Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deep Freeze

The storm that blew across our area over the weekend dumped a lot of snow north and east of us at higher elevations. Now we have our mini winter, when highs reach the 40s and lows dip into the teens. I brought my Iraqi acacia inside last night. All water ponds for the birds and dogs are frozen over. The cat food I keep outside for Willie keeps getting eaten, and as long as I am around, will continue to leave out food for him in these cold nights. He may go hungry in the two weeks I'll be gone. That worries me.

I came home and realized that I had left the back door closed. None of the dogs had free access to the yard for pee and poop breaks. Oops. One dog left a physical reminder of my forgetfulness, right in the middle of the hallway by the front door.

Most unusual for us, though, was the long naked stem on our palm tree as I got home yesterday afternoon. What was once a tall palm tree with a heavy undergrowth of dead fronds is now a nearly trimmed canopy of green fronds. It lost a lot of its dead fronds in yesterday's winds. Our yard, back and front, are covered in dead fronds. I lost count at 50 and that was just in the back yard. There are still a few more fronds still hanging periously to the stem, but will blow off with the next storm. The wind came from the southwest and must have bent that tree perilously low to the ground for hours. In our 11 years in this small house, this is the first time we have seen the tree lose so many of its fronds from a wind storm. The tree will lose a few with every wind storm, but never so many that the shavings become noticeable. This time even Kevin noticed.

I have had local tree trimmers come by and offer to shave the tree for $100. I have always refused, because that palm tree is home to many of the birds that frequent our yard for the seeds the weedy flowers leave behind, and which are essential for their survival this time of year. There's even a barn owl that lives in that tree that has been leaving its pellets on the ground for several years. I'd hate to think any of the birds have lost their nests, or have died in the storm, but that is nature at its fiercest. The palm tree was void of any chirping all day, and I never saw any birds fly to or from the palm tree. I do hope the tree gets repopulated with a steady community of birds soon.

This deep overnight freeze will last until tomorrow, when temperatures return to normal and get back into the 60s and 70s.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Lost Mexican

Yesterday's high winds turned into a wet storm this morning, turning to snow flurries in the afternoon. What perfect weather to play in the snow in Ash Canyon! So I packed up the dogs and off we went. It was around 4:30pm. I needed to get the dogs out since we didn't walk yesterday. They were ready!

The dogs were beside themselves with excitement and pushed each other out of the way as everyone wanted to be the first out of the van and on the trail. As usual, they all ran ahead of me; they know the trail we usually take and couldn't wait for me. I normally walk the dogs in the dry creek bed, away from vehicular traffic. My low-clearance van can't do the ruts in the road well, so I park the van on the main road and walk from there.

I stayed at the van, trying to get my GPS app working when I saw a lone man coming down Ash Canyon Road. He looked cold. He came toward me. "I am lost!" he said. "Can you drive me [into town]?" he pleaded.
"Are you from Mexico?"
"Want me to call La Migra so that they can help you?," I asked, as he looked cold. And wet. His jacket was not rain resistant. He wasn't even carrying a backpack, which was surely abandoned higher up the trail.

At this point the dogs, who turned around when they realized I was being held up in conversation, and came running up to the man full speed. Oh shit. The man did not realize I had four dogs with me when he approached me because the dogs were down the trail, hidden by a downward slope and a curve in the road. They didn't come into view until he had gotten close to me and the dogs didn't like that. He immediately got scared.

"Don't bite, don't bite!" he screamed, flaying his arms up and getting the dogs more excited than they already were. They did not attack the man, nor made physical contact with him, but they did circle tightly around the man and let their displeasure of his presence too close to me be known. This is what a pack of dogs does when enveloping their prey, allowing for no safe regress. I was getting annoyed that they wouldn't stop barking. (Not really, I was quite proud how protective they showed themselves to be, especially Sadie). But I also didn't want this cold and lost man to feel fear. He was in a bad-enough predicament now with the weather turning bad and daylight soon ending. My dogs would know when to attack by the command I give them, and I did not give them that command.

