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Posts Tagged ‘Green Valley AZ’

A few days ago, we noticed our Halloween pumpkin had disappeared from our back step. Hummm…

We live in a densely packed over-55 community and it’s been weeks since Halloween. What the heck could some retired person want with our pumpkin? It was big, heavy, not carved. Barely moveable.

Original Pumpkin: A Simulation

BEFORE: Original Pumpkin:
A Simulation

The rhetoric quickly heated up:

“If somebody needed a punkin that bad they could have asked!”

“Can you imagine some old geezer walking away with that thing, quietly no less?”

“I mean really, what’s going to happen next? Is anywhere safe anymore?”

An immediate scan of the area yielded nary a clue. Maybe the pumpkin-napper had taken it away in an SUV? We were stumped.

Then yesterday Stan happened to notice something semi-round and orange laying on its side beneath a nearby Arizona rosewood tree.

AFTER: Our Pumpkin!!

AFTER: Our Pumpkin!!

Our Pumpkin! Now a mere shadow of its former self, cleaned out through a hole chomped through its side.

I wonder: What will the neighborhood javelinas eat next?

All That's Left is a Few Seeds

All That’s Left is a Few Seeds

I guess our pumpkin wasn't singled out

At least our pumpkin wasn’t singled out

 

 

 

 

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Beavertail Bloom

Beavertail Bloom © SR Euston

Besides some phenomenal birding, the last few weeks have heralded the beginning of the Sonoran desert’s cactus blooming season. The median strip of La Cañada, our main north/south drag, has been awash in lovely pink beavertail prickly pear plantings, so amazing as to make me wonder if the oddball accident I saw last week wasn’t caused by a driver attempting to simultaneously drive and take a picture.

Our neighborhood has a wonderful cactus garden which has come spectacularly into its own, mostly with horticultural varieties of Argentinian Trichocereus whose stems are covered with blooms ranging from scarlet to apricot to yellow to white. I wonder: How do these Argentinians recognize it’s spring and time to bloom on the opposite side of the equator? Another botanical mystery.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear © SR Euston

Hedgehog Bloom

Hedgehog Bloom © SR Euston

Still to me, most impressive really are the shows the local species put on as they go about their business of welcoming this Sonoran desert spring. Our Santa Rita prickly pear are covered with bursting chartreuse blossoms, some yellow with red interior lines. Beavertail pinks peek out from beneath yellow blossom-covered creosote. Pink and red hedgehogs hide behind rock outcrops. Ocotillo are tipped with orange-red tassels, great forage for hummingbirds and tiny yellow verdins. On a birding expedition last week to Buenos Aires National Wildlife we spotted a tiny cluster of rainbow mammillaria.

But Saturday was the prize. On a trip through Tucson Mountain Park we came on large numbers of blooming buckhorn cholla. Not an especially beautiful cactus (it’s rangy and oh so spiny), it makes up for it in flowers in a remarkable diversity of colors from almost burgundy, through scarlet, to bronze to yellow. See for yourself in the montage below (all photos © SR Euston):

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Madera Creek © SR Euston

Madera Creek © SR Euston

On Monday we visited a beautiful, remarkably biologically diverse habitat, Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Mountains about 15 miles southeast of here. Renowned for its bird life and rare riparian habitat, it’s a naturalist’s paradise.

Or so they say. While it’s true Madera Creek is running (an unusual and delightful) event, water music was the only sound I heard the whole morning except for airplanes and a crow (or maybe it was a raven, I didn’t see it.) And along the trail we saw any number of unidentifiable plants including a flexible, soft two-needle pine, (like a white pine but it has five needles or perhaps it was a mutant three-needle Chihuahua?), and a multi-trunked shrub with alternate, smooth, leathery oval leaves with grey undersides (like a silver buffaloberry but they don’t grow in Arizona).

For me, this describes my all-too-common naturalist experience: Rarely do I see anything (especially wildlife) and if I do I can’t figure out what I’m looking at (especially plants). So I’ve come up with a few observations and recommendations for other amateur naturalists as they head out on the trail:

  1. You’ll almost never see what’s in the guide. Be it animal, vegetable or mineral, your specimen will always be unique.
  2. So go ahead and be decisive when identifying. Probably nobody else saw that bird you just  pointed out. And if anybody did, do they have a photo? If not, louder, bigger and absolutely certain usually wins. So go for it. Case in point: that was a Mexican Jay we (hardly) saw in Madera Canyon.
  3. Shrubs are a real thicket. Oaks too. Nobody knows and don’t let anybody  tell you otherwise. Your Emery oak is bound to be somebody else’s Gambel’s. Not to worry. Even the oaks don’t know. They’re too busy interbreeding. And shrubs? There’s a reason why most guides use line drawings. It’s up to the identifier to sketch in the details. Ferns and grasses? Forget it.
  4. My best advice? Marry a naturalist who’s been looking around at the natural world longer than you have. Even better, marry one with an encyclopedic memory for everything from the Golden Guide to North American Birds to the Boy Scout Handbook to Thoreau’s Journals (all fourteen volumes). Then go forth (together) and identify!
    Unknown Pine © AME

    Unknown Pine © AME

    Unknown Shrub © AME

    Unknown Shrub © AME

    Naturalist on the Snowy Trail at Madera Canyon © AME

    Naturalist on the Snowy Trail at Madera Canyon © AME

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Saturday it rained—hard, grey sheety rain, coming down on a southeast wind-driven diagonal. Saturday’s rainfall was 0.75 inches, a record for January 26. It rains again this morning, big drops falling from a black smear of cloud. Blustery winds sigh through overhead electrical wires and whistle under doors.

