Dusty Arizona

It feels great to be rolling along in the Fireball again, although we are already (after only a week) missing the creature comforts of a real shower, big bed, and room to stretch. Not to mention several choices of radio stations. Anyway….

After a one-night shakedown in Tucson to make sure water, electrical and other systemsare all working, we headed to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for two nights of total solitude.wp-1488674925400.jpgThere were probably other campers hidden around the area, but we sure didn’t see any. Total darkness at night, and absolute silence, other than the gangs of coyotes which roam the area. It’s spectacular camping, as long as you can put up with having no water, no electricity, and burying your own poop in the desert.  We’re good with that.img_0474The huge network of gravel roads and two-track made it a certainty that we would haul out our bikes for a ride. With a rudimentary map, we set off in a northerly direction, having remembered that we rode south the last time we were here. The roads here are a mixture of big gravel, small crushed gravel, hard-packed sandy-rocky surface, and pure sand. What a workout! wp-1488674870538.jpgwp-1488675204323.jpgwp-1488674900022.jpgWe hit about 15 miles of two-track, then rode pavement back to camp. That probably was worse! Endless rollers on tired legs – we were knackered by the time we finally rolled back into camp. This is an absolutely spectacular spot to camp for those who like this kind of thing. I hope that we will always want to return.

One of the most beautiful campgrounds we have discovered is Organ Pipe National Monument, Twin Peaks Campground. Tucked near the Border in SW Arizona, this Park is a true gem. Not only do they have full Ranger talks five nights a week, they also have brief “Patio Talks” three times a day, where Rangers hold brief chats on animals, minerals, weather, and desert vegatation. Free shuttles are available to various hiking points. There’s an amazing staff participation. Hope this is a model for other Park Service areas.

We spent our first full day there on bikes – riding the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop – a twisted maze of gravel washboardy road, with steep uphills and their corresponding downhills – the downhill washboard sections were the WORST – my arms, shoulders, and butt are still vibrating! wp-1488675082887.jpgwp-1488675026155.jpgI ran into a bit of a bother at Teddy Bear Pass, a section of the Scenic Drive which is flooded with Teddy Bear Cholla cactus. Beautiful to see, but treacherous. Of course, I needed one more photo. Before I knew what had happened, I had a cactus stuck to my bike shoe. I tried to stomp it off with my other foot, which also got stuck. Like a dope, I tried to pick them off with my fingers, sticking a few spikes deep into my thumb! Yikes! John, at this point, was far down the road. I pulled as many of the spikes out of my shoe as possible, but here’s the result I had to ride with for the rest of the way home. (I’ve had better rides.)wp-1488675103724.jpgThis is what a Teddy Bear looks like – beware. They are NOT your cuddly friends.20170306_000102.jpgAnother day at Organ Pipe was spent on a long hike through the only small area in the US to have the Senita Cactus as a local resident. Frankly, it’s very hard to tell the difference between the Senita and the Organ Pipe. But, in either case, they tower over the landscape with their elegance. Organ Pipes can have up to 100 arms. wp-1488947257059.jpgSeveral in the campground are enormous. What I find curious is the woody structure which is only visible when the cactus is dying or dead.wp-1488675158691.jpg To look at it otherwise, you’d think that it had just fleshy appendages, not any real structure. The same applies to the elegant saguaro.20170307_213500.jpgSaguaro skeletons are sometimes available for purchase for landscape decorations. But, each much be tagged and certified by the DNR. You certainly don’t want to be caught with a unregistered saguaro – alive or dead. Penalties are very steep. Along the trail, we passed this gigantic specimen. It must be one of the largest in diameter we have seen.wp-1488846603843.jpgSome cholla varieties also have interesting skeletons.wp-1488675150647.jpgOn our hike, we stopped for lunch at an abandoned mine. It’s always interesting to contemplate life as it must have been in these tough times.wp-1488846620515.jpgDesert beauty is everywhere here. Although I don’t think I would want to live in Arizona year-round, it sure is a gorgeous place for visit when the skies and blue and the temperature is moderate. There is a lot to enjoy here.20170307_214557.jpgwp-1488783563348.jpgwp-1488675096130.jpgwp-1488675082887.jpg

Hiking Arizona

Before venturing off into new territory, I  wanted to share an experience I had a couple of weeks ago, while walking Jezzy in the morning.  In the road were a couple of Greater Roadrunners, one of the Arizona birds I love to see.  (not my photo).Greater Roadrunner PhotoThese birds were near a backyard wall, which was probably four feet high.  Suddenly, one of the birds just leaped up onto the wall.  It didn’t fly up – just jumped – straight up!  I was astounded.  When I related this story to an Arizona friend, he told me that if I was lucky, I would see some roadrunners running at full-tilt boogie and coming up on a ditch.  Instead of running down into the ditch to cross, they will lower their heads, spread their wings out, and simply jump the expanse, hit the ground running, and continue on.  Oh man, I WANT to see this!

