Sunday, December 10, 2017

A mellow weekend

Friday morning was the coldest morning yet this season, but temperatures rose slowly all weekend long.  The hiking club had its annual Cmas hike/picnic yesterday but I didn't go, despite the weather being in the low 60s.  I need to get back into those fun group hikes again.  I have no intention of quitting the group.  My mojo will return to me soon.  I think once Chip is back to good health, I will be more at ease.

Saturday I committed to helping Chip rehome one more cat, which is why I didn't attend the hiking club's holiday picnic/hike.  I promised Chip I'd help him find new homes for his cats.  This is my fourth rehomed cat!  His failing health has made him realize that he can no longer take care of his 22 (!!!) cats Carol left for him to care for.   Another volunteer from the Tombstone shelter is also looking for new homes and helping me tend to the cats.  We both have agreed that as long as Chip is around, we aren't in a rush to rehome all his cats.  He prefers we rehome the cats slowly, like a few a month until he's down to a more manageable level like eight.

I got to his place at 1pm but only stayed long enough to clean out the cat boxes, refill the food and water.  I avoided chatting with him today only because I had to drive to Huachuca City with the cat and I don't like driving at dusk.  He walked noticeably slower today, with each step a calculated step.  He has to worry about not falling over.  I only wish he would stop drinking.  His other friends have told me his drinking has turned them away from him.

I got home yesterday just in time to walk Zeke along the Connector trail for 1.65 miles. I would have gone farther but I wanted time to walk the other dogs as well.  The Connect trail in town follows a wash for three miles and is popular with dog walkers, joggers and mountain bikers.  Today I came across a dead fox kit, though, lying right off the trail.  It looked like a fresh kill.

Within 30 minutes of arriving home I took the other dogs with Zeke along their usual route along our usual loop walk around the Rancho San Pedro.  The sky wasn't dramatic but I was excited to see the two coyote pups prancing ahead of us.  They are getting big!

Today was more of the same loop and it felt even warmer today.  Are we heading into a warm, dry winter already?  Southern California has more wildfires again, the East Coast had its first snow, and here we are expecting temperatures back into the 70s later this week.  Our deciduous trees in the front yard still have half their leaves, some are still green!  I don't ever remember seeing our trees with leaves on the branches this late into the year.

I'm looking forward to the Christmas break.  I'd like to get some hiking in locally before driving off to Chicagoland on the 21st.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Carr Peak with Zeke

I waited until the absolute last day to hike up the peak this month.  It was a busy trail, too, with several young families making the hike, as well as a group in their 60s or 70s.    I only took Zeke and that worked out well, as there were other dogs on the trail today.

We started at 12:58pm.  That gave me little margin of error.  It was surprisingly mild, too, with temperatures at 82F at the start in the sun. There wasn't even much wind on the peak.  I wore an Under Armour base shirt and a long-sleeved blue blouse over that and that was enough to keep me warm.  Weatherwise, it was an ideal day to trek up the mountain. 

I didn't see much wildlife, though.  All but three wildflowers were still in their colors, but everything else is now dormant.  A smoke trail that was to the north yesterday was now to the east.  Otherwise, this month's hike was rather nondescript.  I stayed at the peak to practice my selfie-taking with Zeke.  Another couple shared the peak with me and of course Zeke tried to charm them, too.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Palominas trail

I decided to walk the trail the BLM Ranger told me about two days ago.  I drove down to Palominas, parked the van at the old Trading Post diner off SR92 (it closed in 2009) and immediately saw the gate the ranger told me about behind the diner.  "Day Use Only,  Sunrise to Sunset" said the sign on the gate.  It was 4pm.  I had just under two hours.  I had no idea how far south I could safely go. We entered and started our walk going due south.  In a quarter mile I walked past the sign for the LDS campground pointing east toward the river.  There were no fresh tire tracks, but we did come across several piles of fresh scat.

The waning sun was in my eyes at the start.  I wore my hoodie but it was still warm at 80F.  The road I was on was a maintenance road traveling southwest to the Border Station.  Exposed, flat and at 4100', it wasn't much of a fun hike while the heat was on.  The dogs enjoyed the run as it got cooler.   We detoured briefly at the river but the river bed was dry here.  The dogs found a stagnant pool to romp in.  It was very quiet here along the river, although I was on the lookout for border crossers.

The farther south we went, the bushier the trail got.  Tail acacia shrubs lined the path, making it shadier for the dogs. I turned around at the 2.7 mile mark near a ranch house.  The international border is just 1.5 miles from where I turned around.  I would have walked longer but daylight was waning; sunset was at 5:18pm.  It was 5pm and the hawks were coming out for their nightly hunt.

I took the trail along the west bank of the river on the return.  This road is closer to the river than the official San Pedro River trail on the east side.  I should hike this all the way down to the border some day.  I could stop at the border station and let the agents know that I'm turning around at the border.  This way they won't chase after me when I engage a motion sensor.

The LDS campsite turned out to be the abandoned playground/picnic area just south of the bridge and the road was the same overgrown trail I first hiked with Sara over ten years ago.  There is far less migrant trash now along this road.  I only came across one sun-bleached horse blanket.  The dedication plaque from 2000 is still there.  When we first came to this campground in 2005, it already looked abandoned.  Now it's even more so, with tall weeds growing everywhere.

