Thursday, July 31, 2008

Finding an Apricot

This past spring, the huge apricot on the side of our house was filled with beautiful apricot blossoms. We were hopeful that we would get a crop, because last year we had a late freeze and didn't get any apricots. But alas, we also had a late freeze this year, and so we resigned ourselves to another apricot-less year.

However, one day I was walking in the yard and a bit of orange caught my eye. I looked closer and found it wasn't one of Henry's chew toys, it was an apricot! I did a little dance of joy and picked it up, devouring it quickly. Apricots are one of my favorite fruits.

I looked up at the tree and saw that although there weren't apricots in the lower branches, the higher branches had a few of the brightly colored fruit. Early settlers to this area planted apricot and other fruit trees to feed themselves and the miners that were searching the desert for riches. This particular tree is about 50 years old.

I'm not the only one who likes the apricots, the birds are continually up in the tree. This apricot has a peck mark from a bird. Due to the long fall, many of the apricots are bruised, so I have to eat them quickly. It's such a hardship.

I have other competition for the apricots--Henry and Desert Boy. Both seem to like apricots a lot, and for awhile I was worried about Henry's lack of appetite for his dog food. Then I discovered that I was finding pits under the apricot tree and not apricots--because he was eating them. 

This time Desert Boy gets the apricot and hurries off to enjoy it. We planted a variety of other fruit trees a couple years ago, but the late freeze got everything except the apples. We should be enjoying them in a couple months. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Exploring a Lava Tube

I've had the opportunity to explore some lava tubes in different areas of the deserts, like El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, Wupatki National Monument in Arizona, and Snow Canyon State Park in Utah, to name a few. The lava tubes fascinate me, as I think about the time when hot lava was flowing right where I am standing now. The lava was just the right consistency and temperature and moving at just the right speed to leave behind a tube. 

Many times the entrance to a lava tube is where part of the lava tube collapsed. It's common to enter a lava tube, go for a short while, and pop out another entrance at another collapse point. 

Here's my brother Andrew coming out of a secondary entrance, which has a gate across it to protect bats part of the year. Yep, you've guessed it, we're going to start on another Andrew adventure. That means it's got to be good! Andrew took his friends Bobby and Shae caving. I went along with Desert Boy to take photos and provide commentary.

As you might imagine, lava tubes are usually just a tube, but once in awhile the lava did some crazy things, and here Andrew is checking out a side passage. He is doing his best to lose Shae and Bobby, but it is hard to get lost in a lava tube.

Please note he is not wearing Desert Survivor-approved caving gear. That lava is really sharp, and the floor is littered with loose boulders that make footing treacherous.

As we continued further into the cave, I spotted this little cave cricket on the ceiling. He can hold on to the lave just fine, and likes to spend part of his life cycle in this lava tube. The extra long antennae help him find his way around in the dark. When I saw him, the ecologist part of me got all excited and I couldn't resist taking a photo. Okay, now back to the caving adventure. 

And then we come upon a sight even more amazing than a cave cricket--it's Bobby! (Or is it the ghost of Bobby?) If you missed Bobby's earlier adventure, click here to read all about it.
Bobby is trying to light up this huge passageway with his lights. Bobby and Shae followed Andrew, and as the passage kept getting smaller, Andrew kept going, and they kept following. Eventually it became a crawl, and still they followed him. Then it became a squeeze on the belly. And still they followed. And for what?

To see cool formations like this ice stalagmite. Okay, it's not that cool of a formation, but lava tubes rarely have formations, so you've got to take what you get. The floor of the cave was also covered with a thin layer of ice. Sometimes when they took a step, the ice broke, and they plummeted through to cold water below. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Or maybe they were following because they trusted Andrew with their lives. (Okay, I expect to see a few comments about that!) Perhaps they couldn't resist the adventure of seeing what else was in the lava tube. I understand the feeling.

Nevertheless, Shae, Andrew, and Bobby survived their trip through a lava tube with only a minor amount of dirt and no obvious blood. And look at the smiles on their faces--I think they enjoyed it!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monsoon Weather

It's late summer, and that means in many North American desert areas it's monsoon season. Giant clouds build up over the mountains, get excited, and send down lightning bolts and deafening thunder. Every once in awhile the clouds even release some moisture and we get some rain.

Monsoon weather is found across the globe. We generally have monsoons during July and August, when winds blow moisture from Mexico and Arizona up towards our direction. The winds heat up as they cross the hot land, and when enough moisture is present in the air, the combination creates clouds. These clouds build and build, forming large thunderheads. They are really cool to watch, but they also can make mountain hiking dangerous due to the increased lightning activity.
Here are some actual rain drops hitting the windshield! Of course the wipers don't work that well on our desert vehicles, because the hot sun makes the rubber on the windshield wiper blades crack and we use them so infrequently that we forget to replace them.

