Misconception Corrected [Edited]
Monday, 18 February 2008 - One thing we learned at the Desert Museum that I forgot to mention in yesterday's report is when do rattlesnakes come out of hibernation?
This is something Sandra and I have often wondered about, being relatively new to the desert environment, and have just as often asked this question of people who share habitat with venomous reptiles and until yesterday we were always told that creatures such as rattlesnakes hibernated through the winter and didn't start appearing around here until late March to mid April.
Yesterday however, a docent at the desert museum was showing a kingsnake (photo on the right), so I asked the docent when do rattlesnakes came out of hibernation and he said they don't hibernate at all! It's a common misconception that they do and they appear based solely on the temperature, not what time of year it is. He said anytime the temperature gets into the 70s F (20 to 25 C) a person should start to be alert for them.
A little bit of information that's good to know and it does make sense, due to snakes being cold blooded creatures. They sleep through the winter only because it's cold then, not because it's simply that time of year.
EDIT: Okay, rather than take one person's word for it, I did some research of my own on whether snakes hibernate or not and found that what they do during the winter is called Brumation, not Hibernation.
At first glance the difference between them seems like little more than semantics, but hibernation involves the animal's thermoregulation processes switching off and is marked by narcosis (reversible state of depression of the central nervous system) and a sharp reduction in body temperature and metabolism, whereas brumation is when the animal simply does not "warm up" and is marked by a state of lethargy and sometimes by no movement at all during the entire brumating period.
So, the biological processes are completely different, although the end results are similar.
Anyway, it looks like the docent knew what he was talking about. He just didn't call it brumation.
Back To The Desert Museum
Sunday, 17 February 2008 - One of the main reasons we returned to Tucson, instead of moving on to somewhere we hadn't been before, was to get as much benefit from our year's membership to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as we can.
So today we made our first visit there since being back, knowing full well that it being a beautiful sunny Sunday meant the place would be crowded, but we'd been here for three days and that was as long as we could put it off, crowded or not.
And it was crowded, having to park out in the far reaches of the parking lot again, but neither of us cared, it was just good to be back. As I've said before, the museum just seems to be one of those places you never tire of, where we always see something new and interesting and today was no exception.
First thing we did was to take advantage of one benefit of museum membership and that is when it's crowded like today and the line of people waiting at the admission counter stretches out to the parking lot, they set up a special line for membership holders that bypasses the long line, so we breezed right in.
The first highlight of the visit happened soon afterward when two docents were displaying a pair of American Kestrels, male and female, the first time I've ever knowingly seen that species of falcon.
The second highlight was encountering the cardinal pictured above, one of the first cardinals in the wild that was cooperative and didn't fly off as soon as it saw me. It's almost enough to give a guy a complex, but this rascal actually posed for us.
And that pretty much set the tone of the visit, which also included meeting a kingsnake in person, seeing a bobcat giving itself a bath and hummingbirds flitting about everywhere, one even sitting on its nest, the coatis were out for the first time, a new art exhibit was displaying in the gallery, and we discovered the cafe has outdoor seating, just to name a few of the day's points of interest.
So, now to get to processing the photos I took there.
Click here for Sandra's account of the day and photos.
Sun Today, But Rain & Snow Yesterday
Saturday, 16 February 2008 - As can be seen in the photo here. At least it was the good kind of snow, staying way above our heads.
However, the big news for yesterday was the dinner hosted by Ellie & Jim, RV blog and chat buddies of Sandra's, and held in the RV park's clubhouse. Ellie & Jim really outdid themselves and catered to my gluten intolerance admirably, actually above and beyond, since they had even bought gluten-free bread for me. Such thoughtfulness.
Also in attendance were JoAnn & Doug, who we first met at Usery Mountain in Mesa, and Laurie & Odel, who we first met last night and who also shared their experiences and photos of their trips to Mexico since Ellie & Jim and JoAnn & Doug are all leaving tomorrow to visit Mexico themselves. Sandra and I are staying in Arizona, but we found Laurie and Odel's travelogue of great interest as well. Never know. We might brave crossing the border ourselves some day.
