Friday, December 31, 2010

Nostalgic Idiocracy

Yesterday, NPR had a severe case of nauseating nostalgic retrospective, "looking back at the year 2010".  Everything from "who should be remembered who died this year" to "the most influential politician" (THAT roused some real nut cases to call in and voice whatever was inside their numb-teabag-skulls) to "Rhianna had 4 #1 hits, more than any one else".  As I drove to Ace Hardware (they're so nice, and much more helpful than Lowes or Home Depot), Target, and the gas station running errands, I could NOT take the Idiocractic Focus pouring from KJZZ, and turned my dial.

On X 103.9 they introduced the Weezer song "Pork and Beans", that Rivers Cuomo wrote after a meeting with his record label's executives where they told him he needs to write more approachable, more pop-appealing songs, 'you know, like Justin Timberlake'.  I did not know the back-story behind this song, but now that I do, I like it even more - which is a good thing because Dr Desert Flower seems to play Weezer nearly incessantly on her Ipod in the car and on the stereo here, chez nous.  =)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

First Frost For Phoenix this Winter

Alliteration - heh heh.  It's going to get cold tomorrow night, and have a hard frost here for the first time this winter.  All of the blossoms on my lemon tree will be wiped out, as there is no way to cover a 15 foot tall thorny tree (oh ya, lemon trees are the only citrus that have Christ-Crown-Of-Thorns-Like spikes on the branches, go figure).  I spotted by the helpful Elgin Nursery yesterday to get some frost cloth and discuss plant hardiness.  They staff there is VERY knowledgeable, friendly, and customer centric.  The lavender we have was purchased there as well.  We discussed strategies for protecting desert plants against a hard frost, here in zone 9 & 10. (Also see links here and here and here [9B] and here [AZ] for more zone information, and here for surprisingly balmy Euro zones, thanks to the Gulf Stream).

I was very focused on "hardy down to ____ temperature" and the fine people at Elgin were nice to say "Yes, But....".  As in, "Yes, they will survive, they will live, down to such and such a temperature, but your plants WILL Burn and be damaged by the cold temperatures."  Elgin was also clear to point out that even though the Glendale or Goodyear or Sky Harbor airports might report one temperature, locally on your property the temperature might be 5 or 10 degrees colder, depending on sun exposure, wind speeds and directions, residual latent heat, etc.  So to be proactive (or perhaps slightly over-reactive) I purchased a box of 32 ounce insulated cups - sadly Costco was the only place to get them, and I had to get 500.  The cups will go on the tops of each cactus arm, as well as groups of aloe blossoms and lantana blossoms.  I may try to cover the honeysuckle as well, but with it now taller than the 6 foot fence, seeking the sun, I doubt the cups will really work.  I have several rolls of blue painter's tape to secure groups of cups together as well.  The 2 frost cloths will cover 2 of my dwarf palms, and many old queen sized & twin sized bed sheets, as well as landscaping tarps to cover other plants.  Of course, all of this will have to be put on in a 40-to-50F rain storm with 20 mph gusts (NOAA link here), so that'll be alot of fun!

My girl friend Anna will be very confused by all the cups and tarps - AND I will have to take the hummingbird feeders down so they don't freeze - but on Saturday everything will come back off, and hopefully most of the blossoms will have survived.

I was saving up links in a notepad file, but to make them more available and useful for others, here's a list of what I dug up on the interwebs yesterday.  If you have only one of these in your yard, you might want to take precautions.  I'm going to go all out, and try everything possible to preserve the growth I've worked so hard to nurture.  It helps me to forget how far underwater my home mortgage is, when I see all the green and blossoms around the yard. 

Sago Palm -15 to 110 (here) and 10F (here) [Many thanks to Dave's Garden, The DBG, and the City of Scottsdale for the helpful links!]

Dwarf (Pigmy) Date Palm Phoenix Roebelenii, hardy to 25F (link here and here) for short periods

Milkweed, down to 25F (here)

Aloe Vera, 21-30F (here)

Hildmann's Cereus (Botanical Name: Cereus hildmannianus) 21-30F (here)
AKA - Mexican Fence Post Cactus

Lantana, 21-30F (here)

Honeysuckle, 10F (here)

Jasmine, 20F (here)

Rosemary, 20F (here)

Winter Vacation Breakfast Chez Moi

1/4 organic, local, red onion, chopped
1/4 organic, local, red pepper, chopped
1/4 organic, local, green pepper, chopped
2 crimini (stuffable) Trader Joe's mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large local, humanely raised, organically fed chicken eggs
Sautee veggies and butter, until onions change color, on medium heat.  Scramble the 4 eggs.  Add eggs to sauteed veggies.  Cook to your preference of runny-or-not-runny.
Enjoy, and don't eat again until dinner.  Yum.

Knee Knockin

About 10 months ago, I started noticing that when I lay in bed on my side, my knees "knock", bone against bone.  When I was well over 16 stone, my knees could not touch, with fat, fleshy thighs keeping them apart.  Now that I am much closer to 14 stone, and riding the stationary bike & hiking all over the valley both this winter and last, the unexpected secondary result is bone upon bone knee contact.  I guess I'll know if I start to get more rotund again if the knee-to-knee contact goes away.

The feline foot warmer can be seen at the very top of the photo.  We Might have to turn on our furnace this evening, if the house dips much below 65F.  So far, it's been steady and stable at 72F, throughout the month of December.

Threadless Zombies

Last Year, my son and I enjoyed watching Zombieland in the theater. It was hilarious. This year, for Christmas, my son got me a "In Case Of Zombies" T-shirt from Threadless[TM] and the "Zombie Awareness Council".  Last year, I would have fit in an Extra Large comfortably.   This year, a Medium would fit much better- thanks to the good example my friends Ron and Matt showed me.  The extra large fits me more like a kaftan, but that's fine for sleeping.

