Monday, March 31, 2014

Touring the Grasslands of Southern Arizona

Not totally about birds and grasslands but mostly. Saturday evening I feasted on a pizza at the Velvet Elvis here in Patagonia while Sraddha stayed back home resting and relaxing. Met a delightful couple who used to live in Tucson and were touring the area after his business meetings. Turns out a lot of tourists, birders, etc love to travel through here in winter time (big surprise) and also in summer because it is cooler in higher elevations of over 4,000 to 5,0000 ft.

We had a wonderful afternoon at Paton's Bird yard then awoke to gusty winds on Sunday morning. Sraddha went over to the Nature conservancy while I nursed a sore foot from our recent power walks. Getting old in body with a few of the usual aches and pains but we tend to pay more attention to them these days since the body doesn't heal as fast as it used to. My right shoulder as case in point. I had messed up the tendons last summer during our big move out of the house and it is still hurting on a daily basis. I have had the cortisone shots which have helped but cannot work out regularly to this day and when I lift arm weights, it is half as much on the right side as left. Dr. Peter says the “tincture of time” will help and it has but I still guard against further injury and favor my left side. Now a sore right foot. But enough of my whining.

Looking north towards San Canelo Pass.
Looking north towards San Canelo Pass.

I had heard that the hawks fly in the mornings up in the hills south of town so we decided to head up the road in search of them.

Oops. Gas guage nearly empty. Not the right time to venture out in to unknown hills. Where to get some gas? We had explored gas at the Arivaca market but it was $0.40 more than Tucson so we figured we would wait. When we drove through Nogales area we didn't see a convenient station to fill up while towing. We had anticipated fueling up in Patagonia.

Those of you who live in the rural areas can relate when I say the only gas station in town is closed on Sundays! And they were surprisingly more expensive than Arivaca!

Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast) Mexico on right horizon
Panorama of San Rafael Valley Huachuca mountains in background (Southeast) Mexico on right horizon

So off east 12 miles to Sonoita we go to find the Shell station where the gas was more reasonable and, most important, available. We had originally planned a little 90 minute drive but this ended up 4 hours and we are happy we did it. We ventured south into the Coronado National Forest over a winding road from Sonoita about 25 miles to a dirt road which took us thorugh Juniper and Pinon Pine forests up over San Canelo Pass.

View south to San Rafael Valley and Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)
View south to San Rafael Valley and Mexico from San Canelo Pass (5300 ft elevation)

Down in to San Rafael Valley and some incredibly beautiful and sparse natural grasslands remeniscent of a bygone era when the whole of southern Arizona was grasslands prior to the cattle ranchers moving in. We saw some cattle spread all around the valley and several ranches who seem to be more conservation minded these days. Drought has hit this area harder than the rest of Arizona but wildfire has not so the grasslands remain in tact.

 San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico
San Rafael Valley looking south to Mexico

As we descended into the valley we could see the radar station used by the border patrol for monitoring the area. We saw several border patrol trucks as we drove along. A few ranch trucks too. We saw 6 or 7 Kestrals hunting or resting so we knew there was food for them around the area. Evidence of deer and other animals were seen when we looked.

Headed west again through Juniper and Pinon pine forests over to Mowry in the western border of the valley. Only thing there was some homesteads and mailboxes.

Harshaw - Adobe structure
Harshaw - Adobe structure

As we descended through the canyons we happened onto Harshaw, an old ghost town with one adobe shack and a cemetary. Several families were visiting the cemetary to pay respects to their ancestors. We saw this amazing old Sycamore up the canyon. Sycamore trees line the canyons at this elevation (4000-5500) and are just beginning to bloom our. Amazing trees.

 Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw
Old Sycamore tree in Harshaw

Continuing down the road we made it back to Patagonia for a late lunch then over to Paton's Bird Yard one more time.

We did see a couple red tail hawks but no Grey Hawks, or Zone tailed Hawks we had hoped to see. All in all it was a fun drive and we were glad we had to drive over to Sonoita for gas, otherwise we might not have seen this incredible valley.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Next Place - Patagonia, Arizona, a 78 mile drive

A few last photos from Buenos Aires, Arivaca and we are off to Patagonia, Arizona.
Our morning Walk north of Buenos Aires campsite.  Good driving road
We prefer to travel 100-150 or less miles in a day which means under 3 hours drive time, less gas used per day, and less wear and tear on everyone and everything.  We are meandering with no fixed agenda. We only have 3 fixed dates on rest of 2014 calendar so in between we can wander.

