Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Sunday, February 23, 2014

City of Rocks

Since the weather had finally warmed up east of Arizona, I headed into New Mexico to visit my friend Bri.  On my way there, via the State Route back roads, I knew that I'd be passing by several National Forest Campgrounds in which I could spend the night.  But, as fate would have it, I saw a sign to turn right for the City of Rocks State Park.  I made the turn.

Friends Jerry and Nelda spoke highly of this park; and they were right!  It has an other-worldly feel about it.  The campsites are hidden among monolithic boulders.  It reminds me a lot of the rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park.

The road to the park, looking away from the rocks. 
Gently rolling hills, grassland with yucca and ocotillo.  2/18/14

This is from that same road, looking toward the City of Rocks.  2/18/14. 

Sign placed near where the two pictures above were taken.
It reads, in part, "Wind and water gradually sculpted the volcanic
 tuff  ... creating the rows of monolithic blocks ... sites are
tucked away among these Stonehenge-like formations ..."  2/18/14

My Prius in the campsite, dwarfed by the super large rocks.  2/16/14

My Prius and campsite to the left,
and my nearest neighbor hidden among the rocks to the right.  2/16/14
My first night at this campground I kept hearing a loud squeaking noise every now and again, echoing among the rocks.  The next morning I realized that it was a windmill creaking every time it began to turn.  It pumps water.  Somehow knowing that the noise came from a windmill made it less annoying.
What did become a bit annoying was the constant wind.  It was most windy in the afternoons.
When this windmill starts to turn in the wind, it creaks loudly.  2/16/14
Such a pleasant surprise to find this park.  I would return again, despite the wind and the squeaking windmill.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sunny and the Superstitions

I knew that Sunny was going to be in Apache Junction in February.  But, I didn't think I would still be in Arizona at that time.   I have the cold spell in the southeast to thank for that, as it gave me a chance to spend some time with her.

A short hike with Sunny in Lost Dutchman State Park, at the base of Flat Iron Peak of
 Superstition Mountain.  Notice the non-traditional hiking footwear. 
We had just treated ourselves to pedicures!  2/14/14
Here are my 4-days-post-pedicure toes, still pretty in pink.
Sunny's were painted a nice darker turquoise.   2/18/14
We also went to the Superstition Mountain Museum.  The geological history of the area is fascinating. And there is the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine.  "Jacob Waltz, the alleged owner of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine, claimed his mine was located where no other miner or prospector would search for gold." 
At the museum were some stone maps, purportedly to the lost gold. 
And one was a heart map, especially fitting for Valentine's Day. 2/14/14
All the pieces to the heart map.  2/14/14
Look on the alluvial fan leading to Flat Iron Peak; you can see part of a trail.
In years past, Sunny saw a Gila Monster there.  2/14/14

A jojoba bush in bloom under the Superstitions' Flat Iron Peak.  2/14/14
The photogenic Superstition Mountain.  2/14/14
 What a timely treat to meet up with Sunny while we were both in Arizona.

