February 27, 2009

Climbing Blacktail Hill

I suppose I should really title this: Hiking up Blacktail Hill as no ropes or other fancy equipment were required. But to a flatlander like me, it was a climb. Actually, with my fear of heights, it was at the limit of my comfort zone as the hike is steep with loose rocks and sheer drop offs. I really must remember to hike with gloves on these uphill jaunts so I can feel more comfortable using my hands. Grabbing onto a prickly pear, ocotillo or sotol (all have various kinds of thorns) is not that attractive with bare hands, even in a pinch.

We drove to the bottom of the hill, though it would have taken us just as long to walk to it as we live on Blacktail's foothill (bajada) and could have just bushwacked to get there. Dan did this hike from the west side once, but the approach from the east is "more gentle"; let's call it "not as steep". We have been here on horseback too, and I could almost hear Cody (our lazy horse) whining: but it's all uphill... Emma came along of course, and she has no problem finding her way through ocotillo and up rock outcroppings.

It took us an hour to reach the top, and I must admit that I did not make it the last 10 feet because it required scaling up some sheer rock, with drop offs on all sides, and I did not feel comfortable enough to get Emma up there too. So she and I sat at the base of the rock and admired the view of the valley and our beloved WD Ranch (in the ellipse). Dan recorded our feat on the paper in the jar at the top. The last visitors had been there in November.

I am really not that concerned about going uphill, my worries are the downhill and looking down steep slopes with nothing to break my fall. We found that Emma is a great scout who is best as finding the easiest way home. It was only 30 minutes back down, in controlled fashion. Not bad for 772 feet up, and 772 feet down.

February 23, 2009

New project

It is time to start work on the porch to the shop/shed that we built last summer. The porch will be on the south side of the building and will shade the windows, keeping the inside a bit cooler. It will also be a place to do welding outside, protected from the sun. The porch also looks out over the garden and the chicken yard, and I can see myself sitting there, observing life.

So we set the forms for the perimeter today and we are ready for concrete. That will not happen before next Monday because we have too many other things on the schedule this week. The plan is to have it all finished before the weather heats up although we are forecast to have record high temperatures today (low 80's).

February 22, 2009

Walks Among Coyotes

That is what my Indian name would be, along the lines of Dances With Wolves. We have seen a lot of 'yotes in the last couple of weeks. I see, and hear them from different directions, when we are on our morning walk. Emma even got among a pack and scared the heck out of me a few days ago. They would have her for breakfast, all 68 pounds of her, if there were enough of them to surround her.

Shawna is big enough that she might have a chance, and so far they have been running from her when she charges, barking loudly. Emma has seen this, and thought that she might be tough enough for that too. I heard her bark and watched her run, and when I called her (frantically) she came trailing a couple of coyotes behind her.

We also see coyotes regularly on our rides, and frankly, they are looking very well. Fur in good condition and not rail thin. This afternoon 3 of them came to drink at our water dish, wary but in broad daylight.

February 19, 2009

Cochise Stronghold - East Divide

Another "backyard" hike this week. Again in the nearby Stronghold, but I had never taken this trail; Dan had been there on horseback in a blizzard. The trail is similar to the hike people normally take; this one follows a stream for most of the way, but it lacks the views of the rock formations. And it does get very steep for the last part. I figured I would be going down on my butt part of the way, but it turned out not to be necessary. Beautiful views of the Stronghold and the still-snowy Chiricahuas across the valley when we got higher up.

It is hard for me to believe that Middlemarch Pass is as close to us as it is because it takes about 25 minutes to get there by car and at the end of this hike we stood there looking right at it. The road takes you across the mountains to Tombstone.

There were definite signs of spring along the way: the manzanita was blooming and the perennials, such as the penstemon, are starting new growth close by the ground.

Much to my surprise we met a number of people on the trail. I wonder if the area has been discovered, or whether it was just coincidence. Emma served as "emissary" and greeted everyone heartily, and thankfully everyone was happy to meet her.

February 18, 2009

A not-so-quiet ride

I already decided last week that should I be excused from jury duty (iffy), and should the weather be nice (probably), I would take Buggsy out today to celebrate being done with jury duty for another 2 years. It's the bane of living in a large county with a small population: you can set your watch by the jury summons. Dan and I had both been called already once, so this was my second "tour" of duty.

