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Spotted at the Arboretum

Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Travel | 8 comments

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Boyce thompson arboretum
Boyce thompson arboretum - cardinal

Today at the Arboretum we saw

4 cardinals

1 woodpecker

a couple hummingbirds

several nests

a really neat feather

a possible owl pellet that Phillip poked at with a stick

some beautiful black butterflies

2 very determined ants and 1 that could care less

2 trees full of bees

a handful of squirrels

a turtle

a snake

and 75 lizards (before we stopped counting).

Boyce thompson arboretum - Snake

I also spotted a fuzzy tail of an animal going into a thicket. I jumped out of the car while it was still running to see what it was. All I found was a fat, lumbering squirrel.

Boyce thompson arboretum

Also, if you go on a hot, humid Tuesday, you’ll practically have the place to yourself. With the exception of those mentioned above, of course.

Boyce thompson arboretum




 
P.S. For those of you interested in chronology, by “today,” I mean last Tuesday, when I wrote down what we’d seen earlier that day.
 

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Ancient Agave Tour

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Agave

To kick off the Agave Heritage Festival, Stephanie and I got to play archeologists for the morning.

Mission Garden Tucson

After getting to the Hotel Congress late the night before, I used my front-desk-issued earplugs to get some sleep, so we could get ourselves to the Mission Garden by 8:15 am.

Paul and Suzie Fish

We met our gracious guides there: Paul and Suzie Fish, emeriti professors of archaeology from the University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum. The plan for the day was to carpool over to some pristine desert land several miles away at the base of Tumamoc Hill, where U of A Desert Laboratory is located, hike in about a half mile, and then be guided by the archaeologists on a tour of an ancient agave horticultural/gardening site and roasting pit used by the Hohokam people of the American Southwest.

Desert hike in tucson

While on this tour, I was surprised to find out that the Tucson area has evidence of farming estimated to go as far back as 5,000 years! The fields we were to tour are estimated to date to the 1200-1300s.

Charred rock

The first stop was the roasting pit. It’s a good thing we had trained professionals to take us here. Most anyone would have walked right by the spot, which looked like any other unremarkable clearing in the desert. A closer look yielded the clues: a few potsherds here and there, a slightly more charcoal-colored soil, and pieces of “rind.” Rind is the bubbly mix of stone and organic material that forms around such pits due to the high temperature in the roasting process.

Agave roasting site and cactus

The roasting was probably done every few years as it takes years for agave to grow to the harvesting stage. During its lifetime, little “pups” or rhizomes, which are essentially agave clones, grow out from the plants. Farmers would have taken these and used them to plant new agaves, which would have helped stagger the harvesting seasons.

Agave pups

Our guides explained that the agave was cultivated for three reasons: food, alcoholic beverages, and fibers – Stephanie filmed a jaw-dropping demonstration on how agave fiber can be made into a rope within minutes!

Since it would take at least 24 hours to roast the agaves, apparently, the Hohokam would multitask, using the time to work on other projects like making spindles for forming the fibers into thread or ropes.

Suzie Fish

As Suzie was explaining this to us, she reached down and grabbed a few bits of pottery sherds to show us. So I stooped down to glance at the dirt around my feet.

All of the sudden, the desert seemed to bloom with evidence of past humans. I found some pieces of the rind that our guides had described and some pottery pieces. Most interestingly, I found a rounded piece of pottery that Suzie told us was likely the beginnings of a spindle for making thread. Therein lies one of the most amazing aspect of archaeology – to touch an object that had been made with such intentional effort by another human centuries removed from me.

From the pit, we moved on to the remains of the gardens.

Desert

While there are no original agave plants left, our guides pointed out rocks arranged along the sloping hillsides to guide water to various miniature terraces where the agave would have been. Farther along, we started seeing evidence of experiments being done by the University of Arizona to replicate agricultural techniques used by the Hohokam. Since the early 1980s, scientists have been using this spot to try to replicate Hohokam techniques with agave horticulture.

Agave oasis

My favorite example was seeing how the terraces set up to encourage agave growth would not only foster significantly better growth for agaves, but they would also have a variety of plant neighbors which would grow up alongside next to them. They also benefited from the more advantageous microclimate of the terrace.