#5 "Show No Mercy. She's Not Your Mother Anymore" - LOL!

#6 - looks like Dale Gribble

#8 - nice use of a cricket bat.

Our Hajj is Complete

Last Weekend, we completed our Fifth Pillar Koranic Obligation to complete the Hajj, and visited Mecca while we were in South West California.
It was one our way back from the Salton Sea, where we had HOPED to see flocks of migratory water fowl, but instead just found a brackish inland lake, with an occasional seagull (not a whole Flock of Seagulls).

Note: if you are in Mecca, and attempting to head East towards the I-10 on Box Canyon Road, do not waste your time.  The bridge has been washed out by the recent heavy rains that Southern California has experienced.  Turn around, drive back up to Coachella, and put an extra 10 miles on your vehicle.  There's no short cut here in December 2010.

Feline Foot Warmer

It's getting chilly at night here.  In fact, we're supposed to get a front tomorrow night, so I'll need to go out and put some of the 500 thirty two once Styrofoam cups I got at COSTCO on the cacti and flowering plants tomorrow.  (If anyone needs some large cups, let me know, I won't use all 500) It's nice to be able to wake up on a vacation day with a purring feline foot warmer on the bed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"I aim to kill ya"

Dr Desert Flower and I went and saw Joel & Ethan Coen's True Grit last Thursday night when it came out here in Phoenix.  It's a fine film.  If you took No Country For Old Men, and crossed it with the character development and "eh?" ending of Burn After Reading, and then mixed in a heavy dose of death from Fargo, Miller's Crossing & The Lady Killers, with a script lifted largely from the original True Grit Charles Portis novel, then you get this movie.  Put in reference to Tombstone and Unforgiven, I'd say True Grit was better (and I really did love Unforgiven) and agree with The Pompous Film Snob on this as well.

I also agree with the Pompous Film snob that Hailee Steinfeld (as Mattie) was phenomenal in this film, and completely under-appreciated.  Hell, even the poster here doesn't list her (there's No sexism in Hollywood or advertising).  She dominates every scene.  She should get Best Actress, but she won't.  Bridges was good.  Damon was not bad.  Brolin had a few lines and a small part, but near-the-top billing after No Country

Very well acted.  Beautiful cinematography.  Nicely written, smoothly directed.  An intense story told.  We saw it on a Thursday night to a 75% full theater.  You can wait for the DVD or the download... but it's better than most anything else that is showing in US theaters this week and weekend.

Citra Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2008

Picked up this bottle of Citra Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (Denominazione Di Origine Controllata) 2008 at trader Joe's for $4 last month (links to the wine here and here).  Delicious, drinkable, good with spicier, or heavier, or meaty dishes.  For $6 it is hard to beat.  Other reviews online agree (multiple here and here) except for this one (here) - everyone has their own opinion, and maybe he got a bad bottle.  I enjoyed mine, as did my son and wife.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Joshua Christmas Tree

Since our son insisted he needed to get back to his job in South Carolina, post traumatic bike injury number 4, we were going to be empty-nesters for the first Christmas since he was born back in the Reagan Administration.  To avoid having a very sad, "we miss our son" holiday, I decided to burn up a "free night stay at any Hilton property" certificate I had, and we drove to La Quinta & Palm Springs California for Christmas.  Hilton has a Waldorf Astoria resort in La Quinta, and since we've been to both the Boulders and The Biltmore in Arizona, we wanted to see how La Quinta stacked up.  We'd never been, and heard it was nice, so we thought "what the heck, why not?" 

Well, the valley in which Palm Springs sits is like Phoenix, except with a little bit worse air quality, higher property values, a higher concentration of wealth and elderly, and higher California prices.  The quality of the service and accommodations was not as good as the Arizona Waldorf Properties, but it was just as expensive.  We won't be back.  But I digress...  this posting is about Joshua Tree National Park, and spending Christmas there.

We drove out of La Quinta, and headed West down I-10 to the massively over-populated wind farms at the West Side of Palm Springs, then turned North through several depressed towns with economic conditions that reminded me of much smaller Akron OH or Hammond IN, with closed businesses, and very weak development.  When we got to the main entrance of Joshua Tree, there's a nice visitor's center with friendly rangers, clean rest rooms, and a nice gift shop, but it is 3 miles from the gate, which we thought was kind of strange.  There's several hundred people who live on small plots of land along those 3 miles between the Visitor Center and the main park entrance, with trailers (mostly) clinging to the rocky soil, along a winding well paved road - Federal Highway Funds.

Once inside the park, you're greeted with other-worldly rock formations, that look like Titans or Giants had stacked up boulders and then went to play someplace else.  As the boulders gave way, vast forests of Joshua Trees came into view.  We were up at 4000 and 5000 feet, where Joshua Trees love to grow at their leisurely pace of 1 inch a year.  As I am 6 feet tall, the tree behind me is about 250 years old.   We saw several other trees that were well over 20 feet tall, and the highest recorded Joshua Tree in park topped out at 40 feet - or almost 500 years old!

If you've never been to Joshua Tree before, take the time to drive around the Western edge of the park, and enter from the North West Gate in the town of Joshua Tree, and exit to the South near I-10.  This way, you'll get to see the spectacular rock formations and vast forests of Joshua Trees early in your visit, and if you leave to the south, you can see the "God Forsaken Desert" of the Sonoran upon your exit.  Since we LIVE in the Sonoran desert, fields of cholla cacti and creosote bushes hold little allure for us anymore, and it's a very desolate, forbidding landscape once you descend out of the Little San Bernardino, Pinto and Hexie Mountain Ranges towards the Cottonwood Range and the Coachella Valley beyond. 

