Category Archives: Nature

Saguaros in Bloom

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Last year, I spent the first couple of weeks of May in Why and Ajo, AZ. I was waiting to receive a check from my insurance company, and I didn’t have anyone who could forward it to me at my next destination. I was a little bit stuck waiting for the check to arrive.

I tried to use my time well. I wrote and scheduled a lot of blog posts, read, cleaned the van, and made hats. Every day I checked the mailbox, and day after day, there was nothing in there for me.

The days got hotter and hotter. By the time I left in the middle of the month, daytime temperatures were reaching the high 90s. Although the temperature dropped at night, after baking in the sun all day, my van only cooled enough for me to sleep comfortably after several hours. Luckily, I felt safe where I was staying and could leave my doors open to the cool night air long after dark.

The upside of staying in the Sonoran Desert until May was seeing the saguaros bloom.

Tjs Garden blog (https://tjsgarden.com/2015/04/23/saguaro-cactus-bloom-flower-national-park-arizona/) says,

The Saguaro cactus will produce white flowers from April to June.

The Saguaro flowers do not bloom all at the same time.  Only a few flowers bloom each night waiting to be pollinated and then wilt by early afternoon.

According to the website of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Flowers%20and%20Fruit.php),

Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours. They open at night and remain open through the next day.

Saguaro flowers are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the cactus. They are white in color about 3 inches (8cm) in diameter.

During the night the flowers are pollinated by the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat. During the daytime the flowers are pollinated by bees and birds such as the white-winged dove.

It was a challenge to get photos of flowers growing on the tops of very high saguaros. I had to stretch my arms as far up as possible, use the camera’s zoom feature, and hope for the best. I think I did a pretty good job of capturing the beauty of the saguaro blooms.  I particularly like the shots where I can clearly see the wilted flowers, those currently in bloom, and the buds about to burst open.

The aforementioned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website says,

After the flowers have been pollinated they mature into bright red fruit. When the fruit ripens it split open showing juicy red pulp. Each fruit can contain up to 2000 small black seeds.

I didn’t have to hang around until the flowers turned to fruit. My check arrived just before I had to leave for my California job. I hit the road before the desert temperature rose into the triple digits. It would have been nice to see the fruit, but I’m satisfied with having witnessed the flowers.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Reconnoitering in the Desert

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Last week my friend and I walked around the desert, looking for a place to make a good camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. While we were walking around, I took photos of some of the things I saw.

This photo shows the old car we found in the wash. It’s very rusty.

The most unusual thing we saw was the rusted remains of an old automobile. Believe me, the car was not in a place it could have easily been driven to. In fact, it was in a place that seemed impossible to drive to. It was high up in a wash, in a place I think no motorized vehicle could go.

How do you think that car got here? I asked my friend.

I dunno, he drawled.

I think it was washed here in a flood! I said. How else could it have gotten here?

The car seemed old, not just because it was rusty. The design of the car seemed old. I think the car had been sitting there for years, decades even. I don’t think anyone is going to drag the car out of the wash. I think the car is going to sit there until it becomes one with the earth.

This is the front of the car we found in the wash. It looks really old to me.

Wow! Look at that bug! I said when I saw a beetle sunning itself on a small rock. I like to see creatures hanging out in nature.

We poked at the beetle a little, just to see it move, then we felt bad about disturbing it. It tried to hide in the shadow of the surrounding rocks. I tried to move it back to the sun where I’d first found it.

Later, I almost stepped on it as I skidded down from a higher level where I’d climbed.

Watch out for our little friend, my friend said to me, but I thought he was talking about the dog. Luckily, I didn’t step on the beetle, although I was pretty out of control at the moment, waving my arms and trying to get down the steep, rocky incline without falling.

Here’s the rock formation I’d climbed up to look at more closely:

I stood at the base of it and looked at the openings in the rock. I think it was full of packrat nests. I saw what I thought was feces, and got away from it fast. I don’t need any New Mexico plague, thank you very much.

