Zion National Park, UT. March 2017. Part 2

The Narrows.

The Virgin River collects water from a large watershed and flows south through Zion Canyon.  This whole area is layer upon layer of sand stone and other types of sedimentary rock laid down over millions of years in shallow seas that covered this area.  Geologic forces have lifted the entire Colorado Plateau over even more millions of years, folding, bending and breaking the layers as they rose.  And all during this time water flowed, winter came and turned to summer, ice formed and pushed apart layers of rock, the summer heat caused rocks to split as well and the wind turned rocks into sand.  But it was the flowing water that carved its way down through the lifting layers. The sides of the canyons would split off and fall down into pieces that the river would just grind up over time.  

In this area huge vertical cliff faces are possible because water would seep into vertical cracks in the rock, the freezing and thawing would make the cracks bigger and more water would seep in and then when there was enough water and ice in the crack the entire face would shear off leaving a vertical face.

We followed the Virgin River up the canyon on the shuttle bus and then set off on a 2 mile hike to the narrows.

Most of this popular trail is paved or small gravel.  There are a few steep places.  It just seems to lead into a cliff.

Some of the gravel is not so small.  While this rock has been here for a very long time, I am sure, neither of us wanted to linger under it for long.  In high water periods many sections of this trail are under water.

The vertical faces are everywhere and very close.

Water seeps down into the rock above until it hits a harder layer and then flows out through the side of the cliff face as a waterfall.  In each of these locations, new side canyons begin.  In another million years maybe we could walk up this new canyon.

And in many shady side walls water would just ooze or bubble out, dribbling down the face and form small pools. The different colors are all the result of minerals being disolved by the water and then deposited on the face of the rock as the water flows down.

And everywhere there is water there are plants that are specially suited to the damp environment. Most of these plants grow only in these shady, wet nooks in Zion.  They just seem to grow right out of the rocks and that is exactly what they do. There are little tiny  tadpoles in the pools and very tiny frogs that only live here. There were deer tracks here as well, a good source of water for them.

And finally there is no more trail. And indeed the river continues into the mountain.  At this time the water level and flow rates were too high to go further (and the water temperature was about 40°) but later in the season you can continue on up into the narrows until it is just a narrow slit in the mountain, close enough to touch both sides.  They are very cautious of weather in the watershed though because even a small rainfall can create a flash flood in the narrows.

I wish these were my photos but they are not. They give you a good idea of what the narrows looks like when you can walk upstream.

If you are a photographer you can understand how important light is to making a picture stand out.  And in many places in Zion being patient for the best light is critical.

International Visitors

One thing we are always amazed by in our National Parks is the International attraction they have.  And no different here. Every imaginable language can be heard except Klingon.  And many bring their own campers with them.

This is an Italian truck that likely started as something else and was converted into a camper. 

And these two we spied in the parking lot.

And all sorts of Mercedes Benz vans converted into heavy duty 4×4 off road campers.  Most of there were from California, sort of off in their own world anyway.

We are always pleased to see all of the different examples of camping.  From someone on a bicycle, to young folks in a tent like we started out doing, to families tenting and in small trailers and then many seeming to find something more suited to their needs as they get older or families get bigger and then smaller.   We see every example. All ages. All abilities. There is so much to see and experience.  Just figure out a way and do it.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Zion National Park, UT. March 2017. The Watchman

At the entrance to Zion National Park the Watchman stands as a sentinal. It is very much in view in all of Springdale and looking back from the first third of the canyon.

Every day it was right there in front of us.  It really was just as close as it looks.

In the morning the sun comes up from behind it and it could be dark and ominous.

Often shrouded in early morning clouds.

From every view its colors would change.  In the morning it would have light reflected from the opposite canyon wall. By mid-day, more direct light. Late in the day the low sun angles would change how it looked again.  

And then clouds played an important roll as well. Filtering, blocking and opening up for more lighing effects.

One afternoon large dark clouds blew in from the south. Colors started changing like they do when a storm is coming.

The colors seemed very intense, greenish, the Watchman crisp in its detail.

Wind and clouds swirled.

And broke open a bit off to the west. A ribbon of light began to light up the Watchman.

Clouds were moving in every direction. Some rain fell.

And then a tear in the clouds, the late day sun broke through and the Watchman seemed to burst into fire.

With great intensity and brilliance.

Everywhere you are in Zion this happens over and over every day. And you are right in the middle of it all as it happens. The vast range of color and light emerges and changes with just the swift movement of a cloud, just a few minutes of passing time. Light comes from above and between the high peaks along the sides of the canyon. A waterfall may only be in the sunlight for a few minutes each day and that waterfall only there for a very short time at just one time during the year. 

