Monday, February 20, 2017

It's A Different Arizona

I don't know how many years I've been coming to Arizona, I've lost track.  This year it just seems different.  I'm guessing that's because of the weather.  It rained on and off Saturday, enough that the 1:30 am drag races were for nought.  They tested the track on and off all day, but the wet pavement made conditions unsafe.

The same happened on Sunday.  They tried a couple of runs, but the incessant rain just wouldn't let it happen.  The drags went home.

Although I got a little damp around the edges, it didn't keep me from taking pictures of my favorite critters at the Living Desert.  If you didn't know better, you would think you just spotted a coyote in the wild ... which you kind of did.  The netting around these guys is so fine you almost can't see it.  Last year I stalked this coyote for fifteen minutes before I realized he was contained.  How embarrassing!!
They are beauties in my book, very well fed and in excellent condition.  The coyotes where I come from are darker brown and not near as fat!
In case you were wondering, yes they do eat pets.  Please don't let your little dogs and cats roam about the desert and PLEASE don't tie them up outside your rig.  They will become breakfast!!
I didn't know there were bears around, but I suppose in the mountain areas black bears roam around just like in Yosemite National Park.  While working in the park many moons ago, I watched from my second story dorm room as a young bear got caught up in a phone booth.  Remember those green things with the folding doors?  It took three of us quite some time to sneak around and push the door back open with a stick. Oh for the days of old!!
Due to all the rains, Arizona isn't it's normal brown desert self.  It has probably rained one out of every three days since I've been here, turning everything green.  The cactus are happy, the creosote bushes think they are in heaven and the ocotillo are sending out green leaves up and down their spines.
It's been down to 30 degrees since I've been here and up as high as 85.  Although I imagine they are used to the temperatures, these Mexican Wolves were panting a little on this day, as was I from all the hiking around the Living Desert Trails.  Some of these are a mile or more long ... take water with you.
The vistas are amazing since it's all downhill from the buildings to the mountains in the distance.   I could sit at this spot and contemplate the world for hours, but I would have been very wet and thirsty.  There's nothing like a little rain and wind, not to mention that long hike in cowboy boots, to work up a thirst.  No worries, I'm used to wearing boots all day.
This little guy obviously had it made.  As the skies cleared up, he sat on his rock and sunned himself. It certainly doesn't look like he's missed too many meals.  I don't think I've ever seen a squirrel this fat!!  He is actually a critter of the desert and NOT in an enclosure.  He's found the perfect spot between the bends in the trail to beg for food (mostly popcorn) from both sides.  His strategy seems to be working.
There is a hummingbird enclosure here that you should not miss.  As you walk around inside, you will hear the beat of their tiny wings.  Take a seat ... stay awhile ... and watch these babies scream by inches from your face.  They have even been known to land on you.  Rather hard to capture on camera since they are so fast.  About the time I finally found them in the lens and got focused, they were off again.  Just be patient!!
I wasn't ..... patient that is.  It was getting late in the day and I still hadn't hit the gift shop.  For whatever reason, I looked up just as I rounded the corner, and what should I see but a hummingbird beauty sitting in the top of this 25 foot tall tree-bush-weird thing.  I started snapping away.
I'm sure people thought I was crazy, taking pictures of the sky.  No one seemed to notice the little guy. Who knew there were hummingbirds in the desert??
One more view of the valley below.  I simply cannot imagine pioneers coming here and thinking they should settle down among the cactus.  Maybe it was the thought of trying to cross that huge expanse of sand and prickly things that made them park their wagons.
For an extra fee, which I did not pay, you could pet the baby stingrays.  In the desert?  Yup it's a different Arizona alright.  Since I could pet lots of sea creatures in California, I passed, but that didn't keep me from the small building full of fish.  The little seahorse was hard to see against the bright blue painted background.  
These little guys I've seen many times underwater on diving expeditions.  About 3 inches of their pencil-thin body sticks up out of the sand while they wait for food on the current.   Very territorial, they swing back and forth at their neighbors making sure no one encroaches.
If you walk too close, they all disappear in a flash under the sand.  Once one raises his head, they all come back out.  In Hawaii we saw the same thing, but they were the size of your arm!!
There were a few fish I'm sure you've all seen, but this little puffer guy was cute as a button.  He's called the Target Puffer ... probably because he sports a target on his back!!
There were lots of other creatures ... javalenas, tortoise and lizards if you could find them ... check it out if you have three or four hours.  You'll see some amazing creatures, not to mention the gardens full of beautiful cactus!

