Barrel Cactus Blooms

Barrel Cactus Blooms
Barrel Cactus

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Starting North - Flagstaff

I was anxious to get to Reno to see an old friend who is not doing well, and I let that cloud my judgement about when to travel.  I saw there was a camp space at Zion NP for four nights over Fourth of July, so I grabbed it.  What was I thinking??  Leaving Tucson on July 1st, I planned to spend two nights in Flagstaff and one at Jacob Lake, then on to Zion.  I had made reservations at the KOA in Flagstaff, not my favorite place, but the others were full already, and it is convenient for activities around town. Besides, it was a holiday weekend upcoming, so choices were limited. The best laid plans . . .  . About 30 miles south of Flagstaff on Highway 17, making a pretty good climb, I heard my husband mumble, "Uh oh".  Not a good sign. A few seconds later the truck just died.  Thankfully there was a wide enough shoulder that we could get our 50'+ long rig off the road.  What a nightmare it would have been had we not been able to get out of the traffic lanes as we were on a blind corner with big trucks and other vehicles whizzing by.  Naturally, cell service was almost non-existent.  We were, however, able to get a 911 call through and the dispatcher sent a deputy.  He arrived in about 20 minutes and called a tow truck for us.  About an hour later, the tow truck arrived and before long we were on our way to Flagstaff - truck, trailer and all.  The driver took us to the GMC dealer where we left the truck, then he hauled us and the trailer to the KOA.  Our driver was unflappable and the tight turns, narrow roads and trees in the park didn't bother him a bit.  The GMC dealer sent a shuttle driver to take me to Enterprise to rent a car, and I just made it there before they closed.  They were very busy and it took half an hour or so to get out of there.  Needless to say, by then I needed a drink!

Later in the evening, we left for dinner, but Jay wanted to stop by the GMC dealer first and see if they had looked at the truck.  He spent half an hour chatting with the technicians about the issue, trying to impress upon them the need for a speedy repair, then it was off to dinner at Fat Olives, a bustling, comfortable pizza place.  So nice to relax after such a crazy day.

With only two nights reserved here, and no spaces available after that, we wondered what we'd do if the truck didn't get fixed in time.  Oh well, might as well go do what we wanted to do and not worry about it. I love old downtown Flagstaff for its history, charm, great architecture, hip restaurants and bars and great people-watching.  And, oh, were we happy to be parking the little rent-car instead of the big Duramax! Mart Ann's on Highway 66 was our choice for breakfast and a good choice it was!

Leaving downtown, first on my list was the  Arboretum at Flagstaff, which looked close on the map but proved to be about 9 miles on a dirt road, with very poor signage.  But the drive was worthwhile as the arboretum was really lovely.  Showcasing native Colorado plateau plants in various gardens, they also had a bird program, a gift shop and greenhouses where many plants were being propagated.  The gardens and buildings were the residence of the Arboretum's founder, Frances McAllister.

Even with large groups of school kids there for educational programs, the grounds were peaceful and inspiring.

Next stop, Lowell Observatory.  Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell and famous for the discovery of Pluto, among many other achievements.  High on  Mars Hill overlooking Flagstaff, the observatory continues state-of-the-art research by acquiring and upgrading its telescopes and facilities, while honoring and preserving its history.

I think the kids from the Arboretum followed us here!

I was on the Pluto tour, and it seems the kids were going the same place we were.  We let them pass and then made our way along the path lined with busts of astronomers and a line depicting the distance of the planets from the sun and from each other.  Big, black thunderclouds filled the sky and I was sure were in for a downpour.  At over 7000' in elevation, Flagstaff is pleasantly warm in summer with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.  Our group of perhaps 20 was led by a docent who was a retired high school science teacher.

As we got inside the small observatory, a huge crack of thunder signaled nearby lighting.  The docent didn't seem too nervous as he told us we shouldn't be in there since the building wasn't grounded, but, oh well, we were there and where else could we go? The entire dome sat on a metal track that rotated, allowing viewing in all directions.  Built in 1928-1929 for the purpose of searching for Planet X, the elusive ninth planet that Percival Lowell thought must exist, the Pluto Discovery Telescope is one of the most famous in American astronomical research.  Examining images from this scope, Clyde Tombaugh made the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

We also toured the Putnam Collection Center, where many historical instruments show just how far we've come in the scientific world, and the visitor center's excellent exhibits.  There's so much more to see here on this famous hill, but it'll have to wait for another day.  Our truck is ready! Yay! We can leave tomorrow as planned and won't be out on the street.  A new fuel line, fuel filter, $500 and she's ready to go.  The great guys at the GMC dealership even hosed the red dust off the rent-car so it wouldn't be so obvious we were on dirt roads.

