Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Road Trip - Oregon

The ocean was the goal.  But there was still the beautiful state of Oregon to traverse.  Few think of Oregon as desert, But from the Idaho border, traveling west across Oregon to the high desert town of Bend, the landscape is a vast, open, sagebrush-covered, wind-swept land, punctuated by fascinating geologic formations and lava fields.  From Bend, the land rises into the Cascade Range and the lovely little town of Sisters, named for the peaks that stand guard over it.  It was there that we spent the night, with llamas grazing just outside our room.  We searched out an interesting restaurant, The Open Door, and spent a pleasant evening dining in the garden on fresh beet salad and flatbread pizza.

Up and over the winding McKenzie Pass we went rising 2000' through Ponderosa pine forests before opening up to an amazing lava field dating back over 2000 years.

The jagged peaks of the Sisters, Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson rise abruptly out of the rocky chaos.  At the summit sits The Dee Wright Observatory, built entirely out of volcanic rock by the CCC in the 1930's.  Small observation openings, lava tubes, reveal the surrounding geologic features.

Mt. Jefferson through the lava tube, Oregon's second highest peak.
Bronze Peak Finder at Dee Wright Observatory
A flock of red crossbills entertained me on my climb to the observatory.  Most flew away at my approach, but one little guy was quite unafraid and posed patiently.

From the summit we descend into the lush greenness for which Oregon is so famous, winding along the beautiful McKenzie River, emerging into the bustle of Eugene.  We pushed on to the coast, my ocean fix long overdue.  Driving down Highway 101 brought back good memories of many trips past.  The Oregon Dunes, seafood in Florence, incredible state beaches.  In Bandon, we settled for a few days in a funky little guest house with a great view of the harbor, and walking distance to all of the town.

 Lazy days were spent exploring the beaches, the wildlife refuges, the lighthouse, the village and the harbor and the seafood restaurants.

Right behind our inn was a most amazing museum filled with 'artwork' created from the trash washed up on the beaches.  The Washed Ashore Project aims to educate and create awareness about marine debris and plastic pollution through art.

American oystercatchers poked through the rocky buffet just out of easy camera range, but I succeeded in capturing this one.

Fog settles in along the coast, creating surreal and ethereal scenes.

Next Up, continuing down the coast of California. Perhaps I can finish documenting this trip before the next one begins.  Well, perhaps not.

Meanwhile, Happy Winter Solstice!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Catching Up

Yes, I have been neglecting this poor blog.  So, here in a couple of blog nutshells are the last four months!

Road Trip!  I love tripping around the country by car, stopping wherever feels good, revisiting favorite places and discovering new ones, taking in the sights, sounds, people, and wonderful food.  Generally, we take our travel trailer on the road, but this time we opted for the car as we wanted to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short time.  

First stop - the Grand Canyon.

It was lovely to stay at the Maswik Lodge on the South Rim in September.  The crowds have thinned somewhat, and the lodge is just a short walk to the rim.  Though the lodge is like a Motel 6 at Ritz prices, there's no denying that the LOCATION is what matters.  I got great views of the California Condors along the Rim Trail toward Yavapai Point.  We took the shuttle out to Hermit's Rest at the west end of the Park, and walked the Rim Trail back to the Village.  Unfortunately a lightning storm moved in and cut the hike short at Maricopa Point when the rangers closed the trail.  At the Bright Angel trailhead, I was impressed to see the recent renovation project by the Grand Canyon Association.  I'm happy to belong to this organization.

Any stay at the Canyon is always too short, but it was time to move on.  After a leisurely drive along the East Rim, stopping to enjoy the sun rising on the Canyon with our coffee, we drove north to the Highway 89A cutoff, the Navajo Bridge across the Colorado River, the magnificent Vermilion Cliffs and then lunch in the campground at Jacob's Lake.

The next day we pushed on to Boise, Idaho, where we spent a relaxing and enjoyable 3 days with Jay's brother and his family, eating fresh vegetables and fruit from their amazing garden, and cheering on the Boise State Broncos at a football game.

I'll post this half of the trip now, so it doesn't get unbearably long, and so I don't keep putting it off!  Thanks to my friends and followers for hanging with me!  Next, it's off to the coast.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bits of August

August skies in Tucson are often dramatic and wild, colorful and ever-changing.  I try to get out on my walk early enough to catch the sunrise.  On the days I succeed, I am usually rewarded.

This morning the cloud cover was just a bit heavier, and I was a little later, which I blame on the nectar bats who emptied the hummingbird feeders.  Of course I had to fill all the feeders before I could go walking.  So, there was little color in the sky, but these beautiful rays shone through the clouds.

As you can see by those four saguaros, this is one of my favorite spots to shoot the sunrise.  On the next block is an amazing crested saguaro, perhaps the most unique I've ever seen.  Not only is the main trunk crested, but three of the arms are now making crests also.  Scientists do not know the reason for the cristate formation, although there are a number of theories. Generally, it has to do with some disturbance of the growing tip.

