Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly...

Trick or Treat!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Cave Creek Canyon

Slanting Sunlight in Cave Creek Canyon
Photographed by Gusto! 10-25-08
Click on any image to enlarge for the best viewing.

This Story begins with Someplace Else and is continued On the Road to Rodeo, it concludes here with,

Cave Creek Canyon and The Ciricahua Mountains

I know we’ve crossed back into Arizona when we pass State Line road. I see yet another red-tail hawk on a utility pole surveying its domain. When we pass through Portal I am looking down at my bird book and so I don’t even notice the tiny town set at the base of Cave Creek Canyon. As we round a corner the rocky cliffs of the canyon rise before us. Gus pulls off the road to take in the view as the sun sends slanting light into the narrow gap. We know we don’t have much time.

A sign points out the way to Paradise. We’ll have to go there sometime, but today we want to see Cave Creek Canyon.

Farther down the road the golden cliffs rise steeper around us. Each bend of the road reveals a new vista.

A merry creek tumbles through the sycamores and alligator junipers that line the creek bank. Here, as if looking through a window, I see the bright colors of autumn that are lacking in the Sonoran desert.

Even the rocks seem to glow with the golden colors of autumn.

I think about asking Gus to turn around and let us explore New Mexico more in the last hour and a half of daylight, but my curiosity pulls me onward and so we point Birdie west and leave the paved road behind. We start our ascent up the narrow gravel road that will take us 20 miles over the Chiricahua Mountains and drop us down near the Chiricahua National Monument.

The steep and winding road ascends through cottonwoods, junipers and pines. A few aspens appear as flaming yellow candles in the thick cover of evergreens that fill the mountain slopes. We start to pass campground after campground filled with tents and trailers and bearded men dressed in camouflage hunkered down around open campfires. A few boys are with them learning the ways of the woods and the ways of the men, a fraternity of hunters in the deep forest night. I see more men than birds on this whole excursion.

Switchback leads to switchback until we finally reach the crest, then suddenly the way slopes ever downward and we hurry to beat the last glimmer of daylight. The road we travel opens out to grassland where I see kestrels now, clinging to the utility wires. Are they hoping for one last meal in the fading light of the evening? Gravel gives way to asphalt as the dirt road becomes Route 181. Soon we reach the junction with 186 which will lead us into Wilcox and back to I-10. A large tree stands tall alongside the road as we turn northwest and I catch the silhouette of a great horned owl as we pass by. His night of hunting has only just begun.

Darkness falls swift and black around us. There are no streetlights here, and no moon to light the way. The road rolls over the hills. Not a car is in sight. We are alone on open range. Gus thinks he sees a person trying to flag us down from the side of the road. He slows the car but as our head lights illuminate the body we realize it is the butt end of a cow and the waving hand is simply the swishing of its tail.

It’s dark enough now for stars to emerge in the violet colored sky. The topography has become more rolling with round hills that make me feel like I’m driving through a giant bowl of lumpy oatmeal at night. We pass between two especially round hills and then the land flattens out. Soon we see the lights of Wilcox and the way home, which is west on I-10.

In the dark interior of the car with contentment wrapped around me like a blanket, I think about how today, I saw Someplace Else and it only makes me want more. I don’t know how long it will be before we head east again, but when we do, I intend to go further into the Land of Enchantment and perhaps even further. There are more sights to see, more birds to count, and more places to explore. Besides, I think I saw a sign just over the border that said El Paso was only 190 miles further. Hmmn…I’ve never been to El Paso. Could that be the next “Someplace Else?”

Please visit Skywatch Friday for more amazing views of the skies around the globe.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Gusto! using the Nikon D80 and the 18-70mm lens set in auto. Kathie cropped and enlarged some photos. I also enhanced the colors in the photos of the cliffs using Picture Project to bring out the colors the way I remembered them. Though I did an auto correction, I had to go in and manipulate the colors myself beyond what the program recommended as the reflected light washed the rocky surfaces out too much. Though I did not us a HDR program, please see Troy's post about this subject on Ramblings Around Texas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My World: On the Road to Rodeo

On the Road to Rodeo by Kathie 10-25-08 1/1250 sec-F 5.6

The New Mexico Mountains before me offer layer upon layer of enticement. The undulating road disappears into the mountain haze and I feel like we are entering a dream.

Sculpture Rocks by Kathie 10-25-08 1/200sec-F10

To the west the many rock formations appear as random sculptures in the landscape. We travel on into the afternoon haze. I have my eyes open for any bird movement anywhere, but all I see are red-tail hawks every few miles atop the utility poles. By the time we reach Rodeo I will have counted 6 red-tails, 16 mourning doves, 3 ravens and 1 kestrel.

We pull over near a historical marker on the main street. I feel like I have gone back in time at least 75 years.

Art Gallery by Kathie 10-25-08 1/500 sec-F5.6

Across the road what looks like a former church has been converted into an art gallery. It looks closed or I might be tempted to wander about, but the light is fading fast and we have a mountain range to cross.