"Can you drive me?" he pleaded again.
"I can't, but I can call Border Patrol and get you to a safe place."
"No, no, please give me chance!" he replied. He realized I couldn't help so he walked on, toward SR92 on Ash Canyon Road a half-mile away. He stopped a few other cars going up the canyon, but no one let him in. He would stop and turn around and look at me, but continued walking east. The snow flurries were now getting colder and wetter. It was not a good time to be lost and cold. He stayed on the road, not once ducking into a driveway or seeking cover by the underbrush.

Instead of playing in the snow with the dogs higher up the canyon, I now decided to follow this man as he continued walking east on Ash Canyon Road. I called USBP and the agent who answered my call sounded suspiciously like our Agent Daniel from the hiking meetup (he works at the Naco Station). "I'm on my way!" said Agent Daniel, as he asked me to describe the man.
"Dark blue hoodie and dark brown pants, facial hair, short, 40-ish." Most people coming across illegally wear dark clothes to better blend in at night with the natural vegetation.
"Sounds like the man who got away from me last night!" commented Agent Daniel.

I followed the lost man, always keeping a safe distance, until I saw the USBP van turn into Ash Canyon and stop in front of the man. The man did not run. He was cold and lost and had given up. He stayed in front of the van and let the agent approach him.
I turned around then to let the agent process this man in peace. It must be a defeating feeling to give up a dream of coming to this country like this, after surely paying coyotes his life savings to come here. He had crossed these mountains in the worst weather of the season and as wet as he was, he would not have survived the night.

I continued the walk with the dogs up the canyon for another mile. It was 5:15pm when I decided it was getting too dark (and who knows how many more cold and lost people were in these snowy mountains?). We walked a mere 1.67 miles. The USBP van had just then turned back on SR92, on its way back to the Naco Station 26 miles away.

While I never once felt scared of this man, I am extremely proud of how well the dogs protected me. Even Old Sammy did his share of incessant barking. All dogs got extra treats tonight. And while I felt sad for ruining this man's dream, I know in this shitty weather that I did the right thing. Tonight's low in the valley will be 25F. It will be much colder at 8000'.

Turns out a larger group of illegals was getting tracked by military police on Fort Huachuca earlier today, where Ellen was mountain biking with friends. Perhaps that is the group the man got separated from. We are going to have another freezing night before warmer temperatures return tomorrow. I hope everyone is off these snowy mountains and safe and warm.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A great week for hikes with the dogs

We lucked out with summer-like temperatures during the day (and the notorious cold at night) this past week, but I have been fighting fatigue at night and have kept some strange hours.

Monday and Tuesday night I couldn't fall asleep. I'd get up at 1:30am, 2:30am and finally by 3am I'd be up for the day. This made my energy level during the mornings especially lethargic. I had to push myself to go outside and walk.

Tuesday morning I managed to hike with Zeke up Carr Canyon road with Nina's group, but my pace felt slower than normal. I had started late and caught up to Nina and Claire before they reached the middle falls at the two-mile mark, but once I got to the top where we normally sit and chat, I wanted to walk back down, get back home, and nap! Brown smoke meandered across the northern horizon from a prescribed burn on Fort Huachuca, but that was the one new thing of notice. Claire and I policed the area of trash (the view is popular with booze-drinking ignorami) and we both walked down with full bags of bottles, cans and plastics. I chatted with a young gal named Farah, an army wife new to the area.

When we all gathered back at our cars by the bridge and the lower falls, I told the gang that I was tired and needed to nap. Normally I join them for lunch somewhere but not this time. And nap I did, until 3pm! I hope this does not become a habit because day naps throw off my sleep cycle.