Unlike most places, here you do NOT exit through the gift shop, but I wouldn't miss it for the world.  Some of my best treasures have come from there, not to mention the dollars are going to a very good cause.  My two latest acquisitions ... tiny Indian pottery pieces.  The bottom one is Acoma, the top Pueblan.  These two will reside on my tiny shelves in the rig.  One of these days I'd like to try pottery myself.   
The rain came down more and more on Sunday until it sounded like someone was dropping huge rice kernels on my roof.  The wind would come up and roar, then settle down before another round of rain hit the ground.  It's a different Arizona this year ... everyone says they've never seen this much water.   Sounds like California, right?  So much for coming to the warm desert for the winter!!  No matter, it has been nice and cool, which I greatly appreciate!!  

I've no idea what's on the schedule for today.  Maybe just a nice rest in the rig with the puppies.  BORING ... but they have been very patient while I galavanted around the country.  In fact, it's time to head out and forage for puppy food.  There must be a Petco around here somewhere!!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Holey Socks Batman!!

I know you are probably tired of me extolling the virtues of the Living Desert Museums around the country, but everyone should see at least one.  They are amazing examples of natural habitats for the creatures living on our planet that you probably will never see otherwise.  Take these snakes for example ....... you KNOW I love photographing the wildlife, I just prefer these babies to be behind really thick glass.

Imagine my surprise when as soon as I ventured in the door, there was a docent holding a boa constrictor.  EGADS!!  Think you might like that volunteer job?
It happened to be packed the day I was there.  There were school busses everywhere, not a good sign at all.  That meant noisy kids banging on the glass, yelling and screaming while the parental supervision just stood there.  Holy Moley Batman, can't someone tie their hands behind their backs?  I'm guessing the snakes are pretty used to it because they were as still as could be.
This blacktail rattler looks like it's sleeping.  As I think I've mentioned before, my Mom put the fear of God into me when it came to snakes.  We had a large rattler den out behind the cattle cabin in the Southern Sierra Mountains and I imagine she thought we might get into trouble.  My fear became so great I wouldn't even touch the Arizona Highways magazine when it came because it might have a picture of a snake in it.  Holy scaredy cat, Batman!!
There was the occasional king snake, but in my part of the country they are black.  We were always told they were "good" snakes and to leave them alone .... they killed the "bad" snakes.  This mountain king snake certainly looks like a deadly coral snake to me.  I seem to remember some kind of rhyme, like red touches yellow, kill a fellow ... don't quote me on that one!!  You might end up dead!!
This little Santa Catalina rattlesnake would be hard to see.  He's very small and blends in really well with the gravel.  Holy macaroni Batman, I sure wouldn't want to step on this baby.  It's interesting how it makes such a perfect circle!!
A tiger rattlesnake?  Who's heard of all these varieties?  I'm sure there are some harmless snakes somewhere, but they are NOT in this exhibit ... except the King Snake!!
Holy heart failure Batman!!  This is a Western Diamondback, a deadly creature I'm rather familiar with.   I've run across them on the trail while on horseback.  They are very hard to see, blending in so well you would probably step on them if it weren't for their early warning system.  I'm VERY familiar with THAT sound.  This one has just shed his skin, making him a cranky boy!!   Snake skin doesn't grow with them like human skin, so two to four times a year, they shed the outer layer.  I love that the museum left it here for you to see.
Holy spider Batman .... here's a large one, about four inches across.  Spiders aren't my favorite either ... especially BIG ones.  While in the Sierra Mountains gathering cattle the little buggers would crawl up under the cattle trucks, then drop out on the ground when we got home.  Us kids literally sat around the truck and watched them.   It STILL gives me the shivers.
SURPRISE BATMAN!!   That wasn't the real spider above, that was his exoskeleton he shed like a snake does, only not quite as often.  No I don't know what kind it is ... it's BIG ... like the size of your entire hand!!  Eeeewwwwwwwww .....
Let's play a game ... can you find the snake?  There's a brown vine snake here laying among the branches.   It didn't look quite as dangerous ... it was small.  Also known as the Mexican Vine, it can grow up to six feet in length.  Holy smokes Batman .... lets avoid this one!!
This is a coachwhip snake, named because it's skin looks like it's braided.  Holy Cow Batman ... there are lots of myths about this one.  They say it will chase humans, but in reality, it's just extremely fast at trying to get away, not caring much about what direction it goes.  
Snakes aren't the only attraction around the Living Desert, but there are just too many photos to show you at once.  Although most of the snakes eat lizards and birds, I stopped in for some human lunch at 11:00, trying to beat the crowds.  I was wrong.  The crowds were there no matter what time it was.

If you're going to eat in the cafeteria, whose name I completely forgot to write down, be ready to make some decisions.  Holy Agave Bowl Batman ... sounds easy, right?  Here's how it went ... the number in parenthesis is the number of choices she reeled off for each question.

