18 March 2022
End of Season Potpourri
This will be the last Tucson post of the season - tomorrow (20 March 2022) I will start the drive back to WestVerGinny.
Below is a sampler of photos with some added background from various hikes in March which showcase some amazing Saguaros we saw and enjoyed.
On with the show....
Betsy, John and Janet and I went out on a number of hikes this past winter. This hike was an out and back to Wild Horse Tank in the Rincon Mountains
One of the reasons John and Janet and I went on this hike was to visit the spot where Betsy and I previously got a glimpse of a Crested Saguaro about 500' feet off the trail. On that day we could not investigate further so today John and Janet and I would take a closer look.
Our turn around point was Wild Horse Tank where there is a small pool and water fall. I first visited this spot with my brother Bill in 2005 while on my very first solo Epic Road Trip (ERT).
Brother Bill lounging at Wild Horse Tank, January 29th, 2005
This calling card was made for me by Betsy's nephew Matt. Shown here is my first "ERT-mobile" which was a 1989 Plymouth Reliant I bought in 2004? from a neighbor for $350.00
2005 - Getting ready to roll...
On August 20th, 2006 the Reliant was taken out of service when a pick-up truck hit us head on just 4 miles from our house.
This shows Betsy being extricated from the Reliant so she could then be life flighted to the hospital to fix her broken femur, wrist and C7 vertebra.
Now, let's return to the hike.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
After a leisurely lunch just below the tank (tanque) we headed back down the trail and stopped a few times to marvel at some of the amazing Saguaros.
What this behemoth must weigh is anyone's guess. 3? 4? 5 tons?
Most Saguaros don't have this type of vertical "arm" growth and most are not so crowded.
How this giant manages to stay upright during the torrents of the monsoon rain and wind is quite amazing.
Crested Saguaro #1 for the day. This well know specimen is on the banks of an arroyo just above the trail and in plain sight.
When long time friend Margo saw another one of my photos of a Crested Saguaro she described the crest as looking like a "catcher's mitt".
Crested Saguaro #2.
This is the one Betsy and I spotted on a previous hike. From the trail it presents a sideways view so its true size and beauty can only be appreciated close up.
Quite the fine specimen.
This has seven separate crests.
A final shot before finishing up a delightful hike.
On a rather chilly and blustery day Beth, Kathy and I hiked in the Catalina Mountains and went up Pima Canyon to the first dam. There is a second dam about 1 mile further up canyon. The dams were built by the AZ Fish and Game service in the 1960s to help provide water for bighorn sheep and other wildlife in the wilderness area.
The hike starts at the wide open mouth of the canyon, narrows and then opens up again.
There is a good hike description posted on HikeArizona.com.
Along a narrow section of the canyon we spotted this wild cucumber (Marah gilensis) growing along the trail.
This lush looking plant stood out in marked contrast to all the now dead and brown canyon morning glory.
After about a mile and a half the canyon opens up and there are some nice views both up and down the canyon.
Here Beth hangs on to her hat to prevent it from becoming airborne.
Kathy was well bundled up against the stiff up canyon wind.
On some of the bedrock along the stream there area nice examples of morteros which the indigenous peoples used for grinding seed and other plant parts.
And back down the canyon we go...
On a much warmer day Betsy and I hiked with friends Chuck and Nancy who were visiting from Virginia.
We took them for a hike in our "back yard" - the beautiful Starr Valley in the Tucson Mountains.
This was taken on the recently built Shemwell Trail which connects the Explorer and 36th Street trails. This now makes possible a very nice 5.5 mile lasso hike. There is a route map here.
A long shot of Betsy, Nancy and Chuck hiking below one of several rugged cliff faces
Nancy had never visited the Sonoran Desert before and it was fun seeing her enjoying the plants and scenery.
The rugged beauty of the Tucson Mountains.
Betsy's new friend!
Most of the trail signs are plastered with stickers on the back. This is one of them. You can read about the History and Culture of the Tohono O'odham Nation here.
When we were just about finished up with our hike I noticed a glint about 1000' feet up a rocky slope. A look with the binoculars revealed what it was. Why there?
