Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Painted Desert Trail

Our first stop yesterday was at the Imperial Date Gardens. I just wanted to see an orchard of date palms. Unfortunately the dates have just been harvested, all we saw were a few dried ones on the ground. The orchard is pictured below, a field of lettuce is in the foreground. We also visited the Imperial Date store to purchase some fresh dates and try a date shake. That was not bad, but their date bread was even better!
Before we headed out on the Painted Desert Trail in the wildlife refuge we stopped at the visitor's center first and spoke with the ranger there. She warned us to watch out for "donkey do-do" as there are a  large number of burros in the refuge. Miners who came to the area in the 1800s brought donkeys to carry their gear. When a miner died his burro often wandered into the desert and adapted to its harsh conditions. Unfortunately we did not see any burros, but did see many of their trails and droppings. Looking at those many clues of their presence we were quite surprised that we did not even see one burro.
We were pleasantly surprised with the Painted Dessert Trail. It certainly was not the flat dessert terrain we had expected. It took us through dried riverbeds and around large rocky mounds. We even found a large hoodoo. At its base we could see how it was created by water eroding around it from several directions. Many years ago volcanic eruptions created the landscape we saw in the refuge. The mounds are multicolored due to the presence of minerals. Iron creates a rusty color while copper appears green. John thought that perhaps the white mounds were piles of volcanic ash. I just know that it was beautiful to see.
After hiking the Painted Desert Trail we drove our car to several other scenic areas in the park which overlook the Colorado River. We drove over rocky roads, which probably only a four- wheel drive should travel on, to get to those areas. However, the view was worth it. It was like a palette of paint  had been splashed over the land. There was the bright blue sky and the river with its yellow- leaved cottonwood trees. Off in the distance were the purple and dark blue mountains. Filling out the scene were the multicolored rocky mounds. Some of the mounds at the river's overlook had streaks of red. In the distance we also saw hills colored with the bluish-green hues of copper. Unfortunately the picture below does not even come close to depicting the landscape and sky as we saw them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yuma Territorial Prison State Park

The  above picture shows the entrance to the prison which we toured Sunday. It is the last remaining original adobe structure of the 1875 structure. I was fascinated by the fact that the entrance to the prison was  called the Sally Port. I could not help but wonder if that was a derivation of our expression "sally forth". But an interpretive sign claimed it came from the Spanish "salir por la puerta", "to go out the door". If you saw the movie 3:10 to Yuma starring Russell Crowe you may have seen this prison. When it was built in 1875 it sat on a hill out in the dessert. The prison was used until 1909. After that time it functioned as a high school for Yuma, and during the Depression homeless people lived there. In 1923 one-third of the prison was demolished to make way for a railroad bridge. Pictured below is one of the original watch towers, it was built over the prison's water supply.
  In the museum of the prison we found many interesting stories concerning its history. One time during an attempted prison break the warden's wife, Madora Ingalls, grabbed a Gatling gun from one of the dead guards and stopped the prisoners from escaping. The prison over its 33 years of existence held a total of 3,000 criminals, 29 of them being women. The prisoners were there for everything from forgery to murder. Some of them were Mexican Revolutionaries as well as Native Americans. One man proved to be quite handy in sewing lace products- his story reminded me of the bird man of Alcatraz! Other prisoners carved items from shell and onyx, and some prisoners made fine items from braided horse hair. Those artifacts are displayed in the museum. On our tour of the prison we saw one of the original cell blocks as well as the Dark Cell. The latter provided solitary confinement for incorrigible prisoners. It was dug out of a hillside and its stone walls reminded me of a mine shaft. One prisoner spent over a hundred days in this cell. Story has it that he was a model prisoner after his time spent in there.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Palm Canyon Trail

