"Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last post."
Yep. I have been here in Green Valley for 2 months now and have not put one page together. That has to be some kinda record for me while "on the road". Maybe because being here doesn't feel like I am on the road. Being here in a two bedroom house with Betsy and her dad makes it feel a bit like being at home and not a road trip. And that's cause it ain't!
But, spending 3 months in the Sonoran desert surrounded by mountains is certainly worth reporting on. So I need to get to it.
So where exactly are we? The Google terrain map below will give you an idea.
Green Valley, which is about 25 miles south of Tucson is primarily a retirement community.
"In the early 1960s a retirement village was begun at this location and named descriptively because of its overlooking agriculture in the valley. By 1982 it had developed into a sizable retirees' community." - Barnes, Will C.; Granger, Byrd (ed.) Arizona Place Names
So, why did we end up in Green Valley for our trial run as snow birds? Simple: Sunshine and warm weather.
Now, don't get me wrong. It can be a bit chilly here in South AZ during the winter. In fact, when I arrived here in December I was greeting with sustained, howling winds, and then nearly a whole month of on and off rain and cloudy weather.
Everyone was talking about it - even the Weather Channel. For this area to get 2-3" of rain in December is a bit unusual. And, there were many mornings in December when the temps dropped into the mid 20s and the daily highs were a cloudy and often wet 50s.
And, to top it off, there was more than one day when it was warmer in Morgantown than here in Green Valley. Not exactly what I had hoped for!
But, that rain did put a lot of snow on the surrounding mountains, including the Santa Ritas.
The Santa Rita Mountains, which we can see from the front porch did indeed have significant snow. And here is the proof:
Betsy and her dad were not due to arrive until January 2nd so Betsy decided to fly out for a week in December so we could spend the time together.
On December the 14th Betsy and I decided to go for a hike on the Kent Springs Trail in the Santa Rita Mts.
A few miles up the trail we started to see snow and by the end of the hike our heads were literally in the clouds. This was a 6 mile out and back hike with a starting elevation 4880' and the high point 6640'. By the time we reached the end of the trail we were hiking in about 5" of snow.
Being novitiates to winter hiking in these here parts we had not been expecting any snow this "low" on the mountain. And, I was wearing Chaco sandals and socks only. I didn't have any trekking poles either. Betsy fared better with her new Keen hiking boots and Black Diamond poles.
The poles really helped Betsy a lot coming back down off the mountain. And, as I slipped on the snow and mud on the way back down I was sure wishing for a set of my own poles. Live and learn...
BTW - Mt Lemmon, which is in the Catalina Mountains on the east side of Tucson got over 5 feet of snow during December.
Betsy and I took several other hikes during her week here in December. But, I will report on them later. For now, let's see what we have been seeing in Green Valley.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
This shot through the windshield of the van is on December 1st. The day the shit hit the fan in Green Valley. The later part of November had been in the 70s and sunny but these guys were not ready to give up their coffee klatch just because it was windy, barely in the 50s and spitting rain. Hearty bunch these Robust Elderly!
Me? I sat in the van and had my coffee.
On a sunny afternoon the Green Valley "Grey Panthers" were out in force to proclaim "We can't let the 1% (Rosemont Mine) take 99% of our drinking water."
The Rosemont mine being referred to is a proposed open pit copper mine on the east side of the Santa Rita mountains.
The mine will bury approximately 6,400 acres of desert under tailings (mine spoil).
Additionally the mine will cause the total loss of animal habitat from burial and the degradation of 145,000 acres that include wildlife corridors and loss of riparian habitat. And, 70-foot reduction in groundwater levels in Sahuarita and Green Valley is projected based on the mine's estimated use of 1.75 billion gallons annually.
All so the ore can be shipped to Danish, German and Swiss investors. Wonderful.
Some views of the Santa Rita Mountains as seen from our Green Valley casa.
This sunrise as seen from our front porch has proved to be atypical.
This is more like what we see most mornings. We can sit inside with our coffee and watch the mountains slowly brightened and the silhouette grow sharper until finally the sun lights up the livingroom.
