Archive for the ‘Arizona Desert’ Category

Quest for Rocks with Stripes   1 comment

Today, Saturday Feb. 22, I felt the need to get out of the house and get some exercise. Lately I have become aware, thanks to the teaching of my lady Ellen, that rocks containing stripes in the stone are unusual, and special among rocks. She taught me this several months ago, and now I keep my eyes open for them.

But today I decided to go hunting for them. I figured a riverbed would be a good place to look, a place where there are plenty of stones, and so I headed down 19th Avenue to the Salt River–a dry river that runs through South Phoenix. I have blogged about my adventures down there before. Today I decided to go to a rougher neighborhood, something that is not part of the Phoenix greenbelt park.

I found a place to park the car and access to the river. I am amazed and kind of unhappy about how dirty and rundown this place is. It is really out of the way, and I wonder how so much trash wound up on the ground here.  This trail was a small climb to get up to the riverbank.

I found a place to park the car and access to the river. I am amazed and kind of unhappy about how dirty and rundown this place is. It is really out of the way, and I wonder how so much trash wound up on the ground here. This trail was a small climb to get up to the riverbank.

Here I am looking down into the river from the south bank. To my right is the 19th Avenue bridge--a hangout for trolls if there ever was one.  The green area with the trees on the far side of the river is a small oasis created by wastewater that the city dumps into the riverbed here.  We have visited that place before in this blog.

Here I am looking down into the river from the south bank. To my right is the 19th Avenue bridge–a hangout for trolls if there ever was one. The green area with the trees on the far side of the river is a small oasis created by wastewater that the city dumps into the riverbed here. We have visited that place before in this blog.

The paved trail at the top of the riverbank leads down to this rough terrain at the bottom. The whole riverbed here is filled with millions of tumbled rocks of every variety that ever washed downstream. It should be a good place to search with a wide variety of different stones to examine, but the footing is treacherous.  You don't just go striding through this scree--you have to watch your step.

The paved trail at the top of the riverbank leads down to this rough terrain at the bottom. The whole riverbed here is filled with millions of tumbled rocks of every variety that ever washed downstream. It should be a good place to search with a wide variety of different stones to examine, but the footing is treacherous. You don’t just go striding through this scree–you have to watch your step.

I started off next to the bridge, and now you can see that I'm about 1/4 of a mile west of it.  I have looked at millions of rocks and have found about 7 that I can use.

I started off next to the bridge, and now you can see that I’m about 1/4 of a mile west of it. I have looked at millions of rocks and have found about 7 that I can use.

This is the King of the River. Do you see his royal stripes. He doesn't seem like much, but compare him to the smaller, drabber courtiers all around him. This rock was too heavy for me to take it with me--between 20 and 30 pounds--yes I lifted it.

This is the King of the River. Do you see his royal stripes. He doesn’t seem like much, but compare him to the smaller, drabber courtiers all around him. This rock was too heavy for me to take it with me–between 20 and 30 pounds–yes I lifted it.

Leaving the river behind, I continued going south on 19th Avenue until I reached the end of the trail. There I found a small parking lot, and a few signs announcing the edge of Phoenix’s South Mountain Park.  There are hiking trails here that would enable you to climb the big steep desert hills that we naively call mountains.  Who knew?  I must return and explore some of these trails.

Skyline of Phoenix seen from the slopes of South Mountain at the south end of 19th Avenue.

Skyline of Phoenix seen from the slopes of South Mountain at the south end of 19th Avenue.

Looking north from the south end of 19th Avenue. What  you are actually seeing is a considerable downslope back into the valley.

Looking north from the south end of 19th Avenue. What you are actually seeing is a considerable downslope back into the valley.

Looking at the hills, you can see a trail leading into them. I hiked a short distance here searching for rocks, but I was not equipped for any major exploration.

Looking at the hills, you can see a trail leading into them. I hiked a short distance here searching for rocks, but I was not equipped for any major exploration.