It was quite interesting to drive up and then hike up to the look out at Keyes View to see the San Andreas fault, snow capped San Bernardino Mountains, Salton Sea, and Coachella Valley down below and off in the distance. 

The park was Unexpectedly Busy  for Christmas Day.  The close proximity to Los Angeles brought out thousands of day trippers I think.  It seemed everyone had the same idea we did, about spending Christmas in one of the National Parks (our NP Park Pass is still good until January 1st!).  There was no shortage of
- lumbering RVs (both owned land barges reminiscent of "Meet The Fockers" and smaller rented ones driven by unsteady and uncertain hands)
- extended Asian families with impatient teens or 20-somethings at the wheel
- NRA-hat wearing Republicans
- Vacationing Europeans (French, Germans, Dutch, Spanish, Italian speakers)
- Rental Cars outnumbering owned vehicles, at least 2 to 1
- Orange County Gucci'ed housewives toting little dogs
- Rock Climbing "extreme" 20 somethings, hauling their gear around.
There was a clan of 3 young male coyotes (smaller than what we see in Phoenix, and busily urinating on things to mark every trunk and branch that could be smelled) that crossed the road in front of us at one point, and every rental car within site stopped to take a plethora of pictures.   

The hike out to Barker Dam is worth it.  It's one mile, and an easy loop.  We took it on the advice of one of the friendly rangers.  There's water in the dammed lake, and we were told that many long horn sheep drink and lounge there, but all we saw of sheep were lots and lots of "pellets" they left behind. 

If you're planning on going to Joshua Tree at Christmas, and it's a weekend (as it was this year), you might want to plan the Park visit during the week, to avoid the 'local tourists'.  It makes it easier to negotiate the roads and hiking paths when there's fewer travelers on them, most of whom don't know where they're going, or how to read a map, or how to drive an American rental car or rental RV very well.  Spend most of your time in the Northern and North Western part of the park.  The Southern and Eastern part are fine for drive through, but if you live in the Sonoran Desert (as we do), this will be the least interesting part of the trip. Take plenty of water with you - it IS the desert, and wear warm clothing.  I was a little chilly in shorts on a 60F breezy day in the high desert.  Charge your digital camera batteries ahead of time, and get a full tank of gas before entering the park.  Enjoy.  =)

North Phoenix Moutains Are "Cute"

Compared to South Mountain's 3 ranges, the little buttes of North Phoenix Mountain Park are "Cute".  I took out 3 and a half hours of my morning and early afternoon to explore this often-seen, but-not-yet explored city park.  You can see North Mountain Park from the AZ51 and the northern Loop 101 - one could see it from the I-17, except they built the I-17 in a concrete canyon that makes it lower than the prevailing landscape, prone to flooding, and slightly claustrophobic when driving on the I-17.  While Shaw Butte rises to 2143 Ft elevation, it has a partially paved (broken asphalt) access road leading up to the summit where the radio towers are.  It's not really a "hike" if one is trudging up a paved road, even if it is at an incline.  Lots of fashionably dressed moms with fru-fru doggies, teenagers, and even AARP elderly persons with canes were ascending the summit.  In my Camelbak and Kelty water bottles, I was significantly over-prepared.

I parked at the main entrance off of 7th street, and began my ascent.  North Mountain National (Green trail, 1.6 miles), rises to 2104 feet elevation.  I then took the North Mountain Connector (Yellow trail, 0.7 miles) to the Shaw Butte trail (306, Blue trail, 4 miles), and back again over Yellow and Green to the car, to beat rush hour traffic home that starts around 2:30pm typically down the 51 and the I-10.  While the lack of a breeze, 65F, and 40% relative humidity made for a sweaty jogging hike, it was a beautiful day to be out and about in Phoenix.  Air Quality suffered, as I could barely see South Mountain's 3 ranges where I had my epic hike last Monday.

North Phoenix Mountain Park sits in a transition between low income barrio, and upper income suburbia.  Just to the south and west, are check cashing, pay-day-loans, the "Employment Security Office", dive bars, Carnicerias, and various Thrift stores.  I saw lots of shopping-cart people shambling at intersections just to the south of the park entrance.  Just to the north and east, are homes with lovely mountain views, security systems, and property values that are 3 to 10 times those to the south.  I've heard a great deal of reporting about property crime in the North Phoenix neighborhoods, and having hiked the picturesque park, I can see now, how closely juxtaposed the disparate neighborhoods really are.

I also saw my first road runner, outside of the Desert Botanical Gardens, up close and personal, about 2 meters away as I crested a ridge.  The young road runner (bigger than a big chicken) was busy hunting smaller prey, and paid me little attention.  Man, do the road runners look very Jurassic-Park-like in both their plumage and the way they stalk their prey.  I wish I could have whipped out my camera faster... timing is everything in photography.

30 minutes of yoga poolside, and I don't even feel achy.  =)  I think I am going to enjoy the 2nd half of life on this mortal coil more than the first half, now that I am feeling healthier, eating better, and not living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck as I did for most of the first half.


Our Mazda 6 has no "Aux" port of tape player, so Dr Desert Flower burns CDs from her mega-all-encompassing-I-pod-device-thingie that has every song she's ever heard on it.  As we were driving back from Southern California yesterday this was playing in over the stereo, and has been in my head ever since.  Pretty Hate Machine, or Downward Spiral.... not sure which one I like more.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Kommst Du mit?

