painted ceiling. The carved figure in the viewing casket represents one of the Franciscans who served. Apparently parishioners rub his head as they pass during services.The choir area above the main floor is quite lovely as well. By noon we were wanting to get out of the sun after walking the grounds of the mission. Our photo day was done. On the way back to camp, we treated ourselves to a guilt free trip to Carl’s jr. for a junk food frenzy of burgers and milkshakes. Hey it’s hot here. Tomorrow we will be returning to the Tucson area. We are looking to spend some time in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park, and it looks like we might have a few days of below 90˙ weather. Probably too hot for long day hikes, but early morning hikes will work.

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Bisbee Arizona and The Copper Queen Mine

March 31On the final day of the March, we pulled into Bisbee, AZ. We are staying at the Queen Mine RV Park just at the edge of the Copper Queen open pit mine. The town itself sprung up after copper and gold and silver were discovered in the 1880’s and was the most productive mine in Arizona until the 40’s. While the mines’ production decreased, it stayed in full operation through WWII – now after iron ore – and was acquired by Phelps Dodge in 1985. The mine closed soon after. The town suffered for many years, but has built a tourist industry around the mine and is now a funky vacation destination.We will be here for the next 3 days so I can photograph the pit and explore the area in more detail for my latest project, Into the Anthropocene. Three days is probably not necessary, but in order to best photograph the pit, I would prefer a very specific set of lighting conditions completely dependent on weather. High light clouds are what I am  and hoping for while in town. We’ve been fortunate in that those conditions had been present for the past few days while in Chiricahua – at least at certain times of the day, but I am hoping it will last a little longer. My hopes were fulfilled beyond expectations upon arrival. The exact conditions were in place and were predicted to last for the next couple of days before clearing. Not wanting to take chances with weather predictions, I headed out to the pit mine overlook just a short distance from the RV park. The mine is surrounded by a 10’ cyclone fence topped with another 2’ of barbed wire. There is absolutely no other access to the mine. There were a few viewing holes added to the fence at the main overlook so cameras can be poked through, but most of them also had bushes covering all or part of the view. I used the holes that were not obscured. I moved to another location a little further down the road, but had to photographed through the fence itself because there were no viewing holes here. I positioned my lens as close to the fence as possible, but even so, it was impossible to get a full unobstructed view. I had to come up with a better way to get a clear view. The next morning, we took a walk into town for breakfast and  a look around. Bisbee is built into the folds and seams of the hilly terrain. The main street is relatively level, but all the side streets go up and up. There are history tours one can take, but we like to just poke around at our leisure, looking at odd window displays and funky wall art. We managed to find a little relaxing time in one of the many brew pubs to be found.It occurred to me that I could use my motorhome to get high enough to photograph over the chainlink fence around the pit mine. I just have to drive it down to the overlooks, park close to the fence and climb on top – my own personal viewing platform. Just 2 problems with this: The morning dawned with a pure blue sky. The predicted cloud cover did not materialize. There may be clouds later, but high winds are predicted to arrive after noon.Since the photo day was shot, we decided to do a touristy thing and take a mine tour. The Queen Mine tour does not enter the Lavender Pit, but takes us into one of the more traditional mine shafts to explore what and how miners worked. It is a 1 hour tour for only $13 per person.We arrived a little early to adorn ourselves with the tools of the trade: hard hat, light, and safety vest. We also wore numbered metal tags that I assume were to identify us in the event of a cave-in. The whole group of around 20 people got onboard the same mine cars used for miners back in the day and we slowly motored into the darkness.Unlike most mines, this one was cool inside at around 60˚. Our leader was in fact a miner himself and worked this very mine until it closed. He was really great, finishing each explanation with, “and dat’s how dat works”.We stopped at various points to view seams of ore not extracted, look at equipment left behind and viewed an explosive demonstration. It was quite interesting and entertaining. At the last stop on our tour, the guide showed us the nice steel toilets they used while underground. Looks real comfortable. He told us in all his days working in the mine, he never saw 2 guys on it at the same time.

