Camping in the Snowies

Camping in the Snowies

Friday, January 30, 2015

Desert boondocking; a feast for the senses

Once again, our friends invited us to come camp with them. Their group of six rigs were located at a BLM site south of Ajo AZ just off a scenic loop road that circles an open pit copper mine. You can see the mine on Google Maps or Google Earth just south and west of the town. Another marker you can see on these websites is a trio of bald rocks that were a short distance northwest of their campsite, which is west of the mine pit.
The road is dirt and twisty in places and is prone to wash when it rains so slow going for travel of any kind. But the saving grace for all the effort of getting there is the beauty and serenity of the landscape.

                                                   Our rigs from a distance.

The sun was out after a rainy day making the teddy bear cholla, the fuzzy looking cactus, appear to glow. Scents of desert plants and the earth itself wafted up to us on a light breeze. At least seven different cactus could be seen around our camp which was on a rise between two washes. This is a part of the Sonoran Desert where organ pipe and saguaro cactus are prevalent. Hard packed gravel and rock made a solid foundation but made hiking painful if your shoes lack a thick sole.
Tom Bonn invited us on a hike along a dirt trail and eventually across the desert, up and down washes and finally back to the road and our camp. Tom is an outdoor adventurer, hunting and fishing guide and camp cook. As we trekked, he was looking for signs of animals in the soft sand of the washes and along the trails. He spotted coyote scat as well as that of deer. He pointed out the "jumping cholla" so named for the plant's propensity for loosing its branch buds at a mere touch. The spines are plentiful and painful. He told us that pack rats will gather these loose spiny bundles together into a pile and create their nest underneath where no coyote or hawk dares to go. Then he pointed one of these cholla piles out to us, a little hard to make out but here it is.

       The tufts of cholla are heaped up around this creosote bush, an impervious barrier.

             We enjoyed the beautiful Arizona sunset and a glass of wine after our hike.

The next day while Dave and Katie were practicing fiddle tunes, I hiked the washes looking for cactus varieties and bird nests and came upon some moss along the bank of the wash. So green!

Birds sang and called flitting about as the desert went about the business of getting ready to bloom. I was able to identify these birds:
  • Silky Flycatcher called a Phainopepla; 
  • Gila Woodpecker, a woodpecker of the southern desert
  • Verdin, a small songbird
  • Costas hummingbird
  • Crissal Thrasher with a down curved bill; this desert thrasher was quite a songster. 
The height of desert bloom will come in March and April so not much was in bloom just now. I had my binoculars out and caught a glimpse of pink against the bald rock above us. I hiked up there and found shrubs in bloom in this protected environment snuggled up against the rock. The honeybees were busy. I didn't have my camera but took some twig specimens to photograph.

I also found what looked like a fern frond. The plant with the blue flower had leaves that had a distinctive almost mint-like scent when they were crushed. The pink flower looked like s smoke flower and the leaves were very fine and many-lobed. The ocotillo leaves were coming out and looked somewhat like the leaves on this next twig but this shrub was not an ocotillo. As I was climbing down, I spotted what looked like something's abandoned den up under the eroded rock and this bone that looks like the spine of a big snake. 
A ocotillo leafing out. The ocotillo blossom looks like a flame at the top of each whip like cane. The common name for ocotillo is "coachwhip." This cactus loses its leaves and looks like it is dead much of the year. After enough rain, the wood swells and leaves appear.

I found two different bird nests in the fuzzy type cholla cactus. One made with fine twigs and grass and the other with more coarse twigs. 
                      A nest with fine material. It looked to be unused at present.

Coarser material is used here. Both nests had two entrances, maybe for airflow in warmer weather.

Finally, some pictures of the lushness of the desert in this area and one of the organ pipe cactus on a south facing hillside.

       This shrub was leafing out with narrow pointed leaves that were burgundy colored.

                                     Few cactus other than organ pipe here.

             Another sunset view. This is a place that we want to revisit for a longer stay some day.