I think the formation was made of sandstone. It felt gritty to the touch, and seemed as if it could easily disintegrate or wash away. Although at first I thought camping up against it might make for a good campsite, we ended up deciding it was too unstable to trust with our lives.

After a couple of hours of walking around, we found a spot my friend liked. It was mostly flat and mostly secluded. He set up his tent and hauled his things over while I reorganized the van.

As I left in the late afternoon, I saw the sunset in my sideview mirror.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day in the desert.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

The Stagg Tree

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According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_giant_sequoias, the Stagg Tree is the fifth largest giant sequoia in the world. It is the largest giant sequoia in the Sequoia National Monument within the Sequoia National Forest, and the largest giant sequoia outside the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

img_6582The tree’s Wikipedia entry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stagg_(tree)] says the Stagg Tree is located

in Alder Creek Grove in California‘s Sierra Nevada mountains.

The tree is NOT in Deer Creek Grove, as was stated on another website I looked at. (I have visited both the Stagg Tree and Deer Creek Grove, and they are nowhere near each other. They are over 40 miles apart!)

According to the tree’s Wikipedia page, the tree was first called the Day Tree, presumably in honor of “L. Day” who

noticed the tree in 1931 and, with help from two others, made measurements of it in 1932.

In 1960 the tree was renamed in honor of

Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862-1965), a pioneering football coach at the University of Chicago who spent much of the last several decades of his life coaching in Stockton in the nearby San Joaquin Valley.

The Wikipedia page also says img_6584

Wendell Flint, the author (with photographer Mike Law) of To Find the Biggest Tree, measured it in 1977 as follows:

Metres Feet
Height above base 74.1 243.0
Circumference at ground 33.3 109.0
Diameter 1.5 m above base 7.05 22.9
Diameter 18 m (60′) above base 5.6 18.2
Diameter 55 m (180′) above base 3.8 12.5
Estimated bole volume (m³.ft³) 1,205.0 42,557.0

Presumably the tree has grown in the last forty years and is even larger than these statistics indicate.

The Stagg Tree grows on private land, but when I visited in the summer of 2016, the tree was accessible to the public.

The tree can be reached from Highway 190, which passes through Camp Nelson, CA and on to the small community of Ponderosa. (Another website I looked at says some navigation systems suggest accessing the tree by turning onto Wishon Drive [County Road 208] toward Camp Wishon. Apparently the road suggested is unpaved and closed in winter. This route is probably not a good idea for most cars.)

From Highway 190, turn onto Redwood Drive. (Redwood Drive is only on one side of the road, so you don’t need to know if you are turning left of right. Simply turn onto the road, which Google Maps also labels as 216.) When you get to the first fork in the road, stay left. At the second fork in the road, stay right to stay on Redwood Drive. At the third fork, stay left to stay on Redwood Drive. (If you take the right fork, you will be on Chinquapin Drive and you will be lost! If you do get lost, ask anyone walking around how to get to the Stagg Tree. The locals know how to get there.) I believe there is a sign pointing in the direction of the Stagg Tree at img_6598the last fork in the road.

If I remember correctly, the pavement ends before the parking area. Keep driving on the dirt road until you img_6597see the sign that says you’ve reached the parking area for the Stagg Tree hike. After you’ve parked, you have to cross a gate to start the hike to the tree. The gate may be closed and locked, but unless new signs say otherwise, it is ok to cross the gate on foot and walk to the Stagg Tree.

There are several signs along the path marking the way to the Stagg Tree.

The walk to the tree is fairly easy. It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible, but healthy folks with no mobility issues should be able to get there and back with no problem. The path is fairly flat until the last fork to the left . The path that branches off from the last fork is a bit steep (downhill to get to the tree, and uphill to get back.) Again, folks with no mobility or health issues should be able to make it to the Stagg Tree and back with a minimum of stress.

img_6587The Stagg Tree is not a heavily visited area. When I visited, I was the only person there. As I was walking toward the tree, another group was leaving, and as I left, another group was arriving, but I got the Stagg Tree all to myself for at least thirty minutes.