On Wednesday I rested my sore left ankle and didn't walk much until 6pm, when I met Emily and her fast-walking meetup group for the 5-mile fitness trail around town. This is a course I'd love to do every week for speed. We did the course in 1:32 hours. I'd like to get down to 1:20 hours. I took Zeke along again, who always gets praise for being such a sweet dog. While Emily's three dogs always bark at Zeke initially, he never barks back and prefers not to fight. Sadie, Minnie and Sweetie have taught him well! After a few barky exchanges from Emily's pack, all four dogs were able to walk the course on leash without further intervention. We had no moon, so the dark stretches on this path were darker than normal. We were only four women, but four dogs gave us extra protection.

And then on Thursday was the Bisbee walk. I had Holly walk us the Bisbee 1000 course and of course that meant walking all those crumbly stairs! There were far more stairs on her walk than on the walk I reconned on Monday. Bisbee is Holly's old home, and she quickly took over the hike, showing us her old house on a hillside, introduced us to a Bisbee artist who painted many of the murals in town, and told us some history of some of the older buildings.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Walking Bisbee

This was a recon walk to measure mileage that should have taken place yesterday, but yesterday my left ankle was sore and needed a break after Saturday's long hike. I didn't get started until the afternoon, when I could leave for Bisbee with the recyclables (mostly cardboard from Amazon and petfood cans), which was a good excuse to head out to Bisbee 26 miles away. It was a beautiful late fall day in the mid 60s with slight overcast skies and no wind. I took Minnie this time, since she hadn't been hiked all week. The town was quiet.

I didn't carry a backpack. I figured it was cool enough for Minnie and me to go without water for a few hours. Stores in town have water buckets for dogs, and there was water running in the ditch through Tombstone Canyon. I parked at the brewpub and walked up OK street before turning west and downhill toward the Mullheim House, which is now a museum. The trees down this road have shed most of their leaves now. From there it was uphill again on narrow roads overlooking the town. I can never tire of this view.

The rest of the walk was very close to the annual Bisbee1000 route, a charity run ($75 for 5km!) always on the third Saturday in October. This run is painted on walls and rocks all over Old Bisbee. The charity gives proceeds of that money for local groups. I ran this course four times, but stopped when the entry free went over $50. Very little of any of the monies go to repairing the dilapidated stairs in town, for which the Bisbee1000 got its name. "Save the Stairs!" was the mantra when the charity run first began in the 1990s, but that mantra is no longer used. I prefer streets over steps, though. Although the stairs provide a great workout, many of the stairs go right past private property with open views inside homes. I wanted to find a route that was people-friendly, as many people do not like climbing stairs,and many dogs hurt doing so. Finding a stair-free route in Bisbee is nearly impossible.

Minnie seemed delighted in the new smells around her. She was on leash, but I took her off leash when we got away from the busier part of town. I spent several minutes talking to a local woman named Anne about training German Shepherds; her new pup is four months old and a very determined boy. She approached me as I was walking up Tombstone Canyon. Her pup needs early and firm training to be a good dog as an adult, and she seemed willing to work on him. (Since when am I a dog expert?!) I also stopped and talked to a resident off a short alley way where Minnie was able to get some water from the ditch. This ditch captures the monsoonal rains every year, but today the water was just trickling. Getting to this water was not easy, as the ditch is deep and borders on private property. Everyone I met was very friendly. The town has a European ambiance to it, except the streets are awful and many property walls are cracking. There's a run-down feel to Bisbee, but what makes the town so scenic is the landscape and the personal yard art so prevalent in town. One can hunt for Gargoyles, painted butterflies, iron reptiles as one walks along.

I did the downtown area, hiked across from Castle Rock, went down the IronMan steps, up Moon Canyon and along Adams Avenue, around the Central School, up Quality Hill and back down toward the Gulch. There are modified miner shacks all over town. Some are remodeled and modern, others are run down and neglected. Some are colorful, others bland. I've done variations of this hike many times.

I finished with a few beers and good conversation with the bartenders Vanessa and Danielle at the Old Bisbee Brewing Company. There were only a few other customers at the bar and business was slow. I really like that place as the beer is always good and the clientele as eclectic as the town. And what a mellow day to walk around town. A couple from Nashville had done the Tucson marathon yesterday and were enjoying one more day in AZ before flying back to Nashville.