We left our trailer in the care of these good friends. We will return next week and relocate for the Ajo Fiddle Contest. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Camping again at Salome

This camping and fiddling trip began midweek on January 14th. Salome AZ is west of Phoenix on Highway 60, which is called Grand Avenue in the city and connects the western suburbs with the downtown. Going west there is a slight incline and more saguaro cactus appear along with creosote bush, rabbit brush and mesquite. The highway has four divided lanes to Wickenberg past small settlements that were railroad stops back in time. The desert is beautiful. The fall and winter rains promise desert wildflowers in the spring. 

Wickenberg thinks it is a cowboy town but it has grown into a snowbird haven with new homes and amenities to the west of town. The downtown keeps the look of a western cowtown with saloons aplenty, but also nifty antique shops and a nice museum of the cowboy way of life. There is a lively arts scene here as well.

Our drive continues through the downtown and on west on Hwy. 60 with another gentle climb over low mountains and onto a flat plain. There is evidence of ranching with irrigated hayfields just west of Wickenberg. 
Our friend Leonard Cook has lived in this area all his 89 years. He told me that the desert between Wickenberg and Salome was irrigated early in the 20th century with shallow wells until the wells dried up. A moratorium was put on drilling deeper wells and the fields were left to return to desert. Then "some big outfit" needed water for making electricity and the moratorium was lifted. The desert has fertile soil as evidenced by plowed fields and truck gardening on both sides of the highway. Canals alongside the fields provide water. I didn't see any center pivot irrigation here. 
Salome is a very small town bisected by Highway 60. It supports two bar/cafes, two motels and a few businesses. South of the town is an RV park with a golf course. The Lions Club hosts our fiddle event. 
Dave and I aren't the first campers here. Our friends the Pangles, the Carlsons, the Bergs, new friends the Bonns and Jim Dixon had their rigs pulled into a big arc. They had left a space that Luci could be backed into, completing the circle. Everyone was outside sitting in the sun and after we got set up, the instruments came out. 

It happens that Katie Bonn and Dave play in similar style so twin fiddling ensued and sounded so good that they started working on their twin fiddle tunes for the Ajo fiddle contest.

Charley, the Pangle's Poodle-Bischon cross dog, is a friend to all. He can hardly wait to get outside in the morning and greet everyone, often peeking into our rigs to see about treats. He is immortalized in Dave's tune "Dog on the Dobro." Charley will sit in Susy's lap while she is playing and doze with his head on her arm. 
Leonard and Laura Cook also camped nearby. As he was setting up camp he noticed this seed pod.

He brought it over calling it a Devil's Claw. An article in Desert USA on the web gives the Latin name as Proboscidea altheafolia or Proboscidea parvifolia and the seed pod is called devil's claw among other names. Leonard says that this pod will attach itself around the hooves of horses or cattle. The spines are sharp. The pod can be split in two with seeds in each half. The seeds are good to eat, Leonard says. The Desert USA article reports that the indigenous people of the southwest, probably the women,cultivated these viney plants selecting and replanting those seeds that produced the largest seed pods with the most protein rich seeds. I looked around the camp but found no other devil's claw pods. A horse camp was set up near us in the desert with riders from Arizona and California who did trail rides out into the scrub. I wonder if any came back with this desert hitchhiker attached.
Music events were held on Friday and Saturday nights. Anyone who wanted to perform would sign up for a slot on the program playing three tunes. Here are some of the performers.

                                   Katie Bonn and Laura Berry twin fiddle

                                   Jack Darland backed up by Jim Dixon

       A beautiful desert sunset and a comfy night in our trailer. Back to Surprise we go. 
                               Three weeks until we meet up again in Ajo.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Yuma AZ Fiddle Contest

Yuma is in the far southwestern corner of Arizona. California is on its western border and Mexico is to the south. The fiddle contest is organized by the Jaycees of Yuma as is used to promote the Silver Spurs Rodeo coming up in February.
We head west out of Phoenix on Interstate 10 and then south on AZ 85 past Buckeye to Interstate 8 at Gila Bend. We pass through some high desert covered sparsely with shrub and saguaro. There is evidence of mining and lots of trucks but no signage. Then we drop into the Gila River drainage. The town of Gila Bend is located where the Gila River bends and flows west to join the Colorado River at Yuma. There is a motel in Gila Bend that begs for photos to be taken. Here it is.