Friday, February 21, 2014


When I visited with John & Teresa in Tucson, they said that Patagonia Lake State Park was a winner.  And they were right!  It's like an oasis in the desert, thanks to a dam on Sonoita Creek.  This park and the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, are a birders paradise!   It's located about 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border at Nogales. 
View at my campsite on Patagonia Lake where I was woken and then entertained by the
many birds who call this lake their home, permanently or via a migration path.  2/13/14 
The marina at Patagonia Lake with rentals, picnic area, and a
cool looking arched walking bridge.  2/13/14 
My first morning at Patagonia Lake I went on a ranger-led birding walk.
My little smart phone camera is unable to get a good picture of any of the
birds we saw.  But, here is my best effort of a Cooper's Hawk through a
spotting scope.  2/10/14 
This is an Elegant Trogon, as pictured at the Visitor's Center.
I've been told it's rarely sited in the US and a good find for
a birder's lifetime list.  Unfortunately I didn't see one,
but others on the birding walk did ...
so, I do believe that it's more than a myth :)  2/13/14 
But, I did see cattle on the birding walk.  Arizona is an Open Range State; so,
some of the cattle were there on a land lease, and others were interlopers.
This one is an interloper.  2/10/14 
My Vancouver WA traveling friends, Nelda & Jerry, joined me for
my last night at Patagonia State Park.  So good to visit with them.
And even they saw an Elegant Trogon!  2/13/14 
from Sierra Vista to the town of Patagonia, AZ for lunch. 2/13/14 
I liked seeing all of the old cars. 
One even lost a wheel in the middle of SR-82!
For more pictures from the participants, click on this link.  2/13/14 
 I very much enjoyed my stay at Patagonia State Park.  Thanks for the lead John and Teresa!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Diversion to
Kitt Peak National Observatory

Heading back east after warming up at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I passed the turn-off to Kitt Peak National Observatory.  I remembered my friends John & Theresa telling me about it.  I thought it could be interesting; so, I turned around.  The sign said 12 miles to the top.  And those 12 miles were mostly twists and turns to 6,875 feet above sea level; an elevation gain of 3,250 feet from the turn off.

At the 5,000 foot level you can see one of the larger
telescopes from the road.  2/9/14

The views from the drive up were outstanding.  2/9/14
 "Kitt Peak National Observatory:  The world’s largest collection of optical telescopes is located high above the Sonoran Desert under some of the finest night skies in the world.  Kitt Peak, on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, is home to twenty-five optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions." (Kitt Peak web site).

Kitt Peak National Observatory has been around since 1958.  2/9/14
I arrived at the observatory complex mid-afternoon, taking a break at their picnic area first.  Imagine my surprise when I looked up to see a gigantic 82 feet wide dish in front of me.  I learned that it was one of ten Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) Radio-Telescope Antennas in the world, each weighing 240 tons.

The VLBA at Kitt Peak:  1 of 10 "From Mauna Kea
on the Big Island of Hawaii  to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands,
 the VLBA spans more than 5,000 miles,  providing astronomers with
the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space."  2/9/14
When I got to the main complex, I went to the Visitor Center that had some
very nice displays, museum pieces, gift shop, and a 0.5m telescope.  2/9/14

Since I arrived mid-afternoon and the complex closed to the public at 4 PM, I missed the guided tours.  But, I tried to see as much as I could.

I first headed to the solar telescopes.  This one is the world's largest,
the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. 2/9/14

The public could look inside, walking in about halfway along the slanted side.
Here is a picture looking up the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.  2/9/14

Here is a picture looking down the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. 2/9/14
On the left, another angle of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, on the right
is the SOLIS Tower (a vacuum telescope, not open to the public).  2/9/14

On the right, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope again, and on the left
the Mead Solar Telescope Array which was open to the public for
solar viewing when I was there!  2/9/14

This was so cool!  I got to look through these telescopes at the sun.
One showed the sun spots (small cooler spots on the solar surface).
And the other showed prominences along the sun's edge.  2/9/14

The view from Kitt Peak, looking away from the solar telescopes
was spectacular too.  2/9/14

It was getting close to closing time, so I didn't go inside the other two telescopes that were open to the public -- the 2.1m Telescope and Mayall 4m Telescope.

A photo as I walked by the 2.1m telescope.  2/9/14

A photo as I drove by the 2.3m Bok Reflector (left), and the
Mayall 4m Telescope (right).  2/9/14

I hope to go back to Kitt Peak Observatory again, leaving enough time for tours and more exploration.

Warming Up at
Organ Pipe Cactus NM

There I was, bundled up at Saguaro National Park, feeling sluggish, and it occurred to me that I could probably drive someplace warmer.  So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to backtrack southwest to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ORPI).  The temperature there was to be in the high 70s.

