Saturday, February 21, 2009

Under the Tucson Sun--

I'm enjoying my last afternoon on the patio of our townhouse. We just returned from a 4 1/2 mile hike in Sabino Canyon, followed by Cherry Limeade and chili-cheese fries at the local Sonic Drive-In. Tomorrow morning we leave and drive toward Flagstaff with a few stops along the way. Then we head to Las Vegas for a night before Larry and Sue head back to Gig Harbor, WA on Tuesday evening. I don't expect to do much blogging for a few days, so figured I'd better hit the highlights of the last few days.
When I finished my last entry, we were literally parking the car in Tombstone, at the Boothill Cemetery. Lowell was stationed at Fort Huachuca in '68-'69, so had some memories of this area - it's changed! But it was still a pretty neat spot. The cemetery was only open for a few years, and the 125 people who are buried there get a marker - with the cause of death on it! Stuff like "hanged by mistake" and "shot by Curly Bill". The town has been pretty well preserved and it was fun to walk down the dusty street - but it's been so commercialized that we were constantly being asked to buy tickets for stagecoach rides, gunfights, etc. We didn't do any of the shows - but had lunch at the Crystal Palace - and Elvis was entertaining the lunch crowd there! Go figure!
From Tombstone we drove south to the copper mining town of Bisbee. This town is well preserved, and a haven for 1960's era hippies! It's a neat little town with lots of artisans and shops - we drove thru the hills and walked the streets.
On Thursday we headed south again - first to the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This mission church was built by the Franciscan brothers from 1773-1797 - when the area was still part of Mexico. It is a beautiful, beautiful church that has been restored over the past 25 years of so. Every 7 years the adobe is cleaned patched with the original mixture of sand, limestone and prickly pear cactus juice. Naturally - this is year #7 and it's half finished... It is still a gorgeous church and after seeing all of the beautiful churches and cathedrals in Europe it was kind of fun to see what these people did with the natural surroundings. It was also interesting to note the similarities. We stopped to have some authentic frybread as we were leaving. Sue had powdered sugar and cinnamon, I had cinnamon and honey - check out the bees in the pictures! After we left the mission, Lowell and Larry went to the Titan Missile Museum, which they found quite interesting. I've included some of their pictures. Sue and I went to a quilt shop, a Starbucks and then sat in the sun!!! Next on the agenda was a quick visit with my friend and former co-worker, Joy, who lives in the town of Green Valley. It was so nice to see her and catch up a bit. For those who know Joy, she is doing very well and as usual was a gracious hostess.
The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny on Friday, so Sue and I planned to get in a good walk around the area, while Lowell and Larry went to the Pima Air & Space Museum and the Boneyard (a 2750 acre area where the military stores outdated and unusable planes, etc.) . Today is Saturday, another beautiful 80 degrees and sunny! We decided we needed one more hike among the cacti at Sabino Canyon. We took a different trail and once again it was beautiful. We spent lots of time just admiring the views. Now we're washing clothes, washing the car and reviewing information about tomorrow's drive up to Flagstaff.
This slideshow has a few pictures from Saguaro National Park West - the pictographs - and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum as well as images from Tombstone, Bisbee and last night's sunset. It's another long one -

