January 31, 2010

Stronghold entry

With the wet weather that we have been having this past week (we are at 3.31" for the year!), we decided that doing our usual Sunday morning Stronghold hike was probably not a good idea. I heard that the Stronghold got more than 4" of rain, and that the creek was running. It is a protected and sheltered trail going up, and it would undoubtedly be soupy and slick.

So we opted for my current favorite hike: over Deer Saddle for the spectacular Stronghold entry view, and we took Cindy with us who had not yet been up there to be wowed. We went up the hill just east of Deer Saddle to get the full impact of the magnificent view.

Then walked back down and explored the rim of the wall. I was not surprised to still see puddles, but some of them were deep enough for Emma to cool off in. Down below we could see water running that must have come from the waterfall. The grass is already greening up, and signs of spring are evident if you look close enough.

Even the walk home is beautiful, though it lacks some of the rocky grandeur.

January 29, 2010

New calves

When I came home from the morning walk, I heard a cow bellow. That is a bit unusual because the nearest herd is next to Cindy's, about a mile away as the crow flies. I did not think much more about it until I talked to Cindy who reported that "the cows next door had their babies, and they are so cute!".

It had all begun when the gate that we used to ride through was locked, then some cows and an old horse moved in. The horse, whom Cindy called Helen, started spending time with Cindy's mares, and it was not long before Helen was being fed alfalfa and quality bermuda along with Pearl, Jazz and Sophie.

Then, this morning, the new calves. I ran over to take a look and some pictures, and these cows are the best-looking Arizona cows that I have seen. Even the bull was nice looking and decent to his "girls". Of course the calves were as cute as they can be. Some of them were born a couple of days ago, but there definitely were newborns too.

Later this morning Cindy got to talk with the cows' and Star's (the old mustang mare) owner, and no wonder these cows look so good: they are all pets and all have names! These are the luckiest, and happiest, cows/calves in the county: loved by their owner and getting additional love and feed from Cindy.

January 27, 2010

Making the most of the morning

What with one thing or another it felt like it had been a long time since we went for a walk "outback". Another storm system is due to move in later today, so Dan suggested we take a quick turn around Blacktail Hill, which is only a 90 minute or so hike.

I have done this circumnavigation on horseback before, only once because it is quite rugged on the north side. Here, the north and west sides of the mountains have trees and dense, thorny shrubbery, whereas the south and east sides are exposed and grassy. It reminded me of a backpack trip we took on my 30th birthday, around Mt Hood. We thought that once we were at timberline, it would be a piece of cake as we could stay at the same elevation. We had not counted on all those major canyons coming from glaciers... But the washes off Blacktail are not of that magnitude, thankfully, and it does not take 3 days to go around.

We walked counterclockwise, getting the brushy part over with first, and the view as you come around to the south side is breathtaking. We got sprinkled on a little, and barely made it home before a squall hit the house. But we got the stalls cleaned before everything turned into a soggy mess again.

January 25, 2010


It was 23 degrees this morning, and before sun up a hummingbird came to the feeder. I leave one feeder up all year, just for this kind of occasion. Lore here has it that you should take down your feeder after the migration to discourage any stragglers from wanting to hang around. I have since learned that Ma Nature (aka the migration instinct) is a lot stronger than some sugar water, and that a feeder may help some bird in need. I was surprised that this little guy did not seem too stressed: he drank, but did take his time to take in his surroundings too.

I remember one sighting in the Oregon while I was taking a walk in sleet (if you don't get out because of wet weather, you'll never get out), and seeing a hummer perched in the top of a pine. Poor, miserable, little bird. I had not realized that if a bird does not migrate, it is trapped because it cannot abandon its known feeding source: there is no longer a support system on the way down.

Today this little story from Liberty Wildlife arrived about a lucky hummingbird who did an "auto-migration". How apropos. http://www.libertywildlife.org/jan10_hummingbirds.asp

January 23, 2010

Cochise's horse? Not!

During one of her afternoon rides Cindy had come upon some exposed bones and she was dying to find out what it was as it was definitely buried. (Cows are not awarded that respect here). Was it a mastodon? One had been dug up on the Willcox Playa nearby not all that long ago. Was it a pterodactyl? Was it Cochise's horse? After all the burial site was right in front of the Cochise Stronghold.

