dumb-ass-teroid impact   11 comments

Posted at 1:06 am in environment

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

This isn’t the post I was going to put up today, but it seemed timely, so it goes up first. I’ll try to get another up before I get back on the road tomorrow.

Yesterday, while traveling between Twin Falls, Idaho, and Baker City, Oregon, I was passed by a *dumb ass* in a pick-up truck carrying a snowmobile and a very filthy ATV — one that had (quite obviously) been crawling around in a mucky place. The truck was speeding by in the fast lane. I noticed it because the snowmobile seemed to be poorly loaded — tipped up at a crazy angle, was bumping around, and looked as though it wouldn’t take much to have it flip back over.

While I was contemplating the crappy job of loading the truck, a huge chunk of dried mud, perhaps the size of a large bowling ball, broke free of the underside of the ATV and flew up and hit the hood of my van. It made quite a mess of the hood — put a big “rock-sized” dent in the hood right above the grille. I haven’t tried opening the hood since the accident as it might not be possible to close it again after.

I guess the one bright spot in all of this is that the dumb-ass-teroid missed hitting the windshield. If it had, I have a pretty good idea of what might have happened. Most likely I wouldn’t be sitting here typing out this post.

Quite apart from the obvious safety hazard and peril that a mud-caked ATV poses to the public, it should be remembered that the dried mud can also carry huge numbers of seeds from invasive plants. Shortly after I was bombarded by the giant mud ball, I noticed a road sign instructing ATVers not to spread invasive seeds around on their tires. Would anyone like to hazard a guess at how plant seeds were imbedded in the dumb-ass-teroid that smashed into my van hood? Ahem.

Well, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

Written by bev on April 2nd, 2009

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javelinas   8 comments

Posted at 3:56 pm in Arizona,mammals

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

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.

For more information on Javelina, visit here and here. Also, on this page you’ll find more info about the offspring and a nice photo of a mother with its young “red”.

Note: Thanks to my friend, Paul Williams, for allowing me to use his video clip in this post.

Written by bev on March 23rd, 2009

Tagged with , ,

chiricahua   9 comments

Posted at 1:47 pm in Arizona,geology,sabrina,trees

panorama view of the stone columns at Chiricahua National Monument – as seen from Masai Point

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

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.

on the Echo Canyon Trail that leads through a section of the column-filled valley

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.

a view off to the side of the trail where the columns stand in deeper sections of the valley

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.

many of the columns are encrusted with brilliant lichen

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.”

columns range in shape from spires to mushroom-shaped hoodoos

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 massive boulder lodged between spires in the grotto area along the Echo Canyon Trail

A large “boulder” hangs suspended, lodged between columns within the grotto (click on all photos for larger views).

Sabrina with “Cochise Head” in the background

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.

Written by bev on March 11th, 2009

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and so we came to bisbee   11 comments

Posted at 11:11 am in Arizona,birds,insects,loss,mammals

Sabrina looking out over the garden wall towards town at the beginning of our first day in Bisbee

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Six weeks after setting out on our journey, Sabrina and I arrived in Bisbee. Before leaving eastern Ontario, I had made arrangements to rent a house on the outskirts of the town. It’s perched on the side of one of the round-topped hills in the Mule Mountains, surrounded by live oaks and manzanita. The place was ideal for us. It had a flat garden where Sabrina could roam about. In her (at that time) somewhat debilitated state, she couldn’t handle stairs or steep hills. For myself, it proved to be a peaceful place filled with interesting plants, insects, birds and mammals. Within a day of arriving, I had already shot dozens of photos of the butterflies, grasshoppers, bees, flies and other insects visiting the flowers in the garden and on the surrounding hillside.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Although all turned out for the best, our arrival was not without some stress. On the way up the steep lane to the house, the transmission of my limping van gave out — requiring replacement of the torque converter at a cost of about Cdn $1000. However, I tried not to let such things bother me — after all I had been through over the past year, a broken down van seemed like nothing more than a mere blip on my radar screen. It was just good to be in a quiet place surrounded by nature.

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)

Within a few days of arriving, I filled some bird feeders and soon had about 15 species of birds coming to the garden each day. The Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus) are a favourite and there were two pair visiting on a steady basis. The little Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) were our constant companions, even through a few snowy days when I would see them coming and going from their cover within an Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) just beyond the garden wall.

Javelina (Pecari tajacu) on the hillside beside the lane

Almost like clockwork, a small herd of Javelina (Pecari tajacu) wandered along the outside of the wall by the kitchen window each evening while I prepared dinner. At first there seemed to be five, but their numbers have since increased to eight as three young appeared soon after my arrival. At first, Sabrina didn’t know what to make of these strange creatures, but she has since become accustomed to seeing them trot past the yard.

If you wonder how I came to choose Bisbee as a place to rest, it was an easy decision. Don and I had always wanted to spend some time in this area after visiting once back in 2001. While enduring his series of chemo and radiation treatments, Don would often sit with my laptop, looking at possible rental properties in the southeast area of Arizona. It was our hope that, if the EGFR inhibitor drug he began in August worked, we would be able to escape to the south for at least a little while. Unfortunately, that treatment failed and he passed away in early September. However, the dream of spending the winter in Bisbee did not die — and so Sabrina and I came to be here. All in all, this has been a good place to rest for a time. It’s with some regrets that I will soon be leaving to return to eastern Ontario as we have made friends and learned to love the land here. However, we are certain to return, but more about that later. For now, I will be writing a few posts about some of the places we have hiked, and the flora, fauna and geology we have seen.

