Eating From Our Desert Backyard

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aYou may remember that we have citrus trees in our yard and have enjoyed the bounty in whole, juice and liquor forms.

64744ED9-05E2-443B-A7CF-BA4926B7E36F_1_201_aWe also have a mesquite tree with lots of seed pods. 

CCD9D5EC-3A45-4DCC-8490-B8B128511CE3_1_201_aI knew native peoples used mesquite as a food source so I studied it. There is a wide variance of flavor in the seed pods of mesquite trees.  The resulting flour has a strong flavor and needs to be mixed with other flours to neutralize it.   Assuming I liked the taste of our seed pods,  I would have to find a place to mill it.  Since I do almost no baking I’m not going to pursue it.   If COVID-19 still has us home this time next year, I might rethink that decision for a new experience.

C1BA8FF7-5E7C-4F87-AA33-DA0F7E2D794F_1_201_aThis year I chose to learn about harvesting the fruit given by our prickly pear cactus.   There are dozens of varieties of prickly pear and we have these two in our yard.

fullsizeoutput_534fThis one has lovely yellow blossoms.  It had fruit last year but didn’t develop any this year.  

7CB37F0D-57D2-4CBF-939F-EF4D9C49C557_1_201_aI don’t know if skipping a year is normal or if it is because we have water sprayed this cactus several times to reduce dactylopius coccus, a scale insect.  This parasitic insect is useful in making red dye.

F6495789-12BE-406D-BC71-388A07690656_1_201_aThe first step was to pick the magenta fruit, also called “tuna.”  That is no easy task given that prickly pear cactus have tiny hairlike prickles called glochids that stick to  everything, especially skin.

5C806945-61E1-4E62-A2AA-FEA1F699C63DEven using the precaution of metal tongs and gloves I still got some prickles in several places on my body!  (Twenty four hours later I think they are finally gone.)

98593D53-4C68-4FAB-9CD9-EBF247350A48_1_201_aOnce gathered, I used a culinary blow torch to burn off the glochids.

ADAB07AD-1BCF-4C44-8253-CDC0FF176644_1_201_aThen I passed the fruit back and forth between bowls to knock off any remaining prickles.

CEA5D6E7-47D9-4D96-A88E-7D12D480E50E_1_201_aI boiled the fruit and then let it steep for several hours.

7AF5D36E-A353-40F4-944A-DCD27C6102D7_1_201_aThe directions said to mash and then strain but the skin was too tough.  I resorted to puncturing the skin and then kneeding the juice out.

F019BB04-0626-4164-9967-09A64A8CC06C_1_201_aFrom four and a half pounds of fruit I got four cups of prickly pear juice!  An equal amount of sugar goes into the pot to simmer and then cool.

7CD3542D-497D-4D07-A142-AEAFA2E71AE0_1_201_aWhile we were waiting for it to cool, we tried some fresh prickly pear fruit, eating only the insides.  I thought it tasted like watermelon.  Randy, who doesn’t like watermelon, thought it tasted bitter and didn’t like it.

F77C871A-93BB-4DDC-B27E-C50190FF20AF_1_201_aA couple hours later we bottled our prickly pear syrup and enjoyed prickly pear margaritas!  I don’t like plain margaritas but thought the added syrup made it taste good!

98F3EF2F-F456-4FA8-A5B3-4D9DBF99A5C3So what else might we be eating from our backyard?  Not this cute little bunny enjoying the cool mulch under the grapefruit tree.

13196B89-5990-4679-91B3-DBB86CBF26C4_1_201_aNot our favorite quail parents and babies!   The babies start out like ping pong balls with hair.  As they grow, the family seems to shrink from 15 babies down to 5 or 6.  They have a high mortality rate.  Even though both parents are always present and seem to do their best to keep track of the brood some must get left behind in the constant movement.

5BFF974D-50C0-42A9-A68E-7A9628BAF8A4_1_201_aWe won’t be eating this guy either. Does anyone eat lizards unless it is absolutely necessary?  He is fun to watch as he does his push-ups each day.

FD1F7805-C4FC-424B-8242-FFAAC05550BB_1_201_aWe haven’t checked whether the seeds pods on our pineapple palm are edible.   Pineapple palm is indicative of the appearance, not the fruit.

8B925EB3-A823-46E2-B88B-681861BF7866These palms have nothing for us – no coconuts, no dates – nothing!  What’s up with that?

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We Belong To You and Me – 40 Years

Cue “How Deep is Your Love” by the BeeGees and you will be singing our song.  We danced to it just last winter at a BeeGees Tribute concert and can still sing every word.   The chorus ends with the phrase “We belong to you and me.”  Today is our 40th wedding anniversary.

B4F927B4-6B06-4221-B418-6C4B387DB4C0_1_201_aRandy and I met soon after we arrived on the Northern Arizona University campus in August 1977.   We became friends and then a couple.


We married on May 23, 1980.



I’ve taken a lot of grief over the years about those rust tuxedos.


My extended family traveled to Arizona for our wedding.  My dad gave me away in his dress white uniform at my request.


