Sunday, April 25, 2010

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees...

Yesterday, we took a day off to spend my birthday at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, Arizona. The weather was perfect, and the timing couldn't have been any better, as most of the desert wildflowers and trees on display there were in full bloom.

 Hundreds of cars were in the parking lot, indicating how popular this State Park is on a fabulous Spring day.

Pictures and words can only begin to describe the kaleidoscopic show of flowers throughout the park. So much for a barren desert! You couldn't turn your head without being amazed by yet another bush, cactus, herb, succulent, or tree in bloom.

One of my favorite birds seen here in the Sonoran Desert, a Phainopepla. Jason thinks its name sounds like a disease.

 This clever fellow ran away from Jason as he tried to photograph it, but for some reason it found refuge on my foot. I think he might have wanted to clue me in on how I could "save hundreds on car insurance."

Please forgive the chipped nailpolish & ugly sandals (they're COMFORTABLE! :-)  )


This is a carpenter bee. Like June-bugs, they are quite large and imposing, but at the same time, non-aggressive. They are ubiquitous in the Sonoran desert in March/April.

One of the many trails in the park. This is so funny... just as I was about to caption this photo, Jason asked me how to spell "chihuahua" (he's writing the pets portion on a rental home contract)

The park has several different geological and geographical zones, such as the Chihuahuan, Upper Sonoran, Eucalyptus forest, Australian Outback, herb garden, Magma Ridge, and South American exhibits.

This is the clever silky trap of a funnel-web spider's spiny cactus lair. Insects can go in, but they're not likely to re-emerge!

We didn't go past this point.

 One exhibit was of a small forest of different eucalyptus (redbark) trees from around the world. Some of these trees were huge!

 Enjoying a beautiful day amidst the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, was an awesome birthday present! If you are in the Phoenix area, especially in Spring, I highly recommend visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum! Even if you're not a "nature person" you will enjoy it.  You are welcome to view the complete photo album of  of the spectacular flowers & scenery from yesterday's trip by clicking here

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Trip to Nowhere and Back

Yesterday, in honour of Jason's Birthday, we took the day off and took a road trip to nowhere and back. Where's nowhere, you ask? Well, it's near Nothing. Nothing is a place where there is literally nothing to see, and we've "been there, done that" on many trips past it on the way to more interesting places.  Unlike Nothing, what we thought was the middle of nowhere actually had a few populated central Arizona towns in which we've never been. I guess to call them nowhere is a bit misleading and insulting to their residents, so although they might not be somewhere most people go, they ain't nowhere.
To get to these towns we headed east from Highway 93, just a few miles south of Nothing, and just a few miles north of the Santa Maria River.  We went in and out of the thriving metropoli of Bagdad (not a typo), Hillside, Skull Valley, Kirkland, Willhoit, Peeples Valley, Yarnell, and Congress. We saw a lot of amazing scenery on the way. The rocky hillsides dazzled us with greenery and wildflowers. This was mostly high desert and rangeland that you can easily imagine is brown and dreary at most times, but not this Spring. In fact, the Hassayampa and Santa Maria Rivers, as well as their tributaries were flowing with snowmelt runoff. We also saw lingering snow on the hills, from the pass south of Prescott. You can click the following photos to enlarge them:

 This is the Hassayampa River in Wickenberg, which is usually dry. "Hassayampa" comes from the Yavapai Indians, for "River that flows upside-down". The water literally flows underground most of the time. A local legend has it that anyone who drinks from the river can never again tell the truth.

These things flying by are Joshua Trees, in the Joshua Tree Scenic Parkway on Highway 93. These members of the yucca family can grow up to 50 feet tall and live for hundreds of years. They got the biblical name Joshua from Mormon settlers.

This is the Santa Maria River south of Nothing. Not exactly raging waters, but refreshing-looking just the same.

This quaint 50's style diner appeared to be the focal point of the town of Bagdad, a small mining town, but one of the larger bergs on this trip. Bagdad's non-descript houses all looked the same - white stucco with red roofs - probably because they were built by and are owned by the mine.

This is the Santa Maria River again, but several miles upstream. We'll have to camp here some time.