We decided that we did not want to be around any shopping malls on Black Friday, so the best place to be would be a remote area northeast of Yuma. In fact, Palm Canyon is so remote we had to drive over ten miles of gravel road to get there. It is believed that the only native palm trees in Arizona are tucked away in the narrow, rugged canyons on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The trees are California Fan Palms. They are probably the descendants of palms growing in this region during the last periods of North American glaciation.
I apologize for the picture, the palms can be better seen if the picture is enlarged. It was so awesome to see them, even if we were still a distance from them. We  saw the larger grove of palms in the canyon, about less than a hundred. We did try to get closer, but the trail got rougher as we headed up toward them. Large rocks and steep sections impeded our progress toward them. Cactus with thorny spines grabbed at my pants. We had to eventually call it quits and head back down.
Before closing here I would like to mention our trip to Mexico on Saturday. We drove to the town of Algodones in Baja California. We were bombarded by store merchants immediately after we crossed the border. Salesmen on the sidewalks asked us many times if we needed a root canal or teeth cleaning- dentists are plentiful just across the border. I was also informed by a couple of young men that my shoes were in dire need of a polishing, which they were after hiking on a dusty trail the day before. I did part with some money to get them shined up. Wow, after a good polishing they looked better than they looked when they were new! It was a bit over whelming to see so much merchandise- from jewelry, leather goods, to blankets and baskets. Perhaps if we had not been badgered so much, we would have purchased a few more items. We eventually gave up on shopping and went to lunch before heading back home. So much for avoiding Black Friday! We have been to Mexico before, and every town across the border seems the same.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Historical Yuma, Arizona

My wish is that all our readers had a blessed Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving started last evening at Faith Lutheran church in Yuma, which held an ecumenical service. Today our park (where we are now sitting) had a turkey dinner for all the residents. Earlier today John and I took a walk through the older part of Yuma. The Colorado River runs through the town, and  provides the border between Arizona and California. The river once was made up of a lot of marshland and quicksand. In the past it was possible to cross the river at only one point where it was narrow and had large granite outcroppings. That crossing point is what is now Yuma. In 1915 the Ocean to Ocean Bridge was built, our nation's first transcontinental highway. It is the only point where the Colorado River may be crossed for 1300 miles along the river.
John and I walked across the bridge to where the Quechan Indian Reservation is located. Right after the bridge is St. Thomas Indian Mission, which was built in 1922. A priest of the mission was killed there in 1781. The Native Indians had become angry with the presence of the Spanish settlers and their broken promises to the natives. They revolted and killed many of the Europeans, including the priests. The mission was burned down and later rebuilt. Over the ensuing years the Native Indians lost a lot of their original land and now live on a small reservation around the mission.
 Driving further into the reservation we saw large lettuce fields. The Yuma area is famous for its large winter harvest of lettuce, as well as other produce. In the fields surrounding where we are currently parked there are citrus and date orchards. Sunkist as well as Dole have plants in Yuma. Damming the Colorado River has made Yuma into the large agricultural area which it has become today. It is strange to see large green fields with water standing in them next to barren desert land.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our last day in Tucson, Arizona

The above picture shows where we have been parked in the past week. It has been wonderful here where there is a beautiful community hall, library, and an outside heated pool. While floating on my back in the pool I can observe the very noisy woodpeckers who hang out in the trees above the pool. I imagine they are either the gila woodpeckers, or the gilded flicker. The latter one especially likes to hang out in saguaros. Yesterday, Sunday, we attended church at Mount Zion Lutheran church. The church several years ago only had a small number of elderly members in attendance. Then suddenly the city of Tucson spilled out into the hillsides, and the church grew with many young families. I like worshiping where I can look out at mountains.
I apologize for the poor picture, there was a lot of light spilling into the sanctuary. In the middle of his sermon the pastor requested that the air conditioning be turned on! It was a wonderful service, celebrating Christ the King, with special music provided by trumpet and clarinet players, as well as the choir. In the afternoon we toured Reid Zoo, located near the downtown area. It is a small zoo which features the animals, birds and reptiles of Asia, South America, and Africa. I took a few pictures of the animals, the best of which was that of a blue crowned pigeon. He was not a good-tempered bird, as he flew at everyone who approached him.
 Reid Park is next to the zoo, it has a fishing lake and sports field where the Colorado Rockies holds spring training. We also enjoyed a rose garden which is located in the park. Today we are moving further west.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mirror Lab and Biosphere 2 Tours

