Category Archives: Nature

Waterfall Comparison

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When I returned to the area where I’d lived and worked the last two camping season (mid May through mid October), we went the long way. We were trying to catch up with The Big Boss Man so I could introduce The Man to him while The Man was freshly shaved and wearing clean clothes. We thought The Big Boss Man would be at the campground where he sleeps, so we took the most direct route there.

In the mountains, even the most direct route is not necessarily so direct. The “direct” route to The Big Boss Man’s campground is twisting, turning, winding–one switchback after another. Even Google Maps says it takes 45 minutes to go 25 miles on that part of the mountain. Because the road is so difficult, I seldom go that way to Babylon.

Going that way did allow us to see a waterfall I’d seen before. In years past, the water flowing over the rocks had been a thin trickle. Still, the falls was exciting because it was right there, right off the road, easy to pull up to and take photos of.

This is the photo I took of the falls in May 2015:

I could tell it had been a wet winter because when we saw the falls in late June 2017, the water was rushing and splasing over the rocks.

Stop the van! The Man yelled, and I did so he could jump out a take a photo of the waterfall. I wasn’t

This photo shows my feet cooling in the pool.

thrilled to be stopped on a curvy mountain road, but he was fast with his photo shoot (and thankfully,

there’s not much traffic on that stretch of highway).

I took my photos a week or so later when we stopped there again (this time in a proper turnout) on our

way to visit a tree. I not only photographed the falls, I stood in the little pool at the bottom. The water was so cold and refreshed not only my feet, but all of me.

This photo from July 2017 shows the difference a season with a good amount of snow can make to a waterfall:

I took the photos in this post.

A Little Hike

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Ivy and Jay had gone on a birthday camping trip with Ivy’s parents, and I’d stayed behind with their housemates.

I like the housemates. They were nice people who talked with me when we ran into each other during the day and invited me to group meals. I felt include.

On the 4th of July, the most outgoing of the female housemates told me the whole crew was going to the nearby national park. Did I want to go along? They were just going to take a little hike.

I wasn’t much of a hiker. I’m still not. I love nature, but I’m fine with plopping down in one spot and observing from there. Besides, I was in the middle of the head cold I’d picked up during my excruciating bus journey from Texas to Utah. My head was full of snot, my throat hurt, and my energy level was low. But a little hike sounded fun.  A little hike would probably do me good.

I got myself ready. Bottle of water. Long cotton pants. Long sleeve cotton shirt. Big straw hat. I was prepared.

We piled into a vehicle and headed to the national park. I don’t remember how far away we were or how long it took to get there. When we arrived, the driver parked, and we all piled out.

The landscape was beautiful in that Southern Utah desert way. The vegetation was sparse. The land was dry. The rocks were red and yellow and orange. It was so different from the lush green I’d grown up in. The stark beauty of this desert astounded me.

A trail started from the parking area. It was paved with asphalt and led visitors to a viewing area. We set off on the trail.

I don’t know how long the trail was, but surely less than a mile. The area to be viewed from the viewing area was, of course, spectacular. The housemates took turns posing on the rocks, and I took photos of everyone. Then we headed back to the car. What a great hike, I thought. That was perfect. What a relief. Now I could rest.

But wait! The housemates weren’t getting back in the car. We weren’t leaving. The perfect little hike we’d just taken wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more! I groaned to myself, but decided to put on a happy face and be a team player.

We walked off into the desert. The sun was hot. My throat hurt. The water in my bottle was lukewarm at best. I was tired. I was not enjoying myself.

The hike stretched on and on. It was no longer little as far as I was concerned. The little hike had turned into a long ordeal.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to where we were going. I didn’t really know how to find my way   around in a natural area with no street signs (and no streets, for that matter), so I left navigation up to the people who knew what they were doing. I don’t know if we were on a marked trail or just trudging through the desert, but I started hearing bits of conversation that included words such as Which way? and Where? We were lost. The very nice housemates had gotten sick little me lost in the wilderness. At that moment, I hated the whole bunch of them.

In reality, I’m sure they were just a little turned around. We probably weren’t really lost. We were probably in no danger. But my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe through my nose and I did not want to go on any more. I was over this adventure.

Then the most outgoing of the women said cheerfully, At least none of us are miserable.

I raised my hand so she’d have no doubt who was speaking. I am, I said. I’m miserable.

It was official. I’d gone on record. I was miserable.

We didn’t wander through the desert much longer before someone got us on the right track. We headed back to the vehicle. I’d never been so happy to see my transportation out of a place.

On the way back to the tiny town where the housemates lived, we stopped for pizza and ice cream. Pizza and ice cream and lots of big glasses of ice water can cure a variety of woes, and I felt the hatred in my heart dissipate. I felt friendly toward the housemates again.

Back at home, everyone dispersed to take naps.

Before I headed off to lie down, the most outgoing woman said to me, We’ll be going to the rodeo tonight. We probably won’t stay long. Do you want to come with us?

I thought about my throbbing throat, the sadness I’d feel seeing the rodeo’s cruelty to animals, and what won’t stay long might mean to people who thought we’d just gone on a little hike. Within a few short seconds, I’d made my decision and politely declined.

