We certainly enjoyed visiting Saguaro NP – East. Most of the Rincon Mountains Unit is wilderness and only accessible on foot; no dogs allowed. But the cactus Forest Loop Drive was scenic, with views of the Rincon Mountains to the East, and saguaro everywhere!
Really couldn’t seem to get enough saguaro! The highlights of this day were finding another crested saguaro while hiking an area Luna could enjoy, standing next to some shoulder high fishhook barrel cactus, and enjoying the Phainopeplas with their shimmery black feathers.
If you’re up for more saguaro botany, read on. This post will be dedicated to this largest of all North American cactus, Carnegieagigantea. (Beware. This post is long, so settle in!)
This day we explored areas as far as 50 miles north of la Casita. Following the old highway between Tucson and Phoenix, we first came upon a roadside rest area and memorial to the legendary cowboy, Tom Mix, who died at this spot 83 years ago. Tom who? Of course we had to stop and learn more about this interesting bit of history.
Then on to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument where history dates back more than 1700 years, well before the first Spanish explorers showed up, exploring. Even Luna was permitted to wander around this cultural monument, but we may have appreciated the stories surrounding the Hohokam more than she did.
Then to complete our tour for the day, we came upon a lonely ranch road on the way back to la Casita, where the saguaro stood tall over countless cholla, barrel cactus, iron trees and palo verde. It was here, in the middle of “where-are-we-now?” that I peered under a creosote bush and found the weirdest puffball fungus ever.
Not wild, but wildly rattling in the wind? Not snakes, but the showy seed pods from a row of Chinese Lantern trees, hanging on for dear life throughout our numerous winter wind events.
We frequently park near 8 of these non-native trees used as sidewalk landscaping, just before the Copper trailhead. After wondering for several years what these medium sized trees are, in September 2020, discovering the answer, I drew them out …… seed pods, leaves and all.
Searching for something wintery to add to my journal this year, these hardy seed pods called loudly. It was hard to resist!
Browsing my 2020 journals, I came across my first drawing. Always fun to see if and how my technique has changed. Can you detect the differences?
Before getting too far ahead of myself, I thought it would be a dandy idea to build a map of the circles we traveled in and around Tucson. This will not only aide those of you who are following along on our travels to see just where all these places are, but it helped me relive the week and will refresh my memory in years to come when browsing my journals.
Read on to view our trip highlights, and see just where all those parks, monuments, and mountains are found, and where to go to soak up the flora and fauna unique to the Sonoran Desert. Also, this map gives you a sneak peak of journal posts to come.
Who doesn’t love birds? Watching them, listening to them, photographing them, and in my case drawing them. And it’s especially exciting when a new visitor comes calling. When the bird is the first I’ve ever sighted, automatically becoming a new addition to my life list!
There I was, working away on one of my Sonoran Desert posts, when I glanced up from my sketchbook and noticed an unfamiliar bird standing tall under our big juniper tree. Not one of the hundreds of dark-eyed juncos that feast all winter below our feeders. Definitely larger than the comical juniper titmice and noisy mountain chickadees that pop in and out conducting their continual grab-a-seed-and-dash maneuvers. Hmmmmm ….. a bit larger than our resident canyon and spotted towhees, but slimmer than the Woodhouse’s scrub jay. An American robin? A western bluebird? Certainly similar, but not quite; certainly a member of the thrush family?
Turned out he was one of the thrush species …. not the robin or bluebird, but the beautifully sleek Townsend’s Solitaire. For a brief moment he seemed to be evaluating the quality of juniper berries lying beneath the tree. Not wanting to spook him, I watched in muted excitement, then dared to make a move for my camera. He stayed just long enough to bend over for a bird’s-eye look, promptly dismissing our berry crop, and off he flew. Somehow, while juggling my field guide, binoculars and camera, I managed to snap a photo to confirm my sighting with iNaturalist. Confirmed! How cool was that!
It was a great day!
I’ve watched every day since to see if this one or more Townsend’s Solitaires drop by. No luck yet, but now I know they’re around. Maybe I’ll catch them this Spring breeding, nesting, but more likely singing and calling from the treetops while defending their territory full of delicious juniper berries!
We woke early and excited, ready to explore. But wait! We woke to snow! What? Snow in Tucson?!!! Not unheard of, but a surprise-for-us coating of fluffy white covering everything. No matter ….. we changed out of our shorts, donned long pants and heavy coats and set off from la Casita south, towards Tucson and Saguaro NP West, the Tucson Mountain District.
Come along and see what we discovered this day in the Sonoran Desert!
Right now I’m watching it snow …… again. Logic tells me this moisture is so necessary for our drought-stressed juniper and piñon pine that provides year-round food and cover for a host of birds and mammals that call the East Mountains home. Our annual and perennial wildflowers, oaks and native shrubs depend on winter rains and snows to flourish in the growing season. So I say, “bring it on, Mother Nature!”
But by January and February I do tire of brown. My animal brain needs of a shot of “Spring Green” this time of year. Just a little bit to carry me through the winter; a tiny bit in anticipation of full-blown Spring is just the ticket!
This is why we take regular trips down our mountain to enjoy the Albuquerque foothills. It’s amazing the difference a 2,000 foot change in elevation can make in nearly everything.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love living at 7,300 feet, in the shadow of majestic Sandia Mountain, and in the winter we sometimes experience days of cloud cover and fog. So down the mountain we go, in search of sun, warmth, and Spring Green.
