Category Archives: Nature

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.

 

 

 

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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