Just before I hop back in the car I spot a different dove in the silver tangled branches of a dead tree. Its grayish tail band and black neck ring identify it as a Eurasian collared dove. It is the last bird I get to count in New Mexico. We turn Birdie back north and travel 4 miles to Portal Road. Here we head west towards the Chiricahua Mountains and Arizona. It isn’t long before we are back on native ground.

To be continued…

Visit MY WORLD TUESDAY to see other fantastic photos from around the globe.

This story begins with yesterday's post, Someplace Else.

Come back on Thursday to read the rest of the story on Skywatch Friday.

Click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing.

Sycamore Canyon Weather: Sunny, windy, 76 degrees Fahrenheit at 11:15 a.m. October 28, 2008 MST. Not a cloud in the sky.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Someplace Else

Do you ever get up in the morning and say to yourself, “I want to go someplace else?” Well, it happens to me frequently and on Saturday I acted on it. After some morning errands we hopped in “Birdie” our SUV and headed east on I-10 towards El Paso. We had been making a lot of trips south towards Rio Rico lately but today I wanted to see “Someplace Else.”

The Sonoran desert falls behind us as we drive the black ribbon of asphalt. A blazing sun reflects off the brown earth and silver grasses now dry since the Monsoon ended a month ago. Saguaros and cholla give was to grass and scrub. We travel through Benson and the boulder strewn Texas Canyon. In Wilcox we pass the playa off to the south, and the apple orchards to the north. Farther east we pass pecan and walnut groves that are apparently open to the public. We drive on by, our eyes constantly on the horizon. I have a destination in mind and I want to get there before it’s too late.

Now the grasslands around us turn into gently sloping hills. I-10 starts a gentle but steady climb upwards. It is late in the afternoon and the sun is already casting long slanting shadows before us. The Chiricahua Mountains to the south define the topography with their tall and jagged peaks. Then, I see the sign and Gus pulls over. I have found “Someplace Else!”

I have never been to New Mexico before. I have never counted birds in New Mexico. We won’t cross far into the state but at least I can say I’ve been here. A few more miles east and we exit at Road Forks on highway 80. Here we head south towards the small town of Rodeo, a 22 mile drive. I’m giddy with excitement and all eyes as we turn Birdie south.

To be continued…

Local Nature News: It is being reported in local media that a mountain lion was shot and killed over the weekend in Madera Canyon for stalking a man and his dog. The mountain lion is being checked for rabies.

Weather: Sunny, warm and windy with gusts over 40 mph. Dust storms are possible, especially in Pinal county along I-10. The current temperature in Sycamore Canyon is 80 degrees F.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Black Phoebe, Blue sky

Black Phoebe, Blue Sky by Kathiesbirds 10-15-08

Click on photo to enlarge for best view.

The Black Phoebe is most often found around water where is perches on a low branch hunting insects. Like all Phoebe's it often "wags" its tail while perched. I saw my first one at Boyce Thompson arboretum last September and photographed this one when I visited this year. Uncharacteristically it was in a mostly dead tree in the picnic area alongside the currently dry Queen Creek.

Visit Skywatch Friday to view more amazing photos from around the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My World: Boyce Thompson Arboretum SP

Picketpost House at Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the former summer residence of the park's name sake. The house is located at the far end of a 3 mile loop trail and across a deep ravine. Currently the house is not open to the public but plans are underway to restore it and open it to the public in the future.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is open every day of the year except Christmas. Currently Admission is $7.50 for ages 13 and up, and $3 for ages 5-12. Ages 4 and under are free. However, if you live in the area, you can buy a State Parks Pass for $50 which will allow access for the pass owner plus 3 other adults. The State Parks Pass is good for 1 year from the date of purchase, plus it allows you access to any other State Parks in Arizona. Warning: If you intend to buy your State Parks Pass from Boyce Thompson Arboretum, you must have cash or a check as this comes out of a different fund and they will not let you use a debit or charge card to pay for it. Do not confuse the State Parks Pass with a Boyce Thompson Arboretum Annual Pass ($45) which will only let you into Boyce Thompson Arboretum for one year. Regular admission, the Arboreutum Annual Pass, and other purchases from the green house or gift shop may be paid for with a charge card.

Vine covered rock formation on the loop trail.

Rock formations on the slopes of Picketpost Mountain south of Queen Creek.

Red-naped Sapsucker in California Pepper Tree near the picnic area.

Besides the hiking trail there are numerous little side trails into various specialty gardens. Included are: a Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden; Rose Garden; Taylor Desert Legume Garden; Chihuahuan Exhibit; Cactus and Succulent Garden; South American Exhibit; Wing Herb Garden, and an Australian Exhibit. One of my favorites is the Demonstration Garden located near the picnic area where you can see different suggestions for a Xeriscape or low water-use landscape.