Arizona University is the institution we have to thank for both the mirror lab and Biosphere 2. I could have passed on the mirror lab but John was adamant about us seeing it. He certainly understood all the technology connected with mirror and telescopes than I did! The lab is located under the football stadium of the university. Our tour gave us a behind the scenes look at the optical technology and the processes which are needed to make giant telescope mirrors. The mirrors in the lab are currently being made for an observatory in Chile. We saw the large oven in which one mirror is currently being heated and spin casted.  In another room we saw two more mirrors sitting in their molds, one of which has undergone grinding and polishing. About as much as I got out of the tour is that the process is slow and exact, also very costly.  One of the mirrors we saw has a price tag of 30 million dollars. Which leads me to Biosphere 2 (our earth is Biosphere 1). The existence of that giant greenhouse was made possible through the largess of a wealthy Texan. He laid out 50 million for that research lab which lies outside of Tucson. It sits on a rather large campus.
Construction of the greenhouse began in 1984. After construction 5 natural biomes were created in it, complete with 1,000 species and animals (the animals are now gone). The 8 Biospherians (four men and 4 women) who lived in it from 1991-92 were sealed inside and had to harvest and prepare their own food with products grown from the various biomes. From the dining area of their living quarters we could look out over the tropical rain forest.
On our tour of the biosphere we passed through air locked doors from one biome into another. Pictured below is the ocean area. We also saw desert and marsh sections designed after various parts of the world.
Our tour also took us beneath the structure where miles of wiring, pipes and tubes make up a "technosphere" which recreates earth's recycling functions. From there we stepped into what can best be described as the lungs of the greenhouse. The domed building pictured below allows for air pressure to be equalized in Biosphere 2. Between the greenhouse and that building are research labs and living quarters, all connected.
Research in the greenhouse has continued since the first experiments in the early years of Biosphere 2. Last month construction was started for a landscape evolution observatory. There will be three huge sloped watersheds filled with soil and environmentally controlled. Research here will address how water, energy, and carbon moves through different landscapes, and how biological systems modify those landscapes. Hopefully it will shed some light on how future climate scenarios affect our physical world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Asarco Copper Mine Tour

Copper and cactus are part of the landscaping outside of the Asarco Mineral Discovery Center where we began our tour of the mine. The mine is south of Tucson, on the San Xavier Reservation. When Asarco discovered the copper located here in 1955, it was required that they receive mining rights from the Tohono O'Odham Indians. Royalties have since then been paid to the Indians for their portion of the monthly throughput. Asarco also pays rental on lands used for waste dumping, tailings disposal and water wells. The mining of copper involves a series of steps from drilling and blasting to milling, smelting and refining. For our tour of the mine we first boarded a bus which took us to the open mine pit which covers approximately 2,000 acres of land. Piles of tailings surround the pit. The company has a policy of  vegetating the tailings dams.
It is quite a large hole. Our guide informed us that it will take about 23 years to retrieve all the copper out of this pit. Blasting of parts of the mine are done daily at 4PM. From the pit we rode over to the south mill. Here we saw large haul trucks empty rock into chutes and down into the mill where the first process of crushing the ore begins. Processing of the ore to extract the copper content is through a milling and concentrating operation. Inside this mill we saw the large containers where the ore is put through gyrating crushers and sag mills. In the sag mills ore is processed further using high carbon steel grinding balls. There is also a double deck vibrating screen which sizes down the ore to less than 2". I am probably simplifying the process way too much, it is very involved. Just before leaving the mill we saw large tanks where a chemical reaction is used to leach the copper out of the rock. Pine oil, lime and water is added and the resulting mix is a bubbling slurry, as pictured below.
 After that we walked outside of the mill where there are three large settling ponds. The first pond, pictured below, contains the copper which has been extracted through the milling process. After the water is removed it is transported to a smelter in Hayden, Arizona and then to a refinery in Texas. The mill processes 24,000 tons of ore daily.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Historic Tucson

