Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I've Got the Blues

If you love beautiful rocks, gems, meteorites, fossils and minerals, you’re attracted to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show like moths to a light.  It’s not about buying anything, or needing anything, it’s just about the wonder and beauty of it all.  Every year, a fellow docent and I work at the Desert Museum’s booth at the TGMS show at the Convention Center, and it’s really a fun gig.  Along the upper hallway, not on the main show floor, are the booths of lapidary clubs, geological societies, museums, state parks, government organizations, educational institutions and the like.  That’s where we are.  Everyone who enters the show must pass our way.  Our main mission is to tell people about the Desert Museum, and secondarily, about our connection to the geology of the Sonoran Desert.  This year we had both the mineral specimen kit and the meteorite kit, which bring interested visitors over to our booth.  It’s wonderful to see so many adults bringing their children, and how deeply interested the children are. 

After our shift is over, we can go down to the main show floor, where hundreds of booths and exhibits await.  One of the main attractions of this particular show is the incredible array of spectacular mineral exhibits, usually centered around the theme for the year.  This year’s theme was Shades of Blue, somewhat of a departure from past years, which normally feature a specific gem or mineral.

Arizona, and the Desert Museum in particular, are in the enviable position of having something of an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to blue minerals.  “The Desert Museum's permanent mineral collection has been touted as one of the finest regional mineral collections in the world. The strength of the collection lies in the museum's narrow focus of attention: minerals from the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, Sonora and Baja, California.” (ASDM website)

The blues in the various exhibits ran the gamut from sky-blue turquoise, blue-green chrysocolla, intense indigo of azurite, on to the reddish-blue shades of amethyst.

The Museum’s mineral collection is nothing short of breathtaking, and from this, they select some of the most exquisite to display at the Gem Show.  The minor copper ores of azurite, chrysocolla and turquoise are the most well-known of our blue minerals. And, of these, we have an abundance.  Bisbee is known the world over for the quality and beauty of the azurite found there, and that is the centerpiece of so many ‘blue’ mineral exhibits.

You need know nothing about the powerful forces that created these wonders in order to appreciate their beauty.  And yet, we cannot help but be awed by those forces, still so active today. So, is geology a ‘living’ science like the others represented at the Desert Museum?  What is your take?

From the Desert Museum’s website: “. . .  the visitor to ASDM's earth sciences center has been treated to a full spectrum of the truly "living" science of geology - from the raging forces that create wonderlands in the underground caverns, to the jewel-like products of tremendous tectonic forges.”

So, until you can go to next year’s gem and mineral show, come to the Desert Museum and take a trip down to the Earth Sciences Center and just drink in the beauty of nature’s creations.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How Can You Do This?

It never ceases to amaze me how much litter I find on my walks, whether they be in cities, or on remote nature trails.  I am almost compulsive about picking it up.  My sisters and I spend Christmas on the Southern California beach and we never fail to carry a trash bag.  Granted, much of the beach trash washes up with the tide, but not all.  One year, we filled a 30-gallon trash bag to overflowing, and then started another one, just in a little over a mile of beach.  People would say 'thank you' to us, and yet I wondered what kept them from doing the same, even on a small scale.

When I'm home, my regular walk is a 3-mile loop around the neighborhood, which is urban/suburban, houses on somewhat large properties of 1 acre or more with mostly natural desert vegetation. Most of the neighbors love the desert and take great pride in the neighborhood.  We love the fact that we are 15 minutes from downtown, but feel a world away, a place where coyotes, bobcats, javelina, snakes, rabbits, and a great variety of birds are our regular visitors and neighbors. Saguaros, barrel cactus, palo verdes, acacia, cholla and brittlebush dominate the desert vegetation. And the Santa Catalina Mountains loom over it all.

You would think that by walking the same route every day, there would rarely be any trash to pick up.
 Not so.  In fact it's rare that I come home with nothing in the bag. Cigarette smokers are on top of the list as the biggest litterers.  Think those cigarette butts are not litter?  Think again.  They could take up to 12 years to biodegrade, meanwhile creating a hazard for unsuspecting wildlife thinking it is food.  Plastic bags, soda cups, straws, aluminum cans and all the miscellaneous detritus of modern human life.  Sometimes you can't help but wonder at the life of the litterer.  A while back, just about every day, I would find one, maybe even two, small liquor bottles - vodka or wine.  Were they drinking it on the way home? One the way to work? Hiding if from their spouse or kids? Would these little empties lie beside the road waiting to be picked up?  No.  I have many battle scars from palo verdes and cacti trying to prevent me from my mission.  Then one day, I stopped finding the bottles.  What transpired?  Hmmm.  My mind ran through the possibilities - maybe he got religion and sobered up, perhaps he got arrested for DUI, did he move away .  .  .  ??

Several years ago, our neighborhood association installed Mutt Mitts - plastic bag dispensers for picking up dog poop.  Still there are dog owners who don't think they should have to pick up after
their dog.  That's where I draw the line.  I won't pick up after someone else's dog.  Even worse, however, is the person who carefully picks up the droppings, puts them in a bag, ties the top and proceeds to leave the whole thing by the roadside!  Oh my.

With magnificent scenery all around, and the possibility of seeing wildlife, I truly love my walks.  But, I just can't help but think how much nicer they would be without the trash.

Dear litterer, how can you do this?