Boyce Thomspon Arboretum Map

I have been to Boyce Thompson Arboretum three different times so far and have yet to explore the whole place. I highly recommend a visit to this corner of my world here in Arizona, USA.

You can see more photos of Boyce Thompson Arboretum in my post, A Hike Through Boyce Thompson Arboretum or Skywatch Friday: Picketpost House. Be sure to read the comments sections where others have added to my knowledge of this amazing park.

Visit My World Tuesday to continue your tour around this amazing planet we live on.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie Adams Brown using the Nikon D80 with the 70-300mm lens set to Automatic. All images and text are copyrighted by the blog author.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Hike Through Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Rock formations at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park 10-15-08
(Click on any photo to enlarge for best view)

I’m driving east on I-10 past the jagged edged half bowl of Picacho Peak. On my right its eastern slopes are dark with shadow as the autumn sun sinks ever closer to the horizon. In the car I’m listening to James Taylor croon "...let the sun go down behind the hill, I know how to stand there still, till the moon rise up behind the pine O'Lord...October Road” as I savor the memories of this fine October day.

I got up early and drove to Coolidge where I met up with my son G, his wife, Trish, and my new grandson, Xavier. We all piled in the car and drove North and East on Highway 60 to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. As we near the town of Superior, Picketpost Mountain looms large in our window. The Arboretum is nestled alongside Queen Creek at the base of this mountain. I’ve been wanting to take them here ever since I first visited last year, but it has taken this long to make it happen. This is Xavier's first hike.

Just a little more sunscreen... and we are off!

Down the trail we go...

...past the cactus gardens,

... and one hairy cactus!

I love the colors in the trunk of this eucalyptus tree...

..but I gawk at the height of this Boojum tree. Boojum Tree?

The informational sign beneath says that Boojum Trees are related to our native ocatillo. It is found naturally in central Baja California and on the coast of Sonora, Mexico. Early Jesuits priest called the plant "Cirio," meaning candle, and I can see why.

Farther up the trail we come to man-made Lake Ayers. I saw my first black Phoebe here last year. Today a lone coot is the only bird life I see but what are the rest of the family looking at?

A blue dragonfly...

...and thousands of minnows!

As we continue around the lake the trail rises for a breath-taking view of the water below.

Overhead immense sculptural rock cliffs rise in the afternoon haze.

We see this sign which is a humorous warning to stay on the trail.

Up and up we hike...

...stopping to cool ourselves in one of several informational gazebos.

More sculptured rocks tower overhead against a dazzlingly blue autumn sky.

We hike past the Picketpost House and follow the trail down to the tree-lined creek, now dry after the end of the Monsoon.

Here the rock cliff hugs the creek bank. Trish and I take a shade break in the cleft of the rocks.

Then we follow the trail along this narrow edge. If you look closely you can see the wire bridge just off in the distance...

We enter the wooden ramp and feel the planks sway beneath our feet. Once on the other side we decide to take this upper trail, a trail I have not hiked before...

...and we climb the steps upwards through hot sunshine and cool shadows.

I glance back at the bridge we just crossed, an architectural standout in its soft green setting.

Even more eye catching but also dangerous are these Christmas Cactus berries growing on the thorny cactus alongside the trail. You can eat the berries if you can get past the thorns and the tiny glocids that will pierce your lips and tongue. I give them a wide berth and keep walking.

So, where are all the birds, you ask? I haven't seen many in the bright heat of the day along the trail, but now our path ends at the shady picnic area and here is where I finally start to see some birds.

This mockingbird keeps a lookout from a mesquite tree.

The California Pepper Trees are thick with Red-naped Sapsuckers. I'm suppose to be eating my lunch, but I keep hopping up to photograph birds.

That's okay, because Xavier is enjoying one of his first teething biscuits!

While I enjoy the view of Picketpost Mountain.

Down by the dry creekbed this Sycamore Tree is just starting to show the faintest hint of Autumn's blush.

And deep in the thicket this Inca doves grasps a twig with sun-brightened pink feet. Its repetitive cooing called to me, so I searched until I found her, then I let her be.

"Well I'm going back down maybe one more time, deep down home...October Road..."

Now back at home the sun has set. The desert breeze wafts gently across the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. As I rush about opening windows I pause to watch the moon rise golden and glowing beyond the eastern horizon. On days like today I am so glad to live here. I feel the happiness welling up inside me. Why is it that spending a day outside exploring nature can so revive me? I didn’t see very many birds today, but that was okay. Rock formations, various trees and a creek gone dry are enough food for my heart and my soul. Spending time with my family is a sweetness all its own, and I feel my heart rise with the full moon over the desert sky.

Notes: Today's photography is copyrighted by Kathie Adams Brown. I used the Nikon D80 with the 70-300mm lens.

"October Road" words by James Taylor from his 2002 album October Road.

To learn more about Boyce Thompson Arboretum and for hours of operation click on one of the following links: