Some would call me a brave man. Foolish; maybe, but I’m not brave. You see, Queen Anne asked me to wake her at 5:00 am so she could see the Super-Blue-Blood moon this morning. It was another 100-year event that she didn’t want to miss. It seems to me that these once-in-a-life things happen often.
At the stroke of five, I did my duty by cracking the bedroom door and tossing a shoe in. When I didn’t hear bear growling, I entered and announced, “It’s started,” then I returned to my computer. Almost immediately, she was at my office door with her jacket on. “A walk? You want to go for our walk now?” I asked.
“Sure. Didn’t you?”
I put on my shoes and grabbed my coat and flashlight and we set off for our morning lap around the park. Venus was high in the east and Scorpio was rising out of the glow of the Phoenix lights. By this time, the moon already had a good bite out of the top as it began to enter earth’s shadow. As we walked, we watched the illuminated section shrink. It takes us about forty-five minutes to complete the two-mile trip and in the dark, I would shine the light before us checking for vermin. It was interesting to see how much light pollution our little community added with many LED ropes placed under trailers being the biggest culprit. They’re supposed to keep rodents from chewing the trailer’s exposed wiring, but I think their effectiveness is suspect.
By the time we got home the moon was only a red glow in the black sky. Rightly named the blood moon, I can see how our ancestors would have feared its omen. Anne grabbed a couple of lap blankets and me, a cup of coffee from the house. We pulled chairs out to the edge of our rear deck and watched while listening to the hoot of a great horned owl coming from nearby trees. We wanted to watch the moon emerge from the shadow, but it lost a race with dawn and to soon disappeared into the trees along the horizon. After it disappeared, we went inside and made breakfast so we could see instant replays on the morning news. All in all, it wasn’t a shabby way to start the day.
After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.
I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.
On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.
The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.
At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.
When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.
Oh, the joy of sleeping under the covers with the windows open. We’re in Eagar, Arizona – about four miles west of the New Mexico border. Outside, the temperature is a crisp fifty-two degrees. In Phoenix we won’t see these temperatures until Halloween. Queen Anne is still contentedly snoring in bed, so all’s quiet in the world. I see a cloudless sky through the window and the sun is about to clear the next door trailer which will make it all but impossible to type, so I’ll be quick about my report.
Yesterday’s trip was a pleasant and uneventful six hours. Two of those hours we spent traversing the Phoenix Metropolitan area to Fountain Hills where we stopped to top off the tank and buy some road food. We phone-waved Jeff as we passed his Scottsdale house. Not expecting our call, he offered to put shoes on and meet us for a bite, but we declined because we were already moving.
Fountain Hills is the point where I feel we’ve finally left town. From there we drove the Bee-Line Highway, climbing out of the Valley of the Sun to Payson’s 6000 foot elevation. We noted each time Fritz’s outside temperature indicator dropped from the low 90’s to the high 80’s. That doesn’t seem like a lot until you factor the hour and a half driving time. In Payson, we headed east on Arizona Route 260 and made the last ascent up the Mogollon Rim, and breaking through the 7000 foot elevation. From there, the rest of the way was a gentle descent. Our next way-point was Showlow and back on US Highway 60, ironically the same highway we took out of Wickenburg.
It was almost 3:00 pm when we reached Round Valley — a five-mile circular flat at the foot of the White Mountains — containing the yin yang towns of Springerville and Eagar. Springerville is on the north along US 60 while Eagar is on the south along AZ 260 with Main Street connecting the two highways (Yes, I know they’re the same roads, but there’s a method to my route madness that I’ll ‘splain someday). We stopped at the local Safeway for provisions and a bite to tide us over until dinner before checking into our campgrounds.
About our campgrounds … all I can say is that I’m glad that I went to Alaska last year. This place is somewhere between Watson Lake and Peace Park Gardens in Vancouver, but that’s a very large spectrum and I consider this in the bottom percentile. It’s certainly not a resort like where Fred and Deb are working. It is small and quiet with mostly permanent residences and few spaces for us transients. We picked it for the WiFi reviews and the price. The price reflects the lack of facilities (no showers). When we came in, the hosts had just finished helping a guest with a grand fifth-wheel (“The largest we’ve ever had,” he told me), before helping us with The Ritz (“The smallest one we’ve ever had”). Thanks … I guess. Anyway, behind The Ritz, we have a lovely private space under large Ash trees for sunset cocktails; how could things be better?
