February 8, 2017

Future plans

We're going to Alaska next summer!  Right now we're hunkered down in Arizona waiting for spring so we can head north.  I'm reading everything I can get my hands on about the Alaskan Highway, and making a list of what I want to see.  (Actually, it's a spreadsheet, but that works for me.)

Check back in a couple of months to see what we're doing.

November 29, 2016

11/22/16 - Saguaro NP East

There are two districts for Saguaro National Park, one on each side of Tucson.  We’d visited Saguaro National Park West—Tucson Mountain District in February of 2011.  We’d actually stopped at Saguaro National Park EastRincon Mountain District that year too, but it was on the way back from somewhere else, it was late in the day, and all we did was go into the Visitor Center for a passport stamp.  I wouldn’t let George actually count it as a park visit.

We stopped at the Visitor Center again, this time to view the movie and wander through the museum before we headed to the only road in the park, the one-way Cactus Forest Loop Road through this portion of the Sonoran Desert. We shared the road with bikes and cars, but the other critters weren't around to share.
This is a park dedicated to Saguaro cacti, the iconic cactus of the southwestern desert.  It decorates the desert and an enormous amount of souvenirs.  The holes all over this one are probably nests pecked out by cactus wrens. It's sort of a wren condo.
As expected we saw saguaro, although nowhere as many as I expected to see.  This picture was taken at the Cactus Forest Overlook.  Looks like it had been clearcut and was just now growing back.
Apparently in the 1930s when the park was established, this was the most spectacular cactus forest in Arizona.  But in 1937 a cold front brought record lows to Tucson, and the saguaros started to die.  After another freeze in 1962, they realized that temperatures below freezing for just 20 hours could kill these warm-weather giants.  Now young saguaro are starting to sprout, so maybe in another 50 years, it might look like a forest again.

There are other cacti in the park too. It’s easy to see how the fish-hook barrel cactus got its name.
For some reason I always have trouble remembering prickly pear’s name.  I think of beavertail first, then realize that’s wrong, and have to work my way around to fruit instead of animals.  It can really spread a lot.  The red things aren’t blossoms, but the remnants of last year’s blooms, from which new pods will grow next spring.
Even dead and desiccated, they make a unique picture.
There are three kinds of cholla here, all wicked.  The Chain Fruit Cholla can grow to tree size.  They’re interesting but you don’t want to get too close.

Staghorn Cholla are purple, and skinnier than most of the others.
My favorite is the Teddy Bear Cholla, the one sometimes called Jumping Cholla.  Either we didn’t see any or I missed taking pictures of them. (This picture is from another park.)  Just in case you’re interested though, it comes by its Teddy Bear name honestly--isn't it cute? But it got the Jumping name dishonestly (because it doesn't really jump).
Many years ago, there were many more saguaro.  Still standing, dead saguaro look like a completely different plant.  These woody ribs are what allow the large fleshy cactus to stay upright.
I’ve been to yoga classes around here where the instructor has told us to stand like a cactus--arms out, bent up at the elbow.   That might not be as easily recognized in other states, but everyone in Arizona knew just what to do.  (By the way, that dead-looking bunch of sticks next to George is an ocotillo, another desert plant.  It only grows leaves when there’s enough water, it has bright red flowers at the tips, and is covered with vicious thorns. I love it!)
Sometimes even saguaro themselves get a little confused in where their arms should be held.
The Riparian Overlook is on the northeast part of the loop.  There are nice views of the mountains and more saguaro than at other overlooks. Still not a lot to get excited about—unless you’re a cactus botanist, maybe.
At Javelina Rocks Overlook I climbed up on the rocks while George tried to get a picture of a bird that was bouncing around beneath the creosote bushes and mesquite. 
I’d have to say that if you’re only have time to go to one district of Saguaro National Park, you’ll see more if you go West. 

More pictures of Rincon Mountain District here:  Saguaro Natl Park East
Pictures of Red Hills District here:  Saguaro Natl Park West 

November 20, 2016

11/15/16 - Chiricahua NM (Revisted)

We went to Chiricahua National Monument in February of 2011, the first year we were on the road.  I liked it, and I wanted to go on a hike, so I added it to the itinerary for this year. 

After the standard stop at the Visitor Center and the movie and the passport stamps, we headed up the road to the sky island, described as an isolated mountain range that’s surrounded by a grassland “sea”. The grassland looked an awful lot like desert to me...
The pinnacles the Chiricahua Apache called “standing up rocks” (I love that name!) are the results of volcanic ash that melted together forming rhyolite.  It cracked and broke over the eons and left spires, balanced rocks and weird shapes.    Some have names—like this one they call China Boy.  I have no idea where you have to stand to see that in this shape.

Cochise and Geronimo were Chiricahua Apache—hiding out in these canyons, melting between and behind the rocks, drove the soldiers nuts.  Think about that as you look at these rocks.  I do.

We couldn’t find a parking place at Echo Canyon, so we detoured to the Sugarloaf picnic area for lunch.  There’s a good view of the wilderness that’s classified as “Class I, pristine wilderness”.  No franchises out here!
We were joined at lunch with a pretty little Mexican Jay, but when we ate our own sandwiches and didn't share, he didn’t stay very long. Definitely not long enough for me to take a picture of his good side.

After lunch, we went back to Echo Canyon and easily found a place to park the truck.  We’d barely started when I began noticing balanced rocks.  This one looks like a bird, with a lizard friend in the background. 
Balanced rocks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Sometimes I wonder how some of them got there.  I imagine this whole place as a playground for the gods...tossing rocks on top of pinnacles, getting points if they stay balanced, extra points if they’re bigger than the one they’re on.   (Pretty sure it’s my overactive imagination again, but this is a great place for it to be exercised.)
The Echo Canyon Trail takes us through a section they call the Grottoes.    There are lots of slits and slots and windows created by rocks that are very close together.  Sometimes big boulders are lodged between.
I think these look like giant cairns.
There’s a rock wedged in here.  I thought it looked easy enough to climb up...so I did.  George didn’t. 
After we got to the bottom, we got a different perspective on the pinnacles. 
There are a variety of plants growing in this canyon.  Although most of the flowers are long gone, some of the seed pods are interesting.  The purple one still has blossoms, maturing into some sort of berries.  As I was taking pictures, a group of energetic hikers passed me going the other way and someone said something about the plants.  They waited with me until the biologist in their group caught up.  I asked him what it was.  He hummed and hawed and looked like he was concentrating on whether he’d turned off the lights at home, then told me he couldn’t remember.  (sigh)  That’s the problem with asking old guys questions like that; they may have known once but the filing system has gone awry.

After a mile and a half on the Echo Canyon Trail, we turned off it and followed the Hailstone Trail for not quite a mile to the Ed Riggs Trail, which took us back to the truck.  That made the hike 3.2 miles with an elevation gain of 450’.  Piece of cake. 
We were definitely on the shady side of the canyon as we walked the Hailstone Trail.
It was a little late but after we got back in the truck, we turned right to check out the view at Masai Point.
On the way out of the park, several coatimundi ran in front of us, heading for underbrush on the left side of the road.  George had already put his camera away so he grabbed mine.  I know you can’t make them out, but this is proof that we saw them. Sort of.
More pictures of Chiricahua Natl Monument