It was a good evening and the cuisine agreed with my temperamental digestive system. Pictured here (taken by Mr. Tripod) are (l-r): me, Odel, Laurie, Ellie, Sandra, Doug, JoAnn, and Jim.
Otherwise, the day was wet and quite chilly with snow being dumped on the higher elevations and falling as rain in the valley, turning the normally almost rock hard desert soil into a mire of muck and mud. It simply amazes me that water can soften up so thoroughly something so otherwise hard. When dry, you can hardly scratch the surface around here with the corkscrew ground stake we normally use to anchor the internet dish tripod and instead have to resort to pounding in one of the big straight steel stakes and even that, with using both hands on the heavy rubber mallet I use for that job, I could only drive the 18 inch (48 cm) stake halfway in. Nor could I get the points on the tripod legs to even dent the surface, even by jumping on them, but after one day and two nights of rain the ground had been softened enough the stake was loose and one leg of the tripod had sunk in enough just from its own weight to seriously degrade the satellite's signal strength. So, out I went this morning and was able, of course, to drive the stake and tripod legs further into the ground and had to repoint the dish. Fortunately, the wind had died down before the ground softened or it could have been ugly.
And speaking of a situation that could have been ugly, it's also a bit fortunate we made the move from Ajo to Tucson on Thursday and not yesterday. The move came over the pass that's on the right side of Kitt Peak in the photo above left (and taken this morning) and I don't know exactly when the snow started up there, but chances are that at the very least we would have encountered fog along with rain, if it wasn't snow during the day and freezing on the road, but that's cutting it a bit too close for comfort. Apparently the snow line was down to 4,000 feet and the high point of the pass looks to be 3,250 feet, so chances are we would have been okay as far as snow and ice goes, but fog and rain is still no picnic to tow an RV in.
Click here for Sandra's account of yesterday.
Now Back In Tucson
Thursday, 14 February 2008 - Today, as planned we left Why, Arizona and made the 111 mile (179 km) move back to Doc Justin's Diamond J RV Park in Tucson, the same place we stayed when we were in Tucson in December.
We were able to get a site on the same row we were in before, the row that backs onto the desert, so we again have a desert and mountain view out our rear window, although we're 7 sites from where we had been, which is a good thing if it rains.
We left Why just before 10am and arrived here just before noon (click here to see our route) and had very strong cross and tailwinds the whole way, so the mileage was exceptional, although I don't know exactly what it was since the tank had 36 miles on it before we hitched up the RV, but I estimate we got something around 17 mpg (27 kpg). As always, the RV handled the wind with great aplomb. The wind regularly buffeted us mildly, but never caused any lateral movement in the lane.
For the road, State Route 86, most of the trip was through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, so we saw very little but nature, which is one of the benefits of reservations. They are generally quite large and undeveloped.
The three couples we had a little Christmas get-together with when we were here in December, were still here today, so it felt like a bit of a homecoming. Sadly, one of the couples is leaving tomorrow to start the long trek back to British Columbia. The RV park is also nearly full. When we were here before, it was nearly empty, so I'm glad to see business has been taking off for Doc during our absence. In fact, I was a bit concerned we'd be able to even get a site, but all ended well and we're here for a month.
The photo above was our sunset last evening in Ajo on our way to Marcela's Cafe for our night out on the town. I mentioned in yesterday's report that Marcela's always seemed busy, which is normally a sign of good food, but when we went in for supper, most of the clientele was testosterone-charged young males and the appeal to them was no doubt more the buxom young lasses who were waiting the tables than it was the cuisine, because the food, while edible, wasn't noteworthy.
Took The Road Less Traveled
Wednesday, 13 February 2008 - Yesterday as usual, I was up before the sun and out on the road as day was breaking (photo on the left, showing Arizona State Route 85 going south through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument), my destination this time being the monument's Puerto Blanco Drive.
