Monday, July 27, 2009

100 degrees is so ... cool

On Saturday I messed around all day and didn't really get outside until about 5. There were big black clouds all around. I decided I had to go somewhere and get some pictures (I just don't like pictures of clouds that have houses in them). I drove for about 15 minutes before I decided it was too late to try to get somewhere interesting and went back home to wait for the rain. It never rained, though.

I wasn't going to let the same thing happen on Sunday. I left the house about 1. So where do you go in the desert at 1 on a sunny July afternoon? Up. I drove to Superior, then kept going, and didn't stop until I got to 4000 feet. I went out past Oak Flat Campground, which is where I was last weekend but it was too late in the day to do much then. I was able to negotiate the bumpy parts of the road more smoothly this time. I had also studied the area on Google Earth, and I knew where I wanted to go. Remarkably, the road I wanted to follow was on my Magellan GPS receiver. Also remarkable, the receiver was working. It hadn't been for a couple of weeks, but Skid turned it on and it started working again. Oops, I'm wandering off the trail here. With my Magellan, a tow strap, and a come-along I felt secure. I had been down the road once before, years ago, on a gloomy spring day. Some parts looked familiar but most didn't. I didn't stop until I got to a gate that I had to open. I remember knowing that it was OK to go through the gate, but I couldn't remember why. Oh well, who cares as long as it's OK. When I got out of the truck to open the gate, I stood there and marveled at the fact that I didn't feel like I was being scorched all over. Wow, I'm out in the sun and I'm not on fire!

The gate. It doesn't look like it would contain much. It was closed when I got there, so I closed it after myself.

It took all my skills as a photographer to get a picture of this place that looks boring.

After I went through the gate, there were no tire tracks. It had rained Saturday night and erased the tracks, and nobody had gone out there before me today. Still, as I drove along the road, I couldn't help looking for other vehicles. As I glanced in my mirror one time, I spotted something that I was hoping to find again. There are a lot of balanced rocks out there, but there is one that looks just like the Grinch. I didn't get very good pictures last time, and I wanted to try again. The lighting was a little better this time.

The Grinch!

This is a really lumpy place.

There are power lines running through this area, and for some reason, it's hard to take a picture without getting them in it. There are plenty of directions to point a camera besides at the power lines, but they always seem to be next to what I want to take a picture of at the moment.

Omnipresent power lines.

So I decided I should quit struggling against the power lines. I need to accept them as part of the landscape. I need to incorporate them creatively into my pictures. I thought that maybe I could somehow compare and contrast the power in the wires to the power of the thunderheads growing behind them, or that the elegant beauty of an agave flower stalk and the efficient geometrical shapes of a transmission tower could complement each other. So I took a bunch of pictures with power lines on purpose. They suck. Pardon my French, but they do. I guess I'm just not very good at photographing power lines yet. I'll work on it some more. Yep. Sure I will.

I got out of the truck at the end of the road and decided that since it was so cool, I had to go for at least a short hike. I also had to hike for another reason. You see, for several months there was an impending RIF where I work. We knew it was going to happen; we just didn't know when or who would be affected. I was a nervous wreck. I was having about 4 migraines a week. All the stress made it difficult to concentrate on work. I managed to get some good stuff done, but man, what could I have done without that axe hanging over my head? Anyway, I decided that if I didn't get RIF'd, I would get a new backpack. The one I've used for the past couple of years was pretty simple, and if I carried a lot of water the weight made my shoulders hurt. Also, when I was tired it tended to slip off my shoulders. I survived the RIF and bought a Kelty Redwing 2650. Then it got really hot and I couldn't use my new backpack. Crackers. Well, I was going to use it now come Hell or high ... Hah, not much chance of high water. So I set off for the summit of a small hill nearby.

Parked at the end of the road.

The view from a small hill.

