Monday, January 22, 2007

Desert Blizzard

The term "blizzard" doesn't usually refer to 2 inches of snow, but it does in Arizona. The morning commute was a mess, roads were icy, bridges had to be closed, schools were cancelled. No sand, no salt, no shovels, no snowplows. Here's what we woke up to. This is our street at Cactus Country RV Resort. Ed's van is the white one on the left.

This morning's view of the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Cactus Country.

All I wanted to do was take pictures this morning. But, hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go. This is Freedom RV in Tucson. I've never seen snow on RVs and (shudder) I hope it's the last time!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Desert snowstorm

Well, I think the title about sums it up. I never bargained for snow in the desert but it's here. We're supposed to get 1"-3" tonight. These were all taken in and around Cactus Country RV Park, where we are staying in Tucson, AZ.

This is where I normally take the dogs for a walk in the desert where they can run off leash.

Prickly pear cactus in the snow just a few feet from our motorhome.

These cows look none too pleased to have snow on their backs! They graze in the open range land around our park.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mt. Bether mini-reunion

A wonderful opportunity presented itself this week for three dear frends to get together after not seeing each other for a number of years. Ed & I had already reconnected with Kathy (McDonell) Lemay and her husband, Jerry, who live here in Tucson. Cathy Seymour, who lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband, Michael, was visiting Arizona last week for a conference in Wickenburg, Arizona. So we all met in Phoenix to have dinner at Claim Jumper's Restaurant. The waiter snapped this photo of the three of us just as dinner was served. Huge portions and delicious, too!

But the best part was getting caught up with each other's lives and the years just melted away as we talked. Kathy L. is teaching art to elementary school students. Cathy S. designs displays for major perfume houses for Macy's Department Stores, as well as painting murals and doing other freelance art work for personal clients. Kathy snapped this picture of me and Cathy S.

Hopefuly, soon we can hook up with Linda (Allen) Christensen. She is spending the winter in Yuma, Arizona, with her husband, Peter but couldn't make it to dinner with us this time. Linda and Peter are full-time Rvers too. If it weren't for that dang thing called work, we would have seen each other for sure by now. Just gotta get our busy schedules coordinated.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Saguaro National Park

What do you associate with Arizona? The huge desert cactus, with arms outstretched, surely comes to mind. The saguaro (Suh-WAR-oh) cactus is unique to the Sonoran Desert here in southern Arizona and part of Mexico. Saguaro National Park protects this fragile plant, along with other smaller cacti and an astonishing variety of birds and animals. Ed & I took a picnic lunch to Saguaro NP East, which is just a few miles from our RV park. (The western section, much smaller, is adjacent to Tucson Mountain Park and the Desert Museum.) Our destination was the eight-mile Cactus Forest Drive.

Along with the saguaros, I am entranced with the mountains that surround Tucson. When we were here four years ago, I scarcely noticed them. After all, we had come down from the Rocky Mountains and were admittedly jaded by mountain scenery. But after three winters in flat-as-a-pancake Florida, our appreciation for their beauty has been renewed.

However, these guys are the stars of the show in Saguaro National Park.

I was surprised to learn that the saguaros grow very slowly, mostly in spurts during the rainy summer months. ("Rainy" is relative term - the desert only averages 12" total a year and months can go by with no rain at all. Summer monsoons can cause flash floods. Winter rains are lighter and produce snow on the mountaintops.) Saguaro seedlings may only measure 1/4" after one year. After 15 years, the cactus may be barely a foot tall. By 50 years it can be as tall as seven feet. Not until it reaches about 75 years old does the saguaro sprout branches or "arms". This specimen is likely over 100 years old.

Many birds use the saguaros to build their nests, carved through the waxy skin. Here is a phainopepla, which resembles a blue cardinal. If you click on the picture to get a larger view you'll be able to see his crest.

Near the end of our drive I caught sight of this crazy-shaped cactus with arms all twisted. What happened here?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I miss Florida for certain things - hibiscus and red poinsettia bushes blooming all winter, live oak trees draped with Spanish moss, and nearly continuous sunshine and warm temperatures. In contrast, it has been unseasonably cold here in Tucson. A valley rainstorm dropped a foot of snow on the mountaintops from about 4500 feet and higher. From downtown, it looked like Mt. Everest up there for a few hours! But the desert has a unique beauty that Ed and I love as well- the Rincon mountains, located east of our park, turning shades of red and pink in the light of the setting sun; the majestic Saguaro cacti, arms outstretched, unique to the Sonora Desert of southern Arizona and adjacent parts of Mexico; and the cactus wrens and western cardinals that flock from the desert to feeders in our park.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the ideal place to learn to identify and appreciate the variety of plant and animal life that live in the desert. Located just west of the city of Tucson, you could easily spend an entire day walking through the outdoor exhibits and not see everything.

The web site at sums it up:

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one place! Exhibits re-create the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert Region so realistically you find yourself eye-to-eye with mountain lions, prairie dogs, Gila monsters, and more. Within the Museum grounds, you will see more than 300 animal species and 1,200 kinds of plants. There are almost 2 miles of paths traversing 21 acres of beautiful desert.

Ed & I visited with the Camera Club from Cactus Country RV Park. Our group of about twenty focused on two very different types of birds; first, the raptors, then the hummingbirds. "Raptor Free Flight" showcases three birds of prey during different shows twice daily, running through April 15, 2007. The trainer releases each bird for a demonstration of their flying techniques and hunting and feeding behaviors. Remember that you can click on each photo for a larger view. Here is the California raven...

and a white barn owl perched on a limb... out, here he comes....

...and he's hungry!

This "photographer extraordinaire" (Ha ha, NOT!) forgot the extra batteries for the camera and so missed getting photos of the Peregrine falcon. Bummer. But I ran to the gift shop after the Raptor show and picked up AA's at the gift shop. This is the very reason why I decided to not buy a digital camera that uses proprietary batteries. I am hoping to learn to properly use all the settings available on my Canon Power Shot A630 and learn to edit with Adobe Photoshop

Elements - these are the reasons that I joined the Camera Club.

At the Hummingbird Aviary, I quickly realized how difficult it is to photograph these fast moving guys. By the time you center and focus, they're off. But I got a couple of decent shots. Back east, all our hummingbirds are of the ruby-throated variety. In the west, there are five varieties; black-chinned, broad-billed, Costa's, broad-tailed, and Rufous. Wish I could tell you what these guys are but I'm not sure which is which.

Many other native birds and animals inhabit the desert museum, usually brought in because of injury and unable to survive in the wild. One of these bighorns casually skipped down the nearly vertical 30' rock ledge right after I snapped this.

I didn't get pics of the javelina, the coatimundi, nor many others, so a return trip to the museum is definitely in our future.

Our route home took us through Gates Pass, providing this unique view of Tucson in the valley below.