Minnie growled at a small dog, Scruffy, a regular customer with his owner who likes to watch everyone come inside the pub. He sits in the same spot by the door every time. Minnie barked at Scruffy a few times but luckliy settled down. I would have put her back in the van to calm down had she not done so on her own.

I drove back home with the Huachuca mountains silhouetted by the last rays of sunlight and the city lights lighting the horizon. What a priceless view this is every single time.

Today's hike was a mere 4.68 miles. It's going to be hard to replicate the route for Thursday's town walk as the starting time will be later. Today's pace was slow, as I stopped a lot to photograph the views and Minnie sniffed it all out herself. The distance seemed to be enough for her and she rested well the rest of the day.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Miller and Carr Peak on the same day

Hiking 12 miles to both Miller and Carr Peak was Ellen's idea. She had contacted me via Facebook Friday morning and I said, "Why not!" I've always wanted to bag both peaks at once, but it's not an easy hike. We met at the Perimeter Trailhead parking lot off Carr Canyon road, and at 8:10am we drove in separate vehicles. She had a cycling friend from Tucson down with her, Adam, and he drove with her while I drove with Sadie. Temperatures today were scheduled to hit the low 70s in the valley, which meant 60s on the peaks. I packed a heavy rain coat but never needed it. We began the hike at 8:40am and were the only ones on the trail.
We kept a steady pace, but it was a slower pace than we normally do because we had to keep our strength for the distance. We averaged 33 minutes the first two miles. I wore my Italian-made Montrails which were starting to feel tight around both big toes. I wore these thinking there'd be some ice or snow on the north slopes, but there was none. The only ice we saw was at the waterfall at the two-mile mark. The shoes are cumbersome in snowless terrain, and too tall and stiff for this kind of hike. I kept my eyes to the ground for that reason.

All the wildflowers have died for the season. There was very little color anywhere. We saw several mule deer in the lower elevation, and a few jays, but surprisingly few hawks or falcons that fly through this time of year. Adam had never hiked these peaks before and stopped at every vista to photograph the scenery. I photographed scenes using my new Samsung S5. (It feels weird not carrying my Cannon 6D around.) Sadie stayed close to me, although she would go up front, circle around Ellen, make her stop or move to the side, and then come back toward me. That is typical shepherd behavior. Adam had never hiked any distance with a dog before. I hope Sadie left him with a good impression.
I had my "Mapmywalk"app running the entire time. We made it to Miller Peak at 12:20pm at 5.75 miles. We were the first on the peak and enjoyed our lunch. Sadie got her can of Nutro which I spoonfed her. I had three hotspots developing on my right foot, bandaged them up, and as we were ready to leave, a group of what turned out to be 12 hikers came up the summit. Two of them were Arizona Trail through-hikers finishing their last section at the Mexican border. Another man was a Polish exchange officer from Fort Huachuca, Roddick, who thought Arizona was a flat state. I had to chuckle at that (and I'm sure all the other hikers around us, too) and I pointed at the flat foundation from a former fire look-out tower nearby that is perhaps the only flat area of Arizona. He got the message.
The peak quickly filled up with hikers lounging in the sun. Indeed, it was a perfect day to sun oneself at 9400' but we were only halfway done and had to move on. We bid our farewells and descended, resting only at the bathtub springs before continuing on up along the Crest Trail and then the Carr Peak trail. This one-mile long trail is little used, and frostheave has crumbled parts of this trail. Prickly shrubs along the path whip against one's body in relentless fortitude.
My left ankle by now was hurting. I had to slow down and watch my footing. The trail was full of rocks and loose soil and very narrow for a singletrack, but after climbing up Miller Peak, was easier than expected. I was the last to summit the peak and wasn't that exhausted. We were the only ones here now, with the mass of hikers on Miller Peak. The wind was still calm and warm (so unlike other December summits) and we ate more snacks, drank more water, and took in the panoramic scenery. The horizon over Mexico clearly showed a white, then brown ribbon above the terrain, as wind-swept high-altitude clouds whisped across the sky. It was a perfect day to do this hike.
We descended for our final three miles after 3:20pm. My feet were hurting, but we all kept a good pace. My backpack was leaking water (perhaps a water flask that was not properly closed) and by the time I got back to the van, my entire back and butt were wet. How embarrassing!