"Wir gehen auf eine Party zu haben. Kommst Du mit?" 
Back in High School in NW Indiana, my German language text book was "Sport und Spiel" taught by the Octogenarian Frau Barritz - she actually broke her hip my Sophomore year, and died a few months later, but she sure did teach us how to say UMLAUTS - by SQUEEZING our cheeks together.  One of the memories burned into my brain from that class was a dialogue about having a party:
Girl: (who is named Gabi) "Wir gehen auf eine Party zu haben. Kommst Du mit?"
Boy: "Ja, Ich mag zu kommen."
Gabi: "Wer ist dein Lieblingstar?"
Boy:  "Udo Werner, er is mein Lieblingstar!"
Mutter (mother): "Gabi, das telefon klingt"
Boy: "Oh yea, Mathe kommt dran!" (great, Math is next)
...the dialogue never made much sense, but it burnt into my long term memory, and everytime there's talk of a party, Gabi and Udo come to mind.

So since we have no children living at home with us, and Dr. Desert Flower loves to throw parties, we're throwing a New Year's Eve party here in Phoenix.  You're invited.  If you don't know how to get here, look at the "About Me" portion of the left hand margin, and email me.  I'll send you directions.  We've already got about a dozen friends coming over - no kids, pets, smoking please.  We'll have food, drink, bubbly, and music.  

If you're flying in, let me know what flight number, and I'll pick you up at the air port - no rental car needed.  We've got a queen sized bed in the guest bed room, a futon, large couch, and an inflata-bed if you want to crash.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thriving December Lavender, Mid Afternoon

The honeybees and hummingbirds can't resist this stuff.

Wine Reclassification

As a public service announcement, for those of you with RSS feeds, I am going to be doing some reclassification.  I've been posting WINE as FOOD.  And that makes it purdy dern hard to go back, and search just for WINE.  So I will be adding a category of WINE, and going back through all the FOOD postings and changing them to WINE.  My apologies in advance, if this fills your inbox / twitter account / instant message feed with extraneous recycled posts.

Delicious Dirty Duck Eggs

Last Saturday at the Central Farmer's Market, there was a new stall on the Far NW corner where the leather crafts guy used to be, that was a husband and wife farming couple from West of Wickenberg, near Wenden "about a hundred miles" as the husband said.  They had eggs.  Ostrich, emu, chicken, and Duck! All of their eggs were "pasture raised", hand gathered, natural fed, no antibiotics.  They were charging the typical farmer's market $5/dozen for the chicken eggs, and had several dozen duck eggs, for $6/dozen.  Some of the individual duck eggs were so large, the cardboard containers could not be closed, and I asked if they could swap them out with smaller ones, so I could get the lid closed.  They happily obliged.

The wife said "they have alot more flavor than chicken eggs".  I was sold.  And my only regret, is not having bought a 2nd dozen.   The "dirty" appearance was initially a little "off putting", but I remembered the geese eggs I used to see at Huntington Downs apartments lake in Greenville (before the predators ate them), and the occasional egg the back yard ducks we had as kids would lay, and they were all indeed, "dirty" in appearance.  It was nothing that a little water and a wet paper towel couldn't take off.  I handled the eggs cautiously, daintily, concerned that I might break them in the washing, wiping, and drying.  That was a completely ungrounded fear.  The shells of these duck eggs were formidable.  Very thick calcium carbonate armour.   Subjectively, I'd say they were "twice as thick" as the thickest chicken eggs I've ever broken. 
And the yolks...  Oh My!   Such Dark Orange yolks!  Thick, consistent, full of nutrients.  Given a choice, I don't think I will ever buy another chicken egg again. Over easy, scrambled, or in a skillet with mushrooms, peppers, and onions, they've been fantastic.  I'm looking forward to getting more of them after New Years.  Not sure about Emu and Ostrich eggs though, those things were at least as big as a soft ball.

There's snow somewhere?

I heard there was snow across much of the US and Northern & Western Europe recently.  Having grown up in the Midwest, with its perpetual gray, sunless, pall from September until April every year, I do not reminisce fondly about such a all-encompassing cold gray shroud, and I revel in the the warmth and life of desert in the Winter.

Not sure what you're doing for New year's Eve?  We're having a party chez nous...   email me for details if you want to come.

Do You Miss W Yet?

I heard this on Hear & Now on the radio this morning, and thought it quite opportune to post for all my friends who still love George W Bush so much, and hold him in nostalgic regard.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

How Delicious Is Lavender?

You'll have to ask my girl friend Anna.  She was thirstily devouring this hybrid lavender last Sunday morning while I was doing yoga poolside.  It was in the mid 70s, sunny (as you can see), nearly no breeze  the plant movement you see is from her wings beating rapidly.  The little dots that are moving near the bottom of the frame are honey bees, who love the lavender as much as Anna does.

And to think that last Easter, this was a single, $6 one quart pot from Elgin Nursery (a mile to the SE of our home)... and the palm to the left was less than 2 feet tall with only one trunk.  Abundant sunshine (UV), warm weather, some water... and you cannot stop things from growing here in the Sonoran desert.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blue Öyster Alarm

Dr Desert Flower parks her alarm on the cheesiest of radio stations, blaringly loud, in an effort to cut through her hearing loss in the foggy of morning semi-wakefulness.  This morning, around 6am, while I was peacefully slumbering and nursing my sore Soleus, Tibialis Anterior, Vastus Lateralis, and Adductor Longus, I listened to Blue Öyster Cult's Eric Bloom singing his subtle homage to Michael Moorcock's Elric Multiverse series around an unpleasant 65 dB level.  Now, wide awake, you get this blog posting, when I should be peacefully slumbering on vacation.  =)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