Organ Pipe Cactus was so named because the early
settlers thought the hollow stick of the dead braches
of this cactus look like organ pipes. 2/8/14 
ORPI is a showcase for the Sonoran Desert's many plants and animals.  So much so that the United Nations named it an International Biosphere Reserve.  Here you have 2 distinct plant communities for the hottest & driest, and the wetter parts of the Sonoran Desert.  The Organ Pipe Cactus itself reaches it northern limits in this small part of the United States.

Upon arriving at the Monument, I got a tent site at the far end of Twin Peaks Campground.  I asked for and was given a place that was fairly private ... the sites around me were vacant.  Good thing because I needed my rest; I had caught a cold!

My campsite at Twin Peaks Campground,
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, 2/7/14

My campsite had lots of plants and bird activity going on.
Here is a dead saguaro cactus in the foreground, an
ocotillo, and lots of creosote bushes. 2/7/14

The creosote bushes had little yellow flowers and were buzzing with lots of bees.  The Brittlebushes and Rabbitbrush were ready to bloom.  The ocotillos were greening up too.  The Palo Verde and Mesquite trees provided nice shade.  I saw lots of birds -- Gambel's Quail, Cactus Wren, Phainopepla, Red Tail Hawks, Curve-Billed Thrashers -- and heard Woodpeckers and White-Winged Doves.  Little lizards scurried and rabbits scampered.  It was a good place to warm up, relax, and recover from a cold.

The next 3 photos progressively show the eastern sky and Aho Mountain Range
near my campsite at sunset.  2/7/14, 5:40 PM

Aho Mountain Range at campsite, 2/7/14, 6:11 PM

Aho Mountain Range from behind campsite, 2/7/14, 6:13 PM

And here is the western sky during that same sunset.  At campsite, 2/7/14, 6:18 PM

I took several drives while in the Park.  The first drive on North Puerto Blanco Drive was 10 miles up and back on a maintained dirt road.

Driving north on the North Puerto Blanco Drive.  Pinkley Peak.  2/7/14

A little Mexican Gold Poppy as seen on the N Puerto Blanco Drive.  2/7/14

Globemallow as seen on the N Puerto Blanco Drive.  2/7/14
Close up of the Globemallow.  2/7/14
Looking east at the Ajo Mountain Range, while driving south on
North Puerto Blanco Drive.  2/7/14
The second drive I took was on another maintained dirt road.  It was a 21 mile loop called the Ajo Mountain Drive.

The Ajo Mountain Range, with its striations of ancient ash falls,
stole the show on the Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop Drive.  2/8/14

A few parts of the road were paved on the Ajo Mountain Drive.  2/8/14

Amazing rock formation.  2/8/14

Lots of Saguaro Cacti here too.  2/8/14

Just to the right of center is an arch created by the weather --
freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw
-- the arch will get bigger and eventually collapse over time.  2/8/14

Taken from the Ajo Mountain Drive.  2/8/14

Last look at the southern end of the Ajo Mountain Range before
 looping west on the Ajo Mountain Drive.  2/8/14

Before I ended my stay at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I took a stroll on the nature trail behind the Visitor's Center.

The specialized Pup Fish inhabit the hot and salty
desert springs in the Monument.  2/9/14

Here is a Brittle Bush starting to bloom. 2/9/14

A Palo Verde Tree with a clump of Mistletoe. 2/9/14

A close up of the Mistletoe on the Palo Verde. 
The berries are a favorite of the birds.  2/9/14

Fuzzy seed pods of the Creosote Bush.  2/9/14

Close up of a Cholla, sometimes called the
"Jumping Cholla" because the needles seem to
reach out and grab if you get too close.  2/9/14

I love how the Chollas seem to glow.  They almost look soft.  2/9/14

The Saguaro's arms can grow in funny twisted ways.  2/9/14
Warmed up, healed up, ready to head east again.

Beautiful Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  2/8/14