Desert terraces

I was in awe of how observant and creative the Hohokam were to create a space where they could cultivate agave on a larger scale. Indeed, our guides say that agaves are seldom naturally found below the 3,000 foot elevation mark. With a few ingenious adaptations, the Hohokam were able to make it work!

 

Ocotillo

 

– More Archaelogy Info –

The Southwestern United States and Arizona are hotspots for archaeology.

If you’re interested in getting involved in local AZ archaeological preservation efforts, one place to look is the Southwest Archaeology Team. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with archaeology on an amateur basis. They’re based in Mesa, Arizona and affiliated with the Arizona Museum of Natural History. I joined the organization for a time during high school and used the opportunity to take a class they offered in archaeological field surveying. In addition to educational opportunities, they provide volunteering opportunities in archaeology.

You can also check with local community colleges. As a high school student, I was able to take a class at Mesa Community College on archaeological field methods to learn the tools, techniques and terms of the profession.
Tucson desert


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 1:30pm: Talk on Cryptic Gardens and Pre-Columbian Agave Clones at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 5pm: Cinco De Mayo Party at Club Congress. Free until 9pm, then $3
  • May 5, 6:30pm: Agave Heritage Dinner at Maynards Plaza Patio. Proceeds from this dinner help benefit Native Seed Search. $110
  • May 6, 6pm: Agave Fest tequila party at Hotel Congress. $35
  • May 7, 11am: Agave Heritage Brunch at Carriage House. Proceeds from this brunch help benefit Mission Garden. $55



We were guests of Hotel Congress.

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Nests

Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in Travel | 10 comments

BTA nest

I love it when I’m walking and spot a nest in a tree.

catalina-nest

It feels like a small discovery, like finding an Easter egg (no pun intended) or a secret door.

Yuma

From the time I was a little kid, my dad taught me how to look for signs of what’s going on in the natural world, pointing out the high waterline above a dry riverbed, animal tracks in the dirt, cottonwood trees where there’s water, and all kinds of habitats – burrows and holes and nests.

Arboretum nest

At the Arboretum recently, we saw a man was pointing out a nest in a tree for his grandson.

“You guys should check this one out, too.” I showed them a large nest right in the middle of a cholla cactus that would’ve been hidden from their viewpoint.

I can’t think of a safer place for a home – or a trickier place to build it.

Cholla nest BTA

 




 

 

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Make a Mt. Lemmon Day Trip

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Mount Lemmon wildlowers

You start in the Tucson heat surrounded by saguaros. An hour (or so) and a few thousand feet in elevation later, you can be sitting among spruce trees in air cool enough to not melt the chocolate chips of the oversized cookie in front of you.

Summerhaven tables

Welcome to Mount Lemmon, a 9000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

Mount Lemmon view

Drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway (also called the Mt. Lemmon Highway, the Catalina Highway, and – officially – the General Hitchcock Highway) through beautiful landscape and six (6!) different climate zones.

Mt. Lemmon

Mt Lemmon

Then you can hike or picnic or ride the year-round ski lift. (Yes, it gets cold and snowy enough in the winter for skiing up there!)

Mt Lemmon trail

When Phillip and I and my parents went, we stopped at a picnic area (Box Elder, I think-?) before driving to the parking lot at end of the road and taking a little hike from there.

Mt. Lemmon

Along the way is the town of Summerhaven, a one-and-a half mile high city that caters to visitors seeking shelter from sweltering Tucson summers.

Cookie Cabin

It’s also home to the giant cookies of Cookie Cabin. Four of us split one sampler cookie. There was literally a line out the door but plenty of nice outdoor seating.

Mount Lemmon cookie

I taught my dad how to use the Hyperlapse app, so we could take timelapse videos of the drive up. You can see the dramatic changes of scenery compressed into two minutes.


Mount lemmon

– More Mt. Lemmon info –

  • Be prepared to pack out your own trash.
  • Ski lift – The “sky ride” to the summit lasts about half an hour. Off-season (summer) adult tickets are $12/ride. Winter lift tickets are $45/day. Details at skithelemmon.com.
  • Keep the high altitude in mind when you’re planning hiking or other activities.
  • We were there in mid-August, right at the end of the summer wildflower season.