3 Mountain Ranges Takes 11 Hours

Yesterday, I attempted a comprehensive hike through the nation's largest city park, South Mountain Park, Phoenix Arizona.  My plan was simple.  Drop off my car at the main entrance near Central early in the morning, hike a mile out to Central, and then have Dr Desert Flower take me to the East Side of the park at the Beverly Canyon entrance near 46th Street.  Then,
- hike to the SW, along the Guadalupe Range, finding the 15 mile National trail
- Detour through "Hidden Valley" and "Fat Man's Pass"
- Circle Around the mass of telecommunications towers on Mount Suddoa
- Cross Over Telegraph Pass, where the Eastern National Trail meets the Western National Trail
- Climb the ridge line of the Gila Range that overlooks the suburb of Ahwatukee and the Gila River Indian Reservation
- Head to the SW corner of the park, Descend out of the Gila Range, and head north to the San Juan lookout, near 43rd Avenue, where the 15 mile National Trail ends.
- Check the time, weather, food supply, water supply (carried in, no water supplied through the trail), general health & fatigue, and then decide whether to
a) take the low land Bajada Trail back (boring, and full of washes) for 4 miles to my parked car.
b) take the Alta Trail, which rises up the Ma Ha Tauk Range, which is crowned with Maricopa Peak at 2502 feet - nearly 1/2 a mile up, and is rated as "Extreme / Severe"
(this is illustrated by the green highlighted route below, which I carried in my Kelty pack)
Altogether, it was to be about 23 miles (3 Beverly + 15 National + 4.8 Alta + 3.2 various to the car), and I figured, at 3 mph average walking speed, should take me about 8 hours, in 72F partly cloudy skies with a light breeze weather.  Dr Desert Flower dropped me off behind the over-staffed BAE plant that hogs the 46th street eastern car park at 8:15am.  "No problem" I thought, "I'll be done by mid afternoon".  LOL!

I carried with me, four 300ml plastic water bottles, two 800ml Kelty refillable water bottles with very weak Gatorade solutions mixed inside, one 2 liter Camelback back-pack, one 70 gram bag of Trader Joe's freeze dried banana slices (ingredients: bananas), one 170 gram bag of Trader Joe's dried baby pineapple (ingredients: pineapple), a ziplock baggie with a handful of dried granny smith Bare Fruit apples, a ziplock baggie of 2 handfuls of Marcona almonds, and 2 plastic bags to collect garage that I'd find along the trail.  The plan was to consume the plastic bottles first, dropping off the bottles near the parking area recycling bins I knew I'd be passing, and eat as I walked. 

I did not stop for lunch.  I did stop to take frequent photos, and to answer text messages from a worried Dr Desert Flower, who knew I was hiking alone.  Starting from the top left in the photo, I headed to the bottom right, and made it to the page split around noon.  "No Problem, right on schedule" - I erroneously thought.  I even jogged on level ground and while going down hill, to "guarantee" I'd be back before dusk solidly fell.

The Guadalupe Range borders South Phoenix, Tempe and Ahwatukee, and there's ample road access, so there were many hikers: 
  • Female couples, 
  • a few groups of moms and their kids, 
  • a few well dressed gay male couples walking their tiny (yet fashionable) doggies, 
  • a few lone mountain bikers, who were overtly courteous
  • a group chest-puffing-lycra-wearing-EXTREME-sport-fraternity-brothers trying to impress each other
  • some dads with kids and dogs, 
  • a few other lone hikers like myself, but headed in the opposite direction and invariably wearing shorts (while I had denim jeans and long sleeves on, since it was in the 50s when I started my journey)
But as I ascended the Gila Range, there was only one dad and his elementary aged son about a 1/8th mile ahead of me.  And for the rest of the day, they were the only other humans I saw.  As we neared Goat Hill (elevation 2504 ft) they stopped to survey the slopes to the south, towards Ahwatukee.  I caught up to them, and asked them how they were doing on water (as each carried less than 1 liter of water).  The dad reassured me they were fine, and asked if I knew were the southern trail was that connected to the houses 2 miles (horizontally) away.  I showed them the map, which I downloaded the night before, and refuted the existence of any southern passage.  "Oh, there's a new area, most people don't know about it" the dad responded "we'll have to bushwack it".  I never saw them again... I hope they made it.  The slopes were pretty steep to get down into the valley below as the National Trail hugs the ridge line of the Gila Range. 
Beyond the ocotillo flower in the foreground, is the Estrella Range to the west, most of which sits on the Gila River Indian reservation.  At this point, the mountain bike tracks stopped, and there were very very few human foot prints.  The sun was still high in the sky, and I'd only consumed 2 bottles of water and the bag of banana chips, so I munched the dried apples, and downed one of the Kelty Gatorade bottles as I descended the Gilas. 

The wildlife of the Western end of the park, is alive and well.  Up to this point, I'd see jack rabbits, chipmunks, red tailed hawks, and loads of scat along the trail from bob cat (Big kitty), javelina (lots of seeds), , and lots of hair balls.  Where trails crossed each other, or approached washes, it seemed to be the most prized real estate for olfactory advertising for animals of every sort - which I found very very strange initially, but common-place by the end of the hike.

Along the Western Gila range are several abandoned miles.  I did not go into any of them, but these were not natural caves, as there were tailings all around and the holes were at least 100 years old, from the crude nature of the excavations, about 2 meters in diameter.  Turns out, before WWI, there were several operating gold mines in what is now South Mountain (link here).  Most of them have been dynamited shut, to keep people from getting lost or trapped.

