Monday, November 24, 2014

The 2014 monsoon rains

We had a very wet summer in the Sonoran Desert. It was the seventh wettest monsoon season since records have been kept. People that have lived here for 30 years says it the most rain they've ever seen. All those storms mean that there were some great photo opportunities, and on a couple of occasions I was even in the right place at the right time, and even had my camera with me.

A storm moved in while I was in Bulldog Canyon. I thought I had heard a screaming animal out there a couple of days before and had returned to find the body (but the only body I found was a dead saguaro). I have since decided that somebody is hunting mountain lions out there.

Great clouds mean some great sunsets.

I was out in the middle of a relatively flat area south of Florence Junction when I took this. You can see dust being kicked up on the left of the photo and a column of rain on the right.

This looked really ominous. I was worried I might be trapped in mud so I hurried to pavement. Turns out the rain never got to where I had been.

I stopped to get a picture of the rain falling on the Superstition Mountains and accidentally got a lightning bolt.

There was a great sunset going on at the same time in the other direction. I kept going back and forth across the road to get pictures of both.

It looks like it's probably raining pretty hard over there.

I hung around after sunset to get some lightning pictures.

This is a normally dry wash a couple of miles east of Tortilla Flat. There were some small waterfalls there but my pictures of them weren't any good. I decided I need to get an ND filter.

Yes, all the storms were great for pictures, but there were a couple of drawbacks, too. On several occasions I gave up on taking pictures because the bugs were so bad. Mostly they were gnats but once when I was on top of Lone Mountain some termites chased me away. Termites often swarm during the monsoon rains. Thousands of winged termites leave the colony to start new colonies. They have no interest in people but when there are so many in the air at once, the can't help landing on you. After a while it's just too creepy with all those bugs in your shirt (they always seem to fall into my shirt).

Just about every day, everywhere I went, there were nice clouds. This was taken northeast of Roosevelt Lake.

The other drawback to all the rain was, of course, the humidity. I decided to get serious about losing some weight this year and was frequently climbing Lone Mountain to burn some calories. The sweat dripping off my face created my own little salty rainstorm. It was a pretty mild summer temperature wise, though. There was only about one week when it got over 110. The humidity hung around long after the storms left. It was only during the past week that it seemed to return to normal. (I noticed because my knuckles cracked and bled when I made a fist.)

Winged termites leaving the nest. Photo taken on top of Lone Mountain.

I took a lot of pictures of Four Peaks from the top of Lone Mountain during the summer.

There were more flowers than usual during the summer.

One day I thought I was going to hike out to Apache Leap, east of Superior. There were storm clouds building over the valley but I didn't think they would affect me. Fortunately, I had forgotten where the trail was and wimped out because of the humidity. A very heavy storm moved through shortly after I got back on the pavement.

Even when it din't rain, there were nice clouds around. In order to keep burning calories, I was out hiking and getting pictures several times a week.

One day I tried to drive out to White Canyon Wilderness, south of Superior. The road seemed to be badly eroded by water, but the ocotillos didn't have leaves, and the ground was dry. Seemed very strange. Couldn't get to the wilderness so I went over to the Ray mine for a look and got a picture of this storm building. It evaporated shortly after I took this.

There are horses running loose around the Salt River. I suspect they were set free there by people that couldn't afford them any more when the economy took a dive. Anyway, I see their tracks all over the place but usually only see them at the river. I was wandering around Bulldog Canyon one day, a mile from the river, and came across 3 horses. Wouldn't wild horses run away from a human? These kept an eye on me but went about their usual business.

I climbed a tall butte near canyon lake. There were nice fluffy clouds all around. From on top you can see the Superstition Mountains, Four Peaks, Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, and lots of other landmarks. I got a nice 360 panorama. It's on my Panoramio page.

The only waterfall I've seen since I got the ND filter is by our pool.

I've come across several things I wanted to write a blog about over the past few weeks but didn't have time with all the hiking and picture processing. Maybe I'll catch up now that the sun sets so early.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Sometimes I use Google Earth to zoom in on parts of the desert that look like they are probably boring and search around for something interesting. I was doing that a few months ago and found what looked like concentric circles carved into the desert floor. They were faded and barely visible. They were much too circular to have been made by yahoos on ATVs. The outer-most circle is about 0.2 mile in diameter.

Screenshot of Google Earth showing the concentric circles.

Of course, the reason for looking for something like that is so I can go investigate. I went out there the first time on a day that it was too hot to do any climbing. It was almost too hot to walk around on mostly level ground. The temperature was only about 102 when I started out, and it was close to sunset, but I had to drink a lot of water. I misread my GPS receiver and thought I was only half a mile from the center of the circles when I started out. Actually, I was almost 2 miles away. It was close to sunset when I realized my mistake. I was only 0.2 mile from the center then but I figured it could be difficult to find the truck in that flat, featureless area in the dark so I turned back.

I went by a saguaro with a beehive in it.

A droopy saguaro skeleton. Picture taken well after sunset.

I went back about a week later. I went a little earlier and it was cooler and I had a plan for getting closer to the circles before I got out of the truck. It's monsoon season, though. There were some large clouds growing east of my destination. I kept going even though I might not get to the circles again. It would be cool to be in a rainstorm.

Look at the dark wall of rainfall behind this saguaro.

After a while it looked like it was going to rain where I was and since getting there involved driving several miles on dirt roads and because I didn't want to be stuck in mud out there, I turned around when I was about 0.2 mile from the center, again. I could see rain falling on the Superstition Mountains on the way back and stopped with a view of those mountains as the sun set.

The rainbow barely shows up, but I accidentally caught a lightning bolt.

I was there for about 30 minutes getting pictures of the storm and the sunset in the other direction.

It was a very pretty sunset.

The storm was awesome, too.

There was even lightning.

The very next day I made my third attempt to get to the circles. As I walked toward the center of the circles, I imagined that maybe it was some sort of ancient American Indian site, used for astronomy and to predict when crops should be sown or harvested and other such things. The American equivalent of Stonehenge. I would be famous for discovering it.

At 0.1 mile from the center, I saw a couple of pieces of metal and wondered what some cowboys had disposed of out there. I took a few steps and saw some more. Then more and more and more. There were pieces of metal all over the place. Many of the pieces were repeated. Lots of 3 inch pieces of pipe with a nut on one end. Lots of U shaped rods. Lots of sheet metal that looked like it had been formed into a cylinder and then smashed into the ground at high speed. Hmm.

Well, you get the idea. Anyway, after looking at dozens of pieces and remembering that that area is sometimes used by the National Guard for practice, I realized that the circles were a target and all the metal was pieces of practice bombs. For several reasons that I won't get into here, I concluded that the practice bombs didn't contain explosives. Then I proceeded to touch or move nothing, just in case my conclusion was wrong. I walked around gingerly for a little while looking for the circles but couldn't see them from the ground. It was a while before I noticed something a little unusual about the target area.

What's missing from this picture of the Sonoran desert?

What do you not see in this picture, either?

Give up? There are no saguaros. They are everywhere else out there, but I could only find one within the target area. I wonder if they were removed before the target was put there or if they were wiped out by target practice. The other plants there could survive damage or re-populate the area in a few decades. It could be a couple of hundred years before there are many saguaros there, though.

There are lots of pictures if you want to look at them all.




Saturday, August 30, 2014

The blog

A road into the desert.

A road leads over the hills and into the distance. A key word in that sentence is "leads". Roads like this grab my attention and draw me into the desert. I've got to go see what treasures can be found where ever the road goes. And when I've traveled the roads and look on a map at the locations of the pictures I've taken, the empty spots in that map draw me deeper into the desert, further away from the pavement, away from even the seldom-traveled dirt roads. What rarely-seen treasures are hidden there? What surprises await me? What beautiful sights will I capture with my camera?

I first started writing this blog to share my desert exploration adventures with family. I think my mother-in-law was my most faithful reader. Both my wife's parents have passed away now. I often imagined my younger sister reading my blog to my own mother as I wrote blog entries. Both of my parents have passed away now. I still get +1's from my older sister on blog entries, and my older brother makes cryptic comments about the blog and pictures. (I try to blame the strangeness of his comments on his Parkinson's, but I have known that his mind works differently than most people's since the mid 60's.)

So the main reasons for writing this blog are gone. I didn't really realize this until I started thinking about why the frequency of posts has declined recently. I can't imagine not writing it, though. I even have ideas for posts I will write in 2015. I just may not be posting quite as frequently as I used to.

The desert still calls to me. I'll be out there as often as I can be, filling in those gaps on the map, finding the things I haven't found yet. And I'll continue posting pictures on Google+. I've learned a lot about taking pictures over the past few years. They're usually in focus and properly exposed now, and I rarely get any fingers in the frame anymore. My main focus has always been to show as much of what's there as I can. I may start working on making them more artistically pleasing. I allegedly have artistic ability; I just don't make use of it. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Heat, humidity, bugs, and things

I didn't reach my weight goal by June 25th, so I've kept up the hiking. Still not losing any weight. Fortunately, it's been a mild summer so far. Very few days over 105. I've been going up Lone Mountain a lot. It's 2.3 miles round trip and about 850 feet of ups and downs. Sometimes there are some nice things to get pictures of along the way.

I've gotten lots of pictures of the sun setting behind Red Mountain.

It's been interesting watching the bugs change with the seasons this year. Bug season starts off with gnats. I have a strong dislike for gnats. I'm always looking for ways to keep them off of me that doesn't involve smearing smelly chemicals all over me or hiding under a blanket. I thought I might have discovered something amazing this spring. I have a medication that I take occasionally and one day I took some before a hike thinking that it might make it easier for my body to cool itself. What I noticed, though, was that gnats hardly bothered me on that hike. Wouldn't it be amazing to take a small pill that doesn't even taste bad, and it would keep gnats away from you? I was shaking with excitement at the thought. However, the gnats didn't bother me on my next hike, and I hadn't taken any of the medicine. Then I took some and they did bother me. I eventually concluded that if the medicine did keep me cool or drive gnats away, the effect was too small to be easily recognized. Rats.

The gnats seem to go away when the highs are over 100. The honey bees and flowers that attract them are still abundant, though, and you are accompanied by the constant background buzz of hundreds of bees everywhere you go. Bees don't bother me. I'm not allergic to them. I like to see them busily doing their bee-thing all day. They are the thing that causes me the most concern out in the desert, though. Coyote, mountain lion, and bear attacks are so rare they aren't worth worrying about. Rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters move slowly and won't do anything to you unless you step on them or pick them up. You have to run a minimum of 300 yards to get away from killer bees, though, and they will be doing their best to stop you from running. I try not to do anything that would anger or even attract the attention of bees.

When the monsoon rains hit, the termites send forth queens to start new colonies. Hundreds or maybe even thousands emerge from a termite nest. They were doing that on top of Lone Mountain recently. I went up there to try some (new to me) HDR techniques which involved standing in one spot for several minutes at a time. After taking 2 pictures, I got tired of the flying termites getting stuck to my sweat or tangled up in my hair and left.

This is where colonizing termites were emerging from a nest. They were all over the top of Lone Mountain. When I went back up there a few days later, the bodies of dozens that never got off the mountain were still there.

I wanted some different scenery on a recent hike so I went down Black Canyon to First Water Creek, and then on to Canyon Lake. I forgot that I shouldn't do that in such warm weather. There never seems to be a breeze in Black Canyon. As I stood motionless near Canyon Lake, sweat ran down my temples. It was really humid down there without a breeze.