We made it back to the van at 6pm.  That gave me just 14 minutes of nautical twilight before darkness and a halfmoon took over.  Lights of homes hugging the Huachuca foothills were now coming on.  The dogs were happy to be back in the van and on the way home.  All four panted heavily and then attacked the water bucket for a good while.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving along the San Pedro River

Kevin and I had a quiet Thanksgiving.  I opted not to travel anywhere this year (to save up for the big trip over C'mas to Chicagoland) and perhaps put down money on a newer  SUV, and we decided to go out to eat instead.  He's still not 100% feeling good, which worries me, so we stayed alone this year. Kevin suggested trying the Country Kitchen.  I haven't been to this restaurant in 15 years.  Located on SR92 south of Sierra Vista, it always packs a house in the mornings on my way to the school.

We got there at 11am and there were plenty of tables open.  The rush hadn't started and that was fine with me.  It was mostly older people eating, couples who surely made the same decision.

The dinner was OK and nothing to rave about.  The turkey was processed, the mashed potatoes were bland, and pumpkin pie was another $1.99 added to the $15.95 per dinner.  We were both full though.  When we got back home, Kevin went to bed to rest and I decided to walk the dogs along the river.  It was noon, and the outside temperature was a pleasant 74F.

A young BLM ranger followed me into the parking lot at the Hereford Bridge lot.  At first I thought I had done something wrong.  I was driving 40mph so I know I wasn't speeding.  Was he coming after me to warn me about leashing up the dogs?  It was neither, although the ranger did say he is not going to enforce the leash law since no one else was around.   He just wanted to talk and meet with some of the visitors. We chatted a bit.  He gave me a tip of a trail behind the Morning Star restaurant in Palominas.  I had never heard of the trail there.  "That's all BLM land back there, you can go past the gate.  We just don't want vehicles driving through. Just be careful of hikers coming down from the San Pedro House," he said, "the parking lot was full!"

I had never seen hikers come that far south from the San Pedro House.  Not even I have hiked that path.  That's ten miles over rather boring, flat, exposed terrain.  The best part is walking through the river under the shade of the trees, and that is what I did.  The ranger also confirmed what I suspected:  due to lack of funding, the BLM went from 19 to five employees in this district.  The old station house was torn down several years ago and there's little money to maintain the trail.  That explains the overgrown weeds.

I managed almost four miles, hiking first along the official trail for a mile, then cutting off toward the river where the dogs could frolic in peace.  I always enjoy watching them chase each other in the water.  Even Minnie reverts back to her younger, stick-searching self and Sadie chases after her in a futile attempt to steal said stick.  Even Sweetie and Zeke run through the water with no care in the world.

The weather was ideal.  Warm, with no breeze or clouds.  The leaves are still changing and we haven't had any cold, blustery winds yet to wipe out all the leaves off the trees.  I heard a few hawks and saw a few birds, but not much other wildlife.  What I did see were plenty of locusts along the river bed, some that bravely jumped suicidally into the river and getting swept away by the current.  There are still plenty of those pests, though.

The hike took me just under two hours.  I got back home at 2pm with still so much sunlight.  The dogs didn't bother me at 5pm when they usually get walked.  I could sit comfortably at home and stream a movie in peace.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Full moon

November's full moon came early this month.  Just like October's moon, it was shrouded in heavy cloud and thus not dramatic, but I did enjoy walking the dogs under the moonlight in the late evenings.

The official full moon was on the 3rd, a Friday.  Thursday I drove to Chip's house to give the cats some company, enjoying having several felines nudge up to me and purr.  The moon was rising over the dry Tombstone hills on my way home.  I got home early enough to give the dogs a two-mile loop walk which ended with us finishing in the dark with just the moon light outlining the path.

Friday I started the walk at 5:20pm under heavy clouds.  When the moon rose at 5:40pm it quickly hid behind a dark wall of clouds and stayed that way for an hour before lighting up the sky.

Saturday, yesterday, we had such dramatic storm clouds that walking was enjoyable.  The first cold morning of the season forced me into my sweatpants which I wore all day.  Kevin's been sick with the stomach flu that's been going around, so it was just me and the dogs all day, and all they looked forward to was this walk.  I took them out for their five-mile lollipop walk (named that because of the route: ) and got to witness the colors change across the sky.  The moon yesterday was already down to 99.1%.   l love this kind of stormy weather, although the clouds never left the peaks and hiking up Carr would have been miserable in that windy, wet fog.

All four dogs seemed to enjoy the exercise.  Even Sadie is back in good spirits, but she's noticeably slowing down and by my side when the others want to chase after imaginary spirits in the grass.  I haven't seen any other dog walkers either, lately; just the solitary car driving by.  Even the coyotes have been quiet.  The sun sets now at 5:29pm and by 5:50pm it's past dusk.  I wouldn't be out in the dark like this without the dogs protecting me.

There was just enough sky for the sun to peak through at sunset, lighting up the Dragoon Mountains over Tombstone and adding a sprinkle of color across the western horizon.  While we may not have the dramatic leaf colors notorious in New England, we do get some beautiful sunsets this time of year.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Carr Peak with Zeke

This past month has been especially hard on me.  I've been especially worried about Chip, the widower of my friend Carol who died August 1, 2015.  He's been having mini-strokes since July and has been hospitalized multiple times for them since.  I have tried to visit him once a week on Thursdays for companionship but will confess that I didn't go one week because I can't always deal with his deep depression, anger and his alcoholism. (He has started drinking again since Carol died.)  All he wants to do is drink, and that's not good for his diabetes.