From big things to little things.  I'm usually on the lookout for trash as I'm walking, and all that looking down sometimes rewards me with tiny sights like this little creature.  This is a red velvet mite, Dinothrombium sp., in the arachnid family.  While most mites are tiny, microscopic even, the red velvet is a relative giant.  They
emerge from their underground homes during the rainy season and are occasionally seen in large numbers.  

A guy walking his dog thought it was hilarious that I was taking a photo of this little creature.  Another day I saw a desert millipede crossing the street, so naturally I had to take his photo too.  A passing driver gave me an odd stare.

August is the month of blooming barrel cacti and deep red prickly pear fruits.

Tiny pink flowers of the chain fruit cholla throw their color into the mix as well.

A young male Costa's hummingbird has found a very appropriate perch in my yard where he can sit in the shade and keep a close eye on 'his' feeder.

It's the birthday month, which always means lots of FOOD!  Fun and delicious lunches and dinners with friends and my husband.  At the Stables restaurant in Tubac, I shared lunch with my friend, Beryl, and of course we had to have a choclaty dessert.  

And those beautiful skies just keep on coming!

Now, if those clouds would only do their real job and bring us some rain!  Here's wishing you many glorious skies!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sonoran Desert Toad

The monsoon is in full swing and one of the interesting creatures who makes an appearance during this season is the Sonoran Desert Toad..   If you live in the Sonoran Desert,  you may be hearing them, especially on rainy nights.  The Sonoran Desert toad is Arizona’s largest toad, growing to 7.5” or more in length and is a common, nocturnal visitor to yards near water or natural desert vegetation.  They emerge after the summer rains to feed and breed in large, temporary rain pools.  During the rest of the year, the toads hibernate underground. 

Sonoran Desert Toads are olive green to brown in color and have lumpy skin, large glandular lumps on their hind legs, golden eyes with horizontally elliptical pupils, large, poison-filled parotoid glands behind their eye and tympanum, and one or more distinctive white tubercles at the corners of their mouth.  The diet consists of just about anything that moves and will fit into their mouths, including insects, centipedes, spiders, lizards, mice and other amphibians. 

Occurring across southern Arizona, this toad is absent from the higher mountains and from the arid, western desert valleys.  Although also known as the Colorado River Toad, its populations are declining around the Colorado River, and it is believed that they no longer exist on the California side of the river.  The habitat of the Sonoran Desert toad includes semi-desert grasslands, oak woodlands, creosote bush desertscrub, valley bottoms and lower elevations hills.  In the western portion of its range, the species becomes increasingly tied to permanent water, such as rivers or the edges of agriculture. 

Most Sonoran Desert toads are found at night during the monsoon season, but they may emerge a month or more before the summer rains begin, particularly in areas of permanent water (such as the mountain lion enclosure!).  Breeding generally occurs on one night within a couple of days of a rainfall event of more than one inch.  At permanent water areas, breeding may be independent of rainfall.  They may breed in cattle tanks, reservoirs, backwaters and ponds.  Males may call for females from the water or actively search for females.  Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius) Call   Females deposit long stringers of up to 8000 eggs in shallow water.  Tadpoles typically metamorphose in a month or two.  The toads live at least 10 years, and possibly as long as 20 years. 

The defensive toxins released from several glands in the skin are extremely potent.   Animals that harass the toad are intoxicated through the mouth, nose or eyes.  The toxin is strong enough to kill full-grown dogs that pick or mouth the toads.  Symptoms include excessive salivation, head shaking, irregular heartbeat and gait, and pawing at the mouth.  The toxins are also hallucinogenic and poisonous to humans. 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Bloomy, Herpy, Birdy Day

The monsoon downpours have mostly avoided the Desert Museum, but the bit of rain that has been received has made a transformative difference.  The flowers have burst into bloom, the ocotillos are covered in green leaves, strange insects have emerged, and everything seems so ALIVE!

Fishhook Mammilaria with Bee

Grabbing my attention immediately were the tiny Mammilaria cacti (Mammilaria microcarpa) often hidden under vegetation which have now burst into bloom everywhere.  Delighting the eye like finding a hidden treasure.  A wreath of pink flowers encircles top of the stalks, which may only reach 6" in height.
Also called Pincushion Cactus
The somewhat nondescript Little Leaf Cordia shrub is also suddenly covered in blossoms - clusters of delicate white flowers that seem to float in the air.  Each afternoon the flowers fall off and the next morning the bush is covered with them once again.
Little Leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
Little Leaf Cordia Blossom
Hanging bunches of lemon-yellow trumpet-shaped flowers are brightening the Tecoma stans bushes, which both please and aggravate me - why can't MY Tecoma stans ever look this good?!