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Hummingbird Tale

One of the great joys of living in Tucson is the year-around presence of hummingbirds.  This year, in particular, for whatever reason, the hummingbird population at my feeders has exploded.  Rather than the three or four regulars through the winter season, I'm seeing up to 15 of the tiny birds.  At times, they resemble a swarm of bees, especially during a rainstorm when their feeding seems particularly frantic.

With all this air traffic, accidents are bound to happen.  I have floor-to-ceiling windows facing a front courtyard where several feeders hang.  Occasionally, a bird will crash in to a window and knock himself out.  One chilly day last week I heard a thump on the window.  Afraid of what it meant, I looked out on the ground below the window and there was a lifeless-looking little bundle of feathers.  I gathered him up and brought him in the house for some revival warmth.

He rested calmly for about 15 minutes, then he signaled his readiness to go by fluttering his wings.  Outside we went and as soon as I opened my hand, off he flew.  Success!

Just a few days later, on what was to be our coldest night, darkness had already settled, and inside, I was sitting just a few feet from the window.  I kept hearing a fluttering sound, sort of like when a moth is trying to escape.  I turned around to look for the moth.  Instead, on the outside down on the sill was a hummingbird flying up and down the window.  How odd, I thought.  But, I knew she must be in trouble, so I went into rescue mode again.  It was a little female, possibly a juvenile as there were no markings.  I scooped her up and brought her inside.  She seemed exhausted. When she finally appeared to recover, I was afraid to release her into the cold and dark. Hummingbirds go to their overnight roost before dark and, when the temperatures are cold, go into a state of torpor, or lowered metabolic rate.  This allows them to survive sub-freezing temperatures.

My husband scrounged around the house and found a box, which we then outfitted with a soft towel for a perch and another light towel over the top allowing for air.  I put her in and closed the top and she immediately settled quietly.  Once the sun was up the next morning and the temperature had risen somewhat, I placed the box outside and removed the lid.  She sat patiently for a few minutes, and then she was gone.

 I saw her later at the feeder chowing down on sugar water.  Did she nod at me and wink?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Blowing in the Wind

It seems that last post kind of left you hanging, didn't it.  That certainly wasn't my intention.  Forgive me and let's pick up the trail.

Traveling north on Highway 89 out of Flagstaff, I found myself constantly on the lookout for where we would pull over if the truck decided to quit again.  A very unsettling feeling.  Turning off onto Highway 89A the feeling got even worse, as there is literally no shoulder, a skinny 2-lane road and nowhere to pull off.  Across the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge, and along the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs, past tiny settlements and finally up the steep grade toward Jacob Lake, fingers crossed all the while.  My worry was for naught as the drive was without incident and we happily pulled into the Jacob Lake Forest Service campground for the night.   At the busy intersection to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, this campground stays pretty full in the summer and we were happy we had arrived early in the afternoon.

After a walk and an ice cream break at the store, I did some birding while Jay cleaned out the storage compartments of the trailer.  Odd time to do it, but whatever.  Look at this pile of stuff we've been hauling around forever! Good time to do some organizing.

Coming down off the Kaibab Plateau, the most spectacular views unfold, revealing the red rock canyons of southern Utah.  We stopped in Kanab for lunch, and then back into Arizona to continue through polygamist country, back to Utah and on to Zion National Park.

When I planned this trip, I was happy to be able to snag a camp space in the park over Fourth of July, which certainly wasn't my preference for the time to be there, but it's what worked for our trip.  Yes, it was crowded, but the park does an amazing job of dealing efficiently with the crowds. In our many trips through southern Utah, we had never camped in Zion, so I was excited to have four days here, with time to really explore the park and the trails. Just a 2-minute walk took us to the visitor center and the shuttles that eliminate the need for driving inside the park.  The town of Springdale is also just an easy walk. We did take a day trip through the park to the east, north on Highway 89,and then up over the mountains on Highway 14, back to Cedar City where a tremendous thunderstorm hit.  Once the rain abated, we explored the Kolob Canyons section of Zion NP, which is only accessible off I-15 and which we had never visited before.  A 5-mile drive takes you into spectacular red rock canyons studded with cedars, oaks and pines.  
Back in the park, it was time to do some hiking.  So many trails, so little time!  I chose several in the canyon, the highlight of which was Angel's Landing.  The 'high' part for sure.  An easy walk along the river, then up the steep switchbacks to Refrigerator Canyon, shady and cool, then you hit Walter's Wiggles, tight and steep switchbacks leading to Scout's Lookout.  There on the expanse of flat rocks, all manner of people lounged, savoring the rest and the glorious day. Did I really want to go the rest of the way?  I looked across a saddle to the absurdly steep and narrow Hogsback and thought, no way!  What?  You came all this way to chicken out now??  Nope.  So, shedding my backpack to the mercy of the squirrels, I joined the line of equally idiotic people making their way up to the top, using chains bolted to the rocks to keep from falling into the abyss.  The worst part was making way for people coming the opposite direction, as the trail was only wide enough for one person at a time.  That half mile seemed to go on forever, but I finally stepped onto the Landing, where it felt like a celebration taking place.  Where's the champagne?!  After a well-earned rest and some photos of the magnificent views, it was time to start back down - definitely harder than going up!  I met a guy coming the other way who asked me how old I was - he and I were by far the oldest people up there.  Some kind people had rescued my backpack from the industrious squirrels.  Retrieving it, I began the long descent with the legs and knees burning all the way.  Jay met me at the shuttle stop and we headed back to town for a cold beer.

It's been 6 months, and now I'm tired all over again just writing about it!  Here's to great adventures!