Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sonoran interlude

After both of us coming down with a flu-bug--me first, then Jodi--we ended up back in the outback, feeling somewhat funky but enjoying the desert wild.  We parked the camper near a wilderness area east of Phoenix and did a few day hikes, all that our sick little selves could handle.  We idled over coffee, read great  scads of excellent literature, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  However, it must be said that this was not the place of our first choosing.  We originally wanted to go to the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge outside of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  We have known for some time that the border region of southern Arizona was somewhat overrun by the flood of illegal immigrants and drug runners, but we hadn't thought of it much recently until Jodi read an article by Tim Cahill about the very area we proposed to visit.  Apparently, the place is quite dangerous now with gun-totting narcotrafficantes.  Illegals routinely die in their attempts to cross over, and trains of heavily laden drug runners are so common such that, in some places, signs have been put up warning travelers to avoid getting too far off the main roads.  In short, we've given over large parts of the USA to south-of-the-border gangsters.  What the hell?  Mini rant:  The lack of truly serious action on this by our government is beyond me.  Democrats are hoping the illegals will support their base; republicans want the cheap, easily exploitable labor; both parties are worried about sounding "racist" if they do anything substantial.  Most of this could be stopped with very little effort.  First, legalize marijuana for all uses, recreational Dead-heads and rasta-dudes all the way to cancer patients.  Second, give every employer in the US about six months to check all employees for legal status using the so-called "E-verify" system; then send a small army of ICE agents across the land, fining all businesses substantially  for employing illegals.  It would take virtually no time for most of the tide to reverse.  US labor wages would increase, and workplace exploitation would decrease.  We'd pay a bit more for our veggies and meat, but more citizens would be gainfully employed.  Win-freakin'-win!  But will anything logical be done?  Of course not.  Meanwhile, crime and misery increase, and, especially germane to this blog, wilderness areas become too dangerous to visit, AND they get trashed by the hordes that traverse them.  Our northern California woods are especially suffering under the Mexican drug cartels that are running pot growing organizations.  They tear up the land, use all kinds of nasty insecticides, and patrol the grows with automatic weapons.  Mexican nationals with AK47's in our national forests! Arrrrgghhh....

So, that said, we have to choose our destinations more carefully.  Next, it's off to Kofa National Wildlife refuge.  Yeah, I know I said I wouldn't divulge the areas I went to, but I'll throw out this bone for the adventurous who want to get out there.  Here are some more photos of the most recent exploits.

Until next time, have an adventure of your own, wherever that may be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

First encounter with the Sonoran

After dragging our carbon feet across miles that would take days on a loaded bicycle, we entered the Sonoran Desert, which is much different in character from the Mojave.  Much of the Mojave is higher, but it is also drier.  By desert standards, the Sonoran is "wet," receiving in many locations about 11 inches of rain a year divided between winter and summer rainy seasons.  This moisture coupled with extreme heat give rise to a vast array of amazing vegetables, most notably the iconic saguaro pictured above.  These monsters can be thirty feet high and hundreds of years old.  The grooves in the arms and trunk are actually pleats, and when the rain is good, the saguaro expands to on-load as much water as possible for the still considerable dry periods.  They spread millions of seeds after blooming, but only a tiny fraction take root and grow into the noble cacti that dot the Arizona landscape.  They don't occur naturally anywhere outside of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.  Many are shot full of holes by desert birds who make their nests safe and sound above the desert floor.  My favorite story of shooting a saguaro, however, concerns a drunk redneck who  decided a stately cactus was the best target for his hungry shotgun.  Blam! Blam! Blam! Mr. Red-in-the-Neck waged battle against the stoic succulent until it had had enough.  Battered and blasted, the mortally wounded cactus teetered and fell...right on top of the offending shooter, stout spines and hundreds of pounds of angry green meat that pegged him to the ground, killing him.  Don't shoot at cacti, kids, you never know when they might bite back.

We struck out from our quick camp besides a sandy wash and hiked into the hills, bundled against a cold spell still working its way through the state.  The dead beast you will see below is a pack rat, a handsome rodent, and he could not have been dead long.  A few short hikes in the desert will suffice to show you the middens or piles of debris that these creatures accumulate for their nests, often dragging in all manner of objects from far and wide--cans, bottles, bits of plastic and wood, whatever is at hand.  Last year, as Jodi, Django and I were camped in central Nevada, we had one somehow get into our camper.  A Battle Royal ensued with me wrapping a towel around one hand and reaching into a cabinet to snag the terrified creature, at one point pinning the tip of his tail under a cabinet door.  I failed to catch him.  We left the escape route open and were happy to find all clear the next morning.  We did, however, have the tip of his tail as a trophy of our rough and tumble encounter.  All hail the Rodent King!

The palo verde tree.  Note the green bark that photosynthesizes:

The fearsome cholla, teddy bear variety, I think.  Don't tangle with these!