I’m not sure why the tree is less visited than other attractions in the area. Maybe drivers are leery of making a drive taking them so far off the main highway. Maybe most tourists who aren’t big into hiking are hesitant to go on a infrequently populated, unpaved, slightly steep trail. Maybe folks who are regular hikers think the short, easy hike to the Stagg Tree is beneath them.

In any case, I enjoyed my time alone with the Stagg Tree. It’s a great tree to visit to get away from the crowds and experience the sites and sounds of nature. Its size is quite impressive, and it’s fun to tell friends about seeing one of the largest creatures on the planet.

I took all of the photos in this post. The Stagg Tree is the giant sequoia in all of the photos.

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Saguaros Personified

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Is anthropomorphizing a human universal? Do people in all cultures ascribe human attributes to animals and plants, as well as to objects that have never been alive? (The preceding question was intended as rhetorical, but Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphism] says YES!

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities[1] and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.[2]))

In the U.S. Southwest, some people look at a saguaro cactus and see human qualities.

The saguaro is the cactus most people think of when they think of a desert, especially U.S. desert. Interestingly,  according to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Saguaro%20Cactus.php), saguaros grow only in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico, with few stray plants found in southeast California. Anyone who imagines saguaros in New Mexico or Nevada or Utah has it all wrong!img_4556

I met a woman in New Mexico who had traveled throughout Arizona. She’d grown up in New England, but had been charmed by the seguaros she saw in the Sonoran Desert during her early travels there. She took a lot of photos (back in the days of film and negatives and prints) of saguaros she thought looked like people doing people things. She was still tickled by the cacti when she pulled out her photo album to show me.

She had several dozen photos, one saguaro after another, sometimes two or more saguaros “interacting.” Each photo had a funny little caption describing what human activity she imagined was taking place. There were “hugging” cacti and several jokes about saguaros with droopy arms.

She said she had a photo album with pictures she’d taken of a “wedding party” made up entirely of saguaros, but she wasn’t able to find it during my visit.

The funniest story of the personification of saguaros I’ve ever heard was told to me a couple of years ago. I was talking to a woman who’d grown up in New Jersey, and she told me about her first visit to the U.S. Southwest. When she drove into Arizona and saw her first saguaros, her first thought was, Those plants are flipping me off!

img_4582I look at a saguaro and can image it waving at me, welcoming me to the desert. Leave it to someone from New Jersey to think the saguaros were aiming rude gestures at her.

I took all of the photos in this post. All were taken near Ajo, AZ, in the Sonoran Desert. None of the saguaros look like people to me.

 

Avocados

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Do you like avocados? she asked me.

Yes, I replied with enthusiasm.

She led me out the door and to the backyard of the house she and her roommate rented. As I walked onto the porch, I saw avocados growing on a tree!

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Sure, I knew avocados grow on trees, but I’d never seen it. Seeing is believing, and wow, this was amazing!

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado,

The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree that is native to South Central Mexico,[2] classified as a member of the flowering plant family Lauraceae.[3]Avocado (also alligator pear) also refers to the tree’s fruit, which is botanically a large berry containing a single seed.[4]

The tree in the backyard was huge. It was taller than the house and had many branches reaching toward the sky. As I looked up, up, up through the branches and shiny green leaves, I saw a multitude of fruit. Is this all one tree? I asked in awe. She assured me it was.

I want to hug the tree! I exclaimed.

I climbed down the steps of the porch so I could meet the tree and embrace it.

I love you! I love you! I told the tree.

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This photo I took of the bountiful avocado tree does not adequately show its great height or multiple branches. The tree is huge and the fruit plentiful.

