November 30, 2009

Winter storm warning

At first blush/dawn, it appeared that the hype about the Weather System was, as usual, greatly exaggerated. It did rain last night, almost 0.25", and there is snow in the surrounding mountains, but the sun was mostly out and during the morning walk I had to take off my jacket.

But right now there is a cold, northerly breeze blowing and it is partly cloudy, so I am inside rather than gathering rocks for the driveway entry which was my first plan. Dan is in the shop making the forms for the driveway project and I hope to get going on cementing rocks perhaps later this week. But then, there is riding and hiking to be done, and this week is the trek to Tucson for groceries ...

The cactus wren is still working on his nest. I may be totally wrong on assuming that it is a nest. Perhaps it is a downy and feathery place to spend the night. The curvebill thrasher has been by to pull part of it out of the roost, and the roadrunner was eyeing it from the porchlight. Would he really think that there are eggs in there? Perhaps it is just wishful thinking.

The stalls are a mess, the only drawback after rain (oh bless Arizona, after Oregon), as are the horses. Buggsy, as the true desert horse, had some trepidations in getting out of his stall as there was a puddle in front of his gate ... (yuck, in horse language). Never mind that he will be rolling in mud momentarily.

November 29, 2009

Hiking in the rain

After Thanksgiving we both felt the need for some exercise; not that we overdid the food, but being inside and sitting is fine for a only a day or so. A weather system moved in however (yeah!), and when we left the house for our Sunday Stronghold hike, it sprinkled.

When we left the car at the campground parking lot, it rained. But hey, we are Oregonians, and it's not that we have never hiked in the rain before. Good thing we kept those Gore-Tex rain jackets. We told ourselves to go home if it was still raining at the 1/2 mile point, but by then it was clearing already. I still have to learn that once it starts raining here, it does not mean that it will be raining for days as in the PNW: it is just a shower.

We made it to the top, most of it in dry conditions, and it was wonderful to see the place liven up from just a few drops. The plants seemed to all be standing up straight, enjoying the moisture, all the colors intensified, and the rocks turned green from the lichen opening up.

At home the sky turned dark again and we quickly cleaned the stalls before a hail shower hit, accompanied by thunder. Tomorrow there is more moisture in the forecast, and lower temperatures. I am looking forward to a fire in the fireplace.

November 26, 2009

Being thankful

Thanksgiving is a good holiday. I have so much to be thankful for. I do my best to be thankful every day and appreciate my being so very privileged, but it is good having a day set aside for this.

I am thankful for my health, and for the health of those I love. I am thankful for friends and family, for having this incredible life style in this beautiful place. I am thankful for not having worries about things I can do something about. I am thankful for having my belly full every day. I am thankful for having choices.

I guess I could go on for awhile ...

Meanwhile, dinner at the WD is well on its way, and the kitchen is smelling great. We have friends to come and join us, and I threw out extra seed for our outside critters. Life is Good.

I hope that your Thanksgiving is a happy and healthy one also.

For the ultimate in optimism, here is a picture of a cactus wren building a nest in one of the porch roosts. What is this bird thinking? Spring is around the corner?

November 25, 2009

No transportation required

It was another day for exploration, and our destination was a hill, or rather a saddle between two hills, that we look out on from our livingroom window. So, we walked out our backdoor and just made a beeline across the bajada for it.

I am either getting more used to hiking on 45 degree slopes, or this was not as scary as some of the other hillsides we have been on. We spooked a deer who showed us the way up, and apparently this is where the deer hang out: lots of trails and poop.

The saddle rewarded us with a spectacular view into the Stronghold, not unexpected, but breathtaking nonetheless. We decided to climb the lower of the two hills and it gave us a great view of the valley and the WD.

We even found an ocotillo in bloom on the top, and had some great Stronghold views through a rock outcropping.

Going down is as much of a challenge for me as going up because my eyes are on Dan's shoes and I end up having to stop a lot to pick up interesting looking rocks. We came home with our hands full, including what looks to be a piece of pure iron ore, to be viewed through the microscope and displayed in the coffee table.

What a great hike, and one that we will certainly do again.

November 24, 2009

Around the ranch this morning

The driveway entry project is a bit slow: this year we seem to be more into hiking and riding than projects. Frankly, I really enjoy both the recreation and the working. But today we decided to pour the footings for the driveway entry sign. It was a little job, and it certainly helps to have the right tools. Next will be the building of some wooden frames to provide the support for the rock work. It will be a new adventure.

I also potted up some native plants that I bought in the nursery yesterday. I have had to move the summer plants by the entry into more protected environs because none of them are freeze hardy, but the entry without any plants was just too bare. These guys are more robust as well as nice looking, and I decided that I may just keep the Aleppo pine by the front door until he outgrows his pot.

Meanwhile, this is what horses do after breakfast. I think that Bueno and Cody still remember Oregon where they would be standing knee-deep in mud this time of year. They had better rest up because one of them is going out this afternoon ...

November 19, 2009

Approach routes

Dan had been intrigued by some trails coming off the road to the Stronghold, and we decided to explore them today. These trails, or rather tracks, are rough, but Subie always seems to be up to the task. They all head toward the rock walls that make up the north side of the canyon and are used by the rock climbers.

No sooner had we started on our exploration and another car limped up with a couple of California climbers who were looking for ways up the walls. We talked for awhile and learned that the Stronghold is becoming increasingly popular with the rock climbing crowd: there were even some climbers from France in the campground. Mmm, do I see a business opportunity...? A little B and B, rent them gear, ... may be not.

Unfortunately, the hiking in the area is limited: all trails quickly end at some sheer cliff, but we poked around what we could, and even found yet another abandoned mine.