This is not a drive through park.  Many people come for only one or two days, see what they see as the shuttle bus goes by and then leave. Like so many places we stop at a couple weeks is barely enough to start being there, to spend enough time in one place to begin to really see it, its colors, its moods.  To be in one place long enough to see what happens before you as it does.

This look at the Watchman happened in only a couple minutes and was gone.  Shared by a few who were looking.  We are fortunate to be able to have the time to be where we are and allow the experience to surround us.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Zion National Park, UT.  March 2017. Part 1

If you have not been to the five major National Parks in Utah you should make the effort to get there.  These Parks include Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Arches, Capital Reef and Canyonlands.  These as well as several National Monuments are all part of the Grand Staircase, layers of sedimentary rock extending south from Bryce Canyon through Zion and into the Grand Canyon.  For probably more than you need to know about this amazing geological structure see 


We have spent many months in the Utah Parks over the years and are drawn back to Zion in the SW corner of Utah near Springdale. Unlike the Grand Canyon where one stands on (near) the edge and looks out and down over the vastness of the canyon, Zion is a narrow deep canyon with almost vertical rock walls. The visitor to Zion is at the bottom of the canyon looking up and out.  The canyon is perhaps 3/8 miles wide at the Watchman Campground and the Visitor’s Center, maybe 1/4 mile wide half way up the canyon at the Lodge and at the far end of the canyon at the Narrows you can touch both sides at the same time as the Virgin River comes through a slot in the rock.

Zion has been known by the Southern Paiute Native Americans and others before them for centuries. They call it Mukuntuweap, “the land with straight up walls”. Mormons first came here in the 1850’s and settled here in the 1860’s.  For millions of years as this entire region has been rising the Virgin river has been cutting through thousands of feet of sandstone and other rock layers to form Zion Canyon. The sides of the canyon are more than 1/2 mile high in places and the peaks of the mountains along the edges of the canyon are more than 4,000 ft above the canyon floor.  And all of this is very close.  On any average day the Virgin River moves almost 3,000 tons of rocks, sand and sediment out of the canyon.

We stayed in Watchman Campground right along side the Virgin River.

Watchman is the mountain to the right. Big, high and right next to us in the campground.

Looking the other way is the opposite side of the canyon. The light here is amazing. The top of the mountain is shrouded in misty clouds while morning sun finds a hole in the clouds on the other side to light up a patch on the side.

We had a nice roomy site with electric hookups (rare in National Parks) for only $18/night with the all powerful Geezer Pass.

Cool nights and mornings (usually in the 30’s) warmed up quickly to about 70°.  Lots of shadows though made it feel cooler at times.  If you were in the sun, warmer.  Most days were sunny to partly sunny.  We had one late afternoon series of thunderstorms with wind and rain and hail.

Yes, that is hail.

The Virgin River was 40′ away.  This was a pretty calm day.  After some rain up in the very large watershed it could quickly rise a foot or so and become much more agitated.

We were here for two weeks and drove the Jeep only once when we went into St George on a technology hunt.  All of the rest of the time it was walking, bike riding or taking the free shuttle busses that run all the way up the canyon from the visitor’s center.  They make several stops, you can get on or off at any of them and bring your bike if you want.  There are also shuttle busses from near the park entrance that head south through Springdale and back.  So pretty much anywhere you want to go you can get there easily without driving.

The last time we were here was in 1999.  The shuttle busses were just starting service here after getting some experience in Yosemite and Mesa Verde.  These keep the cars out of areas with very limited parking and reduce pollution. And with the shuttle busses running into Springdale it reduces the parking requirements in the park.  There were several days where access to the park was only on foot. All available parking was full.

I talked to a park ranger one day and she told me that these busses running today are the same busses they started with in 1999.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Wahweap, Lake Powell, Page Arizona March 2017

After leaving McDowell Mountain we left a few days to get to Zion National Park. The Wahwaep Campground on Lake Powell near Page looked like an OK place to stop.  It is on the lake, near Glen Canyon Dam, near Page for grocery shopping and it had a  nice, inexpensive laundry.  

Wahweap is a pretty nice campground but not cheap.  Good for a day or two.

