Turtle People

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It was a hot summer afternoon at the Bridge, and Tea and I were talking between potential customers. A couple of young people (maybe early 20s, maybe late teens) came up to our tables sitting side by side.

Hello. How are you? Good prices on everything, we told the young people.

It seemed they were lookers, not shoppers, but it was a slow day, and we were happy to have new people for company. Where are y’all from? we asked.

One of the young people was a woman, a young woman, maybe even a girl in many people’s eyes. She had shoulder length dark hair and carried a guitar. She explained she and her companions lived at a local shelter for runaways and other young people who were having problems and could no longer live with their families.

Tea felt a connection with the young people because 50 years ago, she’d been a teenage runaway. After her beloved mother died, she’d been forced to live with her father and a stepmother who didn’t want her around. Life in her new family became too difficult and she’d bolted. Her experiences on the street gave her an understanding of the lives fo these young people, despite the decades stretching between them.

I felt a kinship with the young woman with the dark hair and guitar. She admired the hemp jewelry I’d made and had for sale. She was interested in my van, especially after I told her I lived in it.

Oh! she said with a smile. You’re one of the turtle people. You take your home with you wherever you go!

She wanted to travel too, she told me, when was 18 and on her own. She would be 18 soon, she said wistfully.

I encouraged her, told her if I could thrive living alone in my van, she could too. She could take her guitar on the road and busk to make enough money to see the world, I said.

In repayment of a debt, I’d recently been given a big bag of beads and pendants carved from bone. In the bag, I’d found several pendants shaped like turtles. I quickly realized that soon after I put a handmade hemp necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table, it sold for $20. People love turtles on hemp necklaces.

On the day I met the young woman with the dark hair and guitar, I had a necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table. The young woman admired it, but said she didn’t have any money.

What about a trade? I asked. Do you want to trade for it?

She said she didn’t have anything to trade, and I asked her to play her guitar and sing a song for me. I’ll trade you the necklace for a song, I told her.

She looked young and shy as she sat on the floor of my van where the side doors were open to the world. She adjusted her guitar and said she’d sing a song she’d written herself.

I didn’t hear the traffic on the highway or the conversations between the other vendors and their customers while the young woman gave her song to me. My ears listened only to her guitar and the words of joy and longing and promise she sang to me. I heard only her beautiful song.

When she finished singing, all of us who’d listened to her told her she’d sounded wonderful and thanked her for her gift. I got the turtle necklace for her. She placed it around her neck, and I fastened it for her. We were both smiling and a little teary when we said goodbye. I watched her and her guitar walk away and disappear.

I’ve thought about that young woman as the years have passed. She’s turned 18 and is in her 20s now. I hope she was able to get a van and take her guitar and lovely voice on the road. I hope she’s seeing the world. I hope she’s happy, joyful.

I wonder if she still has the necklace I made. I wonder if she thinks of me, her turtle sister.

 

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.

Picnic Area

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We’d left Truth or Consequences later than we’d planned. Then we’d made a couple stops in Las Cruces (breakfast, guitar strings), so the sun was low in the sky as we drove through Tucson. When we turned onto Highway 86 West (also known as Ajo Way), I was disappointed to see a sign declaring we were still

Crested Saguaro

over 100 miles from Ajo. Not only was I tired of driving, but I was afraid driving in the dark would mean we’d miss the two crested saguaros Coyote Sue said were visible from Highway 86.

The Man and I discussed what we should do. Push on and drive into the night, missing the crested saguaros? Find a place to park for the night and see the saguaros in the morning? We decided we wanted to find a place where we could park the van and sleep until first light.

We were soon on Tohono O’odham land. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tohono_O%27odham,

The Tohono O’odham (/tˈhɑːnə ˈɑːtʊm/, or /tɑːˈhnə ˈɑːtəm/)[2] are a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, residing primarily in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Tohono O’odham means “Desert People.” The federally recognized tribe is known as the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Man kept pointing out places where he thought we could park the van for the night, but I was hesitant to park randomly on the reservation. Although we had nothing to hide from the police, nothing spoils a good night’s sleep like a cop knock in the dark. (If we were ever parked somewhere and a cop knocked in the night, I would simply tell him or her that we were too tired to drive safely, and we’d move on at first light.) Also, I didn’t want to be the white person who thinks she’s entitled to do whatever she wants on native land she knows little about.

Picnic Area on the south side of Hwy 86

I kept driving, and I really was getting to the point of feeling as if I just couldn’t go much father. Then, between mileposts 136 and 137, on the south side of the highway, I saw a picnic area. I pulled in and saw no signs prohibiting overnight parking or even camping. Here it was! This was our spot for the night!

There wasn’t much to the picnic area. There were a few picnic tables there, a shade cover over a few of them. There were no restrooms and not a single trash can. No problem! We only needed to stop for the next six or eight hours.

