Shallow Thoughts : : travel

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 05 Apr 2018

Cave Creek Hiking and Birding Trip

A week ago I got back from a trip to the Chiricahua mountains of southern Arizona, specifically Cave Creek on the eastern side of the range. The trip was theoretically a hiking trip, but it was also for birding and wildlife watching -- southern Arizona is near the Mexican border and gets a lot of birds and other animals not seen in the rest of the US -- and an excuse to visit a friend who lives near there.

Although it's close enough that it could be driven in one fairly long day, we took a roundabout 2-day route so we could explore some other areas along the way that we'd been curious about.

First, we wanted to take a look at the White Mesa Bike Trails northwest of Albuquerque, near the Ojito Wilderness. We'll be back at some point with bikes, but we wanted to get a general idea of the country and terrain. The Ojito, too, looks like it might be worth a hiking trip, though it's rather poorly signed: we saw several kiosks with maps where the "YOU ARE HERE" was clearly completely misplaced. Still, how can you not want to go back to a place where the two main trails are named Seismosaurus and Hoodoo?

[Cabezon] The route past the Ojito also led past Cabezon Peak, a volcanic neck we've seen from a long distance away and wanted to see closer. It's apparently possible to climb it but we're told the top part is fairly technical, more than just a hike.

Finally, we went up and over Mt Taylor, something we've been meaning to do for many years. You can drive fairly close to the top, but this being late spring, there was still snow on the upper part of the road and our Rav4's tires weren't up to the challenge. We'll go back some time and hike all the way to the top.

We spent the night in Grants, then the following day, headed down through El Malpais, stopping briefly at the beautiful Sandstone Overlook, then down through the Datil and Mogollon area. We wanted to take a look at a trail called the Catwalk, but when we got there, it was cold, blustery, and starting to rain and sleet. So we didn't hike the Catwalk this time, but at least we got a look at the beginning of it, then continued down through Silver City and thence to I-10, where just short of the Arizona border we were amused by the Burma Shave dust storm signs about which I already wrote.

At Cave Creek

[Beautiful rocks at Cave Creek] Cave Creek Ranch, in Portal, AZ, turned out to be a lovely place to stay, especially for anyone interested in wildlife. I saw several "life birds" and mammals, plus quite a few more that I'd seen at some point but had never had the opportunity to photograph. Even had we not been hiking, just hanging around the ranch watching the critters was a lot of fun. They charge $5 for people who aren't staying there to come and sit in the feeder area; I'm not sure how strictly they enforce it, but given how much they must spend on feed, it would be nice to help support them.

The bird everyone was looking for was the Elegant Trogon. Supposedly one had been seen recently along the creekbed, and we all wanted to see it.

They also had a nifty suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing a dry (this year) arroyo over on another part of the property. I guess I was so busy watching the critters that I never went wandering around, and I would have missed the bridge entirely had Dave not pointed it out to me on the last day.

The only big hike I did was the Burro Trail to Horseshoe Pass, about 10 miles and maybe 1800 feet of climbing. It started with a long hike up the creek, during which everybody had eyes and ears trained on the sycamores (we were told the trogon favored sycamores). No trogon. But it was a pretty hike, and once we finally started climbing out of the creekbed there were great views of the soaring cliffs above Cave Creek Canyon. Dave opted to skip the upper part of the trail to the saddle; I went, but have to admit that it was mostly just more of the same, with a lot of scrambling and a few difficult and exposed traverses. At the time I thought it was worth it, but by the time we'd slogged all the way back to the cars I was doubting that.

[ Organ Pipe Formation at Chiricahua National Monument ] On the second day the group went over the Chiricahuas to Chiricahua National Monument, on the other side. Forest road 42 is closed in winter, but we'd been told that it was open now since the winter had been such a dry one, and it wasn't a particularly technical road, certainly easy in the Rav4. But we had plans to visit our friend over at the base of the next mountain range west, so we just made a quick visit to the monument, did a quick hike around the nature trail and headed on.