I'll have to say that every single person we dealt with in Flagstaff could not have been nicer and more accommodating.  They made a stressful situation so much less painful.

We were on the road early the next morning, and I'll admit to some trepidation about whether the truck would really get us there.  I was constantly looking for where we could get off the road if we had to .  The saga continues in the next blog.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Commitment Issues

A blog is most definitely a commitment.  I admire the many bloggers I follow who can find something interesting to write every day, and they commit to doing it.  That, apparently, is not me.  On either count! I am a fickle blogger.  Just take a look at the date of my last post!  Probably because I'd rather be doing this .  .  .

or this .  .  .

Well, you get the idea.  Any excuse will do.  But, here I am, so let's see what's been happening in my corner of the desert.

The coyotes have been very active during the day.  I see them just about every morning on my walk.

First, I spotted him.
Then he spotted me.

                                   Oops, better turn around.
A dove and a pyrrhuloxia sat atop adjacent saguaros seeing who could call the loudest.  
Well, the pyrrhuloxia definitely got more points for melody.  

As fast as the saguaro fruits ripen, some lucky creature is waiting to devour the sweet pulp, leaving an empty red hull that looks for all the world like a flower.

Oh look!  Night blooming cereus buds are getting ready to put on their one-night show.
Only six buds this year, not like the glory days of this plant when it would produce more than 20 flowers.  One recent year, it didn't bloom at all, and I was afraid it had worn itself out.  But, gradually, it has come back after it's little hiatus.  

Rain in Tucson in June is virtually unheard of.  It's usually the dreaded month of bone-dry,100 degree days, not a cloud in sight.  Well, guess what?  This year, we have had rain, thanks to a tropical storm in the Pacific.  


All those cloudy days brought something else wonderful - glorious sunsets.  

Here's a new flower for my garden this year.  I got a start from a friend, stuck it in the ground and .  .  . Voila!
Harissia cactus
Until next time .  .  . whenever that might be!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Greetings!

Here's wishing you joyous holidays, and a New Year filled with the beauty of nature and the love of family and friends.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jungle Fever

What do you get when you add water to the desert?  A jungle, of course.  The Sonoran Desert is already one of the wettest deserts on earth, pushing the limits of what constitutes a desert.  Ask people to give their image of a desert and they'll say, "sandy", "hot", "barren".  Occasionally someone will come up with the one true and necessary component - aridity.  Deserts may not be sandy, they may not be barren, often they are hot, but just as likely may be cold.  They are all dry. To be a desert, a region must be dry, where potential evapotranspiration is greater than precipitation.  Generally, 10" of precipitation is the upper limit for being called a desert.  So, even on a normal year, we're pushing it here in the Arizona Upland division around Tucson with our annual average of 12".

A couple of hurricane remnants plus a rewarding monsoon has turned our desert into a virtual jungle.  As I introduce my Sonoran Desert Discovery tours at the Desert Museum and talk to people about what constitutes a desert, they look out across the landscape and see nothing but greenery.  The looks turn skeptical.  Desert?  No Way!

Even now, in November, when other parts of the country are shivering and shoveling snow, the greenery dominates our views.  Wildflowers still bloom.  The cold-deciduous acacias and mesquites have given no thought to losing their leaves.  Butterflies are abundant and very active.

Passion Flower

Queen on Milkweed

Southern Dogface nectaring on Lagascea decipiens

Bordered Patch

Bahia absinthifolia

Cooper's Paperflower

  1. Thymophylla pentachaeta

Sacred Datura

I led the Butterfly Walk at the Desert Museum last Friday and my two guests from Ohio were boggled by the number and variety we saw.  I believe our count was close to 20 species, even including a lone Monarch.  Monarchs are not common here, though we do see them in small numbers.  Much more common is the Monarch relative, the Queen, another of the milkweed butterflies.  Many sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, ladies, Empress Leilia, American Snouts, and more.

Southern Dogface Butterfly (see the poodle head?)