The weather turned colder today and this morning there were numerous snow flurries, but not enough to make anything stick on the valley floor. So this afternoon we decided to brave the wind, took a few tools with us and a model horse skeleton I have to help identify should it be a horse, and Emma. The Stronghold looked beautiful with the new snow.

Unfortunately, it looked like it had been a recent burial, or really hardly a burial at all. The animal had just been dumped in a sizable wash and dirt had been pushed over it. What was exposed was the neck where the head was attached to the spine, but we did not know that at first. It soon became apparent though, and Cindy recognized that it was a horse skeleton. We dug enough to get the spine down to the ribs and exposed most of the head. We had to acknowledge the shallowness of the site and had to dismiss the Cochise's horse theory. Someone probably was too lazy to dig a hole for his faithful steed and had rudely disposed of it.

We said we were sorry, and covered him back up.

January 22, 2010

It is very wet

It looks like this will be an Oregon-type of day: it has a hard time getting light. Here it is 7 am and there is barely a glimmer of dawn. It has been raining most of the night and so far our weather station has measured 1.42 inches today. For the year we are over 2.5 inches! The storm was preceded by very high winds last night and although we were able to secure the items we usually move during windy times, such as the picnic table and chairs and some plants, we have sustained some damage. The bird feeder stand is down, and our ranch sign was blown off the barn.

Bueno and Cody must think they are back in the PNW. Buggsy, who generally enjoys wet weather, has sought higher ground in his stall and I noticed he was mostly dry, so this weather must be even a bit much for him. Frankly, I am glad for this major soak of the desert, which has been in need of moisture for quite awhile.

Now I will just wait until we have some more light and I can go out and take pictures. I had planned to go to Tucson to go grocery shopping but more rain, and snow, is in the forecast so I decided to wuss out and make do through the weekend. It's not that we will be going hungry. And yes, our health is, most thankfully, back to normal.

A little later. The dogs were itching to go for a walk after having been cooped up for a couple of days, so we went. It was refreshing: the desert smelled great and afforded a different perspective with all the bare branches wet and black. The only thing is the dry-off routine when we got home ... It is a bit of a struggle with Emma who is not used to being rinsed and dried, and Shawna, though she remembers well, is not a great fan of the procedure. Thankfully I kept at least part of our stack of doggie towels.

January 21, 2010


So much for living a charmed life (still true though). Dan and I got some food poisoning, and I suspect the peapods in Tuesday's dinner. Dan was up most of the night, and I was 12 hours behind. Man, were we sick!

Since my childhood I have not spent a whole day sick in bed, but yesterday I slept or was in the bathroom. Dan is back to normal today, and I am looking forward to being taken care of as this does not happen very often. Meanwhile, I don't think I can manage anything more than moving my fingers over the keyboard and brushing my teeth. But I do believe I belong to the living, though I feel whipped and old. Your health is everything.

January 19, 2010

I lead a charmed life

Cindy and I have been riding quite a bit in the afternoons. I take out Cody because we feel he is in need of work. That horse is spoiled, in a getting-his-lazy-way kind of spoiled. And guess who is to blame? Well, never mind. Cindy has three mares and a gelding and two of the mares think that Cody is "A Love". Especially her youngest, Sophie, appears to be quite smitten and there is a lot of heavy breathing on the trail. We now call Cody "Sophie's Boy".

But yesterday I got a reality check. I don't know whether Cody thinks that he has had to work too much, or whether he is complaining about his bit (we don't see any reason why he should), but at one of the washes we crossed, he reared on the up-side. And I came off. No harm done: landed on my butt. Got right back on and we continued our ride as if nothing had happened.

When I got home I found I had lost the cell phone, which had been clipped to my jeans. After Cindy accompanied me home on a different horse, she backtracked our ride but did not find it.