Back with the group at Cave Creek on Thursday, we opted for a shorter, more relaxed hike in the canyon to Ash Spring rather than the brutal ascent to Silver Peak. In the canyon, maybe we'd see the trogon! Nope, no trogon. But it was a very pleasant hike, with our first horned lizard ("horny toad") spotting of the year, a couple of other lizards, and some lovely views.

Critters

We'd been making a lot of trogon jokes over the past few days, as we saw visitor after visitor trudging away muttering about not having seen one. "They should rename the town of Portal to Trogon, AZ." "They should rename that B&B Trogon's Roost Bed and Breakfast." Finally, at the end of Thursday's hike, we stopped in at the local ranger station, where among other things (like admiring their caged gila monster) we asked about trogon sightings. Turns out the last one to be seen had been in November. A local thought maybe she'd heard one in January. Whoever had relayed the rumor that one had been seen recently was being wildly optimistic.

[ Northern Cardinal ] [ Coati ] [ Javalina ] [ white-tailed buck ]
Fortunately, I'm not a die-hard birder and I didn't go there specifically for the trogon. I saw lots of good birds and some mammals I'd never seen before (full list), like a coatimundi (I didn't realize those ever came up to the US) and a herd (pack? flock?) of javalinas. And white-tailed deer -- easterners will laugh, but those aren't common anywhere I've lived (mule deer are the rule in California and Northern New Mexico). Plus some good hikes with great views, and a nice visit with our friend. It was a good trip.

On the way home, again we took two days for the opportunity to visit some places we hadn't seen. First, Cloudcroft, NM: a place we'd heard a lot about because a lot of astronomers retire there. It's high in the mountains and quite lovely, with lots of hiking trails in the surrounding national forest. Worth a visit some time.

From Cloudcroft we traveled through the Mescalero Apache reservation, which was unexpectedly beautiful, mountainous and wooded and dotted with nicely kept houses and ranches, to Ruidoso, a nice little town where we spent the night.

Lincoln

[ Lincoln, NM ] Our last stop, Saturday morning, was Lincoln, site of the Lincoln County War (think Billy the Kid). The whole tiny town is set up as a tourist attraction, with old historic buildings ... that were all closed. Because why would any tourists be about on a beautiful Saturday in spring? There were two tiny museums, one at each end of town, which were open, and one of them tried to entice us into paying the entrance fee by assuring us that the ticket was good for all the sites in town. Might have worked, if we hadn't already walked the length of the town peering into windows of all the closed sites. Too bad -- some of them looked interesting, particularly the general store. But we enjoyed our stroll through the town, and we got a giggle out of the tourist town being closed on Saturday -- their approach to tourism seems about as effective as Los Alamos'.

Photos from the trip are at Cave Creek and the Chiricahuas.

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[ 10:04 Apr 05, 2018    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 26 Mar 2018

Dust Storm Burma Shave Signs

I just got back from a trip to the Chiricahuas, specifically Cave Creek. More on that later, after I've done some more photo triaging. But first, a story from the road.

[NM Burma Shave dust storm signs]

Driving on I-10 in New Mexico near the Arizona border, we saw several signs about dust storms. The first one said,

ZERO VISIBILITY IS POSSIBLE

Dave commented, "I prefer the ones that say, 'may exist'." And as if the highway department heard him, a minute or two later we passed a much more typical New Mexico road sign:

DUST STORMS MAY EXIST
New Mexico, the existential state.