The Road Less Traveled
The Puerto Blanco Drive was once the other major scenic route in the monument that is open to vehicles, but due to issues arising from illegal border crossings, like the murder of park ranger Kris Eggle by drug cartel hitmen who were fleeing Mexico, the once 52 mile (84 km) loop road has been shortened to only a 5 mile (8 km) two-way road that goes nowhere near the border and nowhere near spectacular mountains.
And like the other internal monument roads, this one is also graded dirt and gravel with occasional paved sections, and like the road to Alamo Canyon, this one is also much smoother than the Ajo Mountain Drive and was easily managed by the truck's suspension. I imagine the Puerto Blanco Drive is smoother because it's now much less traveled than the popular Ajo Mountain Drive since the Puerto Blanco Drive no longer has spectacular scenery to be seen from it. Not to say it wasn't a pretty drive with views of mountains and desert vistas (photo below right), but certainly nothing at all compared to the Ajo Mountain Drive.
We Go Visiting
After I returned to the RV and had lunch, we drove over to see Al and Kelly, the Bayfield Bunch, who had moved from Hickiwan Trails RV Park here to BLM land south of Why. BLM land is public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and offers many areas with free or virtually free camping, but with no onsite services provided, such as electric, water, etc. Al and Kelly's motorhome is setup for being able to dry camp (aka 'boondocking' or camping without need for hookups) for extended periods of time because they have quite an elaborate solar-powered electrical system.
We Go Touring
After a very pleasant two hour visit with the Bayfield Bunch, we then drove east on Arizona State Route 86, the road we'll be taking tomorrow on our return to Tucson. I was curious to see what the road was like, as well as, all too often we haven't toured in the direction we would be leaving in only to see something when we did leave that I would have liked to photograph but couldn't because at that point we're pulling the RV and I won't pull off the road just for the sake of a photograph while the RV is hitched. Much too risky in a number of ways. Anyway, we found the road east of here to be excellent but the scenery boring, so I won't be missing any photo ops when we leave.
From there we turned around and drove into Ajo, taking its scenic loop, our favorite of the scenic drives we've found in the area for those driving a heavy-duty vehicle, and then drove through town in search of a Mexican restaurant, which we didn't find but did find a restaurant (Marcela's Cafe & Bakery) that had Mexican food on its menu, so we'll probably treat ourselves to a night out on the town (as much as one can have in Ajo) by having supper there this evening. Marcela's always seems busy, so that's a good sign.
No other plans for today except to get prepared to leave tomorrow. We could easily extend our stay here, and I'm occasionally tempted to do so, but it's just a bit too remote for our tastes. I mean there's not even a Taco Bell in Ajo! How can a person live in a community that doesn't have a Taco Bell? I mean get real. That's not living; that's simply existing!
Okay, I might be stretching that a bit, but in truth, anything I'd be interested in photographing that's unique to the area is either inaccessible or virtually so to someone with my limitations (which increase with each passing year), plus the fact the weather, while quite nice with clear blue skies, hasn't been conducive to the kind of photography I like to take, and it looks like that weather pattern is going to continue into the foreseeable future, so I might as well spend that time at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson, where there are at least some interesting birds to easily photograph.
For Sandra's account of yesterday, click here.
Remember the Alamo...Canyon
Tuesday, 12 February 2008 - And we will remember the Alamo Canyon because we took photos there yesterday evening. We'll also remember it because access to it is over an unpaved road much like the road for the Ajo Mountain Drive, except this road was smooth enough the ride in the truck was bearable.
This all came about because I had the urge late in the afternoon yesterday to see some new sights and Alamo Canyon is one of the areas of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that has public access to vehicles and we felt it would give us some more use out of the fees we paid there for the week, so off we went to check out the canyon.
Actually, we only saw the trailhead at the end of the road, because neither of us felt like hiking, but there were still plenty of photo ops available from the trailhead parking lot, which is at the base of the Ajo Mountains where Alamo Canyon becomes Alamo Wash (photo here).