This rather precarious double-wide trailer was about the only thing that was hillside in Hillside Arizona. I just realized - we never saw a soul in either Bagdad or Hillside - maybe everyone was in church?

The only business in town, the Hillside Country Store, was closed of course.

I was hoping to see some famous painted rocks on this trip, such as the skull over Skull Valley, and the Frog Rock over Bagdad. We missed those, but this one really quacked us up.

Skull Valley. Notice the age of the gas pumps.

The approach to Skull Valley's thriving business district.

Peeples Valley. Kind of picturesque, but there's not really all that much there but horse grazing land.

This is where all the action is in Kirkland.

There was a cool overlook at about 6000 feet elevation. We could see for miles.
Here's the birthday boy!

There were lots of scenic rocky outcroppings and hoodoos along the route.

Congress was an interesting town. If you're in need

of something extremely odd, chances are you can buy it here.
 Such as an elephant wearing a pony saddle,

 ... or a nine-foot rooster. Pulling an antique tractor. I'm sure there's a very good in-joke about this that's well-known in town. Or perhaps the shop owner is just nuts.

This concludes our enjoyable road trip to nowhere and back. We didn't see any famous landmarks, but most of the towns we saw along the way were better than Nothing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

10 Things to Make Our Wallets (and Mother Earth) Happy!

Every time my birthday comes around, I'm reminded of a slightly more important event that happens around the same time every year.

Two days before my first birthday, April 22nd, 1970, the environmental movement was kicked off with about 20 million Americans attending peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. Now April 22nd is observed by half a trillion people, in scores of countries around the world.

You can google Earth Day's history if you're interested. What's more important is to pay attention to what it stands for today. That is, that we need to be responsible to our environment. Back in the first Earth Days, being environmentally responsible used to equal inconvenience and price, but today that that is far from the case. In fact, there are several tiny changes we can easily adapt into our lifestyle to actually save money.

Here's a few:

1. Change your light bulbs to CFL's. An ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. See more about this

2. Turn off your computer and/or laptop when you're not using it. A screen-saver could aptly be called an energy-waster. Unplug your accessories when convenient. Same goes with your phone charger - it sucks juice even when the phone isn't being charged. Unplug your A/V equipment when you go on vacation. Find out energy output on various computer equipment

3. Switch to a Time-of-Use power plan if your utility provider has one. You can save a lot of money by doing your high-energy activities at low-demand hours. Buy a timed thermostat if you don't have one...

4. Turn off your thermostat (or at least change it by a few degrees). On cooler days, adjust by putting on a sweater. On warmer days, sleep with fewer blankets. Use ceiling fans (but only when someone's in the room!) Did you know your computer throws off a lot of heat? (turn it off...)

5. Water your plants/lawn when it's coolest outside. If you don't have a timer, now is a great time to buy one. If you live in the desert, utilize low-water-use plants in your landscaping. Instead of a hose or blower to control the leaves on your patio or lawn, pick up a broom or rake and get some exercise.

6. This one's obvious - walk or bike instead of driving if you can. Carpool or take public transportation. Not so obvious - keep your tires inflated to the proper psi - this will increase mileage!

7. Use inexpensive natural products such as vinegar/baking soda to clean your home. Vinegar removes hard-water stains better than a lot of commercial bathroom cleaners. Baking soda is a great non-abrasive cleanser.

8. Don't run your dishwasher or washing machine if you don't have have a full load. Save time and money.

9. Re-use and re-cycle. Instead of buying bottled water, use a safe-alloy bottle and fill it with water from your tap or fridge. Save your old jars, pails, and margarine containers - they have lots of uses. Donate your good used clothes and re-usable items to charity.

10. Eat right. Buy more fresh vegetables and fewer pre-packaged dinners. Buy what's in season and prepare meals accordingly. Buy staples such as rice and beans in bulk, and when they're on sale. It's amazing how much better you, your wallet, the environment, and especially those of the bovine or porcine persuasion, feel if you limit your meat intake.

It takes very little effort to do incorporate the things mentioned above into one's life, but every little bit makes a difference. Have a happy Earth Day!