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Take your family on a picnic!

The other day while cycling with friends in Saguaro National Park, I saw a family at the picnic grounds sitting quietly as the sun sank in the west. They had food spread out on the concrete table, and three generations were passing chicken and plastic forks. In the stillness, above their quiet conversation a cactus wren sang in the trees.


 

Picnics used to be common, and I find it a bit sad that they have largely disappeared in our hectic world of fast food and video games. Luckily for those of us who wish to indulge this quaint custom, the infrastructure of lonely roads leading to picnic tables persists.

Winter is the best time of year for picnics in the desert. Not only is it cool enough to enjoy being outside, but afterwards you will be able to post photos on social media and drive friends and relatives living in the tundra states mad with jealousy! Win-win!

There are several wonderful places to have picnics within a brief drive from…

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Wishes

As a kid I used to wish a lot. All kids do. Wishing is what you do when you have little or no power to change things yourself. I wished on birthday candles, falling stars, and often because I was racing home well past curfew, the first star of night.


 

Wishes were taken seriously. They were solemn and profound things. To properly wish upon the first star of evening you had to say the little rhyme; “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”  To wish on a falling star you had to move fast, lest it disappear!

You never told anyone the content of your wish. There was a sacred trust of sorts between the wisher and the universe, and breaking that trust would jinx the wish. If the magic of wishing was true, then certainly, the jinxing magic was just as true.

I always wished for the same thing, smugly thinking that I had covered all of my bases by wishing in broad strokes…

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No such thing as too many chickens

I started down the chicken path the same way that many do; a few birds for a few eggs.  I wasn’t insane to start with.


 

The few birds were four anconas and three Easter Eggers. Anconas are related to leghorns, the chickens who lay the large white eggs everyone buys by the carton. They are sleek black birds with white dots. In the sun their feathers shine green and purple. Their small size enables them to be active fliers, and they are known to be excellent foragers. Their eggs are large and white. Their personalities (yes, different chicken breeds possess different personalities) are skittish and standoffish.

Easter Eggers are actually a mix of several different breeds, the sole purpose of which is to produce a chicken that lays green or blue eggs. My three Easter Eggers are red colored. They are less skittish than the anconas, less likely to fly into the tree tops, and slightly more curious about me.

This first seven seemed…

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Visitor…

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The Navajo Pot Carrier

When I saw the beetle pictured above on a mountain bike ride in northern New Mexico this past fall, I knew for certain that there had to be something really interesting in this insect’s history to give it such a profound appearance.


The insect is called Megetra, and it is a member of the blister beetle family, a group of beetles that emit a toxic substance when handled. That’s the reason for the bright coloring. The toxin benefits the insect not at all if the creatures that would eat it aren’t warned beforehand. Better to be a glaring red stoplight if you are toxic, than blend in and get eaten all the same.

The shape though, the huge bulbous body, is completely unlike the other members of this beetle’s family (and totally different from beetles with which I am familiar). Certainly something drove this insect to this unique shape.

Science is filled with wonderful answers, but for them to exist someone has to jump down into the weeds and begin looking, and…

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Hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail

The Superstition Mountains in central Arizona are the famed home of the Lost Dutchman Mine; however, the true prize of these mountains isn't gold; it’s the breathtaking beauty of stark buff colored cliffs rising into crystal colored skies. In a state overflowing with spectacular scenery, the Superstitions are breathtaking.

Two hours from Vail, these mountains may not be an easy place to visit, but I assure you, they are worth the trip!


Probably one of the most rewarding short trails in the Superstitions is the Hieroglyphic Trail. This short, 2.2-mile hike is (mis)named for the impressive array of petroglyphs that cover the rocks above some seasonal pools up the canyon from the trailhead. This trail is short, but like everything else in the Superstitions it's rugged. There's a bit of a climb at the beginning from the parking lot to the fork with the Lost Goldmine Trail.

Past the fork, the Hieroglyphic Trail travels up the right side of a canyon first on…

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Southern Arizona Thanksgiving

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln officially set the fourth Thursday of November aside as a national day of thanksgiving. Every year the date was announced through an official presidential proclamation.


Arizona, not a member of the United States, issued its own, independent proclamations annually.  The Arizona Citizen, dated November 18, 1871 praises the governor’s restraint of language in the annual proclamation, stating that it is, “terse and peculiarly well conceived, and contains less of pious buncombe than usually pervades such documents.”

To save everyone time, I did look up ‘buncombe’ which has since changed to ‘bunkum’ and means political speech aimed at pleasing constituents, named after a speech given in the 16th Congress by French Walker who said that he was bound to speak for Buncombe (a county he represented in NC).