The drive north from Phoenix went from about 1,500 ft elevation to about 4,500 ft at Page.  The plants and trees change as you go up.  The last part as we got closer to Page was very bleak looking, red rocks and dirt, very few trees, just a few shrubs.  Lots of long uphill grades.  Page is at the east end of the Grand Canyon.  Just a hundred miles or so to the west the South Rim is at 7,000 ft and the North Rim is at 9,000 ft and the river is almost 1,000 ft lower.  The ground rises and the river keeps cutting through it.

Lake Powell stretches up through canyons almost 150 miles making it a giant water playground.  This is the main place to rent houseboats, up to 70 ft long ones.  They range from pretty basic to very luxurious.  The big fancy ones are a couple thousand dollars a day plus fuel and all the other stuff, five day minimum.  The smaller ones are a few hundred a day plus.

The Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960’s and is over 700′ high.  They built a bridge first and then the dam.  Page was built for the workers at the same time.

The main reason for the dam is to hold Colorado River water in the reservoir.  This manages water flow through the Grand Canyon, provides huge amounts of hydroelectric power and water to much of Arizona and parts of New Mexico.

This dam and Boulder Dam and Parker Dam downstream and several more dams you never hear about manage the Colorado river water for all of the states in the watershed from Wyoming to California.  All of them get a share of the water.  By the time it gets to Mexico there is just over 1% of all of the water left.

The water level here is down more than 110′ from its high water mark due to 18 years of drought.  Just a year ago it was 140′ down.  It now has just over 40% of its capacity.  You can see the “bathtub” ring that shows how much lower the water level is now.

The bridge is a two lane thing, 25 mph speed limit.  If you walk out on it and trucks go by it moves.

When they built this bridge it was the highest steel arch bridge in the world.

It is a long way down. The canyon walls are very steep.

This is the downstream side of the dam on the north end where it meets the canyon wall.  The big boxy thing at the bottom is part of the power plant.  The gray things coming out of the dam are walkways from the interior of the dam to the power station.

You can see three little rectangular shapes along the dam/canyon junction.  Those are doors.  The middle one leads to a walkway along the canyon face.  Yikes! The inside of the dam has elevators, and passageways though it.  These are mostly for inspection and service.

There is the power plant, nine big hydroelectric generators provide power to cities all over the SW and California.  There is a road and a huge tunnel on the other side that leads down to the power house level.  Big enough to bring in replacement parts for the generators up to 33′ in diameter.

It is a long way down.

Lots of amazing things to see upstream and down like Horseshoe Bend.  We got our laundry done, went grocery shopping, visited the dam and the Powell Museum and were ready to move on.

Zion National Park is next.

More later,

Roger and Susan

McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Arizona, March 2017, Part 3

McDowell Mountain is a great desert spot.  The park is about 50,000 acres, it has a campground, a group campground, an overflow campground and a horse campground. It has more than 75 miles of hiking/biking trails, some of the trails are used by horseback riders.  It has three competitive off-road bicycle tracks.  McDowell hosts more than 30 bike events each year. They also host road bike racing events, running events and many more special events.  More than one a week.

A Nature Walk

We went on a three mile walk with a Park Naturalist one morning.  We were looking for early blooming flowers.  There weren’t too many but by the time we left McDowell they were everywhere.

Amy knew the names of just about every native plant and quite a bit about how each plant  was important in the desert environment, to the Native Americans and to those who followed them.  She also talked about the Saguaro Cactus in the area and how long it took them to grow.  She showed us very small ones, less than a foot tall, growing in the protection of a bigger bush.  At a foot tall a young Saguaro might be 5-10 years old.

A lone poppy, but there were more flowers, some very small, some that only grew in the shadow of another plant near a place that water would flow when it rained. And there were a lot of birds here too.  Cardinals! I guess that is the name of their football team. But they are snowbirds as well, only here in migration but long enough to make an impression.

One thing we saw were lots of small lizards.  They were out early because it was warm and they are very fast.  Amy said when you start seeing lizards the snakes are not far behind.


The hiking/biking trails are easy to follow on a park map.  There is a huge 30 miles loop trail and shorter loop trails inside of that and then connecting trails in every direction.  In many cases they lead to the border of the park and connect to trails heading further away.  Most trails are wide and smooth.  Not many rocks.  There are some places where the trails cross a wash where there is loose, soft sand.

Plenty wide for biking.  This was lots of fun for me.  Susan was not so  interested in the off road biking part.

But walking was OK.  This time at McDowell it was particularly hot.  Several days in a row of mid 90’s.


While we were here John and Kathy Juelfs came to visit.  We met them two years ago in Nacogdoches when they were there buying their coach, their first coach, their first RV!  And they were selling their house, buying a car to tow and setting off as fulltimers.  What adventures, challenges and changes were ahead for them!

