Monday, November 30, 2015

11/30 Willow Beach, Colorado River Below Lake Mead

I am happy to be in another one of my favorite campgrounds!  This one is at Willow Beach, which is on a slope above the Colorado River, about 15 miles south of Hoover Dam, on the Arizona side of the river.  It is four miles from the main highway, so there is very little noise.  On the other side of the river is the Black Canyon Wilderness area.  The only access to the canyon and the river is the marina, but you can rent a boat and head up or down stream.  Not much current this time of year and hardly any boaters, so it is very peaceful.  The whole area is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The drive in from Phoenix was also gorgeous, though at 276 miles, it was a lot longer than I like to drive. 



This is part of the four mile long road into the marina and campground.  They had a pretty serious flash flood a couple of months ago, so you can see where they had to plow sand and rocks off the roadway.

No pulling off this road.  The shoulders are very soft sand and you can tell where the construction equipment has made very deep ruts.

It was beginning to get dark, so the mountains do look black.

The campground is up on a slope, so this is the view of the river from my campsite. 


This is the view looking away from the river to the hills behind.  All sites have full hookups and are on pavement.  I also found out today that there is a washer and dryer, so I am very happy.  Note the really blue sky.

Rode my bike down the hill to the marina.  Nice view upstream from the marina.


I am scheduled to take a scenic float from Hoover Dam down to this marina on Sunday.  It is very cold here (high today of 54 and low of 32 last night), so I wanted to check out the raft.  Looks nice and big, and I was assured that I would not have wet feet the whole time.  I will be wearing shorts, but lots of layers on top.

Here is one of the rental boats.

Another rental boat, but looks a little less stable.  I would love to rent a boat, but am worried about mechanical trouble.


The last three pictures were taken from the picnic area half-way to the campground.

This describes an even worse flash flood many years ago.

Best view, ever!!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

11/26 Saguaro Cactus in Usery Mountain Regional Park

One of the defining plants in the Sonoran Desert is the Saguaro cactus.  (These are the big guys holding their arms in the air.)  The thing that makes the Sonoran Desert unique is that they not only get some winter rainfall, but they also get rainfall in the summer.  Actually, they are a fairly wet desert, getting up to 16" of rain a year, which enables them to produce a bounty of plants and food for animals and humans.  Native Americans lived very comfortably in this desert because of the abundant food and animals.  Check here for more information:  http://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/sodn/sonoran.cfm

Saguaro cactus are impressive because of their size and their long life--they can get to be as tall as 40-45' and live up to 200 years.  They grow very slowly and may take as long as 10 years to get to be 2" tall.  They do not produce their first flowers or grow "arms" until they are almost 100 years old, so they are a valued natural resource.  Native American's harvested their sweet fruit and made syrup out of them and ground the seeds into a paste.  Bats also eat the fruit and various birds use holes in the cactus to raise their young.  More info is here:  http://www.nps.gov/orpi/learn/nature/saguaro-cactus.htm  

What I love is the varying shapes of these cactus.  Here are some photos I took today just in a small loop of the campground. This first one was one of the tallest.

Here is a cluster near my campsite.

This one isn't very tall, but it has a bunch of little arms.

This one looks dignified to me.

The one in the front has at least two holes for birds' nests. The one in the back has a drooping top for some reason.

This small one is about 6' tall so it is about 70 years old. Wow!

This one has one big arm on an arm and a lot of little arms starting to grow.

This one is about 12' tall and has its first arm growing, so it is probably 100 years old. 

This one has several sagging arms.  Not sure what causes that. 

 
This huge saguaro has a lot of very long arms and more arms growing on those arms.  Impressive and amazing that the base can hold up that huge structure.

Another amazingly large example.  There is one big cactus in the front and two others that are smaller behind it.

This one has arms on only one side, but seems to be sprouting arms on the other side.  Wonder if the arms on the one side fell off or were damaged in some way?


Just could not stop taking photos!

This one wins the prize for looking the weirdest.  Wonder what it would tell us about its history if it could talk?

This one has a constriction near the top.

However, if you look closer, you can see that there is a bird's home at that point.  Must have caused some damage to the growth.

And this is what is left when a saguaro dies.  Its inner skeleton can remain for decades and maybe longer. The Native Americans used these ribs for a lot of tools and to build their homes.


I guess I could have taken another few dozen photographs of saguaro, but this is enough to get a idea of their variety.  Hope you enjoyed.  It was a good way to enjoy my Thanksgiving! 

Tomorrow, after I get my haircut, I will try to take some photos of the other plants and cactus in the park.
 

11/24 Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, AZ

This is easily one of the campgrounds that are on my "Top Ten" list of favorite places to stay.  Why?  Obviously, the first reason is the beautiful Sonoran Desert.  Second, is that camping spots are very spread apart, giving everyone some privacy and their own piece of the desert to enjoy.  And third would be all the birds and wildlife scampering about.

You can easily find this as you drive through Mesa, Arizona.  First, you will see a mountain north of the city with a slash on it.  The is Pass Mountain, otherwise known as "Scarface."  


Then, you will see a sign pointing to "Phoenix" on another mountain.  This is an air marker on Usery Mountain developed by a troop of boy scouts in the 50s to direct pilots to Phoenix Airport.  Here is more information on the sign: http://kjzz.org/content/25464/did-you-know-phoenix-air-marker-has-been-around-1950s 

Turn right between the two mountains, and head north of Usery Pass Road.  Voila!  Here it is--only 3 or 4 miles from the Mesa city limits, but up on a slope so you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere.  Usery Mountain is one of several parks owned and operated by Maricopa County, Arizona. 
 
This is the third time I have been to this park, and each time have been happy with my camping spot.  Here is the one I have this time.

Got a nice Saguaro cactus, right next to me.  Neighbors across the street but lots of space on either side for privacy.

You can see how the site is nicely defined and the picnic table and barbecue grill are in the back.  Lots of plants and smaller cactus around me. 

I am going to rest and relax here for a few days, plus get some work and RV maintenance done.  Then I will come back to another site in February.  In the morning and early afternoon, you can hear the birds and little quail scurrying around and making a racket.  Just at dusk on most nights, you can hear the coyotes yipping and howling as they get together for their night's roaming. In some sites, you can also look down at the lights of the city and valley.  

Weather today was sunny (obviously) and 77 degrees!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

11/22 White Sands National Monument, NM

White Sands National Monument is located in the middle of the White Sands Missile Test Center, so it is occasionally closed.  Luckily that does not happen too often, and I was able to stop by on my way out of Alamogordo, heading west to Phoenix. 

The temperatures were down to 32 last night, so even though it looks sunny in these photos, it was still very chilly when I was there at about 10:00 am.  By the time I got done at the visitor's center, it had warmed up to almost 50, so I changed into shorts and a sweatshirt to climb one small dune to take some photos. 

The visitor center is not on the dunes, so you have to drive a couple of miles.

Because it was Sunday, there were a lot of families out hiking and sledding.  You can bring sleds or rent them at the visitor center.



I liked the patterns in the side of one dune along the roadway.


The next few photos were taken from the small dune I climbed up so I could get a better view.  If it had been warmer and I had had more time, I would have done some barefoot hiking!  The gypsum "sand" is the same stuff they make drywall out of so it is powdery and very soft to walk in.




 
 On the way out, I saw several horse trailers and people getting ready for riding.  There were 5-6 trailers full of horses here, and more waiting in line to get in at the park entrance booth. 


And here is a video I took of the dunes:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGYtsUdi1sU&feature=youtu.be.  
 

These photos were taken on my way to the interstate.  New Mexico certainly is a pretty state!