But then things got more fun. We drove for a few more miles, then we passed a sign that obviously wasn't meant to stand alone:

IN A DUST STORM

"It's a Burma Shave!" we said simultaneously. (I'm not old enough to remember Burma Shave signs in real life, but I've heard stories and love the concept.) The next sign came quickly:

PULL OFF ROADWAY

"What on earth are they going to find to rhyme with 'roadway'?" I wondered. I racked my brains but couldn't come up with anything. As it turns out, neither could NMDOT. There were three more signs:

TURN VEHICLE OFF
FEET OFF BRAKES
STAY BUCKLED

"Hmph", I thought. "What an opportunity missed." But I still couldn't come up with a rhyme for "roadway". Since we were on Interstate 10, and there's not much to do on a long freeway drive, I penned an alternative:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL OFF TEN
YOU WILL LIVE
TO DRIVE AGAIN

Much better, isn't it? But one thing bothered me: you're not really supposed to pull all the way off Interstate 10, just onto the shoulder. How about:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL TO SHOULDER
YOU WILL LIVE
TO GET MUCH OLDER

I wasn't quite happy with it. I thought my next attempt was an improvement:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL TO SHOULDER
YOU MAY CRASH IF
YOU ARE BOLDER
but Dave said I should stick with "GET MUCH OLDER".

Oh, well. Even if I'm not old enough to remember real Burma Shave signs, and even if NMDOT doesn't have the vision to make their own signs rhyme, I can still have fun with the idea.

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[ 16:05 Mar 26, 2018    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 20 Apr 2017

Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa Trip

[House on Fire ruin, Mule Canyon UT] Last week, my hiking group had its annual trip, which this year was Bluff, Utah, near Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa, an area particular known for its Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs.

(I'm aware that "Anasazi" is considered a politically incorrect term these days, though it still seems to be in common use in Utah; it isn't in New Mexico. My view is that I can understand why Pueblo people dislike hearing their ancestors referred to by a term that means something like "ancient enemies" in Navajo; but if they want everyone to switch from using a mellifluous and easy to pronounce word like "Anasazi", they ought to come up with a better, and shorter, replacement than "Ancestral Puebloans." I mean, really.)

The photo at right is probably the most photogenic of the ruins I saw. It's in Mule Canyon, on Cedar Mesa, and it's called "House on Fire" because of the colors in the rock when the light is right.

The light was not right when we encountered it, in late morning around 10 am; but fortunately, we were doing an out-and-back hike. Someone in our group had said that the best light came when sunlight reflected off the red rock below the ruin up onto the rock above it, an effect I've seen in other places, most notably Bryce Canyon, where the hoodoos look positively radiant when seen backlit, because that's when the most reflected light adds to the reds and oranges in the rock.

Sure enough, when we got back to House on Fire at 1:30 pm, the light was much better. It wasn't completely obvious to the eye, but comparing the photos afterward, the difference is impressive: Changing light on House on Fire Ruin.

[Brain main? petroglyph at Sand Island] The weather was almost perfect for our trip, except for one overly hot afternoon on Wednesday. And the hikes were fairly perfect, too -- fantastic ruins you can see up close, huge petroglyph panels with hundreds of different creatures and patterns (and some that could only have been science fiction, like brain-man at left), sweeping views of canyons and slickrock, and the geology of Comb Ridge and the Monument Upwarp.

And in case you read my last article, on translucent windows, and are wondering how those generated waypoints worked: they were terrific, and in some cases made the difference between finding a ruin and wandering lost on the slickrock. I wish I'd had that years ago.

Most of what I have to say about the trip are already in the comments to the photos, so I'll just link to the photo page:

Photos: Bluff trip, 2017.

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[ 19:28 Apr 20, 2017    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 29 Apr 2016

Vermillion Cliffs trip, and other distractions

[Red Toadstool, in the Paria Rimrocks] [Cobra Arch, in the Vermillion Cliffs] I haven't posted in a while. Partly I was busy preparing for, enjoying, then recovering from, a hiking trip to the Vermillion Cliffs, on the Colorado River near the Arizona/Utah border. We had no internet access there (no wi-fi at the hotel, and no data on the cellphone). But we had some great hikes, and I saw my first California Condors (they have a site where they release captive-bred birds). Photos (from the hikes, not the condors, which were too far away): Vermillion Cliffs trip.

I've also been having fun welding more critters, including a roadrunner, a puppy and a rattlesnake. I'm learning how to weld small items, like nail legs on spark plug dragonflies and scorpions, which tend to melt at the MIG welder's lowest setting.