Yellow Trumpet Bush (Tecoma stans)
The normally-barren stalks of the ocotillo are now fully-leafed-out waving green wands.
Ocotillo in Leaf (Fouquieria splendens)
The leaves will remain until dry conditions return, eventually turning orange-brown and then falling off.  This cycle can be repeated many times during the warmer months.  The canes are covered with spines, but this plant is not a cactus.  With its relative the Boojum, it is a member of the Ocotillo family.

More yellow!  This is the Senna polyantha, whose large shrubs produce a mass of small, yellow, five-petaled flowers followed by bean pods containing the fruit.  As so many of our desert plants, this is a member of the Fabaceae family (lugumes).
Senna polyantha
Everywhere I went on the grounds, something was blooming.  I passed this attractive bouquet on my way to see what the Trichocereus garden was doing.

I wasn't disappointed.  Big, bright flowers greeted me as I came around the corner.

From the splashy to the more subtle, but no less beautiful.

Another docent had reported seeing Western tanagers in the Desert Garden earlier in the morning, so I thought I would try my luck at finding them.  I caught just a blur of red as one of the males flew by, but I hung around to watch a Northern Cardinal family.  I believe this is the juvenile getting a drink from the fountain.
And who's that in the background? Photobombed by a juvie brown-headed cowbird.  There are a lot of young birds everywhere at the Museum.  Just outside the Desert Garden in a pine tree was this Gila woodpecker family.  The parents working hard to feed the demanding youngster.
Gila Woodpecker Family (Melanerpes uropygialis)
I apologize for the quality of this photo.  The lighting was very difficult.  Very near here, in the fan palms, I saw a young male Hooded Oriole, one of so many species that nest here on the grounds.  Heading back around to the Pollination Garden, I was greeted by this mix of Mexican Bird of Paradise and Tecoma stans, framed by ocotillos.

The butterflies love the bird of paradise.  A pipevine swallowtail sat still just long enough for me to grab a quick photo.
Pipevine Swallowtail on Mexican Bird of Paradise
The lizards were out in force. I particularly like this zebra-tailed lizard who often carries his tail curled over his back, and waves it back and forth in the manner of a scorpion.
Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)
It was about this time of day that I got a call on the radio that there was a Gila monster in the dry cave.  It's always a thrill to see a Gila monster in the wild, and I headed off across the grounds, getting stopped several times by visitors who had questions.  By the time I got to the cave, the docent there told me that the lizard had gone behind a large sign and was no longer visible.  By squeezing into a small space beside the sign and shining the light from the flashlight app on my phone, I was able to spot the fellow.  He had wedged himself as far as possible into a hiding space.

Although I felt bad about it, I had to call the herpetology folks to come and remove him.  The cave is quite dark and we didn't need the visitors stumbling into him if he went out roaming.  This is the only venomous lizard in the U.S., and while they are neither fast or aggressive, they can be dangerous if people get too curious.  (People do some really DUMB things!)  So, a few minutes later he was loaded in a crate, to be pit-tagged and then released off grounds.

Leaving the cave and making our way back to the docent office for lunch, a crowd had gathered to watch one of the botanists try to capture a coachwhip snake who had moved into the lizard enclosure.  To avoid the big human, the snake had climbed high into the large ironwood tree that is the centerpiece of the enclosure.
Coachwhip in Desert Ironwood
Can you see him up there?  These snakes are very fast! I never would have believed that the botany guy would be able to catch up to and grab the snake, especially without getting bitten.  Although they are not venomous, the word on coachwhips is that they are very bitey.  But I would have been wrong!  Down came Eric, snake in hand, having survived his encounter with that very prickly tree and with the snake.

Generally, the policy is to let non-venomous snakes alone unless they are in a place where they would threaten our exhibit animals (the lizards in this case).

In the afternoon, we got some more cheap entertainment watching the black-tailed prairie dogs and their ever amusing antics.

And, if that weren't enough fun for one day, there was one more snake on the schedule.  Some visitors spotted a snake sticking its head up out of a tree bowl in front of the hummingbird aviary.  Some fellow docents and I were just a few feet away so we got a lot of laughs watching the snake, another coachwhip, play hide and seek among the rocks and holes.  It reminded us of a game of whack-a-mole.  He would pop up one place, disappear, pop up a few feet away, then we'd just see a portion of the body slither by.  After ten minutes or so of this, out jumped a very tiny mouse and raced across the patio and up onto the roof of the aviary.  The snake looked out as in bewilderment.
Coachwhip looking for the Mouse

Eventually he emerged and crossed the patio looking for the darned mouse.
Mouse 1, Snake 0.

And with that, the day came to a close.  Back at home, a glass of wine in hand, I got another gift.  A magnificent sunset.
Sunset on Agave Drive
May all your days be filled with laughs and may they all have beautiful endings!