Search This Blog

Monday, December 19, 2016

Home for the Holidays

Hi Blog!

On Thursday, December 15, 2016, we flew back to Washington, D.C. to spend the holidays with family. The first big gathering of the season is the annual Pollyanna Party held the Sunday before Christmas. It has come to our attention that folks outside of the Philadelphia area have never heard of a Pollyanna Party. According to World Wide Words the term first appeared in print in 1947, but is not widely used today (except in the Philadelphia area). It is basically a gift exchange or Secret Santa. 

Back in the day, Mom use to organize the gift exchange. Family members wrote their name and three wishes on a piece of paper. Mom would then collect them and hand them out making sure one didn't get their spouse or adult child. As Mom got older, the fam switched over to The exchange is now organized by email, but the fun is still the same.

On Sunday, December 18, 2016, we drove up to the Philadelphia area to Kathy's sister's house. In order to sustain us for the long drive, we started the day with a big breakfast. Here is Sir William helping to prepare baozi - lovely stuffed steamed buns. Ours were stuffed with either sweet nuts and seeds or pork and veggies. Just what we needed to get the day started off right.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Pollyanna Party without Christmas sweaters. Here is Dave sporting his favorite Christmas sweater along with a pair of wolf ears that William got at Great Wolf Lodge.

Presiding over the family gathering is Kathy's Mom's sister. She's really a sister - Sister Jane Hill, S.J. Next to Aunt Jane is brother Steve. He is not a brother brother, but is Kathy's brother and the oldest of the McNee kids.

The newest member of the clan is Holly. At 10 months old, this is her first Christmas. Parents T.O. and Michelle are so excited for Holly to meet the rest of the family. Holly is not so sure. There are some pretty ugly sweaters in the room!

Aunt Barb is helping Nick Morrison, Jr. open his presents.

Matt and William get into the swing of it.

"R" proudly displays his new Harry Potter game.

Jen and Drew did their best to appear merry despite the Eagles loss.

Vicki and Michelle - cookie baking cousins!

It didn't take the boys long to get down to some serious play.

Great Aunt Kathy face-timing with Holly-berry.

While Great Aunt Leenie and Great Uncle Dave keep Little Nick entertained.

Sir William takes a spin around the house riding the Christmas Flamingo!

Matt and Drew commiserate during the Eagles post-game show. There is just not enough eggnog in Wawa to make this season any better.

Uncle Tom entertains "R" and William with math questions on a pocket calculator. (It's an accounting thing.)

Of course, it wouldn't be a Pollyanna Party without presents for the kids.

As for the adults, several family members took the opportunity to designate their favorite charity to receive a monetary gift this season. For it is in giving that we receive.

Stay tuned for more holiday mayhem!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Lawyers, Guns and Money"


No lure is more powerful than running water to a desert dweller, and Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness, snugged up against the Arizona-Mexico border, is one among a handful of perennial streams in Southern Arizona. Located in the Atascosa Mountains, a range wild enough to make the short list as a Mexican gray wolf reintroduction site, the Pajarita Wilderness, although small, is a magical place.  Here is just one view of this amazing area:

Our friends, Dick and Gaila, who were staying at a special boondocking site near Patagonia, Arizona, told us about the hike to Sycamore Canyon and invited us to join them. We offered to drive, and so we picked them up at their campsite and continued south on AZ 82 to Nogales, where we were supposed to turn north on I-19. Somehow, we got turned around and headed south and unwittingly crossed the border. We started getting suspicious when the highway signs said “15” instead of “19,” but we never realized that we had crossed the border into Mexico.

We found what looked like our trailhead, piled out, put on our packs, and headed out into the desert. We had a wonderful hike. Here's a photo of Kathy and Gaila at the trailhead:

We hiked through beautiful, ever-changing scenery.  This is a photo of Dick, Kathy and Gaila on the trail:

Our total hike was about 5 miles, and, as we returned to the truck, we were all agreed that we needed to find a good place for some cold beers and good food.

Just as we started to pull out of the trailhead parking, five Mexican soldiers in a green army truck flagged us down and signaled us to stop, which we did. They came over to the truck, carrying weapons, and told us that our truck was suspicious and matched the description of a truck that had been used recently to transport marijuana across the border into the U.S. They had been given the description of the truck from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and it matched ours perfectly.

They ordered us out of the truck and took us over to sit near their truck while they inspected Great White. Soon, two of them returned to us carrying three packages. Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide. They said the packets of drugs were attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks. They showed us photos they said they had just taken of the underside of the truck seat with the packets attached.