Two weeks ago he had his latest stroke and was sent to Oro Valley Hospital.  I didn't even know about that until I drove to his home last Thursday to check on him.  His three little dogs were gone and the house was silent.  One cat, a ten-year-old FIV+ cat was missing, which had me concerned.   Then I saw the smashed-in windshield of his 1998 Toyota pickup and the damaged grill. Oh god I thought, is Chip dead? I have been supporting him in the sidelines, but his old friend from the Tombstone shelter has been checking on him daily. When I posted this news of the missing cat and damaged truck on Facebook, that's when I learned about his latest stroke.

Last Saturday I met several other cat volunteers from the Tombstone Small Animal Shelter (TSAS) at 10am.  They knew more about Chip's condition.  Chip even called the house while we were there.  I talked to him briefly and he gave me four names of pets he wants to keep.  One of them was Staney, an aggressive MinPin that was taken to the TSAS along with two chihuahuas.   I didn't have the heart to tell him that the dogs were taken to the shelter without his permission by one of the other volunteers and is now listed as up for adoption.  Shit.

Chip was supposed to come back to his home in Tombstone last Thursday, but I haven't seen him. I went to his home twice this past week to tend to his cats.  I even paid his overdue water bill.  When I call him now, all I get is "This number is no longer in service."  What is going on?!

Chip has repeatedly mentioned suicide, even to his social worker. He had the local sheriff deputies, a social worker, a legal expert come by daily as part of the county's "Are You OK?" program, but he seems to take offense to all that.  His anger repels others, as he has at times me.

He hasn't killed himself yet because of the promise he made to Carol to tend to the animals.  He has .repeatedly broken down in tears while I was there.  I don't know how much that is exasperated by his drinking. He's told me several times he knows exactly how he's going to end his life and even I am not privy to that.  He has held me emotionally hostage since coming back from Alaska.

I care for Chip like I cared for Carol.  But there is only so much I can do.  There are 19 cats living in that big home and seven tortoises in the back yard.  They will all need homes unless they are taken to the Cochise County Animal Conrol where they most likely will be destroyed.  Chip is in arrears with his electric, digital TV, credit card and water bill and I'm sure that means the mortgage, too.

Today I just had to get away and hike up Carr Peak. I only took Zeke.  I wanted to give Sadie a break. We started at 1:15pm. I hiked up at a steady pace.  It was a meditative hike.  I only met one couple at the start, and they had an excitable Yellow Lab mix.

I had a steady pace, but my emotions called for me to rest.  I was so deep in thought, I didn't even notice some of the usual landmarks like the intermittent waterfall (which was dry today). I'm losing my love of life, too and it's not always easy now to deal with other peoples' quirks.  I've secluded myself from others because I worry too much about Chip.  He's 72 years old.  Our health care doesn't worry about old people, so he's cast aside and he feels neglected.

It was my emotional depression today that made me stop a few times.  Otherwise, I could have trekked up to the peak in 1:30 hours.  I needed time to clear my mind from my demons.  Damnit, suicidal people can be so selfish with their desires to end their life, refusing to listen to their friends and family and just wanting to plaster everyone with guilt.  Those who are there to help in turn have no recourse. Non-profits and especially churches will do nothing unless they get something in return.

Weather and wind were calm today.  It was 70F at the peak.  Zeke and I rested for 15 minutes.  I ate some salted almonds and he had some dog food I had carried for him.  I sat at the peak and just enjoyed the hazy valley view.  We were alone. There were no clouds. Who knows how many more times I will be able to enjoy this hike and this view? My own health is failing.  I have been fearing a return of cancer for several years.  Maybe it's all in my mind.

Many of the trees were barren.  The only wildflowers left were blue fleabane, with an isolated Red Cardinal Flower and one lonesome blue clover.  Life is coming to an end.  I hope this isn't a metaphor.

The only wildlife I saw were ravens overhead. They are a joy to watch because they are very vocal and dramatic in flight, gliding along thermals while looking down.  In a few weeks the cold wind will start blasting, as it has every November.

I just need to hear from Chip to know how he's doing.  I can't continue to live in this uncertainty.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tompson Ridge

I've been spending my fall break reading all the newspaper articles on the Northern California fires. The death and destruction is heartwrenching.  So many of the now 41 dead are seniors, people over 50 years old.  Most are from the northern Santa Rosa neighborhood of Fountaingrove. Most were evacuated in the middle of the night, under smoke and darkness.  How frightening that must have been.

The one joy is reading happy-end stories of pets and animals that have survived.  While one woman lost 12 dogs (mostly Bernese Mountain dogs, a gentle breed), others return to their homes with their tail-wagging dog waiting for them, even if there's nothing left of the home. But I'm sure there are many more dead pets and wildlife when these fires have been extinguished.  There are still 100s of people unaccounted for.

I loved my years living in Pacific Grove, CA (1996-2000) and have a soft spot in my heart for the greater Bay area.  The temperate climate, the live oak-studded hillsides, the stucco homes and the flora all entice people to move there.  But one bad fire can ruin one's dream.  Maybe the news stories are bringing back the fears Kevin and I felt back in 2011 when we had to evacuate with three dogs and two cats?  The only survivor of that fire is now Sadie.  But she's not talking.

It was another mild day.  I didn't need a windbreaker at all. At 3:41pm I took off with all four dogs for a hike up Tompson Ridge.  Here's where the fun began. Past the dry creek crossing and around the tightest curve on the road (which limits visibility to oncoming traffic), I had to break hard for a blue Honda pickup coming right at me.  I swerved to the right but my wheels hit a rocky edge that made my truck lean sideways.  I had to go in reverse to allow the Honda to pass me.  The woman passenger thought this incident was funny (what was she smoking?!) but the male driver looked serious.  My truck's hood would have been damaged and that would have been the end of my 15.5 years with my 2002 Ford Escape had we collided.  It's been a very reliable vehicle all these years and I intend on keeping it for as long as possible for these drives up trailheads.