Randy’s family mostly lived in Tucson where we were married.  It is sad to see how many beloved people, in both of our families,  we have lost in these 40 years


Our first home was in married housing at NAU.  In the photo we are celebrating our first anniversary, likely the only year we ever re-lit our wedding candle!  (It is funny that we now live only 150 miles from where we began.)

845ACD6D-9518-4F19-B2B0-CA0BC2DC5D48Shortly thereafter we moved to Boise, Idaho for Randy to work at Hewlett Packard.   Here he is with his first engineering paycheck!

42DF657F-89EC-46F4-9F90-82C3016ED60AI was hired as a first grade teacher and we were off, working at careers that would last 33 years for Randy and 25 for me.


I spent some time being a full time mom after our daughter, Natasha, was born in December 1982.


This is our family at my grandparents’ farm – including our first fur baby, Anna.  My grandfather was always happy to put Randy to work, which he didn’t mind.


Natasha is holding our cat Sierra.  For dog people, she was a good cat for 18 years.


Travel and adventures were always part of our lives and family activities.


We spent about 15 years traveling to and staying at each of the great lodges in the western national parks.  This is Oregon Caves Lodge, one of the smallest, but also one of our favorites.


We snowmobiled in Yellowstone – and then decided we didn’t think it was right.


We were joined at the hip with the Sloan family for many years, often seeming more like one family than two.   We also traveled and spent time with my parents.  We were all together on this houseboat trip on Lake Powell.


Our boat was a big part of our lives each summer.  We had weekly water-ski outings for many years.


We spent a lot of time hiking and camping around Idaho.


I don’t usually like mustard!


This was our very good boy Toby.  He was part of our family for 15 years.


Natasha grew up…


…and she married Seth.  Welcome to our family Seth!


Randy and I kept working, traveling and having adventures.  Some, like this trip to South Dakota, were in our first fifth wheel trailer.


Same with this trip to Lake Tahoe where we went in our first hot air balloon.


Over the years we have traveled MANY times to MANY places with our friends Kent and Pam.  This trip was to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, an EPIC college football game.  We are so happy that traveling with Kent and Pam continues.


In 2010 this boy came into our lives.  If you’ve been reading the blog awhile, you know about our sweet boy Elko.  We still miss him.


We have been blessed to travel with these friends, Darrell and Cindy.  We’ve enjoyed many RV trips together and they’ve joined us at our Mexico timeshare several times.  We’ve even cruised to Alaska together.


Randy and I really enjoy cruising and have been on quite a few.   Our very first cruise was for our tenth anniversary and was just the two of us.  Over the years we went with Natasha  (letting her take a friend) or with my parents.  Twice we have gone on an extended family cruise.  This is Randy with our only grandchild on a cruise to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  Our most recent cruise was through the Panama Canal with my mother.


In 2013 Randy got his last paycheck from Hewlett Packard, retiring on his 55th birthday.


I retired in 2014, a few days after my 55th birthday. We sold everything and took off to live in our new fifth wheel trailer for an indefinite length of time.  This blog was created to document that journey.


For five years we enjoyed traveling, exploring and volunteering in state parks.  I’ve written, and you’ve probably read,  many blog posts about those adventures!


It wasn’t our plan to stop full time RVing but sometimes life happens.


And when you climb to the other side…


You figure out how to make the best of the new circumstance and move forward.   Randy is doing great and we are enjoying our new home and community near Phoenix.  We were all set for a spring/summer RV trip to see new places and add stickers to our state map when COVID-19 derailed us.  We also had to cancel our Great Britain land tour and Norway cruise scheduled for fall.   Undaunted, we’ve got new travel adventures in the planning stages.  We’re always looking forward to something.


It is what we’ve done for 40 years and will keep doing as long as we are able.  We Belong to You and Me.



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Being Busy and Staying Busy

Last fall we were so busy traveling that we barely had days at home between trips! I wrote about our September trips in the posts  Our “Problems” With Antelope Canyon…      Fourteen Border Crossings in One Day! ,   The North Rim – Finally!  and New Things in Las Vegas!

20EC1B15-70DB-43AD-A9B2-7753BFAC07B0_1_201_aIn mid October we met friends Kent and Pam in Sedona for an awesome, beautiful weekend.   This is a Sedona landmark, the Chapel of the Holy Cross.


We found this special place while hiking.


Randy decided to make his own.

FF452351-06B5-41A7-B1F8-62A665C52248We continued on with Kent and Pam to San Jose for a BSU volleyball game,  football game and some whale watching!


Lets go see whales!


Pam takes awesome pictures!


We always have fun meeting up with Kent and Pam!


Two days later we left for Cabo to spend a great week with friends Darrell and Cindy.


We went on a Cabo Taco Tour! 



We were able to watch baby turtles released to the sea.

AA9D5622-8B4D-4EA0-9637-3988729CF0E9_1_201_aRandy and I stayed in Mexico a second week to visit Rosa (in pink).  Rosa is Randy’s dad’s second wife and our friend.  She lives in LaPaz now and we had a great time meeting her family.  