Our county seat is in Bisbee, a very picturesque (other than the open copper mine) town almost on the Mexican border, 1 1/2 hour's drive from the WD. As last time, I made it to the panel of jurors but was excused (again) when the Public Defender found out that I had served on a jury in Oregon that had found the defendant guilty (DUI) after 15 minutes deliberation. Guess they do not want some lippy female that has an excellent BS detector (as one CEO once described me). Well, now really... when a guy is caught with meth and pot for sale and an arsenal of 8 different types of guns in his truck , should this need deliberation as to his guilt? What a waste of taxpayer's money! But I digress.

Buggs and I went out into the Forest this morning, and all was fine until he smelled, and I saw, a truck and we heard gunshots. I think the guy was just target shooting, or at least let's hope so as this is no hunting season. Poor Buggs freaked. I have encountered this situation with Cody before who also gets a bit wild, but Cody will settle down after awhile. I thought Buggs would too, but no chance. I opened the second gate and he almost jumped into my lap, got caught in the barbed wire but did listen when I tried to calm him so he only has a minor scratch on one foot. Lots of snorting and blowing hard, hard enough for the hunter to hear us.

We continued on our ride, but Buggs could find no peace so we basically trotted through the countryside for 2 hours. Once back home I realized that perhaps he had flashbacks to the time he was lost in the Chiricahuas during hunting season and he had to contend the saddle on his belly for a couple of days. We'll go out again on Friday, with Dan and Bueno, and hopefully all will be well again.

Dan stayed home today to finish his woodworking bench/feed out table, and it is a thing of beauty, as well as of function.

More excitement: we got a new electrical transformer right before lunch. The whole neighborhood is being upgraded. It took less than 30 minutes to switch new for old, so no computer time lost...

February 13, 2009

The other end of the wash

This morning's plan was to see if we could find the spot where we had to turn around on our hike through the wash last week, where it was too overgrown and steep. Try and approach from the other end and from the side. We knew that the wash was dammed higher up as we have explored there on horseback, but it is too steep for horses to skinny down the slope.

We drove part way into the Forest and still found some snow on the northern exposures, but we set out and arrived at our planned point of descent. Well, it is too steep for us too: it's a 100 foot drop straight down.

So we decided to follow the ridge that parallels the wash and see if we could get down at better spot. There were no such places and we soon found ourselves on top of the southern edge of the wash. We walked along it for awhile, cut across and came to the road that runs along the east side of the Dragoons, and that was it. A bit disappointing, after the beautiful and exhilarating start.

February 10, 2009

Afternoon walk

The storm is over (although the wind still blows at 25 mph), and the dogs and I decided we needed fresh air and to get out.

It is amazing how quickly the snow disappears, and how it crunches underfoot while it is melting: there is hardly any slush. Lots of mud though, as Emma can attest; she needed a quick rinse with the hose when we got home. I could not help but put in a picture of our "snowdog", Shawna. She had a ball today.

Here is the ranch "in the dead of winter".

Snow Day!

I had my doubts about the winter storm warning that was issued yesterday. We get all atwitter about the forecasted rain or snow, and then nothing happens. But they were right about this one: it is snow! Our Minnesota friends Bob and Marly are probably laughing, but this is as much snow as I have seen while I have been living here.

Much of it is arriving horizontally, so there are a number of drifts and I had to work to get the front door open this morning. The dogs bolted out to play and after most of the storm is over, around noon they say, I will take them for a walk. I owe it to Shawna - what was I thinking when I brought a Sheppamute to the desert?

I feel for the wildlife and I have already thrown out twice the amount of seed. When I walked around the house to take these pictures, rabbits shot out from underfoot and I even heard birds chirping in the potting bench.

They expect clear skies and temperatures in the 50's tomorrow. We'll be out riding. Meanwhile, I am back to knitting and a cup of hot chocolate.

February 8, 2009

Valley rain, mountain snow

It still happens infrequently enough for me to want to record a "snow event", though it looks like it is almost over as I see blue sky off to the west.

