January 2, 2011

-10- Back On The Trail Again

1/1/11.... What better time to start again? A few years older and no wiser, if fact perhaps not as wise as I was, Terry and I took our first Tucson New Year's day hike. Down new trails, from our new home, in a new state, chatting about our grandson who will be 2 in a few weeks. Reid is his name, and he will be a great hiker I am sure.

Much has happened since the last entry in this blog, we are now in the Tucson area. Actually we are in Pima county between Tucson and Marana, We used to live on 3.5 acres in the Santa Cruz mountains, now we live on 3.3 acres in the Tucson mountains. We used to hike through Redwoods, now we hike through Saguaros. Redwoods and Saguaros are different and yet very much the same in their uniqueness. Old living plants that are both far from the ordinary.

The day was cool/ cold. It was 25 degrees overnight ( yes the desert does get cold). It was mid 30's when we started but warmed to high 40's along the way. The snow level in the surrounding mountains was about 4000 feet. We set out to walk the Sweetwater trail which ultimately takes one to the top of Mt Wasson. Mt Wasson is the highest peak in the Tucson mountain range and affords a spectacular view of Tucson and the surrounding mountains. It is a relatively easy hike in cool weather, just put one foot in front of the other. Of course being a mountain trail, one foot in front of the other means each step is for the most part up hill or down hill. The trailhead is about 15 minutes form our house, so we let things warm a bit before we drove to the trailhead. The snow on the mountains was a real sight.

Fortunately the New Years hike is a hike of contemplation. It is the journey and not the destination that is important. I say this, because as soon as Terry signed us in at the trailhead register, we took off on the wrong trail. Actually it was not the wrong trail, it just was not the Sweetwater trail. We had a wonderful hike wandering about the desert, passed a few abandoned mines, talked about friends and family, drank hot mint tea with a bit of honey from the thermos. We saw deer and a few Gila woodpeckers in the Saguaros. It became readily apparent to us after a few hours that this trail was not going to go up Mt Wasson yet it was a wonderful trail, a new trail, somewhere we had never been before. It turns out this trail is the Thunderbird trail and one that I am sure Terry and I will walk again. After we walk the Sweetwater trail for real.

Terry and I have had a number of hikes since moving to Tucson, subjects for future posts here. We have a number yet to do. I shall report on them as they occur. We are fortunate to be close to sizable National and State parks, all just beckoning for one to come out and walk. We also have a guest room ready for anyone needs to take a short walk in the desert and feel the warn sun on their shshoulders. I will close for now with a picture of some guests who drop by regularly. They are a happy lot, they don't smell very good, and they tip over the garbage if allowed to do so. But they are good guests, do not overstay their welcome, and in their own way a unique family unit. If you ever see them, remember, they are not pigs, they are peccaries ( much more noble than pigs according to them).

Go out and take a hike every week if you can. There is no telling what you might find out there.

January 23, 2009

-9-Was That A Fluke?

We took our annual New Year's walk this year to Pigeon Point. It is a great place to walk and there is the added bonus of the possibility of spotting whales. Terry and I are sure that seeing whales in January is good luck, at least for us it is. We did not see any in 2008 and we all know how 2008 turned out. We had a great walk, but no whales were sighted. So we decided to pull out the stops and go to Point Lobos.

The great Gray whales make an annual migration south from Alaska to Baja California, give birth to their young and then return to Alaska. Talk about a tough commute! They pass by the California coast from late November until March going south, so January is prime whale watching season. They swim by the coast feeding as they go. Point Lobos is a westward jutting rocky finger that is just south of Monterey. Point Lobos south of Monterey and Point Reyes north of San Francisco are the best locations to see whales on the Northern California coast. If one wants to see whales during the migration season, neither location will disappoint.

Whale watching from the coast is a learned skill. First of all it is essentially free. Warm clothes and the time to watch are all that is required. Binoculars are not required, but are useful to track a whale once it has been spotted. The sight of a whale jumping out of the water ( called breaching) is not very common. The great Grays are 45 -50 feet long, about the size of a five story building if they stood on their tails. It is quite spectacular to see them breach, especially if they are close. The commercials for insurance companies with whales jumping out of the water and plunging back in on television are not very accurate for the California coast. We have seen them breach, but not very often.

