On Sunday, October 19, 2014 I took a short day trip with my brother Brian in the direction of Gila Bend, Arizona. Gila Bend is a small town that exists chiefly to support local farmers and some of the energy companies that have solar farms and gas-driven power plants in the area. The town was founded in 1872 and got its name from the fact that the Gila River makes an almost 90 degree turn nearby. In fact, Brian and I went first to the Gila River near the Gillespie Dam–it’s a jungle out there. Beware of mosquitoes.
But the true destination of our quest was the Space Age Cafe. The decor is interesting. The food is about like Denny’s (not quite as good imho), but you’re not going there for fine dining. You’re going for the kitsch experience. Like many small towns on highways to nowhere, Gila Bend is full of kitschy things if you keep your eyes open. I should return some day and really celebrate some of the other features, but right now, here is the Space Age Cafe.
The cafe is on the main drag through town, and parking is perilous.
Space doors. Note the shaded entrance. In summer metal doors like this would be too hot to touch in this part of Arizona.
I have been to the future, and it’s a lot like now.
The Enterprize has picked up some alien hitchhikers.
Brian is glad to get away from the riverbottom mosquitoes.
What’s for breakfast?
The coffee was weak, but the mugs were pretty cool.
And that concludes another adventure to the Outer Limits (of Arizona).
If you’ve ever been to Gila Bend, or have eaten breakfast inside a flying saucer, why not leave a comment?
Some people really know how to throw a great party. I’m not one of those people, but when I get a chance to go to such an affair, I take it. My brother-in-law, Jim Marsella, is such a person. Jim is a very high-powered guy, and he married my sister Julie, and once in a while he does something that I can tag along for. So, actually, this isn’t my story today, it’s part of Jim’s story, and I’m just one of the extras in this part of the movie. To follow this party, and see much better pictures of it than I was able to take, find my page on Facebook and scroll down. I’d post some of those pictures here, but Facebook has done something to make stuff posted there not re-usable elsewhere–just another reason I really don’t like Facebook. I use it as a necessary evil, but I don’t like it.
Jim and Julie are really the stars of this party, and they got to enjoy one special dance together with all eyes on them. (Picture taken by Brian St. Andre, & he wasn’t using his best camera.)
The party took place at the Elk’s Hall in Tempe, Arizona between 5 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, April 20, 2013 to celebrate Jim turning 60. Ironically, his actual birthday is about a month earlier, but he picked this date for a public celebration in order to give people time to come from all over the country. It is also the exact birthday of his daughter, Lisa, who came in from Florida to be there.
The external setting was bizarre. I didn’t even know that Tempe had an industrial district, much less any buildings this futuristic and bizarre, but what would one expect of a place located on Industrial Park Road?
I’d be willing to bet that of the dozens of cameras at this event, no one else took a picture of the front door. I don’t remember ever actually going into one of these places before, so I wanted some proof. It’s a flat, southwestern style building with a big parking lot. You wouldn’t guess what’s inside unless you’ve been there before.
My mother, Evelyn St. Andre had a place of honor at the St. Andre table. At 86, she is the oldest living member of the St. Andre clan that I’m aware of. The scary thing is, I’m second oldest.
The man in the black shirt in the center is our host and also Guest of Honor, Jim Marsella. The man in the gray shirt in the foreground is Matt Marsella, one of his sons. The woman in Lavendar is Lisa, Jim’s daughter, and birthday girl for the night. I don’t know the woman in polka dots, though I did get to dance with her briefly later in the party.
These are Jim’s birthday cakes. At least one was chocolate. I’m watching my weight, and didn’t get to eat any of them. Well, I was already full when the cakes were cut, and I passed them by.
Here is Jim showing off one of his presents. Jim works for Volkswagen, and his life sort of revolves around cars. He has some of the most beautiful, hot, sexy cars in the city of Phoenix. The Garage sign is a bit of a joke, but has a basis in fact.
This was a party where dancing was a big attraction. My brother, Brian–he of the desert hikes–and his wife Donna were among the first on the dancefloor, where they always look very good. Unlike me, Brian can really dance–he studies it, and practices every week at local dance halls.
My sister Julie is the blonde. I think she looks like a biker babe in sparkly sleeveless blouse and blue jeans. She was the hostess with the mostest. The other woman is one of her Cruise friends, and I don’t know her, and didn’t meet her. Brian is either watching the back wall, or wondering what I’m taking a picture of.