[ Welded puppy \ [ Welded Roadrunner ] [ Welded rattlesnake ]

New Mexico's weather is being charmingly erratic (which is fairly usual): we went for a hike exploring some unmapped cavate ruins, shivering in the cold wind and occasionally getting lightly snowed upon. Then the next day was a gloriously sunny hike out Deer Trap Mesa with clear long-distance views of the mountains and mesas in all directions. Today we had graupel -- someone recently introduced me to that term for what Dave and I have been calling "snail" or "how" since it's a combination of snow and hail, soft balls of hail like tiny snowballs. They turned the back yard white for ten or fifteen minutes, but then the sun came out for a bit and melted all the little snowballs.

But since it looks like much of today will be cloudy, it's a perfect day to use up that leftover pork roast and fill the house with good smells by making a batch of slow-cooker green chile posole.

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[ 12:28 Apr 29, 2016    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 02 Oct 2013

Disgruntled by Grackles

On a trip last month, Mesquite, NV gave us couple of avian delights.

First the roadrunner, strutting around a side street poking its head into bushes, hunting as we watched from the car.

[Huge flock of grackles] Then, in the evening, a convocation of grackles -- several hundred of them -- in the tree just across from the third-floor balcony at our casino hotel. All chattering with each other, making an amazing variety of noises as they flew from branch to branch, occasionally bickering or feeding each other or landing on a branch too weak to support them.

Grackles make some amazing sounds. We don't have them at home, so I only hear them on trips, but they always want to make me look for the amplifier and speakers -- it seems impossible that a medium-sized bird could be making all that sound, and such a variety of noise, all by itself.

We stood there for maybe 20 minutes, watching them and listening, shooting photos and video, before the heat (over 100 even after sunset) got to us and we had to go back into the room.

[Don't park under a grackle tree] Unfortunately, in all that time, one thing that never occurred to us was that our car was parked right under that tree. We realized that the next morning.

And we had thought we were so clever, finding the one shady spot in that parking lot!

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[ 14:38 Oct 02, 2013    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 02 Sep 2013

Waking up to Balloons

We recently returned from a quick whirlwind trip through a series of towns in the Four Corners area: the place where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah come together.

[Hot-air balloon landing in the road in Cortez, CO] One highlight: watching hot-air balloons floating across the sky against the backdrop of Mesa Verde in Cortez, CO ... and watching one accidentally land in the middle of the highway in front of our motel (the White Eagle Inn, a charming little place with super nice owners).

Cars stopped on the highway while someone jumped out of the basket and pushed the balloon toward the side of the road. The truck on the left is the chase crew.

(And yes, that's a powerline in the foreground, very close to where the balloon came down.)

[Hot-air balloons in Cortez, CO] The sky was full of balloons, and the hotel was as good a place as any to watch them. Quite a way to start the morning!

Other highlights:

The view of the Rio Grande from the White Rock Overlook with lightning flashing in the background.

[Rio Grande panorama from White Rock, NM Overlook Park] (No lightning in the photo, just a 13-image panorama. Click for a bigger version.)

Dinner at Rancho de Chimayo. I had their famous carne adovada, Dave had a stuffed sopaipilla with green chile, and we shared. And sopaipillas with honey on the side, of course. They're just as good as they were the first time I was there ... was that really a quarter century ago?

All the motels that are using WPA passwords for their wi-fi, instead of stupid browser pages that you have to re-authenticate every time the connection drops. Things are looking up, gradually, for motel wi-fi.

[The working Ivanpah solar collector] Heading back into California, driving past Primm, NV, we checked out the progress on the new solar tower collector being built at old Ivanpah. It's changed a lot since we were there last. It looks like one tower is operational (though its mirror array doesn't appear to extend all the way around yet), while two more towers have mirror arrays but still have covers over the central tower. [All three Ivanpah solar collectors]

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[ 21:15 Sep 02, 2013    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 01 Apr 2011

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and the Tasmanian Devil

[Tasmanian Devil] The LA Times had a great article last weekend about Tasmanian devils, the mysterious facial cancer which is threatening to wipe them out, and the Bonorong wildlife preserve in Hobart which is involved in trying to rescue them.