We can say that we have explored there and real hiking is limited, but that the scenery is spectacular.

November 17, 2009

Strawbale house update

A lot of work has been done on the strawbale house since the ceiling was installed. Dave and Barbara have kicked some serious butt, and are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

There is a toilet in the powder room, the walls have all been plastered and are in the process of being sealed with flour paste, the adobe floor has been put down, and light fixtures have been hung. And, a small wall heater has been installed that is coming in handy on mornings like today when it is 27 degrees at sunrise.

The place, still needing an official name, is looking great! It is going to be a very cozy and functional house. But should any of you think about undertaking a similar project, be sure to talk to Dave and Barbara first.

The back gate

We have worn a discernible path from the back of our property to the National Forest boundary over the last couple of years. We just ride through a hole that we cut in our back fence, and away we go, across State land and there we are.

However, this being hunting season, there are a lot more people in the Forest, most of them on ATVs. (Did you know that deer are attracted to them?). We don't want people to assume that because there is a path and a hole in the fence, it is ok to come onto our place. Arizona is a "fence-out" state, where it is your responsibility to keep animals and people off your property if you so desire: no fence, it's a free for all.

So, we repaired the fence and put up a small gate today, easily opened from horseback. And, if you are a reader of this blog, of course you are authorized to use it.

November 14, 2009

Little front

We are having some weather pass through: yesterday was windy, today it is cooler and we had a little shower this afternoon. Frankly, it is a cold 52 degrees. We should build a fire in the fireplace! Except, we still have the front door open all day ...

I just could not pass up taking a picture of this gorgeous rainbow, and my once white horse, who loves to roll in mud. Will I ever be able to ride him again?

November 12, 2009

Blacktail, Again...

Today Anneke was forced to do one of her marathon grocery trips, and perform other minor, but neccessary chores in Tucson. So Emma and I decided to do a conditioning hike up Blacktail Hill again. Blacktail is conveniently located, so we just walk out the back of the property and straight up into the National Forest.

This time, I wanted to try a different approach route that I had been looking at on our horseback rides. From the valley below, it looked very inviting. As I got closer, it became obvious that it wouldn't work. Near the top, the incline became almost vertical. So we chose the next ridge over, thinking it would be easier. Ha!

It soon became apparent that Emma and I were going to get our step-aerobics in for the day. Halfway up, we realized how tough it was going to be, but we were committed. Also, we heard a vehicle on the forest access road. Looking down, we could see a Border Patrol truck and agent looking back up at us. It was obvious that we were locals, since illegals don't normally bring their yellow labs with them. However, it was just as obvious that I couldn't chicken out and had to complete the climb or be totally embarassed in front of a government agent.

The climb was still worth the effort. We spooked a couple of deer (always good to see after hunting season is over), but they were too quick for me to get a picture. However, I did find this ocotillo growing straight out of a rock.

Eventually, we got to the top and took a brief water break. For variety, we chose to descend the backside (west side) of Blacktail which I had climbed about a year ago. I must be losing my memory, or I would never have done it. I should have remembered about the treacherous footing on the way down. It is very steep, about a 30-45 degree angle, and covered with baseball size rocks that are a slippery as ball bearings. Emma got fed up with my lack of trail blazing skills, and with great disgust, showed me the proper route to take.

Eventually, we made it home. Now we are both taking inventory of various aches and pains, thinking how bad they will be tomorrow, and thinking how lucky we are to be able to do this whenever we desire.

November 9, 2009


Not Buggsy, who is so named because it looks like he is covered with bugs, but the real thing. I often find insects in the birdbath when I refresh it every morning, and their variety never ceases to amaze me. I am overwhelmed by the identification process: I wish I had had a little more biology education.

But, there is help. I found this great website ( It is an exhaustive collection with enough information to fill a library it seems, but rather than having to muddle through, you can submit an ID request. I have found the volunteers very helpful and knowledgeable, and I usually get a response within hours of my question.

Here is a wasp (ichneumon wasp [subfam. Ophioninae]) that I found in the birdbath yesterday. He was swimming for all he was worth, but thankfully recovered quickly once I fished him out and let him dry on a nearby plant. And I thought he might be a dragonfly of some sort ...

This is a moth (Hemileuca juno) that clung to the screen door this morning. What a hairdo!

Love that Web!

November 8, 2009

Great day

November may be my favorite month here: perfect temperatures, day and night. But then, I do love monsoon season too, and September and October are beautiful, and winter ..., and spring ....

It being Sunday we went back to the Stronghold for our hike, and it was gorgeous with the sycamores having turned color. What a perfect way to spend a morning! On our way down we met Walter and Hanni with some Swiss friends on horseback. They were surprised we were already on our way home.

Surprisingly, we also saw this tarantula male along the trail. We generally just see these spiders during the monsoon season.

November 1, 2009

The ugly chicken

Egg production has fallen off during the last month. This is normal because the days are getting shorter. But also, the hens are getting older. This means larger eggs, but fewer of them. And to top it all off, they were molting. This is a good thing really, because some hens, especially the smaller black ones, were practically bald from bigger hens picking at them and pulling feathers. Did I mention that chickens are not very nice creatures?

Anyway, this molt, two of the what-I-called-plucked black chickens have feathered out nicely and have gone from "the ugly black one" to Black Beauty. Also one of the 3 Auracanas (which are my favorite chickens because they are friendly, and not mean to others) has become a beauty. This one's name is Goldy, of course.

There is still one black hen growing new feathers. Talk about ugly! She is very shy right now of all other chickens because they are inclined to pull on those blood-filled new quills, so it is difficult to get a picture of her. But, probably sometime next week, she will be the next Black Beauty.