I did not take a lot of pictures on this trip because my camera batteries were weak, and sometimes the camera just wouldn’t even fire. I really have to remember to check battery status before taking off on these expeditions.

Again, there were literally millions of rocks I could look at, and I walked slowly with my eyes on the ground, searching for those that might have stripes. The variety of rocks here on the slopes is not nearly as great as it is in the riverbottom.

After half an hour spent searching, I took my few finds, and headed back home.

And here are the stars of this show! I call them the Riverbottom Rock Band, and there are 13 of them. Ten have stripes and 3 don't, but even though I was looking for stripey ones, I thought the other 3 were cool enough to join the group.

And here are the stars of this show! I call them the Riverbottom Rock Band, and there are 13 of them. Ten have stripes and 3 don’t, but even though I was looking for stripey ones, I thought the other 3 were cool enough to join the group.

Rocks are a lot like people or maybe people are a lot like rocks. They may not look like much on the outside, but they can have hidden qualities (talents) that make them stand out from the herd. All of these rocks have stipes except the little yellow one. Can you find the two stars in the group? Hint: they are neither the biggest nor the smallest.

Rocks are a lot like people or maybe people are a lot like rocks. They may not look like much on the outside, but they can have hidden qualities (talents) that make them stand out from the herd. All of these rocks have stipes except the little yellow one. Can you find the two stars in the group? Hint: they are neither the biggest nor the smallest.

Egg with a stripe.  I'd like a geologist to explain to me how that vein of quartz got into that rock.

Egg with a stripe. I’d like a geologist to explain to me how that vein of quartz got into that rock.

These three rocks don't have stripes. But they are still kind of special. Red, white, and yellow, they came from the same riverbottom as the others ane represent the opposite kind of stone, pure.

These three rocks don’t have stripes. But they are still kind of special. Red, white, and yellow, they came from the same riverbottom as the others ane represent the opposite kind of stone, pure.

The Riverbottom Rock Band has left the bricks behind and are now setting up their own rock garden. These guys are like superstars on this field of gravel.  They were lost and alone in the riverbottom, but here they are together and a landmark for all who see them.

The Riverbottom Rock Band has left the bricks behind and are now setting up their own rock garden. These guys are like superstars on this field of gravel. They were lost and alone in the riverbottom, but here they are together and a landmark for all who see them.

I call these guys the three amigos. They are a much rougher sort than the Riverbottom rocks, they are not polished at all, but they have stripes.

I call these guys the three amigos. They are a much rougher sort than the Riverbottom rocks, they are not polished at all, but they have stripes. These came off the lower slopes of South Mountain. They are fractured and broken by impact and by ice, but show none of the smoothing and polish of the river rocks.

This is a real rock star. He's a crystal, taking the form of an almost perfect rhomboid with 6 flat planar faces.  I don't know what kind of rock it is, but it was the only one among millions that had this squared off appearance.

This is a real rock star. He’s a crystal, taking the form of an almost perfect rhomboid with 6 flat planar faces. I don’t know what kind of rock it is, but it was the only one among millions that had this squared off appearance.

And now the Three Amigos plus One Square Guy take their place in the rock garden.

And now the Three Amigos plus One Square Guy take their place in the rock garden.

Strange beings come from Above to welcome the Riverbottom Rock Band and their Rough Rock brothers to their new home in the rock garden beside the great wall.

Strange beings come from Above to welcome the Riverbottom Rock Band and their Rough Rock brothers to their new home in the rock garden beside the great wall.

And thus ends the Quest of the Stripey Rocks.  It has filled my afternoon with a kind of creative/explorative pleasure, and I hope it has amused you as well. If you are also a fan of the Hard Stuff, why not leave a comment?