We started the hike at 3:54pm.  I could see a full-size Border Patrol SUV up the trail at the gate.  Was there a group of illegals the USBP was picking up?  Normally the illegals come across before dawn or after dusk to evade capture.  I held the dogs close to me and stood off the side of the trail when the SUV came back down the hillside, but in the last minute the dogs broke loose and ran TOWARD the vehicle, with Sadie in front of the front left tire.  The agent couldn't see her and I screamed: "STOP!"  Nothing happened to Sadie and I thanked the agent for stopping, but that was a close call again.  I had to stop and calm down after that incident and the dogs appreciated the break.  The shaded sections were refreshing, but it was still very warm in the higher, exposed parts.  The dogs drank 3/4 of a gallon at one of my breaks.

I didn't stay at the top for long.  It had taken me an hour to get uphill and now it was already 5pm. Winds were calm. Going downhill wearing my Keen water sandals was no easier than the trek uphill. My two-year-old sandals have lost all traction and I've slipped a few times.  Time to get my hiking boots out! There was no one else around.

But then the drive down Ash Canyon Road was as exciting as the drive up.  A couple, perhaps in their 40s, was walking their two dogs offleash on the road.  I slowed down for them, but the two dogs then bolted from the couple and ran after my truck as I continued downhill.  This got all four dogs barking loudly.  After a good half-mile I had to stop because the dogs were still coming after me down the road. I had to let the owners catch up to their dogs before I hit SR92 and traffic.  One of them looked old and stood up to my driver's window to greet me.  His demeanor reminded me of our late Sammy.  The other dog, also older, was a brownish Aussie.

Needless to say, I was glad to be safely back home at 6pm with all four dogs.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Carr Canyon Road to the middle falls (4.6 miles) up

The last time I did this hike was before my Alaska road trip, perhaps in the spring.  Today's morning weather was cool and breezy.  It had to have been in the low 50s at 8am start time because my cheeks were chilled.

There were eight of us, several of whom I didn't recognize.  Nina had signed up for this hike but was 30 minutes late and the group was 2/3 up the falls when she joined us.  I chatted with KimG, Lynn R and Kim C-F at the start, but ended up talking to Rick, Steve (a new Steve!) and David on the hike up the road before the guys slowed down and I was up front but behind the fast gals.  I brought Zeke along.  Kim C-F brought her LabX Bentley along.  Both were on leashes going uphill.

I made it to the middle falls in 46:37 minutes.  This was no PR but I also wasn't aiming for one, which would have required power walking uphill in 41 minutes.  I took Zeke down to the water before the falls and was disappointed to see stagnant water covered by waterbugs.  We desperately need more rain.  The trees are starting to turn yellow, too.  Fall is here!

There was no memorial for the most recent waterfall plunge fatality in late July: 16-year-old Jaidee Austin fell 300 feet to his death July 28th, trying to prevent a 9-year-old from slipping off the slick rock.  He would have been a high school junior.

It is the custom on this hike to linger by the middle falls and chat.  I don't mind chatting for ten minutes, but today we were at the falls for a good 30 minutes standing around. For some reason, I just didn't feel a part of the chatty crowd today.  Whenever I wanted to join in, I overheard terms like "killing deer" and I'm not much of an advocate for killing anything that isn't a fly or mosquito. It seems like killing animals is a repeated theme among these hikers.  And while I don't mind "hunting for food" or killing in self-defense, I do mind it being a constant conversation among the hikers.  I've been away from this group for so long, I've lost touch with the "in" crowd.

Sometimes talking about more thought-provoking themes like the recent solar eclipse or our regional water shortage is more to my liking.  How about the devastating wildfires destroying California's Wine Country this past week?  With three deadly hurricanes terrorizing Texas , Florida and Puerto Rico since late August, we have had our share of natural disasters.  And now the deadly fires that have claimed at least 17 in California is getting to me.  I have friends and family in the Bay area!

Our post-hike lunch was at "My Place," a Vietnamese-American-Mexican restaurant off Fry Boulevard with an ample menu.   I had never been to this place and drove twice around the block before finding it. I ordered a Curry Chicken Stir Fry that was quite good but could have used more curry sauce.  I had a double-shot cappuccino that ended up costing me $5.99 (!!) but it, too was quite good.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Close call

At 5:26pm I started my 3.7-mile walk with all four dogs along the dirt road near the Coronado National Forest Maintenance shop off SR92.  This is an approved walk for Minnie, since only half of it is on pavement.  It's flat and rather nondescript, along an abandoned housing area owned by Castle and Cook.  Desert Broom, mesquite, prickly pear, sotol and other common Chihuahua desert flora are found here.

Minnie does fine for the first two miles, then tires and slows down.  This, in turn, slows me down. I'm starting to wonder if she is suffering from something more detrimental than weight gain, like perhaps Cushing's Disease, an endocrine disorder that shows itself via panting, obesity, increased thirst and lack of sleep.  These are all symptoms that Minnie has shown over the years.  She will be seven years old on November 10, so she qualifies as a geriatric dog.  Of our four remaining dogs, she is the least healthy.

There was nothing exciting on today's walk.  The waning full moon hadn't risen yet, there were no other walkers nearby, and no signs of wildlife like in owls or coyotes.   Even the sunset was rather dull due to lack of cloud cover. The young coyotes we heard earlier this week were silent tonight (I hope they weren't killed off; they were still pups!).  The sky was clear of any clouds and the temperatures were in the mild 60s. It was eerily quiet tonight.