Prior to the 1930s, residents of southern Arizona were able to hunt their own turkeys in the nearby mountains…

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How to be Bad at Birding: Four Easy Steps

Recently I undertook a project to photograph a different species of animal every day. This means, by default, that I will have to include birds if I want to have any hope of success.

I already had some clues prior to this undertaking that birding was not, perhaps, for me, but, really, all one needs is a tree and binoculars, right? How hard can it be?

Hard.


What I have discovered (repeatedly, because I cannot take a hint) is that I am a terrible birder. Not ho hum; not adequate; terrible. Awful. Birds flee from my very presence.

Here are the 4 clues that have led me to this conclusion:

 

1. Thinking other creatures are far more exciting than birds, even when in a birder’s paradise

 

Last May I visited Florida, a place, apparently filled to the brim with large amazing birds. Birds that even I could see and identify vaguely.

I was on a birding trail (yes, it’s a thing) when I ran into…

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Fall Adventures for the Whole Family

Fall!! We’ve been waiting for fall, since, let’s face it, at least August, and it has finally arrived! So, what adventures shall we have?

The cooler months in Arizona are when we actually go out and do things, whether it is enjoying various festivals and local sights, taking long backcountry drives, enjoying cool rides on horse, motorcycle, OHV, or bicycle, or finally getting out and hiking for longer than an hour.

With so many options, it is important that we do not squander even one cool sunny day on indecision, so… where to go?


Let’s do one trip that satisfies many of the options listed above, after all, your family may have differing ideas of what they consider fun.

Take highway 83 south to 82 east and head to Sierra Vista. The drive alone is beautiful, and the cool wheat-colored grasslands are calming. The road is a popular ride for motorcycles because of its low traffic, gorgeous views and enjoyably sinuous contours.

Sonoita and Elgin…

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Document Shredding Event at Cienega 2015

 

 

2015 will mark the 8th year the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has provided this valuable service, free-of-charge to the community. All confirmed event dates are on Saturdays, and all shredding events will be approximately 3 hours. Please check the dates & times listed below for the event nearest you.  Events are added as they are confirmed, so check back often.

 

 

  • October 17, 2015 8am-11am (or until full)
    Cienega High School
    12775 E Mary Ann Cleveland Way
    Vail, AZ 85641

 

All 2015 events will…

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Horseshoe & Corn Hole Showdown

 

The COBB Team’s

1st Annual Vail Preservation Society Horseshoe & Corn Hole Showdown

Get Your Game On and Support Vail Student Preservation

Building Rehabilitation, Public Art, Oral History & Civic Engagement Projects

 

WHO: Vail Preservation Society

WHAT: The COBB Team’s, 1st Annual Vail Preservation Society Horseshoe & Corn Hole Showdown

WHEN: October 3, 2015

TIME: 9:00 a.m. - ? (about 5:00 p.m.)

WHERE: Rincon Valley Farmer’s & Artisan Market, 12500 E. Old…

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Watch the Vail Vaqueros 4H students make a successful Amateur Radio Contact with astronaut Kjell Lindgren, aboard the International Space Station.

Pre-contact presentation begins at the 5:50 minute mark, and the actual ARISS contact begins at 1:14:35.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQI_q471-bE

 

Arizona Daily Star article:   http://tucson.com/news/local/radio-connects-local--h-club-with-space-station/article_ef95fce8-45bc-5009-83f0-42c812c49a01.html

Afterwords there was a mini stem career day featuring, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, GCU, U of A Ham Radio Club, K3TYE with the BSA, and…

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Watch the Vail Vaqueros 4H students make a successful Amateur Radio Contact with astronaut Kjell Lindgren, aboard the International Space Station.

Pre-contact presentation begins at the 5:50 minute mark, and the actual ARISS contact begins at 1:14:35.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQI_q471-bE

 

Arizona Daily Star article:   http://tucson.com/news/local/radio-connects-local--h-club-with-space-station/article_ef95fce8-45bc-5009-83f0-42c812c49a01.html

Afterwords there was a mini stem career day featuring, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, GCU, U of A Ham Radio Club, K3TYE…

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Thunderstorms and Your Dog

Summer storms can be quite spectacular. The heat and humidity build high towering clouds that can produce massive clouds producing hail, strong winds, thunder, tornados, lightning and power outages.  

For many dogs the storm season also brings a slew of symptoms grouped under the heading of thunderstorm phobia. 