The disease, called devil facial tumour disease, is terrible. It causes tumours on the devils' face and mouth, which eventually grow so large and painful that the animal starves to death. It's a cancer, but a very unusual one: it's transmissible and can pass from one devil to another, one of only three such cancers known. That means that unlike most cancers, tumour cells aren't from the infected animal itself; they're usually contracted from a bite from another devil.

Almost no Tasmanian devils are immune to DFTD. Being isolated for so long on such a small island, devils have little genetic diversity, so a disease that affects one devil is likely to affect all of them. It can wipe out a regional population within a year. A few individuals seem to have partial immunity, and scientists are desperately hunting for the secret before the disease wipes out the rest of the devil population. Organizations like Bonorong are breeding Tasmanian devils in captivity in case the answer comes too late to save the wild population.

When I was in Hobart in 2009 for Linux.conf.au (which, aside from being a great Linux conference, also raised over $35,000 to help save the devils), I had the chance to visit Bonorong. I was glad I did: it's fabulous. You can wander around and feed kangaroos, wallabees and the ever-greedy emus, see all sorts of rarer Australian wildlife like echidnas, quolls and sugar gliders, and pet a koala (not as soft as they look).


[Greg Irons and devil] But surprisingly, the best part was the tour. I'm usually not much for guided tours, and Dave normally hates 'em. But this one was given by Greg Irons, the director of the park who's featured in the Times article, and he's fantastic. He obviously loves the animals and he knows everything about them -- Dave called him an "animal nerd" (that's a compliment, really!) And he's a great showman, with a lively and fact-filled presentation that shows each animal at its best while keping all ages entertained. If you didn't love marsupials, and particularly devils and wombats, before you come to Bonorong, I guarantee you will by the time you leave.

[Tasmanian devil tug-o-war]

A lot of the accounts of devil facial tumour disease talk about devils fighting with each other and spreading the disease, but watching them feed at Bonorong showed that fighting isn't necessary. Tasmanian devils feed in groups, helping each other tear apart the carcass by all latching onto it at once and pulling. With this style of feeding, it's easy to get bitten in the mouth accidentally.

[ferocious killer Tasmanian devil] Of course, I have a lot more photos from Bonorong: Bonorong Wildlife Park photos.

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[ 10:48 Apr 01, 2011    More travel/tasmania | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 28 Jul 2010

The Case of the Missing Gooseberry

Traveling always comes with risks. Aside from the risks you may encounter along the way, there are the worries of what you left behind. Will the house burn down? Will the mail pile up, signalling to thieves that the home is empty? Will the server stay up? On a more prosaic note ... Will the plants in the garden all die from lack of water?

Shortly before traveling to Oregon for OSCON, I acquired a cute little Cape Gooseberry seedling (courtesy of Mark Terranova at the south bay Geeknic). That's a new plant to me -- I'd never seen one before. But it was a cute little thing, and seemed to be flourishing. I had it in a pot on a little shelf where it would get morning sun but wouldn't get too hot in the afternoon, and was looking forward to planting it when it got big enough to withstand our marauding local seedling-loving snails.

[ Missing Cape Gooseberry ] To get it through my planned week-and-a-half absence, I had one of those glass watering bulbs they sell in drugstores. They're supposed to last several weeks, though they don't work that reliably in practice. Still, I saturated the soil with water the morning I left, then filled the bulb and crossed my fingers for no long heat waves.

I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I got back. Something had dug out my little gooseberry and taken it!

I still have no idea what got it. We certainly have some local squirrels who love to dig, and young squirrels (still learning their digging skills) love potted plants. But I wouldn't think a squirrel would have much use for a gooseberry seedling -- they just like the act of digging.

I wonder if cape gooseberry leaves are particularly tasty to rodents?

Ironically, the soil was still quite damp. The little plant probably would have made it through just fine.

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[ 14:17 Jul 28, 2010    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]