Tamarisk, and Asian invader, in autumn glory:

Hiking a desert wash:

The mighty shall fall:

 Jodi inspects a rock; Django confirms its volcanic origins (smart dog):

Mojave fantastica

After the craziness of completing my semester at the college, it was time to escape.  A bike tour was not in the stars this winter, so we loaded up the camper and headed out the the great Southwest, the Mojave and Sonora deserts.  First stop, the East Mojave Preserve.  I won't reveal the exact location of any spot in these following entries.  The desert is for exploring.  Get a map and head out!  The nights have been freezing, the days cool, perfect for a walk through sandy washes and the twisted arms of Joshua trees.  We set out along an old Jeep track and eventually climbed a craggy ridge--windless, bright, perfect.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Clouds on the mountain

Freezing mornings, hard frost on roofs and trail, a thin morning light pouring through clouds, we greet another day in the mountains.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Artemisia tridentata

Sagebrush, big sagebrush, possibly a variety of wormwood, this tough plant covers millions of acres of the Southwest and graces large tracts in the Tehachapi mountains.  We even transplanted a few to our landscaping, although they do so well that, left alone, little else would be found around the house if we didn't whack it back from time to time.  I am constantly drawn to the dusty green and scraggly shrub, which can grow up to six feet high or more, although usually it scrambles around in the one to three foot range.  As I hike the trails or pause on a ride, if one is nearby, I'll pinch off a few leaves and savor the biting, herbal smell.  Snort too deeply of the crushed leaves and you're left practically ill for a few moments--powerful stuff.  One of the great experiences in life is to walk a Great Basin hillside in the Nevada outback after a big rain storm.  The moisture releases the aromatics in the leaves and the spice envelops you.  When I was younger, before heading home to coastal California when I had been on a trip to the sagey east side of the Sierras, I would rip a bundle of small branches, tie them together, and drop them onto the dash of the old VW van I had for so many years.  For months afterward, every time I opened the door, the rushing odor of wild places would pour out, for a moment taking me away from mundane tasks and back to places of adventure and joyous escape.  Let us venerate the common sagebrush, fuel to the homesteaders and the great perfume of the West.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clouds before the storm

Today's morning walk was cool, grey, temps in the low 30's F.  No snow, but it's always good to be out.  I've read recently about the effects of nature on the brain, that being out in nature, looking, absorbing the natural environment helps us think and balances us emotionally.  Not a new idea:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

--John Muir

If I'm ever angry, confused, depressed, funky, then a walk, a ride, a ramble in the hills almost always puts me to rights.  I find it incredible (as in unbelievable) that some people can spend their entire lives in paved, regulated, controlled urban and suburban environments.  Packed together like rats, no wonder our big cities are breeding grounds for crime and mental illness.  I realize I am lucky to live in "shruburbia" as the great hiker Colin Fletcher calls the semi-wild regions like mine, a frontier between housing and undeveloped expanses.  Indeed, my home valley, with a fairly low and spread out populace, is surrounded by millions of virtually uninhabited acres.  Cattle roam some of it, but most is the land of the coyote, the fox, and deer, the occasional black bear, bobcat, and mountain lion.  I've only seen tracks of bear, but those were hardly a mile from my house.  All the others we have seen directly.  On some nights, the chaotic chorus of coyotes with a kill drifts down the mountains, putting Django on edge.

Still, for all their beauty, my local hills grow familiar, and I crave new vistas, a different trail underfoot.  In a week, we head out for the Mojave and Sonora deserts.  We'll amble through silent dry canyons and forests of cacti under a cool, dim winter sun.  I'll post when I can.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The hawk and the dog food

Today I squeezed in a utility ride on the trusty Haluzak.   We've been having some bright, brassy late fall days, and I wanted to get out before the impending storm shut down cycling for a couple of days.  We're due for some possible snow say the weather gods.  I hooked up the Burley trailer because the load was going to be bulky and substantial, about a 30 lb. bag of dog food plus a bunch of cat food in cans and a few things from the Home Despot (my snarky term for Home Depot, the housing supply super giant warehouse store).  One of my goals was to see if I could dampen the squeak that develops on the Burley hitch, but I failed.  I put some wax on the somewhat flexible attachment point, and it was quiet at first, but once loaded, the noise was back.  Arrrgh.  I hate repetitive squeaking sounds coming from my bikes!  The noise might be from a different bearing point, so I will continue my quest.  The old style hitches never had this problem.  Burley is of no help.  They were surprised  that I had  any problem at all with this.  I own three of these trailers as I loan them out to other cyclists when I run a now annual bike touring club.  ALL the trailers have developed the squeak, squeak, squeak....

Still the ride was fantastic, but I noticed the shift in the wind direction, and I had to layer up for the ride back home.  My total load was a bit over 40 lbs.--not including the trailer, of course.  If I can fix the noise problem, I might tour again with a trailer.  The convenience of packing and unpacking is amazing.

On the way to the various stores I was heading for, I saw a small squadron of hawks blaze low and fast across the road.  At first I saw two, big red tails, but then, as I rolled by a tree, I spotted the hawk featured below and was able to get pretty close for some photos.  We're seeing a lot of raptors come through our area, which is a major migration corridor for all kinds of birds.  Jodi was on a hike today and saw an eagle!