Thunderstorm phobia is anybehavior change exhibited by a dog during stormy weather. These changes can be subtle, and include, restless pacing, hiding, and whining.  More extreme behavioral changes include hysteria, digging at doors, and trying to jump through doorways and windows.\

Phobia is  defined as an irrational fear. Irrational fear means that the danger of real harm is small, and the fear is disproportionately high. Phobias are also correlated with anticipatory fear. This is why dogs will become anxious at the threat of a storm. Some dogs sense oncoming storms before their owners.

Storm…

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Thunderstorms and your dog

Summer storms can be quite spectacular. The heat and humidity build high towering clouds that can produce massive clouds producing hail, strong winds, thunder, tornados, lightning and power outages. 

 


 

For many dogs the storm season also brings a slew of symptoms grouped under the heading of thunderstorm phobia. 

 

Thunderstorm phobia is any behavior change exhibited by a dog during stormy weather. These changes can be subtle, and include, restless pacing, hiding, and whining.  More extreme behavioral changes include hysteria, digging at doors, and trying to jump through doorways and windows.

 

Phobia is  defined as an irrational fear. Irrational fear means that the danger of real harm is small, and the fear is disproportionately high. Phobias are also correlated with anticipatory fear. This is why dogs…

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Tarantula Hawks

It is often hard, when viewing nature, to avoid affixing good vs evil stereotypes to the natural world. Who does not root for the gazelle being chased by the cheetah? Several years ago a moose stood at bay on a spit of sandbar in a river in Denali National Park for nearly a week, harassed by an ever present pack of wolves. Visitors demanded that park officials ‘do something’. Ultimately, it ended as it must, with a moose carcass and well-fed wolves.


 

 

Though we may be able to at least admit to ourselves that there are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in nature, and though when we see the pups that the moose fed, or the baby cheetahs that awaited a successful hunt, we can often see both sides of things, there are still certain predator/prey dynamics that leave us cold.

Take for example, parasitism. Parasites do not wait for their hosts to die before they eat them. Parasites may live long…

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Summer Hikes: Meadow Trail

It’s hot, too hot to really enjoy a leisurely hike down here in the desert.  Instead, we get up early; we try to pick trails with a bit of elevation in them, or we backpack up to the top of the Rincons and hide out for a few days. But what if you just want to have a leisurely hike, or a relative or friend is visiting and you don’t want them to die?


 

Mount Lemmon offers miles of trails. Many trail options on Mount Lemmon have quite a bit of elevation gain to them, after all you are on a mountain, most trails are going to be either climbing up it or heading off of it. There have also been some fires in the past decade that left trails exposed to the hot sun. Just because you’re on Mount Lemmon doesn’t mean it’s not summer!

A great short, easy trail that can be hiked as-is, or strung together with other trails is the Meadow Trail. The Meadow Trail sounds leisurely and beautiful because it is. Located at the very top of Mount Lemmon, it winds…

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Cicadas

The sound of heat is the high-pitched song of the cicada. The sound is tinny, and slightly grating, it rises and falls over the desert like the waves of heat off pavement. This is the cicada love song. In the southwest cicadas are annual phenomena, with no significant change in population year in and year out. Back east they hatch in multi-year cycles and are called 13-year and 17-year locusts.


 

Cicadas are not locusts. Locusts are actually a type of grasshopper. Plagues of cicadas in the Midwest, not withstanding, cicadas do little more than sizzle in the treetops by the millions, have brief love affairs, lay eggs and die. Eating is what they've been doing all the time they've been living underground, and while they will drink the sap from the occasional tree, all they really seek now is to fly, reproduce and die.

Locusts on the other hand want to eat. The plagues of locusts in Biblical Egypt and Dust Bowl America formed in swarms of millions of…

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Arizona' big five

When people visit Africa on safari, they want to see the Big Five. The Big Five were initially singled out because they were the five hardest big game animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Times have changed, and most people who go to Africa are armed with a camera rather than a gun. However, seeing these animals still resonates with visitors. For reference, the African Big Five are: elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, rhino, and leopard.


Last year I visited Alaska, and I certainly had my own Big Five in mind: moose, killer whale, brown bear, caribou, and Dall sheep.  Arizona, especially Southern Arizona, isn’t filled with huge dynamic wild animals, and the big animals we do have are either common outside of Arizona (deer, antelope and big horn sheep) or they are so fleeting that the odds of seeing one are almost zero (jaguar and mountain lion).

That doesn’t mean that people don’t arrive in Southern Arizona with a list of ‘must see’ critters.  I am…

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