The next time we saw them was in North Dakota.  They were headed east on I 90 and we were heading west.  We were waving. They were waving. We both stayed at the same campground in Medora and missed each other by a day.  The next time was in the spring of 2016.  They were heading somewhere and stopped by for several days in Hastings.  And now they were in Apache Junction, about 30 miles south of McDowell, staying for five months over the winter and wanted to come see us and McDowell. It was a very nice visit.  They have settled into the full time life pretty well.

And we got a visit from Richard and Susan Peck.  We met them in October, 2015 in Indiana at the Foretravel GrandVention. More than 100 coaches were there.  They too were pretty new at this at that time. They bought a Foretravel and set off as fulltimers.  They are both still working while they live where they are. Susan works remotely for a robotics outfit. Richard is a professional sommelier.  That means he knows a lot about wine and this winter while in Mesa, he was teaching classes about wine at several RV Resort communities.  They seemed eager to come and see us so we did a nice lunch and lots of chatting.

Heard Museum

Last time we were in Phoenix we went to the Heard Museum. It celebrates the art and crafts and culture of many diverse groups of Native American people.  And it gives witness to many of the shared experiences as well.   In the new Virginia Piper Gallery the  inaugural exhibit was “Beauty Speaks For Us”.  There were weavings, pottery, jewelery and more from many of the various peoples.

This is a wonderful woven piece. Perhaps what the symbolism means is known to the artist and the people in their clan. To me the exquisite crispness of the detail and color, the symmetry and asymmetry at the same time and the skill and artistry in the weaving is beautiful and it spoke to me.

And another weaving of what the artist saw everyday in the landscape around them.  It is stark, dry and unforgiving it seems and stunningly beautiful at the same time.  This is the land of light and dark, of bright and shadow, of colors defined by distance and time of day. It is vast and close, vivid and subtle, brilliant and subdued.  In this land I am awestuck by its beauty every day.

And in this hand made Apache Woman’s tunic.  Made of animal hide, probably deer or elk, glass beads and ochre color it had to represent a very long effort to craft such fine detail. Perhaps it was for ceremonial wear, perhaps every day – it did not say. But  in the skill and dedication to detail and design and in the very fine fringe someone’s work, all by hand using crafts and skills perhaps lost today, there is beauty.

The Navajo people speak of walking in beauty.  It is more than just your surroundings or your possesions. It is a way of life, an inner peace, an understanding of who and what you are. I can hardly begin to say what it is as it takes a lifetime to learn.  When you are ill or troubled you need help to restore yourself to the beauty way, a way of balance and harmony.

Patricia Anne Davis, MA  writes:

Walking in Beauty: “hozho naasha”

The four cardinal directions principles defined below are the “beauty way path” in the sense that beauty exists within us and around us as the light reflects through a rainbow. The symbol of the rainbow is our sovereign communication with creator.
“hozho” – means “natural order.” The term natural order is temporal time, cardinal directions, cycles of seasons correlated with principles placed in the four cardinal directions for a life journey.
The principles placed within the four cardinal directions are blessingway teaching translated to English as “the four corn-pollen footsteps”: child-youth-adult-elder.

  • EAST – child: sunrise-spring-spiritual moral standards for living
  • SOUTH – youth: noon-summer-learning/work/transportation
  • WEST – parent: sunset-autumn-family/home/story-telling/ceremony
  • NORTH – grandparent: midnight-winter-SELF-reverence/reverence for the natural order/hope/restoring resources
  • CENTER: fireplace/hearth of home – spiritual family love

Once one has experienced a ceremonial change process to correct the state of dis-ease/disease, their journey is in the natural order. Then we are living the loving way, in right relationship to the elements of the four cardinal directions. When we travel through life in this way we are walking in beauty.

She goes on to say … The meaning and vibration is my way of keeping track of information in English while I exist, speak and write in the Dineh Affirmative thinking.

There is much to learn and museums like the Heard help.

There is another section of the museum dedicated to home. It shows the link between home and people. Each home (home land) is different, all have common elements but style, detail and voice are different.  You can see this in the different clays used in pottery, the different decorating styles. Weaving styles change sugnificantly. Dress changes. And all thought that home was where they needed to be.