I think this was a Cooper's hawk.  Not sure on that, however.  Later, I made it to the pet supply store and loaded up for the slower slog home.

Forty + pounds of stuff:

It was good to do it all without starting a car.  I was the only one out and about on a bike that I could see, which is pretty common around here in a our car-crazy culture.  Certainly, I'm one of only, literally, three or four people who seem to shop and do practical things on a bike.  With all the hugely overweight people in this society, I wish I could get them to see the fun and practical benefits of even simple daily chores done on a bike.  My next posts are likely to be hiking pics.  Let's see what this storm has to show for itself.  Django LOVES the snow!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An expensive desert stroll...

Here in the land of the great Mojave Desert, we've been having some astonishingly clear days.  What are called the "Santa Ana" winds have set in, blowing hard from the east, and left the skies a burnished blue that is something to behold.  These winds are dry, coming in off thousands of square miles of the Southwest, a land of little rain, and sometimes huge fires follow.  We have had some rain, so fire conditions are not as bad as they could be.  For us, last Sunday was set to be, for once, virtually windless in a region known for virtually constant blowing.  On a bike I've battled this country more than once in blustery conditions.  I think I still have the emotional scars to show for it.  Brutal.  But Sunday, all was sweetness and light, and Jodi and I needed a walk through our kind of church.  We hiked into a land of twisted hoodoos and sinuous, narrow-walled canyons of eroded stone, lots of volcanic ash and sand and lumps of basalt here and there, a vertical cliff in a dead end slot, small stands of the fabled Joshua tree here and there.  We reveled in the light and silence, and I took many excellent pictures, which you will not see.  Why?  Oh, because I'm a moron and left the camera at some point out in the vast sandy expanse featured above, a photo courtesy of Jodi.   I've ordered a new camera, so, minus a couple of hundred dollars, I'll have my own gear again soon.  Sigh.... 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Into the mist

                                                    The fog comes
                                                    on little cat feet.

                                                    It sits looking
                                                    over harbor and city
                                                    on silent haunches
                                                    and then moves on.

                                                                      Carl Sandburg

Fog has been the rule of the last few days in the deep, deep ditch where I work.  The above photo is not mine but taken from a travel site for India, of all places.  But fog is fog, and the trees in the photo look a lot like the oaks that dot the landscape down here.  In California's Great Central Valley, the tule fog, which appears in late fall and lasts well into February, can be brutal, and numerous deadly car accidents are proof enough.  We actually have "fog delays," days when the start of the school day for children is set back two or three hours because of the traffic risks.  Visibility can be virtually nothing, forty or fifty feet at times.  The college where I teach has no delays, and I'm sure many of the delays for the K--12 schools sometimes end when fog is still a problem, so I wonder how much good the late start times do, but they are a quirky feature of life in the San Joaquin Valley.

I made my valiant descent to the college yesterday, but the light was rather flat from high clouds, so I didn't take any photos. (An earlier post has pictures.)  I descended through clear, fairly warm air, but the moisture gods had other plans.  Eventually I ran into the dreaded tule fog late in the ride with only a few miles to go.  The temperature plummeted, moisture clouded my glasses that regularly needed to be wiped by my numb, gloved hands.  There's something especially debilitating about cold, damp fog.  It's better than outright rain, I supposed, but it shrivels the spirit, and I feel like folding back into myself.  It's tough riding, and I was glad to pull into the meager sanctuary of my cave-like office.  I share the cell with another instructor, but he doesn't show up until the afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I had time to change, warm up, get some more coffee in my system, and get my day on the road.  Unless I get lucky next week, this may be the last ride to the college until the tule fog season is over.  It's hard and dangerous riding.  Prudence is the better part of valor, eh?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A perfect little ride...

We have been blessed with a patch of ideal late-fall weather--mid 60's, bright sun.  Let's just say that living at 4,000 ft. in the transition zone between forest and desert has its compensations.  Jodi had not been out on the trike for a while, and some health issues have left her a bit nervous about serious riding.  She's getting better, but we don't know if we'll do the big winter tour we've been thinking about for months.  Right now I'd say that's a long shot.  But today was one for the record books, the light long and lean, clear and sweet.  It was good indeed to be out, pulling down a few miles.  We'll have those days when snow and ice cover the roads, but not today!  Tomorrow it's the big roll into the ditch (California's great Central Valley), my 45 mile ultra commute.  Before first light, I'm pounding the miles.  My only concern is a threat of tule fog, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.  I'll post after the ride to update.  Be well, and ride on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A morning's adventure

First up: A sunrise walk with the hound!  Django and I hit the road just as the dark breathed its last and the heavy clouds began to glow.  Fresh snow down to about 5,000 ft.  A great morning to be out with my four-footed buddy.

Next up:  Jam down some breakfast and hit the road to the bus.  Autumn at its best.  I grinned myself into a stupor in the crisp air.  Getting paced by a llama was great fun.  The ranch with this beast has a few other exotics, and  I'll try for shots in later posts.  Get out there people.  Life is short.