During one recent monsoon rain shower, I went out in the garden to weed. My garden has been terrific at growing weeds but so-so at growing what I planted. The cloud cover and gentle sprinkles made for a perfect temperature to make my garden look more respectable. Meanwhile, Desert Boy and Henry were playing in the sand and then in a muddy puddle. I figured we had better try to clean up Desert Boy, especially because he was wearing a white onesie and now had a very black behind. So we went to clean up any self-respecting person does: we went to the kiddie pool! Here's a 22 second video of Desert Boy cleaning up in the pool, with a little help from Henry.

Following the dip in the kiddie pool, sure enough, Desert Boy was much cleaner.
He was also sporting some extra curves with his bulging diaper. And that's how we end up when we begin discussing monsoon weather!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Desert Destination: Kane Spring

Out in the desert, between two roads, is a solitary Russian olive tree. Russian olive trees only grow where there is water, so I knew there had to be some water there. I even learned the name of the spring that was supporting the tree, but it took many years to finally go visit it. And then last week, I did.

The first thing I saw when we got out of the truck was the sign reading Kane Spr and the old watering trough, now empty. This didn't look too promising. Was the spring still around?

I started circling around the tree and eventually came to a wet area with lots of watercress. Being an ecologist, I pulled up a handful and began examining the roots to see what little critters I could find.

After just a moment searching, I found what I was hoping to find, a tiny springsnail. The water in this spring had been flowing for thousands of years, because this little snail certainly couldn't have crawled from the nearest spring, which was probably at least five miles away.

The spring channel led to this little pond. I was amazed that I hadn't seen it in the first place! The vegetation around it grows so tall that you can't see it from where we parked. 

A large bird flew by, letting us know that the spring wasn't home just for springsnails. It looked like an owl, and I started searching for sign. See the background of the photo? There isn't a single tree in sight.

Up in the tree was a large nest, but I couldn't see anything in it.

The owl came back and landed on a tree branch. I could see that it was a long-eared owl. Wow! This desert spring was definitely worth the stop.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Desert Boy Helps Irrigate

The meadow near our house was extremely dry, so the other day my good husband went out to irrigate it. Of course Desert Boy had to tag along to see what was going on. If it involves water, he's there. 

Desert Boy and Henry both seem to be carefully examining the irrigation ditch. It was a new ditch and quite nice, but I'm not sure what it was that caught their attention.

Apparently Desert Boy decided he needed a closer look and climbed over the dirt berm. And if Desert Boy is going in the water, Henry had to go in too. He's a nice loyal dog.

It doesn't take long for Desert Boy to get some mud on his leg. He doesn't fuss about this at all.

Instead, he takes care of the dirt by sitting down for a mud bath. I love my son, he will be a brilliant problem-solver someday.

Henry gets distracted and runs off. So much for being a loyal dog. We'll still keep him though.

When I look back to Desert Boy, I notice he has his back to me and his hands in the dirt. That can only mean one thing. You've guessed it, he's eating dirt again. Holy canoli. This kid is going to end up having a full complement of soil bacteria in his gut. Hopefully that will be good for something someday.

Fortunately he finds a distraction, a large dirt wad that would be fun to roll into the ditch. After all, if he can fill in the nice, new ditch that Daddy just made, he would have accomplished something. 

And success, the big dirt wad is in the ditch, getting eroded away. I scoop it out and we repeat the process. And then Desert Boy starts throwing rocks into the ditch until I haul him off to wash him down with the garden hose. I'm sure Daddy appreciated all the help. 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Henry Gets His Shots

Here's one of the reasons I love living in a rural area. We might be an hour from the nearest grocery store, two hours from the nearest Wal-mart, and three hours from the nearest shopping mall, but there are some amenities that just harken back to an older time.

For example, Henry is getting big fast, and it was time for him to get his second round of shots in July. So late one morning, my sweet husband called the vet that lives in the next town over. His wife answered and said that the vet was coming over that afternoon to give Henry's sister her shots and it would be no trouble to give Henry his shots too.

So a few hours later the vet and his wife pull up in our driveway. We said hello, caught up on some local news, and the vet gave Henry his shots. Henry didn't yelp or make any noise, and got up immediately afterward and went back to annoying Desert Boy. We talked a little more with the vet and his wife and then they left. I bet there aren't too many places left in the U.S. where you can get a house call for routine dog shots just a few hours after calling!

