Tag Archives: Arizona

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.

10 Things I Love About Van Life

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The Man and I tend to say Van Life! to each other when things go wrong. We may mutter the words while shaking our heads or say them with glee, but when we lose something in the vortex of the van; spill the entire contents of the dog’s water bowl onto the grungy carpet; or the New Mexico wind is too strong for cooking outside, and one of us is on our knees on the dirty floor trying to make dinner, it’s Van Life we blame.

In response to the occasional hardships of living in the van, I got to thinking about the joys of van life. I came up with 10 things I love about van life, in no particular order.

#1 No toilet to clean–ever!

#2 Less space in which to lose things. (Although, believe me, with two people living in the van, things are often misplaced. I think things are sucked into an invisible van vortex) At least when I lose something, I know the lost item is in the van somewhere.

#3 I’ve got interesting travel stories to tell at parties.

#4 No rent to pay for a sticks and bricks dwelling, and I don’t typically stay at campgrounds that charge fees, so I can spend my money on fun and not on housing.

#5 If I get tired of living in one place, it’s easy to go somewhere else. I barely even have to pack!

#6 On a related note, if I end up near neighbors I don’t particularly like, I can leave.

#7 I can also move with the weather. No more being stuck in snow! No more being stuck in the heat! I can move up and down in elevation when I get too hot or too cold.

#8 Most of my meals are picnics.

#9 Beautiful landscapes are often right outside my door.

I took this photo of the view from the van’s windshield in April 2017. This forest is right outside Flagstaff, AZ.

#10 I can get the entire van home clean in less than a couple of hours.

I wonder what other folks love about van (or car or Jeep or SUV or RV) life. Feel free to leave comments about your favorite parts of your transient way of life.

And as always, feel free to ask me questions about my van life.

To read more about why I like living in a van, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/01/01/ten-reasons-i-like-living-in-my-van/.

Adamsville

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Unfortunately, the information about Adamsville on the sign is not easily readable in this photo.

While I was exploring in Celia’s Rainbow Gardens in Quartzsite, AZ;  I ran across an area dedicated to Adamsville.

According to http://www.celiasrainbowgardens.com/, the Quartzsite Historical Society donated the buildings of Adamsville to the project. The

wooden buildings…had been given to them by the man who had built them, Babe Adams, from Parker.

Four of the fifteen little buildings that make up Adamsville.

There [are] 15 little buildings, including a schoolhouse, church, sawmill, barn and stables, marshall’s office, stage depot, log cabin, house, motel, saloon and house of ill repute, as well as a boot hill and more.

According to the Roadside America website (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/12493),

Celia’s Rainbow Garden includes “Adamsville,” a miniature village started in 1974 by Babe and Babs Adams at the RV park they lived at in Castle Rock. They donated the village to the Quartzsite Historical Society, who restored it and placed it here in 2001.

I found no indication of who exactly Babe and Babs Adams were or why they liked creating tiny buildings to make up a little Old West town. I’m also not sure if the little town is named for Babe and Babs Adams or if it is supposed to be a replica of Adamsville, which, according to http://www.ghosttownaz.info/adamsville-ghost-town.phpone, was one of the first settlements in the Arizona Territory.

The aforementioned Celia’s Rainbow Gardens website says the buildings have been restored at least twice. I guess the desert weather is pretty hard on them.

The same website says,

The center bed of the pioneer village had an original wagon from early Quartzsite history added…

This photo shows the “original wagon from early Quartzsite history.”

I was not able to find any information about who the wagon belonged to or what it was used for or in what time period it was used.

I wasn’t too thrilled by Adamsville, but I did spend a few minutes looking at the little buildings making up the town. I have no idea how historically accurate any of the buildings are, but maybe the Quartzsite Historical Society could offer more information to anyone who’s interested.

I took all the photos in this post.

RV Women Memorial

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One of the reasons I really wanted to visit Celia’s Rainbow Gardens was because one of my readers at the RTR told me there was a memorial space out there for van dwelling women. That sounded really cool, so I went looking for the memorial one morning.

I didn’t know where within the gardens the memorial was, so I took my time looking around. Finally, I found what I’m pretty sure my reader was talking about.

Maybe I misunderstood what my reader told me, because the memorial isn’t exactly for van dwelling women. It’s broadly for women who travel in RVs and specifically for women in the RVing Women community.

This photo shows the small plaque on the rock at the back of the circle pictured above. The smaller plaques feature the names of RVing Women who have taken their final journey.

According to http://www.rvingwomen.org/,

RVing Women is a National network whose members come from across the US and Canada. Established by and for women who are interested in RVing, we have Chapters across the country that offer camping, educational, and social events. We are a diverse group of women who enjoy many indoor and outdoor activities and hobbies.

RVing Women offers support and friendship for women who plan to travel by RV, already own one, have hung up their keys, or are just dreaming about RV possibilities.

A sign in the RVing Women space says this memorial was built in 2011 by the women of Camp Runamucka.

From what I’ve read, members of different RVing Women chapters meet in Quartzsite each winter. They  camp together and attend workshops and socialize. Sometimes they have work days at the RVing Women memorial within Celia’s Rainbow Gardens. It is the RVing Women who maintain this memorial area to honor and remember their RVing sisters who have passed away.

I especially enjoyed looking at the rocks upon which folks have painted different types of RVs.

Throughout the memorial area, there are small plaques with names on them affixed to larger rocks. Each small plaque features the name of an RVing Woman who has passed away. I bet it is comforting to visit the memorial and find the name of an RV-loving friend or sister or daughter or mother or partner who has left this earth. It must be a good place to remember and reflect.

I wish there were a memorial space for van dwelling women. If there is one, I wish someone would tell me about it. If there isn’t, I wish someone would start it.

If any of my readers are interested in joining RVing Women, the group’s  website says the following about their mission, vision, and values:

Mission :

Provide women RVers, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or financial status, a supportive network and the opportunity to enjoy the RVing lifestyle in a safe and knowledgeable manner.

Vision:

A premier organization for women interested in the RVing lifestyle.

We Value:

  • Diversity of our members.
  • Integrity and respect.
  • The abilities, skills and resources of each member.
  • The time and efforts of those who provide leadership and support.
  • Our chapter structure which provides a supportive network.
  • Educational opportunities to promote safe RVing.

 

I took all of the photos in this post.

Roadside America (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/12493) gives these directions to get to Celia’s Rainbow Gardens: [from] I-10 exit 19. Drive north on Riggles Ave., take the second left, then make the first right onto Main St./Plymouth Ave. [F]rom E. Main Street drive North on S. Plymouth Ave. The closest intersection to the park is E. Senter St & N. Plymouth Ave, and the driveway is just north of that. This garden is accessed from a dirt drive into the Town Park, and has a sign. The RC Flying Field is just past the access.

Once inside Celia’s Rainbow Gardens, have a look at all the memorials while looking for the RVing Women space; I don’t know how to explain how to get there.