What is very common is to see them spout. The key to spotting whales is to be able to successful detect the spouts. Spouts look like what they are: a white cloud poof of water vapor that hangs in the air for a few moments and then disperses. Whales will spout just as they reach the surface of the ocean after a dive. In fact they will spout 2-5 times before they take a new dive. The purpose of the spout is to clear out their breathing paths of water so they can draw a breath of fresh air. Whales are mammals with lungs, not fish with gills. They require oxygen in their lungs in order to breath. They dive down and hold their breath for 15 - 20 minutes (try that some time) before resurfacing.

The next most common sight in whale watching after spouts is to see the whale's tail called a fluke. The whales will arch their backs and flip their tails up out of the water just before they dive. If one is diligent about tracking the spouts, one can anticipate the dive and see the flukes rise above the water. You will spot whales if you understand the primitive dance developed over hundreds of thousands of years that the whale performs . Understand the moves and the motions and you will spot lots of whales.

Off to Point Lobos we went. We went early to be sure we were able to park close to the ocean. The day was clear and warm with very little breeze. Excellent whale spotting weather since there were no white caps on the surface of the ocean. We parked and walked about a mile or so out to the prime watching point. Please double click on the adjacent photo to get the effect of Point Lobos. There were lots of people along the way, couples, small groups and families. No one we talked to on our way out had seen any. Terry and I settled in on the rocks and before long we saw out first whale spout, then another and another...we stayed out there for about 4 hours. In that time period I would estimate we saw better than 50 whales. It is hard to be precise because the whales will spout multiple times, dive, reappear further south and repeat. They travel in groups called pods. When a pod goes by you see multiple whales spouting simultaneously so it can be difficult to determine just how many are in the pod.

People watching while whale watching is also fun. In this age of instant gratification, many pilgrims make the trip to the coast to see whales. They stop and look out to the ocean for 3-5 minutes, sigh and leave sad in the knowledge that they saw no whales. Many would stop and ask if we had seen any whales? Why yes we would say. The next question is where? One points to the ocean and says, why just out there. "Oh" they say, look out at the ocean for 2-5 minutes and then leave.

Kind of funny, kind of sad. We saw probably 10-12 whales per hour for 4 hours. In the same period of time, hundreds of people saw none. We did meet a young lady from New York who had recently taken a new job in Monterey. She was born in Morocco and knew nothing about whales, seals or otters. She stopped by and had the patience to watch for longer than a few minutes. Within 40 minutes she saw whales spouting, flukes, sea lions (their barking is the source of the name of Point Lobos), harbor seals and sea otters. She was thrilled by the whole scene and vowed to return with relatives who where on the way for a visit. We had another lady stop by just as a pod was spouting right in front of us. This person said she had been coming to Point Lobos for 26 years and had never seen a whale before (hard to believe but this is exactly what she said). Once she saw her whales, she left, her whale watching aspirations fulfilled.

Next time you are out walking, take a look around at all the wonders that are there, right before your eyes. Learn about the sky, the clouds, the nature, the the complex ecosystems that you are a part of. And take the time to look at the whole scene, you will not be disappointed.

August 23, 2008

-8- Every Picture Tells A Story

I like to take pictures . Thank goodness for digital technology that allows one the freedom to take lots of pictures and you can see the results in real time. That does not make up for bad photographs and in fact, it probably contributes to more bad pictures being taken. Still, every picture ever taken tells a story.

Often the most ordinary of scenes makes a great story. The picture in this post is one of my favorites. It tells a big story to me and to my family. I have it framed and hanging on the wall where I can see it daily. Here is a moment frozen in time and full of characters, each character with their own story.

Let me set the scene for you and then tell the story. Terry and I had traveled to Tucson to watch our niece Lindsay participate in an Arizona Junior Rodeo. It was late January, it was cold for Tucson, with cold wind and snow falling on the higher elevations. The rodeo was actually in Marana, which is just west of Tucson.

Lindsay competes in all the female rodeo events: barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping and ribbon roping. Each event requires athletic ability and skill by both horse and rider. Lindsay's barrel and pole horse is a big muscular black horse called Joe. On this particular occasion, Lindsay had a good day, winning many events and being named the winner of All Round competitor. A competitor is awarded points for their placement in each event. Add up all the points and the one with the most wins All Round.