We were surprised that the oldest historic district of Tucson, El Presido, is not all that large. There is one block of artisan shops which are located in some old buildings. Markings on the sidewalks around this area indicate where the old city wall use to be. While strolling through the area we found the La Casa Cordova house, which is one of the oldest structures to be found in Tucson. Its front two rooms were built in 1854, the back rooms in 1879.
Actually the homes in this area are much more colorful than that building and very reminiscent of the buildings which we saw years ago during a trip to Mexico. Many of them are transformed adobe homes.
 From this older part of town we walked to the downtown area, and soon in the distance we saw the Pima County Courthouse and the skyline of Tucson. Palm trees and desert land make up the landscape of Tucson.
 Near the courthouse is the El Militar Plaza. During the Mexican occupation (1821-1854) it was the location where soldiers performed their drills. A memorial statue on the plaza  honors the Mormon 101st Army Battalion which stopped at the plaza in 1846 and traded with the residents of Tucson for much needed provisions. The story is an interesting one, and a piece of American history new to me. The Mormons had suffered harsh persecution in Council Bluffs Iowa so they appealed to President Polk for federal assistance to leave that town. War was just being declared then with Mexico and our government needed an army unit to go west immediately. Mormon men, a  total of 474, enlisted in Council Bluffs. Officers leading them numbered twenty-two, also 37 women and 53 children joined them. Their goal was San Diego, but the majority of the women and children only made it to Colorado where they joined another group and headed to Utah.  From that original group 350 men and 4 women made it to San Diego.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

This museum is located in Tucson, where we are now parked. The picture above was taken from the museum's vista ramada looking out over the Aver Valley. Off in the distance are the Tucson Mountains. The park is a zoo as welI as a natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one place. I believe that today we learned everything that could possibly be known about the plant and animal species of the Sonora Desert region- an area encompassing parts of Arizona and California and four Mexican states. The museum has done an excellent job in recreating a variety of biospheres for the animals. We saw river otters swimming in the riparian corridor, beavers sleeping in their dens, rattlesnakes tucked under rock ledges, and prairie dogs burrowing in their desert grassland. There is a 1/2-mile loop desert walk where we saw javelina foraging for food as well as one coyote who was laying out on a rock enjoying the sun.
 There is also a very realistic man-made cave set up as an earth science center. A wide variety of cactus, plants and trees can be found in the three gardens of the park. There is a desert and cactus garden, also a pollination garden. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies were everywhere. Blow is a Costa's Hummingbird.
  For our return trip home we drove over Gates Pass road which took us through Tuscon Park, a very scenic drive. Saguaro cactuses fill the mountainsides almost up to their peaks.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wilcox, Arizona

In the previous postings I have focused somewhat on the Native Americans who once roamed the hills of Arizona and New Mexico. Wilcox is a town of cowboys, past and present. The statue above is that of Rex Allen (1920-1999). He was born in Wilcox and raised on a ranch north of town. After high school he found fame in radio, movies and television. In a railroad park of Wilcox lies his ashes and horse, along with his statue. This town was, from the 1880s to the late 1930s, one of the country's major cattle shipping centers. Another big influence on the town was the railroad. The central business district, comprising of mercantile companies, banks and saloons, developed on the blocks facing the station. The railroad brought in supplies to several Army posts during the Indian wars, as well as to ranchers who were settling in the area. Today many of the buildings from that era are still around in this town. Pictured below is the Norton-Morgan General Store. The adobe structure has remained on the same location since 1880.
 It was in the Headquarters Saloon (now a gift store) where Wyatt Earp's brother was shot to death in 1900. And, while wandering this historic district, John and I came to the old hardware store of the town, which is now the Chiricahua Regional Museum. Looking into the windows of the museum we saw several musicians. Their music drew us into the museum. That was an interesting experience, touring a museum while listening to live music! While in the museum an elderly man with a very weathered face and wearing a cowboy hat approached me. He looked like he had just come into town on his horse (I was almost right on that, he is a local rancher, owning about 400 sections of land just outside of town). He was quite anxious to show me around the museum and tell me about the town. It was from him that we learned where in the area to find the sandhill cranes which migrate in by the thousands every November and feed in the local grain fields. We did look for them while heading home. It would have been a bit of a drive over gravel roads to see them up close, but it was still impressive to see large flocks of them flying overhead and hear their trumpeting loud calls which filled the air. We did see one by the side of the road,  not sure why he was hanging out by himself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cochise Stronghold