We told them this couldn't be possible, explaining what we had been doing so far today, but they didn't believe us. We told them we wanted a lawyer, and they said that could be arranged. About an hour later, a lawyer drove up, met with us, heard the story, looked at the soldiers' photos, and took us aside to give us some advice. He said that if we wanted to be released today, we had to plead guilty. We protested that we were innocent and would not plead guilty. He told us that if we didn't want to go to jail, one alternative was to bribe the judge. We looked at each other in disbelief. We asked him how much and he said, $1,000.

Neither Dick and Gaila nor we had any money like that handy. We tried to think who we knew that might have access to a bank and might be within a day or two driving distance from us. The only people we could think of were George and Nan, friends of all of us. Gaila tried to call Nan and Kathy tried to call George, but there was no answer. Gaila and Kathy tried to send texts, but we got some sort of message saying that the network wouldn't let us send international texts.

By this time, we were really getting desperate. We had just about given up on any idea how to avoid jail, and the soldiers were getting pretty insistent that it was time to go with them, when a man drove by in a BMW, saw us and our truck and the soldiers. He stopped, backed up, rolled down his window, and asked if there was a problem. He looked vaguely familiar to Dick and Gaila, but we were completely distracted by our problem and none of us had time to think about who this Good Samaritan was. We told him our story and asked if there was any way he might be able to help us get to a U.S. bank to withdraw $1,000.

To our astonishment, he pulled out his wallet, turned to the lawyer, and handed the lawyer 1,000 U.S. Dollars! We couldn't believe our eyes. He said to the lawyer, “Well, if this is what needs to be done, please go do it.”

Our lawyer politely excused himself, hopped in his car, and headed down the dusty road, disappearing around the curve. Only then did we start talking with our kind gentlemen enough to realize that it was actually Adam Sandler – the movie star! He said that he has a home in the Tucson foothills and had been out for a drive this afternoon and happened to see us. We thanked him profusely and swore to him that, as soon as the soldiers let us, we would drive straight back to Tucson, where our RV is camped, and withdraw enough money to repay him. He said that would be quite fine.

About an hour after leaving, the lawyer returned with an official looking paper that he handed to one of the soldiers. After the soldier read it, he waved the lawyer off, the soldiers climbed back into their truck, and they drove off. Our lawyer came over to us and informed us that we were free to go, but that we should not stay in Mexico any longer than absolutely necessary. We told him he didn't have to tell us twice. We climbed into the truck.

We suggested Adam follow us in his car, which he agreed to do. It didn't take us long to find a Bank of America, where Dave ran in and withdrew the money to repay Adam Sandler. Dick and Dave made arrangements for Dick to reimburse David half of the “bail” money when we get to Quartzsite in January.

We were saying our goodbyes to Adam when he suddenly said, “You know, I was planning to head over and have dinner at the Silver Saddle. Why don't you join me? We can have a beer and a couple of laughs over this. My treat!”

David was a bit reluctant, but Gaila insisted, “Come on, you guys! A chance to hang out and share a beer with Adam Sandler. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!” Kathy and Dick agreed, so David relented. We let Adam lead the way back up Highway 83 into Tucson and over the Benson Highway to the Silver Saddle Steakhouse. We each had a huge steak meal and must have spent several hours learning all about Adam's latest film projects.  We even got a photo of Adam and the Silver Saddle waitress!

As we walked out of the restaurant after dinner, Adam suddenly laughed, and said, “You know, this reminds me of the lyrics to “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” He suddenly broke out in song:

I'm the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck

Now I'm hiding in Nogales
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

We finally waved goodbye and drove our separate ways around 10pm, sure that no one would believe this wild yarn of our outing with Dick and Gaila.

We never did find out why George and Nan didn't pick up their phones.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tucson 4th Avenue Street Fair

Hi Blog!

This weekend the City of Tucson held its annual 4th Avenue Winter Street Fair. According to those in the know around the RV park, this is one of the largest arts and crafts fairs in all of Arizona. It covers five city blocks with over 400 tents filled with artisans and crafters from all over the southwest. We decided to check it our for ourselves.

On Saturday, December 10, 2016, we started our adventure by driving over to the Mercado to catch the streetcar. To fortify ourselves for a day of browsing, we stopped at Seis Kitchen and filled up on breakfast tacos and scrambled eggs with roasted green chilis. Here is Kathy enjoying the warm of the sun in the courtyard of the Mercado as we waited for our breakfast goodies.