But just .1 mile from the end, nearing the truck, a pissed-off rattler began its loud hiss. I recognized the sound immediately and screamed at Sweetie to back away.  She was walking near the edge of the dirt road along the grass line. The rattler was well-hidden but that loud warning hiss was an indisputable rattler. It didn't even phase Sweetie that she was near danger.  Minnie was about 20 feet behind Sweetie along the edge of the road and she, too, didn't seem to notice.  Luckily neither dog was attacked by the snake that I never saw but loudly heard.

Tonight was just a reminder that most rattlers I've encountered have been in the fall and I must not let my guard down. The dogs' snake vaccine expire next March and April (the latter for Minnie and Sweetie), but the vaccine is only guaranteed to slow down the venom; it is not a 100% preventative.
The walk took us 58 minutes.  It was dark when we got back home.  The dogs did not realize how close to danger two of them got.  I shared the news with Kevin and went on to my nightly chore of reading, relieved that one more day was guaranteed for us all.  In another month the rattlers will go into hibernation and I will be able to enjoy the upcoming colder months for another reason beside my own comfort.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hereford bridge along the river north

Today I took all the dogs and headed to the Hereford Bridge, this time going north along the river.  We started at 4:25pm. As expected, Minnie came on this walk as she loves the water.  All four dogs jumped in several times, even Sweetie who prefers to stay dry and elegant.  Minnie enjoyed fetching sticks I'd throw in the water for her.  No one else was around.  The only thing we came across was a dead fawn that looked just a few days old.

We walked north until it got too snaggy or muddy.  The sun was low and provided for golden light, but after almost a mile I turned around to find the official trail.  We walked on that for ten minutes north until the trail intersected with the old river trail, which is an old dirt road.  We took that road southwest until it intersected with Hereford Road, then walked .4 miles off the pavement back east to the truck. This formed a triangular route of three miles.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Elephant Head mountain bike trail (Santa Ritas)

Both Kevin and I were up before sunrise again.  A 22-ounce can that once contained Pedigree Chopped Ground Dinner with Chicken for Dogs was lying in the hallway, a three-inch round hole exposing the inside of the can.  Both top and bottom lids were still intact.  Which dog risked its teeth to open and consume the contents?  Most likely it was Sadie, as she has a chicken addiction. This is the first time I've seen a tin can be destroyed by the dogs. Normally they sacrifice aluminum cat food cans for their discreet 2am meals.

My original plan for today was to drive out to Mount Wrightson and bag the peak.  Today was "Fee Free" Saturday, at least on the Coronado National Forest website in honor of "National Public Lands" day.    I didn't leave until 10am, though, so that I could help support the Buena Football club's car wash at the Arby's in Sierra Vista this morning.  Both Kevin and I were there at 7:30am and volunteers were still waiting on a hose, and then again at 9:40am when I came around a second time for my Ford Escape.  The same four JV players were there, along with JV coach Hernandez and two parents.  I was surprised only one of my JV players in my Engish class was there, and he had been washing cars for almost four hours.  I was disappointed to see so few students volunteering for their own benefit.

This three-hour delay, of course, later affected my hike with Zeke in the Santa Ritas.  I arrived at the Mount Wrightson trailhead just before 11am.  The parking lot was not packed as I had expected for a Fee Free Saturday.  I noticed fee stubs in windows and on dashboards.  Was Mount Wrightson not part of the National Public Lands?  People around me whom I asked weren't sure.  To play it safe, I drove down the mountain and instead opted to explore a mountain bike trail that skirts around the famed Elephant Head rock, a place I've yet to explore!  I pulled off the paved road to continue westward, following the main dirt road past a displaced campground until that road ended in a dead end.   There was no "Fee Area" sign her so I parked the truck, continued on the road that crossed a dry wash, opened the gate with a trailhead sign, and continued on the trail that meandered around mesquites, prickly pear, oaks and tall grasses at the end of their seasonal life.  I could see Green Valley in the distance and Elephant Head ahead of me.

My one obstacle was the mountain heat.  Despite a warm breeze, the ground was warm and the sun unfiltered by any clouds.  Zeke panted behind me the entire time, only once getting sidetracked by a wily desert hare that enticed him with a fleeting jump across the mesquite-dotted landscape.

Elephant Head slowly came in front of me, but I must have lost the trail.  There were so many crisscrossed trails, either biking trails or well-worn cattle trails, that confused me.  I only saw one trail marker.  Another was stomped on the ground and a second one leaning against a mesquite.  I should have read up more on the trail description before attempting this trail.  On a cool day this would be a lovely trail just to the big rock outcropping, but even I felt the heat.  I stopped at least three times to let Zeke rest, who was clearly warm and needed all the gallon of water I had with me.

I ended up getting lost and climbed up a rise to find the trail, but then just used my GPS app to get off the rocky hill cluttered with prickly pear and ocotillo.  In a lower elevation mesquite grove, I found a rusty name tag for "Anita Woodward, G.V.H.C" which I know is the Green Valley Hiking Club.  (Turns out Woodward and her husband Jim write trail reports for the Green Valley News; her last one is dated 2015) How long ago did she lose her name tag, and what was she doing in this grove away from the trail?  Was she lost, too?