–end

Urban Wilderness Revisited   4 comments

We’ve been here before.  Rio Salado Park is an effort by the City of Phoenix to turn a dry riverbed into a park.  The city pumps in water between 7th Street and 15th Avenue which turns the area into a wetland.  It is quite a good habitat for small wildlife, and I like to go there just to see what animals I can spot.  There are four different quadrants, and I have now explored them all.  Yesterday’s walk covered the northwest side of the river between 7th Avenue and 19th Avenue.

I parked my car in the area provided on the northeast side of 7th Ave. and made my  way down toward the river.

First view of the river--a green and pleasant place, but you can't walk there because it's all water below the surface.

First view of the river–a green and pleasant place, but you can’t walk there because it’s all water below the surface.

Looking southeast toward the 7th Ave. bridge.

Looking southwest toward the 7th Ave. bridge.

My hike begins. My goal is the bridge at 19th Ave. The sign lies. It might be 1.2 miles as the crow flies,but it is farther and harder walking on the cobbles down beside the river.

My hike begins. My goal is the bridge at 19th Ave. The sign lies. It might be 1.2 miles as the crow flies,but it is farther and harder walking on the cobbles down beside the river.

What can I say? I'm a troll at heart, and I just like to be under bridges. Wilderness and civilization side by side.

What can I say? I’m a troll at heart, and I just like to be under bridges. Wilderness and civilization side by side.

Looking southwest at the greenest part of the river.

Looking southwest at the greenest part of the river.

It looks easy, but this is rough terrain. Every little rock wants to stab your foot or turn and spill you on the ground.

It looks easy, but this is rough terrain. Every little rock wants to stab your foot or turn and spill you on the ground.

What a jungle!

What a jungle!

Almost everything growing here is green, but this tree is purple.

Almost everything growing here is green, but this tree is purple.

About 1/3 of the way to my goal, I reached a gully entering the river.  This iron bridge crosses it, but, of course, I'm down by the river, and can't reach the bridge without going a long way back which I don't want to do.

About 1/3 of the way to my goal, I reached a gully entering the river. This iron bridge crosses it, but, of course, I’m down by the river, and can’t reach the bridge without going a long way back which I don’t want to do.

Trying to cross the ravine. The picture doesn't really show it, but this is vertical distance I must cross.

Trying to cross the ravine. The picture doesn’t really show it, but this is vertical distance I must cross.

As I walked I was surrounded by the flutter of wings and the sound of bird calls, some of them very strange calls, but it was hard to take pictures of them. This bird held still long enough for me to capture him after I climbed up out of the gully I had just crossed.

As I walked I was surrounded by the flutter of wings and the sound of bird calls, some of them very strange calls, but it was hard to take pictures of them. This bird held still long enough for me to capture him after I climbed up out of the gully I had just crossed.

You know how there is this stereotype of wandering through the desert and finding a sun-bleached skull.  Well, I found one.  I'm guessing this is a dog or cat skull, but it could be a fox or coyote.  Your guess is as good as mine. It is bizarre to find a skull. I didn't touch it--left it for the viewing pleasure of anyone else daring to walk this rough terrain.

You know how there is this stereotype of wandering through the desert and finding a sun-bleached skull. Well, I found one. I’m guessing this is a dog or cat skull, but it could be a fox or coyote. Your guess is as good as mine. It is bizarre to find a skull. I didn’t touch it–left it for the viewing pleasure of anyone else daring to walk this rough terrain.

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Tunnels.  I'd like to explore these tunnels below the city and the desert, but there is no access for someone like me.

Tunnels. I’d like to explore these tunnels below the city and the desert, but there is no access for someone like me.

I have passed most of the greenery now, and am looking toward my goal.

I have passed most of the greenery now, and am looking toward my goal.

The 19th Ave. bridge is in sight.  This kind of rocky streambed is rough walking--you have to be very careful where you put your feet.

The 19th Ave. bridge is in sight. This kind of rocky streambed is rough walking–you have to be very careful where you put your feet.

I am close to my goal.  I have walked a mile and a half, and it is about 9 a.m. with a temperature in the 90s.