Now that the scene is set, I can tell the story of the picture. From right to left we have Joe and Lindsay, rodeo competitors. Next to them in the white jacket is Ashley (our daughter-in-law) who is a nurse. She was there to support Lindsay and visit with the in-laws (us). Terry (my wife), Marty (my sister-in-law) are next. Barnes (my son) is in the left background with a baseball hat on. Barnes is talking to two young ladies in the background. On the shoulder of the young lady in the red jacket we see a small puppy, soon to be named Shiloh. In the picture, Shiloh was looking for a name and a home. Today, Shiloh lives with Barnes and Ashley. Barnes is a farrier and keeps horseshoes on Joe and Lindsay's other horses. This picture tells a story of a family, of the celebration of a young athlete and her horse, of coming together for a time, of celebrating one of those fragile moments in time that is upon you and gone for ever. Gone except for memories, gone except for a picture that tells a story.

Now make no mistake about it. If I tried to stage this photograph, it would not work. Quite honestly, I do not even remember taking it at the time. I look at it today and I see so much which is part of my life, in one picture that tells a story.

July 16, 2008

-7- The Story of Water

Have you ever noticed how relaxing it is to walk along a babbling brook on a warm day? Or walk in a deep canyon and hear the echo of a waterfall or the low steady roar of a white water stream? I find these sounds comforting, I know I will always find a cool drink if I need it.

As a young boy growing up on a ranch in Southern Arizona, water was key to the survival of our cattle, horses and ultimately to our on survival. What ever heaven might be, it was sure to contain lots of running water. In the heat of the summer, neither man nor animal can for much more than a day without water. If one is exerting one's self, it can be a matter of hours until heat stroke symptoms arise. Walking down to the creek for a drink was not an option for much of the year.

Seasonal rains would fill up pools in rocky canyons, but for most of the year, water was a critical resource. Small springs and seeps became gathering points for all livestock as well as all wildlife. We had a few windmills which we used to fill large storage tanks with water. Each storage tank would have a livestock trough with a float valve to control the release of water from the storage tank. We would spend much of the dry part of the year constantly checking these watering spots to make sure all was well. The water in these livestock troughs was warm and full of moss and algae. The protocol for drinking was first the people would fill up on water, then the horses went second as they tended to stir up mud and muck as they drank. Finally, the dogs were allowed to jump in, swim around and drink up their fill. Green and slimy as the water was, we knew it was good to drink.

There was a section of the ranch that was highly mineralized. Ironically, the water in that area was crystal clear. Nothing lived in it and nothing drank it. The water in this area came from many mine dumps and was loaded with heavy minerals including arsenic. A lesson to be learned in that area. If the water had a few bugs and some moss in it, you could drink it. If it was crystal clear, drink at your own peril. Beautiful as the pools of water appeared, no form of life could exist in them.

Now when I walk, I always enjoy the path as it passes by a small stream. Abundant water is worth more than gold when you really need a drink. When next you walk, don't forget your bottle of water. You might need it.

June 11, 2008

-6- The Road Goes On For Ever

"The road goes on forever, and the party never ends"...the refrain from a song by Robert Earl Keen. The song is about two not so nice people who do some not so nice things and has very little to do with walking. But the song is a good one to sing while walking ( preferably alone and quietly in my case since my singing voice is not ready for The Next American Idol just yet ). I am sure Robert Earl would not mind my borrowing his song for a while as he does seem to live in the spirit of Walking points. The road does indeed go on for ever and as long as we can walk it the party never ends.

Walking is a great time to speak your mind. Step out on the trail or road, get your walking rhythm established and begin the journey. Organize your inner thoughts and let them out in a cascade of words for everyone to hear. The floor is yours and you have the say. Your walking companions get the benefit of your ideas. Walking companions can be a friend, relative or significant other. They can walk on two feet or four feet ( read "Four Feet" by Rudyard Kipling sometime).Your companions can be living or departed, or not yet arrived.

I learned long ago that you never walk alone. One always has lots of company. Dogs are great walkers, always interested in what is beyond the next bend. They rarely interrupt you, although their attention span is not the greatest. Your shadow is always with you, carrying on its eternal dance away from the sun. Shadow hides beneath your feet at noon and grows braver and longer by the hour, until sunset when it rushes out to join all the other shadows that have come out from hiding. As you walk, your memories come out to join you. Memories from yesterday, memories from long ago, just waiting for the right moment to walk with you for awhile. They live in the gray area between now and then, they whisper in your mind about the time when. They are old friends, relatives who are gone, times that are gone, but not gone for ever. They are thoughts of the future and what lies out there next week or next year, what is just around the corner ahead. They are ready to walk with you always for a few steps anytime you wish.