Unfortunately, I was climbing the leeward side of the hill. It was also the shady side, but you could only say that because all the other sides were sunnier. There were only 1 or 2 rocks where I could actually get out of the sun. I was at 4000 feet, too, so I was a lot closer to the sun than I'm used to. Yes, I wore my hat. I don't like burns on my bald spot. I left one bottle of water on the seat of the truck, so I couldn't do what I had planned, which was to get the thighs of my pants wet to cool me off. I always hear that you shouldn't hike in denim, but I have never worn any other material that I would rather wear while pushing my way through catclaw acacia. There was a lot of catclaw on this hill, too. It grabbed my hands and forearms a few times, and the drops of blood gleemed bright red in the high sun. I would have taken a picture, but have you ever tried to photograph your own arm when you can't get the camera closer than 1.4 feet from your subject? I enjoyed the breeze at the top for a while and then headed back to the truck. By the time I got back to the truck, the blood was gone. You know you are sweating a lot when you can't find the trails of blood from cuts you got half an hour ago.

Clouds and sotol stalks.

I turned all the vents to blow on me and drove slowly out, stopping now and then to get some pictures. I had cooled off pretty good when I stopped to follow what looked like a well-worn trail. I took my sunglasses off as I got out (you can't take pictures with sunglasses on, especially if you are using a polarizing filter) and squinted in the bright sunlight. You know you have been sweating a lot when you can feel the salt crystals in the creases around your eyes when you squint (or laugh, but I rarely laugh when hiking by myself).

It's getting late and I'm tired. It was an eventful afternoon, but I'll tell you about just one more thing I saw. As I was driving back, and was almost back to the campground, I saw some ants crossing the road. These weren't the usual large red ants you see around here, though. They were a lighter shade of red, but about the same size. The thing that got my attention was how fast they were moving. I got out to get some pictures but they were moving too fast to get good ones. I also noticed that I had gotten there just as they started to cross the road. The lead ants had just gotten to a culvert and were exploring for a path around it. Watching them reminded me of videos of army ants in South America. I'm going to have to do some research on Arizona ants. Maybe tomorrow. Click below to see all of the pictures.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Almost lost, but at least it was cooler

It's been terribly hot lately. And it didn't heat up like it normally does this summer. We had unusually cool weather for a while (in the 90's), and then it suddenly jumped up to 110+. No time to adjust. I've been hiding from the heat since. It seems like it's been over 110 every day for at least a couple of weeks. I had been spending the weekend in the house, but yesterday I couldn't stand it any more. I had to get out of the house, even if it meant becoming a raisin. I headed for Superior. It was only 106 there, and maybe even cooler east of there.

It took me a while to get to Superior. I took a detour to drive the length of El Camino Viejo (the old road). I've been wanting to do that for about 3 years. It turns out that it isn't a very long road, and not extremely scenic, though it was certainly nice. Then I went through Queen Valley and marveled at how green their golf course is. I finally got around to moseying on out to Superior. It was only 102 in town by the time I got there. I continued on 60 up the canyon to the east. I stopped at a pullout where I often see cars parked and have sometimes seen people hiking along the road. I've often wondered where that trail went, so I decided to follow it for a little ways. I was amazed when I got out of the truck and didn't feel like I was getting scorched. Wow, only 98 degrees! I followed the trail to where it descended to the bottom of the canyon. It's right next to the highway, so it's very noisy. It looks like the trail doesn't leave the canyon, so I don't think I'll be hiking on it any time soon.

At the top of the canyon is the turnoff for Oak Flat Campground (which is also where I turned off to hike to Apache Leap). If you drive through the campground, the road continues on the other side. I had been out there once before and there were some interesting rock formations, so I thought I'd go out there again. The road on the other side of the campground is much rougher than I remembered. The rough parts are solid rock that is not cut very smoothly. Then there are stretches of dirt that are as smooth as glass. As I drove along, there were lots of side roads. It became difficult to tell what was side roads and what was the road I was trying to follow. Since I had taken so long to get out there, it was going to be getting dark soon. I decided I had better head back, but first I had to ... uh ... well, I had been keeping myself well hydrated, and I needed to dispose of some of the used water. Of course, I took my camera with me and of course, there was something to take a picture of.