After filling up, we decided to walk down to Fourth Avenue. In 1983, the North Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, Inc. began holding a street fair to to benefit the Historic Fourth Avenue Business District. Each year, the proceeds from the fair go toward sidewalk maintenance, trash pick-up, planters and public art. Here is one of the many murals that line Fourth Avenue.

We spent the better part of the morning wandering up one side of Fourth Avenue and down the other.

We saw all sorts of crafty things, but we felt the doggy hats warranted special mention. What cool canine wouldn't like to style and profile in a custom made hat.

Of course, all that shopping can build up a powerful hunger. Nothing says street fair like meat on a stick.

We did take a slight detour from Fourth Avenue to stop at one of Tucson's best craft beer bars - 1702 Craft Beer and Pizza. After wetting our whistle, it was back into the fray!

Having totally exhausted ourselves, we hopped the streetcar back to the Mercado. Dave came home with a new leather wallet and Kathy brought back one-half of the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie.

(David:  "What happened to the OTHER half???")

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hiking the Sweetwater Trail

Our RV park has a hiking group, led this year by Bryan.  Today was the weekly hike, and it was our first opportunity to join the group, which was a small group - only six of us.  Bryan had selected the Sweetwater Trail, a 7-mile out-and-back hike starting from a trailhead in the West Section of Saguaro National Park that is set in a suburban neighborhood.

Saguaro National Monument was created on March 1, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. On October 14, 1994, Congress elevated Saguaro to National Park status.  Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District, to the east of Tucson, and the Tucson Mountain District, to the west. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the Saguaro Cactus.  Our trail lies in the western district.

From the trailhead parking lot, the trail quickly left the residential area and became wild.  Here is a look down the trail as we set out:

We started quickly to climb up into the Tucson Mountains.  A friendly saguaro cactus gives scale to Bryan as he leads us up on the ascent:

Within a mile, we started winding our way through the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, down into washes and up again.  Kathy poses below with the ridge that was our destination behind her:

One of the members of our hiking group, Chris, is an interesting woman from the Ottawa area.  She knows the desert and helped us identify many local plant and bird species:

Kathy's favorite plant was this saguaro skeleton Kathy nicknamed, "Wilson," after the volleyball that accompanied Tom Hanks in his epic journey across the sea in the movie, "Cast Away":

We saw a number of sotol plants, of which this was the most prominent:

This specimen stood out by the trail along a ridge we hiked:

Kathy found a convenient place to rest on stones placed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of their extensive work on the Sweetwater Trail:

The trail crossed two large drainages, including this one, the erosion of which exposed large swaths of rhyolite, fused volcanic ash laid down 70 million years ago when this area was filled with volcanic activity:

Kathy's research revealed that the National Park Service reports 25 crested saguaros in Saguaro National Park.  Imagine her excitement when we spotted a crested saguaro to one side of the trail:

Sometimes saguaro cacti produce a fan-shaped form of uncontrolled growth at the tip. These odd growths are referred to as cresting (or cristate), and are very rare occurrences. It is estimated that this condition affects approximately one out of every 200,000 saguaros. Originally, less than 200 of these abnormalities were thought to be in existence. However, more than 2,000 have been discovered so far, and biologists believe that there may be many more.  The cause of cresting, also know as fasciation, in saguaro is not fully understood. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation, or caused by micro-organisms, or physical damage such as lightning strike or freezing.

So far, we have discovered only three crested saguaros in this area:  one in the eastern district of Saguaro National Park when we visited Tucson two years ago, this one, and a lone crested saguaro in Tucson Mountain Park just outside our RV park.  Kathy only has another 23 to locate before we leave here in January!

Our hiking companion Chris also was good at locating birds nests in the crooks of the arms of saguaro cactus.  Here, she pointed out the nest of a cactus wren, with the entrance holes still intact:

Due to the extensive volcanism of this area in eons past, our trail took us past numerous igneous rock formations, including this one:

At the far point of our hike, we lunched on a saddle or col southeast of Wasson Peak.  The site is spectacular, with views southwest toward the desert floor where our RV park is located, and to the City of Tucson to the northeast.

After a convivial rest and snack, we worked our way back down the trail to our vehicles.  On the way home, we made our plans to rejoin the group when we're back in January from our holiday trip to the East Coast.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Parading Around Patagonia

Hi Blog!