By the time we came out of the mine, the winds had picked up substantially and still there were few clouds. Light on the Lavender pit was harsh, so we decided to wait till near sunset to attempt any more work there.At around 5:30 we pulled the RV out and drove down to the viewpoints just a mile away. The sun had gotten very low by now and much of the pit was cast in shadow. The wind was gusting to around 30 mph and dust was kicking up.  Up on the roof, it was difficult working in that wind and I didn’t have high hopes of success. Surprisingly, the images worked out far better than I expected. Light was bouncing off the hillsides behind me, and while it looked dull through the viewfinder, the images processed into nicely glowing pieces that were very colorful.

We will say goodby to Bisbee today. More to come as we figure out where to go next.

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Chiricahua National Monument

March 29From talking with campers at Organ Pipe, we learned our next destination, Chiricahua National Monument, would be impossible to camp at without reservations. When looking to check availability, we could only get 2 consecutive days over the next 3 weeks. We wanted more, days and not for another week or so, but it is not to be this time. It will have to be a “first look” trip.The monument is known as a Sky Island – an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea. It is a good idea to be here just now because Tucson is getting hot this weekend. The Chiricahua campground sits at about 4400’ . We will be in the mid 70’s while they will be in the 90’s. The monument is small and so is the campground. 26 spaces, many too small for our rig, around 2 tight loops. I bottomed out the tow hitch while crossing a drainage dip, damaging slightly the power cable to the RAV. It is quiet here. Requiring reservations means only people camping are driving through the campground. It’s a long distance to travel for a day trip so it never seems busy.We got our site, rested for a bit, then headed out in the late afternoon to get a sense of the place. There is a 10 mile road that rises from the canyon floor up to some overlooks, with trails leaving from several of them.We drove the road, stopping occasionally to photograph the rock piles and views.
We later walked maybe a half mile of the Echo Canyon trail that we will be doing as a complete 3.6 mile loop tomorrow. Some of the shapes found in the rocks of the Grotto.
We walked as far as The Grotto – a large section of standing, and balanced rocks. The urge to go further down the trail was strong, but since we will be doing this portion again in the morning, we decided to head back and go on to Massai Point. A viewpoint was built on top of a boulder that affords a nearly 360˚ view of the canyons and rocks. There is another trailhead here that can be taken deep into the canyons. Based on what I’ve seen here so far. Tomorrow is going to be really good.
In some ways, these formations appear similar to what can be found at Bryce Canyon in Utah. These formations, however were formed from superheated volcanic ash melting together forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite. Joints and cracks formed and began eroding away to their present state.Really looking forward to tomorrow afternoon’s hike.

Echo Canyon Hike
March 30
A dazzling morning greeted us. We spent the time working out the hike, talking with the ranger, catching up on blogging and such. This hike is best done in the late afternoon. The trail winds through many of the pinnacles, both high and low. Most of it is western facing, so afternoon light will illuminate the formations best. Picking up where we left off at the Grotto area, we continued down the steep, rocky path. The bright green lichen growing on many of the rocks was a wonderful surprise. It seemed splashed across like thrown paint. We were advised to walk the loop counter clockwise because of the steepness of this part of the trail. The way back up is much more gradual and more exposed. By the time we get there the sun  will be blocked. The uphill portion will be mostly shaded all the way up. As we defended the trail, we were now walking at the base of the pinnacles. In some places the formed near slot-canyons, and reflected light in a similar way. Really loved the graphic nature of many of the formations. It was a bit contrasty, but in this case I liked the effect. The trail eventually drops deep into the canyon and the terrain levels and opens up somewhat. As we rounded the return point of the loop, the pinnacles now towered above and around us. It was easy walking for another mile before the gradual uphill return began. We only saw a handful of people on this moderate little hike. Amazing formations and wonderful light made this one of the nicest trails I’ve hiked in recent memory. I’d do it again if not for so many other to do first. But not this time. We are moving on again in the morning.On to Bisbee!