One man speaks no English, the other speaks no Spanish.

Rosa had organized a large family gathering in our honor.  Her family loved Carl so much and Randy looks very much like him.  It was an emotional experience for all of us.


We got home just in time to join friends Connie and Warren in Flagstaff for an alumni challenge football game. The University of Idaho beat Northern Arizona in an overtime thriller.

 From Flagstaff we traveled to eastern Washington for a family Thanksgiving and then a brief stop in Boise for Natasha’s birthday. When we returned to Surprise in early December we were ready for a rest!

AB321D3B-FA1D-44FC-B041-0D042C170C5B January begins “the season” in Sun City Grand.  We usher for events and music programs throughout the year but everything kicks up a notch during the season.

We had Bocci league, golfing, hiking club, Grand Dems and a FunDiner’s group.  We both enjoyed taking classes through Grand Learning.   We started gleaning for the food bank and were blessed with visits from friends and family.


My mother, Beverly, came in late January.  She visited with us in Surprise and then we took off for a week in Mazatlan.   


There were iguana of all sizes and colors!


Painting pottery is one of my favorite activities in Mazatlan!


We paint the basics and the artist makes them beautiful!


Kent and Pam were in Mazatlan too so the five of us enjoyed time together.

919491B1-7A03-4708-896D-EC3E7DC177D1We went whale watching again and it was awesome.  We followed a mother and calf for a time.

C9D6C600-5DC4-496B-A46E-A32257C51A4BThen we watched four males competing for a female.  Pam took the great pictures.

6D34D35A-EC79-44D8-B3C5-E36211B1F9ABHome again,  we started Spring Training volunteering for Peoria Sports Complex, home of my team, the Mariners.


We can attend any game we aren’t working  – for free.

 We were spending a lot of time at the ball park, either volunteering or just watching games. Then spring training came to an abrupt halt.  So did life as we all knew it. 

Initially we were very content to have some down time.    Given that we aren’t trying to work, or deal with not working, or have kids at home, it hasn’t been too hard.  We live in an area of high risk because of age and health related concerns but also recognize that we have it much easier than so many others.  

We had gone from being way too busy to finding ways to keep busy. We are doing some miscellaneous projects around the house, some reading – same as most people. 


And because we didn’t have enough citrus already –  we got a dwarf Mexican key lime tree.


We started another batch of limoncello…

D9B8E8A4-5F54-4C7B-89E2-C1F684A14952_1_201_aEvery few days we have been delighted to check in on three owlets near a community lake.  The parents have nested in the same tree for several years. 

971C02B9-E966-457C-A901-C38A82E20848_1_201_aThis morning we got more than we expected!  Mother owl had breakfast for the family.  We heard the owlets call to her and watched her fly over to feed them.   Poor bunny.

ADFA1E5B-35C5-4A2C-9DBF-A959283D1841_1_201_aRandy and I mostly stay home but we do go walking every morning. 

A67609A1-5A4D-4DAA-B8A6-9CEC7CC75B70_1_201_aWe have had great weather have been blessed with amazing cactus blooms for several weeks!  

5E4094F4-9EAE-4C95-AA8B-CDA108E0D7C3_1_201_aDid you know the desert does this?  Enjoy!


We have been amazed at the variety of cactus but haven’t learned many names.



Some look like they belong in the sea!



My personal favorite.  Stay well.

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Our Newbie Citrus Story


When we bought our house last spring we knew we were getting a grapefruit and an orange tree.   We like oranges and fresh squeezed orange juice but weren’t too excited about the grapefruit.  The oranges were gone by the time we moved in but the grapefruit were surprisingly sweet and the juice was good.

Unfortunately we knew nothing about caring for citrus trees and they got very stressed with inadequate water.   The irrigation system was still set on the winter watering schedule and by early summer the trees should have been getting triple that amount.  It seems so obvious now.

With the aid of a local nursery we got our act together and learned how to care for citrus trees.  Randy spent long hot hours digging water wells under the trees, changing sprinkler lines and pruning the inside of the trees allowing for airflow. 

5E84FC68-B98F-42E1-A63E-854836231AAB_1_201_a We even added to our citrus grove by purchasing a tangerine tree.   We were hoping for a “little cutie” seedless tree.   Because we were newbies, with the nursery planting in the summer,  we bought tree insurance allowing for replacement for a variety of reasons- including if we didn’t like the taste of the fruit.

In December we harvested about thirty tangerines.   They were baseball size and had seeds.  We were so disappointed.   The nursery offered to trade our tree but said maintaining a seedless variety would be pretty much impossible.   Apparently those little cutie growers go to great effort to plant orchards far away from other citrus to avoid cross pollination.  Our tangerine tree was mere yards from our orange and grapefruit trees.   Even though we were disappointed it seemed excessive to destroy a perfectly good tree in exchange for another that still wouldn’t be what we wanted.  We’ll just enjoy our tangerines.  

