Monday, February 22, 2016

Saguaro National Park

This beautiful National park consists of two districts, east and west.  The two districts are separated by the city of Tucson and are about thirty miles apart.  Together, these districts preserve over 91,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, including the park's namesake, the saguaro cactus.

We visited Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District.  This is a healthy saguaro forest at the foot of the Rincons, along with a variety of other desert communities.  We drove the Cactus Forest Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive winding through saguaros and other varieties of Sonoran Desert life.  There's also miles and miles of trails, but we didn't hike on this visit.  We pulled off the road many times, and stepped out of the car for incredible views of the desert and mountains.  It is overwhelmingly beautiful!

These photos will give you a great overview of the desert:

Barrel cactus with fruit.  These cactus always lean towards the south, a great help if hiking!

A view along the scenic drive.

Saguaro cacti.

Ocotillo cactus, looking like a dead plant, but it gets covered with small green leaves, with bright orange flowers at the tip of each stalk.

Brittle bush.

Jumping cholla.

Palo verde tree with clumps of mistletoe attached.

Prickly pear cactus.

Baja Fairy Duster.


Staghorn cholla with the dead trunk and internal ribs of a saguaro.

Jumping cholla and ocotillo cactus with Rincon Mountains in the background.

Ocotillo, barrel, and prickly pear cacti.

This is a must-see place!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Coronado National Forest

Harriet took us on a drive up the Catalina mountains to the Coronado National Forest located by Tucson and it was a glorious day!  This forest contains an area of about 1.78 million acres, spread throughout southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.  Tucson is surrounded by four mountain ranges, the Santa Catalinas to the northeast, the Rincons to the east, the Santa Rita mountains to the south, and the Tucson mountains to the west.  Tucson is situated in a high desert valley framed by these beautiful ranges.  The highest peak of the Santa Catalinas is Mt. Lemmon.  

We drove up the Catalina mountains for about 25 miles and reached a 9,000' elevation.  At this elevation, the range is called "Sky island", and once there you can understand why.  On our way up, we visited a couple of wonderful, yet simple campgrounds, the Molino Basin and the Gordon Hirabayashi at around 5,000' elevation.  The Hirabayashi campground is often referred to as the "prison camp" as during World War II, it was an internment camp for the Japanese.  Some building foundations are still present.

Here are many photos from the day:

Traveling the Catalina highway.

Views as we climbed:

Ocotillo and prickly pear.

Staghorn cholla 

Beautiful and unique rock formations all around.

Saguaro cactus

Former internment camp of Japanese in WW 2.

Prickly pear cactus.

A change in vegetation to pines from cacti as we drove higher.  So many cyclists do the long climb up to the top and then descend at high speeds and pass all of the cars!

We could have continued up, but decided to head back down.  I highly recommend this drive if you're in Tucson.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


At the moment, I am breathless, in more ways than one!  We are in Tucson, AZ, visiting my sister, Harriet.  Her birthday is on te 22nd, so we're here to celebrate!  And my other sister, Linda, is coming in from Tampa, FL on Friday.  Our first time together in too many years.

I'm breathless because of the gorgeous scenery.  Surrounded by mountains, and beautiful vegetation, we love being here.

One of Tucson's many washes.

Seeing our first AZ saguaro cactus.

Secondly, I am breathless because I was out riding my bike, a pumpkin orange single speed cruiser on a mostly level bike path, but with a few minor hills to climb.  Because of the single speed, and high 80 degree temperatures, it felt like I was riding in the Tour de France!

With my sister, Harriet.

Michael and Harriet.

Some pictures from our drive through New Mexico to Arizona:

Love seeing the mountains against a jewel tone sky!  Taken while traveling.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Finally on the Road Again

We arrived in Livingston, Texas on January 5.  Yesterday, we finally departed, heading west toward Arizona.  Being at the Escapees campground for this length of time was both good and bad.  Good, because it is a nice place to camp with lots of friendly people, and bad because it causes us to feel too complacent.  We found that we weren't inclined to do too much and therefore spent a lot of time at our campsite.  A couple of times we took rides and did a little birding, but we fell into this lazy routine.

We camped for our first week at an electric/water site.  Then we moved to sunny dry camp site for three weeks.  Our solar panels were put to good use!  We did eventually run low on the trailer battery charge, but we then moved back to an electric/water site, and that seemed to boost the battery sufficiently.  Our car battery died at one point, but a neighbor gave us a jumpstart and all has been well there.

Our favorite cafe, the Whistlestop, served good food and had wifi.  The servers all got to know us, and we really enjoyed their friendship!

Well, there were some other crazy moments.  Without boring you with details, I spent a few hours a day for over a week, battling with my health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, my mail order prescription pharmacy, Prime Therapeutics, and the Health Insurance Marketplace over incorrect billing, coverage issues, and more.  It was so crazy that it sent me into a tailspin.  Most of it is worked out now, but you can't imagine how stressed I was.  

Then another challenge.  On this past Sunday, two staffers from Escapees came to us and told us that our tent had to come down, per the boss.  They told us a tent could only up for seven days and we had exceeded that.  We use the tent as a shelter and living space, not to sleep in.  We were surprised by this as we had the tent up since January 5, and nothing had been said during all of that time, and it was up last year and no one commented on it.  

Then we were told that since our teardrop is not "self-contained" (meaning we have no bathroom in the trailer nor holding tanks), we couldn't be in an electric/water site.  At this point we asked to see the camping policies, and they showed us the back of the welcome brochure which has limited information.  At this point, we were pretty frustrated.  Finally, they gave us the name and email address of the regional manager.  I wrote Bill a lengthy email about all of this.  As teardrops are becoming more popular, they needed to make accommodations for them.

The manager came to see us and we had a productive conversation.  And we just learned from Bill that Escapees is changing their policy to allow teardrops at electric/water, and shelter style tents an be used.  So we fought for teardrops and won!  Overall, we think this will benefit Escapees and there campgrounds.

Today's is Thursday, the 11th of January, and we are heading toward El Paso, about an hour away.  The landscape has really changed.  It is chaparral with low vegetation, some Joshua trees, and mountains and limestone ridges cropping up.

On Wednesday night we camped at Palmetto State Park in Liling.  We walked to the San Marcos river, and viewed a cool building built during the Great Depression (1930's),by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  

But most exciting was the bird life!  A fall-out of chipping sparrows and American goldfinch.  Plus hermit thrush, Carolina chickadees, black and turkey vultures, red-bellied woodpeckers. Heard pileated woodpeckers too.  As it got dusky out, coyotes were calling loudly, and during the night we heard great-horned and barred owls.

Old water tower at Palmetto state park.

Built by CCC.

A bright yellow teardrop camping at Palmetto.

Last night we camped at our first rest stop.  We ran into other folks in a camper van that we recognized from the Escapees campground.  Lots of semis pulled in to, so we felt that safety in numbers.

Yesterday, as we travelled on I 10, we saw two great birds, 2 crested-Caracas, and a road runner!

As we drive today, here are some photos:

Davis Mountains in the distance.

Other miscellaneous photos:

Teardrop pj's given to me by my sister, Linda!


Michael's eggplant lasagna, made in our Dutch oven!  It was yummy!

Heading for New Mexico!