Our friends, Dick and Gaila, recently stopped by to visit us at Desert Trails RV Park on their way south of Tucson. They were looking for an interesting place to boondock (i.e. parking out in the "boonies" without electric, water, or sewer hook-ups). We made plans to meet up with them in a couple days once they got settled in. They promised to introduce us to Patagonia, Arizona, an historic town filled with ranchers, miners and newcomers such as artists and retirees.

Dick and Gaila were able to find an amazing place to park in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. More importantly, they were able to give us directions into the back of of the beyond to find them.

Because of the afternoon light, you really couldn't see the view out the front of their motorhome. So, here is the unobstructed view. As we say in Alaska - nothing but miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles! Needless to say, there was plenty of room to park Great White.

While it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, we were only about 15 miles from Patagonia. True to their word, Dick and Gaila whisked us off to beautiful downtown Patagonia where we stopped at the Gathering Grounds for a scrumptious breakfast. After breakfast, we proceeded further on down the road to Patagonia Lake State Park. Created by the damming of Sonoita Creek, the lake is habitat for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, and is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter. The pedestrian bridge gave us a great view of the lake.

We spent a few minutes in the Visitor's Center checking out the recent bird and mammal sightings. Yes, Virginia, there are mountain lions in southern Arizona. One was recently spotted in the campground parking lot! However, we were more interested in bagging the elusive Elegant Trogon! No, its not a special condom, but a beautiful tropical bird!

Only one species of trogon occurs in North America. Elegant Trogons are a prized sighting for birders who visit southeastern Arizona.  We weren't optimistic about our chances after chatting with the host at the Visitor Center who advised us that, while this particular individual bird, who is known to have migrated repeatedly back to Patagonia Lake State Park annually for over 17 years, had been spotted about 3 weeks ago - it had not been seen since.  Thus, while Gaila (ever the optimist) led us out with assurance that we would see this gorgeous bird, we must admit that we didn't expect a payoff.

We followed the beautiful Sonoita Creek in hopes of bagging this elusive prey.

As we wound our way through the woods, we ran into another couple of birders. So far, they hadn't had any better luck than we had had. We continued upstream until we couldn't go any further. It looked like the Elegant Trogan would remain aloof.

Just then, one of the birders we saw earlier came jogging down the trail toward us. "Come quick. We spotted him!" We quickly began following down the trail. However, our unusual behavior startled a small herd of deer. There was quite a commotion as the deer scattered, we exclaimed about the deer, and one straggler struggled to join her herd.  We thought we ruined our chance, but just as we turned the corner, there he was, sitting loud and proud.

The Elegant Trogan is easily recognized by its metallic-green and rose-red colors, as well as its unusual stout-bodied, square-tailed profile. Yep, that's him.  Dick took these gorgeous photos of our little flighty specimen, so we thank Dick for his labors.

Trogons feed largely on insects and spiders, although species of the Americas also eat large quantities of fruits. Some species also eat snails, small lizards, and frogs. Trogons spend much of their time perched in a stiffly erect stance on mid-canopy branches, making occasional sallies to catch insects or pluck fruits, often using a hovering flight. Yep, that's pretty much what he did when we watched him.

Well, I guess he was getting a little annoyed with our voyeurism, so he signaled it was time for us to move on.

We walked further, still chattering about our good fortune in bird-spotting.  Much of the area around Sonoita Creek is open range. We had to share the trail with these little ladies while we sang tip-toe through the cow chips.

After being in the desert for months, it was great to walk along a stream and around a lake. We haven't seen waterfowl for months. This lovely great white egret didn't seem to mind as we walked by.

As we continued back around the lake, we also spotted a immature lesser green heron hiding between the base of the reeds and the dark shadows. We were able to point him out to the other birders as they came by. It was the least we could do after they chased us down to alert us to the Elegant Trogan.

After finishing our hike, we retired back to Dick and Gaila's rig, where we got happy and tucked into a wonderful meal of chicken burritos. As with all good things, this exquisite day soon come to an end. With the shadows stretching across the valley, it was time for us to hit the road, but not before promising to get together again.

Merry Christmas Dick and Gaila - see you next year!

Hiking the Prospector and Golden Gate Trails

Over two days, Thursday, December 1 and Saturday, December 3, 2016, we hiked the length of the Prospector Trail and Golden Gate Trail from our RV Park up to the Gates Pass Trailhead on Gates Pass Road in Tucson.  The total length of the two hikes was about 12 miles, so that each daily part was about 6 miles.

