Monday, January 23, 2012

My Cotton Story

Hard-copies of "Jacob's Tails. . .ALL GONE!!

(The last 4 copies were left at In-a-Pear-Tree in Casa Grande)


The E-Book is available through



Barnes & Noble




By the time we left Rovers Roost, Casa Grande, (January 12, 2012) we both felt the need to get back to the desert.

Rovers Roost is a great place to spend our mid-winter park time – we do enjoy the attitude; the activities; and the camaraderie. Our Escapees buddies, Diane and Andy introduced us to Shelly and Bill and Miles (an 8 month old Scotty) who became Escapees buddies very quickly. But – we miss the space and quiet.

I was able to initiate exercise sessions three times a week using the same Strength for Seniors series that they had at POS, Coarsegold (near Yosemite) and folks seemed to enjoy it. Katy took it over and I expect it will still be going on when we get back next year.

I’ve Always Loved Cotton!

While we were there, I again became intrigued with the cotton in the fields: how it grew and was harvested. Then there was the cotton gin down the road from the park - the whole yard was just packed with those huge cubes the size of railway cars.

For years we had seen those massive bales sitting out in the field and on a rare occasion, we saw a field with plants and straggles of cotton clinging to them. This year there were still crops sitting in the fields: some still maturing; some ready and waiting to be harvested; and we were even able to finally see the machinery harvesting the cotton.


Working Field2


They don’t pick by hand any more!

To this point my total exposure to harvesting cotton was from movies that showed folks in the field with sacks on their back bent over and picking cotton and singing.

The machinery is fascination.

First came the picker-


that could pick one row at a time. The invention of the mechanical picker, apparently revolutionized the South. They claim that “the picker played an indispensable role in the transition from the prewar South of over-population, sharecropping, and hand labor to the capital-intensive agriculture of the postwar South.

Today, they pick up to six rows at a time.


and dump the cotton into the basket in one operation.


And then it goes into the compactor.


And it comes out here!

Those huge modules (as they call them) sit on the road beside the fields until they can be ginned – that is the cotton is cleaned separated into fibres and seed.

It used to be done painstakingly by hand


until Eli Whitney finally patented his Cotton Gin (short for cotton engine) in 1793.

Another stroke of Luck!

We went over to the Lummus Cotton Gin (just down the road from where we were staying) and I sat with a couple of gals there and they explained some of the ins and outs of the industry to me.


(This is a copy of the Diagram of a modern cotton gin plant, displaying numerous stages of production from Wikipedia)

There is considerably more cotton this year because of the higher prices. Over 600 modules of raw cotton sit in their yard. Usually they are finished processing the cotton by mid January. This year they guesstimate it will be March before it is all done. Cotton Gin Yard (9)

The ginning process cleans the raw cotton and separates the modules into cotton fibres for fabric (that is compressed into bales) and the pyramids of seed that sit in the yard. The gals at the Plant said that one module will produce about 15 bales.


And seed that is used in all sort of things like animal feed, fertilizer and cotton seed oil. The oil is then refined further for lotions and soaps.


There is talk about using the rest of the waste for biofuels.

They lose track of the bales after they are trucked to a cotton broker. The gals figure that most of the fibre goes overseas to be spun and woven into fabric.

So – that’s my Cotton Story!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saguaro National Park: Bookend Parks of Tucson

Rovers Roost (Casa Grande) become our base and we have gone back and forth to Tucson a few times.

The first trip was to West Saguaro NP. West and East Saguaro National Park sit like bookends on either side of the city. The West side seemed to have more of what we wanted to visit.

It made me think of a forest – if there is such a thing as a Cactus Forest.

A Ranger recommended that we might like to try the Signal Hill Trail that led up to some interesting petroglyphs (Rock Art) and a great panoramic view.

The area was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) who were FDR’s answer to unemployment during the Depression of the 1930s.

Corps of men were fed, educate, housed and paid $1.00 per day (75% of which was sent back to their families) in exchange for developing the various national sites.

They think that the petroglyphs were left by the Hohokam people thousands of years ago. There is little know about these people or the rock art that they left behind but it is probably akin to the graffiti of today.



The Saguaro Cactus is fascinating – from it’s humble beginning to its haunting shape that’s become a symbol of the desert for me.

The Saguaro can only propagate from seed and under specific conditions. It is very sensitive to frost and wind and needs heat and moisture. The Saguaro is found only in the Sonora Desert.

The cactus usually begins life being sheltered by a "nurse" tree or shrub (a Creosote, Mesquite or Palo Verde) that provides shade and moisture to help it grow. So you often see the Saguaro surrounded by bushes.

Eventually the cactus takes most of the nutrition and the nurse plant dies.


The Saguaro grows very slowly –maybe an inch a year - but to a height of 15 to 50 feet. The largest plants, with more than 5 arms, are estimated to be 200 years old. An average old Saguaro would have 5 arms and be about 30 feet tall. The one in this photo has 7 arms and we’ve seen cactus with a whole lot more.

Prickly spines run vertically along the entire length of the cactus. After a heavy desert rain, the spines are further apart when the cactus swells by absorbing the moisture. As the desert dries out, the spines come closer together,

It’s almost impossible to find a Saguaro that has no damage. Birds (particularly the cactus wren) build their nests time and time again in small holes in the cactus. Once there is a nest there, the cactus develops a kind of callus around it to conserve the moisture and protect itself. This callus is what they call a boot.

I’m not sure if you would call it an injury, but a crest can develop on the top or between the arms of the Saguaro. A friend of ours (Sheila) has a list of highway mile markers where she has seen the crested Saguaro.


The question that puzzles me the most is: What triggers the growth of an arm? Every time I ask, I get a different answer: when the rains are heavy, the arms allow the cactus to absorb more moisture for when there is a drought; because the Saguaro only propagate by seed, more arms develop when the plant seems threatened; and finally, why do other trees produce their branches? Interesting, eh?

Cactus-Why (3)

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Museum sits on 98 acres with 3.2 kms (2 miles) of walking paths covering 21 acres. Much of the property is covered with natural growth and cacti.




Saguaro Cactus with Crest


A Crest can be developed when the growing point, or merristem (which produces new stems and spines or leaves), elongates into a line. In time the growing line may become greatly convoluted, like a brain. This phenomenon has been observed in nearly all plant species; its cause is generally not known”(sign near the cactus)


The Museum offers all kinds of guided tours and demonstrations throughout the day. We chose to go to the Raptor Free Flights demonstration that featured a Peregrine Falcon.

There were three trainers working the birds. They were able to communicate with each other and could somehow direct the flights of the birds. The birds would dive and swoop down over our heads and then  perch on a branch or cactus to have their pictures taken. Like I said, we took over 150 photos – it was so difficult to decide which ones to share!




Barn Owl


Hawks and Falcons 


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IMG_4373 (2)

IMG_4391 (2)

IMG_4393 (2)

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Hummer (1)

Hummer (2)


Resting Cougars


Bob Cat


Need I say it was a memorable visit?