So I reached San Juan look out at 4pm.  I KNEW the sun was setting at 5:25pm yesterday.  And I knew I had either a 4 mile low land walk through the valley ahead, or a 4.8 mile return along the Alta trail on the green line over the Ma Ha Tauk Range. Over-estimating my ability to ascend 1/2 a mile vertically, go 4 miles, and descend 1/2 a mile vertically, I chose "b".
Going up the Ma Ha Tauk, was the easy part.  Yes, it steep, but the Alta trail was well marked, and mercifully had NO Horse traffic (and horse droppings) on it, so I didn't have to avoid stepping into anything of equine origin.  There were also no mountain bike tracks on the trail.  Albeit it was very rocky, and tracks would not show up well, but even in the sandy gradual areas, there were still no tracks.  I was completely alone.
The Alta Trail has 10 marking posts (compared to the 54 that the National Trail had).  The marking posts are not really placed at "mile intervals", but more as "sign posts" where turns are needed.  Near San Juan point was the "10" post, and as I nearly crested the 1800 foot mark, I passed #9.  Sun was still up, no worries.  As I neared Maricopa Peak, marker 8 indicated a sharp turn back to the west.  West?  No way, I wanted to go East.  East is where my car is, map shows no westward turn, marker must be wrong.  So East I continued, Upwards. Very Bad Idea.  The photo below shows how the shadows were nearly covering the Ma Ha Tauk, night was falling very fast, and I still had 3 miles to go.
I continued on what "looked like" a path, along the ridge line.  It quickly evaporated into a series of boulders with severe drop offs to both North and South sides of the mountain range. I remembered Frank Herbert's Dune and the Bene Gesserit litany against fear: "Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration", and I forged on, focusing my efforts on finding sure footing in the lengthening shadows.

As I passed Maricopa Peak, I spotted the Alta trail again down below to the north side of the range.  I headed down to it, and once back on the trail, called Dr Desert Flower to reassure her I was still hiking, yes it was after 530pm, but I am back on the trail now, and heading down the mountain.  I told her how I had surprised a trio of javelina as I crested a ridge, and they quickly scattered down the south side of the ridge thinking I was some sort of clumsy bipedal predator.  I am glad it was not mating season with a male javelina ready to challenge me, and I am even more glad I didn't surprise a hungry female mountain lion with her cubs - who mainly hunt at dusk, and who would have had no problem taking down a lone fatigue hiker, more than 3 miles from the nearest human.  With a 35mph run, a 30 foot bound, and the ability to drop down 50 feet without being injured, I was just a sweaty hairless ape for such an awesome feline.

By the time I got to marker 7,  the sun had set.  The sky over Estrella was dark orange and purple, and I would have taken a picture, but my hands were a little shaky and the light so incredibly low, it would have blurred.  The full moon had risen, and the residential Christmas lights of  Phoenix were reflecting off the clouds.  Commercial airlines were lined up from the Midwest and East Coast to the north east of town (where I could see 5 planes, stacked up, with landing lights on).  Jogging was not an option, unless I wanted to twist an ankle in the dark, so it was a slow trudge to the end of the Alta Trail - also, I remembered that mountain lions, like all kitties, love an active moving target, and their feline brain is wired for motion.

It was 7pm when I got to my car, and 7:05pm when I exited the park (after downing another liter of cold water I had in a cooler in the trunk).  One mountain range too far, for the 2nd shortest day of the year - though I would not have wanted to try this on the longest day of the year in Phoenix, as the ambient temperatures would have been in the triple digits. 

Casualties of hike were:
1) a crushed empty water bottle that fell out of my Kelty bag somewhere in Hidden Valley
2) a swatted honey bee, who decided to try and drink the sweat off the back of my neck, near Goat Hill, and who was killed in the process - barely stinging my pinkie (3rd sting of my life)
3) my pride in being able to accurately and reliably estimate hiking distances and times
4) my theory that South Mountain was just one large "bump" or "blob" as it looks like from the I-10, with smooth edges, and boring contours - it is very jagged and irregular
5) two Naproxin Sodium NSAIDs

I took too much food, most of which low carb JoeP didn't eat or need, and not enough water.  I wandered off the trail when I should have payed attention to the solidly grounded marking posts, but I did see some incredibly beautiful sites, and hiked longer in one day than I have in the last 25 years. 

Sweetly, after the hike, I watched MNF as da Bears beat the Vikings, and (perhaps) permanently decommissioned Favre by spiking him into the permafrost of the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium.  This was ironic justice, after Charles Martin body slammed Jim McMahon in 1986 ending his QB career and the Bear's chances of successfully returning to a Superbowl. While I do not wish anyone permanent physical harm, it was nice to see "fate" deal a hand to the Cajun who brought Chicago so much misery throughout his professional career, while I watched and consumed enough beer to get a Jr HS marching band drunk.

All in all, December 20th 2010 was a very good day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wiki Wiki Wish You Were Here

Another perfect Arizona afternoon and sunset this evening.

Wish you were here....
(if they had only taken out the "wiki wiki" parts, this would be a much better song.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Do Not Piss Off Jon Stewart

All week long, The Daily Show has been hammering away at how stupid and hypocritical the US Senate Republicans have been.  Last night, in his last show 2010 (link here), he had on 9-11 responders, all who are members of the NYFD, NYPD, Port Authority, or Heavy Equipment operators, all of whom are suffering from pulmonary & cardiac issues, and most of whom had cancer.  Each of them having rare diseases that they acquired after volunteering at the World Trade Center terrorist attack site (I hate the term "ground zero" - that's reserved for Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in my perspective).  Each of them being denied coverage or compensation from their unions, health care providers, and bureaucracies that result from a free market health care economy.

Using sarcasm and caustic wit, Stewart empathized with these stricken patriotic heroes, and showed them, Dissecting, clip by clip, how the Republicans are hurting too.  They might have to work on the "holiest of Christian[TM] holidays, the week between Christmas and New Years".  They'll have to say a heartfelt, and tear jerking "good bye" to their awesome friend and colleague Judd Gregg, Partisan New Hampshire GOP senator.  Oh, those poor Republicans, concerned only with NYC Fire Fighters who make more than $250K a year.

