Archive for the ‘Arizona Desert’ Category

Getting my Wish   1 comment

I called my brother last night and suggested Sunday morning would be a good day for a desert hike.  Being as persuasive as I am, I talked hiim into it, and I reached his home in Avondale by 7:30 in the morning.  By 8 a.m. we had reached the desert park, and were planning our trip.  Brian commented that we should be careful–this was perfect snake weather.  I said I hoped we saw one.  For all the times I’ve gone walking in the desert, I’ve never actually encountered a rattlesnake.

This rock tower was our target.  Didn't know if we could walk that far, but it gave us a landmark to aim at.

This rock tower was our target. Didn’t know if we could walk that far, but it gave us a landmark to aim at.

We had already walked about a mile before I took my first picture.  That granite tower in the distance is not as near as it looks–my camera isn’t very fancy, but it does have a built-in telescopic lens that makes things look about 3 times as large as they are to the naked eye.

I am a fool to dress this way for a desert walk.  Black is not the color one should wear for an Arizona desert walk, but it isn't too hot yet--mid 80s, and I like black, so I wear it even though I know better.

I am a fool to dress this way for a desert walk. Black is not the color one should wear for an Arizona desert walk, but it isn’t too hot yet–mid 80s, and I like black, so I wear it even though I know better.

This is living. I'm about as happy as I ever get when I'm out in the desert or any wilderness, just enjoying nature and exploring.

This is living. I’m about as happy as I ever get when I’m out in the desert or any wilderness, just enjoying nature and exploring. I am vain so I try to get my pictures taken without my glasses on, but Brian took a second shot I wasn’t expecting. I had put my eyes back on and was pulling the water bottle out of my pocket for the first drink on the walk.

Desert view, looking uphill.

Desert view, looking uphill.  Brian is leading the way up the trail.  Most of the time, you hike single file.  This is a good trail for hiking, but there isn’t room to walk side by side.

Desert.

The granite tower is a lot closer now.  It looks like it might almost be reachable.

I stop and look back the way we've come.  We have been climbing steadily.  That haziness in the far distance is the city of Phoenix.

I stop and look back the way we’ve come. We have been climbing steadily. That haziness in the far distance is the city of Phoenix.

It's a good ridge line off to the left.  One almost expects to see a group of Apache warriors sitting up there on their ponies.

It’s a good ridge line off to the left. One almost expects to see a group of Apache warriors sitting up there on their ponies.

Suddenly, I hear Brian say, “Snake, watch out!” It wasn’t exactly a yell, but his voice did get louder.  He was in the lead, and walked right past the snake and heard it rattle.  He stopped me from walking into its path.  Probably the fact that he walks pretty fast got him past the reptile before it could strike.  He heard it rattle–the noise isn’t exactly the clicking of a castanet, more like a whirring noise, turned and saw it.  He’s very good at spotting desert wildlife.  I had a hard time seeing the snake.  I was very cautious, walked way around the snake on the left side of the trail, even climbing on top of some boulders to keep me well beyond its strike range.

The rattlesnake is coiled in the shade of a little bush by the side of the trail.

The rattlesnake is coiled in the shade of a little bush by the side of the trail.  It’s a diamondback–the same animal that is the motto of our Phoenix big league baseball team.  The diamondback rattler is one of the deadliest animals in the desert.  Its poison can kill a grown man in an hour or two and is extremely painful.

We carefully worked our way around the snake, and made a note of where it was for our journey back.  We met another hiker coming down from the other direction, and warned him.  We probably  spent about ten minutes with the snake.  He wasn’t very happy to see us, but he never struck.  I got my wish.  I saw a snake in the desert.  I would see it again on the way back down the trail.

We ran out of time.  The plan was to walk in for an hour and then out for an hour.  At our

We ran out of time. The plan was to walk in for an hour and then out for an hour. At our turnaround point I saw this exuberant patch of desert daisies–the camera doesn’t really capture the brilliance of the hundreds of yellow wildflowers growing at this point on the hillside.

The Arizona desert is famous for its Saguaro cacti.  This is a fine healthy specimen.

The Arizona desert is famous for its Saguaro cacti. This is a fine healthy specimen.

In the center of all the green and yellow is one passionate splash of pink.  That is probably a cactus bloom, but I couldn't get close enough to tell for sure.  I liked that contrast.

In the center of all the green and yellow is one passionate splash of pink. That is probably a cactus bloom, but I couldn’t get close enough to tell for sure. I liked that contrast.

Coming

This picture is an accident. Camera in hand, I accidentally clicked while it was pointing down.

By this time we've been hiking for about 90 minutes.  I'm getting tired and the bottoms of my feet are getting sore. I wear tennis shoes, but they're not really perfect for desert walking.  Brian is getting pretty far ahead of me.

By this time we’ve been hiking for about 90 minutes. I’m getting tired and the bottoms of my feet are getting sore. I wear tennis shoes, but they’re not really perfect for desert walking. Brian is getting pretty far ahead of me.  The trail is at its roughest here, and one wants to step very carefully.

As we get back to the lower elevations, Brian pointed out two vultures circling above the hills to our left.  No chance of getting them on film with my little camera.  They move too fast and are too easily lost in the immensity of the sky.  I took this shot of the biggest saguaro in this corner of the desert instead.  Saguaros stand still. :)

As we get back to the lower elevations, Brian pointed out two vultures circling above the hills to our left. No chance of getting them on film with my little camera. They move too fast and are too easily lost in the immensity of the sky. I took this shot of the biggest saguaro in this corner of the desert instead. Saguaros stand still. 🙂

A

We are back at the snake’s bush.  The shadow is Brian’s, and he’s watching the snake and talking me past it.  I’m aiming my camera at the bush and hoping to get another shot of the diamondback.  I think you can spot it just past the black rock in the center of the picture.  Its camouflage is excellent.

