Archive for March, 2009
I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks as I’m now on the road once more. For the past eight or so days, Sabrina and I have been traveling northwards through Arizona and Utah. We’ve been camping and doing quite a bit of hiking, so have been without a net connection most of the time. Sabrina is doing so much better than on our trip southwards back in October and early November. A couple of days ago, we hiked about 3 miles over fairly rugged terrain to see some rock paintings in a river canyon in southern Utah. She managed very well.
This is my first post of the day. I may try to put up one more while within range of the internet. A few of you expressed some interest in the group of Javelina that I wrote about in early March. They were very regular visitors who passed down the lane outside the garden at the house at Bisbee. I would usually see them just a little before 6 p.m., while I was preparing dinner or washing dishes at the sink overlooking the lane. When I first arrived, there seemed to be five in the group, but then a young one appeared, and then as time went on, they numbered eight – 5 adults and 3 smaller ones. When visitors were staying with me, I’d let them know shortly before the Javelina were scheduled to appear. Just about everyone saw them at least once if not several times. At first, Sabrina would bark at them a little, but as the weeks rolled by and she saw and smelled them many times, she got so that she wouldn’t bother with them.
Just a bit of info about Javelina, but then I’ll point you to a couple of links about them. The common name for them is Collared Peccary (Tayassu tajacu), but most people in the southwest refer to them as Javelina. The “collared” part of the name refers to a light coloured strip of hair on the shoulder area. You can see it in the photos above and below (click on them for larger views). Although they look rather like pigs, they are in their own family (Tayassuidae) while true pigs are Suidae. Their teeth are quite imposing — they have long, self-sharpening canine teeth. I found a photo of a replica of a Javelina skull on this page from a company called Bone Clones. You can see the long, sharp teeth and how they have a flat edge which rubs together where the upper and lower teeth meet. Although they seem well armed, they aren’t particularly aggressive. In fact, they tend to mind their own business and go about looking for prickly pear cactus and other preferred plant items. That said, I’ve been told that they can be dangerous enough if threatened — not so much to humans, but towards dogs and also typical wild predators. Also, they can be destructive to gardens, particularly if they become too familiar with the presence of humans.
The young have red coats and are called “reds” for that reason. Newborn javelina are active soon after birth – unlike pigs which require some time to grow and become mobile. I did see a very small, young javelina in December. At that point, it was about the size of a smallish cat and had red hair. It scampered along at its mother’s heels and raced after her when she decided to flee into the long grass on the hillside next to the lane. The adult males seem to be a bit larger than females and there is something distinctly different about their appearance — they have thicker manes and a heavier front end and neck and the head looks larger. From my observations, the females are more timid, and the males a little more inclined to being confrontational. On the times when I met them in the lane outside the garden wall, it was the males that would somewhat hold their ground and toss their heads up and down or to the side in what I took to be an aggressive gesture. While this was going on, the females and young would take the opportunity to run off into the grass or head up to the shelter of the manzanita and live oaks on the mountainside. A few times, I caught the group off guard – usually by accident as I tried not to startle or confront them. On those occasions, they would flee at amazing speed – their rear hooves kicking up into the air as they tore along the lane to the mountainside. One thing they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing is rubbing their heads and necks on each other’s hind ends. They have scent glands somewhere around their tails, so they stand side by side, head to tail, and rub against each other to get the scent on their coats. The scent is described as being somewhat skunk-like, which is probably true as I often thought I smelled skunk in the air, but I never did see any around the house, so it must have been javelina.
For those who might be interested, my friend, Paul Williams, shot this video clip of the javelinas outside the house one evening (note: the barking dog in the background is not Sabrina). I suggested that he wait outside in a certain spot and he would probably see them pass by within a few minutes. As if on cue, the group appeared in ones and twos. As you can see from the video footage, javelinas have very poor eyesight. They can’t really see you until they are almost next to you. They depend more on scent than sight. One evening, I stood very still in the middle of the lane and it seemed as though I was invisible to them. They knew I was there and were alarmed and the male put on quite a show of trying to be fierce, but I could tell he wasn’t actually sure where I was standing. The other interesting thing is how they raise the hair along their spines to make themselves look larger. You can see this best when the smallest one races along the road in the video clip. The hair on its spine stands up like a comb, a bit like it has a mohawk cut.
Note: Thanks to my friend, Paul Williams, for allowing me to use his video clip in this post.