Stewart also laid into Mike Huckabee, no holds barred, with the Huckster's employ at Faux News, and the "ginned up" outrage that Faux generated from the "Ground Zero Mosque" and how RETICENT they've been over denial of 9-11 first responders health care bill, passed almost 3 months ago by the House, but denied a vote by Republican Senators who are more concerned about their richest constituents than they are about the most self-less patriots in the nation ("James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act" passed September 30th in the US House of Representatives).

Meanwhile, First Responders continue to DIE.  And that's fine with Republican senators.  Those who died are probably Democrats anyways.  They should have had better bootstraps.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Say Hello To My Little Friend

This is my girl friend...  or at least, the little cutie who thinks she owns my back yard.  She perches in the ocotillo, in the lemon tree (shown above), on the wire hanger where Archie used to sit (she's shown below), and pretty much anywhere she pleases.  She's tame enough, that I can go in and out of the door, 3 feet away, (slowly) and she doesn't fly away anymore.
 She's quite feisty, fending off other hummingbirds of various species and both sexes, as they intrude upon her nectar feeders, aloe, snap dragons, lavenders, bougainvilleas, esperanzas, pansies, tecoma stans, honey suckle, hibiscus, and lemon tree blossoms.  She's also got an affinity for spiders, or spider mites, which I watched her pluck off the pool fence yesterday, from their little webs.

And she loves the camera, posing, often.  This pic (shown right), I took from 3 feet away from her, with the door open, looking up - I'm glad she didn't fly INTO the house to check out the red couch.... the octogenarian cats would've had a field day trying to catch a hummingbird. 

I am not sure if she's a Black Chinned, an Anna's, or a Costa's hummingbird, being a young female - introduce me to her father and I could tell you! - but she is adorable, and has quite a fun personality.  I was sitting with my back to the grill earlier this week, and she flew to within 2 feet of me, saw I was drinking a lemonade, and then flew to the potted snap dragons (that were the same color as my lemonade) and drank heartily from them, within reaching distance of me.  When I gathered up the lavender on Monday, she drank all she could from the vases that I left outside in the shade before I brought them in after dark.  I think she knows who her "sugar daddy" is - LOL!  (nectar..  sugar..   get it?  DOH!   =P )

Much better than SNL's Seth Meyer's (accurate) reference to thrice retired now injured chronic pain in the neck Favre "say hello to my little friend" .. though I did enjoy Seth's Weekend Update =)

The Hidden Quark

Crow's Dairy makes awesome cheese.  This 8oz Dill Quark was delicious.  It goes well with organic cucumbers, or organic carrots, or organic celery, all of which my son and I enjoyed voraciously after hikes last month, while sitting on the veranda watching hummingbird sorties just prior to sunset and polishing off a bottle of wine.

Goats, I think, are under appreciated in general.  They'll eat anything - Colbert had a piece about how goats were 'stealing American jobs" by eating poison ivy and poison oak.  Yes, after they eat alot, goats poop alot, but it's little pellets, not giant cow patties, and it's good fertilizer - perhaps not after they've eaten poison ivy or oak though!  =)  In Mexico (at least in Monterrey, where I have been) they prepare and serve delicious grilled goat.

Dr Desert Flower and I like goats so much, we gave one as a Christmas gift through Heifer International this year.

The Dill Quark is not quite the Higgs Boson, but it is a tasty find!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Very Sociable Wren

This Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) along the Quail Run Trail at the Desert Botanical Garden was almost tame last week as I browsed the inner garden.  Hopping along the path close enough that I could have nearly stepped on her, she chipped, hopped about, circled me, and finding I had no hand-outs for her, continued on her merry avian way, searching for food elsewhere - when a creature's brain is about the size of a pistachio, I'm pretty sure the basic 3F instincts (food, flight, and fornication) occupy most of the CPU's run time.  Doubtful that she'd would recognize me a second time, especially since I had no food or shiny baubles for her.  But I was happy she posed long enough to get several pictures taken.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lavender Haircut

When I trimmed back the lavender around the pool yesterday, I clipped the flowers off, and put them in vases.  Those vases are almost a foot tall, each.

Still sucks that there's no easily implemented way to convey a sense of aroma, scent, olfactory stimuli over a web page.  Maybe in 20 years...

"Desserty" Wine Basics

In an addendum to my One Page Red Wine recommendation, here's a short primer on Sweet Desert Wines.  Several people asked me about my recommendations at Thanksgiving, and I've been remiss on catching up on blog postings this month.

To accompany Sweet Sweet Sweet deserts, some people prefer to have a very sweet wine. From an upper level view, you cannot go wrong with the following matches:

- a Port. Ports are also very very sweet. Some are syrupy. There's TONS of alcohol in a port.. 50% more than normal wines.. so pour small glasses. A true Portuguese Port will run you close to $20 or more (some up to 4X or 10X  that)... other port knock offs (which are almost as good) are down in the $15 dollar range. Avoid any port less than $10, as it will likely be cough syrup.

- a Riesling. Germans make sweet wines in the Rhine valley (close to France!) There's tons of good Rieslings for less than $15.  Anything under 5 or 6 dollars for a Riesling might be nasty.

- A Beaujolais (refer to my one page wine list link earlier). An inexpensive French Beaujolais will run you about $9 or $10. You might find Beaujolais Nouveaux... which will be really really sweet, and very "young" (aged only a few weeks in the barrles) in stores in the US from November to the Spring (uncorking after 11/11).  It's more like grape juice, but some people love it.  the Beaujolais Region runs roughly north of Villefranche Sur Saone, up to Macon - incredibly beautifully rural country.