I found the main trail again and decided I would hike 20 more minutes south on it.  I was now just below Elephant Head along a level plain and it reminded me of Half Dome, where Ellen was this weekend with her friend Anna.  But my attempt was quickly halted by an angry cow and her calf, whom she was protecting right on the trail under a mesquite.  Zeke ran toward the cow, I yelled "NO!" (as if Zeke would listen) and when the cow stomped the ground a few times before lunging toward me, I knew I was better off getting out of her area and turning around here.  Obstinate cows are not written in the official trail description and there were plenty around me watching!

I now returned the way I came, this time making sure I didn't lose the main trail.  We stopped two more times for Zeke and water.  We were in the sun for 2:20 hours and only hiked 5.6 miles!  I do want to come back here in the winter and explore the area.  One of these days I can claim Elephant Head as one more peak I have bagged.  Today was not the day.
The official trail is 13 miles long, but I know members of the Huachuca Hiking Club have done this hike within the past year and it was more like nine miles.  Perhaps they shuttled this hike, or they bushwhacked across the poky terrain for the rock summit.  I was alone on this trail today, with no visible recent use of the trail.  The beauty around me and the mystery of Elephant Head, however, are already calling me to try this hike again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Carr Peak with Ellen and Zeke

Ellen asked me a few days ago if I wanted to hike up Carr Peak with her.  Of course I said yes, even though I had hiked up the peak two weeks earlier.  I hadn't hiked with her lately and she's always good company.  She needed to hike up Carr to get in shape for her Half Dome attempt later this month.  Zeke was my canine companion.  We started the hike at 12:35pm.  It took us 2:36 hours roundtrip.

Ellen resigned her civil servant position on Fort Huachuca.  Her experience dealing with the "Good Ole Boy's Club" is what made her resign and take up a more lucrative position with an engineering contractor on post.  Her story tells me that opportunities for talented woman engineers hasn't changed much since my days with the army.  I hope she is happier now.  Her last week is next week and then she's on vacation for a while.  Her attempt up Half Dome is a part of her time off.
 (photo by Ellen P)

Not much had changed since my last hike up the peak two weeks ago.  The same flowers were in bloom, although the red sage is now finally popping up in small patches among the sea of yellow flowers.  It was breezier today, so less butterflies and insects were out.  There were more Golden Columbines near the aspen groves.  The aspens have just about lost their leaves, too.  We didn't see any eagles or hawks, perhaps because of the breeze.  The water that was still trickling down the rock wall has dried up, so I had to stop to give Zeke his water.

The one cool wildlife experience was nearly stepping on an alligator lizard near the peak.  I first encountered an alligator lizard two years ago along the San Pedro River trail.  It looks at first glance like a smooth snake, until its legs become visible.  What was a lizard doing so far high in elevation, where it surely was in the upper 50s?  We saw another one on our way down.

Zeke is always at his best behavior when he's the only dog around.  He stayed by my side the entire time.  At the top he had his own can of food to enjoy, yet still tried to schmuse treats out of Ellen.   We met several other couples today, all who praised Zeke for his good trail etiquette.

We were back at the truck at 3:15 and I was back home 30 minutes later.  Even Kevin was still up.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Along the river

Minnie has gotten lazy with her daily walks.  While she barks with delight when she sees me get ready for our 5pm drive to the unfinished subdivision where I walk the dogs, she dislikes walking the entire 3.5-mile loop now.  Ever since my return from Alaska, she has fought me when she walks more than 1.5 miles.  Kevin didn't walk the remaining two dogs during my entire absence and Minnie got out of shape in those six weeks I was away.  Minnie is my "Fat Girl" and needs the exercise, so I seldom relent when it comes to walking her.  She slows me down and she pants the entire time, but I want to make sure she gets her daily walk in with the others.

Minnie is a smart dog. She's learned to turn around and walk back to the truck and wait for me to return with the other dogs.  She has memorized the route. She waits patiently by the truck for us to return and is always happy to see us. Yesterday she got out of the truck to pee and then stayed by the truck.  She didn't even walk around the block.  The dogs and I managed a meager 1.4 miles without her, walking a short loop nearby rather than the entire 3.4-mile loop.  I didn't want her to be outside where coyotes could overtake her and thus cut my usual walking route in half.  I can't keep on appeasing Minnie, though.

So, to avoid another trick by Minnie today, I opted to take the dogs to the river and walk the bed for as long as I could.  I hadn't taken the dogs here since earlier in the winter, and Sammy managed the 3-mile walk.  Walking along the river thus put me in a melancholy mood.  I miss Sammy's gentle demeanor, his steady, quiet gaze, his long, loud howl whenever he heard a siren within a mile's range.  His howl would get the other four dogs to howl in unison, and sometimes the neighborhood dogs would join in. His voice is forever silent now.

I was curious to see how low the river would be.  Our monsoon hasn't been a good one this year and it officially ends on September 30th.  No rain is expected in the ten-day forecast. As expected, the riverbed is dry enough to be walked far enough to make a 3.4-mile out-and-back walk, replicating the distance I normally walk with the dogs after work.  The sand in the tributary wash where we walk to get to the river was caked dry and splitting. Minnie was getting tired, contemplated going back on her own, but completed the walk. There were pockets of water for the dogs to drink out of, so being thirsty was not a problem.

It was late in the afternoon when we started walking.  The wild grasses that grow along and near the river are currently over three feet tall. The county is STILL working on repairing the bridge overhead. Progress is slow with the workers, as this bridge has been closed to one lane for almost a year.

The riverbed was mostly smooth, and a shallow layer of dead ash and cottonwood leaves are starting to blanket the bed.  I am not ready to depart from summer just yet. I spotted three raptors and perhaps two were the same bird.  Migrating eagles and hawks use the riverbed for nourishment along their flight south. It's so pretty under the canopies this time of year.