Looking back, I'm past the snake now, but would like to get one more picture of it. You can see the shadow of my hat.

Looking back, I’m past the snake now, but would like to get one more picture of it. You can see the shadow of my hat, better than you can see the snake, but it is in the top right part of the picture.

The snake is far behind us now. The most interesting things in the desert are the saguaros.  This is a very tall one.

The snake is far behind us now. The most interesting things in the desert are the saguaros. This is a very tall one.

This is a veritable forest of saguaro cacti. The one on the right has grown strangely to form the letter U.

This is a veritable forest of saguaro cacti. The one on the right has grown strangely to form the letter U.

Just the right angle to see the cactus in front splitting the U of that weird saguaro.

Just the right angle to see the cactus in front splitting the U of that weird saguaro.

White_Tanks_Hiking 021

Back at the parking lot, the hike is over.  My black Kia is covered with dust spots from the shower we had about 3 days earlier.  When it rains in Phoenix, it brings dust out of the atmosphere.  Rain doesn’t make you clean in Phoenix, it makes things dirty.

And so we say goodbye to the great saguaro forest of the White Tanks mountains.

And so we say goodbye to the great saguaro forest of the White Tanks mountains.

My hike is over.  We walked somewhere between 3 and 4 miles.  Looking back at town, you can see Camelback Mountain in the far distance–it is the highest peak in this part of the state.  The white triangle you see is the domed roof of the football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, located west of the small city of Glendale, which is northwest of the city of Phoenix.  It’s a massive structure–more than ten miles away in this picture and still easily visible.

I’m tired and satisfied.  You’ve just done another desert hike with me, Ken St. Andre.

If you’ve ever been face to face with a rattlesnake, or any other scary reptile, why not leave a comment?

–end

Trollgod in the Desert   3 comments

Ha!  Just to show you how tough the Trollgod is, here’s a picture of him leaning on a saguaro cactus.  There’s an idea for a new Tunnels and Trolls monster–cactus trolls.  Big, green, and covered with thorns . . .

Trollgod leans on a cactus.

Trollgod leans on a cactus.

Sunday was a beautiful day in Arizona.  I got together with my brother Brian (5 years younger than me and in much better shape), and we went out to the White Tanks Mountains about 30 miles west of downtown Phoenix.  They are really just hills, running up to perhaps 2000 feet above sea level and 1000 to 1500 feet above the valley floor, but they are a great place to hike with well-maintained trails and a very scenic desert.  We had about a 2.5 hour hike, did between 4 and 5 miles overland, up and down.  My feet were sore and I was getting a little tired by the time I got back to the car.  You’d be pleasantly tired too, if you went on this hike with me.

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Here I am at the beginning of the hike.  Actually we had already done a mile through the desert before we reached this signpost where two trails converged.  It was a steady climb to that point, but it got steeper from here.  Temperature still in the low 50s, so the jacket is still on and zipped up.  I’m wearing a belt with a water bottle in it.  Always take water when you go out into the desert, even in the winter when it’s cool.  It’s good to wear head protection too.  You can see I have my battered old Trollgod’s hat.  I’m studying a rock in this picture.  These White Tanks Mountains seem to be almost all granite

IMG_2033This is Brian at the signpost.  He has better hiking equipment than I do–always wears cutoffs, has a heartbeat monitor, better shoes.  He has been acting as a trainer for me, sets a pace that gives me a good workout without killing me.  He also makes it possible for me to get the occasional picture of me out in the desert.  You know, it is great to have family or friends to do things like this with.

The rest of the pix are just scenery.  We didn’t see much wildlife–some hawks closer to the city while we were driving out to the mountain park, one little lizard sunning itself on a rock, and a couple of birds.  I think it was too late in the morning for them–already around 10 a.m. when we took these photos.

Rough terrain.  White rock (mostly granite which is largely made of feldspar and quartz) that gives these hills their name.

Rough terrain. White rock (mostly granite which is largely made of feldspar and quartz) that gives these hills their name.

The true beginning of the trail . . .The true beginning of the trail, before us and small parking lot behind.  You can see how clear and blue the Arizona sky is out here in the wilderness.  Further down the page I will show you a shot looking back at the city of Phoenix, and you can see what a million cars do to the atmosphere.  There was a sign at the park entrance telling us to watch out for mountain lions.  We would have really liked to see one, but no such luck.

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My eyes are always drawn to the skyline when I’m hiking.  This is the highest peak in the neighborhood, and the top of it is covered with microwave and radio transmission towers.  You see these repeater stations all over the southwest.  The fact that there are towers on top of the mountain means there must be a road leading up there, but it doesn’t come from anywhere on this side of the hills.

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That white needle of rock near the center of the photo became my goal for the hike.  It’s kind of strange compared to the rest of the landscape.

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Here I am looking back toward the city.  See how hazy and dirty the air is over the populated area.  Still, it’s not bad–there would be a lot of dust in the air of a desert like this even if we didn’t have 3 million people living here.

Saguaro country--these desert giants are the most impressive of all cacti, imho!

Saguaro country–these desert giants are the most impressive of all cacti, imho!