Our route from Arivaca to Patagonia
This trip is 78 miles according to the Google GPS on my iPhone and the photo above.  Our route takes us east through rolling hills to Amado and I-19, then south on i-19 to Nogales then NE back up highway 82 to Patagonia.  Before we depart, we go power walking 4 miles.
Our morning walk route north of Campsite in Buenos Aires NWR
We break camp, heading east to Arivaca for Saturday market where we purchase fresh eggs, a squash, and a chocolate chip cookie.  Then breakfast at an outdoor cafe.  Chile Rellenos.  Fresh grilled on mesquite open fire, then dipped in sauce.  Virginia, the owner seats us on a picnic bench while she prepares the food.  We were lucky as today she only had 12 chiles and we ate 4 of them.  Yum
Enjoying a Chile Relleno Breakfast in Arivaca
We drove the winding road over hill and dale.  Just as we turn to go onto the interstate I spot this bar and grill in Amado.  Have to take the shot.
An interesting entrance to a bar in Amado.  
The GPS wants us to turn off the interstate just north of Nogales.  Our benchmark map says this is a dirt road which we are not interested in taking so we choose an alternate route which takes through part of Nogales.  Hmm.  Nothing to shake a stick at, and one of the lanes was closed off due to a bike race so the speed was pretty slow.  Eventually we made it to highway 82 which took us east 16 miles to Patagonia.  There is no place around Patagonia to dry camp and we need to dump waste and replenish supplies so we headed to the local RV park which turned out to be a quiet little place off the beaten path.
Patagonia RV Park  Good WIFI
We signed up for 2 nights, set up camp and headed over to Paton's bird yard where I was able to get a couple decent photos of birds.
Lots of birds here and birders show up all the time as it is quite famous birding place with several seed feeders, oranges, hummingbird feeders.  The place used to be owned by someone named Paton who passed away.  Last year the Tucson Audobon society purchased the grounds in order to preserve the birding mecca.  Thousands of birders pass through here each season.  We stopped by last year.  Must see place.

Above is a low res photo of a Broad billed Hummingbird I photographed at Paton's.  It is slightly simplified.  I posted a much better one over on my flickr account if you want to see it but I don't want Google to have the better one. (Sometimes Google doesn't play well). 

That's all for now.  Stay tuned tomorrow.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Culinary Tour of Arivaca

Today we did varied our plans. This morning we power walked 4 miles out north of our campsite in the brisk cool desert air. I forgot to take a photo of this because we were walking so fast but I did manage to shoot this of my office scene in the RV
My home office
My home office
After breakfast we decided to tour Arivaca. First stop was Gadsden Coffee company west of downtown. The owner roasts his own coffee which is surprisingly good.
Sraddha had a second cup of coffee for the day from their Indo-African roast and I had a double mocha made with Mexican chocolate which was qute tasty. We spent over 2 hours there visiting with locals, using their wifi too.
Wow  a second cuppa coffee
Wow a second cuppa coffee
Nearby was Sweet Peas restaurant and RV park. Hmm. We sat out in back enjoying fresh curried vegetable soup and fresh greens salad. Most of the ingredients we locally sourced. The RV park was empty but we made note for future visits that they did have ability to dump waste.
We met some other locals at the post office who were returning from a little bike trip out in the desert. Apparently lots of open roads to bike. We noticed this too out in the refuge although haven't biked due to winds and doing other things.
Off to the Mercantile to check gas prices (about 20% higher than Tucson as expected), food stocks (not much we would buy, except for emergencies),
Then walked by the La Gitana Cantina, alledgely the longest running Cantina or tavern in Arizona.
Great stop for locals in search of cool beverages of alcoholic nature, which we were not but the dancing girl atop the cantina caught my eye. She turns around in the wind. Research told me that Esquire magazine rated this one of the best 100 bars in USA. Certainly had character but I am not a frequenter of bars so don't really know.
Next door is Virginia's open air Mexican-American food truck. She features daily specials. We had already eaten so didn't imbibe today but tomorrow she will feature Chile Rellenos, one of our favorite dishes so we might have to try it out in the morning when visiting the Saturday farmer's market.
After I finish this in the library, we will head back out to the Arivaca Cienega for a little late afternoon birdwatching and then our campfire. We collected the wood earlier in the week but winds prevented us from doing this.
Tomorrow we will depart to find a new place to explore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Arivaca Cienega