- A rosé from Provence or Languedoc (French). Rosés are typically sweeter and go well on a hot afternoon with wine and cheese, or as a deserty compliment to cheese cake and pies. The rosé have pinkish color / rosey bottles... a Provencial or Languedoc rose will run you around $10.. and I think you'll really like it, if you want a sweeter wine. 

- A Sauternes. This is not cheap - but if a rich relative is coming and buying for you, tell them "please bring a Sauternes" (pronounced Saw-Turn).
This is deliciously sweet... amazing complexity and depth... to be sipped and enjoyed leisurely. It is a fantastic desert wine. The last bottle I had cost me $40, and I fed it to my wife's grad school friends at an Easter dinner for dessert about 5 years ago. It was fantastique. If price is no object, go with a Sauternes. (I got mine from a co-worker who was trying to liquidate his wine collection before he had to relocate to the UK).

If you have a sweet wine favorite I have not included here, please feel free to comment, and I will amend the list as warranted.

En santé!

Capitulator In Chief

Dr Zaius has a great posting here (link). 

Really sucks that this country is only a 2 party system, and only one of those parties has any balls whatsoever, and the other... oh, it just gets in a tizzy, and has little conniptions.

Not Hitler, nope.  He's Neville Chamberlain.  But that's fine, the Far Right will still demonize him and complain that he exists.

'Nuff said.

Delicious Orange Esperanza

Family: Bignoniaceae (big-no-nih-AY-see-ee)
Genus: Tecoma (tek-OH-muh)
Cultivar: Orange Jubilee
Synonym:Tecoma alata
Tip of the hat to Dave's Garden for this awesome link Orange Esperanza

Our hummingbirds LOVE these, in both the front yard and the back yard.   We've got the yellow trumpet flower plants too (Tecoma stans) but the Colibri prefer the orange ones.  They're flying around particularly acrobatically and pugnaciously today... must be mating season.

Once The Toothpaste Is Out Of the Tube

Since Bin Laden has already won the war against western society, with TSA limiting liquids & pastes we can bring on planes to less than 3 ounces - not to mention taking off your shoes, having your genitals felt up, and not being able to take cork screws onto aircraft - we've gone through lots of little tubes of toothpaste in our home.  Since fluid dynamics works, and I got a B+ in Fluid Dynamics back in college, and the tooth paste manufacturers conveniently use the Same Size tube openings on virtually all their products (thanks to common, high volume, injection mold tooling and physics!) I've found that it IS possible to REFILL toothpaste tubes.  Whoever has said that "once the tooth paste is out of the tube, you can't put it back in" has never tried this before.

It's very simple actually.  All you need are opposable thumbs, adequate hand strength, hand-eye coordination, one (or more) empty tubes of toothpaste, and one much more full tube.  Align the empty and full tubes, making sure both opening are concentric.  Hold them together firmly, and squeeze the larger tube.  Viscous tooth paste will flow into the flattened smaller tube, with no excess spillage.  Perfect alignment pretty much guarantees that you're not going to waste any.

Once you've nearly filled the smaller tube, back off on the compressive pressure on the larger tube.  Relax your squeezing grip and allow the pressures to equalize.  A small amount of back-flow may occur, but that's fine, since you have not separated the tubes yet.  Once pressures equalize, move the tubes in a shearing motion, 90 degrees opposed (not a tensile motion, pulling them apart) and then re-cap each tube.   I know this works at least twice on the same tube, but I've not conducted LCF (low cycle fatigue) tests to see how many dozens or hundreds of refills can be done this way.  Eventually, I suspect the smaller tube's rigid end cap will start to separate from the expandable tube, after the 4th or 5th refill, since it was originally designed to last only once (without rupturing) and the be discarded - but maybe there's a large safety factor build into tube design - I don't know.

I do know, that finding sensitive tooth paste mini-tubes is not easy.  Everyone carries whitening mini-tubes, sure, but the sensitive mini-tubes we got from our old dentist in South Carolina, and obviously traveling back there to get mini-tubes is impractical  =)

I agree that "once the tooth paste is out of the tube and on the floor / in the sink / on your tooth brush, it is hard to put back in the tube" - yes indeed.  But transferring it from one larger tube to a smaller traveling size tube, is quite simple.


Another big thanks to Ame, for the Flax recommendation.  We got another pasture raised, free range, organic chicken from Double Check last week at the Farmer's market.  After roasting the chicken, there was a good bit of natural juice leftover - just as there was at Thanksgiving. 

COSTCO here now sells Organic Golden Flax from Flax USA.  Inside the re-sealable bag is a handy little scoop.  Three of these scoops, and viola, the thin chicken juice was beautifully thickened.  Gluten free, natural fiber, loads of healthy omega 3s, lower carb - Much lower carb than using corn starch, which used to be the "go to" way to thicken gravy chez nous.  And tasty too! 

I would have never thought of using flax to thicken gravy had Ame not recommended it.  Thanks again!

Retired, Extremely Dangerous

Dr Desert Flower and I saw RED on Friday night.  It was a very funny, very well put together movie.  A wild ride that starts off slowly, building beautifully, and finishing powerfully.  Robert Schwentke did a fine job constructing this, with a powerful cast of actors and actresses.

Bruce Willis is a much more believable and engage-able hero than Schwarzenegger.  John Malkovich was fantastic - what movie has Malkovich been in that hasn't been good?  Helen Mirren, mmmmmm.  Mary-Louise Parker was unexpectedly enticing as well.   Morgan Freeman, subtly under-stated as always. 

If you are over 35, you'll like this movie more than if you were born in the 80s or 90s.  The classic triumph of old age, skill and cunning over youth, strength and hubris.