Brian and I both brought cameras on the trip.  He is the better photographer and has the better camera, and he took more pix.  You can find his whole set on Facebook.  I don’t usually upload my stuff there.  I’ll be putting a few of his shots in with mine to help chronicle the trip.

natural resting spot

Nature is friendly out here, and offers the hiker a natural place to sit down and rest a bit.  It would be a good climbing rock, also. Next time I come out here, perhaps I will get a picture of me standing on top of it.

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Big rock.  There are some truly huge boulders out here, and they are making their way downhill.  It might take them a million years to reach the bottom, but a million years isn’t so long in the lifespan of a mountain or a big rock.

Sky line . . .

Sky line . . .

Heh, a little planning can work wonders.  Here I am, halfway through the blog, and I notice that the picture size is set to medium.  By increasing it to full size I can give you all a better view of the desert.  I’ll do that for the rest of this photo essay.  but I’m not going to go back and change everything–just the important shots.

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That gully/trench goes almost straight up the mountain.  If I were looking for wildlife, I’d concentrate on such places.  There is more water and shelter there.

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This is as close as we got to my goal.  The climb has become pretty steep, and we’ve been walking for 90 minutes–time to head back.

Black and blue. Brothers in action together.

Black and blue. Brothers in action together.

Brian can set his camera to take a delayed shot, and so he got this one of both of us at our stopping point.

tai chi in the desert

tai chi in the desert

While I was resting at the top of the climb, I took the opportunity to do a little Tai Chi.  This is the Cloud Hands (wave hands like clouds in the sky) posture from the beginning of the Tiger Mountain exercise.  That’s a good one for doing on a mountain as one doesn’t have to move one’s feet when switching from posture to posture.

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We are actually up pretty high. Here is another shot looking back towards the city.  Compare it to the earlier one, and you can see how much higher we are.  We’re still only about halfway to the summit, but we don’t have enough time or personal endurance to go all the way today.

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This is almost the end of the trail.  There is still a quarter of a mile to walk back to the car, but we have reached the paved road.  The walking stick in my hand is my Longest Night present from Brian, and is one of the best things he has ever given me.  Desert terrain is uncertain at best.  It really helps to have a good walking stick to steady oneself when a rock turns underfoot or you catch your toe or heel on some projection and start to stumble.

Putting the desert behind us, we returned to civilization, had lunch, and watched the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Atlanta Falsons in the NFC championship game.  San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24.  A balanced effort from San Francisco with 2 touchdowns in each half of the game, but a collapse from Atlanta who started strong with all 24 points in the first half, and no score in the second.

All told, it was a very pleasant Sunday for me on January 20, 2013.  I hope you had a good day, too.

–end

Thunderbird Park   2 comments

I am a lucky guy–always have been.  I have a sister and a brother who both look out for me, and help me improve my health.  A lot of this is done by walking and exercise.

Today my brother and I went out for a walk at Thunderbird Park, north of Glendale in the Phoenix area.  This is a great park for hikers, with at least 4 different hills criss-crossed with trails.  There are some steep climbs, and some gentle climbs, some varied scenery, and a whole lot of igneous rock.  As part of my continuing plan to show off the beauty of desert Arizona, I offer this photo essay of today’s walk.  I think we covered about 3.5 miles, and boy was I tired by the end of it.

When I left my apartment, I started with a coat, a sweater, and a t-shirt.  By the time we started the walk, I as down to the sweater, and the Trollgod's Hat.

When I left my apartment, I started with a coat, a sweater, and a t-shirt. By the time we started the walk, I as down to the sweater, and the Trollgod’s Hat.

Brian was taking the pictures.  I hardly ever feel better than when I'm out walking in the desert.

Brian was taking the pictures. I hardly ever feel better than when I’m out walking in the desert.

Truth in photography.  My hat is really old, and my glasses are really thick.

Truth in photography. My hat is really old, and my glasses are really thick.

This is the kind of natural staircase that I imagine the Dwarves carving in the wilds of Trollworld.

This is the kind of natural staircase that I imagine the Dwarves carving in the wilds of Trollworld.

One of the things I really like about Arizona is the mountains.  The purple range in the distance is called The White Tanks.

One of the things I really like about Arizona is the mountains. The purple range in the distance is called The White Tanks.

Here I am near the top of the  hill.  Notice the walking stick in my hand--it belongs to Brian and it saves me from many a fall and misstep on the very rough and rocky trails.

Here I am near the top of the hill. Notice the walking stick in my hand–it belongs to Brian and it saves me from many a fall and misstep on the very rough and rocky trails.

Arizona, Land of 1000 Lakes?  This northern suburban community has lakes all over the place and a golf course too.

Arizona, Land of 1000 Lakes? This northern suburban community has lakes all over the place and a golf course too.

Brian took a bunch of pictures that I don't like that much--probably because they show me as I really am, a bit haggard at the top of the hill.

Brian took a bunch of pictures that I don’t like that much–probably because they show me as I really am, a bit haggard at the top of the hill.

Starting back down the hill.  Look at that panoramic view!

Starting back down the hill. Look at that panoramic view!

Do you believe in LIttle People?  Brian really makes me look small here.

Do you believe in LIttle People? Brian really makes me look small here.

I'm still standing in the same spot, wondering why Brian is taking so many pix.  I think it was a clever ploy on his part to allow me to catch my breath.

I’m still standing in the same spot, wondering why Brian is taking so many pix. I think it was a clever ploy on his part to allow me to catch my breath.