We have been all over the Prospector Trail, both on foot and by trail bike, since we arrived at Desert Trails RV Park in mid-October.  For this reason, the portion of the trail near our campground has grown very familiar.  What we curious about was the upper stretch of the trail, where maps and acquaintances told us there were sites of old mines.  We were hoping to find an old mine.

The trail still held some other surprises for us.  One example was this skeleton of an old Saguaro, who revealed to us his very unique personality as we passed him on the trail:

Up into the hills toward Golden Gate Mountain, our map showed a mine site, and we had to make some educated guesses to find it on one of the branches of the main trail.  Yet, without too much trouble, we stumbled on it.  Here are photos of Kathy and the mine site --

-- and this is a video with a 360 degree view of Tucson Mountain Park from the mine.

Tucson Mountain Park covers an area with many mine sites.  We discussed this at length in our blog entry, "Where's the Old Prospector?" so we won't repeat ourselves here.  An interesting story that involves much of our trail is worth telling, however.

Gates Pass which is where Gates Pass Boulevard and portions of the Golden Gate Trail pass, was named for Thomas Gates, a local pioneer & successful gambler, rancher, saloonkeeper, and miner. Today, we might refer to old Tom as an "entrepreneur". In 1883 he searched for and found a shorter route through the Tucson Mountain between his mine in the Avra Valley, near present day Marana, Arizona, to the west, and Tucson, to the east of the mountains.  When the county refused to build a road through the pass in the Tucson Mountains, Gates spent $1,000 of his own to build the narrow, winding dirt road that shortened his route by 8 miles.

The north end of Prospector Trail terminates at Kinney Road, and the south end of Golden Gate Trail begins across the road from the terminus of the Prospector Trail.  Here we paused with Golden Gate Mountain behind us to survey the trail as it climbed into the Tucson Mountains:

Saguaro are unique plants.  Their singular shapes give rise to interesting sculptural forms, and their singular skin can give rise to artistic patterns not found elsewhere:

Our trail led us through the sculptural beauty of the Saguaro, and also the geologic forms and stories presented in the volcanic rocks of the area:

This section of the Tucson Mountains was originally formed as a caldera about 70 million years ago, when volcanic ash was spewed up from within the earth.  As the ash fell, it fused from its own heat, forming white rhyolite, or tuff.   These layers of rhyolite were subsequently littered with huge boulders of volcanic rock that eroded and broke off from peaks that had once been the jagged walls of the caldera.  The boulders rolled down the slopes of the caldera into the valleys and arroyos within the mountains.  Along the entire stretch of the trail, we could see this history spread before us:

Nearing the top of Gates Pass, we looked back over the basin in Tucson Mountain Park, toward the south where our RV park lies, a miniature dot in a sea of cactus:

At the top of  the trail, David paused to look at the Gates Pass trailhead sign:

Near the trailhead is a stone shelter.  Between 1933 and 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was active in Tucson Mountain Park (TMP).  The CCC created eight picnic areas.  At these picnic areas the CCC built tables with benches, fire places, rest rooms, ramadas, and shelter houses.  The CCC built four shelter houses in the Tucson Mountains, two in Tucson Mountain Park. The shelter at Gates Pass is one of the smallest of the group.  It was constructed of uncoursed stone with large stone piers at the corners supporting a peeled log structure, plywood sheathing and a composition gable roof and saguaro rib ceiling. Low walls on three sides of the structures form windows. The shelter house has a free-standing concrete picnic table which is supported by a stone and concrete pedestal, and a wrap-around bench that extends along the interior walls.  It also has a built in fire places.

Here is a photo of the stone shelter at Gates Pass --

-- and this is the view we had to the south from inside the shelter, which provided cool shade to us at midday:

We were startled by hordes of honeybees, who pestered us from the moment we arrived at the trailhead picnic area.  We supposed that they were desperate for food or water and had learned that visitors might provide either.  We had to keep moving in order to avoid as many as a dozen bees landing on us at once.  The bees weren't aggressive, nor did we get stung; but they were an annoyance, and we were concerned that we might get stung.  Consequently, our quiet lunch was cut short to about 5 minutes.  We gobbled our sandwiches and headed quickly back down the trail to be free of these curious creatures.

Our hike back down from Gates Pass along the Golden Gate Trail and Prospector Trail was uneventful, and gave us a chance to get another perspective on some of the things we had seen and learned on our hike up.  By the time we returned to the campground, we were ready for happy hour!