Tag Archives: desert

Seven Magic Mountains

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I first saw Seven Magic Mountains on my way to Las Vegas (NV) in December of 2016. I was heading south on I-15 when to my right, out in the desert…What is that? I wondered.

The Seven Magic Mountains art installation from a distance. I know this photo only really shows six towers, but trust me, there are seven!

In the middle of undeveloped nature rose several bright, multicolored pillars. They rose up from the desert floor, no other signs of humanity near them. What in the world could they be?

By the time I saw the pillars, I would have had to backtrack to visit them, and I hate to backtrack. Besides, I didn’t know if it was possible to visit the pillars or if there was an admission fee. Also, I was excited to get to Vegas and see my friends, so I decided to just keep going.

I tried to describe the pillars to The Poet and The Activist in hopes they could offer some explanation. They’re bright, colorful blocks stacked on each other in the middle of the desert…

My friends knew exactly what I was talking about. It was an art installation called Seven Magic Mountains, they said.

Wow! Large-scale art installations impress me, and this one was so brightly colored. Both the size and the colors of this one were awesome. The bright colors made each block look as if it had been sculpted from Play-Doh, but such an endeavor would have taken a lot of the modeling compound. Even though I hadn’t gotten close to the pillars, it was obvious that each block was huge.

While I was out and about in Vegas, I found a free informational card dedicated to the installation. I picked up the card and learned a few things about Seven Magic Mountains.

The artist responsible for the piece is Ugo Rondionone. On the card, Seven Magic Mountains is described as

a large-scale, site specific public artwork…

made from

This photo shows a closer-up shot of one of the magic mountains.

locally sourced limestone boulders stacked vertically in groups ranging from three to six. Each stone boasts a different fluorescent color; each individual totem stands between 30 and 35 feet high.

The card also gave the dates of display of the installation as May 2016 to May 2018. I felt sad I hadn’t stopped to see the installation when I was passing by. I hadn’t realized the towers would only be there for a specific period of time. I wasn’t going to pass that way when I left Vegas, and I didn’t know when I’d return to Vegas via I-15. I may have missed my only chance to see the art up close.

As luck would have it, I ended up heading to Vegas again in October 2017. As I left Baker, CA and got closer to Vegas, I remembered the bright towers. I texted The Poet and asked her

Are those giant colorful blocks still out in the desert between here and Vegas? If they are, I probably should stop and see them.

She wrote back

yes they r. last I saw. magic mountains something like that

That was enough information to get me there.

Right before exit 12 for NV-161 toward Jean/Goodsprings, I saw a small brown sign simply reading Seven Magic Mountains so I took the exit. When I reached the stop sign, there was a second brown sign, again reading Seven Magic Mountains and pointing to the right. I turned, came to a stop sign, and found no indication of which way I should go. How are visitors supposed to know which way to turn? I guess the sign posters figure if drivers don’t see the art to the right as they approach the exit, they’ll know to turn left at the unsigned intersection. I thought I had maybe missed the art, so I pulled into the casino parking lot and turned on my GPS to get me there.

The Google Maps lady on my phone (I call her Mildred Amsterdam) told me to take a left onto Las Vegas Blvd. I drove about five miles, then saw the colorful blocks on my right. This was it! I was almost there.

Signs along the road warn drivers not to park on the shoulder. There’s a fairly large parking area, just follow the signs to get there.

Once I was parked, I put on my hat, locked up my van, and walked out into the desert toward the art.

First stop was an sign with some information about the installation. These are some of the things I learned:

The artwork extends [the artist’s] long-running interest in natural phenomena and their reformulation in art. Inspired by naturally occurring Hoodoos and balancing rock formations, the stacks also evoke the art of meditative rock balancing.

As I walked closer to the installation, I counted the columns. I only saw six. Wait. What? I thought. This is supposed to be Seven Magic Mountains. Are their only six?

I stopped and counted again. Only six. Then I moved to the right, and the seventh mountain appeared! There are seven columns, but from different perspectives some of the columns line up and only six of them are visible at once. Ah, the artist was playing with the viewers. Fun!

This photo shows all seven of the magic mountains, plus the bonus natural mountains in the distance. Notice the size of the human visitors in relation to the limestone boulders.

