Eww, Bugs

Because we’re so snobbish, we don’t have trash pickup at our house. Instead, we toss the garbage and recycle into Fritz and drive up to the local refuse transfer station. It sounds like another chore, but we get pleasure out of dump runs by stopping off for breakfast while we’re out. There are three local restaurants we can choose from, and we choose which one to eat at depending on the hankering we have at the time. The Ranch House is in Yarnell at the top of the pass, and they have the best ham and eggs. The ham is so big it should come on its own plate and I always get a doggie box, because we can get two more meals out of it. Nichols West is our swanky joint and they probably serve the best Eggs Benedict in the county (if not the state). Finally, there’s the Arrowhead Bar and Grill — usually frequented by geezer bikers that are on a weekend road trip reliving the youth they wished they had. It’s the Plain-Jane of the trio, but it’s the most convenient and so we eat there most often.

Saturday was this week’s dump day and after unloading the truck and heading back, we pulled into Arrowhead’s parking lot. It was exactly 8:00 am and some people were standing in the parking lot talking. The door to the dining room had a sign saying it was closed, so Anne rolled the window down and asked the group what was going on. The group was the new owners having just bought the place two weeks ago. The wife explained that the dining area was infested with boxelder bugs, but the kitchen and bar were open. She added that the exterminator just left but the treatment would need some time for it to work. We considered leaving but they told us that the area was under siege, including the other two places that we frequent. Reluctantly we decided to risk it.

Boxelder bugs are beetles smaller than your pinky fingernail, and Wikipedia said that they get their name because they favor the tree of the same name. They winter over in the warmth of nearby structures by invading through cracks and crevices. You may see one or two of them occasionally, but they lay eggs in the millions that hatch at the same time. The swarm forms large mats of bugs on the warm side of rocks and buildings until they dry out. Then they fly back to good tasting vegetation nearby. I don’t know what they eat here because I don’t think boxelder trees grow in Arizona, but it must be good and plentiful, because (with all the rain we’ve had) there’s an exceptional hatch of bugs this year. They’re not aggressive and don’t bite, but like a mosquito, they can leave a mark if they think you’re food.

Boxelder Bud
The innocuous boxelder bug is harmless until they swarm in the millions.

We’ve seen other insect hatches on our morning walks. White flies, midges, no-see-ums, and those irritating mosquitoes. Early this summer while driving down our street, we drove through a bee swarm moving diagonally to the neighborhood. Until I figured out what they were, I thought it was a dust storm.

We tried to have breakfast at the bar and ordered our usual. As I drank my coffee and Anne her Diet Coke, we watched each other for bugs. Occasionally one would land on our tee-shirt and the other would brush it off. When they served breakfast, we hurriedly gulped it down before ‘the pepper’ moved on the plate. Before we could finish, our waitress came over and apologized and told us that they were closing. “The owners want to say they are sorry by comping your meal,” she said. We left a large tip and thanked them as we left.

On the way home, we had to stop at the Quickie Mart and Post Office. On each of those walls were large mats of bugs with others crawling away from the swarm. My hair is itching just writing about it. We live four miles down the road from town and nary a bug is found. I don’t know what we’d do if they invaded our house. Fortunately, they move on in a week and things go back to normal.

So the next time you think that humans rule the world, just remember insects were around before dinosaurs. Our 7.5 billion world population looks tiny in comparison. I’ll bet there are more boxelder bugs in Congress now. Enjoy your breakfast … watch the pepper closely.

Till then … jw

Springerville, Here We Come

It’s almost the middle of August. Queen Anne and I got our monthly allowance and paid the bills, but we have a couple of bucks left over and they’re burning a hole in our pockets, so we’re getting out-of-town for a week. The plan is to head for the hills … literally. To be precise, we’re off to Springerville and the White Mountains. Once again we’ll be camping in the trailer, or as my friend, Jeff once said, “We’ll be taking the Mercedes and spending a week in the Ritz.” That joke won’t be funny anymore if we ever get a different truck.

Normally we escape the desert’s heat at the north rim. We love going there because there’s nothing to do. So we pack all of our crap and do nothing for a week … except for sleep in the cool air, eat, snooze, drink,  slumber … and then take a nap. That was before we were doing this blog, and there’s no Wi-Fi up there. There’s also no radio, phone coverage, television or any other form of communication … well, maybe smoke signals, but I’m lost without auto-correct.

We picked Springerville — actually, the town of Eager which is next door — because it’s central to a lot of touristy stuff. We found a campground that (in reviews) has decent Wi-Fi, so we’re going to go play Tommy and Tammy Tourist and write about it … just like last summer. Won’t that be fun? I hope you’ll join us.