A few hours later, I heard everyone in the house getting ready to go to the rodeo, then I heard the vehicle pull away. I was glad I’d decided not to go. My sick, dehydrated body was still trying to recover from that little hike.

Wild Magnolias

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My friends and I were on an epic road trip to see Lou partway home.

Lou was in her car heading to Ohio to decide on her next move. Shortly before we left town, a friend of a friend said he wanted to go to the Midwest too, so Lou had agreed to take him on as a passenger.

Sheff and I and his dog Wednesday were in his car. Sheff did all the driving because I didn’t know how. I read aloud an article about glaciers to keep us both awake during the hottest part of the day.

Our first stop was in New Orleans, where we spent a few days crashing at the home of our sweet friend Kel. If she was surprised by a virtual stranger among us, she didn’t let it interfere with her hospitality.

It was the same with my former neighbor when the four of us went to her apartment for Cajun cooking. Of course, the neighbor had never met any of these friends, so she didn’t know who was close and whom I barely knew.

Our next stop was Mississippi. We spent a night at a state park. As was our habit, we didnt set up tents. Instead, we lay our sleeping bags on tarps and looked up at the stars until we fell asleep. It rained a little in the early morning, and, wanting to stay dry, I scrunched myself into the tiny back seat of Sheff’s compact car.  When I woke up again, the rain had stopped, but my muscles were kinked, and I felt grumpy and disoriented. Sheff handed me a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and suggested I wash my face with it.

Nothing’s so bad that Dr. Bronner’s peppermint and a clean face can’t help, he told me. He was right. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten. Dr. Bronner and his peppermint soap have cheered me many times.

We drove for a couple more hours, then stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was clean and cool, and the food was delicious. Still, I felt sad because I knew when the meal was over, I’d say good-bye to Lou. I had no idea when–or if–I’d see her again.

We parted ways in the parking lot amidst hugs and tears. I didn’t think even Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap could mend the hole in my heart my friend’s absence was already causing.

Sheff and I journeyed on to the De Soto National Forest for a couple days of camping. I’d never been there before. I don’t think Sheff had either.

I wasn’t much of a hiker and backcountry camper (I’m still not), but I was basically along for the ride and willing to join in on whatever Sheff wanted to do. I followed him out into the forest, even though I was wearing a tiny dress and inappropriate shoes.

During our second day of camping, Sheff went on a long hike with his dog, and I chose to stay behind with the tent. Our whole time in the forest seems like a dream now, so many years later. Brief memories of the time flash through my mind when I try to remember those days.

Flash! I’m sitting against a tree, writing in my journal when an armadillo comes crashing into our camp. While we are surprised to see each other, the critter doesn’t seem scared of me and ambles away.

Flash! I’ve taken off my clothes, and I’m stretched out in a shallow, muddy, barely flowing body of water. The cool water feels good on my sweaty skin, but I worry someone will come along and see my nakedness. I slip my dress over my head and go back to camp.

Flash! Sheff is back and making dinner. I’m impressed by the way he can cook on his tiny backpacking stove.

Flash! It’s dark, and we’re all in the tent. Sheff’s in his sleeping bag, and I’m in mine. Wednesday the dog wiggles between us at some time in the night, and I wake to find she’s pushed me until I’m up against the tent’s side wall. Her dirty paws have left sand in my sleeping bag.

What I remember most about the camping trip are the magnolia trees growing wild in the forest. Before that day, I’d only seen magnolias growing in cities and towns. I’d assumed people had planted them. It had never occurred to me that magnolias would grow wild, that magnolias could be a natural part of a forest environment.

Those magnolias are growing just to grow, I marveled. No one planted them here.

I couldn’t stop looking at thse trees, thinking about them. They weren’t there to please people. Those magnolias belonged to themselves and were growing for themselves.

After all these years, I still think of those trees out in the Mississippi forest, growing just to grow.

 

 

Snow in the Night

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I’d spent the afternoon in the small town library, while The Man sat in the van carving. The sky had been overcast when we’d left our friend’s land in Northern New Mexico, and both the weather forecast and word on the street called for snow in the mountains and rain everywhere else in the area.

I did see rain through the big north-facing windows opposite the table where I sat with my laptop. It came down in sheets. It was blown diagonally by the wind. The first time it came down that afternoon, it chased black cows and their adorably tiny black calves out of my view. I hoped the bovines had a dry barn to go home to.

Fifteen minutes before closing time, as I was checking out some videos and paying for a printout, The Man opened the library’s door and looked at me with wild-eyed concern. We need to go! he said.

Sleet was falling, and he must have thought it was going to last, not understanding the quick variability of Northern New Mexico weather.

(People in nearly every place I’ve ever visited like to joke about their town: Don’t like the weather? Wait fifteen minutes! However, Northern New Mexico is the only place I’ve been where the weather can change drastically–sun to clouds to wind to lightning to rain to hail to rainbow–in literally fifteen minutes.)