I nearly always use a walking staff or stick of some sort. The habit first came growing up on the ranch in southern Arizona 50 plus years ago. We would walk out for the evening when things began to cool off. We would always take a snake stick to tap the grass and bushes before us while walking. The area had many rattlesnakes and a few corral snakes. They would come out to hunt once the heat of the day was off. The idea was if there was a rattlesnake in your path, the stick would cause the snake to rattle and you would be warned. This was a good thing because we were far from the hospital, there was no telephone and emergency response was measured in days not minutes. A snake bite would have serious consequences. Luckily none of us were ever the victim of a snakebite. We had some close encounters, but no bites.

I find a walking stick or staff helps keep my pace steady, so I use them today. My favorite stick I have had for about 22 years. I bought it at a small crafts fair in Scotland. I spent a year working in support of a communications center in Northern Scotland. The Scots are great walkers and have trails that go all over the place. I got my stick to help walk in the highlands. The elderly Scottish gentleman had a number of nice long sticks with stag horn on the top and a metal tip on the bottom. I asked how much the walking sticks were and he informed me that they were not walking sticks. They were shepherd's staffs. I bought my stick anyway as I had no need for a shepherd's staff, but I did need a good walking stick. I still use the stick to this day, the metal tip has worn off, but it still gets the job done. I have no snakes to chase or sheep to herd, but I do lean on the stick a bit more than I used to.

Time to close for now, happy hiking to you all.

May 31, 2008

-5- Fire

I begin my mornings early. A curse of sorts that links back to my days living on a ranch in Southern Arizona. Days always began before the sun was up, and so do my days now. I usually eat breakfast, watch the 5:00 am news and then get ready for a morning walk. Thursday, a week ago started in much the same way. I was eating my oatmeal ( which tastes like boiled sawdust), watching the news when a bulletin came on saying there was a fire in the Santa Cruz mountains. The location was in the Summit road and Loma Prieta road area. This got my attention quickly. My normal morning walk is along Summit road. Add to that, the wind was unusually high for this time of year. We were having sustained winds of 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 50. Shortly after the news bulletin , I could hear the wail of sirens of fire trucks rushing by on Summit road. Not good news at all.

The Santa Cruz mountains are beautiful. They are also a natural disaster just waiting to happen. They are formed by the San Andreas fault system. That makes the mountains an active earthquake zone. They are heavily forested with redwoods, fir trees, large oaks, California laurel and heavy scrub brush. All which provide adequate fuel for wild fires. Finally, the Santa Cruz mountains are quite steep, which results in numerous mud slides. Many opportunities for natural disasters. If one reads the history of the Santa Cruz mountains, the greatest losses of lives and property have been attributed to fires. When a fire breaks out in the neighborhood, one is well advised to be ready to get out and get out quickly.

I decided to go out to higher ground an determine just how close the fire was. I woke up Terry, told her there was a fire going and then drove up to the local school parking lot. Once there, the smoke plume was easily visible, south and east of our home. It was a very large smoke plume, billowing up in the sky, resembling big fat thunderheads. It appeared to be about 5 miles away and the gusting wind was pushing the fire away from our house. On the way back to the house, I stopped by several neighbor's houses and let them know that a fire was going, just to raise their awareness. When I did get home, Terry called several other neighbors that live close to the fire and asked if they needed any help. Terry and I made mental lists of what to grab if we needed to leave quickly and mentally prepared to abandon the house should the need arise. By this time, all the local news was covering the story. The fire had grown from 40 acres to 1,000 acres and was spreading rapidly due to the high winds.

The rest of the day was a sit and wait kind of situation. The winds would swirl around, but for the most part kept blowing south and east which was to our advantage. We kept the television on which was the best source of information about the fire. The news teams were providing constant coverage and the traffic helicopters were circling above the fire. We could actually watch the fire move and houses go up in flames in real time. It was both scary and sad at the same time. We could clearly hear the fire trucks rushing to the fire all day. The fire helicopters grumbled across the sky like angry giant dragonflies, dropping bucket after bucket of water on the flames. The wind dropped a tree across our road about midday. I quickly cut it up and got the pieces off the road. That is one of the real hazards during a fire in the mountains. The roads are narrow and steep. If a tree blocks the road, one cannot drive around it. You are stuck until the tree is moved or burned up.

By evening, the winds started to die down thankfully. The fire had grown to to burn for several days, but 3,000 plus acres and was 20% contained. The night turned cool and calm, both good for fighting fires. The fog which is normal for this time of year began to trickle in in the night. The crisis stage seemed to be over. The fire continued but the lack of wind and the cooler weather made fighting the fire easier for the firefighters.

