Pony up!

political signThe original Pony Express never traveled through Arizona.  Founded in 1860, it lasted less than two years, and ended in bankruptcy. The route ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, CA. Arizona was not even on their radar, maybe because radar would not be invented for another 70 years. The completion of the Pacific Telegraph Line sounded the death knell for the Express. Continue reading »

Hello Dolly

View of Canyon Lake from Dolly Steamboat

We finally took the plunge and took a tour on the Dolly Steamboat. Dolly is a replica of the classic American sternwheel boat. It is docked on Canyon Lake, the smallest of the four lakes formed by hydroelectric dams that provide electricity to the Valley by the Salt River Project.

Majestic cliff face

Canyon Lake is 130 feet deep at places – so I won’t be swimming to the bottom anytime soon.  It is 950 acres, and surrounded by cliffs and mountains. There are several free camping areas – some accessible only by boat.

The tour is a 6-mile route. We saw bighorn sheep and nesting bald eagles. The mountains and cliffs were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The cliff faces are painted with yellow, green and black patterns and streaks of lichens and “desert varnish”. Desert varnish is composed of bacterial microorganisms that stain the cliff sides.

The Two Princesses

We saw nesting bald eagles, and a couple bighorn sheep on the cliffs. Unfortunately my telephoto lens wasn’t strong enough to capture and decent shots of the wildlife.

Years of erosion created the Slat River, and man-made dams created the lake system. Canyon Lake is closest to Apache Junction, and a favorite destination of boaters. There is a swimming area and there are boat ramps available to the public.

The Dolly Steamboat offers several cruises.  Ours was a dinner cruise, catered by the Mining Camp restaurant.The captain also acted as docent, providing a constant stream of anecdotes and history of the area, as well as an education on the flora, fauna and geology of the region. The bar offered mixed drinks and cold beer at not affordable prices.

Petrified tree trunks on this cliff face

There were plenty of small fishing boats, and canoes and kayaks and even a cabin cruiser on the lake that night. I was surprised to see Mallard ducks swimming along the edges of the lake, sheltered by the cliff sides. One cliff was comprised of petrified tree trunks – that was one helluva forest before this area became desert.  So what was that you said about global warming? Our climate has been anything but static – and a hundred years is not enough to base any long term predictions of doom and gloom.

Old man in the cliff

If you are into fishing, the lake boasts walleye, rainbow trout (yum), large mouth and yellow bass, and crappie. All of this less than a half hour drive from my house. The river divides the Superstition Wilderness from the base of the range that comprises Four Peaks. Four Peaks is home to the largest amethyst mine in the northern hemisphere. The mine is owned by the same man that is responsible for you being able to track your packages that are shipped via UPS or FedEx. The mine is accessible by helicopter, or by an extremely arduous climb up the side of the mountain.

North of Canyon Lake, you have Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 (the same year that Arizona became a state) and was named after Teddy Roosevelt. It is 22 miles long, and more than 21,000 acres.

IMG_0929wAs we debarked the boat, we were treated to a wonderful moonrise over the mountains. It was a full moon, or close to it.  One of the Dolly Steamboat tours is an Astronomical Tour. In the pitch black of the wilderness, you have a view of starts you never knew existed. That is on my agenda some time in the future.  The lake is quiet in the daytime, and I imagine it is eerily so at night. To imagine the Pima tribes, and the Apaches that wandered these mountains hundreds of years ago adds to the mystique.

We learned from a Navajo friend who is a pottery artist, descended from a long line of medicine women, that  Superstition Mountain is known as the Healing Mountain. Her mother was a renowned medicine woman who had never been to the mountain, but knew from family history that the mountain is home to herbs and plants that grow nowhere else, plants that have healing properties. Yet one more reason to cherish the wilderness, and to protect it.



landscapingThe past 3 1/2 months have been sort of stressful at work. Besides a relentless upper respiratory infection that refuses to go away, insomnia and the inability to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours a day, working hoot owl with no change in sight, a new manager, and insanely complex projects where I am not only the senior team member but more than half of the team doesn’t know how to even spell “experience”, I just needed a day off. The problem is, vacation days, even though earned, are not approved until the team is up to par. “Par” is a vague word without any determined definition.

I enjoy my job and the challenge of figuring out how to deploy complicated tear-downs and re builds. However, working nights is draining.  And working with novices, no matter how dedicated and enthusiastic they are, is demanding. It is certainly more demanding than my pay-scale.

I put in for a vacation day – just one day, not an entire week, last week. My request languished with no feedback as to whether it would be approved or denied for over a week. Thankfully, it was approved last Thursday. That little thing reduced my stress level a hundred-fold. I hate mind-games.

Anyway, we grilled Friday evening. Organic beef and grilled veggies, and a relaxing night watching TV. Saturday we decided to work outside. Liz has an exhibition in NJ next month, so she packed 40 paintings to be shipped East. I tackled the back yard which was suffering from neglect. We acquired a box full of cactus clippings from our friend George Johnston. Cactus seems to be the only thing we can successfully grow.

I planted some Santa Rosa cactus, a crimson prickly pear variety; some stag-horn cholla; an Old Man of the Desert which is a barrel cactus from South America that is covered with white hairs as it matures; and other prickly pears and stick chollas.