This morning. we’re going to spend time to lay out an itinerary for the week. We have a lot on our list and we need to rank it. One item on the list is the 2017 Great Mexican Food Springerville Shootout. Springerville has two restaurants that we like and we’re going to offer up our two cents on (last night’s dinner was at one of them — more later). We also need to spend the morning knocking off the rust on our camping skills, a fact that became obvious to us during set-up yesterday. The adventure awaits and I’ll have lots of photos for you.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s raining this morning, a steady gentle shower that’s driven the outside temperature down to 73°. That’s the lowest reading I’ve seen on our outside thermometer all month. The rain postponed our morning walk until it let up. We made it through most of our route before Queen Anne felt a couple of drops and began screeching, “I’m melting.” By the time we made it back to the house, the point on her black hat flopped over into her face. I’m afraid that she looked like a bit of a cartoon.
It’s been a decent monsoon season so far. We’re getting rain every other day. There’s enough to fill Lake What-A-Muck-A until the waters lap onto the pavers out back. The ground is damp, the saguaros have plumped again and some of the cacti have begun to bloom for the second time.
There’s enough moisture coming up from Mexico that the thunderheads form over the plateau behind the Weaver Range each afternoon. We watch them as they boil in slow motion until they anvil out and spread in their direction of travel. As the hot air rises down here on the desert basin, it acts like a vacuum, sucking the thunderstorms off of the mountain. Here at the house, with our views to the horizon, we watch as the lightning and rain cells pass to the north and south of us. But sometimes, we’re in the path. It’s like playing dodgeball while standing still.
First, come the outflow winds which can gust over 60 mph. That’s why we keep the tree out front trimmed up, so the wind can blow through the top canopy instead of breaking off limbs or blowing the tree over. In the neighborhood, we’ve had nearly a half-dozen century agaves bloom, with a 20-30 foot phallic center shoot. The Christmas tree like stalk gives the wind enough leverage to rip the roots of the four-foot blue agaves right out of the ground.
Following the wind is rain. Sometimes it’s only a drop or two that leave spots on your dust-covered car. Other times it’s a gully washer and the streets fill like rivers. Out on the desert floor, the washes run with fast-flowing muddy red water; those are the flash floods that are dangerous even if your miles downstream. Every once in a great while, Mexico sends up enough moisture that you get a long-lasting gentle rain, like today. It’s slow enough that the ground has time to absorb it.
Conveniently, the rains usually arrive in time for sunset cocktails, and we sit out on one of the covered porches while enjoying a glass of wine. It’s a popular summer past time in Arizona. The temperature drops 10 to 20 degrees below the century mark. The lightning show is always spectacular and can last for hours. With a stiff breeze and the moisture; it’s pleasant outside, besides you have to hold down the furniture somehow.
It ends abruptly. Shortly after the rain stops, the sweltering black top evaporates the last of the street’s water like hot sauna rocks. The wind dies and the humidity closes in. When it becomes intolerable, you retreat back into the air conditioning, if the power’s still on. There’s time for a TV show before watching the weather. It’s important to find out how the rest of the valley fared before calling it a night.
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 TheThin Man with their accordion folds compressing together. I wonder if the birds living in the giant cactus’ apartments notice their shrinking floor space.
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.
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.
Now, I’m not what you’d normally call a ‘flower guy’. That is, I don’t specialize in flower photography. There are already plenty of people who have mastered that genre. But with the rains we’ve had in the Sonoran Desert, the landscape is almost littered with color. The brittlebush have turned the hillsides yellow and blue lupine line the roads. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take my camera along on this morning’s walk. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
In March, Poppies, African Daisies and Lupine covered the fields. This month, the cacti have started blooming. The succulents have no respect for decorum. When they bloom, it looks like someone picked out the gaudiest plastic flowers from Michael’s and pinned them on. The colors are bright; the petals are waxy and almost garish. It’s wonderful.
I put up four new images on my Web Site from this morning’s walk. I swear to you that the colors are not over-saturated, especially the Cholla. You should treat yourself, grab your camera or phone and get out on a trail near you. Take caution however, this lovely weather has stirred the rattlers. Hurry though, the Highway department has already mowed down the roadside wildflowers near us.