Bordered Patch

Cloudless Sulphur

Painted Lady

Painted Lady


Winter will inevitably come.  Until then, this is our every day. Fiery skies awake us to another glorious day.

Another blast of color signals the day's close.

The desert is happy!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Verde Valley Visit

I love to go exploring, whether it be across the world, or just across the state.  There's always something new to see. And so it was with this short trip to central Arizona's Verde Valley, where the upper Sonoran Desert meets the lush riparian oasis of the Verde River.  The Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood was to be our home for a few days, and what a lovely one it was.  The park encompasses a section of the river as well as the desert above.  Our campsite sat on a hillside overlooking the valley and the town.

With water and electricity at the sites, a nearby town and excellent cell service, it's not exactly wilderness.  But the sites are huge and well-separated and there are many excellent trails leading right from the campground.  At close to 3500' in elevation, the desert vegetation is somewhat different than around Tucson, almost 1000' lower.  The saguaros have disappeared as have the barrel cacti, but I did see chollas, some prickly pear and hedgehogs.  The vegetation is dominated by crucifixion thorn (Castela emoryi), catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii), mesquite and juniper, as well as grasses, yucca, ephedra, ratany and more.  With the cooler temperatures, there were still some wildflowers blooming.

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)

Scarlet Gaura (Gaura coccinea)

Ratany (Krameria sp.)

Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata)

Southwestern Ringstem (Anulocaulis leiosolenus)

Southwestern Ringstem (Anulocaulis leiosolenus)

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodum leucanthum)

New Mexico Feathergrass (Hesperostipa newomexicana)

Red Three-awn Grass (Aristida purpurea)

Wrap-around views from the trails made every hike a treat for the eyes, and the camera.  Below us, the green ribbon of the Verde River's lush riparian corridor, across the valley, the scars of copper mining and the towns it created, all around in the near distance the quiet of the desert.  On a hilltop just a few miles away, the ancient ruins of a native pueblo, now preserved by the National Park Service as Tuzigoot National Monument.

Our travels included a visit to Tuzigoot to learn how the ancient peoples lived in this valley for centuries; to Jerome, perched perilously on the mountainside, old buildings that once served a big mining community now repurposed for galleries, shops, restaurants and inns; Old Town Cottonwood where we discovered an amazing array of quality restaurants; and to Sedona, land of the red rocks and vortices that has been overrun with people.  From Jerome, we spotted the huge plumes of smoke that could only mean wildfire.  We were to learn the fire was burning in beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, which runs between Sedona and Flagstaff.  It burns to this day.

The former mining town of Jerome

The Verde Valley

Cholla at Tuzigoot

From the roof of Tuzigoot


On the road to Sedona, smoke rising from the Slide Fire

Red rocks and Cholla flowers

A cascade of primroses, Sedona

Carole and Jay, Sedona

My fabulous dinner at the Schoolhouse restaurant in Old Cottonwood

In between, we hiked along the river and to a peaceful marsh, across the desert and back again.  New birds, new flowers, new sights and sounds. Along the Verde River is a cottonwood-willow riparian habitat rich in biodiversity.  I was entertained with the antics of nervous little Lucy's warblers, bright yellow Wilson's warblers, flocks of stunning Western tanagers and so many summering phainopeplas.

The Verde River

Tavasci Marsh

Desert Globemallow

Sacred Datura

A very large and well-camouflaged gopher snake.

Evening Primrose

Baby Black-throated Sparrow crying for its mother who was just across the trail.

On the morning of our departure, smoke from the Slide Fire filled the valley, obscuring the nearby mountains and smelling of burning timber.

On a lighter note, I leave you with the parking cop at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

And, now for the bird list.

Bullock's Oriole
Wilson's Warbler
Common Raven
Northern Mockingbird
Black-throated Sparrow
House Finch
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Gila Woodpecker
Gambel's Quail
Greater Roadrunner
Red-Winged Blackbird
Yellow Warbler
Abert's Towhee
Ash-Throated Flycatcher
Western Tanager
Lucy's Warbler
UI Blackbird
Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
Lesser Nighthawk
Mourning Dove
White-Winged Dove
Say's Phoebe
Rock Wren
House Wren
Turkey Vulture
Lesser Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Bewick's Wren
Red-Tailed Hawk
Green Heron
Bell's Vireo
Western Wood Pewee
Great-tailed Grackle
Costa's Hummingbird
MacGillivray's Warbler

Happy Travels to You!