In Port Orford, this rainfall would be considered puny; in fact, probably no one would even comment on it. It’s an every day occurrence in January, where averages flag in at 15 inches or so. But here, south of Tucson, where the monthly average is less than an inch, it is delightfully unexpected.

Canale© AME

Canale
© AME

Here in the Sonoran desert, rains generally come as torrents. It pours off flat roofs and out canales (wooden or clay conduits), and after only a few minutes puddles on pavement and sidewalks. Arroyos fill quickly with braided bands, and if it’s summer, can flood banks and otherwise dusty road crossings.

Arroyo Next Door© AME

Arroyo Next Door
© AME

Almost immediately after, the sun returns and surfaces steam in the brightness, drying within the hour. Creosote and palo verde gleam with water and fill the desert air with their unique odor. Wet dirt turns dry.

To desert dwellers, Gary Nabhan’s book title “The Desert Smells Like Rain” could not be more evocative or more accurate. Often the scent comes first, telling of rainfall in the distance, possibly heading our way.

For residents of this parched land as well as returning desert lovers like us, that aroma could not be more welcoming.

DESERT RAIN & CLOUDS

© SR Euston

Palms in Rain

Palms in Rain

Arroyo Stream

Arroyo Stream

Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

After the Storm

After the Storm

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Green Valley is a loose confederation of home owners’ associations, each with its own complex set of rules and regs. There is no overt government, no elected town fathers and/or mothers, no police (we do have a volunteer sheriff’s auxiliary). Frankly it’s mysterious to us newcomers how it all works but an army of volunteers seems to hold everything together. Most everybody appears pleased although it’s pretty easy to hear mutterings about “power-going-to-their-heads” of members of various homeowners association boards. It is ever thus, from Sunday School leaders to the Halls of Congress. We’ve vowed to steer clear.

But there are some really great things about the various sub-divisions which make up “downtown” Green Valley, our new neighborhood. There’s an intricate series of walking trails, which follow arroyos and power lines and alleys, “off-road” avenues for early morning hikers, dog walkers and bikers, out to beat the brutal heat which is bound to come by late morning.

Lucky for us we live at the very edge of our development and all we have to do is cross the street and walk up the power line about a block before we’re offered the choice of heading north along one arroyo or continuing west along another. The north arroyo is cool and shady.

The west, while wider, sunnier and more cactus-lined, is also the home of a unique trailside sculpture show—the Rock Art Walkway designed by local artist Steve Brown. A few blocks long, a series of vignettes each tells a tiny story. There are cliff dwellings, pictographs, airplanes and a Santa. There are gatherings of Native Americans, and a creche-like scene. Broken tile swirls in pinwheel designs. Crystalline stones drift into prickly pear.

But the most impressive is the Stonehenge replica. Even though the height of these sarcens is more like six inches (not quite the 13 foot tall sandstone monoliths of England’s Salisbury Plain), it does exude a fairly impressive aura as the sun casts its early morning shadows.

The original Stonehenge is thought by some to be a ritual portal to the beyond for the dead (nearby are burial mounds called barrows). It is also a neolithic solstice marker—aligned both to summer’s sunrise and winter’s sunset.

Brown’s aligned his Stonehenge to true north. So, next Wednesday we’ll get to see if our local henge is a solstice marker too.

Here are some photos of the Spirit Totem Trail.

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The structure, the form is the thing. The genius of the arch? I’m still in awe how engineering of the soaring arcs, meeting at the keystone, holds up the mass of Roman aqueducts, Gothic cathedrals, or even more humbly, rough hewn, adobe brick Spanish mission porticos. Even more remarkable, this elemental architectural and engineering form, going back to Roman times and before, has a symmetry of restful gracefulness, yet in cases—like in bridges—also power and boldness.

The architectural arch has been copied and recopied, oftentimes as a decoration, aka fake. It flourished especially in the California mission style of the first half the last century, only to remerge in subdivision McMansions, east and west, in an odd pastiche of styles. But if one is not a purist, even modern decorative arches I think can present  photographic possibilities of formal power.

Below are photo interpretations of mostly developer-designed modern mission style architectural arches from southern Arizona, some used for structural support, some as mere decoration. Also included are two bridges of very different design from coastal Oregon, and arch forms from historic, much photographed Mission San Xavier de Bac, south of Tucson, and crumbling arch ruins from Tumacacori Mission near Nogales. Here is authentic architecture straight from the Spanish-Mexican period.

I though about, but buried immediately, the idea of including a shot of the golden arches at the nearest McDonalds.The sacred and the profane so to speak. It could have been open to a lot of pseudo-philosophical interpretations, maybe even landing in a museum exhibit.  SRE

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