59DA5C17-7D6A-4B6F-A5CC-EE546EFF2BCCIn January we joined a citrus gleaning group at our church.   About thirty of us spent Wednesday mornings January through March gleaning oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangelos, etc. from trees in the adjacent Sun City community.  The fruit is donated to a local food bank – some given out as whole fruit and some as juice.

Most of these trees are owned by older people who could not possibly pick the fruit or manage its distruibution.  They donate $25 per tree to the food bank for each tree we pick thereby helping to defray the cost of operating the juice machine.  (The cost of professional gleaners would be $150 – $200 per tree.)  As a group we gleaned 212 trees yielding approximately 95,000 pounds of citrus for the food bank.   

4B9D8574-0F5D-478A-A1A3-E1031BFEB4ECTwice we had house guests who joined us.   Thanks to our friend Jacque for visiting and for pitching in.  

6E8B9F2C-DCF1-480B-82CA-6F55CE7CD5FFOur friend Beth also came and picked with us while visiting.   We didn’t get a picture of her but she took one of Randy shaking the tree.   In January we were picking fruit that didn’t seem quite ripe and by early March all he had to do was shake a limb and lots came down!  (The white paint is to avoid sunburn.)

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aOur own grapefruit were plentiful but much smaller than the ones we “inherited” last year.   Our oranges were also plentiful and small but we don’t know what size they were previously.   We assume they too were stunted due to the summer stress.

We left the fruit on our trees very late into the season hoping they would improve with age but eventually we gleaned them too with the help of our neighbors.E7009346-C39B-4607-A53C-B231CC18B730_1_201_aAfter Donna and Rick had taken as much as they wanted,  and we had given away what we could,  we still had a lot left….

00706F67-99D9-4039-BCCA-771B7ABD951EWe juiced a lot!  We have enough grapefruit juice to last all year and have six quart bags of orange juice.   Our oranges were so small it took about 30 oranges to make 2.5 cups of juice.


And that brings me to limoncello…   Our son-in-law, Seth, introduced me to limoncello several years ago when he home crafted a batch in Boise.    I purchased some  limoncello at Costco last summer and it is my happy hour drink of choice.  I even have a T-Shirt saying limoncello is my “spirit drink.”

1204A16A-326B-43E7-85C4-392C54F5C35C_1_201_aAll that is way overstating the importance of limoncello in my life but when you have a neighbor with a lemon tree, and he gives you way too many lemons, you go for it.   We made our own limoncello.

31D514F2-43E8-4FFA-A37E-2EB308571122Limoncello uses zest peel, not juice, and is usually made with Everclear.  We had some rum that Randy didn’t like so we used that instead.   After sitting for a couple weeks we mixed that concoction with a simple syrup and were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Our limoncello isn’t nearly as strong or as sweet as the brand we buy.  We are liking combining a little of ours with a little of the store bought version.

79772372-81DE-45C6-8A90-BFEEF30F1D5AWe got overconfident and decided to try grapefruitcello and orangecello using our own citrus.   We went to the liquor store to buy Everclear but it was scarce as people were using it to make hand sanitizer.    Vodka was recommended as our base liquor.

From the beginning we had doubts about grapefruitcello because no recipe ever calls for grapefruit zest.  But why not try it?   Several weeks later, when we were ready to add the simple syrup, we made up only a small amount.   Grapefruitcello was really bad.

1A3120C9-C39A-4E61-A0CB-AE7110B31281Our orangecello was drinkable but not as good as our limoncello.   We think the secret for us may be using rum instead of  vodka.

4BCABA6A-A81D-41F8-B42F-64EFFB01F261So we’ve learned a lot in our newbie citrus year – about caring for trees, about gleaning and about eating and drinking the fruit.   This little orange is already beginning next year’s crop of fruit, juice and orangecello.  Cheers!

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Settling In to Sun City Grand

fullsizeoutput_5864No, we didn’t fall off the face of the earth – and thanks to those of you who wondered!   We were enjoying fall travel and then enjoying “the season” at Sun City Grand.   We would be busy still, except for the corona virus, social distancing and forced relaxation.  

We are both doing well in stay at home status.  We walk each day and are working our way through podcasts, books, movies and projects.  SereneWandering finally rose to the top of my list.   I plan to write a few posts to catch you up –  a way to spend my time and yours – if you’re willing.

fullsizeoutput_511dYou may want to go back to May 2019 and read Our New Grand Plan post about the decision we made to stop full time RVing and buy a home.  One year later,  we are happy with that decision.  Randy is doing very well but has had a few blips along the way.  Having a home base near Mayo Clinic was the right call.

In the July 2019 post Wheels, Batteries and  Desert Things, we told you about buying new vehicles and what we had done to our new house that “didn’t need anything.”  We have spent the months since doing even more things.   



Our biggest project was to add a covered patio along the entire back of the house.  The afternoon sun made that area unusable all summer.  It also required having the entire back of the house closed up.



We created a lot more outdoor living space that we are loving.  We opted for a solid cover, added a door from our bedroom to the patio and another area for a fire table seating area.


The first contractor who bid the job (and didn’t get it) tried to tell us what we wanted instead of listening.   He said  “You’ll never use this area.”  We remind each other of that every day when we sit here.  It is our favorite seating area.