We all managed to get back home by 4:30pm. Kevin was already in bed watching YouTube on his laptop and left a pot of turkey-rice soup on the stove. I didn't need to be told to help myself. Sadie rested peacefully nearby the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Carr Canyon Road Twice today

I didn't work today, so when 9am rolled around, I got Minnie ready for a walk up the road with the usual Tuesday gang. By the time I started, everyone had already left the trail head but I caught up to them at the middle falls. (Nina, Robert, Cissy, HollyW, SteveT, Allen and me) We stayed there another 30 minutes or so, chatted, and walked back down. Minnie drank from the iced-over falls water which I broke open by throwing a rock on the surface.

Minnie did well today. She hiked most of the way up on her leash, behaving nicely. She's getting the hang of having a leash on her. But she was off leash on our walk down. I didn't bring a daypack on this hike, as I knew there'd be water at the falls for her to drink, and I usually don't drink on these short hikes.

The gang opted to have lunch at Culver's. I was delayed as I saw four people from the HHC group in the parking lot: Rod, SteveA, Pat and Wayne who had completed a 5-mile hike to the watershed. There were 16 people on that hike. We chatted a bit about that hike. They didn't join me at Culver's though, where the others were already seated and getting served.

The six of us had our burgers and sat inside for an hour talking. We always have interesting conversations, and today it was about the Black Lives Matter movement and how that movement is only hurting itself. Police brutality is a sad reality but statistics show that more white men are killed by cops than black men. However, it's clearly murder when a cop fires 17 bullets into an unarmed (black) man who's walking away from the incident.

We finally left the restaurant at 1pm. Minnie was resting in the warmth of the sun in the van, with the windows open. Back home, she drank more water as I tried to get a few Amazon reviews written. The mini road trip prevented me from reviewing much this week (I'm now ranked at #568) but once back home, finally posted my review on the book "Wild By Nature" by Sarah Marquis, a book I had a hard time getting into before finding my rhythm.

Daniel, a USBP agent, had a night hike scheduled up Carr Canyon Road at 6pm. The start for this one was .8 miles lower on the road than the morning route. I RSVPed for that at 5:45pm, wearing a heavy winter coat, a hat and gloves and took off and was the first at the Perimeter Trail head with Sadie and Zeke. Both were sporting blue lights around their collar. It was 47F degrees out. Emily came along with her three dogs, so we had five dogs and three humans. Hers were on leash but mine weren't. She said a car came speeding downhill a few weeks ago and hit one of her dogs as the driver kept on going. She will no longer let hers run free. We started at 6:05pm to an already dark road with clear stars above. The half moon hadn't risen yet. I had to keep my headlamp straight on the road to watch out for the many uneven ruts.

Luckily no other cars came or went on our hike, which was 5.94 miles and took us 1.54 hours. We started out fast but slowed down as Emily and Daniel were into heavy chat mode and I wanted to give them their privacy. We averaged a 19:13-minute mile but that's slightly off as I didn't pause the GPS when we rested briefly at the turn-around point.

We got back to our cars at 8pm. It was 32F degrees at the parking lot, 40F at home. Unlike the morning gang, these two bid good-bye and took off; void of any post-hike chat. I went straight home, had my tacos that Kevin had picked up earlier, and drank a beer; dinner that waited three hours for me. The sweat I had worked up was now starting to get cold on me.

Total miles hiked today: 10.19 miles. All three hiking dogs were exercised and that's a good feeling. Weather and ankle permitting, I'll try to do more of these night hikes with Dan and his crew.