Friday, January 29, 2021

1/26 Usery Mountain Regional Park in Rain & Snow

 This is one of nicest of the Maricopa County regional parks, but I had only five days here and most of it was cold and rainy, and one day was even cold and snowy, so I did not have much time to walk around and enjoy it.  However, I have been here before, so that is OK.  I had work to do, so was happy to stay inside where it was warm.  

Even though I got a late reservation, this spot was not too bad.  Only problem was backing in and then turning, so as to not hit the cement picnic table while still lining up for the electric and water connections.  It took me several tries, however.  Nice and sunny this first day, but the clouds are gathering. 


This tree is a palo verde.  The name literally means "green stick."  When it is very dry, desert plants have to conserve water, and leaves allow a lot of water to evaporate, so this tree has almost no leaves, especially in winter.  But the bark has green chlorophyll and still uses the sun to produce food for the tree.   

This is a creosote bush.  It has very tiny leaves and if you pour water on it, it will smell like burning rubber.

One good thing about this campground is that sites are very nicely spread apart, so you have a feeling of privacy.  

The mountain in the distance is known as slash mountain, for an obvious reason. The slash is really a rock ledge that interrupts the slope of the mountain.

This is a huge cholla bush.  Some people call it a "jumping cholla" because the hanging buds catch on anything that passes by or steps on them.  If you take a dog for a walk in the desert, watch out for this bush and buds on the ground because you will be pulling thorns out constantly.  Some people take needle-nose pliers when they go for walks. 

Nice bunch of saguaro behind my campsite.  Any saguaro with arms is at least 100 years old.  Some of these are between 150 and 200 years old.

Some sort of barrel cactus, but with red thorns.

This is an ocotillo.  It will have bright red flowers on the tip of every branch later in the spring. You can see either an old flower or a bud on a couple of branches.  It also has very tiny leaves. 

The next few photos are taken a day or two later.  After it had rained for several hours, it started to snow--hard!  In fact, you should be able to see Slash Mountain in the distance, but it is obscured with snow! 

Amazing!  And these were big flakes, but most melted as they landed.

It took several hours to melt, but I was happy to be inside where I had two little electric heaters and my furnace running! 

1/20 Lake Pleasant Regional Park northwest of Phoenix

 Maricopa County, which is the county Phoenix is located in, has a lot of beautiful regional campgrounds.  This is one of my favorites, but I did not take many photos because I was only here a few days and also because it was windy and rainy, so did not spend much time outdoors. 

I know a lot of the scenery in this part of the country looks similar, but each view as you drive is unique.   Most of these photos, by the way, were taken the day I arrived or the next day because the weather quickly got nasty. 

There are several campgrounds in this park, but I like this one, Roadrunner Campground, because it has water and electric at all sites and is located on a bluff so the view of the lake is good.  It is also within walking distance of the shore and the visitor center.

Lake level is about average for this time of year.

I had one of the nicer sites, with a great view of the lake.  Only problem was when the weather turned nasty, the wind was really rocking my vehicle and I had to close one slide so the slide awning would not tear.  This photo, obviously, was taken before the storm hit.

Not sure what kind of a bird this one was, but he was very noisy. 

The bunnies here were not used to being fed carrots.  I would toss them a small piece, but unless it practically hit them on the nose, they could not figure out what it was.  I only gave them a couple of pieces, anyway.

 By bunnies! 

1/14 Black Canyon of Colorado

Willow Beach Marina and Campground is located at the Black Canyon of the Colorado River.  It is about 13 miles south of Hoover Dam, and is a great place to canoe, kayak, or rent a boat.  I have only a few photos from this trip, but wanted to include these photos of the Canyon.  The campground is behind us, on a slope up the small Willow Beach Canyon.

The next two photos are looking downriver.

This one is looking at the visitor center and upriver. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

1/11 Willow Beach Campground Critters

When I was here in late October, I was able to take a lot of photos of bighorn sheep.  I am here for a week, and no sheep, but lots of desert cottontails and Gambel's quail.  In the past, I have had trouble photographing the quail specifically, but now I come prepared.  

It has been cool or even cold, but sunny every day, and I have been relaxing because the new semester has just started with no papers to grade until tomorrow.  Willow Beach is part of the Lake Mead Recreation Area and is located 13 miles downriver, along what is known as the Black Canyon of the Colorado.  It is accessible by road only here and at one place about a half-mile down from the dam.  Otherwise, you have to hike in, but you can get someone to drop you off at the launch area near the dam and kayak here.  You can also rent a boat at the Willow Beach Marina and motor up to the launch area near the dam. 

I love this campground because it has cement pads with asphalt drives, making it clean and no dust, as you get in many campgrounds in the desert.  Anyway, here are some photos of this lovely campground.  Note that it is mostly empty because the weekenders have left:

If you look past my motorhome up onto the hill in the distance, you can see the ranger's homes.  Everything here is relatively new because this area had a huge flash flood way back in 1974 where 19 people died.  The area, including a huge national park campground, flooded because the campground and facilities at that time were built in a canyon which was prone to flooding. Here is an article about that flood and the new facilities that opened in 2009.
And actually, it was rebuilt in 2009 in a similar canyon, so it still prone to flooding.  The campground is a lot smaller, however, but there is a new fisheries building, new marina and visitor center, and a new campground.  In fact, it still floods and shuts down the road into here about every couple of years, in spite of some impressive flood controls.  Here is one from 2017, but it also flooded last May.  Since the campground and ranger's homes are up on a hill, generally all it does it shut the road down for a few days.  They keep a bulldozer and front-end loader here just in case. 