Did you notice the shepherds crooks with red hummingbird feeders and stained glass pieces in the previous pictures?  The ground was/is so hard that Randy had to use a concrete bit on his drill and the shop vac to “dig” the holes for the crooks.

IMG_4386We really enjoy the animals that visit our backyard. One morning this bobcat strolled by as I was sitting with my coffee!  So exciting!

We see coyotes come through often enough.  As long as they don’t bother our bunnies, we enjoy them.

P1020365We had 27 solar panels installed.   They are producing power but it has been a huge frustration for Randy.  If he wasn’t an engineer who wanted to know everything about how they worked and how they were installed, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are.  At one point we thought he was going to have to become a solar power expert and fix them himself.  Persistence with the manufacturing and installing companies has paid off, at least in the short term.

Randy decided he was done with our other solar power system.  The solar hot water system came with the house and was one of the first projects he had to figure out.  The system leaked and needed to be coaxed along.  Eventually it wasn’t worth the grief and he pulled it out.


After a new heating and cooling system, I suggested to Randy that maybe we should be done.  Ha!  A week later I decided I wanted security doors.  Security doors are sturdy, lockable doors to keep two and four legged critters out.  Many people lock the security doors and leave their other doors open at night.

Due to an irregular size, our security doors needed to be custom built which led to a lot of research on how I wanted them to look.  I chose an Ocotillo design and we have the same on our front and bedroom doors.




And then when I didn’t like the way it looked with our old ugly front door I had a new insert installed.  We are both happy with the doors now.

We really do think we are now done working on our house that “didn’t need anything.”

Next time I’ll tell you more about what we’ve been doing that isn’t house related.

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New Things in Las Vegas!

Our fall road trip concluded with a few days in Las Vegas.  We’ve been to Las Vegas lots of times but still found some new things to do.

IMG_4277We stayed downtown (instead of on the strip) to have easy access to the Fremont Street Experience.   We walked through the five block covered extravaganza several times enjoying the lights and zip-lines overhead.   There were interesting artisans and musicians during the day but the place got pretty seedy later in the evening.

fullsizeoutput_57a9Our downtown hotel was across the street from The Mob Museum.   We spent a few hours exploring but could have spent many more.  Another visit is certainly warranted.   The museum documented, with exhibits and video, the rise of Organized Crime through prohibition and beyond.   Organized crime infiltrated Hollywood, Sports, Racing, Gambling and Drugs.   Police and politicians were bought and paid for in cities across the land.

P1020313Huge skimming operations occurred at both the Stardust and the Tropicana in Las Vegas.

P1020305American awareness of organized crime was raised through the Kefauver Hearings in 1950 and 1951.  Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver led the Senate Investigation on organized crime and held hearings in 14 cities across the United States. They were broadcast into people’s homes by a new medium called television.

fullsizeoutput_57abToday the old Las Vegas courthouse is The Mob Museum. A very effective multi-media presentation about the hearing is available in the very room in which it was held.

After Americans became aware that organized crime had infiltrated their lives in previously unknown ways, the tide began to turn.  Efforts to root out corruption took hold and the battle waged.   

fullsizeoutput_57adIn tribute to Speakeasies, common during prohibition, the Mob Museum has its own in the basement.

fullsizeoutput_57acWe enjoyed a couple of drinks.

fullsizeoutput_57baAlso new, we went to a Rod Stewart Concert!  

fullsizeoutput_57bcIt was very good!

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The North Rim – Finally!

Leaving Page, we headed west toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a place we have wanted to visit for years.   

We have been to the south rim frequently as it is far easier to get to.  The south rim is where most Grand Canyon visitors go.  True story:  Randy, a girlfriend, and I went camping on the south rim of the Grand Canyon the night we first met at Northern Arizona University in 1977.  My mother didn’t hear that story until 30 years later!

P1020106En-route we came upon the Navajo Bridges.  The bridge on the left is the original, built in 1928.  It is now a walking path spanning the Colorado River.  

P1020117A second, very similar looking bridge, was built for modern vehicles and traffic, in 1995.

P1020125California Condors frequent and nest in the Navajo Bridge area and we were delighted to see one near the bridge footings.  Notice the tag on the right wing.  Condors weigh up to 23 lbs, have an average wingspan of 9.5 feet and are the largest land bird in North America.  They can fly 80 miles per hour!  In 1982 there were 22 known California Condors, now there are approximately 500!

P1020139Further down the road we came to the “Arizona Strip,” where six condors were released by the Peregrine Fund in 1996.  Condors had not been been seen in Arizona since 1900.  Since that initial release, the Peregrine Fund has released an additional 8-10 condors annually.