A permanent display about the Indian Boarding Schools was much the same as it was from last time but evoked the same sense of dismay.  In the last half of the 1800’s as Indians were forced onto reservations, children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools. In these schools located all across the country children from many different bands were mixed together, they were forced to wear school uniforms, their hair was cut, they could not speak their own language. They were being forced to conform to ways that would Americanize and Christianize the Indians. They were taught low skill trades because no one thought they could do more. Disease was common especially tuberculosis and many children died.  It seemed a very sad time. Many made it through and returned home. For many home was no longer the same.  For some it was an opportunity to help improve their home and the lives of the people in it.  There were many connections made between different Indian Groups and people became more socially and politically active.  It was not all bad but it is still pretty sad to see how the Native Americans were treated and how they survived.

You can read more about Indian Boarding Schools here. 



A Morning Visitor.

Susan and I were getting ready for a “forced march” as she likes to call them. A morning walk up one side of Stoneman’s Wash, a long shallow valley where spring runoff flows, across to the other side and back.  Maybe three or four miles.  It was hot so we were going to try to get going early.  Susan was outside getting her boots on. I was inside getting a water bottle.  When I started to go out the door I stopped.

Right there on the rug at the foot of the steps coming out of the coach was this fellow.  Not surprising since we had been seeing lots of lizards. He was moving across the ground and as soons as I moved the screen door he coiled up.  I croaked something to Susan and said to stay where she was. She could see it too.

I got my camera to take a picture. The rattler had his eyes on me and reared up.

One of the campground hosts was going by and Susan waved at him.  He came over for a look and called John, the other campground host, who came over with his 6′ long snake grabber and a snake bucket.  By the time John got there the snake had calmed down and crawled under the coach. Without too much drama, John grabbed the snake, it was about three feet long but looked at least six in our wide-eyed view, and put it in the bucket and screwed on the lid.  They took it somewhere not too far away and let it go.  The campground hosts get training for all of this. John said they had picked up three in the week leading up to this one.  And since the snakes have a pretty small territorial range they only take then a mile or two away to release them.

We were surprised and startled at first. We were glad the campground hosts were prepared and trained. By the time we calmed down it was interesting to look at the rattlesnake and see its colors and textures.  What a sight!

We finally got off on our forced march.  It was very hot.  Susan got overheated and pretty dry.  We didn’t bring enough water.  We got to a bench by the side of the trail close to the end and sat for a while. I went to get more water.  By the time I got back she was much better but still drank a bunch of water.  When you go off for a walk in the desert, bring much more water than you think you might need.  We got back and started looking at the hydration back packs that we see everywhere out here.  Good idea.

Last Ride

We were coming to the end of our time at Mc Dowell Mountain.  Two weeks.  Not enough.  The morning before we left I went off on one last ride, longer than most I had done but a combination of trails I had been on before.  Coming down a long fairly steep downhill chunk (faster that I should have been going) I had to make an S turn around two big thorny bushes.  The first one was close and some hard braking in the second turn had my rear wheel slide out to the right in the loose gravel.  I sort of did a three point landing on my left hip, elbow and knee.  My elbow and knee got scraped up (three weeks later, they are doing well) and my hip got banged up.  No scrapes or bruises there but it is still sore.  Nothing new for me, I seem to get chewed up just standing there sometimes.

Next we are off to Zion Natioal Park with a couple days near Page AZ and the Glenn Canyon Dam on the Colorado River on the way.

More later,

Roger and Susan

McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Arizona, March 2017, Part 2

A correction to the last post … McDowell Regional Park is east of Fountain Hills.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ

Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home for himself and for his architecture school. The original Taliesin in Spring Green, WI is the summer home.  Everyone wanted to know what Taliesin meant.  From his Scottish heritage, Taliesin referred to the brow of the hill. And that fit Wright’s idea of an elevated location for the view without being too high to change the natural landscape.

In 1937 Wright came out to the Phoenix area on the advise of his doctors, sound familiar?  He found this area on the west side of McDowell Mountain and started buying land, 650 acres for an average price of only $3.50 per acre.   He was attracted to the site because there was room, ample  natural building material on hand and it was cheap. It remained his winter home until he died in 1959 at the age of 91.  Building on the site began in 1939 and continued until 1954. The school, both in Spring Green and here continues to educate architects.  

Part of their education in the first years of Taliesen West was to do the hard work of building the buildings.  Water had to be hauled in from 8 miles away.  It was nearly 40 miles to the Phoenix Airport.  Wright was a fancier of cars, red cars and usually drove himself from Wisconsin to Arizona.  The buildings took shape from the local rocks which naturally had a flat face, concrete, steel and redwood.  They followed Wright’s concepts of using natural materials, avoiding rectangular shapes, allowing natural light to penetrate to the interior and making spaces more human scale.  Wright was only 5′-8″ tall so many of his doorways seem short and entry areas have low ceilings which expand to rooms with higher ceilings.  