What kind of lettuce?  (3)
What kind of meat?     (3)
Corn or salsa?
What kind of beans?    (2)
What kind of rice?       (2)
What kind of salsa?     (3)
What kind of dressing?   (6)

No wonder the service is so slow .... it took five minutes just to make up MY bowl?  Holy Made To Order Batman!!
The food was delicious, but the table space in short supply.  Since I had a table for four, I offered two seats to a couple from New Hampsha (Hampshire) who came to Arizona for the Gem Show.  I learned everything about Gem Shows that I didn't care to learn (I'm not really a rock person), but I loved her accent!!  They were a very nice elderly couple, who showed me their entire collection of gem photos with prices in the $80,000 range.  Good Grief Batman ..... for a rock??  Crystals I was told ..... as well as big pieces of gold.  I was sure they were in a league WAY above me!!

After four hours of walking up and down the hillside searching for creatures, all of which I will show you tomorrow, I knew it was time to leave.  My feet hurt, not to mention the rain that was starting to drip from the sky.  No matter, the clouds made for some nice images!!
Finally back at the rig, I figured out the problem.  Holey Socks Batman .... no really, my socks had two inch holes in each heel.  In spite of the embroidery machine, they went in the trash.  What a shame ... now I'll have to look up the nearest Boot Barn for another pair.

Stay tuned for some coyote, wolf and bear pictures!!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Big "A"

How many dragsters can run their race in 60 seconds?  LOTS OF THEM!!  Trust me on this one, they can run one right after another ... seemed like every 10 seconds ... until 1:30 in the morning.  That's right, I sit here bleary eyed, tired and achy from about an hour's sleep.  The night before, they quit at a reasonable 9:00.

The announcer went to bed at 11:00 ... I heard him sign off ... but boys will be boys, and they ran until all hours of the morning.  The rest of the night I was wide awake, waiting for the next one to take off.   I love drag racing ... I love drag racing ... I love .........   Apparently there is a big race today and tomorrow with lots of prize money, that will probably be cancelled both days due to the expected rain.  As much as I LOVE drag racing, I'm good with that.

So please forgive me if I have bad spelling or even worse English ...

The other day after the Titan Missile Museum, we drove up to Sentinel Park.  Actually known as Sentinel Peak Park or "A" Mountain, you can't miss it if you come to Tucson.  It's that big letter A on the mountain to the right as you come in on Hwy 10.  Why not a big "T" for Tucson?  You might think it was for Arizona ... and you would be right.  The story behind the big A is rather interesting, as big A's go.
There's a big Q in Quartzsite as most towns put up letters for their TOWN.  This letter was built in 1916 by Civil Engineering student Albert Condron to celebrate Arizona University's football victory over Pomona.  With funds raised from businesses and private donors, they bought mortar and whitewash for the project, using rocks they gathered from the mountainside.  It took them three months to complete.
The views of Tucson from up here are pretty amazing.  The road going up the hill is another story altogether.  It's a one lane, very narrow and steep drive.  Once at the parking area on top, you can walk the trails around the mountain to the "A".
Along the way are a couple of shelters where you can sit and enjoy the view, as well as the weird pieces of saguaro cactus on the hillside.  You are at just the right elevation to see hundreds of them.
With all the rain, everything was blooming and/or sporting green leaves.  I think it's the first time I've seen the desert turn green instead of brown.  By the way, even though there is lots of traffic up there, watch for snakes and critters ... and don't touch the cactus accidentally because those spikes will grab ahold and not let go.   Don't ask .......
You'll find all kinds of things  ... lots of garbage, beer bottles, cans and these two crosses.  Apparently Wimpy passed in 2015 at about 36 years of age and Marcus in 2013 at 24.  They both must have enjoyed coming to the mountain.  If you enlarge the picture, you will see a nice beer bottle placed lovingly among the flowers on the left.
The Big A was dedicated on March 4, 1916 ... can you imagine the fun those kids had??  Today it's under the control of Parks and Recreation who really do try to keep the place clean.  I did NOT see any garbage cans however ... maybe placement of one or two might help their cleanup.

As Big A's go, this is a BIG A, much bigger up close than you would imagine.  If you're in town, you should go see it now.  It seems to be eroding pretty badly in the middle of the letter and may not withstand the test of time.

I'm going to go take some aspirin now and hang out on the couch with the puppies.  Maybe I'll get lucky and fall asleep for an hour or two, at least until the drag races start up again.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

TITAN MISSILE II - Now That's Scary!!

Way, WAY back in the day, I sat on the couch of our neighbor who was on a ship off the coast of Cuba during something called the Bay of Pigs.  I remember being VERY scared that we were all going to die from nuclear bombs being dropped at a base near Santa Barbara where another family friend worked on the deployment systems for the bombs.