I am close to my goal. I have walked a mile and a half, and it is about 9 a.m. with a temperature in the 90s.

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Ah, shade! Now I am below the 19th Ave. bridge.  It has been a rough walk.  My feet are starting to hurt, even though I'm wearing my best new hiking shoes. I am going to see if I can't climb out of the river, and find an easier way back to my car.

Ah, shade! Now I am below the 19th Ave. bridge. It has been a rough walk. My feet are starting to hurt, even though I’m wearing my best new hiking shoes. I am going to see if I can’t climb out of the river, and find an easier way back to my car.

The last pool in this part of the river.

The last pool in this part of the river.

Wild oleander flowers.

Wild oleander flowers.

I climbed out of the riverbed below the bridge.  From the amount of trash on the ground, this is obviously the place where other people had climbed down into it.

I climbed out of the riverbed below the bridge. From the amount of trash on the ground, this is obviously the place where other people had climbed down into it.

Resting under the bridge . . . this is a kind of tunnel, not high enough for me to stand up in.  Will I have to crawl through it to head back?

Resting under the bridge . . . this is a kind of tunnel, not high enough for me to stand up in. Will I have to crawl through it to head back?

No. I found a better spot where I could walk through.  My plan is to follow the road back atop the reinforced riverbank.

No. I found a better spot where I could walk through. My plan is to follow the road back atop the reinforced riverbank.

I got a good shot of the skyline of central Phoenix.  The city core is only about 2 to 3 miles away.

I got a good shot of the skyline of central Phoenix. The city core is only about 2 to 3 miles away.

This is an access path through a sand and gravel company's private property.  There is no one around to ask me what I'm doing here on Sunday morning.

This is an access path through a sand and gravel company’s private property. There is no one around to ask me what I’m doing here on Sunday morning.

Walking eastward now, I am cut off from the river by this chainlink fence.  It looks flat, but that is a 60 degree slope down to the riverbed, and not much room to walk on the other side of the fence.  No cliff-walking for me on this trip.

Walking eastward now, I am cut off from the river by this chainlink fence. It looks flat, but that is a 60 degree slope down to the riverbed, and not much room to walk on the other side of the fence. No cliff-walking for me on this trip.

A glance back at the 19th Ave. bridge.  I was down there just a little while ago.

A glance back at the 19th Ave. bridge. I was down there just a little while ago.

There is a long hot dry road in front of me, but it's better than trying to walk along the stony riverbottom.

There is a long hot dry road in front of me, but it’s better than trying to walk along the stony riverbottom.

I made this walk hoping to see some wildlife, and not in a zoo. All I saw were birds, bunnies, and bugs--a couple of rabbits at the very beginning of my walk, but hundreds of these birds along the trail.

I made this walk hoping to see some wildlife, and not in a zoo. All I saw were birds, bunnies, and bugs–a couple of rabbits at the very beginning of my walk, but hundreds of these birds along the trail.

Birds on a fence.  Mostly the birds flew away before I could photograph them, but this fraction of the flock let me get close enough to catch them on film.

Birds on a fence. Mostly the birds flew away before I could photograph them, but this fraction of the flock let me get close enough to catch them on film.

More birds. I believe these are desert doves, related to pigeons, but not as annoying.

More birds. I believe these are desert doves, related to pigeons, but not as annoying.

I can see the greenery again.  This is an island, and on that island lives some really large white bird.  I saw it fly on the trip out, but couldn't tell wht it was--perhaps a swan or an egret.  I think that little white spot on the right middle edge of the photo is the bird.

I can see the greenery again. This is an island, and on that island lives some really large white bird. I saw it fly on the trip out, but couldn’t tell wht it was–perhaps a swan or an egret. I think that little white spot on the right middle edge of the photo is the bird.

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No reason to take this picture. I just love looking at green.

I found another sign.  I still have a mile to walk.  It's 10 a.m. and 100  degrees on the ground, and the bottom of my feet are really sore and tender.