This is a very dry area, getting at most 5" of rain per year, but do you notice the white rings around all of the bushes?  This is because they have all been planted and each one has a drip irrigation tube keeping it alive.  Over time, the minerals in the water leach out onto the ground.  Also, the round bushes are actually grasses that have been cut back for the winter.  They will be tall and lush soon.  
The watering is mostly done in the morning, and you can see the amount of water these grasses at the edge of my campsite get.  

The important thing is that each one of these irrigated bushes provides shelter and food for desert cottontails.  Mostly, they come out at dusk, but will come out earlier if you toss out a few pieces of carrot and apple.  Here is one of the cute little guys.  He had better eat fast because his relatives will be out soon. 


Yup, here they are.  I gave them only small pieces of carrots and apples, but it did not take long to get over a dozen bunnies hopping around.   They are smaller than the bunnies we get in yards in more northern areas, but they have very big ears that help them cool off. 

The other animals that are common in this campground are the Gambel's quail.  They can fly, but mostly, they run around on the ground in groups of from 10-30 or so.  And the funniest thing is how they constantly cheep to one another and run around always making sure they are with the group.  They look like their legs are on wheels.  The males have slightly taller topknots, but they all are very fast and hard to photograph.  

Mostly, they live on seeds that fall from desert plants.

However, I confess to using my secret weapon this morning before I knew they would come scurrying around--birdseed!  It slows them down mostly.  Otherwise, all I get are blurry birds. I spread it around several empty campsites!  The little birds also enjoying the seed are some sort of sparrows. 

When they cross the road, you can tell they are nervous, so they stand up tall and run even faster, if that is possible.  The bird in front is a female and the one in the back is a male with more coloring and a taller topknot.
All the birds and bunnies are gone because the food is gone, but I keep an eye on this hill in front of me because if the bighorn sheep come, that is where they often hang out.  None this week, however.

Will get more campers in the next couple of days.  I am only here for two more days, so am enjoying the scenery. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

1/4 Valley of Fire Bighorn Sheep & the Saga of the Water Faucet

Valley of Fire is a state park in the desert about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas.  It was named for the deep red rock mountains the cover this area and is another one of my favorite places.  I was here last October, but the campground I was planning on staying at in California cancelled on me, so decided this was a good place to come back to for a few days as an alternate. 

Just driving through the park is a treat.

Gorgeous!  Why go to Las Vegas when you can come here??

Anyway, I slept in this morning and was just getting ready to eat the breakfast I fixed, when I saw several bighorn sheep at the end of the campground roadway, so I jumped up, threw on my sweatshirt, and walked down the road.  However, by then, they had disappeared.  So, I went back to my breakfast, and in a few minutes, one of the ladies I had asked about where they had gone, came knocking on my door.  

She said they were down near Site #7 butting horns over a broken water faucet!  She said you could hear the thumps.  So, put on my sweatshirt and grabbed my camera, and walked as fast as I could to that site to see the action. 

However, by the time I got there, the action was over with.  There was a herd of nine male bighorns--females were hiding in the distant rocks having their lambs, I was told, so the males were hanging out together.

The cause of the fighting was a campsite faucet that had a crack in it, thus spraying precious water around.  There has not been rain in this area for almost a year, so the sheep are very thirsty, although the ranger did tell me that the park service has three large water tanks in the park.  They fill with rainwater, but also the park service brings in water via helicopters when there is no rain.  In any case, the sheep still want water, much as the elk did in Grand Canyon.

Bighorn sheep have horns that grow all their lives.  They do not shed them and grow new ones each year, as deer and elk do, so you can tell the ages of sheep by their horns.  The one on the upper left, has small, skinny horns, so is younger than the other two.  The one on the upper right is older, indicated by the thicker and longer horns.  

But the guy on the bottom has very thick horns that are curled in a complete circle.  They also have had the tips either worn off or broken off from fighting.  And he has a lot of scars on him, so he is probably a really old sheep.

Check out the closeup of this guy's horns. He also has a cut above his eye, no doubt from the earlier head-butting over the water.  

Found this interesting article on how to age bighorn sheep:

This guy is also not afraid of anyone and does not hesitate to try to stare you down.

The ranger has brought a bucket and filled it with water for the sheep.  You can see the small spray of water from the faucet.  While this old sheep is approaching the water, the ranger is working to turn the water off at the source so he can work on the faucet.

Note that while the old guy is drinking, the rest of the herd is just watching.  He was the only one getting close to the faucet and bucket.  They certainly knew their place. 

Now the ranger has a problem.  The old sheep is standing about five feet from him and staring at him.  Even when the ranger moved the bucket about 10' away, the sheep still focused on him and the faucet.  Even waving his arms, yelling, and banging his wrench on the metal pipe did not make the old sheep flinch.  Obviously, the real owner of the faucet was the sheep, not the ranger.

And, of course, the rest of the herd was still just watching. 

Once the faucet was replaced and no longer spraying water, even the old guy got bored and went back to grazing and resting.  Excitement over.