That was pretty scary times we lived in, even if no one realized it.  I think we were minutes from destruction when a peace treaty was finally resolved.  Those in the military were allowed to telephone their families the news that we were all going to live.  We received one of those first calls.

Yesterday, I got an up close and personal view of the weapon that would have resulted in the end of the world basically.  I know touring a missile site sounds pretty boring, but believe me, you're going to be fascinated by the history and the mechanics of this place, the Titan Missile Museum.
This site became active in 1963 after a prominent Arizona Senator (does Goldwater ring a bell?) lobbied for 18 missiles to be placed south of Tucson.  Here's a picture of this original site.
Nowadays, it has grown into the towns of Sahuarita and Green Valley.  In 1982 this site and all the other 53 or 54 were deactivated.  All of the missile silos were destroyed except this one made into a museum with all of the original equipment still in tact.  
Ladies, don't think this is just another boring tour with your husband ... it's really fascinating to hear about the security and the first woman to have the authority to turn the key.  These weird outer space looking things shoot a radar beam at each other.  If the beam is broken, alarms and bells go off underground and an army is called to greet you.
The doors, once opened by huge hydraulic cylinders, are permanently stuck open just enough for you to see down inside the silo.  
If you were one of four people coming in for your 24 hour shift, you would call in at the gate, then again as you headed down the stairway.  The doors weren't opened for just anyone.
As we entered the facility, we walked down 55 or so stairs.  There were lots of numbers and information thrown out there, forgive me if I get some of them wrong.
At this huge door, you would call again, and one more time at the next even thicker door.  This place was built to survive a nuclear blast or any stray earthquake that may come by.  Some of the walls are EIGHT FOOT thick. 
Down this hallway to the end you would go, turning left to the control room.  
How would it survive an earthquake?  It's all hanging on springs and shock absorbers.  The hanging wires aren't sloppy work ... they are loose so they won't break, even if the ground shifts 18 inches up, down or sideways.
This is the control room.  Four people worked here, two enlisted men and two officers.  One of the security measures was that no one was allowed to be alone.  Two Person Zone meant there was always two people to watch each other.  Our tour guide James is leaning on the launch control panel where the local librarian sat with control of the key when she was in the military.
All of the other panels you see are reading data about the missile and it's systems.  There were actually TWO keys to be turned at the same time, spaced far enough apart that one person could not reach both.
Should the President decide to launch a missile, he would send information over a ticker-tape type machine for the two commanding officers to open this file cabinet.  This contained the protocol they would use in order to launch the missile to one of three locations.  No one ever knew what those locations were ... and it's still kept a secret today.
Unlike most of the rooms where the separate pieces of equipment are on shocks, this entire room is suspended by these springs.  
Upon receiving specific information from the President, they would open one of these paper envelopes which had numbers on a little plastic chit.  Those numbers were entered into the little black square in the very top left of this image.
Once that was done, the person sitting at this desk would turn the key at the same time as the second key (see the circle thing at top center?)  It took something like 58 seconds to launch the weapon of mass destruction.  As the lights lit up across the board, you could see each system starting up.
Once the keys were turned, the two types of fuel were dumped into the rocket.  They spontaneously ignited and she was on her way.  Here's Miss Patty launching the missile.  No big red button, no big red phone, just a key like your car's ignition.
From the control room, we walked down a long hallway suspended on those same shock absorbers to the actual missile silo.
This shows the underground facilities.  We walked down the stairs in the middle, turned left to the control room, then back down the hallway to the silo.
Here she is!!  Top, middle and bottom.  That black part on the tip ... that's what carried the bomb.

These are maintenance platforms that swing down into place should they needed to work on something.
Because the Russians don't trust us (and vice versa I'm sure), a hole had to be cut in the nosecone to prove she is inert.  It was done this way so they can see it on satellite images.  After all, this really IS a museum.
As the rocket is launched, these huge fire-hose-like contraptions pump water into the bottom of the chamber.  All that smoke you see upon launch is really just steam, used to help deaden the sound underground and keep things cool.
Back up top, they have one of the tanker trailers that pumped fuel to the underground storage containers.  This stuff was not only dangerous in the flammable way, but would kill you if you breathed it.  At this site, no fuel was ever loaded into the missile itself, so there's no danger of exploding.
I know that was a lot of pictures ... but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  If you have an extra hour or two while in Tucson, be sure and take the short drive South to this amazing piece of history.  If you want the tour that goes to the very bottom of the missile, make reservations WAY in advance.  Of course you have to exit through the gift shop, but you'll be proud to know I didn't buy one single thing!!  

There's so much going on this weekend ... horse shows, dog shows, rodeo, Civil War reenactment, drag racing ... I can't see it all, but I'm going to give it a shot!!