Anticipating high winds today, we ventured out early this morning to walk around one of the better birding places in area just west of beautiful downtown Arivaca.
Looking through Arivaca to the Bobquivari Mountains from the Cienega
Looking west through Arivaca to the Bobquivari Mountains from the Cienega
Anticipating we would see some little birds, I decided to try out the big 200-400mm zoom lens and camera. S had returned from Oregon with it's strap and assembled on the lens which weighs 8 pounds (11 with camera). I was excited to head out in search of prey to shoot (with my camera of course). I shot most of these at 560mm fully zoomed in with 1.4 extender enabled. Most were 1/1000 or more, ISO 1000 or so. F5.6.
Note: that these photos were all jpg's processed on my iPad so they aren't as rich as usual. Check my flickr page for some better ones.
As we began our walk we spotted a couple Kestrals high up in the cottonwood tree, their backs to us. As we cautiously approached they looked around, the finally the male Kestral darted over to the female and before I could raise up the camera to shoot, the mating season was over. He flew off to have drink wiht his mates no doubt, while she put her herself back together and adjusted her makeup before flying off in search of a nest.
{Photo of kestral to go here.}
Further along the path we heard the melodious sounds of a Bewick's Wren. He darted all around us, eventually landing in a high snag where I finally shot him singing merrily away. S remarked with wonder as to how so much joy and beautiful song could be sustainably emanating from such a little tiny creature tinier than a housefinch.
Bewick's Wren singing
Bewick's Wren singing in a high branch
My mistake was not taking the monopod because, upon viewing some of the photos, I immediately saw they were not as sharp as I could have liked. As we strolled, ever so slowly, around the trails of this refuge, we saw at least 15 different species.
Bewick's Wren singing in a high branch
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Photographing little birds is difficult. They hide in the thickets and behind trees. ID through binoculars easier but catching them in open to photograph takes patience. I was hunting a green tailed Towhee for 20 minutes and finally spotted him out in open (see shot below) where is flitted for a bout 4 seconds. Just enough time to raise up the camera and photograph into the darkened woods.
Song Sparrow
Green Tailed Towhee
Green Tailed Towhee in thicket
We saw Red Tail hawks, Cooper's Hawk, Grey Hawk. We saw several little birds in thickets.
Even a pair of Coyotes hunting the tall grass for breakfast. We happened onto this pair out in the tall grass. Heard them yipping and digging and scurrying around. They didn't see us at first but when I popped off 4 shots in quick succession, the noise made by the high speed camera clicking alerted them we were present and they bounded off. This shot below was the only decent one I got and then some tall grass blurred its face a little.
Coyote Hunting
Coyotes hunting in tall grass
We saw these really cool butterflies, too. Can't you tell I don't know butterfly names? They fly fast and dart around in the Willow trees so it is hard to catch them. Finally one landed to feast all alone on the willows seeds and I was able to get a decent shot.
Cool Butterfly
Cool looking Butterfly
A fun 2 hour walk. next time I bring my Monopod.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Paintings!

Betcha didn't know I could be an artist let alone a painter did ya!
Our Campsite at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Our Campsite at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
I have discovered a new technique that cannot fail. Just take some good photos. they don't have to be great, just good. Add them to your iPad, then open in either Waterlogue or Brushstroke app. ($3 each).

Wildflowers on the open plains
Wildflowers on the open plains
Three Pots at Tohono Chul
Three Pots at Tohono Chul
I have lots of time these days while waiting around for that late afternoon sunsets here in the desert, so I began playing around with these apps using stuff in my camera roll. Only one photo was with my iPhone, rest were with a bigger camera. Here they are. Let me know what you think?
Arch in Alabama Hills.  Mount Whitney in background
Arch in Alabama Hills. Mount Whitney in background

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Imagine packing your home in 30 minutes, driving 90 minutes, parking, unpacking and being in a place that has no people and is totally quiet?

Well, here we are in a wide open spaces of the wild, Wild West.  About 12 miles north of the Mexico border with only the birds, butterflies, border patrol and occasional illiegal drug runner nearby.  This place gets busier in other seasons,  like hunting season and holidays.