She moved into the house last year. The avocados were ripe in May. They fell from the tree and she only had to collect them from the yard. She ate all she could, gave away so many to friends and neighbors and coworkers, let the squirrels have their fill, and still there were avocados.

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She’s worried about the avocados this year. It’s November now, and they’re still hanging from the tree. While the fruit is plentiful, she doesn’t know if they will ever be ripe enough for eating. She fears all the beautiful fruit will shrivel on the tree and go to waste.

She’s not sure what the problem is. Maybe the summer wasn’t warm enough or maybe the California drought is taking its toll. In any case, it’s going to be a shame if most of the avocados on the tree turn out to be inedible.

She did eat a couple of avocados from the backyard last week. One was good, but not great. The other was quite stringy.

According to the California Avocado Board (via the Food52 website, https://food52.com/hotline/16113-when-is-an-avocado-not-safe-to-eat),

Strings or stringy fruit or the thickening of the vascular bundles (fibers that run longitudinally through the fruit) are generally the result of fruit from younger trees or improper storage conditions. Often times the fibers or strings will disappear or become less noticeable as the fruit (and tree) matures.

While I was hugging the tree and exclaiming over the abundance of fruit, she chose half a dozen avocados for me. When we went inside, she put them in a paper bag, told me keeping them in the bag together would help them ripen.

The aforementioned Wikipedia article says,

Like the banana, the avocado is a climacteric fruit, which matures on the tree, but ripens off the tree…Once picked, avocados ripen in one to two weeks (depending on the cultivar) at room temperature (faster if stored with other fruits such as apples or bananas, because of the influence of ethylene gas).

The avocados she gave me are currently still too firm to try to eat, but I am hopeful they will ripen and turn out to be delicious.

I’m grateful to be the recipient of such a precious treat.

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I took the photos in this post.

 

The George Bush Tree

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I was looking for a waterfall the day I found the George Bush Tree.

According to the Sequoia National Forest’s website (http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sequoia/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev3_059108), the President George H.W. Bush Tree is part of Freeman Creek Grove (4,192 acres), also known as Lloyd Meadow Grove, which is

the largest unlogged grove outside of a National Park. This grove is the easternmost grove of giant sequoias and is considered to be among the most recently established. The sequoias are mainly south of Freeman Creek with approximately 800 large trees (10 feet in diameter or more). There are several large sequoias to see in this grove. Foremost among these is the President George H.W. Bush Tree.

National Geographic’s Sierra Nevada Geotourism webpage (http://www.sierranevadageotourism.org/content/freeman-creek-grove-and-the-george-bush-tree/siea23e7b3325782095f) elaborates, stating

[t]here are a couple trees with a diameter of 20 feet, more than 100 with 15-foot diameters, and over 800 with 10-foot diameters.  There are estimated to be over 2,000 sequoias with a diameter of over 5 feet in the grove.  The largest tree in the grove measures 255 feet high with a diameter of 23 feet.

img_6506The aforementioned National Geographic website explains how this tree came to be named after the 41st President of the United States.

This tree was named for President George H. W. Bush in response to the proclamation he signed to protect all of the sequoia groves throughout the Sierra.  President Bush himself signed the proclamation at this site.

On the day I was trying to find the waterfall, I drove and drove and drove on Lloyd Meadow Road. I never saw the waterfall or even a sign marking the trail to it, but I eventually saw a brown sign marked “George Bush Tree.” I figured I should go see the tree since I was there anyway.

I turned down the decent dirt road (20S78) to the left of the brown sign. I drove about a mile down the road to the small parking area. There was no attendant and no fee to park. The start of the trail was marked with a carsonite. There was no indication of which way to go on the trail. The trail is a loop, and I started off in the direction that brought be around the back of the George Bush Tree. Since I didn’t see the stone plaque identifying the special tree, I didn’t realize it was the tree I had come to see.