In the photo on the left, Sandra is standing beside a fairly typical organ pipe cactus to give it scale. As cacti go, organ pipes are a good size, but certainly not the largest, nor the most photogenic, especially when compared to saguaros, which are still my favorite to photograph.
One thing of particular interest we saw there were a couple of birds. We certainly got spoiled with all the birds we saw in Mesa and here we've seen almost none. So it was a treat when a curve-billed thrasher landed on a nearby saguaro (photo here) and what I think to be a Chihuahuan Raven (photo here) was perched atop another saguaro for the whole time we were at the trailhead.
For sunrise yesterday morning, I hiked over to the foothills, which I climbed for the first time to get some high ground photos of the surrounding vistas. While up there, I noticed a small hill in the distance that had one lone tree growing at the top of it, so I headed over there, probably a hike of a mile or so (1.5 km), and took a series of shots of that, one of them here.
Otherwise, not much else to report for yesterday except we did a run into Ajo for propane and groceries, where the groceries at the IGA were reasonably priced but they gouged me at the Shell station for the propane. Unfortunately, both sources of propane in Why were out of it. Just one of the joys of being in a remote area.
For Sandra's account of yesterday, click here.
We Have A Monumental Afternoon
Monday, 11 February 2008 - Yesterday Sandra and I spent the afternoon driving the Ajo Mountain Drive loop in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and we had (so to speak) a monumental time there.
However, before I describe that, let me correct my first impression of the national monument as not having many organ pipe cacti, an impression that was created by what you see from the main road through the monument.
As the very kind lady in the monument's visitor center had told me, the organ pipes are up in the mountains, not down on the desert floor and once we did get into the mountains we saw thousands of organ pipe cacti there, so while we've seen quite a few of them in places around Ajo and Why, the monument definitely has the largest and densest concentration of them. It's just quite a chore to get to them.
Okay, that said, before taking the drive, I showed Sandra the visitors center, walked the little nature trail behind it, and then drove to the monument's campground to give it a look. It was quite nice except the sites have absolutely no hook-ups but they do have concrete pads (go figure). The drive to the campground passed by the first large stand of organ pipes we saw.
From there, we then crossed the main road and entered the monument's 21 mile (34 km) loop drive that goes through the quite scenic Ajo Mountains. The road, as we had been told, over its length had a completely mixed bag of surfaces, from bone-jarring rough and rocky, to washboard dirt and gravel, to well-graded dirt and gravel, to smooth as silk pavement. Unfortunately there was more rough than smooth. As I've stated numerous times in my reports here, the truck's heavy-duty suspension simply isn't suited for that kind of road and a passenger vehicle would be much better for it. Because of the rough ride, neither of us have any desire to repeat it, which is a shame because the scenery was absolutely stunning.
You first pass through several miles of the desert floor (photo here) filled with saguaro cacti (photo here) to get to the mountains, then it's one mountain vista after another with an ever increasing number of organ pipe cacti appearing on the mountain slopes (photo here) and along the road. The high point of the trip for me was the natural arch (photo above). There were also quite a few Mexican Gold Poppies coming into bloom (photo here) which we're hoping are the first sign of spring.
The big problem with loop roads being one way is that once you start on them you're committed to them because there's no turning back. The first 2.2 miles (3.5 km) is actually two way, but that's on the desert floor and the road there isn't all that bad, but from then on you have 19 miles (30 km) you must see through to the end. On the other hand, the best part of the drive is around the halfway point, so being able to turn around and go back the way you came wouldn't really buy you much.
Anyway, I'm really glad we did it and wish we could have hiked a bit on the two trails we saw, but neither us felt that energetic and it's regrettable we won't be able to do the drive again.
For Sandra's account of yesterday, click here.
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To read details of our previous stops and camps, visit the News Archives.
Updated Saturday, August 16, 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Gordon L Wolford .
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