Entering on the north end from Tucson, we found an introductory kiosk with information about the refuge and a primitive map of campsite locations.   Campsites are identifiable spaces with campfire rings but no toilets or tables like you would find in a National Forest.  This is pure boondocking at its best.  We are self contained and set up for this so we hunted around and easily found a campsite, actually the first one we came to on the first dirt road on which we turned.  Hmm.  Might there be better ones further up the road?  Maybe, but no one else is here, we are 1/4 mile off the main drag, so to speak. (Main drag is a relative term, in this case meaning the blacktop highway that occasionally has a motor vehicle passing by once every hour or so).  My philosophy here is "a bird in the hand".  

This location offers 360 vistas, is elevated a little,  flat, wide open, so we pulled in, adjusted the direction and put down the levelers and slide outs.  What a view out the window.  Nothing to hook up today.  Full tanks of propane and fresh water, full fridge of yummy food, empty waste tanks so we are good to stay here for 5-7 days.  Elevation is 3700 ft (1000 ft higher than Tucson) so cooler.  Temps in the 70's and 40's rather than 80's and 50's this time of year.

While I set up the interior and putzed with things, Sraddha went in search of fire wood and found a bunch of leftovers nearby campsites.  Easy peasey, although we chose not to have a campfire last night due to the late time of day and we were pooped.  Had spent the morning at Desert museum while waiting for a package from Amazon to arrive then packing up.

This morning, we set up the solar panel to replenish the house batteries and now we are heading out to scope out the visitors center, then over to Arivaca to find wifi, then Tubac to meet Steve and Vicki for late lunch.  

The benefits of the wide open spaces but nearby to fun things.  How great is this.  
Bonus.  It is so so quiet here.  Our place in Tucson was great, however, set against the din of city traffic, and trains.  There is a marked difference.  We have our cell phones turned off and limited internet connection which is fine as we just sit outside meditating on the natural surroundings and enjoying the view. 

Today the weather changed a little with winds coming up.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

testing new way to show photos photos

Update: It works!!!! What do you say? Any comments? can I do better? should it have a border? Below is a test.  I am tired of NOT being able to put two photos in same row together so I am experimenting with adding a table in the HTML code.  I am not a coder or programmer but am somewhat familiar with this so hopefully will be able to figure out something that will work again and again.  Bear with me.  Any thoughts would help (Peter???).

Spring has Sprung, Time to hit the road and.....One more thing....

We are ready to get back on the road again.  this Mobile home park has grown on us a bit so will be in our itinerary in future years when we want a longer term solution in Tucson. We love Tucson and feel SW (and CCT)  will be in our future winters for foreseeable future except next winter which will be in SE USA hopefully where the flipflop barometer is in positive range. hehe.

Also, check out my photos at


Olympus EM-D OM-10 Micro Four Thirds Camera
I just received the Olympus OM-D EM-10
 Micro-4/3 camera
 last week.  Called micro four thirds because the sensor size is smaller than my Canon 7 D crop sensor but larger than tiny little compact cameras.  Also the magnification is 2X which means the 14-42 mm lens in picture actually focuses at 28-80 mm. It also has interchangeable lenses which I like.  I have the camera with the small lens above.  I plan on getting a 75-300mm zoom lens for other things.   Great little portable camera for our hiking
and I can stick it in my pocket
 to always have around
. Love this little pop out lens.  It shoots raw and has Wifi.  Not too expensive.  Lusted after the OM-1 but budget held me back.

No, I am not switching away from my Canon Big system, just adding to repertoire.

For your consideration here, let me know your thoughts on photos below. All were shot on tripod. There seems to be good detail in each.  Click on photos to see larger one then you can click on right or left of photo to scroll through others.  Let me know what you think.

Here is a couple pix I shot in jpeg with the Oly OM-D EM-10 and tiny 14-42 lens. Oly JPG's adjusted in LR, then exported to small jpegs for email, since I cannot import the Olympus raw files yet to Lightroom(next version. 5.4 I am told), so I just used the jpeg files. Then I made same shots with my Canon 5DM3 full frame camera, in raw format.  Both were adjusted a little in LR and Photoshop. then exported as small jpeg's.  Yes, I did remove a few little things from last photo in Photoshop (the miracle software).

 Detail good in both, however, I think the Canon delivers a little more rich photo.  I photoshopped the Canon raw files and only had jpegs for Olympus at this time. Will do more tests later. I hope to use the Olympus more for this blog as it has capabilities of easily transferring photos, via Wifi, to my iPad and iPhone for blog posts.  Will see how it works.

Canon 5D Mk III 
Olympus OM-D EM-10
Canon 5D MkIII  (and photoshopped)
Olympus OM-D EM-10 with Lightroom adjustments