Tuesday, I drove to the area closest to our home that had burned. I walked a few miles to see up close what was left of the area. The road I walked in on is one that Terry and I used to run on in years gone by and still walk on to this day. There were a number of clean up crews putting out stumps and smoldering logs in the area. The sky was yellow with smoke. My impression was of a ghost forest covered with ash. It was like walking in a forest covered with a light snow, except the snow was hot and smoke was rising from the stumps. Sort of a dream like the ones you get when you have a fever from the flu.

The true heroes were of course the firefighters and the law enforcement officers that kept the roads open. The people your rarely ever see, yet they are there quickly when trouble shows up on your doorstep. And then you are ever so glad that they are there. So the next time you hear a siren and see the flashing red lights coming down the road in your mirror, pull over and let them by. The very next time you get a chance to vote on a local proposition to support fire and police protection, vote for it. They all deserve it. And you will be helping yourself or your friends or some other good people that you don't even know when trouble comes to their door one day.

April 27, 2008

-4-The Road

We have 365 chances each year to take a nice walk. Each day is an opportunity to get out for a short while even for just half an hour and walk. Of course things happen and I do not get out every day, but I try to. You can be a morning walker, a noon walker or and evening walker. Each time has abundant reasons to be the best time to walk. We all get to choose our own best walking time.

I live in the Santa Cruz mountains. There are a number of walks I can take that start at our front door and wind this way and that way. I try to walk 4 plus miles each morning if I can. I will go out for 2 or 3 miles and then loop back depending upon my choice of the day. Weather can have an impact, but I do find that some of the best walks I have taken have been in rainy or windy weather. The weather can keep some of the regular walkers indoors, but if I dress for the weather, I find the stormy walks are well worth the effort. In the winter months, wind and rain is frequent. There is an unwritten rule that the rain will be that hardest at the farthest point out on the walk. I have learned this over time. It is typical for me to look out, see some light mist and say "why that is not so bad". So I start out and things hold together for awhile. Naturally I get out a few miles and here comes the sleet and the 40 mile an hour wind gusts. The local weather people call them storm cells. Did I mention I love Goretex and long sleeve sweatshirts? Once or twice a light dusting of snow may fall. In the summer it rarely rains at all, but frequently we do get fog in the early morning. Thick fog damps the air and slightly muffles the normal sounds. I feel as if I am walking in a dream scape.

Walking introduces me to neighbors that I meet along the way. Fellow wanders of the roads and trails. Some are walking, some are jogging. Some people meet at spots along the road at prearranged spots for their walk dates. I also have met people that see me walking while they are driving by on their way from here to there. They wave and I wave back. Some people I actually have met, some people I recognize their vehicle , but know not who they are. Yet a wave is nice to get, and acknowledgment from one person to another, a hello that is never spoken.

My usual morning walk along the road takes me by the Summit Store, Burrell winery and a number of homes, all of which are quiet in the early morning hours. It is not unusual to see wildlife along the way. There are several coveys of quail that scuttle about in the bushes along the way. I am usually scolded on a regular basis by the Stellar Jays, but I do not take it personally. I know it is their place in the order of things to scold, a task they relish. And they do such a good job of it. As I pass through their domain, they quickly take up scolding someone or something else. I see squirrels frequently, trapeze artists extraordinary, with death defying leaps between the big trees. I have seen small gray foxes, quick and quite, flash and they are gone. I frequently see deer. If they spot me, they will freeze in place and try to determine if I have seen them. They survive on stealth, speed and being aware. Perhaps good lessons to learn for anyone. On occasion I will see a coyote or two, usually on their way to some important meeting. Very rarely I have seen bobcats, they are most shy. Once and one time only I saw a small mountain lion. It looked like a one or two year old, and was running away as quickly as it could. It was obviously scared to death and with good reason. Nothing dramatic as one might imagine from some of the panic caused by the sightings reported by others. Mankind is the most dangerous beast in the woods, top of the food chain. Personally I am more concerned by some of the aggressive dogs one comes across on the trails than any other wildlife I encounter on my walks.

I end my morning walks where the begin at home. Time for a hot shower, a hot cup of tea ( my wife has made me several of my very own tea cups) and get ready for the day. For me, a great way to start the day. Try it sometime, much more rewarding than an hour on the treadmill.