Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Birthday Gift - ATV Tour Ride

Fred geared up for the ride.
On Friday, January 19, 2018 Bonnie and I went to enjoy a half-day guided ATV Tour ride in a Box Canyon in the desert northwest of us. The trip was Bonnie's Birthday gift to me. We drove to the starting point of the ATV Tour in Florence, AZ about 45 minutes from our campground.

We followed an old mining trail
The tour was a 37 mile loop following a old abandoned mining trail with a gain in elevation of 1500 vertical feet. We had stops at a old Gold Mine camp, we saw ancient indian rock art called Petroglyphs, and we also discovered an old adobe ruin at the bottom of the Canyon. The building was once a waystation for the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Company and a stop on the Butterfield Route of the Pony Express.

The Butterfield Stagecoach stop.
Box Canyon itself was about six miles long and at the center it is called a slot canyon.  The trail was only 15 feet wide with cliff face walls reaching 1500 feet high at that point.

Entering the Box Canyon
We could feel the temperature drop about 10 degrees when the walls were so close and no sunshine could reach us.

This was our first time riding ATV'S as part of a tour out in the desert. We had a Vehicle & Tour Safety briefing. They had all safety items for the ride including helmets, goggles, gloves, & bandanas. You needed the bandanas to cover your nose and mouth because of the dirt/dust from the ride. Plus cold bottle water and assorted candy bars too!

You are riding within the Sonoran Desert with Saguaro & Ocotillo cactus. We had a "Yamaha Grizzly" 350cc ATV code named "Gibbs".
We had a great time and we would do it again.
If you are in this area this is something you should plan to do and enjoy too! Good ride, lots of history items, and great views within the desert.

Web Site:
Phone # : 800-242-6335
Cost: Two Rides on One ATV - $160 for about 4 hrs of fun!!!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Arizona Festivals

Arizona is a busy place this time of year. The weather is perfect, there are lots of visitors and everyone wants to be outside.
We enjoyed 2 outdoor festivals this weekend and had a wonderful time.
Saturday we drove a short distance West to the Pinal County Fairgrounds where Wertz Farms was holding its annual Gourd Festival. Gourds are a cash crop here in Arizona. The long hot growing season is perfect environment for them. 

Bins of gourds for sale.
Gourds are planted in April and grow through early Fall when farmers stop irrigating them. Once the water source is shut off they are left to dry in the fields and are harvested in February-March in time to plant the next crop.

chicken gourds

The folks at Wertz Farms put a lot of work into the festival. There are Gourd decorations throughout the Fairgrounds accompanied by funny signs and gourd related displays.

Gourd-geous decorations.
The festival includes a fair type competition for ribbons as well as a barn full of vendors showcasing their wares.
We walked the grounds admiring the seasonal displays while checking out the food offerings and then headed over to the Vendor Area.

The National Gourd was on duty
Their does not seem to be a limit to the number of things that can be created from gourds.
We saw birdhouses and bowls, Thunder drums and lamps, jewelry and vases.
They were painted and wood burned and dremeled.
Some were adorned by beads and fossils, some had edges woven from pine needles and we even saw one man that edged his gourd basket with horse hair leaving a long trailing edge on one side that resembled a mane.

Gourd Jackrabbit and cactus.
We worked up an appetite with all the walking and stopped for lunch from the fair type offerings. There was a great truck brewing coffee so we treated ourselves to iced Americanos. Fred enjoyed a sausage and pepper sandwich while I couldn't resist the smell of the smoked brisket and a homemade barbecue sauce that used cherries as its base.
Before leaving the fairgrounds we picked through the raw gourd bins and brought home 3 specimens that will be turned into Summer projects.
It was a great way to spend the morning.

Music by the Steven P. Project
Sunday we had made arrangements to see Fred's cousin Heidi who is in the Air Force and stationed in Phoenix. We planned to meet at 8 Acre Park in Surprise as they were hosting a Food Truck Festival as part of their Second Sundays in the Park series. The park was a lovely grassy space...probably the greenest we have seen in Arizona outside of a golf course. It was filled with picnic areas, games for children and a bandstand where musicians were warming up. The Steven P. Project were performing.  The entire outer edge of the park was lined with food trucks. There were the typical burgers and fries, cupcakes and ice cream mixed in with more diverse choices like Greek Gyros and Spanakopita, Mustache Pretzels, and the Maine Lobster Lady (I will get my lobstah closer to the Atlantic thank you). Southwestern foods were well represented offering, tacos, burritos, queso and fry bread. 
Fred and Heidi went for the burgers while I browsed for a while before deciding on ZPotes who specialized in Salvadoran cuisine, specifically Pupusa's a tasty flour tortilla with the stuffing cooked inside. I settled on the Pupusa de ayote, a tortilla filled with zucchini blossoms and cheese. We were all delighted with our choices. 

Our only disappointments of the day were that there was no coffee vendor and that we were eating lunch too early to enjoy the libations at the State 48 Brewery truck. 
It was great to see Heidi and to catch up with her. We are going to try meeting up at a Spring Training Game before leaving Arizona in early March.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Casa Grande Ruins

The Casa Grande Ruins are located 30 miles west of our RV Park at Picacho Peak. We discovered them by accident when we noticed a National Park sign on I-10 as we were driving to the grocery store. A 20 minute detour to Coolidge took us to the Visitor Center and to the ruins beyond it.

We arrived just in time for the last volunteer led tour of the day and were glad to participate in it to hear the stories and personal details that bring a place to life. 
Our Minnesota born docent was happy to point out that ribs of the Saguaro tree form a natural hockey stick.