The desert floor was almost empty as I approached the art. Only small, scrubby bushes grow in the area. I guess venomous snakes are an issue because there were a couple of signs warning visitors to watch out for them. I didn’t want to end up like my friend who was bitten by a rattler, so I was careful where I put my feet.

It was really cool to walk among the totems. I enjoyed looking up at them and seeing the bright colors against the blue sky. Everyone out there seemed to be having a good time.

The pillars are totally incongruous and also totally right. The colors stand out against the earth tones of the desert environment, but the size of the columns fit in the wide-openness of the desert. Their scale is just right. I guess Ugo Rondinone knew what he was doing when he decided to put the bright boulders out there.

That’s me in the hat, looking up and up and up and up.

I took all the photos in this post, except for this last one, which was taken by a very nice visitor lady. The older woman who was with the nice lady who took my photo said this was all very “interesting.”

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

Horse

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It was still early in the morning when we left Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area. We were on our way to New Mexico, ready to hit the road and experience the next part of our adventure.

I was driving the van, and we hadn’t gotten far from the recreation area when I looked to my left and saw a horse! I brought the van to a stop in the middle of the dirt road and pulled out my camera so I could take some photos of it.

While it’s always exciting (to me at least) to see an animal living its life while I’m driving by, seeing a horse near a highway is not exactly unusual. I’ve seen plenty of horses living their lives within view of a highway. Once on a road trip, my sibling and I saw so many horses over the course of 1,800 miles, we had a big discussion about how many horses have to be standing together to make a herd. We decided four horses are required to make a herd. Ansers.com (http://www.answers.com/Q/How_many_horses_make_a_herd?#slide=2) says it takes six horses to make a herd, but I’m going to stick with four.

The horse I saw on that January morning in Arizona was different from other horses I’d seen over the course of my life. For one thing, it was alone. Where was the rest of its herd? Did it live a solitary life? Was it a lonely horse?

Also? This horse wasn’t standing in a pasture or near a corral, and we were nowhere near a highway. This horse was standing in the middle of a desert next to a dirt road. Was this even a domesticated horse? Was this a wild desert pony?

The horse offered me no answers, shared no secrets. It simply stood there, looked at me, occasionally turned its head.

After taking several photos of the horse, I knew it was time to go, although I was none the wiser about its life.

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.

 

(Guest Post) Why Phoenix?

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Today’s guest post was written by an old friend of mine who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s November 1st and finally, I believe the summer has left us. Don’t get me wrong. We will still have days with temperatures in the 80s but the evenings and the mornings are so cool and comfortable and finally wearing long pants is an acceptable dress code.

This summer has been especially hard on this perimenopausal woman in her late 40s. The temperatures have been no higher than other years and the fact that the hundred degrees last until October is normal. But my ability to cope with the warm temperatures is not what it was 20 years ago.

When I moved to Phoenix, many friends asked “Why Phoenix?” “What’s in Phoenix?” And honestly for years I had no answer for them. It’s flat, it’s brown and it’s very new and modern compared to other cities in the United States.

Tovrea Castle

Tovrea Castle

The history here only goes back to the 1940s. Convincing the city council that we need to keep those buildings from the 40s and 50s has been a challenge. Hence why everything is so new and modern. So when I find a building that is unique/different/older I get super excited and I must go inside and explore! That’s the case with the Tovrea Castle. The Ellis Shakelford House. The Security Building downtown. Luhrs Tower.

When I moved here 20 years ago, Phoenix was only supposed to be a temporary layover to my next destination somewhere on the west coast. I never intended to stay this long but good jobs, a great husband and my beautiful daughter all led to me becoming an Arizonan. I’ve not forgotten my roots. I will forever and always be a Louisiana girl. Nolagirl at heart. For that is where I found my true spirit, my true self. But now when people ask me what’s in Arizona, why Phoenix, Arizona, I can say: the Grand Canyon, street corn, fresh homemade tortillas, a sunset and

Phoenix Sunset

Phoenix Sunset

sunrise every morning and night that can take your breath away. Sonoran hotdogs. The Superstition Mountains. Home of Miranda Rights. Witnessing the evolution of a grass roots art and historic preservation community. My family. My community.

The photos were taken by the author.