A pile of rocks.

That's right; a pile of rocks. And nearby was another pile of rocks.

A pile of rocks with a stick in the middle.

Hmm, do they mark a trail? Why are they out here in the middle of nowhere? This warrants further investigation. So I walked in the direction they they seemed to point. I noticed another strange rock formation.

Rocks blocking a stream?

The rocks looked like they were used to build a dam. They couldn't hold water, though. Why would somebody do that? I continued exploring. I only took a few steps before I found another leaky dam-like structure.

Another leaky dam.

These things were all over the place. But why? They couldn't hold water. They did seem to have a lot of dirt piled up behind them, though. Was somebody trying to collect dirt? Was all this from some kid playing? It wasn't a kid. Some of those rocks probably weighed several hundred pounds. Well, I guess it could have been a kid with a bulldozer. Anyway, I can't figure it out.

I followed these dams for a while, taking pictures. I saw one other out-of-place item besides the dams. There were pieces of clay pigeons all over the place. I don't think there's a connection, though. I think a lot of people go out there to camp, shoot things, and drink.

Evidence of drinking.

OK, remember why I got out of the truck? Remember that I took my camera, but that's all? No water. No phone. No SPOT. Nothing else. I thought about that and suddenly felt very vulnerable. I'd been happily wandering along in pretty much random directions, snapping pictures of whatever, in unfamiliar territory. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, beyond the next dam. Where was I? Where was the truck? I had a feeling for which direction it should be, which was also the direction I had most recently come from. I headed back, going from one familiar landmark to the next. I quickly got back to the truck. Whew! Well I couldn't be lost in the desert if I'm writing this, could I? It was getting close to sunset, so I needed to get back to 60. I didn't want to be out here with all these twisty roads and side roads in the dark. So I'm not quite out of the woods, yet. There was something on my side, though. It had rained the night before, and that had erased all tracks. Only a couple of other vehicles had been out there since then. It was easy to follow my own tracks out, except for on the parts of the road that were solid rock, and those weren't long enough to be a problem. I'll have to get out there earlier in the day next time.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I'm a grandpa

Emily Elizabeth Swatek was born at 5:11 this morning, weighing 7 pounds and 13 ounces, 19.5 inches long! Mother and daughter are doing fine. Click below to see some pictures.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Back to Roger's trough

I went back to the Roger's Trough trailhead on Sunday, hoping that it would be cooler up there. It was around 108 on the drive out there, and 95 by the time I parked. I guess that is a little cooler. My plan was to hike a short distance on the West Pinto Trail. It intersects the Roger's Trough trail a short distance from the trailhead. It wasn't too long before I got to what must be Roger's Trough.

Roger's trough.

It seemed that the trail continued beyond the trough. There was orange tape in the trees, and I thought that was somebody's way of marking the trail. Everything that looked like a trail went off into the brush or just petered out, though. I kept wandering around, looking for the trail. I finally decided to go in the direction that I thought it went, to see if I could find it again. I found more rabbit trails. I also came across a beehive. It was too hot to try to outrun killer bees (if that's what they were), so I gave it a wide berth. I finally got to a place that I couldn't go any further in the direction I wanted to go without pushing through a lot of brush. I was hot and feeling a little wobbly, so decided to call it quits. I headed back to the area of the trough on a slightly different route than I had taken out, and guess what I found. I knew it was the trail because it was well worn. I had to follow it for a little way so I would be able to find it the next time I was out there.

The trail through a woodsy area.

There were some cairns marking the trail, but with all the trees, bushes, and grass, the cairns were hard to find. I don't see how anybody would know to turn right where you are supposed to turn right. I have some ideas for finding the trail more quickly next time I lose it, though.

I didn't see as many animals on the drive back this time as I did on Friday. A deer ran across the road in front of me, but that was about it. Oh, I also saw a collared lizard. Might have been a female eastern collared lizard. I didn't get a very good look at it, and it ran away as I got the camera out.