A fence separated the picnic area from the reservation, but we were too tired to even consider crossing. All I had on my mind was sleep.

When we first lay down, we heard a lot of traffic on the highway, It was a Friday night, and I think people were heading home from their jobs in Tucson, while others were heading to Tucson to party. As the hour grew later, we heard fewer cars on the road, and we slept peacefully.

In the background of this photo, one can see the fence separating the picnic area from the reservation.

The next morning as we stretched and brushed our teeth, The Man noticed an observatory on top of a nearby mountain. Within an hour we passed an entrance road and a sign declaring it the Kitt Peak National Observatory. We didn’t stop, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitt_Peak_National_Observatory,

The Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) is a United States astronomicalobservatory site located on 2,096 m (6,880 ft) Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the ArizonaSonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona. With 24 optical and two radio telescopes, it is the largest, most diverse gathering of astronomical instruments in the world.[1] The observatory is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

At the very peak of the mountain, something related to the Kitt Peak Observatory is visible.

Roadside America (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/46336) says the Visitor Center is open daily 9-4 (call 520-318-8726 to verify). Admission is free, but one-hour guided tours cost $8.00-$10.00 per person. According to bobebob on 01/25/2015,

The best views of the complex are from the outdoor catwalk around the Mayall telescope, whose 15-ton mirror is housed in a dome 18 stories high. Daytime visitors are asked to keep their voices low, as most of the astronomers (who live in on-site dormitories) are asleep.

Picnic table and tree

On Saturday, we spent time with the Diving Miss M, and sometime during our conversation, she mentioned the Arizona Department of Transportation has a 12-foot easement on either side of Highway 86. The land past the easement is part of the reservation. Being left alone at the picnic area made sense. The picnic area is on the easement, which means ADOT maintains it. Surely no ADOT employee was patrolling the area at night to run off sleepy travelers. Tribal police probably aren’t very concerned with what happens at the picnic area since it is technically the ADOT’s jurisdiction. I suppose someone from the Pima County Sherriff’s Department or the Highway Patrol could have questioned us if a complaint had been lodged or if we’d been causing trouble, but we were sleeping, not drinking or yelling or even littering. If an officer of the law saw us parked at the picnic area that night, s/he decided we weren’t worth stopping for. Personally, I was grateful for uninterrupted sleep.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Good-bye to the Sonoran Desert

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We stayed too long.

We thought the Sonoran Desert would be bearable in early April, but we weren’t prepared for the harshness of the desert even in the spring. The Man and Jerico the Dog had the worst of it, but I experienced the heat and sun too.

Crested Saguaro

The Man and I and Jerico spent a week in Truth or Consequences while I fulfilled a house sitting obligation. When the job was over, we traveled to Southern Arizona. The plan was for The Man and Jerico to camp on BLM land in the Sonoran Desert while The Lady of the House and I went on a long-anticipated road trip to Bisbee, AZ. I’d be gone a week. Upon retrieving The Man and Jerico, we’d continue our adventures together, although we hadn’t yet formulated a real plan.

We arrived at my favorite part of the Sonoran Desert late on a Saturday morning. Our travels had included overnighting at a picnic area situated on native land and spotting two crested saguaros. After visiting some friends who winter in the area, then buying provisions, we went to BLM land a couple of miles from town and found ourselves a scenic camping spot.

This photo shows one of the scenes we saw from our camping spot.

Alas, there was no shade in the little area of the desert where we’d chosen to stay. We spent most of our days in the van with the doors and windows open to the breeze, or more often, the strong wind. The hours in the middle of the day were the most difficult because the van cast no shadow and the sun beat down on our metal home.

I was scheduled to leave on Tuesday. On Monday, The Man hurt his back. He reached for something and Ouch! back pain. We spent the day in the van hiding from the sun and strong wind. In the evening, I helped The Man (whose back was feeling some better) set up his tent and unpack some of his things from the van. He assured me he’d be fine without me, even with his bum back.

The man had his phone but hadn’t had the money to pay for service, so I didn’t expect to hear from him while I was gone. If he walked the couple miles into town to use free WiFi, we could communicate through Facebook, but that was a long way to walk to say hello.

On Friday, The Lady of the House and I concluded our fun trip to Bisbee and drove back to her home city. I dropped her off where The Man of the House had left their car parked on a side street, planning to meet at her house shortly. I made the block so I could turn at a stoplight, while The Lady planned to make a U-turn in her zippy little car. I came around the corner to find The Lady’s tiny car pushed up on the sidewalk; she’d been involved in a four-car collision in the time it took me to make three right turns. The Lady waved me over and asked me to wait with her in the adjacent parking lot until the police arrived.

None of the people involved in the accident seemed to be hurt, but it took the cops a really long time to show up. While we waited, I looked at Facebook and saw The Man had been trying to contact me through

Cholla cactus

Messenger. We managed a Facebook call (how does that even work?), and he told me he was miserable. It was horrible out in the desert, he said. It wasn’t just that it was hot, but for a large portion of the day, there was no shade at all, no way to get away from the sun. Not only was he miserable, so was the dog. The rocks on the desert floor were hurting Jerico’s paws, and he’d tangled with a cholla cactus. Couldn’t I please come back for them?

I said I’d be there the next day. I didn’t have it in me–after all the driving I’d been doing–to set out in rush-hour traffic and probably end up on the road in the dark. I needed at least a few hour’s sleep before I set off on the journey.

I was on the road by 8:30 the next morning and arrived at The Man’s camp around 11am. Jerico rushed up to the van to greet me; The Man–sunburnt, parched, and exhausted–wasn’t far behind.

We couldn’t leave the desert for another couple days because I had a lady exam scheduled for Tuesday, but we were able to drive the van into town and sit in the air-conditioned library or in the shade of one of the few trees in the town’s park.

On Tuesday afternoon, we left our BLM land camp, but we needed to kill some time before an appointment in the city on Wednesday morning. I drove us the 70 miles to a free camping area between where we were and where we needed to be the next day. The campground was sparsely populated, and we got a spot with a covered picnic table. We followed the shade as we made dinner, then hung out after we ate.

As is the case in the desert, the temperature dropped as night fell. However, the van home had been baking in the sun all day, and the inside temperature was not adequately cool when we were ready to sleep.

We’re leaving the doors open, The Man proclaimed as we climbed into bed.

I would have never done it had I been alone, but with The Man and the dog between me and the open side doors, I figured I was safe.

I woke in the middle of the night to Jerico barking and The Man shouting and flying out of the bed. Apparently, Jerico had heard something outside the van–a desert critter trying to drink from his water dish, The Man speculated–and ran out toward it barking. Luckily, The Man had prepared for just such a situation by attaching Jerico to a leash tied to the bed. Jerico was brought back into the van, and we all managed to get a few more hours of sleep.

Sunrise in the free campground.

We headed out in the morning and did what we needed to do in Phoenix, where it was 90 degrees by afternoon. I drove north on I-17, and in under three hours, we were in Flagstaff, where the temperature was 68 degrees. What a wonderful difference an almost 6,000 feet rise in elevation can make!

I was glad to say goodbye to the Sonoran Desert. It’s a great place to be in the winter, but just too hot only a couple of weeks into spring.

Sonoran Desert Scene

I took all of the photos in this post.

Brave Dog

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Reggie was a big dog–part German Shepherd and, judging by the black spots on his tongue, part Chow–but he was a gentle beast. He was calm, hardly barked, didn’t jump. He did what he was told and was an all-around good dog sitting client.

Reggie’s great joy in life was going on walks. Most of the day he lounged around the house on one of his beds or in the sunshine in the side yard, but when it was time for our morning or evening walk, he got super excited. He’d do a sort of prancing dance with his front paws while looking at me with a glimmer of excitement in his otherwise placid brown eyes.

On our first walk together, I discovered the yards of the neighborhood were populated with barking, snarling, growling dogs who foamed at the mouth and leaped onto the fences keeping them in their yards and out of the streets. Reggie did nothing to engage these neighbor dogs. He didn’t bark or growl at them or try to move into their territory. If he pulled on the leash, it was to go to the opposite side of the street and away from the neighbor dogs. If he made any noises, they were more whimpers than barks. The other dogs seemed to distress him more than antagonize him.

One day I asked The Man if he and his dog Jerico wanted to go on a morning walk with me and Reggie. They did, so we took off together through the neighborhood.

Jerico is a good dog, but he’s not calm, and he’s not quiet. Part beagle, Jerico is a talker, a barker, a howler. He’s got a lot to say. He also pulls against his leash and zigzags back and forth in front of the person walking him.

Reggie was super excited to be out on a walk with his friend. There was a lot of prance dancing on Reggie’s part, and a lot of tangled leashes caused by the two dogs running around and cutting in front of and behind each other.

Jerico is not timid. Apparently, he’s not afraid to take on any dog who wants to fight. When we came upon the first group of barking, snarling, growling neighbor dogs, Jerico didn’t back down in the least. He certainly didn’t slink off to the opposite of the street and whimper. No way! Jerico joined the barking chorus, and he would have been right up on the fence engaging with the captives had The Man not held him back. I’ve known Jerico for a while, so his behavior didn’t surprise me.

It was Reggie who surprised me. Gone was the whimpering, timid dog I’d been walking for the last week. In his place was a brave, bold dog. Reggie didn’t try to run to the far side of the street. Instead, he stayed next to Jerico and even barked a little while looking over at the neighbor dogs.

I don’t know if Reggie was showing off for Jerico, showing Jerico that he too could be bold. Maybe he felt as if Jerico had his back, thus making it safe for him to be brave. I wish I understood what dogs think. In any case, Reggie was a whole new dog while his friend Jerico was by his side.