The full moons here are incredible and one can walk around outside without the aid of any artificial light.
A look down the street we live on. It is very quiet here, a good place to come back to after visiting busy, noisy Tucson.
On the other side of the street, just a few hundred yards away is a hardened drainage corridor. We can walk down this to the Anza Trail which runs along the Santa Cruz River. This in turn allows access to a series of easements which make excellent walking paths and wildlife corridors.
All of these easements run along side the man made washes which direct water runoff into the river.
The easements and banks of the washes are nicely treed so there are always birds around.
A look at two of the man made washes with walking easements on both sides. This drains into the Santa Cruz River.
Note the snow on the distant Santa Rita Mts.
This wash continues on under the interstate. I use this to sneak under and get access to the other side, as do others.
This is the Anza trail along the Santa Cruz River. The trail is diverted to the riverbed itself when it skits around areas such as golf courses.
It is flanked by nice sized Mesquite and Palo verde trees. Since this area was developed 50 years ago, some are quite large.
This corridor, along with the walking easements are used to bury utilities.
There are no overhead utility lines in Green Valley - at least in residential areas. This adds greatly to the open, spacious feel of the desert environment.
This is looking back up one of the man made washes which extends from the trail to the street.
The row of houses which abut the Anza trail have very deep lots - for the most part. So, one does not see houses jammed right up against the river and the trail. Many of these deep lots have been landscaped using native plants. This photo shows one of these lots.
This is a nice stand of Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) which is on the edge of one of the house lots. It effectively hides/obscures the house from the trail.
Just about everything in the Sonoran desert has "stickers", spines, prickles or needles. The Teddy bear cholla is no exception.
Thorns are modified branches or stems. They may be simple or branched.
Spines are modified leaves, stipules, or parts of leaves, such as extensions of leaf veins.
Prickles are comparable to hairs but can be quite coarse (for example Rose prickles), i.e. they are extensions of the cortex and epidermis.
We have seen two of these home observatories here. The night sky here is usually crystal clear and the celestial bodies are quite stunning.
This is Walking Stick or Cane Cholla. It is also found along the walking easements and Anza Trail.
I don't quite get the name "Cane Cholla" as it looks like no cane I have ever seen.
Where there are fruits there were flowers. I would love to stay here for the year and see all the desert beauties in bloom.
The "jumping cholla" name comes from the ease with which the stems detach when brushed, giving the impression that the stem jumped. Often the merest touch will leave a person with bits of cactus hanging on their clothes to be discovered later when either sitting or leaning on them. The ground around a mature plant will often be covered with dead stems, and young plants are started from stems that have fallen from the adult. They attach themselves to desert animals and are dispersed for short distances. Source: WikiPedia
A number of the homes which abut the Anza trail have formal entrances to the back of their properties.
Note the coyote silhouettes in the gate and in the background.
One of the interesting plants which is common along the trail is this mistletoe. It grows in some of the Palo verde trees.
Mistletoe takes a long time to kill a tree but certainly causes decline. Mistletoe infections cause swelling and witches' brooms. Old severe infections may result in swollen areas of dead wood that are brittle and break easily. These limbs should be removed if they pose any danger. Source: UofA Extension Plant Pathology
Weird looking plant.
Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several families in the order Santalales. These plants grow attached to and penetrating within the branches of a tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which they absorb nutrients from the host plant.
The seeds are excreted in their droppings and stick to twigs, or more commonly the bird grips the fruit in its bill, squeezes the sticky coated seed out to the side, and then wipes its bill clean on a suitable branch. The seeds are coated with a sticky material called viscin (containing both cellulosic strands and mucopolysaccharides), which hardens and attaches the seed firmly to its future host.
Once a mistletoe plant has established itself on a branch, the usual treatment is to prune away the branch if it is a small one. However, it usually is possible to save a valuable branch by judicial removal of the wood invaded by the haustorium if the infection is caught early enough. Some species of mistletoe can regenerate if pruning leaves any of the haustorium alive in the wood.
This is the hardened path adjacent to the Anza trail which follows the river for a short ways.
A look at the wall which supports and channels the river bank. We have heard reports of bobcats, coyotes and javelinas being seen in the wash on a regular basis.