I passed one young couple with a small child.  The father picked up the boy when he saw the dogs, and I made a detour up and over the river to give the couple some space.  My dogs don't mind people and small children, but other people may not know that. The dogs continued their romp until we got to the bamboo grove at the 1.7-mile mark.  Water was resurfacing here and dogs were sinking into the wet sand.  We returned the way we came.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Carr Peak with Zeke and Sadie

After three weekends of no substantial hiking, I opted today to get back out.    I told Kevin I'd be leaving at 6am.  That turned to 7am, then 8am, all while I was trying to get some reading for Amazon done.  Kevin gave up on me leaving the house by 9am. "It's going to get hot this afternoon!" he said.

Clouds started forming late in the morning which actually provided cool shade for us, rather than the heat-throbbing rays under clear skies from earlier in the morning.  I finally left the house at 10:30am to drive to the trail head.  I'm glad I waited a few hours to hike this, as today's hike up the peak proved to be full of wildflowers, butterflies, two hawks and water at the rockfalls by the aspen grove.  I only met two other people going up and one couple going down.  The increasing shade in the late morning proved to be refreshing for me, Zeke and Sadie.

My lack of any decent hiking in three weeks did slow me down some, but I was never out of breath or feeling exhausted.  I do, however, know that I must not become a sloth despite my busy work schedule this semester.

As usual, I started up the Sawmill trail, the steeper but shadier trail up to the peak trail.  I always let the dogs drink from the springs at the half-mile mark.

I had enough water for the dogs, but was glad to see water flowing from the waterfall rocks in the aspen grove.  My favorite Golden Columbines were also in full bloom, but the aspens are already naked.  The black spotted virus has made the trees' leaves go from green to dark brown, without any yellow hues to admire from afar.  The scent of autumn is already on its way through the grove.  In another month the tall yellow flowers will be dead and the tall grass through the grove will pinch the legs.

I really need to learn my Arizona wildflowers.  There are plenty of yellow varieties in bloom now, but the one flower I do miss since the 2011 wildfire is the red sage that used to be so prevalent above the aspen grove.  Now yellow flowers, which the forest service dumped en masse over the burned area in August 2011 to prevent landslides, are thriving and making any surviving red sage hard to see from the trail.

The trail was muddy in parts from yesterday afternoon's brief but violent downpour, but it didn't cause me to slip or slide.

It took me two hours to reach the peak.  We stayed on top for 15 minutes before resuming the descent. We had the trail to ourselves until we reached the last mile and I passed a couple going up.  It was after 2pm and they planned on making it to the top.

Winds were calm all throughout the hike.  I'm glad I made it my goal today to bag my favorite peak in the Huachucas.    

More later

Saturday, August 5, 2017

French Joe Canyon (Whetstone Mountains)

Hiking French Joe Canyon was Bill's idea.  He invited me to join him and one of his teaching colleagues, Ray, and I obliged.  Lately, I have been isolating myself from other hikers and have been hiking alone.  Today it was nice to have company and be the guide.  Neither men had ever been to French Joe Canyon.  It's remote and not easy to get to, and the dirt roads can get impassable after heavy rains. Hiking with Bill was a great excuse to get out today, despite the high 80s and cloudless sky.

We met at the Pizza Hut off Fry Boulevard in Sierra Vista and continued in Bill's high-clearance Toyota pick-up.  Zeke rode in the back and was a big hit with Ray. We found the turn-off and managed a half mile over a rocky trail before Bill decided to pull over and walk the rest in.  It's two miles from State Road 90 to the trail head parking area, so we added at least three miles to what was to be a four-mile walk.

Ray quickly fell behind.  I worried about his conditioning as he's a large man and it was hot today.  The heat and recent storms also make this ideal for spotting rattlers.  One thing we didn't have were cows staring us down.  Zeke had nothing to chase and that kept him close to me.  Lately, he has been listening to my commands better.  The road seemed in better shape today than the last time, when Doug drove his big Chevy over deep ruts.  Maybe we were on a different trail then?

Ray ended up dropping out and returning to Bill's truck at the 1.5-mile mark, just a half mile before the shady start of the old trail.  He would have enjoyed this part.  Bill, of course, is like an enthralled boy in a candy store when he's out in nature, stopping every few feet to take 20 photos.  I walk on ahead and then stop to allow Bill to catch up.  It's a nice rhythm we have on the trail since we are about the same in speed and strength.

The pretty part of French Joe Canyon begins at the shady trail head, along the boulder-strewn creek bed, past an old horse trough, and finally along the rocky creek going toward the mines and intermittent water fall.  There was water flowing quite nicely, too, proving Zeke with all the water he needed.

This first mile of the official trail is the prettiest part of the canyon, with its unique rock slabs forming a natural trail.  Water collects in these rocks.  All kinds of birds, lizards, and mammals call this canyon their home, but today we didn't see the horned owls, chameleons, and vermillions that I've seen in the past.  Bill was in awe of the geology as I walked on ahead, stopping to let him catch up with me.

The higher into the canyon we hiked, though, the more overgrown became the flora.  A recent flash flood eroded parts of the narrow canyon walls and felled a few more weak trees.  Despite the green grass, there were no wildflowers as we approached the mine.  We spotted one firecracker penstemon near a rock outcropping. We opted to turn around .5 miles from the finish to rejoin Ray.  We walked back the way we came with a slight detour to the swimming hole.  I picked up Zeke and threw him in the deep part so that he could cool his belly off.  He was startled at first, but quickly appreciated the refreshment and became animated.