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You can never have too many... of cactus! And my portfolio is filling up!!!! We've been in Arizona for a week now and are enjoying the area very much. The blue skies are incredible - even when the temperatures are not really warm. We are staying in a very southwest style townhouse on the north east side of the city, which put us within 5 or 6 miles of an absolutely gorgeous area called the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of the Coronado National Forest. It takes a little while each morning for the sun to reach our patio - but by 8:15 or 8:30 we can sit in the warm sun for at least a little while.
We've been walking/hiking in Sabino Canyon 3 or 4 times already. This whole area is known for its Saguaro cactus - they are exclusive to the Sonora desert area here and are incredible, both the size and number. They live about 150 to 200 years and are 30 to 50 feet tall. They cover the hillsides. On our first visit to the canyon, we took a tram about 4 miles into the canyon, rode a mile or so back down and then walked the rest of the way down to the Visitor Center. Now we are much braver and walk the trails through the desert and up and down the hills. We walked into the Sabino Canyon Dam and across the creek. The snakes are hibernating - we haven't seen any in the wild! We've also hiked and driven through Saguaro National Park - East and West. Again, beautiful scenery in this mountain desert.
We visited the Old Tucson Studios one day. This is a working movie studio - although we didn't see anything being filmed. Lots of old westerns were filmed here (Rio Lobo, McClintock, Outlaw Josie Wales, Hombre, Tombstone, Young Guns II & Three Amigos) in addition to some television shows (Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, High Chaparral) and some movies that you wouldn't expect (Revenge of the Nerds!!) were filmed in the sound studio there. That studio burned town several years ago. We spent the afternoon wandering around, watching their skits - Miss Kitty & and Girls, The Gunfight with Billy the Kidd, the Medicine Show & the Stunt Show.
On Monday Lowell and Larry tried geocaching for the first time. If you haven't heard about this GPS game, it's pretty cool. You go to a geocaching website and get the coordinates for a "cache" - then drive/walk to the area and try to find a box. The boxes have a bunch of little items that people have left and a log book. When you find the box you sign the log and if you take an item, you leave something else. The guys found the first one they looked for about a mile from our townhouse! Then we hiked in the canyon in the afternoon and found another. It really was kind of fun - they are 2 for 4 in searches so far and I think that we'll do it again. We also had a great visit with my high school friend Pete, who drove over from Yuma, AZ. It was so nice to see her again.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It's a great place to learn about the flora and fauna of the area! We actually got to see some of the critters we've been reading about. I don't know about anyone else, but the absolute highlight of the afternoon for me was the Hummingbird House - I not only got to photograph a hummingbird nest - but got several images of mama hummer on her nest!

There's so much more to talk about, but we're traveling down to the Tombstone/Bisbee area right now and this connection is a little bit iffy going through the mountains. I think I'll try to get this posted and then I'll post more pictures in the next day or two. Oh yeah, none of these pictures are labeled either - maybe tonight!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Adios Texas...