Sharlot-M-Hall-HistorianAdjacent to the condor placard was one about Sharlot Hall.  She  was important in Arizona history in a variety of ways.  The placard highlighted her campaign to ensure that Arizona got separate statehood status.  In 1906, she opposed a congressional measure to bring New Mexico and Arizona into the Union as one state. She toured the territory gathering opposition to the bill and wrote a poem describing why Arizona deserved separate statehood.  The poem was delivered to US congressman and the measure was defeated, maybe in part, because of her efforts.

fullsizeoutput_5769We had a beautiful fall drive approaching the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

fullsizeoutput_576dWe were delighted with our little cabin, inside and out!



fullsizeoutput_5771Although the day was a bit hazy, we enjoyed views of the north rim!



fullsizeoutput_5782The Grand Canyon Lodge was built on the edge of the north rim.

fullsizeoutput_5786We enjoyed the warm sun on the lodge verandah.

fullsizeoutput_5789There were views everywhere, including inside the lodge lobby.

fullsizeoutput_5788We learned about Brighty, the burro.  Burros had been brought to the canyon area by miners and were eventually abandoned.  They survived over time.  Brighty became a pet of the first lodge owner in 1917.   Brighty and family son Bobby worked together hauling water and Brighty received daily flapjacks.  Eventually the National Park Service decided to remove wild burros and most were captured and adopted out by 1981.

fullsizeoutput_578bWe ate in the lodge dining room, one of several places to eat on site.

fullsizeoutput_578fWe attended a ranger presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps.  It was one of the best we’ve ever attended.

fullsizeoutput_5785A view from one of the CCC sites.

fullsizeoutput_579dThe next morning we walked the rim trail one more time looking at the views and trying to find a Kaibab Squirrel.  We learned Kaibab Squirrels live only in this area and we wanted to see one.   Supposedly they are everywhere but we had quite a challenge finding one!   We were searching for a gray squirrel with a white tail….

P1020252We saw and heard evidence of this one long before Randy finally found it way up in the tree.  The zoom lens and his steady hand got the picture!

fullsizeoutput_57a2After all that effort, we saw this one bounding away as we approached our truck to leave. 

Our take away is that we like the north rim very much.  Even though it is a bit of a challenge to get there, we were surprised by the amount of visitors and activity.  A lot of people like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!  We hope to visit again soon.

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Our “Problems” With Antelope Canyon…

fullsizeoutput_56e6Even if you are unaware, you have likely seen photographs of Antelope Canyon near Page in northern Arizona.  Antelope Canyon is a bucket list destination for serious photographers (which we aren’t) and slot canyon hikers (which we are).

fullsizeoutput_566dAntelope Canyon was formed by flash flooding through Navajo Sandstone. 

Unfortunately eleven tourists were killed in the lower canyon in 1997 due to flash flooding.  These deaths contributed to the area being named a Tribal Park shortly thereafter and the requirement to utilize Navajo guides.   The potential for flash flooding is monitored very carefully.

fullsizeoutput_5663The first problem we encountered with Antelope Canyon was whether to book (well in advance) an Upper or Lower Canyon tour.  For no particular reason, I chose the Upper Canyon, “The Crack.”  I booked about a week prior to our late September trip and still had limited options.

fullsizeoutput_565dWe were transported to the site in four wheel drive vehicles.

P1010894An interesting entrance to the Upper Canyon – walk right in!

fullsizeoutput_5670There are about 12 people in a tour group, but there are dozens of tours in the canyon at the same time.

20190930_092620The tour guides are awesome, knowing just where and at what angle, to take photographs.   Some of the views have been named to reflect something similar outside the canyon.  This opportunity was called monument valley.


fullsizeoutput_5679We enjoyed our tour so much that we inquired about a walk up tour for the Lower Canyon. (We had seen limited “cash only” walk up opportunities at the Upper Canyon.)   At about 11:00 am, we got the last tickets for the last lower canyon tour at 4:00.

P1010973With hours to wander, we ventured to other sites near Page.   First was the Horshshoe Bend of the Colorado River, the same river that formed and traverses through the Grand Canyon.

fullsizeoutput_56a0Then we went to Antelope Point Marina and enjoyed a boat tour of this section of Lake Powell.

fullsizeoutput_56a1We enjoyed three house boat vacations on Lake Powell many years ago and, while at the marina, decided to take a look inside the new houseboats available for rent.  

P1020003At 4:00 we connected with our tour guide.  Unlike just walking in the Upper Canyon, this time we took the stairs and descended into Lower Antelope canyon, “The Corkscrew.”



fullsizeoutput_56feThere were sets of stairs throughout the tour which could be problematic for some.

fullsizeoutput_5700There are so many interesting features in the sandstone.


P1020021Like before, our tour guide knew when and how to get the best pictures, mostly with cell phones.  Only two of us on tour had regular cameras and Randy’s phone photos, taken by the guide, were often better than those from my real camera (on automatic settings), also taken by the guide.   If photography had been the primary reason for this adventure – not knowing how to use my camera would have been a real problem!

fullsizeoutput_56faOne “photography tour” is offered each day, presumably allowing more time at the best time of the day for light angles.  On the day we were there those tours were at about noon.  (Our tours were early and late.)   If photography is important to you, take that into consideration and book even further in advance!


Climbing out of the lower canyon!