The entire layout of the campus resembled a ship in an abstract way.  In this Lego version the prow of the ship is at the end of the  triangular green lawn area.  Some imagination is required, maybe squinting helps.

There were several pools of water both as a design element and as a means to fight any possible fires.  There was no nearby fire department or water supply.

There wasn’t a square corner anywhere.

Especially doors.

The living room was like a crumpled box.  Every roof leaked so they ended up adding gutters to all of the beams to channel water to the outside. Now they point that out and proclaim all of the dribbling drains to be water features.  We sat in these chairs.  They were designed for short people.

Everything is very purposefully designed and quite stunning.  The entire campus on its own is a work of art.  Here you can see how the flat faced rocks were placed in wooden forms that were then filled with concrete.  When the forms were removed the flat faces became part of the surface. I am sure every rock was chosen for its location with great care.   You can also see V shaped grooves in the walls. These were made with wooden strips in the forms.  They add another layer of surface and shadow lines, breaking up the flat surfaces. And there are Asian influences in many views.

Natural materials are used everywhere.

And art and sculpture.  Orchards and gardens provide much of the food stock used by the kitchen.

And considerable Native American influence as well, all merged into one.

The ninety minute docent led tour was very well done.  It was a reasonably sized group, easy to hear and the flow and organization of the information made it easy to follow and connect facts.

And of course, there was a Gift Shop.  I bought some bronze house numbers for the Hastings house.  Susan got a FLW influenced iPhone cover, something in his wildest dreams he never would have imagined.

It was an interesting day.  We have been to the Spring Green site and this completed that. In many ways this was more interesting.

Well, as usual, more later.

Roger and Susan

Tucson AZ, March 2017, Part 5

Well, it is time to leave Tucson. After two busy weeks it seems way too soon.  Next time we will have to stay for a month or more.

We got to see Judy and Bruce (sister and brother-in-law) and our friend Bob from Duluth.

We saw many fellow Foretravelers here as well.

  • Kent and Peggy Speers, 
  • Ken (and almost Dori) Hathaway, 
  • Dave Katsuki and Nancy Elkins, 
  • Carol and Jeff Savournin, 
  • Richard and Betty Bark,
  • Jeff and Christy Lendroth (they bought Carol and Jeff’s coach)
  • Leslie and Rick from Washington

We met most of these folks before at Diamond J’s or somewhere else or on the Foretravel Forum. It is always nice to meet people in person.

Next we are going to McDowell Mountain Regional Park NE of Phoenix.  It doesn’t look like a long way on the map but it is still 2-1/2 hours away. Sundays always seem to be a pretty good travel day.

More later,

Roger and Susan

McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Arizona, March 2017, Part 1

McDowell Mountain Regional Park is west east(ish) of Fountain Hills, AZ. in the northeast part of the Phoenix area.  It is a very large regional park in the Maricopa County park system and has a very nice campground.  There about 80 sites with water and electric and a nearby dump station. One of the Campground Host couples is from Milaca, Minnesota.  They have been here every winter for six months for the last ten years.  He remembered us from when we were here two years ago.  He is an avid off road biker and this is a great place for that with more than 75 miles of maintained off road trails for hiking and biking.

The campground is up high on a sloping plateau looking out towards the Superstition Mountains.  The sites are big and spread out from one an other.

Plenty of room to spread out.

There are mountains in every direction.  When someone moves on, the camp ground host stops by at the site and makes sure it is clean. They all seem to be in a Zen Raking competition.  The sites (coarse sand, small gravel) are all raked carefully in swirling and circular patterns.  I was kidding John, the campground host, about it and his wife said that if they didn’t do it regularly the weeds start to grow. But I think they just trying to make interesting designs in the sand.

After a grueling 2-1/2 hr drive from Tucson it was time to relax.  This is a beautiful place, very calm and peaceful. Warm during the day and cool at night.  The temperature can easily drop 15-20 degrees in an hour or so as the sun starts goimg down.

Fountain Hills is famous for their fountain.  You can see it shooting up more than 300 ft at the beginning of each hour during the day for 15 minutes.  The water comes from a 29-acre 100 million gallon effluent lake – rain water runoff and treated waste water.  The fountain helps aerate the water as well as provide a highly visable attraction for the city.  This water is used to water the public golf course.  On St Patrick’s Day the fountain was green.  For special occasions the fountain shoots to over 500 ft high using 7,000 gallons of water per minute.