We are on the way out of Texas - this is one huge state! and I'm still amazed by the technology that lets me write this online as we are traveling down the highway. To re-cap the past few days--on Saturday, we strolled the Jackson Street Market in downtown Harlingen. Dan and Mickey arrived with Mickey's Mom, Betty, and sister, Pat. We had a great dinner at the Lone Star.
Sunday brought a trip on the Kiki De La Garza Highway to the Don-Wes Flea Market for the Schumacher contingent – all the usual treasures were available and we picked up a few of things. The wind was absolutely unbelievable, we came home feeling like we'd been sand blasted! Mom and Dad took the Koch/Cammack party to the city of Pharr and the Basilica of San Juan. When everyone returned we took a quick dip in the pool & hot tub. It was so darn windy we had white caps in the pool, but it was our last chance to take advantage of that wonderful pool. All of us had dinner at Mom and Dad's and had some time to visit and exchange stories. We also took a few minutes to walk over to my cousin Judy's and say goodbye to all of them.
With hugs, kisses, good wishes and an orange and lemon picked fresh off their trees, we bid goodbye to Mom and Dad and Harlingen early Monday morning. A strong Texas wind pushed us up the highway and into San Antonio. The 4 of us spent the next couple of hours immersed in Texas history at the Alamo. The Mission San Antonio de Valero is famous for the 1836 Battle for Texas Independence, where 189 Texas volunteers held the site against 4000 Mexican troops for 13 days. The stories of William Travis, Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and the rest of the volunteers at the Alamo are inspiring and heart wrenching. There isn't much left of the original mission and it's right in the middle of downtown San Antonio.
Next, a short walk led us to the famed San Antonio River Walk – a great walking path along the SA river, past a variety of shops and restaurants – we had lunch at a bar called Dick’s Last Resort. The waitresses had great T-Shirts that said "Dick's Chicks" on the back. I tried to get them for me and my sisters, but sadly, they are no longer available. We continued our walk along the 2 mile River Walk and had dessert at Ben & Jerry’s. The buildings around the area are really pretty neat - lots of great architecture and landscaping. As you might expect, there are quite a few ducks living in the area along the river, and we saw a newly hatched group of ducklings as well as a nest with a dozen or so eggs and Mama Duck caring for them.
At 4 PM we left San Antonio and headed west, hoping to get a few hours of driving in. By 9 we were in the hopping town of Fort Stockton TX, had a quick dinner and crashed.
Tuesday morning brought much cooler temperatures and the forecast for an even stronger wind! We headed north to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in NM. The caves were discovered in the late 1800's by a 16 year old cowboy named Jim White, who thought he saw smoke in the hills. Upon further inspection he realized that the smoke was really thousands of bats emerging from a cave in the ground.
The Mexican Free Tail bats still live in some of the caves from early spring until about October. The bats' nightly forays for insects continue to amaze visitors - there are typically 300,000 to 400,000 bats entering and leaving the cave each evening. The spectacle actually takes up to half an hour. I'm sure it's quite a sight, I'd even like to see it! As Jim White was trying to interest people in his discoveries, one enterprising fellow decided all that bat guano ought to be worth something and set up a guano mining business! Since the business was not very lucrative, the caves eventually became more of a tourist attraction and in 1923 the US Department of Interior set it up as a park and White was the first Park Ranger.
Due to the time of our arrival and the guided tour schedule, we were unable to use the Natural Entrance - a one mile hike that takes about an hour. We took the elevator down to 750 feet below the surface, joined a ranger guided tour and then hiked another 80+ feet down into the rooms of the Kings' Palace. This cavern is 829 feet below the surface – and absolutely spectacular. Of course we had 3 cameras going and got some decent pictures – but they can’t really capture the amazing structures. After that tour, we walked though an 8.2 acre cavern called The Big Room. All of these areas have decent trails and some indirect lighting so that it's a really easy walk and you can see all of the formations - or as the rangers say, decorations. Water dripping into the caverns deposits calcite which over the course of millions of years forms speleothems - cave decorations including helictites, draperies, columns, soda straws, stalagtites and stalagmites! The temperature in the caves stays at 56 degrees year round - which was very pleasant compared to the 32 degrees and snow flurries that greeted us when we left!
This park was well worth the trip and we all highly recommend it. Next time we'll come when we have more time to explore other areas of the park, use the Natural Entrance and see the Bat Flights in the evening.
We left the Park and battled high winds through 136 miles of NOTHING - to get to El Paso. The blowing sand obscured the city skyline. My good friend Colleen met us at a little neighborhood Mexican restaurant called Fortis. They had great food - Sue and I enjoyed what was probably the first many chili rellenos! YUM. It was so nice to catch up with Colleen, she's enjoying her job and her time with her grandson, Ethan.
So - this morning we left a chilly El Paso and are headed to our condo in Tucson. The weather doesn't look like it's going to be really warm, but as long as the sun is shining we'll have plenty to explore in that area.

Friday, February 6, 2009

This week in Texas...

..has been a busy one! In addition to quick trips around town, including the Iwo Jima Memorial here in Harlingen, we've explored a number of spots in the area. We headed to Progresso, Mexico, on Monday - it hasn't changed much since last spring! After visiting the usual colorful shops and markets, we headed to Arturo's for some margaritas and a great lunch.

Wednesday started early - the guys had 8:00 AM tickets to go bay fishing and all 4 of us had tickets for an "eco tour" - we had to be in South Padre by 7:45 AM. The winds were calm and the fishing was pretty good - they caught enough for the 6 of us to have a fish dinner last night. While the guys were fishing, Sue and I went out for breakfast, did a little shopping and walked the beach. At 11:30 we headed back to the pier and got in line for a table at Dirty Al's. The place had been recommended to us by several people - and it was busy. We got our table at about 12:10 -- just as Lowell and Larry got back from fishing. The shrimp baskets were SOOOOO good! At 1:30 we boarded another catamaran and headed into the bay to look for dolphins -- we saw lots and lots of them! They played beside and in front of the boat - we took lots of pictures as usual. Then they threw a net into the water and dragged it for about 10 minutes - the object was to pull up some of the common sea life from the area and show it to us. The first time they pulled the net in, there was nothing in it! It had gotten tangled so they threw it out again, and obviously it wasn't quite as good as we had expected! They did get a couple of blue crabs - both of whom were carrying large egg sacks. There were some small fish and a really cool, huge hermit crab in a large welk shell. It was a good day on the water!
This morning (Friday) Lowell and I went back to Laguna Atascosa, I was hoping to see a greater variety of bird by getting there early in the day. We did see more birds, but the biggest treat was the javelinas feeding at the bird feeders! These little pigs paid no attention to us - and the birds sat on their backs and ate the bugs off their backs - yuk! After we got home we loaded up Dad's Suburban and all of us went up to a little town named Port Mansfield. Well, this place is a fishing town - and not much else! We walked out on the long county pier and watched several people catch sting rays! The waters there must be absolutely filled with the buggers!!