This canyon is located in the Dragoon Mountains and is another part of Coronado National Forest. I believe I was last here about 40 years ago with my parents. All I remember is trying to hike one of the trails and that I did not get too far. It was in the summertime and the temperature was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.Today the weather was a bit cooler than that and we enjoyed taking the Cochise trail into the canyon for several miles. Odd rock formations dot the canyon, and my imagination ran wild thinking of the Chiricahua Apache under the leadership of their famous leader Cochise hiding behind those rocks and scouring the flatlands for the approaching cavalry.
 For awhile they were successful hiding out in this canyon and fighting off the cavalry during the mid 1800s, but eventually the American army won out. Cochise and his tribe were then given a reservation in this area from 1872 until his death in 1876. We also took a self-guided nature trail into the canyon. Along this trail interpretive signs point out the plants of the desert, some of which once sustained the Native Indians. The prickly pear cactus pictured below is surrounded by a wait-a-minute bush, aptly given that name by hikers who get caught in its curved spines. I gingerly touched those thorns, and they are certainly sharp!

Chiricahua National Monument

Our plans were to move on to Tucson. However, we decided that we wanted to see more of the unusual beauty of the Chiricahua Mountains, so instead moved to Wilcox, Arizona. Cave Creek Canyon, as well as the Chiricahua National Monument, are all located within the Coronado National Forest- which covers 1.78 million acres in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Our goal was to drive the scenic canyon road through the park today. Unfortunately that was not to be as a forest fire happened in the canyon last June. The road is still closed because repairs of the guard rails are not completed as yet. We were informed, however, that we could park in a campground near the road closure and walk to some of the rock formations. We first had a picnic lunch in the campground. While eating lunch we were treated to the sight of several acorn woodpeckers as well as the Mexican jay. By the way, I am not all that well informed on the different kinds of birds out there, quite often when we get into a  park I first check at the visitor's center for a listing of the local birds. Today being that well informed certainly paid off! Now back to the rock the rocks in my previous posting, the formations in this park are volcanic bedrock.  And,
as the rocks in Cave Creek Canyon, layers of them here have been uplifted, shattered and cracked over millions of years. Erosion by wind and water has also influenced the sculpting of the walls of the canyon.
Below is a picture of what is called the organ pipe formations, the first set of rocks which we saw.
It was a short walk to that part of the canyon so we continued further up the road. Big boulders are also on the ground as well as hanging precariously over the road.
The formations are generally in the shape of columns or pinnacles, and many, as shown above and below, are balancing. They certainly gave me cause to wonder about how long they have been hanging, and at what point or when will they fall? Such thoughts crossed my mind when a small shower of stones came off the hillside as we walked by!  Irregardless, it was a fascinating, beautiful walk that we had in the canyon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chiricahua Mountains