This is where First Water Creek enters Canyon Lake.

Black Canyon is where I first encountered a bug I don't remember from previous summers. Maybe that's because they aren't obnoxious enough. They are extremely small gnats. They have a very high-pitched whine. They like my hat and my cell phone more than me, so we get along just fine.

Mid to late summer is also millipede season. I guess their season is drawing to a close soon. I saw several in Black Canyon that had curled up (literally) and died, their procreation duties having been fulfilled.

From 2014_07_19
A live millipede in First Water Creek.

I saw something very unusual in Black Canyon that day; a dead kangaroo rat. I've seen a few live ones at night. The only dead animals I've come across out in the desert are just bones. The kangaroo rat looked like it had died that day, in the middle of the trail, which seemed strange. The strangest thing was that nothing was eating it. There weren't even any flies on it. What would make a dead kangaroo rat so unappetizing to all the other critters? I saw it on the way down the canyon and it was still there half an hour later on the way back up. The vultures aren't doing their job.

A dead but unmolested kangaroo rat in the middle of the trail.

Here's a nicer picture that I took when I was being lazy and driving around instead of hiking.

We had a little rain for a few days and then it dried up again. I climbed up the Boulder Canyon trail and Lone Mountain on those humid days. Sweat poured off my face like rain and I drank twice as much water as I usually do. Humidity is a killer if you have to do anything more strenuous than scratching your butt.

A picture of Pass Mountain on a humid day.

I climbed Lone Mountain day before yesterday (I'm not climbing anything today; it's over 110 out there). I could tell the air was much drier because my throat was too dry to talk. Also, even though it was blazing hot, the sweat never got all the way down my face before in vanished in a puff of steam. That's the way the desert should be.

I've been talking about Lone Mountain a lot, so here's a picture of the top of it. I'll try to remember to take a picture of the whole mountain some day.

Still to come is tarantula season, when the males go wandering around in search of love (or something). That will pretty much wrap up this year's bug season.

I like this view. The only way to see it is to go all the way to the top of Lone Mountain.

There's probably more pictures out there. Find them if you can.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bats, maybe, and some other stuff

I visited Carlsbad Caverns many years ago and watched thousands of bats streaming out of the cave at sunset. I've wanted to find a cave full of bats out here so I could see that again. I see bats at sunset all the time. I just don't know where they all spend the day. I thought I had found one such place on a recent hike.

A possible bat cave.

The picture shows an abandoned mine that has been covered with a grating to keep people from falling in. That box on top is about 15 feet from the (visible) bottom and the sides are vertical, so a fall would most likely be fatal. I saw a couple of rattlers down there the first time I was out there, too. A narrow opening at the visible bottom goes deeper, but I have no idea how much deeper. The box is designed to allow flying animals to get in and out. I hiked out there just before sunset recently and took along my bat detector. At first, I thought I was picking up some interesting stuff with the bat detector.

It was like something in there was turning on and off.

A little later, I noticed there was something suspicious about the way the detector was going on and off. I had noticed before that the detector is very sensitive to EMI. For example, it goes nuts if you hold it close to a CFL.

Demonstration of interference.

Anyway, with all the electronics I was carrying, I'm not sure how much of the things the detector detected were other stuff or just me and all my gadgets. I finally saw two bats fly out of the hole. That was disappointing. But, I also saw three owls come out. That was really cool. It was much too dark to get photos by then. One of the owls kept circling over me and screeching. It sounded kind of like a zone tailed hawk. I guess it didn't like me, so I left. It didn't stop screeching until I was about 200 yards away from the mine.

The reason I was hiking in that general area in the first place is because of something I noticed on Google Earth. There are saw-tooth like lines in the desert along Bush Highway there. I went out there to see what they were. They are channels cut into the ground to direct water so that it only crosses the road in a few places.

Channel cut into the desert.