How Much Does a Wet Diaper Weigh?

This post really has nothing to do with the desert except that it's been hot and we've been playing in water a lot, but give me some slack, my mind is droopy. No, I meant to say the diaper is droopy. You see, I didn't bother putting a swim diaper on Desert Boy  and before I knew it he was sitting in the little kiddie pool and his regular diaper was bulging. And not a little bulging, but major bulging, so much so that my jaw dropped and I muttered something like "Holy Canoli." Then the sight got even better. Desert Boy lifted himself and his new bulging appendage and heaved all that extra weight out of the pool and proceeded to play with more water. Such dedication! Such strength! In fact, Desert Boy could become the new face, no I mean cheeks, of diaper companies.  

p.s. Check back later today for a (slightly) more relevant post.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Walk in the Desert

Last weekend my husband wanted to go wandering around the desert looking for mines. There are certainly lots of old mines around, and I can just imagine those prospectors in the early days on their mules searching up and down every canyon trying to find the right piece of rock that would make them rich. Some got rich, but most only got rich for a couple days and then they were back to searching for more mineral-laden rock. 

I wasn't too interested in the mines, but because my husband had been so nice accompanying me to the cave and watching Desert Boy the previous weekend, I agreed to go. I had my camera and wandered around the desert looking for interesting things. As you can see in the photo above, wandering is fairly easy, with large gaps between the shadscale and four-winged saltbush. Once in awhile I would find a flower or some scat.

This little hole caught my eye, with the rim of little gravel around it. I think it's an ant hole, but as I didn't see any ants it's possible that some other insect made it.

I saw exactly two cacti in my hour of wandering. Here's one, with particularly long spines.

Desert Boy and Henry also enjoyed wandering around and seeing what they could find. It was rough terrain for Desert Boy to navigate, but I figure his balance should be improving a lot. 

The Hawaiian outfit doesn't quite go with the desert landscape, but obviously he doesn't care. The cloud cover made for cool temperatures and a perfect day to enjoy the subtle beauties of the desert.

Did my husband find a gold mine? I've been sworn to secrecy!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Greeting from a Great Horned Owl

After a couple evening walks, we've returned to the house to hear a cacophony of birds. The Western Kingbirds are flying around squawking, American Kestrels are diving in the treetops, European Starlings are flapping away. Why so much noise? Because a Great Horned Owl likes to hang out in our yard. So whenever I hear the birds, I start looking around until I spot the owl. The owl knows us fairly well, so it lets me get close to get a photo. We've actually had a family of Great Horned Owls around, but they seem to have dispersed and now I only see one owl at a time.
We sleep with the windows open and quite often at night we can hear the owl hooting away. I'm always thankful that the owl is helping to keep our yard free of gophers and mice. Our puppy Henry was quite scared of the owls when he was smaller, but now he's gotten so big that he just ignores them.  I try to hoot to the owls to encourage a conversation, but they just ignore me. I wonder why.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crossing the Cattle Guard

Cattle guards are very common in the west, and we have to cross two to leave the ranch. In case you're not familiar with cattle guards, they are not people who stand around and guard the cattle (despite what one Washington DC official thought when he said that to help improve the budget they should just get rid of  a bunch of those cattle guards). Rather, they are metal slats that are supposed to intimidate the cattle and sheep from crossing because their feet could slip through the slats. Vehicles can cross easily though. Cattle guards are found where important roads cross fence lines and they are in lieu of a gate that would need to be opened and closed.

One of the cattle guards is at the end of the driveway. It's a bit smaller than standard and has filled in quite a bit, as you can see from the small apricot tree growing between the bars. As a result, it's not much a deterrent to cattle getting into our yard, and I've watched many a cow jump across it. It's kind of a funny sight to watch a cow jump, which is good because I'm usually chasing it out of the yard after it's eaten my tulips and am in need of a laugh. In this photo I can get a laugh from those sexy white legs in the background (don't tell my husband!).

Desert Boy has been getting braver and more agile, so he decided to see if he could get across the cattle guard. He had to balance carefully so that his little feet wouldn't slip through the slats.

Oops, one spill. He doesn't seem fazed though and doesn't even make a peep.

He gets back up and heads towards the water on the other side. Water is always something that attracts him.

Henry decides to get in on the action. Henry may think he's helping, but usually he gets right in Desert Boy's way.

He made it across and now can sit in the water and play!

Or start eating dirt and grin when Mom and Dad tell him to stop. He's still getting his daily dose of dirt despite our best efforts.

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