Where to start when writing about the winter that Sabrina and I have spent in southeast Arizona? We have wandered in many places, beginning with slow walks along the San Pedro River, then eventually moving up to hiking the higher elevation trails in the many mountain ranges of this region. Both of us needed to regain a lot of the strength that had been drained away through many months of stress before leaving on our trip across the continent.
Today, I thought I’d write a bit about Chiricahua National Monument as I’ve been there several times over the past four months. Each time family or friends have visited, this is the one place that I feel they cannot miss seeing. With that in mind, I felt it was something I should bring to all of you. I know that photographs cannot do it justice as the scale of this place is beyond imagining, but this is my attempt.
The Chiricahua Mountains are among several ranges of southeast Arizona, southwest New Mexico, and northwest Mexico, that are referred to as the Sky Islands. They rise up thousands of feet above the surrounding desert and grassland basins. Many are forested, and their canyons filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It’s probably needless to say that, over the winter, I have spent many days walking among the canyons of several ranges.
Chiricahua National Monument is located on the northwest side of the Chiricahua Range. At some point, I will write about some other places in the range. Entering the park, a winding road leads through lower elevation forests of sycamore and live oaks along a canyon creek. Then the road begins to climb past massive “organ pipe” rock formations, eventually coming to a look-off at Masai Point. The panorama shot above (click on it to see a larger view) was taken from the look-off. The view defies description. You are looking out across a huge valley entirely filled with hundreds – well, perhaps more like thousands – of massive, tower-like columns. Many are said to be over 10 stories tall, and I believe the tallest stands almost 150 feet. The scale of what lies before you is perplexing. Tall trees seem diminutive, appearing more like small bushes clinging to the hillsides among the formations.
There are trails leading down into the valley among the formations. I have hiked a section of the Echo Canyon Trail. Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted in the trails that enter the valley, so my time was limited as I left Sabrina with my brother during one of my visits. However, an hour spent among the columns was enough to get some feel for the place and make me hopeful to come back to hike more of the trail system some day.
Rather than struggle to write an explanation of how these columns were formed, I’ll cheat a little and point you to these photos taken of interpretive signboards here and here. The huge volcanic crater mentioned on one of the signs is visible in the distance when you are standing at the top of Masai Point.
There is life all around as you wander along the trail between the columns. Many are encrusted with brilliant lichens. Trees manage to find places to grow – Manzanita, Alligator Juniper, Border pinyon and others – but my favourite among them is the Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica). The scent of these trees fills the air along many sections of the trail. It’s an odd but, to me, pleasant enough smell, although I have read a reference where it is described as “fetid”. You be the judge. These trees produce the oddest cones – rather like small wooden balls with cracks running through. Here is a photo of a branch with a few cones. One of my field guides states that, “the old round, gray, female cones are about 1 inch in diameter and remain attached for several years on the ends of the branchlets.”
I couldn’t resist including a couple of more photos of columns taken at close range. These were taken in an area called “the grotto” – which is almost cavern-like due to the type of formations.
A large “boulder” hangs suspended, lodged between columns within the grotto (click on all photos for larger views).
After leaving Echo Canyon, my brother then took his turn hiking the trail while Sabrina and I walked the section of roadway that leads between the Echo Canyon and Sugarloaf Mountain parking lots. It’s a great little walk – birds calling from either side of the roadway bordered by a wonderful variety of trees and bushes that grow at higher elevation. We stopped to rest at a spot where I photographed Sabrina sitting in front of a conspicuous rock formation on a distant peak. It’s known as Cochise Head. Here’s a clearer photo of the formation. You must agree that it is interesting, no?
Despite being a little rushed, I’m going to try to put up another post or two this week. After that, posts may be asporadic for while. Believe it or not, after taking all of this time to write about my journey to southeast Arizona, and then the months spent here, the time has come to pack up and leave to return to my farm. I have mixed feelings about the next part of my journey. I am trying to find the “positive” in traveling through the western states and then back across Canada as the land awakens to springtime. However, I am not feeling any of the “drive” that it took to get to my winter refuge. In large part, it’s because I don’t look forward to my return home. For me, life has taken an irreversible change in direction. The farm that once meant so much to Don and I, no longer holds any attraction. In fact, it is now a reminder of a great deal of pain and sadness. My winter away has confirmed one thing, and that is that I will not overly miss the place that has been my home for the past 32 years. There are sure to be some major changes in the works over the next couple of months, but more about that later. For now, please enjoy the Arizona posts as I have time to put them up.