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Saguaro National Park, Tucson

The desert in bloom! Well not really. We arrived in Tucson Sunday afternoon, and after a little Garmin confusion about just where Gilbert Ray Memorial campground was located (just outside the park), were ready for a few days here. There are two sections of Saguaro – east and west. We are on the west side for this stay. We will be returning in a week or so to visit the east side. This being the weekend, and being so close to Tucson, the park was packed with cars and visitors. We chose to wait till Monday for a visit to the Desert Museum (where the above picture was made).

Tucson Desert Museum

Falcon on the loose

The museum is just a little outside the National Park boundary. Getting there early, we immediately headed to the raptor area. The museum puts on a raptor flying show most every morning and we wanted to find a good location. These birds are all unable to live in the wild, so despite my distaste for animals in captivity, we went for the demo.We found a high vantage point right next to a handler and above the large crowd the had gathered down below. The birds swoop back and forth over the crowd from handler to handler, and sometimes up to the one next to us. I didn’t bring my 300mm lens, and because most of the action happened over the crowd, I made a lot of “bird dot” images. Occasionally they would send the Harris’s Hawks up to our perch and we could experience a hawk zooming right in on us, where he would feed on the commercially grown mice bits. Among the other birds that were flown: a Screech Owl, Falcon, Cara Cara (who walked from his cage to the handler before taking flight) and a gray hawk. I just watched most of those.We also visited the humming bird pavilion and an aviary where we could walk among the birds.  There are a number of animal exhibits where the various desert residents can be viewed. For me, these animals always look a bit confused – like they don’t understand what the hell they are there for. Some exhibit compulsive pacing, other total boredom. While some of the creatures have fairly large pen to pace in, others do not. They all just seem bored.After a rather large lunch, we walked the extensive desert gardens and checked out some of the underground exhibits (bats, snakes and such). We left late in the afternoon to do some grocery shopping before retuning to camp. Tomorrow we actually go into the National Park.

Bajada Loop DriveTuesday morning we were out early again to drive and hike the Bajada Loop Drive. A bajada of course, is whee two alluvial fans sort of blend together to form one large sloping plain. It is certainly a challenge to make unique images after so much time in cactus country. I don’t know how well I’m succeeding, but is enjoyable to work. We walked several of the shorter trails as we made our way along the road. Almost nothing is in bloom here. We did find the occasional cactus and some Fairy Duster bloom, but not much else.

Evening Walk
The late afternoons and evenings here have been cloud covered and windy, but this evening was calm, clear and warm. I decided to take another look along a nature walk we’d done earlier in the park. I’d found an interesting skeletal saguaro along the path in the morning, but the lighting was poor. I’d hoped for better, so I went back to work it a little further. The low light was nice, but finding a good position and composition was not so easy. I had to be careful where I bent – prickly little cactus everywhere. I walked the rest of the .3 mile path before starting back to camp. On the way back I stopped a few times to take in the wonderful light all around me. The large bodies of water seen out on the desert plain turned out to be an attempt to bring more drinking water to the city. Makes for a very strange landscape. Yes – Anthropocene.

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Organ Pipe National Monument & Cibola Reserve

March 21We drove only a short distance to Ehrenburg, just over the Cal/Arizona state-line, so we could restock and do laundry. One day for that and a day spent at the Cibola National Wildlife Preserve. Then on to Organ Pipe National Monument for 5 days.The drive in to the reserve travels past more agricultural in the desert. Palm farms, and endless planted and fallowed fields.I wasn’t expecting much at Cibola at this time of year. All of the big birds, Snow and Canadian Geese, Sandhill Cranes, ducks and so many others, leave after February so to see anything, will be unexpected.
One favorite was in residence. Burrowing Owls, just to the side of the road, had taken up residence in one of the provided burrows. They were shy though and would fly away to another burrow as we approached, then fly back after we passed. Or just show me their backs.There were a number of quail – always fun to watch run across the roads. But he only other bird of note, was a field of yellow-headed blackbirds, and they were pretty far away.We toured around the reserve for most of the morning, but it was clear there was very little to be seen. On the way back to camp, we did a little more scouting of solar farm sites. I found one large site, but the road was gated probably 20 miles from the farm itself, so I was thwarted again. Another site nearby, that looked like a solar farm from Google Earth, but when we followed out the road, it turned out to be a state prison.