But speaking of flora and fauna and the desert, the second edition of Carnival of the Arid is now up at Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing Be sure to pay a visit and check out some of the wonderful writing, art, and photography.

on the road to arizona   14 comments

Posted at 3:27 pm in birds,california

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

After spending the previous day resting and exploring in the Ridgecrest area, it was time to move on. My goal was to arrive at our final destination in southeast Arizona on November 15th, so two more days of travel ahead of us. I can probably speak for Sabrina in saying that we were both tired of being on the road.

Before departing from Ridgecrest, we stopped to eat breakfast in a park on the east side of town. Almost as soon as we sat down in a tree-shaded area, we were accosted by an unkindness of ravens. In fact, all of the trees in the parks were filled with similar groups that croaked and kraaked at us. The boldest dropped down onto the nearby pedestal barbecues, or to the ground to march up to make their demands known. Clearly, they expected some form of tribute. Sabrina was slightly intimidated by their aggressive behaviour. She would turn her head to look elsewhere as they cocked their heads and ogled her from a few feet away. Unfortunately, that just encouraged them to move in closer. She would then quickly turn her head back to see how far they had advanced. The closest might hop back a step or two, but soon marched forward a few more paces.

I came across several references to Common Ravens in the Mojave region. Apparently, there has been a great increase in their numbers over the past couple of decades, with large numbers of birds hanging out in urban areas or around dump sites. There is concern over risk of raven predation on desert tortoises in the western Mojave Desert. They do seem both plentiful and aggressive, so I would think they could pose a threat to any small creature.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed south to catch 395, where we promptly hit a patch of road construction and sat in the van long enough to experience how quickly it could be transformed into a Mojave-style easy-bake oven. Continuing south, we passed through the village of Red Mountain, which seems to be home to an eclectic mix of found-art creatives. About the middle of town stands what I’m guessing to be a Yucca bearifolia.

Leaving Red Mountain behind, we continued south towards Kramer Junction where we would pick up Hwy 58 to head east toward Barstow. Just before that junction, there is a massive solar concentrator installation. It can’t really be photographed from the ground, so refer to the above link, or google “Kramer Junction solar concentrator”. As in my last two posts about the Searles Valley with its mineral extraction, and the military weapons ranges, etc.. at China Lake near Ridgecrest, it’s impossible to ignore how the deserts of the southwest are becoming a hotbed of industrial activity — without doubt, to the detriment of the considerable flora and fauna. For a more complete background on this topic, do check out this and other related posts on Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing.

To an outsider such as myself, it was somewhat jarring to find the ubiquitous assortment of service vehicles, filled with survey or work crews, scattered almost everywhere as I crossed the Mojave. I can’t help but wonder if all of this activity is flying under the radar screens of the many as….well….the common perception of the desert is that it is “just a big empty space, isn’t it?” I admit to having experienced a brief twinge of that notion during the first day of my first visit to Arizona about thirteen years ago. However, that illusion soon melted away as I began to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of the desert. In fact, after visiting the desert several times over the years, I can say without hesitation, that deserts are among the most fascinating and active places on earth — this from someone who has done quite a few surveys of flora and fauna, and a good deal of nature photography, in a wide range of vastly different habitats.

On this day, my plan was to drive through to stay at a motel in Lake Havasu. I would have preferred to camp the last leg of our trip to southeast Arizona, but Sabrina and I were really hitting the wall as far as energy was concerned. We were now reduced to just driving, sleeping and trying to find some kind of edibles to see us through to our final destination. Also, I was beginning to experience a lot of fatigue – both physical and psychological. One of the most difficult things to deal with was the growing sense of isolation that I felt while traveling. I have touched on this a bit in previous posts. Traveling alone with my dog, I couldn’t help but notice that almost everywhere I went, others traveled as pairs, or with friends. At rest stops, they would get out and wander around, picnic, switch drivers, and then carry on. The only solitary travelers seemed to be the long haul truckers, and even many of them were traveling with their spouses. At the above rest stop along I-40, a trucker climbed out of his cab, gave his wife a hand down, and then lifted their white toy poodle to the ground. Such was actually a fairly common sight throughout this trip.

No doubt, the following observations have to do with my overly sensitized state, but I seemed to encounter signs of “couple-dom” in every direction that I looked. At Trona Pinnacles, it was the message in stones. At this rest stop, it was a debarked tree trunk (above) upon which were scribbled countless proclamations of so-and-so loves so-and-so. Further along from this rest stop, there were many big cupid’s hearts and initials, formed of arrangements of black volcanic rock, on every little hillside facing the highway. Recently, I’ve read the writings of other bereaved men and women who have described much the same feeling — that after the death of a partner, it appears as though the world is the territory of couples and families, and not so much for those who must, or choose to, journey through life alone. Such does seem to be the case. I suppose that those of us who are forced to carry on alone, must search for our own icons and messages. Among all the tree graffiti, there was one that seemed meant to speak to every traveler.

From Lake Havasu, I traveled to Tucson, and then on to the southeast region of Arizona, where I have been spending the winter. My next few posts will be about some of the places I have hiked and photographed nature. In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving to gradually make my way back north to Ontario and then probably on to Nova Scotia. I’m hoping that the weather will be a little more cooperative. After a winter of good food and plenty of hiking, Sabrina is in much better condition and should be up to doing more hiking than on the trip south. More about southeast Arizona and my rather nebulous trip plans coming up very soon.

Written by bev on February 21st, 2009