Four Peaks Mountain is off to the right and the sun lit ridge is on the far side of the Verde River.

The Superstition Mountains are off to the east. Their look changes during the day.

Late in the day as the sun goes down behind McDowell Mountain the Superstitions light up.

As does McDowell Mountain in the other direction.  That is a bit of what McDowell looks like and why we like it.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Tucson, AZ. Feb 2017, Part 4

My sister, Judy and her husband, Bruce were in Green Valley at the same time we were in Tucson. Green Valley is about 30 miles south of where we were at Diamond J’s.  They went with us to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and a few other places as well. It was nice to see them and share these places with them.

Tumacácori National Historical Park.

Tumacácori National Historical Park is south of Green Valley. It is a small area that protects the ruins of old Spanish missions in the Santa Cruz River valley. The Jesuit mission was established in 1691, the oldest one in Arizona. The goal was to convert the indigenous O’odham people to Catholicism and to organize them into a working commune that could help support the community and the church the missionaries had them build.  It remained a Jesuit mission until the Pima Rebellion of 1751 when the Jesuits were forced out and the Franciscan monks took over.  Most of the Jesuit mission was torn down and replaced with one that was more in the Franciscan style.  Their increased demands on the O’odham people to contribute more agricultural products, money and labor led to it’s eventual abandonment.  It fell into disrepair until it was named a National Historic Monument in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt and stabilization and restoration efforts began.

Today you visit the grounds, the remains of the mission and a museum.  And of course a gift shop.

This was the funeral chapel.  The holes in the walls are where the scaffolding poles were inserted. The building was not completed. If it had been the holes would have been filled in.

The interior of the mission church was pretty substantial and much cooler inside than out.  There were drawings that showed what it might have looked like.  The roof beams and roof were part of the stabilization and preservation effort.  Without a roof the building wouldn’t have survived very long.

This is the Franciscan version of the mission. 

The grounds were interesting.  There was a large lime kiln.  They would pile chunks of limestone on a big iron grate over a fire pit and roast it for days and then crush what was left, mix it with water and sand to make white stucco which preserved the adobe bricks.  There were wells, cisterns, irrigation canals, orchards and fields to grow food.  There was a picnic area where we had a picnic lunch. A local person was baking scratch made corn tortillas over a fire and serving samples with a chili sauce.  Yum!

We also went to Tubac. It was established in 1752 as a spanish fort and was the first Arizona State Park and now hosts an artists’ colony with gift shops and restaurants.  There was a kitchen shop. We found a very nice 8″ saute pan that was just what we had been looking for.  I am pretty sure it wasn’t made by any local artist.

Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Kitt Peak National Observatory is about 50 miles west of Diamond J’s.  It is on the top 300 feet one of the most important mountains in the cultural heritage of the Tohono O’odham Nation. This area was identified as a candidate for a National Observatory in the 1950’s.  There were careful negotiations with the Tohono O’odham elders for permission to build on the top of the 6,800 foot mountain. They finally agreed and the site is respectful of the cultural heritage.

Kitt Peak is home to the largest array of optical and radio telescopes in the world.  There are more than 25 telescopes on the mountain operated by different Universities and coalitions.  There is a 4 meter telescope, the biggest one in the world when it was built in the 1960’s.  There is also a 3.5 meter telscope, several radio telescopes and one of the biggest solar telescopes in the world.  This telescope looks directly at the sun to study sun spots and solar flares.  

We went on three docent led tours to three different telescopes and had a picnic lunch high up in the sun.

This is the 4 meter Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope.

It was quite cool (temp) inside. The big blue ring holds the yellow reflector.  Both rotate to aim at the desired object in the night sky.  All of this is highly automated today.  In 1960, not so much.  This is a very busy telescope in use almost every night.  The scientists who are using the telescope stay in dormitories on the mountain sleeping during the day and working at night. Time on this telescope is scheduled out for years in the future.

This was the McMath–Pierce solar telescope.  Most of the telescope is below ground.

The radio telescope on the right is part of a string of radio telescopes several thousand miles long that are all coordinated to point at the same place in space at the same time.    Looking west, you could see a long way from up here.

Tucson Botanical Garden.

We also went to the Tucson Botanical Garden (on a different day).  This was more in the middle of Tucson.  There was a Frida Kahlo art exhibit there as well as the gardens to see.  Pretty amazing gardens. Interesting art too.

This was a family owned farm and ranch back in the 1930’s and then a garden center up until the 1950’s when it was donated to the city. Now there is a gift shop.

