Friday, January 22, 2010

Now That’s the Dessert!

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Woke up Tuesday morning to the smell of creosote . . . now that’s the desert I know and love!
It’s now going on Friday and it’s rained every night and all day yesterday. AND the wind!! I will never complain about Lethbridge winds again.

Monday night was a quite an ordeal!

Fred put up the room the day we arrived and for over a week, we enjoyed the extra space and protection.

Not to Last!

Monday night - a horrific wind swept in underneath the walls blew the eight inch spikes out of the ground and there we were with walls just a-flying straight out!

Adrenalin does it every time! We managed to get all the walls unhooked, down and in the trunk of the car before the winds took them off into the unknown. The awning got rolled snug up against the side of the motorhome.

We felt safe again for the time being. It rained and blew all night and Tuesday night and Wednesday night and all day Thursday and Thursday night. Friends, Sheila and Chuck lost their new awning to the desert storm but they did get a chance to see their first flash flood in the wash.

The wind calmed down during the days and we’ve put everything away and could leave at a moment’s notice but that doesn’t make sense either - who wants to be on the road with winds like this?

They call this a winter storm. According to what we have heard, winter storms are supposed to have gentle rains that saturate the ground. These violent rains and winds are supposed to accompany the summer monsoons - Aw, yes, the weather is changing all over.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Surprisingly enough, this Ajo/Why area offers an abundance of things to do. Our first outing was to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We’ve been there before. In fact we’ve been there a few times before, but this time we decided to take the three hour guided tour. Good plan!

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is about 830 square kilometres and sits in central of the Sonoran Desert that extends south into Mexico.

Our guide (Nancy) was a gal who just happened to be interested in how the Indians (the Tono O’Odham - Desert People) gathered and grew food in the desert. Her theory is that the Indian people are now so overweight because their bodies had adapted to binging when there was plenty of food and starving when food was scarce. Now that food is always available the Indians tend to overeat and consequently become overweight. That’s her theory, anyway.

She went into a lot of detail about the various plants and their seeds; how and where the Indians planted and gathered food; the fruits they gathered from the Cacti and the nutritional and medicinal qualities of many of the plants.

Nancy was also well versed in the different types of Cacti (I have a hard time say ‘cacti’ and usually use ‘cactus’). Of course, she pointed out the Organ Pipe Cactus and different types of, Barrel, Prickly Pear, Cholla, etc and explained to us so many of the features we had noticed but never learned about.

Most cacti begin their lives beside or underneath what they call a nurse plant. The nurse plant can be a mesquite or palo verde shrub or tree that gives the fledgling cactus shade and protection. The cacti have shallow root systems and eventually take most of the moisture and nutrition thus overgrowing and killing their protectors. Mind you, this can take decades as cacti grow very slowly. I’ve heard estimates of 75 to 90 years before a Saguaro will produce that first arm.

You never find the perfect cactus like they show in the movies. The Saguaro, which is the most common, typically looks all rotted out around the bottom and has holes up and down the length of the spine where the cactus wrens nest. It can have arms going up or arms going down; twisted or straight; growing around the trunk at one lever; or scattered up and down.

Sometimes you find cactus with very unusual growth like the crescents that can develop on Saguaro or Organ Pipe Cacti.

The Organ Pipe has all its arms coming out from the bottom. I haven’t been able to find out what triggers the growth of the arms. One source I read said that the cacti tend to grow arms during a drought to have more surfaces to gather moisture – who knows?

Cacti are way more interesting than I have ever given them credit for – a life-time study? Maybe in my next life

Kitt Peak Observatory

It all started with Steve – the fellow we met first at the Escapees Park near Wickenburg – whose whole life revolved around his telescope and astronomy. We talked about the Observatory at Kitt Peak and decided that this was the trip we just had to check it out.

We thought it was close. Well, we left Why at 7 am to catch the first tour at 10 am. It is about 90 miles from Why to the turn-off up the mountain to the observatory.

Aw - the road leading up to the Observatory! White knuckle driving for Fred – curves that compete with the hair-pin turns on the Going to the Sun Road through the Logan Pass in Glacier – only this time we had to drive up the outside lane for 12 miles up to 7000 feet elevation.

What a great view! Unfortunately, no pictures! When I suggested that we pull over to look – I got a VERY emphatic “I don’t think so.” Then I looked over at his hand and realized he was hanging onto the steering wheel like he was going to fall off. I offered to drive and got “that would be even worse.”

The Observatory is the largest in the world and consists of 23 separate telescopes (Only a very few are accessible to the public). Kitt Peak sits on peak of Kitt Mountain on the Tono O’Odham Reservation in the Sonoran Desert and is part of an International Astronomical Community Organization.

The one thing I can verify for sure is that it is damn cold up there!! They say at least 20 degrees colder than down below.

We ended up not taking any of the tours but wandered around on our own.

I can see why anybody who has any interest in the skies would be fascinated with it. The night observation tours must be incredible but I tell you - if we had a tough time with that road during the day – can you imagine what it would be like at night, in the dark? There are no light on the road at all and you would be travelling down in the dark. I don’t think so!

Oh, one more thing – J.A. Jance (yeh, the author) gave a lecture in Ajo and we went. I may not like all her writing but she sure gave a wonderful presentation.

Next Stop – Yuma, I think.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Quartzsite Before the Shows and Vendors

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When we left North Ranch for Quartzsite, our plan was to pull into the 14 day BLM area where Chuck and Sheila had been last season (Scaddon Wash). Hm-m-m pretty noisy being that close to the Highway – so we moved over to Hi Jolly to the site where we parked last year.

Still not what we wanted.

We ended up back at our usual site over next to the wash.

Aw-w-w that felt better . . . it felt like that was where we should be! And so we stayed there for a couple of weeks.

It’s interesting how much easier it is to meet people at the boon docking areas than in the regular parks.

The folks (Diane and Andy) we first met in Pahrump and then again at the North Ranch showed up at Hi Jolly a few days after we got there; there was a fun young couple from Washington; and even a couple from Alberta who were active in the Family Motor Home Assoc.

Quartzsite . . . before the shows . . . is just a small desert town getting ready for the major onslaught that happens when the Big Tent goes up and all the vendors move in.

A few permanents like the Readers’ Oasis Book Store; my favourite place KGK Kitchen Supply; J & B Tools; and The Gambler are always there. They carry on business as usual and are stocking up for the invasion.

This is when the artists and crafters start to appear: Elizabeth, along with her writer partner, John, is working in her Studio in Prospector's Panorama. John shares his great news with us. At least one of his books has been accepted for publication - Good going, John.

A new fella from California has arrived on the scene convinced he can make his millions collecting rocks and throwing together bright and shiny silver jewellery - good luck fella!

When you talk to most of the artists and crafter, they tell you they don’t expect to get rich plying their talent but they thrive on the lifestyle.

There was a horrendous storm while we were there . . . unusual winds, rain, thunder and lightening that managed to down a few cacti and destroy a few tents . . . but the next day - there was Curt working his pottery wheel and firing up his two kilns right there where his tent used to be.

They say you can get anything you want in Quartzsite . . . but you have to wait until the vendors show up. Before that all you see is an outline of what’s coming.