I told The Man I’d meet him as soon as I collected my things, and sure enough, by the time I got outside, sleet was no longer falling. Slush covered the door and window on the west side of the van, and the ground was wet, but there was no accumulation. The sleet hadn’t caused any big problems.

There was a bit of drizzle and brief periods of heavier rain on the way back to our friend’s place, but when we turned west, we saw the mountain in front of us bathed in beautiful late afternoon sunlight. The sky above the mountain was filled with puffy, white curlicue clouds. I half expected to see the hand of God reach from the heavens and touch the earth.

We thought maybe the storm had passed over the valley where we were staying, although The Man and I were hit with small ice pellets (snow? hail?) while we cooked dinner outside. The surrounding mountains were hidden by low-lying clouds at eight o’clock when The Man and I headed to the van after an hour of television with our friend. All was quiet when we crawled under the covers and went to sleep.

The Man woke at first light and looked out one of the van’s windows. It’s a winter wonderland out there! he exclaimed.

There was about an inch of snow on the ground, and a dusting on all the things scattered about on our friend’s property. I went out in pants over my Cuddl Duds and a sweatshirt over a t-shirt and was plenty warm. I walked around and took photos of the snow before the sunshine melted it all away.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Spring in the Sonoran Desert

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Last year I spent the first couple of weeks of May in the Sonoran Desert. I don’t know if I was too late or if the previous year had been too dry, but the only flowers I saw blooming then were the ones on the saguaros. (Read about my experience with saguaros in bloom here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/04/22/saguaros-in-bloom/.) Don’t get me wrong, the saguaro blooms were beautiful, and I’m glad to have seen them, but I longed for some variety.

Saguaro in bloom

This year I hit the Sonoran Desert at just the right time to see ocotillo flowers. It seemed as if every ocotillo I saw sported a multitude of vivid red blooms. The blooms were so beautiful, especially when viewed against the bright blue desert sky. The red of the ocotillo flowers also really popped against the other muted colors of the desert.

Ocotillo bloom against sky and desert

When I visited the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2016, I learned the ocotillo is not a cactus. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fouquieria_splendens,

Fouquieria splendens (commonly known as ocotillo American Spanish: [okoˈtiʝo]… is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months…

The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php) says

Dense clusters of red tubular flowers grow from the end of the [ocotillo] stems from March through June.

Ocotillo prefer a habitat that is open and very rocky, and where the soil is well drained. Areas such as rocky slopes, mesas, washes and desert grasslands.

The Ocotillo is called many different names including Candlewood, Slimwood, Coachwhip, Vine Cactus, Flaming Sword and Jacob’s Staff.

Ocotillo were not the only desert plant in bloom. Several cacti also sported spring blossoms, these in a variety of colors. The Man and I went on a short hike near our camping spot on BLM land in the Sonoran Desert near Ajo and saw several cacti in bloom. Again, the brightly colored flowers really stood out against the earth tones of the desert.

Flowers of unknown Sonoran Desert plant.

 

Anyone who thinks the colors of the desert only include greens and browns should visit the Sonoran desert in April.

I took all of the photos in this post.

I don’t know the name of this cactus, but it sure does produce beatiful flowers.

 

Crested Saguaros

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This photo shows a crested saguaro on the left. The saguaro on the right is what we are more accustomed to when we think of saguaros.

I’d seen old photos of crested saguaros and heard about them during a visit to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but I’d never seen one in person. When I mentioned to Coyote Sue that The Man and I would take Highway 86 through Tohono O’odham Nation land when we traveled from Tucson to Ajo, she told me there were two crested saguaros growing close to the road along that route. She couldn’t remember exactly where the crested saguaros stood, but she put me on the alert to look for them and gave me a good idea of where to find them.

Why do crested saguaros grow the way they do? Nobody knows! According to https://www.nps.gov/sagu/learn/nature/why_crested.htm,

This photo shows the first crested saguaro we saw on Highway 86. This one was The Man’s favorite.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd or misshapen forms. The growing tip occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate…Biologists disagree as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation. Others say it is the result of a lightning strike or freeze damage. At this point we simply do not know what causes this rare, crested form.

The first crested saguaro I spotted stands between mileposts 96 and 97 on the north side of Highway 86. It’s just past a driveway leading to a small building. A wire fence separates the saguaro from the road.

The second crested saguaro is west of the first one. I forgot to note the mile marker numbers closest to it (dang!) but it’s also on the north side of the highway, and a wire fence also separates the saguaro from the road.

The Man thought the first crested saguaro was the better looking of the two we saw. In fact, he didn’t even bother taking a photo of the second one because he thought it paled in comparison to the first. On the other hand, I thought the second crested saguaro was a better specimen.  The crest of the second one reminded me of a rooster’s comb and

This photo shows the second crested saguaro we saw. This one was my favorite.

wasn’t as bunchy and bumpy as the crest on the first one. Well, to each our own!

I feel very lucky to have finally seen a crested saguaro growing wild and free. My Sonoran Desert experience is now a bit more complete.

Which of the two crested saguaros pictured in this post do you like the best? Share your choice by leaving a comment below.

I took all of the photos in this post.

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.