The Tucson Garden Railroad Club has a model railroad here. There are many outdoor garden railroads in Tucson. A sign gave a schedule of tours of these railroads.  This was pretty detailed and the trains were running.

And a butterfly house.  Here is an amazing one who just sat there, wings spread, waiting for me to take its picture. It was about 4″ across.

Tucson Jewish Community Center.

We also went to the Tucson Jewish Community Center to see a quilt show.  These were all done by a woman whose focus was on homeless people. Her own son was a homeless person that she could not find.  The quilts were cotton, hand painted with fiber reactive dyes and then quilted.  None of the quilts showed any facial features.  Nameless, faceless, homeless.

They were also selling a homemade twisted Jewish Challah bread.  We just happened to be there on Friday when they had it.  The lady at the counter said it sold out quickly.  So I bought one, it was sweet and very good.
Kind of a rainy day today.  Good day to try to catch up on blogs.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Tucson, AZ, Feb 2017, Part 3

One of the things we have started to see in RV parks over the past few years is the use of rope lighting on the ground around your RV. And now it extends around your car, your picnic table and around the entire site.  And it is not that pleasant mood lighting sort of thing, the game is on to find the most obnoxious, brightest, most glaring lights you can find.  And then to put up some junk art in front of your sight and decorated that as well.

Here is an example. Actually not as bad as some but the guy had three projectors shining the little light speckles on his coach.  It is like everyone is trying to decorate for Christmas.  They will all tell you that this keeps away rodents, snakes, spiders and things that crawl up into into your RV and eat wires.  I am convinced that this old wives tale was propagated by the “Ugly Rope Light Manufacturers Assoociation” as a way to sell this ugliness to the naive RV public.  There is no evidence that this works but lots of less than logical testimonials that it does.  

Awning Lights

Well, we had been thinking of a way to add a bit of evening lighting under the awning so we got some micro LED lights (they are about the size of a grain of rice) that are strung together about 5″ apart with very fine copper wire.  This was our first iteration.

This string has the right color, a lower Kelvin temperature which makes them more yellow.  I had to figure out how to shorten the string to the awning length which the directions said couldn’t be done.  This string was not dimmable. Power comes from the coach and up an awning arm.

These looked good.  The coach actually has underbody lighting as well.  Not as garish as rope lights.  We liked the way this looked so we got another string that was dimmable.  That string was too white.  So a third string finally had both the color and dimmable features we wanted.  These are about $9 each so trying a couple out to get the right one wasn’t a big deal.  The final version is actually sewn onto the inside of the awning flap along one of the stitching lines.  If it is off you can hardly see it. The power cord disconnects at the flap edge and the lights roll up inside of the awning when it is stowed. Neat!

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is about 8 miles from Diamond J’s in the same way you go to Saguaro National Park but not as far. It is a mix of Museum and Zoo, a bit of history and popular displays.

The Museum was started in the early 1950’s.  One of the early volunteers and stakeholders bought a fleet of these 1960ish Studebaker Lark station wagons that were used to take the museum to classrooms around the area to teach kids about the world around them.  There was a Studebaker Lark in the Deming Museum, pretty amazing to see two.

Lizards are everywhere in the desert.  They are an integral part of the environment.  They mostly eat insects and are usually very fast movers, hard to get a picture.  But here are some examples who seemed at ease and willing to pose for a snapshot.  These were all about 4-5′ long.

And flowers.  Every plant in the desert blooms when there is water and the right temperature.  It is the way they create more plants.  And there were bees all over moving from flower to flower.

I think these were called Fairy Dusters.  Bright red.

And a red poppy perhaps?

The cactus flowers are usually small but bright.

These long tube shaped flowers were favorites of hummingbirds.

Sometimes the flower is just the end of a new branch.  There were flowers everywhere.  Not just here.  The wet winter and warming temperatures had then showing up everywhere.

I have no idea what these are, just interesting seed pods.

There were lots of animals here as well. A black bear, a cougar, a bobcat, snakes of all types, prairie dogs and lots more.  There were birds as well.

These are small burrowing owls.  They are common across the SW all the way over to the Gulf Coast in Texas.

And a Harris Hawk perched on a gloved hand of a handler.  These hawks live in family groups and hunt for prey as a group. That is a very uncommon behavior for birds.

And a hummingbird on her nest just a bit bigger than a ping pong ball.

Back at the campground we got an occasional sprinkle of rain followed by sun and almost always a rainbow.  It looks so close.

And a pretty nice sunset almost every night.

More later,

Roger and Susan