Organ Pipe National Monument
March 20
Another effortless day of driving got us to Organ Pipe – just 170 miles from Blythe/Ehrenberg. The campground is still first-come-first-serve because it is little visited, but has some great hiking and interesting cactus. It also butts right up against Mexico and so has a strong Border Patrol presence. Checkpoints going in and out, patrols on backroads and signs on every road and trail to avoid those suspected of crossing. I was very surprised with the good cell reception all over the park – another byproduct of heavy law enforcement in the area.

Victoria Mine Hike
Hiking here this week will be an early/late proposition. It is getting hot. Today was 70’s, but the next several are upper 80’s – and 90’s, before cooling off again by the weekend. While it seems all of California is being rained on right now, we will just have mostly cloudy skies with some sun poking through – and temps in the 90’s.Mining and ranching was what brought white people out here first, so several of the trails go to them. Our first hike was to Victoria mine. The trail leaves from the campground and is a 4.5 mile out-and-back easy hike. This hike could be combined with a few other trails to make a longer loop, but for our first real look at the landscape here, this will be enough.We were out just after dawn. Because Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings, we didn’t loose an hour again when crossing into the state. Getting up at 6 am is preferable to 5 am, even if it is just numbers on the clock.It was already warm as we hit the trail. The walking was easy, but we stopped often to photograph. First day in a new place is great. Everything looks amazing and progress is slow but great fun.I had hoped we would see some blooming cactus or wildflowers. It seemed a long shot with rain so rare this year. Indeed, the only thing blooming right now is the ocotillo – and most of them have yet to sprout leaves.On this particular hike, there were few Organ Pipe cactus seen. More impressive in this area, were the Saguaro cactus and the crazy green of the Palaverde Trees.  We eventually made it to the Victoria Mine. It was the usual collection of ruins and holes in the ground. Slightly different here though were some of the mine shafts had thick plastic liners around the top and were capped off with steel caging. They are protecting a new bat habitat. This reminded me I haven’t seen a single bat in the desert so far this trip. Walking around amongst the ruins, I came to a clearing with a twisted steel cable laying there. When I looked in the sky above, I noticed a con trail that twisted in the same way. It was a really strange trail up there. I was able to pick out the high altitude jet making it, and watched as the it just kept curving this way and that.

Desert View Walk
March 25
Thursday morning we were up at dawn for a short walk on the Desert View trail. Only a 1.2 mile loop, but it leaves from the campground and winds through a wonderful forest of Saguaro, Organ Pipe, Cholla, Ocotillo and more. We were plagued by high moderate clouds this morning though. Not much of the low angle sun I was hoping for.There were lots of organ pipe cactus on this loop hike. and I had some nice looks at textures and color. The ocotillo on the trail look dead except for their bright red/orange blooms on the tips. When there is more water present, they will all grow green leaves and will look their best. Birdlife so far has been very sparse compared to earlier years here. On this walk, we saw a Gila Woodpecker treating an ocotillo bloom rather roughly. It was a bit too far away to get a great picture, but enough to identify.  I really loved these skeletal remains of an Organ Pipe. Reminds me of pitchforks somehow. Scale is always difficult to convey when photographing nature. It’s difficult to understand the size of some of these cactus, so I asked Mary to step in. They are big! The cloudy skies persisted all day and it is nearly 90 today. Hiking anymore today is out, but we may scout some locations from the comfort of our air conditioned Rav.

Senita Basin Loop hike
March 23
This Friday morning is decidedly cooler, but still it will be warm. Another early hike is called for so we were out just after dawn again. This one requires a 9 mile drive on washboard dirt road to the trailhead – half of it skirting the U.S. Mexican border.