Just about a 10 minute drive from us is the Robles Pass Trails Park. The 1,038-acre Robles Ranch property was added to the 20,000+ acre Tucson Mountain Park in 1999, and trails were completed in 2010.
Today we would be out with Janet and John for another Crested Hike.
Another dandy! We have now seen three Crested Saguaros with 1, 2 and 0 arms.
As you can see, Saguaros comes in all shapes and sizes.
Here is one of the biggest Fishhook Barrel cactus we have ever seen. We have noticed when they get this big they are near the end of their lives.
Every year upon our return to the Sonoran desert we see newly fallen Saguaros. This one fell across the trail and it was cut so it would be moved. It nicely shows the stem cross section.
These next two paragraphs were written by Kyle, Grade 7, an Arizona winner of the Young Naturalist Awards.
This saguaro, in my observation, has accordion-like pleats that are spread far apart and provide room for me to touch its thick, waxy, green skin. This skin helps the saguaro retain moisture. As it takes in water, its accordion pleats expand so that it can store the water within its large, sponge-like stem.
I saw many decomposing cactuses lying on the ground with their ribs exposed. After the whole saguaro has decomposed, all that is left are the ribs, which lie on the ground in small piles. I could not believe how many rib piles I found throughout the hills. One group of ribs was still intact and you could easily see the outline of the saguaro. The way that the arm connected to the body was incredible.
And here are the ribs which Kyle mentioned. Betsy and I came across this skeleton on our recent hike on the Hugh Norris Trail in the Tucson Mountains.
Would this not be at home in an art gallery?
A Saguaro octopus!
When not on the trail there is always the porch at the Rancho Relaxo for reading or snoozing or Happy Hours and because of the heavy cover and daily feeding at the Rancho Relaxo we have a good bit of bird activity.
Speaking of birds - a few weeks back we noticed a Cactus Wren hopping around on the front porch. We did not think too much of it as they come in occasionally to get the stray bird seed or a crumble of a tortilla chip from Happy Hour.
But recently we started seeing more wren activity and then Betsy noticed one of them had teased out a strand from the edge of our porch carpet and was tugging and tugging and tugging at it. When it got a certain length it would fly off with it - or try to. More often than not it would still be attached and when in flight it would be jerked back like a dog on a pulled leash. Quite amusing.
To try to save the carpet Betsy starting putting out short sections of knitting yarn. No matter how many were put out (dozens) they would disappear in short order.
We finally spotted the nest. It is only about 10 feet from the trailer up in a tall Yucca gloriosa.
With the binocs we could see some of the carpet strands and yarn sections. We were excited about the nest and were looking forward to watching the start of the family.
I decided to see just how ambitious this wren was so I decided to play a trick on it. I cut a 20' length of yarn and laid it out where it would be seen and sure enough later that day the entire length was hanging out of the nest. Ha!
Here is the 20' strand of yarn hanging out of the nest. A few days later I got on our 10' step ladder and cut off all but 3' of it. In time it worked what was left into the nest.
Another visitor to our yard it the Cooper's Hawk. They enjoy snacking on the Mourning Doves which come in to feed and when they are finished there are Dove feathers scattered about the yard.
When we saw the wren collecting some of these dove feathers for the egg cup in the nest we were sure it would not be long before there would be lots of activity and then young ones sounding off.
But that has not happened and it seems the nest has been found to be inadequate by any of the available females or it ended up being a false nest which wrens often build. Alas... maybe next year.
This is where we generally see Cactus Wren nests - deep in the branches of a cholla.
With my departure for home imminent, me Darlin' Betsy made a delicious cherry pie with home made crust. Yummy!
I made a pie also. A chicken pot pie. On the drive to Tucson back in October, NOLA Donna fixed this same pie for dinner. It was delish and I asked for the recipe. And if I don't say so myself it was pretty dang good!
If you want the recipe it is here.
Soon I will be starting the drive home. My route will be one I have driven before and I always enjoy it, especially the route through New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas.
See you next time...
Mike and Betsy