The first entertainer of the night was none other than Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll. Actually, it was Bret Kaiser, the best Elvis tribute artist in Arizona, and he put on a very fine show.
I think this is the only picture of me you get in this blog. To prove I was really there, I had Brian take this shot of me with “Elvis” in the background. It’s hard to judge exactly how much to smile for a posed shot.
The next few shots are of “Elvis”. He was the big star of the evening–other than Jim. Among the songs he did were “Fools Rush In” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Donna St. Andre got a silk scarf from “Elvis”. So did my mom, Julie, and about half the women in the room. Men got a handshake.
“Elvis” is singing to my Mom.
This is my sister Neloa and her husband Jerome Beeler. They came down for the party from Payson, more than 100 miles, but nothing compared to people on Jim’s side of the family, some of whom came from Detroit, Boston, and Florida.
I’m just taking pictures of the pretty women at the party. These two are Kerina St. Andre Fitzgeral (my niece) on the left, and Jennifer Embody on the right.
Party games. This one is called “Stuff It” and this is winner Jim Marsala with 81 ballons in his shirt.
Tom Garrett, lead singer for the band the Classics IV during the band’s later stages of its existence. He is a very good singer.
At 9 p.m. the final band for the evening came on, a local group called “Come back, Buddy.” They are a tribute band that peform in the style of the late great Buddy Holly, though they also like to do Elvis material.
The Belles of the Ball: from left to right: Donna St. Andre, Kris Eckert, Lisa Marsella, Haley Eckert (child), and Kerina St. Andre Fitzgerld.
Come back Buddy was still belting out the rock and roll with Jim Marsella on the drums when I decided to go home at 10:30 p.m. It was a fine party that I enjoyed very much. Happy birthday to Jim and Lisa and also another guest named Charley Parker whose birthday was also that Saturday. I ate, I sang, I danced, and I talked to family and friends. It was a very successful, very fun party, and I’m glad I went.
If you’ve been to a good party lately, why not leave a comment and tell what made it good?
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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. 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. 🙂
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, 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Way Up High
View of Phoenix from the top of South Mountain
A week after my river bottom exploration and a week before my recent trip to New Zealand, I took another Sunday morning walk, and this time it was in my original destination of South Mountain park. This park is part of the Phoenix City parks system, and I firmly believe, but have no proof, that it may be the largest city park in the world. It includes a whole range of hills that is about 30 miles long from east end to west end and ten miles deep from north side to south side. The park includes numerous ramadas for picnic parties, and has good roads and hiking trails throughout. My brother Brian and I went to my favorite trail on the south side of the park–the one that starts in Hidden Valley.
Here I am at the parking lot where the trail starts.
Because I had my brother with me, I was able to get some pictures of me (and him) along the trail. We started the hike at about 8:30 in the morning of Sunday, April 1, 2012.
First stop along the trail. I am trying (in vain) to look rugged and adventurous.
This is the near the beginning of the trail.
Spring in the Arizona desert. Note that some of the plants are still green. 🙂
We call them the South Mountains because they are south of the main city. They range in height from about 2000 to 2500 feet, and we are near the top of them here--hence my title of Way Up HIgh.
Further up the trail. Not much was happening that day. It was already hot, and everything except people had hidden away. I was disappointed not to see any wildlife.
I enjoyed the views where one could see a long way into the distance.
Here I am on the edge of a cliff. I kind of like to stand way up high and look over the edge of things.
Close-up. Do you think I should put these pics up on Facebook?
My brother Brian is 5 years younger than me. And in much better shape . . .
Brian likes to scuba dive. I'm sure he'd rather be underwater than out hiking the desert. We are both practical ecologists and support the conservation of natural resources, whether in the ocean or the desert.
After we finished the Hidden Valley hike we went over to Dobbins Point. You can see the elevation and the best view of the city from here.
Brian takes a look at the stone "ruin" at Dobbins Point. It provides a shady spot where one can rest and look out over the city.
And here I am resting--sans hat. Yeah, I don't have much hair left on top. I kind of like this picture of me in shadow--it's kind of a metaphor for my life--slightly off center and a bit in the dark.
And that concludes my South Mountain hike–nothing special as desert rambles go. Still, it was a pleasant way to spend Sunday morning. And it does give a good picture of the real Arizona desert. When I went hiking next, I would be on the opposite side of the world in New Zealand.
If you like the pics, or have ever been hiking in the Arizona desert mountains, why not leave a comment?