Liz and I dropped off five huge boxes of paintings at Fed Ex for delivery, and then headed to Home depot to pick up supplies. Five bags of river stones for the new cactus garden.  We will have to add several dozen more bags of stones, but for now we had enough to cover the ground around the new transplants.

I spent an hour or so with the weed whacker. After the back yard was whacked into shape, we headed out front and planted more cactus cuttings. I hacked out the old dead growth from our two Blue Agaves.

Last fall, a freak hailstorm decimated the shades on the ramada in the back yard. Last week, the cat decided to shred and rip apart the screen window to the front bedroom. Since I was in home improvement mode, we picked up two new shades and screen repair materials. I rebuilt the screen – so once again we could open the bedroom window and allow fresh air in. The weather has been uncommonly mild, and we refuse to turn on the air conditioning until absolutely necessary. The ramada has two new shades to shield us from the afternoon sun.

Liz made fish tacos and fresh guacamole for dinner. We watched the final two episodes of Game of Thrones for this season – yes, John Snow is dead. I sipped dark rum and club soda over ice, with a fresh lime. It was a busy day, filled with hard work. Liz and I are now sporting dozens of cuts and pricks that are the result of working with cactus, and I was bit by any number of unknown insects.

Anyway, despite of, or maybe because of the hard work, yesterday was relaxing. I slept well, and woke up refreshed! And I am looking forward to my day off, this coming Thursday, when we will have dinner aboard the Steamboat Dolly on Canyon Lake. We have been wanting to do this since we have been in Apache Junction. Just knowing I have an extra day off this coming week is helping me approach my nigh job with a zen-like confidence.

Hackberry Spring Hike

IMG_0813wThe Hackberry Spring loop is a quiet and easy hike in the Superstition Mountains.  You will need moderate trail-finding skills, as the trail is one of the unmarked wonders. One wrong turn, and the simple loop doubles in duration. Today we just wanted a short hike, as we have chores and life calling.

IMG_0804wTo access the trail-head, you take Rt. 88 to First Water Road in the Tonto National Forest. This is an unimproved road; it is graded for most of the tourist season, but it sometimes has deep ruts and is not recommended for passenger vehicles.  A Chevy Cavalier will do okay, a Porsche not so much.

IMG_0805wAbout four miles in you will come to a parking area for horse trailers. This is the best place to park for the beginning of the hike. From the parking area, head North from the northeast corner. The trail is clear. Before long you will be walking alongside a cliff covered with green lichen. Lizards will cross the path, and if you are lucky you might see some ground squirrels. Today we saw a red-tail hawk soaring above the cliff.

IMG_0809wA honeybee was hovering around a thistle in full bloom. The washes were all but dry, with only the vestiges of water puddles left from the winter rains. Flowering plants with buds of blue, yellow and lavender speckled the landscape. We hiked to the First Water wash, which was mostly bone dry. At the wash, you can turn right, which will take you to the abandoned corral and back to the road. We crossed the wash and headed left. Cairns mark the way, as the trail gets fuzzy here.  You will know you are on the correct path when you spot the trail heading between a crevasse of two outcroppings of mountain.

IMG_0810wThis is a wonderful area, as there is always a strong breeze and the area is in shadow most of the day. There are numerous caves and indentations in the rocks to explore. The vegetation is lush, and often the wash is full of bubbling, running water. The going is a bit tricky and you need to be sure-footed as the path is rocky.

IMG_0819wPretty soon you will find yourself at Hackberry Spring, a lush oasis in the middle of the harsh desert mountains. You are surrounded by a grove of trees, with a carpet of green grass. Once through the grove, you are back on the mountain trail. You need to use trail-finding skills here. If you follow the main trail, you will find yourself on a treacherous and steep pass that takes you to the Garden Valley and Black Mesa.  This is a very rewarding hike, but will double your hike.  At the small mesa, you will want to to take the trail that heads to the right.

IMG_0821wThe views are nothing short of spectacular. We passed one couple hiking today. This is the perfect trail if you prefer seclusion and a solitary hike without the interference of other hikers. When I hike I want peace and quiet, to hear the sounds of nature and not the chit-chat of others. Just call me anti-social. We said hello tot he couple we passed, and they told us they had just spotted a Gila Monster on the path 500 yards from where we were. Lucky folks, Gila Monsters are very shy, and you are fortunate to see one.

The hedgehog cactus were in full blossom today. The usually monochrome landscape was speckled with blue, yellow, orange and lavender flowers. The sky was vacant of clouds. The washes and creek beds had puddles of standing water – not conducive to drinking unless you have a purification system. The mountains were still green from the heavy winter rainfall – this is not a good thing. As summer comes on, the vegetation dries and dies and becomes tinder for wildfires.

IMG_0830wIMG_0837wWe came to the long forgotten entrance to the ranch. Once upon a time cattle roamed these hills, and cattlemen and ranchers born of sturdy stock walked these same trails. The trail leads to a defunct corral, with the skeletal remains of a windmill and a water tank on the hillside.

Our hike today was short – just over two hours. The final stretch is an uphill hike over a rocky path. Soon you hit the cattle gate, a hundred feet from the road.  From there it is a short walk back to the parking area.

IMG_0842wThis is the perfect hike to experience all of the varied landscapes of the wilderness without wandering too far off of the beaten track.  As the trail is not marked, you do not meet many novices. It is an open secret, and relatively easy. It is one of my favorite hikes. Along the way you can cut it short, or make it longer simply by choice of an alternate path.