Looking as regal as a ragged old hiker can.  True shadow of a cloud on the hillside across the highway.

Looking as regal as a ragged old hiker can. True shadow of a cloud on the hillside across the highway.

I thought the shadow of the cloud was worth recording.  It shows the true chaotic cloud shape.

I thought the shadow of the cloud was worth recording. It shows the true chaotic cloud shape.

Last photo on my camera, showing the long road back down the hill.

Last photo on my camera, showing the long road back down the hill.

It was all downhill from here.  Still about a mile back to the car.  Thunderbird Park is a great place to hike, but not one of my favorite places for scenery.  There are some good shots from the top of the hills, but not much to be seen on the way up or down.  The vegetation is not as varied as it was for the Vulture Peak hike, being mostly Palo Verde trees and scrub grass.  Nor was there much in the way of wildlife for a two hour hike.  I got a good workout this morning.  You, dear reader, got these candid shots or the Arizona desert northwest of Phoenix.

If you would go hiking with me in the Arizona desert some time, why not leave a comment?

–end

Vulture Mountain   1 comment

It’s time for another walk in the Arizona desert.  Winter is the perfect time to do that around here.  Friday, December 7, my brother Brian and I left Phoenix to try and visit the Vulture Gold Mine south of Wickenburg, Arizona.  It turned out the mine was closed–and is only open to visitors for 2 hours on Saturday mornings.  Still, it was a nice drive, and then we arrived at the Vulture Mountain trail head.

This sign doesn't exist any more.  This legendary old place is almost completely deserted these days.

This sign doesn’t exist any more. This legendary old place is almost completely deserted these days.

Like most of these desert rambles, this will be mostly a series of photos.  The beautiful Arizona desert speaks for itself.

Here I am at the trail head. Picture taken by Brian St. Andre

Here I am at the trail head. Picture taken by Brian St. Andre

Temperature was in the low 70s when we reached this part of the desert, about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix.  You couldn’t ask for nicer weather.

Vulture Mountain isn't much of a peak, and we didn't see any vultures, but there's gold in them thar hills.

Vulture Mountain isn’t much of a peak, and we didn’t see any vultures, but there’s gold in them thar hills.

This seems to be a state park.  The parking area had a restroom and an information area with maps.

This seems to be a state park. The parking area had a restroom and an information area with maps.

People bring their RVs out here and park in the desert for days or weeks at a time.  There was one in the parking lot here at Vulture Peak.

Brian says to document everything. Here I am before beginning the walk.

Brian says to document everything. Here I am before beginning the walk.

Brian has the camera.  This is the beginning of the trail.

Brian has the camera. This is the beginning of the trail.

Feeling good.

Feeling good.

The trail starts to go seriously uphill here.

The trail starts to go seriously uphill here.

Brian took a lot of pictures.  You are more likely to see his pics on Facebook.

Brian took a lot of pictures. You are more likely to see his pics on Facebook.

This is high desert, between 1000 and 2000 feet above sea level--that's Saguaro country and there is a lot of vegetation.

This is high desert, between 1000 and 2000 feet above sea level–that’s Saguaro country and there is a lot of vegetation.

The desert is essentially a forest.  Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde trees are the big vegetation.  Cholla cactus and small bushes are the undergrowth.

Watch your footing.  This is rattlesnake country, but they go underground and hibernate in the winter. We saw snake holes, but no snakes.

Watch your footing. This is rattlesnake country, but they go underground and hibernate in the winter. We saw snake holes, but no snakes.

This is as far as we went on this hike.  We have been walking for an hour.  This is what I really look like on a good day. I stopped here because if you look carefully you can see lichen growing on the shaded north face of the rock behind me.

This is as far as we went on this hike. We have been walking for an hour. This is what I really look like on a good day. I stopped here because if you look carefully you can see lichen growing on the shaded north face of the rock behind me.

Walking back to the car, I'm looking down into a classic desert wash.  The cactus in the picture is prickly pear, and it produces edible fruits in spring and early summer.  Free range cattle actually eat this stuff..

Walking back to the car, I’m looking down into a classic desert wash. The cactus in the picture is prickly pear, and it produces edible fruits in spring and early summer. Free range cattle actually eat this stuff..

Looking down that wash.  These dry desert streams are the highways of the desert--when they look like this they're great for cutting cross country.

Looking down that wash. These dry desert streams are the highways of the desert–when they look like this they’re great for cutting cross country.

Here's a close-up of the Cholla cactus.  I believe this is the nastiest form of cactus on Earth, and the only one that has ever really hurt me.

Here’s a close-up of the Cholla cactus. I believe this is the nastiest form of cactus on Earth, and the only one that has ever really hurt me.

When you see this kind of cactus in the desert, stay well away from it.  Each little bulb full of spines is precariously attached to the parent plant, and the lightest touch will dislodge them.  Cholla is also known as Jumping Cactus. Each spine has a hook on the end and is extremely sharp.  When they stick into your flesh, they are really hard to get out–I speak from experience.  Don’t touch them or you will be sorry.

That was the end of the walk.  We walked about 3 miles–almost all up and down.  Very rocky, hard on the feet–mine were pretty sore by the time I got back into my car and back to Phoenix.  I didn’t quite get my 10,000 steps for the day, but my feet were sore enough that I’m still resting them 2 days later.

If you’ve ever visited a desert gold mine, or climbed a mountain named after an animal, why not leave a comment?