Rich Hill Rainbow
As an afternoon storm moves north, a rainbow touches a peak in the Weaver Range known as Rich Hill. Hmm.

PS: This is a new picture that I put up on my site a few moments ago. I hope you’re not tired of these storm photos because I’m having fun with them. It’s just a phase I’m going through, I’ll get over it.

What a Doozy

I’ve been reporting about this year’s monsoon season, how afternoon storms roll through here every other day, how they put on a great show, and how they have distinct personalities. Today I want to tell you about last Tuesday’s storm. It was a doozy!

August Storm
The clouds from Tuesday’s storm ran the full gamut of gray, from white to black.

The day started off normal enough, the Queen and I ran into town to do some errands and grab a bite of lunch. As we drove home, we noticed clouds building up in the west and south. We ignored them, because it’s rare that weather comes in from those directions. Since there wasn’t a lot of activity over the mountains that normally affect us, I figured that we’d have a quiet evening. When we got home, I laid down for a nap, but when I woke an hour later, the house was dark. The sun wasn’t streaming in the windows, so I stepped outside to check the skies. Everywhere I looked were storm clouds in every shade of gray; white to black. The most menacing patch was over the pass where Yarnell is. As I watched for a few minutes, I realized it was heading in our direction.

From Yarnell
As the winds pushed through the pass, they began to form vortexes like you often see on aircraft wing tips.

I’ve been having fun and some success shooting storms as they move in this summer. I was playing junior storm chaser and already had a couple of, as I call them, Mitch Dobrowner—light images, and here was another chance at dramatic weather shots. I grabbed my camera and walked down the street to the open desert. As I began clicking off frames, the darkest section of the front cleared the mountain range and began behave oddly. As it forced its way through the pass, it formed a vortex and began dropping in elevation. It looked like the spirals coming off Formula One wings during rain races. Behind the main thrust, the mountains disappeared in a curtain of black rain. Since the storm was closing fast, I started walking back to the house. Half way home, I turned for one last shot, and as the wind picked up, I could feel drops on my skin. When I got back to the house, I told Anne that we have to think about finding a safe place to hide should the storm spawn a tornado.

White House Before the Storm
As I made my way back to the house, I turned to take this shot. After I got home, I told Anne that we may need to find a safe place to hide.

The full force of the wind hit just as we were checking out the kitchen pantry. We watched the front tree blow back and forth brushing its limbs against the porch for a few minutes before we heard a pounding on the roof and kitchen sky light. It was too loud for rain, and we went out on the back deck we confirmed that hail was pelting the house. In a matter of minutes, the hail began to turn our red-rock drive to white, then just as quickly, a heavy rain started and washed the hail away. Even though we were on the leeward side of the house we got soaked because the wind whipped and swirled so the rain was coming in under the roof.

Lake What-a-muck-a
That’s not grain, it’s rain. In minutes the back yard went from rock to covered in hail and finally to Lake What-a-muck-a.

For a moment, I thought about getting my rain jacket and microphone out so I could pose like one of those idiot Weather Chanel reporters do in a hurricane, but I decided not to because I’d have to stand out in the wind, rain, and lightning. Besides, I don’t have a waterproof microphone. In a matter of minutes, the back yard turned into Lake What-a-muck-a.

Meanwhile, out front the streets were fast flowing, knee-deep rivers from curb to curb. The swift flowing water would have knocked you down if you attempted to wade across them. The streets were designed to drain to a wash that cuts through the park, but it was running beyond capacity and couldn’t take any more run-off.

Within an hour the wind and rain stopped. The thunder and lightning continued for a while but finally died as the storm moved south. Anne and I ventured out on the front porch and watched the water slowly recede uncovering sand bars. Neighbors ventured out of their homes and compared notes. Those that have rain gauges said they had 2-2.4 inches for the hour-long storm. I would guesstimate the wind gusts a conservative 60 mph. All of our water ran down the dry creeks to Wickenburg where the evening news had flooding stories.

While out walking the next morning, we were surprised there wasn’t more damage in the neighborhood. A handful of trees had broken limbs, some ocotillos were knocked over and some of the wash’s engineering suffered, but there wasn’t much structural damage. I had to mend some skirting, but that was it. Mostly the people we saw were busy shoveling dirt from the streets back into their yards. Not bad for the storm of the year.

Till then … jw

The Face of Mother Earth in a Sand Pile

As I wrote earlier this week, we’ve had a pretty good Monsoon Season. The afternoon storms have brought rain every other day. A couple of the storms were short but intense causing a lot of run-offs. The amount of rain is too much for the soil to absorb and so, most of it runs into the street. If the flow is great enough, it will drag sand off the lots on to the street.