Although not a real problem, we would be hard pressed to pick a favorite between the canyons . Both are amazingly beautiful, just different.   The Upper Canyon is taller and has wider openings. The Lower Canyon is truly a corkscrew.   Both of our Navajo tour guides were great!  

Our biggest Antelope Canyon problem going forward – The bar for future slot canyon hikes is very, very high!

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Fourteen Border Crossings in One Day!

fullsizeoutput_5603We enjoy riding old trains and have been on quite a few including the Durango to Silverton trip I wrote about in Plan B:  Colorado! just a few weeks ago.   This time we were in the vicinity of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad near  Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

fullsizeoutput_5601The Cumbres & Toltec is advertised as the longest and highest narrow gauge railroad in America. Narrow gauge lines are 3 feet wide instead of the standard 4 feet 8 inches.  The narrow gauge allowed for tighter mountain turns.

fullsizeoutput_560aThe Cumbres & Toltec is a remnant of the Denver & Rio Grand Railway, built in 1881 for the mining industry in southwest Colorado.   The rail route through the mountains and over the 10,151 foot pass was built in less than one year.  

In addition to mining interests, the railroad later moved timber, cattle, sheep and passengers.  A first class parlor car was part of the train until 1951.

By the 1950s most narrow gauge lines in the Rocky Mountains were scrapped.  This line was saved because oil and gas was discovered in the Four Corners area and it was used to transport equipment.  The Rio Grande Railroad abandoned the line in 1967.

fullsizeoutput_5606Colorado and New Mexico joined together, contracting with Cumbres Toltec Operating LLC and the Friends of Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Inc. to operate a tourist train.

We traveled an hour by car from Pagosa Springs, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico,  crossing the border enroute.  

fullsizeoutput_55c0We began our train ride in Chama, New Mexico with tickets to ride the complete 64 mile route arriving in Antonita, Colorado.  We would return to Chama by motor coach.  The reverse is also possible.


We went into our assigned car to our assigned seats.  There were about 18 people ticketed on our car so we had options!


Window seats for everyone!   We could also go from side to side as scenery demanded.

Just two days previously the train had been completely full requiring more cars.  Since that train had more than seven cars, a second engine was required to pull the weight up the 4 percent grade out of Chama.   


A volunteer docent moved throughout the train giving everyone free route maps and information.  He was outstanding.

fullsizeoutput_55d6Movie personnel utilized the train and this area while filming Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

fullsizeoutput_55daLobato Trestle sits 100 feet above Wolf Creek.  When the train requires a second engine the trestle cannot support the additional weight.  The first engine unhooks and goes across.  The second engine brings the train across and they reconnect.

fullsizeoutput_55deThe engineer is doing a blowdown – releasing steam to adjust pressure and eject sediment.  Two cars back we got blow in our faces!  We learned that lesson quickly!


We went to the open-air gondola car for a short time.


For twice as much money we could have ridden in the restored parlor car.  


A fire car followed us the entire route looking for embers.

fullsizeoutput_562cAt Cumbres Pass “station” eight people from our car disembarked.  Seven got off and met family members who had driven to pick them up.  


This woman disembarked to continue her solo hike along the Continental Divide Trail.  

fullsizeoutput_55f3This is Tanglefoot Curve.  Builders made wide loops to gain small amounts of elevation, in this case 39 feet.  We saw this looping many times throughout the trip.


We stopped to take on water for the steam engine.


The scenery was pretty awesome!

fullsizeoutput_562eTwo and a half hours into our journey we approached Osier.   


Trains from both directions meet at Osier for lunch.  Passengers can continue on (like we did) or board the other train and go back to the same station you left from.  Lunch, a full turkey or meatloaf meal,  was included in the ticket price.


P1010757Osier used to be a toll station on the road from Conejos to Chama.


Osier became a section house for the railroad when it came through.

fullsizeoutput_560bWhen we boarded the train to continue on a bird was trapped in our car.  Randy and another passenger were able to get it out.

fullsizeoutput_5611We traveled through the Toltec Gorge, 600 feet above the Rio de Los Pinos River.  I wish the picture did the gorge justice.

fullsizeoutput_5614Just west of the Rock Tunnel we saw a Garfield monument.  Railroad employees had a service at this site for Garfield on the day of his death in 1881.  The monument was dedicated by railroad employees.

fullsizeoutput_5618We entered the tunnel, bored through 360 feet of solid rock – in 1881.

fullsizeoutput_561fA second tunnel, Mud Tunnel, required wooden supports over the entire 342 foot length.  A train once broke down in the tunnel, burning the supports.  Railroad workers constructed a road around the tunnel until it was repaired.  In the meantime, two trains met on either side of the tunnel and transferred cargo and passengers using the road.

fullsizeoutput_5621Throughout the day we enjoyed seeing houses and cabins in the wilderness.  Some were in pairs or groupings and appeared to have road access.  This one was all alone and appeared to be accessible only by airstrip.