It was interesting to see the animals' reaction when they were let out this morning. Shawna (part malamute): Yeah! Emma (AZ native): Oh no!. Chickens (Ohio born, but Arizona raised): What?? Horses (nice and dry in their stalls): Just fork out the hay, then we'll mud wrestle.

It is going to be a great day to stay inside. I am happy that the beautiful hand-dyed sock yarn I ordered arrived on Friday. I am in, and I am knitting!

February 6, 2009

Hiking the wash

In the spirit of continuing exploration we set out this morning for another hike in our "backyard". It is a rugged place and although we do some "hacking" on horseback, there are places where horses just cannot go: too steep, too rocky, too overgrown. Today's hike had all three of these features. It started off benign enough: it is a wash we do visit with the horses, but we know from experience that on horseback you can only go so far.

Washes are one of my favorite destinations; there is a lot of different vegetation and here the rocks are awesome. The wash runs along a ridge of puddingrock which is a sedimentary rock consisting of all kinds of other rocks. Within one rock you can see purple, pink, white, green, and sometimes the rocks are squeezed like toothpaste.

We knew of this bee hive along the bank as we had seen it on horseback, and even though it is early February, the bees were getting active.

At some points the wash cuts through rather flat surroundings, but the walls are high and crumbly and have caved in, making the going on horseback impossible. We climbed over one such spot where we had to turn around before and came to some cataracts where the water had polished these beautiful rocks. In the summer the water must really thunder through these mountains, but it is so dry and permeable that when you visit the next day there are some puddles, but there is no residual flow.

Just beyond the cataracts the vegetation became too much, so we stopped for a snack and Emma found a perfectly intact small skull of a carnivore. We looked on the Web and agreed it is possibly a small kit fox skull. How cool is that!

February 4, 2009

Behold the gabions

I had no idea what these wire cages filled with rocks that are used in erosion control were called, but they are gabions. Anyway, I finished filling the cages in the driveway with rock this week, about 8 tractor buckets worth. Dan backfilled them and now we are ready for rain. Major rain. None is in the forecast, other than a 40% chance this weekend and should we get some precip, it will not be of the major kind. Most of our year's rainfall comes during "monsoon season" in July and August. So we will have to wait until then to see if our plan worked.

While I schlepped rocks, Dan improved our mounting block (used in getting on a horse, for any non-horse people out there). It was originally built on the guest ranch model where 2 horses could be led along the platform to make getting onto the horse easier for the guests. It was kind of a railway platform. Somehow our smaller model had a plywood deck, which of course did not drain at all and the paint was flaking off. So, we repurposed some 2x6 timbers and left some gaps to prevent rain from collecting. I had to talk Shawna and Emma into posing to make the picture a little more interesting.

February 1, 2009

It is that time of year

I spent the morning puttering in the yard. There are signs of spring already and though I was tempted, I left the pruning shears in the potting shed. Some of the plants had already been pruned, or I should say nipped, anyway. My goal is to keep the yard "native", or at least use only plants that can survive in our climate without any babying (drip irrigation excluded). So far my strategy is working well, but it is difficult sometimes to find those hardy specimens. It is not just the climate they get to contend with, it is the wildlife too.

Initially we thought about building a wall around the yard, but it is a sizable piece of real estate and it would be spendy as well as a Big Job. Besides, we love the uninterrupted view, and the wildlife that comes and visits to eat or drink. I should have bought stock in the chicken wire manufacturing business though. As new plants are added they get a cage of chicken wire to protect them from rabbits until they are established. That deters all of the cottontails and most of the jack rabbits. Once the plants outgrow the cage, or they seem to be doing well enough, I remove the cage.

The plants at the border of the yard, closest to the native vegetation, suffer the most. I thought the rhus microphylla was big enough after a year of two to make it on its own, but to my dismay I noticed that its bark is getting eaten. So, a new cage was constructed this morning, and others that had their branches pruned were protected again too. But I can't help but feel for the animals as there is very little other green to be nibbled.

Exciting news! About half the seeds I planted have sprouted. They are spending the days in the open cold frame (it is almost 70 degrees during the day) but are brought to the laundryroom every evening.