On our morning walks around the trailer park, Queen Anne and I come across these sand trails all the time. One of them, however, stopped me in my tracks. I saw something that I recognized and as we examined it, we realized it was a pretty good map of the North American Continent. Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Cuba, and Mexico were all in their places. Missing in the map was Florida, some of the Aleutian Islands and parts of the east coast. With climate change and all, maybe it’s a sign of things to come.

A map of North America in sand run-off
A pretty good map of North America that we found in sand run-off while on our morning walk.

What do you think?

Till then … jw

ps: After three storm cells move through the area last evening, it washed more, sand onto the street. On this morning’s walk, the shape was completely different. Only the Alaska part remained recognizable.

Summer Updates

Stagghorn Monsoon
Monsoon clouds form over the Weaver Range behind a staghorn cactus. Near Congress, Arizona.

It’s mid-summer in the Sonoran Desert and the winds have begun to shift bringing moist air up from Mexico and monsoon season. All of the smart people have escaped the desert floor, while we and a handful of other trailer park residents try to cope with the stifling humidity (25%). With most of the neighbors gone for the summer, it’s really boring in the neighborhood.  So boring in fact, that last week a service showed up to remove a dying saguaro, and the neighborhood lined up lawn chairs to watch the show.

Since the themes of this blog are photography and travel, I feel that I need to add some posts about the latter. Unfortunately, the queen and I are stuck at home this year, so I need to come up with content somehow, and I got an idea. I reached out to our circle of friends that are or have been on the road and asked them to write about their trips. I’m pleased that they agreed to contribute.

It’s been a couple of weeks now and some material has started to come in and in the next few days I’ll be able to post our first guest article. I’m looking forward to traveling vicariously with our friends; seeing new places, tasting new foods from beyond the horizon. And, let me add this. If you’ve been on the road lately and like to share your story and photos, let me know and there may be room on the stage for you.

Till then . . . jw

Summer Solstice 2017

Today is summer solstice at 9:24 PM (MST); summer’s official start. Temperatures in Phoenix are forecast to reach near 120°, making it the hottest day of the year (so far). The Queen and I are celebrating the end of spring like a couple of mushrooms hiding in the dark while hoping the air conditioner doesn’t fail.

To cope with the increased temperature, we’ve changed our daily routines. We go on our morning walk at 6:30 to take advantage of the cooler morning temperature; although this morning’s low was still 83°. With 20% humidity, eighty degrees should be comfortable and it is in the shade, but this being desert, there’s little shade. There’s something about an oppressive high barometric pressure that intensifies the Sun’s radiant heat, so along our route, we divert to every patch of shade we find like lizards darting between rocks.

I limit my time out in the shop now. Instead of waiting most of the morning for the garage to warm up, I only work the hour before breakfast and I break my chores into chunks to fit the time. At least with that schedule, I get more computer work done in the afternoons.

There are other clues that our exceptional spring is being pushed aside. The roadside flowers I featured in earlier posts, have withered into dried grasses. The stately saguaro, one gluttonously plump with winter rain are undergoing transition to their impression of The Thin Man with their accordion folds compressing together. I wonder if the birds living in the giant cactus’ apartments notice their shrinking floor space.

Prickly Pear and Bagdad Hills
The setting sun shines on a prickly pear cactus and hills near Bagdad, Arizona.

Even the creosote is changing. A month ago they were full of yellow buds and the open spaces between washes were fields of light green resembling dense crops. Their flowers have turned into tiny gray fuzz-balls and the bush begins shedding leaves. They’re conserving water so they can survive out in the summer sun.

Kirkland Valley Sky
The setting sun lights up a line of clouds over Kirkland Valley.

I see out of my window that clouds are gathering above the Weaver Mountain Range. There will be no welcome rain from them today. There isn’t enough moisture in the air for them to swell into magnificent thunderheads. That will come in a couple of weeks when the winds change and bring humid air from the south, and that will be the real monsoon season start. Today’s clouds are just a promise of things to come.

Till then . . . jw

Back in the Saddle Again

It took a week for the drives to arrive from Amazon and only a couple hours to install and partition them. I spent most of the weekend organizing and restoring all of my files to their original locations. I haven’t done an exhaustive inventory, but it looks like pretty much everything is recovered now. That means that I can start moving forward again instead of treading water waiting for parts to get here.

I should have some new images up on the site later this week and I’ll have an announcement by then about the West of Center show at the Museum. Stay tuned to this channel . . . film at 11:00.

Till then . . . jw