This is looking east across the dry river bed toward the pecan groves and Quail Creek sub-division.
Road runners are common in the Green Valley area. I surprised this one and it took off - running.
Roadrunners are in the Cuckoo family and are ground foragers. So far I have seen a roadrunner in flight only once.
Now for some street scenes.
This house is just a few blocks from us. I love these Golden Barrel cactus!
The smaller cacti at the base and on top are referred to as "pups". Pretty cool.
Echinocactus grusonii is a well known species of cactus native to central Mexico from San Luis Potosi to Hidalgo. Described by Heinrich Hildmann in 1891, it is popularly known as the Golden Barrel Cactus, Golden Ball or, amusingly, Mother-in-Law's Cushion. It belongs to the small genus Echinocactus, which together with the related genus Ferocactus, are commonly referred to as barrel cacti.
Growing as a large roughly spherical globe, it may eventually reach over a metre in height after many years. There may be up to 35 pronounced ribs in mature plants, though they are not evident in young plants, which may have a knobbly appearance. Note: Younger Golden Barrels do not look similar to the mature ones. The sharp spines are long, straight or slightly curved, and various shades of yellow or, occasionally, white. Small yellow flowers appear in summer around the crown of the plant, but only after twenty years or so.
A newer planting of small Golden Barrel cactus.
In February 2011 there were near record lows in the Tucson/Green Valley area. The sustained freeze caused significant damage to many unprotected plants like the Organ Pipe cactus shown here. The styrofoam cups offer some protection against the freezing of the growing tips.
During my stay here in December there were many nights when the temps dipped into the 20s. Frosty!
|LOCATION February 2011||Forecast Low||All Time Record Low||Record Date|
|Tucson||18º||17º||Feb. 7, 1899|
|Douglas||10º||10º||Feb. 3, 1972|
|Sierra Vista||16º||7º||Feb. 26, 1912|
|Willcox||11º||2º||Feb. 22, 1971|
|Safford||13º||5º||Feb. 5, 1955|
|Nogales||11º||9º||Feb. 15, 1964|
|Organ Pipe National Monument||23º||19º||Feb. 16, 1955|
This is Abrego Drive about a mile from us. This area was developed in the 1960s so the Saguaros here are getting to be nice sized.
Another look down one of the neighborhood streets. The plant on the left is the native Soap-tree yucca (Yucca elata).
Native Americans used the fiber of the Soap tree Yucca's leaves to make sandals, belts, cloth, baskets, cords, and mats, among other items. Inside the trunk and roots of the plant is a soapy substance high in saponins. In the past, this substance was commonly used as a substitute for soap and shampoo, which was used to treat dandruff and hairloss.
At least one tribe, the Zuni, used mixture of soap made from yucca sap and ground aster to wash newborn babies to stimulate hair growth. The Apaches also use yucca leaf fibers to make dental floss and rope. In times of drought ranchers have used the plant as an emergency food supply for their cattle. Source: WikiPedia
Here is a common sight in Green Valley. Anywhere we walk we see "For Sale" signs. Arizona ranks 3rd in the number of foreclosures.
The two strange plants flanking this house are Century Plants (Agave americana).
Agave americana, commonly known as the century plant, maguey, or American aloe (although it is in a different family from the Aloe), is an agave originally from Mexico but cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant. It has since naturalized in many regions and grows wild in Europe, South Africa, India, and Australia.
The misnamed century plant typically lives only 10 to 30 years. It has a spreading rosette (about 4 m/13 ft wide) of gray-green leaves up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long, each with a spiny margin and a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone.
One weekend I amused myself by going to a local Gourd Art Fair. Gourd decorating is a popular pasttime in this area.
Here, Nancy Estes displays her wares.
Hard to believe the lowly gourd can be transformed into such a work of art.
Meet Diane West, gourd artist.
Diane had made a number of traditional Native American masks.
She also had made this gourd rattle used in some Native American ceremonies.
Well, there you have it. A look around Green Valley and some of the fabulous Sonoran Desert.
Next up - a return to King Canyon.