And to my delight, here’s what I found! “Nature’s first green is gold.” And indeed it is!
Wow! 50! Can’t believe we’ve been together for so many years. Can’t believe it seems like yesterday. Countless adventures, miles, laughs, memories. How the good times fly! 50 years on December 12th, and I wasn’t about to let the winter doldrums keep us hunkered down at home. Surely a road trip was in store to properly round out our year of desert discoveries! I booked us a week at a little one room home about 25 miles north of Tucson, AZ ….. in the land of the mighty saguaro cactus ….. where Roy and I, and of course Luna, could soak in some southwest winter sun and take our time exploring this new-to-us area of the Sonoran Desert.
Come along with us for 7 days of discoveries in the Sonoran Desert!
I usually don’t commit to a single word to spark my inspiration for an entire year … there are so many! But, as this is the beginning of a brand New Year, and so many New creative and adventurous opportunities lie ahead, I’ve decided to challenge myself with discovering all things “New!” Ta-da …. My word for 2023 is officially “New!”
I’m constantly inspired by my creative friends who dare to explore New ways to express themselves …… Elaine who writes beautiful and sometimes unusual poetry …… Susan, Jane and all of my Zentangle friends, who turn inked lines into magic ….. and last, but far from least, Karen, a wonderful artist, kayaker and outdoor enthusiast, who captures her discoveries and adventures in her nature journals (visit Karen’s blog and see for yourself! https://iamchasingbutterflies.wordpress.com).
And of course there’s my Konstant Kat, Flambé, who pushed and prodded me to create a New image of her curious and playful side. So I opened a New journal to celebrate 2023, and redressed Kat anew. A smiling Flambé must mean a good beginning to this New Year, right!
Now for the hard part …… I’ll strive to break out of my usual-usual, and explore New-to-Me things, along with trying some New approaches to my journaling and art. I’m certain Flambé will be keeping an eye on me, and I hope you do too. Stay tuned!
Thank you followers ….. for being there and also for encouraging me to carry on. I’d love to know what you like about my posts and what you’d like to see more of and/or New. What and who will inspire and challenge you to be your best during this year-long journey that lies ahead as we take another spin together around the Sun aboard planet Earth?
Wishing you an exciting 2023, full of happiness and health, and most of all laughter and fun!
We usually know where we’re headed in the morning, but how we get there is another story. As we left Indian Bread Rocks we talked about optional routes to reach our destination …. City of Rocks State Park. There were several choices, and since we’re not interstate highway fans (unless absolutely necessary) we opted for the road less traveled; through New Mexico’s “Bootheel” in the extreme southwestern part of the state. Going this way we might just catch a glimpse of that infamous Border Wall too.
Although this route was the long way to City of Rocks (200 miles versus 110 miles), it was definitely eye-opening. As we traveled lonely roads, dodging no less than 3 huge rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the pavement, the only vehicles we saw were border patrol. It was windy and hot as we approached the Mexican border, and we strained our eyes to see something resembling a Wall off in the distance. Between Hachita and Columbus, NM, we could make out what looked to be a RR bed in the valley bottom. Binoculars weren’t much use, as this very straight line wasn’t resolving into a Wall, until ….. all at once we saw the RR track climb straight up a pretty substantial hill. That answered the question …. that faux track was indeed the Border Wall, and we had already seen miles and miles of it.
A short distance out of Columbus, driving very close to the border, we found a side road that appeared to lead down to the Wall, so we went to investigate. Coming within about a quarter mile of the Border Wall we saw how very tall it was, and how it was built with metal slats too close for a person to squeeze through, but spaced and angled just so to see Mexico beyond.
We’re both glad to have seen this Wall for ourselves. Rest assured I’ve no intention of turning my blog posts into political commentary, but I have to say this obscene border wall is absolutely embarrassing and offensive.
On to Columbus, North to Deming and to City of Rocks State Park.
Our assigned campsite was a pull through and it was a snap to get The Felix all set up. Then it was off for a nice romp through the assortment of boulders that were created from volcanic tuff and eroded over years to form what appears like, from a distance, a city of high rises. There’s a marked trail through the rock formations that lead you to some of the best rocks and views. But it’s more than okay to wander wherever your legs take you … and sometimes it’s like a maze with many dead ends. The Park also has a nice botanical garden, many “outside the city” trails, and a super visitor center with helpful volunteer staff offering info like lists of plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals you might encounter in the park.
Before a big cold front blew in bringing rain and winds, I was able to do some sketching, we spotted lots of new-to-us plants (still in bloom) and a gorgeous rainbow grasshopper. Several birds (cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher and canyon towhee) paid us a call at The Felix. About to go searching for the covey of scaled quail making quite a racket somewhere in the rocks, we changed that plan ….. a good decision as we would’ve gotten drenched with rain!
This was our third trip to City of Rocks, and not likely to be our last. It’s a fun place to visit for a short time or an extended stay.
We were going to enjoy one more day in SW NM east of Las Cruces before returning home, but the weather forecast for the next many days called for high winds, rain and snow ….. so, not at all disappointed in all the ground we covered we came home a day early, driving all 283 miles in good time thanks to a tail-wind assist.
(Turns out the next day, had we stayed one day longer, would’ve greeted us with rain, freezing rain and snow by the time we got home. I could feel it in my bones!)
All in all it was a great Escapito #6, all 4 stops and the 922 miles in between, and a fun way to close out the 2022 camping season (or is it?!). Stay tuned!