So this morning, under threatening skies, Dan and I walked our 4 mile horse loop backwards, and we did find the phone! I thought I might have lost it where I came off the horse, but it was way at the beginning of our ride. It was just starting to rain a bit, but after seeing Cindy who was walking her dogs, and giving her the good news, we did make it home before more rain fell. It looks like a good afternoon to curl up with a book, and Emma, on the couch. The forcast is for "rainy weather" the rest of the week.

January 16, 2010

WOW (Wings Over Willcox)

This weekend is the yearly birding festival in our nearby town. People do come from all over the nation for WOW, and although we have visited the exhibits and booths before, this was our first year on a field trip.

We chose the Half-Day Hawk Stalk because we see so many raptors in our valley, and we have a difficult time telling one kind from another, leave alone members within a family. We had to be in Willcox at 7 am, a feat for us who don't set an alarm any more, but we made it.

There were 3 vans, and ours had only 1 person besides us, the guide and the driver. We went north of Willcox and had a great time sighting the various raptors, as well as other birds. On our way back the guide was able to check off 27 different bird species including a bald eagle, several thousand sandhill cranes (these are the main attraction for the WOW festival), numerous redtailed hawks and ferruginous hawks, a couple of prairie falcons, a northern harrier, and many other species that we find around the house here and that other people stopped the vans for: white-crowned sparrows, scaled quail (we feed them by the hundred), a roadrunner (we have one roost in the barn every night), a canyon towhee, curved-bill thrashers. It made me realize again that we live in a very special place.

One of the exhibit attractions for me is Liberty Wildlife, a rehabilitation organization from Scottsdale that brings birds to see up close and personal. This is the first year I have seen them bring a bald eagle.

January 13, 2010


Before we had the new GPS we had been speculating whether the wash that is dammed is the same wash that we ride through on our windmill ride. We picked today to find out. There is a small weather system moving in, so it was mostly cloudy but that did not deter us.

We started out from the house, walking our windmill horse trail backwards and after 2.5 miles ended up in the wash. There is lots of evidence of drought as dead vegetation has fallen in and there are a number of cave-ins to be climbed. This is a good thing because I doubt that the beautiful, huge honeycomb (above Dan's head) would still be there if the ubiquitous ATVs could get far enough up stream. But, thankfully, it is still there and the bees were huddled due to the lack of sun today.

We got out of the wash temporarily and climbed the bank because it became truly impassable, and I was afraid we had lost "our" wash altogether but the GPS showed we picked it up again later. The going got very rough, but the rocks were amazing. There was one dike of green rock that divided a huge slab of purple slate. Just gorgeous. The picture below does not do it justice.

We have been here long enough now to recognize some of the landmarks and climbed out of the wash thinking that we must be close to the dam, and we were! Dan crossed it; it was dry on both sides, but I did a controlled slide and walked through the dry lake.

It was a long hike, 7.3 miles, and we are both feeling it, but it was, as always, well worth it. And we now know that although people may have ridden their horses through the wash from the dam to the windmill in the past, there is no way we can do that today. Too much brush, too many cave-ins.

January 11, 2010

Another Monday

Monday morning is a prime time to realize our fortunate situation. We can just saddle up a couple of horses, ride out the back gate and explore the National Forest. No staff meetings, no disgruntled email from some field office somewhere in the world to get the week off to a roaring start. Besides, this is January: the interminable month of darkness and wet in Oregon, but not in Arizona. It may be cold in the mornings, but it's mostly sunny, and in the 50's by midday.

Although I have not blogged in a couple of days, we have been busy. We hiked Blacktail again, to show Cindy, did the Sunday "conditioning" hike in the Stronghold, and I have been riding a couple of times. It is winter though, and I keep hoping to come across some critter subject to blog about, but everything is pretty much shut down. Some bees are coming out, unfortunately, because they do not survive the frosty night, but other than the coyotes coming to drink regularly and the cottontails and jack rabbits, there is not a lot of wildlife. Even the bird population is down to finches (gold and house), towhees and the Say's phoebe. There are a lot of quail coming to feed, but no unusual sightings.

This being the beginning of the year, we have identified some projects around the ranch, and we'll get going on those tomorrow. We will be doing a stall remodel first: new footing, added protection from the wind, and improve the water situation. Stay tuned.