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Scenic Drive:

Mt. Lemmon - Ski Valley

Fees:

  • Many places you can park on Mount Lemmon require a pass, including the visitor center, picnic areas, etc.
  • You can purchase a Coronado Recreation Pass on the mountain at the Palisades Visitor Center or buy one before you go.
  • Passes are available at several locations, including the Coronado National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 300 W. Congress near Downtown Tucson.
  • Day passes are $5 per vehicle. ($10 for a weekly pass.)
  • Instead of worrying about which specific places require it, consider just getting a day pass in town before you make the drive. It’s only 5 bucks and helps to support the forest.

Mount Lemmon

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Bartlett Lake Marina

Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Bartlett Lake

Don’t believe the rumors. The road to Bartlett Lake Marina is definitely paved.

Bartlett Lake Road

I couldn’t help laughing when I learned that some guidebooks still list it as being rough and “unimproved,” like you’re blazing a trail through the wilderness. We had just made the drive – it’s an actual road, just like the highway we turned off to get there. You don’t need to machete your way through the undergrowth. You don’t even need 4-wheel drive.

Bartlett Lake

Reservoir

This perfectly good road takes you all the way to the marina parking lot, winding through beautiful desert hills until you finally spot blue water in the distance.

Bartlett Lake marina

Like many Arizona lakes, Bartlett is technically a reservoir, formed by damming part of the Verde River. Besides watersports, there’s hiking, camping, and wildflower viewing in the area, which is about an hour outside of Phoenix (half an hour from Cave Creek).

Bartlett Lake Marina Restaurant

The reservoir is part of Tonto National Forest, but the marina, general store, and restaurant are owned and operated by one entrepreneurial extended family.

Sarah Church at Bartlett Lake Marina

“We built every single thing you see,” Sarah Church, the self-proclaimed Matriarch of the Marina, told me, motioning from the restaurant patio to covered boat storage.
Bartlett Lake Marina
Phillip and I were part of a group invited to check out the new restaurant, The Last Stop, and take a ride on a rental boat. (Mr. Cheeseface stowed away too.)

Bartlett Lake Marina Restaurant

Restaurant

At lunch, we sampled cheeseburger sliders, grilled chicken sandwiches, pulled pork, regular and sweet potato fries, onion rings, and mac-and-cheese bites.

Bartlett Lake Marina Food

The clear favorites at our table were the pulled pork and the onion rings, followed by the sliders and fries.

Bartlett lake Beer

They offer a list of Arizona beers. Phillip liked the Scorpion Amber Ale by Lake Havasu-based Mudshark Brewery.

Bartlett Lake Marina Mousse

The winner, however, was dessert. Daily specials vary, but we got to try the mocha mousse, which was light and caramely and delicious. We’ve considered making the drive just for dessert (and a lake view, of course).

Bartlett lake Boat

Rentals

Afterwards, we all headed down a long pier and boarded a couple boats.

Bartlett lake Boat

Phillip and I joined the group on the 45-foot Party Yacht. It can carry up to 20 people, has seating on 2 decks, a bar, barbecue, speakers, and a water slide.

Bartlett lake Boat slide

Wouldn’t be fun to have a cookout in the middle of a lake?!

Bartlett Lake Marina Boat waterslide

The boat felt very sturdy and just rocked gently when the occasional waves rolled under it. We were there on a weekday, so everything was pretty quiet. It was neat to take in the view of the rocky hills that line the lake from the marina to the dam.

Party Yacht speakers

Besides the Party Yacht, you can rent pontoon boats, speed boats, or jet skis. There aren’t boat tours at Barlett Lake, unless you make your own.

Bartlett Lake Marina Boat

We enjoyed our time at Bartlett Lake and headed back down the (definitely paved) road contented.

Bartlett Lake

– More Bartlett Lake info –

  • The Last Stop Restaurant is open Friday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm or later.
  • Boat rentals: Party Yacht (full day) $1295. Pontoon Boat (half or full day) $295-425. Jet Ski (by the hour or day) $95-280.
  • Directions: Make sure you’re headed to Bartlett Lake Marina or Bartlett Lake Boat Club. Owner Bryan Church said GPS has lead some people to the wrong location and recommends calling if you need directions (602.316.3378).



Thank you to Bartlett Lake Marina for hosting us and RSVP & Associates for the invitation.

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