In a previous posting I mentioned that our next stop would be in Arizona. I was wrong, we are still in New Mexico- northern part of its bootheel. Yesterday we drove, in our Fit, southwest into Arizona, the destination of which was not clear in my mind. We drove what seemed like for hours, first passing by fields of cotton and then milo. After that came the desert, with miles of sand and scrub surrounding us. I fell asleep, and when I woke up I happened to see the name of a road as we passed by it: "Faranuf". It gave me an idea. I said, "John, we have gone far enough". We passed by the Chiricahua Desert Museum, John asked if I wanted to stop there. It did not sound all that interesting to me, so we drove into a small town which had a smattering of homes, boarded up stores and an old mission. No bathroom facilities. Suddenly stopping at the museum sounded like a great idea! We drove back to the museum and paid a small admission price. It had beautiful bathroom facilities and a great museum/art gallery. In the museum is a display of 18 live rattlesnakes. As I stood in front of one of their cages, I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattler. In front of me was a prairie rattlesnake, eying me and shaking his tail. His little black forked tongue waved in and out of his mouth. He totally fascinated me, fortunately there was a glass wall between us. The museum has an interesting desert garden outside with the sculpture of a rattlesnake tail at the entrance.
From the museum we drove into Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. Suddenly we had left flat desert land and were surrounded by beautiful forests of cottonwood and sycamore trees.
Years ago volcanic eruptions left the area covered with white-hot ash which fused and cooled into layers of rock which now make up the walls of the canyon. Forces of erosion sculpted the rocks into a wide variety of rock formations. Every bend in the road, on our drive through the canyon, afforded us a different stunning  vista of towering rocks and trees. I wished that our home was with us so we could spend the night in this area.
We got out of the car and took a hike into the woods of the canyon to see one particular vista. Many birds were flitting about and I also heard the activities of woodpecker. I was able to spot him with my binoculars, it was a hairy woodpecker. Speaking of birds, on our way home I saw a road with the name of "Wandervogel". That certainly is John and I, wandering birds! And many times our wanderings bring pleasant surprises!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Fine Sunday in Tor C

How quick;ly John and I have become like the locals in calling the town of Truth or Consequences by the name of T or C!  My guess is that will become the town's third name, or else it may go back to Hot Springs. Our Sunday yesterday started at St.Paul's Episcopal church. It is not often that John and I come into a church and feel so completely at home. Almost all of the members made sure to greet us and encouraged us to stay for the fellowship hour. And. by reading the bulletin, I quickly sensed that this is a church that does well with taking care of the strangers in their midst. The have a community food pantry and provide a meal for the neighborhood  once a month. And this is not a large church, maybe about 40 were in attendance for the worship service. During fellowship hour, which amounted to a meal and just not coffee being served, we had an opportunity to speak with the Priest-in-charge, Rev. Tommy Means. He is serving the church part-time as he is now retired. His last ministry was on a Wyoming Native American reservation where he served the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes for ten years. In the afternoon John and I hiked up Turtleback Mountain. It is a strenuous 3-1/2 mile hike to the peak, but we just hiked about 1/2 of that. I can not help but marvel at how well John is doing after his heart attack. The picture above is looking out over T or C from our highest point. The picture below looks off toward Elephant Butte Lake. We are moving on today into Arizona.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Elephant Lake Butte

John and I were not sure at first which hump sticking out of the lake was the "butte",  but maybe the one above does look like an elephant head. It is an ancient volcanic cone which arises out of the lake. The lake is New Mexico's largest and most popular lake. Presently the water level is down. As I mentioned in the last posting, there are several dams along the Rio Grande in this area. The dam at Elephant Lake was the first attempt to control the river. It was built in 1916.
On Friday we drove over to the Percha Dam site, which is now a dry river bed. It was amazing to us that we could hike across the river. We were at first alarmed about the river being so dry, but then remembered that at present the dams are holding the Rio Grande back so that it can flow elsewhere.
We also hiked around Caballo Dam State Park, as we had been told it was a good place to see birds. We saw eagles and osprey, a couple blue heron and that was about it. As usual, we more heard them than saw any we could identify. We did come upon a herd of mule deer, about 20 of them. And we also saw, what was very unusual, a few cattle munching grass in the playground of the park's campground. There is free range for cattle in most of New Mexico. We have learned to watch for them on the roads.