When we returned to Bill's truck, Ray was still napping and a curious Black Angus bull stared at Zeke and me from a safe distance.  Zeke was smart enough not to take chase.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Carr Peak, just before the storm

I scheduled a MeetUp hike up Carr Peak for today when I read in a hike report from the Huachuca Hiking Club last weekend that hikers spotted ladybugs on Pat Scott Peak.  That means they were also on Carr and Miller Peaks and I just had to schedule a hike to see.   The mating season for ladybugs on our local peaks is around the third week in July after the monsoon kicks in.  I had to act now as the window is only two weeks long.

I scheduled the hike party to meet at 7am in the lower Carr parking area, a large lot shared with the Perimeter trail.  One man never showed up, but another man, Cole, who didn't RSVP, did.  We were thus four strong hikers.  It was sunny and clear around us in the parking lot.  We didn't see any clouds until we got to the 7100' trail head.

We drove in two cars and started the hike from the Sawmill trail head parking by 7:38am.  Two other cars were already there.   I noticed a new trail head sign. This trail starts out steep the first .2 miles, with much loose rock.  While the same distance, this makes the Sawmill trail appear steeper than the Ramsey Vista trail near the campground, but I prefer this trail because of the Sawmill springs .5 mile up the path.  The dogs always drink from this spring both going up and coming down. The trail is also shadier than the Ramsey Vista trail and is especially colorful in the fall.

It was cool and foggy but no storm clouds in the mountains when we started.   In the 60s, overcast and with no wind make for ideal hiking conditions. The aerostat tethered on Fort Huachuca was in the air, and that's a good sign no storms are near.

We kept a good pace.  The dogs stayed close but were ahead of me.  We heard a large hiss-clacking sound in the grass in front of us early in our hike and that's when I realized, OHSHIT, that's a rattler!  A big one, too.  I didn't bother investigating it or taking its picture.  I leashed the dogs and made a wide berth around it.  It was a black-tail rattler, one of the more docile snakes.  Sadie had walked right past the snake, totally oblivious to it (again, the third time for her!)  The guys all stayed back to try to get a photograph.  Rick did.

Rick turned around after a mile.  He had hiked four times this week and felt tired.  The rest of us resumed our pace.  Wildflowers are just now blooming and the Yellow Columbines along the aspen grove are just now coming up.  They are my favorite, but it will be another two weeks before they open up.

We reached the fog at the 1.5-mile mark, just below the lower aspen grove.  Fog adds a nice eerieness to a lush landscape but limits vistas and visibility.  Someone spray-painted the switchbacks on rocks and tree stumps, a new thing since my March hike up Carr.  The person didn't even get the sequence right.  There are 12 switchbacks in the lower 1.5 mile, but that's counting from the Sawmill trail head parking area.  It may be more from the Ramsey Vista parking lot.  The trail becomes less curvy in the last 1.4 miles.

To my surprise, the waterfall source was still dry, but there were plenty of ripe raspberries.  Black bears eat most of them when people aren't around.  I eat the rest when no one is looking.  I was hoping there'd be water for the dogs after the mountain rains this week.  I carried 64 ounces and gave the dogs half that, but not until we got to the peak.  There was a small water puddle in a rock crevice near the spur trail that I let the dogs drink from. The only free-flowing water today came from Sawmill Springs.

I never was worried we would get caught in a storm as long as we were in the fog.  We also didn't linger long at the top, though.  It took us 1:52 hours to get to the peak; not exactly a record time. The ladybugs were clustered in the shrubs as predicted. I gave the dogs their chicken treats, had some water, and we began our descent 10 minutes later.  That's when the sky cleared up some and we caught some blue patches.  It continued to clear as we continued our descent and we were able to see Miller Peak briefly.  Lots of people were still going up as we were going down, including a young family with a baby backpack and a father with his young son.  We counted 20 people going up. I hope they all were safe.

While we had patches of sunlight in a small break in the clouds along the Crest, we also saw dark clouds moving in from the southeast.  We weren't worried of getting caught in any storm, but now we knew we couldn't lolligag.  When we got below the aspen grove we noticed that the aerostat was no longer flying and now securely back on the ground.  That was a sign to us that these dark clouds were storm clouds.

I didn't want to discourage any of the uphill hikers from turning around, but some clearly did not seem to understand the severity of a monsoon storm in the mountains.  They are fast and furious.  A group of seven soldiers in jeans and cotton shirts were just a mile up and determined to make it to the peak. They should have started three hours earlier.  Most monsoonal rains come in the afternoon for us, but there are always exceptions.

We made it back to our cars in 3:47 hours.  This is one of my better times.  By now rain was over Bisbee.  It began to rain over me as I turned east on Hereford Road and ten minutes after coming home, I heard the thunder.  It never stormed, though.

I'm so glad I hosted this hike, had a strong team and made it back down safely. I will do this hike again next month when the wildflowers are bursting with color.

My feral cat Willie made an appearance late in the afternoon.  I'm always so happy to know he's still around.  He's close to six years old and has lived outside for almost five of those. I made sure I gave him an extra can over his kibble I keep outside for him.  He meows when I call his name, and he even looks at me and stops, but that's as far as he'll ever let me get to him.  I'm glad he survived the lean month while I was away.  Our neighbor on the corner have a new chihuahua puppy that barks non-stop during the day.  I'm sure Willie is really liking that!

Fellow hiker Bill King took the photos with me in them.