                                  The Space Age Lodge 

                                                              So cool! 

Interstate 8 is a busy highway with truck and rail commerce coming and going east and west to the port at San Diego. The Gila valley is flat and supports big farms raising cattle feed for dairies that dot the valley and truck farming of all sorts of vegetables nearer to Yuma. We also saw large acreages of solar arrays which track the suns movement for best solar collection. We stop at the rest area near Sentinel and notice lava looking rocks strewn about. In the Roadside Geology of Arizona it says that this is one of "the youngest displays of volcanism in Arizona" and the flows are less than 2 million years old. Up and over the Mohawk Mountains which look like a Mohawk haircut. As we travel west, the Copper Mountains and Gila Mountains are to the south and north of the highway are the Muggins Mountains. 
                                                       Mohawk Mountains

We made it to the venue on the southern edge of Yuma passing many RV parks loaded with snowbirds in large RV's and park model trailers packed cheek to cheek along paved streets with the occasional palm tree. Didn't look like that much fun to us.
We seemed to be the first campers in the lot so had our pick of the spots. We were warned to look out for puncture vines with spines called goat heads but the lot had been raked clean. We were happy. 
Araby Road which bordered the parking lot was a hub of activity with nearly constant truck traffic. This is high season for produce, fruit and hay. Trucks hauling pallets of crated vegetables and oranges went east while trucks carrying empty pallets went west. Tractors and light trucks hauled irrigation pipe and tillage equipment went both directions. White buses carrying workers and towing port-a-potties and hand washing stations traveled to and from fields and groves. 

We are surrounded by orange groves which have tall towers bearing fan-like blades possibly having to do with preventing frost damage. There were turkey vultures overhead and I notice that they perch on these towers in the evening. 

Also overhead are screaming jets from the marine aviation field just to the north of us. We notice different kinds of jets flying at different times of the day or day of the week? They looked and sounded different is all we could tell but they were low enough that we could see missiles and landing gear. 
That afternoon, Dave attended a fiddle and guitar workshop presented by two of the judges. Denny and Elaine Carlson parked their RV next to us and another pickup camper came plus a Van camper. That was the extent of the campers in the lot. 
The contest bagan the next day, on Saturday. People started to congregate and soon the lot filled up with vehicles of all sorts. There were the usual contest divisions with the senior division being the most populous. Numbers of contestants were down but the quality was good so it was a good contest. Dave placed fifth in the senior division playing tunes that he wrote and accompanied ably by Denny. 

Lots of tunes were played with all sorts of styles and instruments. 

After the contest was over on Sunday, we followed Denny and Elaine east on the interstate to the Dome Valley and the home of Larry and Pat Rose. The Roses love to host their musician friends who are welcome to pull their RV's up next to big metal airplane hangers and plug in to the electricity and play some music in the Chicken Coop. Larry has a collection of airplanes, being a pilot and owner of a crop dusting business. He also collects and restores antique cars and motorcycles. The Chicken Coop is really a nice house built onto the hanger and is used by his family and friends. Larry offered to let us take one of the motorcycles for a spin but we declined. Dave did play the antique, fully restored Steinway grand piano, though. 
Suzy and Harold, Denny and Elaine, Diane and Arnold and Jim plus Dave and myself and Larry played lots of tunes Sunday evening after a nice supper put together by Suzy, Diane and Pat. Dave played fiddle, Suzy and Larry played Dobro, Elaine played the bass and the rest of us guitars. Suzy and Jim harmonized well as did Arnold and Diane. Denny is a great songwriter. He and Elaine sang wonderfully together. My fingers got pretty tender after a while so I tried my luck at the 1000 piece jig saw puzzle.
We had to leave Monday but not until more tunes were played and Larry toured us through his big house up the hill from the coop. What a great time we had with our new friends! The good news is that we will see them all again later in the week at the Salome gathering.