A Saguaro Hockey Stick
The ruins of Casa Grande (the Great House) have stood since approximately 1350. It is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. There is archeological evidence that a vibrant culture lived here farming and irrigating nearby fields with a large system of interconnected canals. Casa Grande was a trading center too, sitting along a natural route between California and the great plains with relatively easy access to the Colorado plateau region and what is now northern Mexico. Remains of copper bells and jewelry have been found here as well as shells from the Gulf of California and flint from the great plains region.

Adobe covered caliche was used as building material.

Squash, beans and corn were grown near Casa Grande as food crops. Cotton and Agave for garments. 

Agave needles like this were used as threaded needles to fasten hides together.
Tobacco was grown and probably traded. The desert provided fruit from the Saguaro and Prickly Pear. Other plants and cacti were collected as a food source and for their medicinal properties. The nearby Salt and Gila Rivers were full then and provided fish, waterfowl and turtles.

The great house was 4 stories high.
The Great House itself is an impressive structure measuring 60 feet long and 4 stories high. They appear shorter in our photos as several feet of fill has been added at the base to stabilize the foundations. The building material is caliche covered by adobe. Caliche is a concrete like mix of desert sand, clay and limestone that lies under the desert surface. It was up and cut into brick shapes, set into place and mudded over. The base of the Great House is 4 feet thick and gradually tapers to about 12 inches at the top. Wall anchors made of whole trees gave the building stability and the roof was supported by ribs of the Saguaro cactus.
There are several smaller structures as well as a game court on the grounds that are maintained by the National Park Service. Portions of a boundary wall are recognizable.

Walls of an outbuilding.

The story of Casa Grande Ruins is pretty amazing. They are the countries first archeological preserve, achieving that status in 1892. Spanish missionaries documented Casa Grande in 1694. By that time it was already a ruin having been abandoned at some point in the 1400's.
There were few european visitors to the region before the railroad reached the nearby town in 1879. At that point the ruins became a tourist destination where visitors carved their names in the side of the great hall and carried away chunks of the building as souvenirs. Enterprising merchants with shops at the site even rented out picks and shovels to make it easier for them to do so.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that a pair of Great Horned Owls roost in the rafters of Casa Grande's protective cover. 
They had a perfect vantage point for hunting the pigeons, lizards and small creatures that roam the desert at night. 

Casa Grande National Monument
1100 W. Ruins Dr
Coolidge, AZ

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
The Sonoran desert of Arizona is home to the most iconic cactus of all, the Saguaro. They are the shape that Americans think of when picturing a desert cactus. We were pleased to start seeing them as we left the low lying sage, prickly pear and chollas of the Chihuahuan desert and started spotting these giants of the Sonoran desert.
They are so much bigger than I had remembered from childhood.

The Saguaro's are taller than any desert tree
Tall and straight they rise up from the desert sand like trees.
Some have so many arms they are difficult to count and some don't have any at all.
I prefer those with just 2 arms since they often look like they are frozen in humanlike postures, embracing a nearby cactus or preparing to dance. We even saw one with its two arms curved down in front of it in a weight lifters pose!

A many armed Saguaro
And one with no arms at all.
We were fortunate to spot a couple of the rare crested Saguaro with ruffled top's appearing like a crown.

Only 1 in 10,000 Saguaros has a crested top.
Tucson is home to  Saguaro National Park whose mission is to protect and preserve these giant specimens in their natural environment. We are happy to have been able to spend time in the West portion of the park learning about the Saguaro.
We stopped at the Visitor Center to stamp our National Park Passport and to pick up a hiking trail map. Saguaro West’s Visitor Center has exhibits that introduce you to harsh environment of the Sonoran desert and the life forms that thrive here. We enjoyed a short film that spoke of the Spiritual nature of the desert and of how the Saguaro were regarded by the ancient native american people who lived here. I was happy to learn that i was not alone in imagining human characteristics in the postures of these desert giants.

This tiny Saguaro still sheltered by its nurse tree is probably 10-15 years old.

We learned that like many other plants Saguaro seeds are planted by birds. The tiny black seeds grow best under a nurse tree that shelters it for the first several years of its slow growing life.
It takes a Saguaro 5-10 years to reach an inch tall and 20-45 years to reach a height of 2 feet. The cacti do most of their growing during the Summer rainy season. They don’t begin to grow arms for 50-100 years and can live to be 200 years old.
A full grown Saguaro can weigh 16,000 pounds.
Rainfall, temperature and soil conditions all play a part in the growth process.

Saguaro Skeleton
It is not uncommon to see damage to the stately cacti. Saguaro are susceptible to lightning strikes and to freezing. Gila woodpeckers and Gilded Flicker’s make holes in them for single season nesting cavities. Some are sickened by fungal and bacterial infections and others become so heavy with water in the Summer monsoon's that their shallow netted root systems can no longer hold them. In unprotected areas people have used them for target practice. When you walk in the desert it is common to come upon skeletons of fallen Saguaro's.
These cacti flower in late Spring and produce their fruit in the extreme heat of Summer. The Saguaro fruits in the National Park are harvested by the Tohono O'odham using the traditional methods of their ancestors.

Evening hike
We have done some hiking at Saguaro NP. The Valley View and Signal Hill trails rewarded us with expansive views from their ridgetops.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill
Signal Hill had Petroglyphs to ponder over as well.
Our favorite so far has been the Sandero Esperanza. We were lucky enough to go on a Ranger led evening hike on the night before January’s full moon.
The path leads across the desert on an old sandy mining trail before climbing steeply on switchbacks to the top of the ridge. The moon rose on our walk in and we reached the top in time to enjoy an amazing desert sunset walking back out by the light of an almost full moon. The tall posing Saguaro looked even more lifelike in the moonlight.

Saguaro National Park West
Red Hills Visitor Center
2700 N Kinney Rd
Tucson, AZ

Saguaro National Park East
Rincon Visitor Center
3693 S Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, Arizona