–end

The Other Side of the River   1 comment

On Sunday, September 21, 2012, I decided to get out of my apartment for another early morning hike.  I really wanted to see some kind of wildlife, so I went to the one place where I’ve seen a lot of animal life before, the bed of the Salt River that has been turned into a park stretching from 24th Street to 19th Avenue.  The City of Phoenix has been adding water back into the riverbed–don’t know if it is waste water or irrigation water or where it comes from, but the City is making about 5 miles of river in the center of the valley.  It was a beautiful day for hiking, too bad I was by myself.  I brought along my camera, and what follows is my record of my walk.  I especially tried to get pictures of animals, so look closely and see if you can spot the beasties my human eye spotted and tried to get on camera.  I probably need a better camera for this sort of picture taking.  I’m sure Brian’s latest toy would have done a much better job, but I work with what I have.

Although this looks like a view of the parking area where I left my car, and started the walk, it is really included to show the skyline of Phoenix to the north. Maybe I should have climbed up on the wall to get a better angle on it.

Telescopic view of the 7th Avenue bridge with the city beyond it. I have learned to use the telephoto ability of my camera, and sometimes I even remember to do so.

View from beneath the 7th Avenue Bridge.

Daffy Duck? From the south side of the river, one can get much closer to the water.

One of seven pools along this stretch of “river”. It looks natural, but the City’s Parks Department built it. This water is way up above the natural bottom of the river. Pumps must be involved.

For a desert rat like me, this is kind of a strange sight. Peaceful. Kind of makes me wish I could be that duck for a short while.

Access road on the south side of the river. Easy walking.

Side trail leading down to the river.

The heart of the forest. Early in the walk I reached the greenest part of the park.

Looking back toward the 7th Ave. bridge. You can see my trademark shadow in the picture thus proving it was really me taking these pictures.

a hidden pool.

No fishing! It would take a very determined fisherman to get down to the water around here. I wonder what kind of fish, the city has put into the river.

Tangled. I think I was trying to photograph a dragonfly here, but I don’t see it.

Two-headed duck.

First glimpse of Bugs. There’s a rabbit in this picture. Can you find it?

One step closer with the telephoto on.

The road twists and turns. This feels about right for me–the proper mixture between nature and civilization.

This looks like a birch tree to me. You don’t see many birch trees in the Phoenix area. It is too hot and dry for them.

I saw another rabbit, but it blends into the scenery very well. This seems to be the main area for rabbits along this trail. There are probably hundreds of them.

Big scummy pool–i wonder what lurks below the surface.

The ground here is full of holes. Snakes and small rodents live in these, and there is a maze of small tunnels beneath all this vegetation.

There’s a bird in here somewhere.

I met some park rangers. They told me about the seven pools on the river, and about some of the wildlife I didn’t see. They saw a coyote that morning, and there are rumors of beavers living on the river. Back before Arizona was a state, there were plenty of beavers living on Arizona rivers, but they were trapped and hunted to extinction by the mountain men before 1850. I enjoyed my chat with these guys.

Waterfall. I have walked almost all the way to Central Avenue. Water is entering the river here from the south.

West side of the Central Avenue bridge. Central Avenue splits the Phoenix area into eastern and western halves.

The eastern side of the Central Avenue bridge. Note the massive buttresses supporting the bridge. In the past during floods, the bridges supported only by pillars like those at 7th Avenue would often be undermined and crumble, but the Central Avenue bridge never failed.

Anthill. When I was a boy in Phoenix, there were anthills everywhere, and a favorite game was collecting ants in a large bottle and having one’s own ant colony. Now, I go years without seeing anthills sometimes, and if you do find them, they are the tiny black ants. These are red ants, but not the big red fire ants i remember playing with as a child.

These white flowers look almost like lillies, and were growing along the river wherever the ground was open enough.

Riverbed showing finely sorted pebbles, all about the same size and composition. I saw some kind of desert squirrel here, but it didn’t hold still long enough for me to catch a picture of it.

There were a fair number of butterflies in the air, and there is a yellow butterfly in the center of this picture on the bush. With wings folded it was almost invisible, and you could see right through the filmy yellow wings.

I have reached the 7th Street bridge, about 14 blocks east of where I started. You can tell I am a troll–I have a fondness for being beneath bridges.

View of the river east of 7th Street. There are parking areas here too, and I may come and start my walk from this part of the river some time in the future.

I found this plastic Chevy hubcap at my easternmost part of the walk, off the main road. I’m sorry to say there was plenty of litter in the park. I picked up the hubcap and brought it home with me as a symbol of my walk, and a bit of clean up.

At this point I turned back, and walked as quickly as I could back to my car.  I meant to take a few other pictures, but the batteries were low, and the camera refused to work.  I had one more encounter, came across a big gray rabbit with a white tail, on my way back.  At one point it passed beside me no more than six feet from me, but he was really moving.  I saw it clearly, but there was no chance to photo it.

So, there you have it.  My animal encounters started with a black duck and ended with a gray rabbit with a white tail.  If they aren’t Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, two of my cartoon heroes sent to brighten up my day by a benevolent universe, then there is no greater power that caters to the whims of men.  Ducks and rabbits are common animals, but being superstitious, I consider their appearance to be a kind of gift.  Thank you, World!

The hubcap and the Trollgod’s hat are home now. The hubcap is really too dirty to bring into the house, but it has a position of honor on the concrete wall just outside my front door. The circle is complete, and once again I have returned to the place from which I started.