As always, the view was great.

Click below to see all of the pictures.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

An interesting drive

It was over 105 yesterday afternoon, and the humidity is up. I wanted to get out of the house but didn't feel like hiking in the heat. I started out driving towards Florence, planning to explore some dirt roads out there. Instead, before I got to Florence Junction, I decided to go up towards the Roger's Trough trailhead. I'd been up there in the winter and it was really cold up there. Maybe it would be cooler in the summer, too.

As I drove along Hewitt Canyon Road, the temperature was around 107 to 109. After a while I started to wonder if the thermometer was picking up heat from the engine. I pulled off the road at some stock pens and got out. It felt a lot cooler than 107. I took a few pictures and got back in the truck and the thermometer only said 95. I expected it to go back up when I started driving, but it kept dropping. By the time I got to Roger's Trough trailhead, it was down to 74. I wandered around a little up there, but it was getting late and I was hungry. I need to get up there earlier to go for a hike.

A water trough with dozens of wasps.

The trailhead.

It was very windy up there, too, probably from the storms in the distance. I stopped at the side of the road to take pictures a couple of times and could barely stand still enough to take a picture. There was a snake in the road and I hopped out to get pictures. I could barely push the door open against the wind.

A gopher snake crossing the road.

I could see rain in the distance. I was a little worried that it would rain near me and the washes would flood. I would be trapped for a while.

Storms in the distance.

As I drove along, I saw what I thought was a humming bird in front of me. It was flying a little erratically and I wondered if the wind was giving it some trouble. Then it crashed to the ground. I got out to check on it and saw that it wasn't a humming bird but the biggest beetle I have ever seen.

A paloverde root borer.

A little further down the road a couple of javelinas started to cross the road but ran back when they saw the truck. I tried to get some pictures from the truck but none of them turned out. So I pulled to the side of the road and walked as quietly as I could in the direction they went. I hadn't gone far before I saw them walking by in a long line. They hadn't seen me. Javelinas are not known for their keen eyesight. They ignored me as I got the camera ready; that arm waving scares a lot of other animals off. They froze at the sound of the first picture. They started to move off as I took more pictures.

Javelinas. With the storm clouds around, it was getting too dark for pictures.

Then it was back to the truck and on down the road. I had seen so much already, I didn't expect the see anything else worth stopping for. Then I spotted a Gila monster crossing the road. It was the second one I've seen since I moved out here. The spend about 95% of their lives in their burrows, so they don't get seen very much. The side of the road was a vertical dirt wall left by a road grader. I thought very briefly about helping the Gila monster over that obstacle, but there's no way I'm going to mess with a poisonous animal. I kept taking pictures and when it realized I wasn't going away, it started climbing up the side of the road. It was amazing to watch. It didn't seem to have any trouble at all.

This Gila monster doesn't look very friendly.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery on the way out there. I didn't stop to take pictures, though, because I was in a hurry to find a cooler place. I was surprised at how few people I saw out there, too. I expected it to be crowded for the holiday weekend. I only saw 3 other vehicles the whole time.


Friday, July 03, 2009

So-so sunset?

It was very cloudy all day yesterday, and it didn't get too hot. So can you guess what I did? That's right, I mowed the grass. It was getting pretty tall and Suzanne was worried we were going to get a letter from the HOA. I didn't take any pictures while I was doing that, though. After I finished mowing, I figured I could get out to Canyon Lake in time to catch the sunset. With all the clouds around (with appropriate gaps), I thought it had potential to be a spectacular sunset.

I walked along a short trail at a high point between the lake and Tortilla Flat. It has a nice view of the lake. It was a little early in the year for the best angle of the sun over the lake. I'll have to check it again in August. The sunset wasn't as colorful as I had hoped, but it was still very nice. It was also nice because it was quiet out there, and because there still weren't any gnats.

It's the time of year for millipedes to be out, and I saw a couple out there. Click below to see all of the pictures.