We've had such a good week - Mom and Dad have been dragging us all over town and feeding us great meals each day! We usually get at least one walk in, and go swimming every afternoon as well. It's been fun to visit with Judy, Don, Jim and Aunt Lorraine. We are looking forward to Dan and Mickey's arrival tomorrow afternoon. The slideshow is probably a bit too long this time - sorry if it takes forever to load -- just wanted to share a few of the highlights with you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wild Animals of South Texas

Larry and Sue got into Houston Wednesday evening, it was great to see them and to get started on the next part of our adventure!
An uneventful trip through Texas cattle country put us in Harlingen on Thursday afternoon. It was great to be greeted by Mom and Dad and warm weather! We've had a few busy days, I'll try to give you a little flavor of our time here in the Rio Grande Valley - so far!
The big news in the park has been the wild green parrot flock that has visited several times this winter. We're listening for them, but haven't seen anything so far - Mom and Dad assure me that we'll hear them if they come into the park.
Friday was pretty quiet - we had a great lunch at a little Mexican cafe called Alicia's, and went into the pool and hot tub -- too bad if it was only 70 degrees, these northern folks were really anxious to get warm! In the evening my Aunt Lorraine, cousin's Judy and Jim, and Judy's husband Don, came over for cocktails. It was fun to see them - Judy has taken some neat pictures of the parrots in the park.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge was our destination Saturday morning. The refuge is east of Harlingen, and home to a great variety of birds and wildlife - ocelots, deer, javelinas, coyotes & alligators. It also is considered a premier birdwatching destination. We saw lots of birds - and three alligators! The birds were mostly at the Visitor Center, the green jays were really beautiful, but we might try to get back some day in the early morning so we can see a few more species. So we drove to the lake and a viewpoint area. there was a huge gator floating in the lake, right in front of the observation platform, and another with his eyes peeking out that we saw for just a couple of minutes. A 1/2 mile walk to a spot called Alligator Pond gave us our best 'gator viewing! Two large gators were in the pond - one sunning himself on the shore and the other just floating in the water. After a couple of minutes, the guy on the shore slipped into the water and came swimming over to see us!! He just came and floated in front of the deck for about half an hour. We figured he was at least 8 feet long and the other guy was bigger! That was fun.
Sunday's plan was to visit the South Padre Island Kite Festival - but Mom and Dad took a bike ride first and Dad spotted a hawk building a nest in a Norfolk Pine on the other side of the park. So I grabbed the camera and Mom's bike and headed out. We watched the hawk working on a nest and the second hawk even joined it for a bit. I got a few pictures and then we looked it up - I believe it is a Harris' Hawk.
The wind was light today as we headed to the island to catch the Kite Festival. It was on the beach and there was everything from little individual kites to HUGE characters and even "team" kite flying -- they had 3 and 4 people flying kites in patterns, set to music. After a walk on the beach and collecting a few seashells (because none of us have enough of them!), we had a great lunch at Blackbeard's. Grilled shrimp, mahi mahi and giant onion rings!! We didn't even need to make dinner tonight - just snacks during the Super Bowl!
The rest of the week will hold new adventures - a trip to Nuevo Progresso, the flea market, an eco tour on the Bay, and maybe even a fishing trip! Stay warm everyone - we are :-)