I hope you have enjoyed my little walk along the Salt River bed.  The pictures are nothing special–just a record of a couple of hours in one morning of my life.  In this age of computers and high tech, this kind of interaction with the world gets less and less common.  Who knows what will be of value, and to whom?  I leave this record in hopes that someone, somewhere, somewhen will get something of value from it.

If you know anything about Arizona’s urban wilderness, or even if you don’t, please feel free to leave a comment.

–end

Return to Dreamy Draw   7 comments

Take a walk in the Arizona desert with me.  Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, I left my apartment at 6:30 in the morning and went out to take a hike in the desert by myself–did not connect with my brother this time.  I brought my camera and took pictures along the way.  This walk happened in the Dreamy Draw Park in northern Phoenix.

Lots of people come out to enjoy this park. This is the entry from the parking lot.

Dawn in the desert. It rained the night before. A cloudy sky promised some coolness for a change.

The trail begins easily enough.

The trail divides. I went right this time because I went left last time.

Is this the Dreamy Draw? No, it’s just a gully.

Looking westward toward the city of Phoenix.

My plan is to climb as far into the hills as the trails will easily take me. Climbing is good for the heart.

I am lured by the arroyos. They are the wilder places in the desert.

I kept trying to go off on the narrower, less obvious paths.

One of the wilder, more verdant spots. Do desert elves hide in such places?

You can almost always see mountains in Arizona. I love these long vistas.

It rains in the summer in the desert here, and that is why it is so green.

The trail leads ever upwards. I’m interested in a good climb.

This park is used a lot by mountain bikers. This young lady hit a sharp rock and got a flat tire.

She had a couple of friends with her to help in case of emergency. They fixed the flat, and I saw them again when I was walking out, still rolling and having a good time.

All trails lead back to the main trail. I’ve stepped over this ridge of stones before on my last trip up here. It almost looks like someone built a little wall here to give bikers a hard time. Maybe it’s a desert speed bump.

Once again I’ve gotten off the main trail, taking a narrower, steeper one uphill.

From the shoulder of the mountain I can look northeast to the weirdly named Mazatzls Mountains.  There is a strong cool breeze up here.

Onward!

I had been walking for over an hour. I was happy to find this place to rest.

Entrance to a Dwarven Kingdom, or a Troll’s Cave? The door appears to be closed, and I didn’t climb up and knock on it.

There’s a big quartz outcropping in the center of this picture.  These hills are full of quartz–an igneous rock rising up from below.  I sometimes think that quartz is like the bones of the mountain, and what a weird skeleton it must have.  Although quartz is the commonest stone on earth, it happens to be my favorite rock.  There are pieces of quartz inside my apartment, just because I like the rock.

Looking up at the next high ridge.

This cholla cactus has both leaves and thorns. I call them Cthulhu bushes because they have tentacles.

Looking up a sheer cliff face.

Looking down and out. I have gotten quite high on the mountainside.

The hidden side of the mountains. Usually I walk into this area from the south.

A path fit for mountain goats and guarded by Saguaro cacti.

This was my turnaround point. We are looking south now, and the distant mountains are the South Mountains on the far side of the city.

Starting the trip back to the car. It will be mostly downhill from here. Downhill in the desert can be more dangerous and difficult than uphill, especially if one is tired.

Is that civilization in the distance? No, it’s just northeast Phoenix.

I want to get down to that relatively easy path at the bottom, but I have a long way to go.

I had seen very little wildlife on my walk–a few insects was all. Finally this lizard came out to look at me.

I decided I needed proof that I was really up here. Here’s a picture of my hat, posing on a boulder. Battered as it is, the hat likes to have its picture taken.

Dang! I’ve walked a long way. Heading down, and still a long way to go.

Me and my shadow. More proof I was really up here. I wonder if I could use this shadow as a profile photo.

Mountain bikers go everywhere. Even the narrowest trails show wheel tracks.

I spot a second lizard. Looks like the same species, but not the same one, as I’m half a mile past where I took the first picture.

What a handsome fellow! And he posed very nicely, even when I put my camera down close to get a better picture of him. I would see one more lizard before I finished my walk, but that one was running, and there was no chance to photograph it. Still, I guess Sunday was a three lizard day.

This path is very steep and very slippery. I was taking teeny tiny careful steps to get down it. But, it would be very easy to walk up it.

Back on the main trail at last. From here on I made good speed for a tired old man.

This is the real Dreamy Draw. See how wide and deep it has gotten. These little desert rivers are dry most of the time, and they start out as tiny erosion channels high on the mountainside, but they get wide and deep fast as they reach the bottom of the hill.

Almost down now. I step aside to let some bikers zoom by me.

Here’s a map of the park. If I were a planner, I would have looked at this and planned my route instead of wandering wherever my fancy took me.

The end is in sight.

Climbing into my car and saying goodbye to Dreamy Draw. It was a good walk, about 3.5 miles according to my pedometer, though it felt like more. Even the hat has had enough and wants to head home. Hot shower, here I come!  Left my apartment about 6:30 and got home again at 9:45.  So I spent about 3 hours in the desert.

If you enjoyed my little desert hike, go ahead and leave a comment.  If you think I should get back to reviewing books, comics, and movies, you could say that too.  🙂

–end

Golden Oldies   2 comments

Today, August 1, I got a treat.  I went with my sister and mother out to Harrah’s Ak Chin casino in Maricopa, Arizona to listen to my brother-in-law’s old band: Time and Time Again.  They consider themselves to be a do-wop band (lots of ooh-ah, ooh-ah, and bop-she-bop-she-bop, etc.), but they really do a fine job of delivering the best classic rock and roll from the fifties and sixties.  I had a great time, and took some pix, and I’d like to share them with you.

Approaching the casino. The hotel wing has the best name sign.

Looking toward the casino entrance, you see a giant bald eagle landing on the world’s largest saguaro cactus!

How often does one get a chance to take a picture of a giant eagle? I’m not sure of the symbolism here. It’s a casino. Does this show your money flying away, perhaps?

It’s a fountain in the desert–very unnatural. Organized gambling is only legal in Arizona on Native American lands. Hence the landmark out front shows this bronze tribute to the Tohono O’odham tribe.

Flashing lights, neon signs, people putting money in machines. Yep! It’s a casino, alright. Actually, it’s pretty nice inside, although the place kind of intimidates me.

First stop inside was the bathrooms. Second stop was the cafeteria. Large screen televisions were everywhere. I’m not sure what the big green thing is overhead–maybe a giant guacamole rose, but it was colorful.

My lunch–doesn’t it look yummy? Breakfast quesadilla–scrambled eggs, ham, cheddar cheese, onions, salsa, inside a tortilla. It was delicious.

The band–called Time and Time Again–was rocking out up on stage while I ate lunch. The light makes everything look reddish, but actually the suits were dark black with white ties–the singers looked like a bunch of good fellas.

Another view. They were really rocking and bopping. I think this song was “Oh What a Night!” by the Dells. That was one of the songs they did.

Ken (Atroll) is having a good time.

After the set, the band came down and talked to the audience. Jim Marsella, my brother-in-law, used to drum for these guys. He’s the one in black shirt, white pants, back to the camera. He’s talking to the lead guitarist and organist. Sorry, I don’t know their names.

When the music was over, I found a spot where I could play some video poker. Don’t I look like the perfect gambling addict? If only I could pay attention like that in class or real life . . .

The epic struggle of Man vs. Machine. I’m happy to announce that I walked away a winner. I had a couple of chances to go for royal flushes–didn’t fill them, but I did make some full houses, and that was enough to win a whole dollar by the time I had to go.

On the ride back home we saw a lot of dust devils. Look carefully and you can see several columns of whirling dust in the far background up against the Estrella Mountains. Julie Marsella is in profile and driving the car.

A closer view of a dust devil. Dusties are miniature cyclones that spawn on the hot deserts of the southwest. I’ve always liked them. I’ve heard that the Arabians thought they were spinning djinnis (genies).

That concludes the day’s adventure.  It was a fine way to spend a Wednesday.

If you’ve ever listened to an oldies band in a casino, or danced with a dust devil, please leave a comment.

–end

White Tanks   3 comments

On Sunday, July 15, I got together with my brother Brian and went off for a morning hike in a part of the desert where I had never been before–the White Tank Mountains west of the Phoenix area. Although it was hot and humid, I had a pleasant hike and learned a few things I had not known before.

Sky Islands–dust and smog in the atmosphere can make distant mountain peaks look like they are floating in the sky.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wilderness in the City   8 comments

On Sunday, March 25, 2012 I decided to go for a morning hike.  My destination was South Mounain, but as I headed in that direction (south, of course, I have to go south to reach South Mountain) on 7th Avenue, I noticed a small city park located in the riverbed of the Salt River.  Phoenix, like many large cities is built on a river, but this river has been dammed some 40 miles northeast of town, not once, but several times, creating a series of lakes in the Superstition Mountains, and leaving the river itself dry and empty by the time it reaches Phoenix.  I have been wishing for some time that I could walk in the dry riverbed, but it is fenced off at most crossings.  Well, I had unexpectedly discovered a place where the riverbed was accessible, and I abandoned the trip to South Mountain to take a hike here.  I had brought my camera along to record the trip, and so, on Sunday morning I walked about 5 miles in a difficult, but beautiful, hidden part of the city that most people never see.  Here are some of the pictures to show what I found.  I took 43–yikes!–but that’s too much to foist upon you, dear reader, in this blog.  Your journey will not be quite as long as mine was.

My starting point--looking back at the 7th Avenure bridge over the Salt River. Whenever you see a line of green plants like this, continuous, in the desert, it means there is water there.

A 1-lane road leads down into the riverbed. It doesn't stay paved for very long. I found a city park ranger and a work crew at the bottom and found I had permission to explore this part of the river as much as I wanted.

I headed west. The road quickly ended and left me with this kind of terrain to walk on. Note the incredible variety of rocks present. They have washed and tumbled down to their current locations over millions of years and represent rock from every part of east central Arizona. The line of trees is the actual edge of the flowing river.

I wondered if I could actually get down and walk by the water. All the interesting stuff would be down there. By this time I could hear a lot of strange bird calls. There were occasional quacking noises, and various hoots and tweets, but something sounded like a cow in labor. For all I know there might have been A cow in labor down there, but my guess was for swans or geese. I headed that way. I thought that once I broke through the barrier of dead cattails, I'd be at the riverside.

I reached the edge of the reeds and started to break through them. They were all dry and dead, and broke very easily. Luckily, I looked down, chooosing my footing carefully, before stepping into them. This photo is looking straight down, and the dark stuff you see is river water. One more step and I would have fallen right into the swamp, and that wouldn't have been any fun at all. Oh, yeah, cattails and other reeds actually grow right in the water. You don't break through them to reach the river, not unless you have hip waders and a machete.

I found a place where I could climb out of the riverbed. Off to the side was a huge open pit gravel mine. This pit isn't natural. Men dug it. I guess they dug all the way down to the water level, because the deepest part of the pit is a large pond. Those are the South Mountains in the background.

This isn't river. It's a big open pit full of water.

I reached the greenest part of the river. The trees were largest and thickest here. Bird calls were most numerous. This is whete I actually saw some wildlife. Two large white birds, not ducks or geese, lifted out of the vegetation and flew around, circled, and then headed off upriver. I could not photograph them--they moved too quickly for my little camera. I'm not sure what they were, but they had a kink in their necks and wingspans of six to eight feet--I'm guessing herons or egrets--not birds one expects to see in Arizona. I also saw a large black hawk, skimming near the ground, gliding in the way that raptors do. It passed within 20 feet of me, bigger than a crow, with very dark feathers, and definitely a hooked beak.

My path was blocked by fences. To continue, I would either have to retrace my steps and climb back down into the river bottom, or take this narrow cliff trail. I have fantasized about narrow cliff trails all my life, and here I finally found one in the heart of Phoenix.

I took the cliff trail, of course. Explorer Ken isn't going to let a little thing like a narrow trail keep him from completing his journey. It got narrower as I went along. The cliff is about a 60 to 70 degree slope, all caliche. Falling down it would be painful or fatal. But why would anyone fall?

Secret tunnels leading into the river. Halfway along the cliff trail, I found a road leading back into the riverbed, and a jog in the fence. City of Phoenix owns the fenced-in land. I got back down into the rough terrain. It would have been nice if there were a real road down there, but it was all rocks--only a high-bottomed 4-wheel drive vehicle would want to drive on such terrain.

I set that distant bridge, the one that carries 19th Avenue over the river, as my goal.

Along the way I found this stunted palm tree growing wild in the riverbed.

Walking very carefully over treacherous footing, I reached my goal. Did you ever wonder what the bottom of a bridge looks like? Having gotten this far, I wondered if I could actually cross the river and go back on the other side. I headed across.

On the other side, in a shady grassy area, I found a sleeping bag, and a good deal of trash. Is some homeless person living down here? Could be. I did not take his sleeping bag.

Where does the water in the riverbed come from? There hasn't been enough rain to account for it. It doesn't flow down continuously from upstream. The answer is that the City of Phoenix or the Salt River Project is dumping water into the river. Here is a huge drainage tunnel with lots of water pouring out of it every second.

Then came the hard part--getting back to my car 12 blocks to the east. I thought perhaps I could climb out of the river and walk back on the banks 30 feet above. I tried it here, but about 30 feet up the slope crumbled beneath me so badly that I couldn't go on, slipping and sliding back down to the base.

I found another possible spot to climb out a block or so to the east. It was a hard scramble, but the slope was rockier there, and with difficulty I made it to the top. Here you see me dangling my feet over the edge and looking down at the cliff I had just climbed. Not bad for a 64 year old man.

The cliff trail going this way was even narrower than it had been in the other direction. There were spots where I had to actually hang onto the fence in order to keep from falling off the trail, which crumbled underfoot in places.

Once the cliff trail was behind me, it was an easy walk back the rest of the way. I stayed on top. I was tired of twisting my ankles on the stones below.

It is Spring in Arizona. Desert wildflowers, mostly yellow, are in bloom.

Going out where I first came in. Goodbye to Rio Salado. I look forward to hiking a different part of the river some time in the future.

I showed you 17 of the 43 pictures I took on Sunday.  This is a part of the city that not one person in a thousand ever sees, or even thinks about.  If you’ve ever found the wilderness still lurking in the heart of  your own city or town, or if you’d go hike the river with me some day, why not leave a comment?

–end

The Road Goes Ever On–another desert hike   1 comment

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with weary feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet

.And whither then? I cannot say.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a notable poet–probably a better poet than a storyteller.  When I actually read Lord of the Rings, I kind of wonder about some of the stuff in there–stuff that modern fantasy writers would not be allowed to get away with.  Still, Frodo’s story was the epic journey fantasy of the 20th century.  And I come back to it from time to time, thinking why should the hobbits have all the fun?  Does it not apply to me as well?

When I go walking in the desert, I see things like this . . .

Down from the door . . . it's not a door, but it's a start . . .

and on . . .

over the hills and far away

past chasms deep . . .

and passes high . . .

to unknown lands . . . (i.e. I never walked this area before)

past dark sentinels . . .

and guardian dwarves . . .

where jewels lie strewn like spilt milk . . .

past tentacled horrors . . .

and noble ancients . . .

through rocky pits . . .

skirting untamed wilderness . . .

and the wilderness was mostly empty except for a few explorers like myself.  Animals: I saw six dogs, two lizards, one hawk.  Still, I did see a hawk riding the morning thermals, and any day when you see a hawk is a good day.

bypassing the Cliffs of Insanity . . .

and just when I think I’ve finished my masterblog for the week, WordPress self-destructs on me and won’t let me finish.  Well, I can live with imperfections–I do all the time.  This next picture is supposed to penultimate, but looks like it is the last I will be able to add.  It should have said “until I reach some wider way” and then the last pic would say, “and whither then? I cannot say.”

May all your roads, unlike this photo essay, take you where you want to go, dear Reader!  And home again at last.

until it joins some wider way.

Posted October 9, 2011 by atroll in Arizona Desert, Uncategorized