When we first drove into the monument a few days ago, I could see what looked like a wall or fence off in the distance. It didn’t register at the time, but it was the border fence we were seeing. I’m guessing when I say it looked to be 15’ tall. Could have been higher. I seemed to stretch for maybe 5 miles in each direction from the border crossing. Border Patrol was very evident.We left the campground, driving south down the main highway toward Mexico for a few miles, to get to our turnoff for the hike. On this stretch of highway, I saw the first detention. Two border patrol agents were questioning by the side of the road, a young Mexican mother and her 3 kids. They had no car. We were past before I realized what I was seeing. We turned off the highway and started down the dirt road toward our trailhead. At maybe the second mile in, another border patrol agent was questioning another young mother and her 2 kids. At this point, the fence is not exactly an obstacle. It is maybe 3’ high and spaced wide between posts. I’ve heard most of the arguments for and against, but seeing the reality of border enforcement sent a chill down my spine. I didn’t photograph those encounter, feeling more like a tourist then an activist. Not a proud moment.  There are signs on every trail and backroad warning visitors against helping anyone trying to cross. One suggested it was inadvisable to offer them water if asked – It might encourage them to go on  apparently. I noticed at several locations in the monument, a high flying blue flag sticking out of the brush. We eventually learned these were emergency water catches. Seems contradictory, supplying emergency water, but discouraging help from others.We did eventually get to our hike, but witnessing what we did, put a pall on the walk. It is a nice trail but we didn’t see much different than what we’ve seen elsewhere. Senita Basin was named for a particular cactus found primarily in this basin. It is distinctive for its rather fuzzy ends. That fuzz is actually more spines. Hoping for a better experience on tomorrows hike.

Estes Canyon to Bull Meadow hike
For our final hike in Organ Pipe, we saved the Estes Canyon to Bull Meadow loop. Most of this 3.6 mile hike is easy with gentle rise and falls, but to get to the best views at Bull Meadow, we need to take a spur trail up 800’ to a bench, then another 300’ to get to there. What we will do for a view. It was another cloudy day, only more so. There were few breaks in the cloud cover, and what there was, happened in the early part of the morning. It is comparatively cool after the past 2 days so we were quite pleased to be doing this hike today.The lower part of the trail runs through much the same terrain and sports all the same plant life, but the cliffs all around the canyon are impressive and colorful. We could hear the wind rushing through the mountains up high – different sounding from wind in trees. It was also a clue as to how windy it will be when we get to Bull Meadow. The trail up to the bench looks out across Estes canyon and the meadow below. After the final 300’ up an extremely steep and rocky path to the Bull Meadow trailhead, we debated whether to continue out another half mile to another ridge that looks over the entire eastern side. All morning high clouds had been thickening as they moved over the park, deadening the light. It was very windy up here as well, so we chose to turn around and head back down. Ocotillo roots and the view. Nearly impossible to see in this image below is a trail crew working to improve some of the really rough spots we traversed. They were on loan from Saguaro National Park and worked 8 days straight, the 6 days off for 4 cycles. Then home.

Once down off the spur trail, we hooked up with the remainder of the loop for a quick all-downhill jaunt back to the parking area. This was a nice hike on a less that perfect weather day. The coolness of the morning was great for hiking, but not so much for photographs.We will be moving on to Tucson for some time at Saguaro National Park, but because of difficulties getting a reservation for our location after Tucson, we will only be there 3 days before moving on to Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona. We talked with some other campers here who said the formerly little visited park was booked up when they tried to stay there. Two week ahead, we could only get 2 days in a row. So we will use those days as a “first look”, spend more time in the general area, then head back to Tucson for more time on the eastern side of the park. Next post will be tomorrow morning. It will make good breakfast reading and looking.