The scenery changed many times during our six hour ride

fullsizeoutput_5625We saw entering New Mexico (or Colorado) signs throughout the day!

fullsizeoutput_5627Sometimes a new sign appeared just a couple hundred yards down the track as the route looped from one side of the border to the other.   The train crossed the New Mexico-Colorado border eleven times!

fullsizeoutput_562aAs we approached Antonito we saw Hangman’s Ferguson Trestle (Mr. Ferguson was hanged on it.)   The trestle was accidently burned down during filming of the Willie Nelson’s movie:  Where the Hell’s That Gold?  They had to pay to have it rebuilt.

fullsizeoutput_55fd Randy and I have been fortunate to make seven or eight of these train trips.  We have liked them all but agree that the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is our favorite.

During our motor coach ride back to Chama we crossed the border two more times.  On our drive back to Pagosa Springs, we crossed the border in our car one more time.  That was fourteen border crossings in one day!  

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NM in NM: El Morro

The last National Monument we visited on our recent New Mexico adventure was El Morro – The Rock With Three Names!

fullsizeoutput_5575El Morro, this large sandstone bluff, sat on the main east-west route for several people groups.   

fullsizeoutput_5594It wasn’t the rock promontory, but the oasis pool at the base that was the reason for many to stop and rest a spell.

fullsizeoutput_55aaZuni forefathers, part of the southwest puebloan culture,  built communities atop the rock circa 1200.    This area was along east-west trade routes for native peoples.

fullsizeoutput_557ePetroglyphs in the sandstone bluff are the earliest carvings.   Current Zuni consider this site sacred and named it Atsinna “place of writings on the rock.”

Spaniards came through during their second conquest effort looking for the elusive cities of gold.  They found some silver but little gold in “New Spain, land that is now New Mexico.  Mostly they found native people groups and began to convert or conquer them for God and Spain.  Records indicate that Spaniards came to the “pool at the great rock” in 1583.


The Spaniards called the great rock “The Headland.”  Juan de Onate recorded his presence on April 16, 1605, the earliest known European inscription.


This area became part of the United States after The Mexican-American War (1846-48.)   Army expeditions began to map the area and interact with the Zuni and Navajo.  

fullsizeoutput_558eNamed “Inscription Rock” by the Anglo-Americans, Army Engineer Lt. James H. Simpson and accompanying artist Richard Kern came to document the inscriptions.  They, after faithfully copying each and every petroglyph and inscription, made an error, misspelling “insciption” in their own.

P1050902.JPGEmigrants to California and railway survey groups added inscriptions in the last half of the nineteenth century.

El Morro National Monument is no longer on the main east-west route.   First the railroad (1881) and then the highway system (I-40) take travelers along a route 25 miles north.   El Morro isn’t hard to get to but you need to plan ahead.   It is absolutely worth the few extra miles and effort!

fullsizeoutput_5574El Morro was named a National Monument in 1906, one of the original four designated monuments by Teddy Roosevelt under the new Antiquities Act.   The other three are Devils Tower in Wyoming,  Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Petrified National Forest, also in Arizona. (More on those later.)

fullsizeoutput_5590A stop at the visitor center gives you an introductory video, expert advice and a loaner trail guide.   It is a great resource for getting some background on some of the 2000 names inscribed on the great rock.


A short trail brings you to the base of El Morro.


The pool is there through the cattails.

fullsizeoutput_5577Nature will have its way with sandstone but this cut is so precise it looked purposeful. Alas, no -it was just the way the rock broke and fell.


The inscriptions are everywhere!


In some areas you can see petroglyphs, Spanish and English together.


E. Penn Long was a member of an Army expedition looking for a route between Ft. Smith Arkansas and the Little Colorado River.


P. Gilmer Breckenridge, in the same Army contingent, was in charge of 25 camels being assessed for usefulness to the US Army in the water deprived southwest.   The experiment was deemed a success but was abandoned with the onset of the Civil War.

fullsizeoutput_557dSeveral monument administrators have done what they thought was best to try and preserve the inscriptions that will eventually be lost to nature.  Cutting around inscriptions to move water flow away was attempted.


Blackening inscription with a graphite mixture was also tried.


One park administrator even had signatures done after 1906 scraped away as he considered them graffiti and unlawful.

fullsizeoutput_5591After viewing the signatures near the base of the rock, we followed the trail up to the mesa.  This rock looks like it could break off at any moment.


We saw one area of ruins on our way up.  This area was closed.


We made it!



fullsizeoutput_55acWe saw a second set of ruins that are being preserved and are accessible.

A few years ago I accidentally took a very good picture at a Nevada state park.  I called it my Stairway to Heaven picture and an enlargement hangs on our bedroom wall.    I’ve been looking for Stairway to Heaven shots ever since.  The mesa trail had a few!






We had wonderful views from the mesa at El Morro!

After visiting El Morro, we are fortunate to have been to all four of those original 1906 national monuments.  If you would like to read the blog posts from the other visits they are: Devil of a Time Getting to Devils Tower, Is it the Journey or the Destination?  and Way More Than Just Wood Rocks!.

And if you haven’t heard Stairway to Heaven in a while….here is a link:  Stairway to Heaven


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