This has been a good hiking week.  Last month, when we camped at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, we learned of a Ranger-led hike that goes into Brown Canyon, an area unknown to us. map here  Brown Canyon became part of the Refuge in 1998, and part of the purchase agreement was that access to the Canyon would be limited, and every effort would be made to preserve its pristine nature.  We were pleased to be able to hike in such a special place.  The western edge of the Canyon bumps up to the edge of the Tohono O’doham Reservation, where Baboquivari Peak dominates the landscape.20150214_110958We met our hike leaders, NWR volunteers Craig and Evelyn at the entrance to the Canyon Trail.  The dozen hikers arrived in separate vehicles (the six of us from Michian all car-pooling from Green Valley), and we headed down a very dusty, bumpy road to the hike start.  After twenty endless minutes, we arrived at the Environmental Education Center of Brown Canyon.  This rustic camp-style facility can sleep up to a dozen people, who might be staying there for trail work, training, or other educational programs.20150214_094414 We all agreed that it would be a delight to stay there and chop mesquite or do trail work.  The Center was loaded with National Park-style charm. There’s even a stuffed Jaguar in the living room, which had been confiscated by Customs when it was illegally imported.wpid-20150214_095856.jpgThe hike was an easy 4-mile round trip walk, with just a bit of elevation.  It was fun to actually have someone point out some of the features that we were seeing – particular varieties of cactus that we might not have noticed, rock formations, or other plant/animal peculiarities.  Although I didn’t get a photo, we did find some perfectly round wasp galls, each about the size of a golf ball.  My favorite plant specimen was the shindagger, an appropriately-named desert plant.20150214_103323 Our guides had a photo of a friend who stumbled into one – it wasn’t pretty.  Craig mentioned that during their hike leader training, they were told NEVER to back up when talking.  Everything in the desert is ‘armed’, and removing thorns can be a painful process.

We passed by this enormous sycamore.wpid-20150214_114146.jpgAnd this appropriately-shaped Prickly Pear cactus (it was Valentine’s Day).20150214_124622Along the trail were many feet of rock walls, built by the ranch hands of the former property owner.  They were beautiful, but seemed to have little purpose – starting and stopping without any discernible reason.20150214_103606What I loved though was how they echoed the natural rhyolite rock formations in the area.  20150214_12061420150214_104128Baboquivari Peak is on the left in this photo.

Lunch was beneath of small arch, which is in the lower center of the above photo.  20150214_12353120150214_11134920150214_101028It was a gorgeous, informative hike.  If you’re in the area, I’d recommend it – reservations are required.  Call 520-823-4251 for info.  There is a $5/person charge.

On Monday, we decided to revisit a favorite hike near Nogales, on the Border.  This five mile hike is one of my favorites.  The Atascosa Lookout was a fire lookout post in the last century, but was destroyed by fire in 2011.  Writer Edward Albee had been a Ranger there, and the building had historic notes, furniture, and lots of character.  This was our first trip to the Lookout since the fire, and we were curious to see what had been rebuilt (or not).  Although the old building was lovely, with its wraparound (terrific for eating a well-deserved lunch), it’s amazing now with the structure gone.  The 360 degree views of Southern Arizona and Mexico are unparalleled.  New footings have been poured for a replacement, but work appears to be halted.  Here’s a bit of what we viewed.  All the solar, towers, etc., appear to be communications equipment – probably Border Patrol gear.  It’s everywhere down here.  ;-(20150216_12502220150216_11421420150216_11283820150216_10140620150216_115658(still trying to get the knack of using the panorama feature of my camera)

20150216_11401320150216_10301020150216_11423120150216_112337We are indeed lucky to be able to experience such a gorgeous place.