The first thing I noticed about the tree was a sort of Hobbit hole at the bottom of it. I went right over to investigate. img_6485Yes, it was just large enough for me to crawl into the hole and sit down, so I did. I felt very safe while I was inside the tree, as if the tree were protecting me. I spent some of my time enveloped by the tree enjoying the quiet of the forest. I sat still and listened to the birds and the breeze high above me. I sat in the tree and simply was myself, without moving or talking or thinking.  I spent the rest of my time in the tree taking selfies.

When I exited the tiny hideaway, I walked around to the front of the tree and realized this was the tree I was looking for!

img_6502It is easy to identify the George Bush Tree from the front, because of the large stone marker. The aforementioned National Geographic webpage tells us what the plaque says.

THIS GIANT SEQUOIA TREE IS DESIGNATED THE GEORGE BUSH TREE IN CELEBRATION OF THE PRESIDENT’S ACTION AT THIS SITE ON JULY 14, 1992 TO MANAGE GIANT SEQUOIA IN PERPETUITY AS UNIQUE OBJECTS OF BEAUTY AND ANTIQUITY FOR THE BENEFIT AND INSPIRATION OF ALL PEOPLE.

While the George Bush Tree is very big, it doesn’t even make the Wikipedia list of the 48 largest giant sequoias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_giant_sequoias). According to the list, at least two other trees in the Freeman Creek Grove are larger than the George Bush Tree. The first of the two larger trees is the Great Goshawk at 255.2 feet (77.8 m) tall with a circumference of 90.2 feet (27.5 m), a diameter of 28.7 feet (8.7 m), and a bole volume of 32,783 cubic feet (928.3 m3). The second of the larger trees in the grove is the Bannister at 195.0 feet (59.4 m) tall with a circumference of 95.0 feet (29.0 m), a diameter of 30.2 feet (9.2 m), and a bole volume of 25,047 cubic feet (709.3 m3).

The trail to the George Bush tree is unpaved, but I found it very easy to walk. I visited on a Monday morning, and I saw no other people on the trail or in the parking area.

Here’s how to get to the Freeman Creek Grove and the George Bush Tree, according to the Forest Service:

 To reach the grove by paved road, you must travel from the south end. From the San Joaquin Valley Highway 99 take County Route SM56 east about 20 miles to California Hot Springs. At California Hot Springs, turn north on to SM50 (Parker Pass Road) continuing about 7.5 miles to Johnsondale. From the Kern Valley, take County Route SM99 (Mountain 99) northwest about 20 miles to Johnsondale. At Johnsondale is the junction with Forest Road 22S82 (Lloyd Meadow Road). Take FR22S82 right about 16 miles to the eastern end of Freeman Creek Grove.

Another route from the San Joaquin Valley Highway 99 is on State Highway 190. Take Highway 190 east about 15 miles until the junction with Western Divide Highway (County Route SM107). Quaking Aspen Campground (GPS NAD 83: 36.12083, -118.54722), and the trailhead for FT 33E20 are also at this junction.

The day I visited the George Bush Tree was a good day of exploration; not only did I see a named tree I hadn’t seen before, but I was also able to add Freeman Creek Grove to the list of giant sequoia groves I’ve visited.

img_6499I took all of the photos in this post.

Closed Waterfall

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The following is an actual conversation I had with an actual family in the parking lot on a Saturday afternoon:

Mother: Is there any way to get to the closed waterfall?

Me: Which waterfall is that?

Daughter: The one with the “closed” sign.

Me: Well, if there’s a “closed” sign, I’m pretty sure that means it’s closed.

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Good grief! I’m not exactly sure how even the Forest Service can “close” a waterfall, but a sign reading “closed” is a pretty good indicator the Forest  Service doesn’t want people hanging out in that location. Even if I knew what waterfall the women were talking about (which I didn’t at the time and still don’t), and I knew another way to get to it, I’m pretty sure my job description does not include  telling tourist how to circumvent Forest Service closings.

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I took all three photos of waterfalls in this post. They were all open when I took the photos.

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