I found another sign. I still have a mile to walk. It’s 10 a.m. and 100 degrees on the ground, and the bottom of my feet are really sore and tender.

This shot of downtown Phoenix makes it look like it's built on a slag heap.  There was this amazing hole in the ground full of rocks.

This shot of downtown Phoenix makes it look like it’s built on a slag heap. There was this amazing hole in the ground full of rocks.

The end is in sight.  The 7th Ave. bridge is about 1/4 of a mile away.

The end is in sight. The 7th Ave. bridge is about 1/4 of a mile away.

I am finally going to see that iron bridge up close.

I am finally going to see that iron bridge up close.

This is the gully the bridge crosses--a kind of a hidden wound leading back toward the city.

This is the gully the bridge crosses–a kind of a hidden wound leading back toward the city.

You get to see the top of a bridge for once.  I guess bridges are the fourth B of this trip. Bunnies, Birds, Bugs, and Bridges.

You get to see the top of a bridge for once. I guess bridges are the fourth B of this trip. Bunnies, Birds, Bugs, and Bridges.

The black car is mine. By this time it is the most welcome sight of the entire trip.

The black car is mine. By this time it is the most welcome sight of the entire trip.

That completed my latest walk through this urban wilderness.  I covered about 3 miles in mid morning on May 19.  I took water along with me, and ate a grapefruit at the beginning of my hike.  I wore the Trollgod’s hat to keep the sun off my head, and kept myself hydrated.  I saw 2 rabbits, hundreds of birds, hundreds of bugs, many of them a kind of black desert dragonfly that live in the swampy part of the river.  There was no one with me to take my picture on this trip.

I wish you had been there to hike with me, since it’s always great to have some companionship when trudging through the wilderness, but even if you can’t be with me, I’m still going to go out and walk about from time to time.

If you know anything about the birds I photographed, leave a comment.  🙂

–end

Phoenix ComiCon Picnic   Leave a comment

In the middle of April, the volunteers who will staff and put on the Phoenix ComiCon convention coming at the end of May got together at South Mountain for a picnic.  It was a potluck affair.  About half the attendees each brought enough food to feed 10 people.  Talk about diversity and plenty!  What a feast!  I was there.  Here are some shots and brief comments that I took with my little camera.

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I don’t know who this guy is.  I took his pic because he was wearing the Phoenix ComiCon t-shirt from last year, and I figure it makes a cover shot.  In fact, I did not know about 95% of the people who showed up for this.  I was at the center of Phoenx fandom when it started back in the seventies.  I am so on the fringes now.

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The Convention organizers provided the basic food–hamburgers, hot dogs, and soft drinks.  They prepared enough for at least 200 people.  I don’t think that many came.  This guy is a great volunteer.  It was 90 degrees in the shade that afternoon, and this guy spent more than an hour cooking meat on this very hot grill.  I walked close to it, and it was 20 degrees hotter in its vicinity.  The hamburgers were a little overdone, but good tho.  I had one.

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They took a picture of all the volunteers standing in one huge group.  I took this picture of them taking their picture.  I’ll be in the second row of that picture holding my camera up above the throng if they ever publish it.

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The goofy looking guy in the Tunnels & Trolls t-shirt and the battered hat is me, Ken St. Andre, Atroll.  The beautiful woman next to me is my niece, Kerina St. Andre Fitzgerald.  She and her friend, Gary, crashed the party at my invitation.  It was a great party.  About half the people brought extra food–salads, desserts, drinks.  I ate way too much.  My stomach hurt, and there was tons of stuff I didn’t try.  I was good, though, and avoided desserts and sugary things.

Coming up for the last weekend of May 2013 will be Phoenix ComiCon.  I’ll be there running games on all four days, some Tunnels & Trolls, some Shadowfist, some Settlers of Catan St. Andre style.  Come game with me!

If you were at the picnic, or will be attending Phoenix ComiCon, why not leave a comment?

–end

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