January 7, 2010

Around Blacktail

Today was Anneke's weekly shopping trip to Tucson, so Emma and I decided to hike around Blacktail hill. We have ridden our horses around the hill a couple of times, but it was always a challenge. There are numerous washes and some very dense brush. The thought was that by going on foot, I could explore a little more and find the best routes.

We were partially successful. The brush is very thick, but we found a game trail that might work out with some judicious pruning. After all, deer are not as tall as a horse and rider.

Still, Emma had a grand romp and the views a spectacular. But, as usual, pictures just can't capture the grandeur.

January 6, 2010


I have a new friend and riding partner. Cindy is moving into the neighborhood from Vermont, via South Carolina and Tucson, and, in my opinion, she is a Horsewoman. The first time we met she loaned me this wonderful, and light, saddle, which I have been riding ever since.

We have been out together a couple of times: once she showed us new country out by her place, two miles from us, and Dan and I showed her a couple of trails in the National Forest.

Cindy has 4 horses, who all get exercised very regularly. This will be a good incentive for me this winter to put some miles on Cody, and give him more experience. I think our riding styles and philosophy on horse keeping are very similar, and I look forward to many miles in the saddle with Cindy.

January 4, 2010

Up and down Blacktail (5482 ft)

Our destination on this lovely Monday morning was Blacktail. We have hiked to the top a number of times, or at least Dan has, but not with our new GPS. Note that I write "hiked", whereas previously I wrote "climbed". This means I must be getting used to these steep hillsides. This is the first time that I really got to the very top, where there is a jar and a pencil and paper so you can record your feat. I must admit that I did have to hum loudly to get up those last 15 feet of big rocks, a sign that I am truly freaked out.

It is interesting that the south side of the hill, from which we approach leaving from our back door, is all sedimentary pudding rock, with spectacular veins of red, white, and yellow, but the steeper north west side which we used for our descent is all red sandstone. Another notch in our GPS belt, and another hike recorded on Google Earth.

January 3, 2010

Flash visits

Our niece, Shannon, made a quick stopover with her fiance yesterday after having spent New Year's with Jon's parents in Scottsdale. Dan was just about to go and get the mail when they arrived and it took little convincing on my part to get Shannon on Bueno to ride down to the mailbox (1.5 miles). It was fun to see her loping along, with Dan on Cody behind, puffing mightily. When they got back Dan took Jon and Bueno to the National Forest, but they quickly returned at sundown.

We had a nice, though too brief, visit. We are looking forward to more riding and hiking with those two.

Here was another flash visit. I don't think this coyote belongs to one of our neighborhood packs, but she was so thirsty. She came by again today.

We spent the rest of today putting Christmas away. I am ready to get on with the year, and my routine. I must be getting old ... I do wonder when I put the ornaments away what life will be like when I unwrap them again. Will life still be as wonderful?

January 2, 2010


We finished the driveway project today: the sign is up. There may be more driveway improvements in the future because parts of it get washed out when we have a lot of rain, but for the time being, this is it.

And just in time too for Shannon and Jon's arrival.

January 1, 2010

Saddle 5252, aka Deer Saddle

First blog of the week, first blog of the month, first blog of the year, the decade! Heck, first hike of the decade! Having left the neighborhood New Year's Eve party as early as decently possible, we woke up early and I walked the dogs in full moon light, with the sun coming up at the same time. Pretty special.

After breakfast we set out to our favorite close-by hike, the rounded hill and saddle that we see from our front window. We did not want to go too far and miss the Rose Bowl game, with the Oregon Ducks playing the Ohio State Buckeyes this afternoon.

We followed some deer tracks up and actually spooked a couple of them. The view from that hill into the Stronghold is spectacular. I have been looking for fossils on every hike and I think that I found petrified wood at a couple of places on this hill.

We opted to follow the rockface to the southwest and found the tops of some big waterfalls that we have seen from below. Or perhaps I should say that when it does rain, during the monsoon season, the water rushing over these rockfaces must be spectacular. A whole new set of hillsides opened up, inviting us to explore more. Better do this in the winter because these hillsides are very exposed and will be hot soon. Great start to the decade.