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Joshua Tree – Cottonwood Area

Teddy Bear Cholla Garden
On Wednesday, we broke camp at Jumbo Rocks and moved down to the Cottonwood Springs campground for a final day and evening.On the way was the obligatory stop at the Teddy Bear Cholla Garden for a stroll. This must be about the only national park trail that sports a first aid kit at the entrance. Not a bad idea for these little cacti. The look all soft a fuzzy from a distance, but brush up against one and you will most likely need the contents of the box.  We wandered the meandering paths through the garden marveling at how extensive the garden has become. First visits here 30 some odd years ago, the garden was not nearly so extensive. It seems like it has spread to maybe double what I remember those many years ago. At certain times of the year, bees can be a problem for some..
After getting settled in our space, we took a late afternoon walk to Cottonwood Spring. The trail leaves from the campground and is an easy 2 mile round trip walk. Some of it is through a very fine graveled wash which makes it a kind of slog at times, but a pleasant walk for the evening.Much of the area is now cordoned off due to toxic heavy metals from mining in the soil. This too is different from 30 years ago. We could walk all over this place. Back then, we didn’t exactly roll around in the stuff, but I now wonder what my exposure was.

Mastodon Mine Loop Trail
This is another pretty easy hike to a mine. The start of this one is the same as last nights walk, but branches off at the wash. An early start and light high clouds made for some really nice soft light.Some of the first wildflowers we’ve seen here were found some of the sandy washes along the way. The trail winds around lots of classic desert scenes. Great rocks of course but the wide views are wonderful too. I was a bit surprised to see the Salton Sea from one point in the trail. The mine itself was just the excuse to walk the trail. We kicked around a bit, found a shaft or two and enjoying a very pleasant morning in the sun. We had the option of climbing the unmaintained route up to Mastodon Peak, but it was very rocky and there were already several people up there. We continued on the loop back to Cottonwood Springs, the back to camp.
Leaving Joshua Tree – Almost
We packed ourselves up after returning from the hike and headed to the dump station to empty tanks and fill water. While I was waiting for the gray to empty, I noticed the rear duely seemed a little low. Sometimes it just looks a little low, but to be sure I put the pressure gauge on it. Normal. Checked the inside duely – zero pressure. It was flat. The tire itself look perfectly normal. No way to tell if it was flat by looking. On our very first long trip in the rig, I watched a trucker pound on his tires with a hammer. I didn’t understand why until I later discovered it is the way truckers test their tires. When I hammered my tire, it was clear it was flat.After finishing the tanks, I drove down the short distance to the visitors center. There is no cell reception in the park, but the kindly, but harried rangers – this place is incredibly busy – allowed me to use their land line to call my insurance and get help. We are pretty remote to any service in the area and our wait was 3 hours in the parking lot before Dave, the service guy, could get here. He had several calls before mine, and an hour drive to me when he finished got those done.

Luckily my spare, while old, was in good shape. Even better, instead of just changing the tire, he offered to patch the punctured one on the spot for $35. In an hour he was done. I asked him how long he thought the tire was flat. His answer was not long. Tires don’t hold up long in this situation. He pulled out a self-tapping screw from between the tread. So thats all the entire incident cost. We were soon on our way – 5 miles to the BLM free camping area just outside park boundaries. From here we plan to check out a solar farm and abandoned mine 20 miles east of here tomorrow. I cannot applaud Progressive insurance enough. No nonsense and quick action.

General Electric Solar Farm While planning this trip, I used Google Earth to look around our driving routes for large man-made intrusions on the land. In the area of Desert Center – an abandoned rest stop, I found General Electric’s NextEra Energy Solar Farm. A 550-megawatt power plant. Also in the vicinity is the Colorado River Aqueduct that punches through the mountain range. In addition, there is also nearby, an abandoned Kaiser mine.  Most of the land here is privately owned and access is severely restricted. We were booted off a private access road by a rather bemused seguridad guard (security in Spanish – thats how it read  on the truck). The solar farm was also heavily fenced and the visitor center was closed and empty. The company ghost town was also fenced off. We drove around the perimeter of each facility looking for some sort of high ground, but found little.
Eventually, I just walked up to the fence surrounding the solar farm and did my best to reach over and through the cyclone fence and barbed wire.
A few of the image I came back with seem like they get to the essence of what I’m going for with the project. I don’t know if any will make it into the project, but I am sure solar plants will be included somehow. We will be moving on to Blythe today and will be visiting some wildlife refuges in the area. Then on to Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona.

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