Monday, February 27, 2023

2/27 A Unique Cactus & Visit to Casa Grande Ruins

Have you ever wondered how a bird can land on the top of a cactus without getting his feet pierced by the sharp spines?  

Well, here is an unusual saguaro cactus I photographed this morning as I left Usery Mountain State park.  

A closer look, which is a bit fuzzy because I had to use my telephoto, shows that this cactus has a nice, smooth surface on top.  In fact, it has a nice smooth metallic surface on the sides as well because it is a fake.  The state park has chosen to disguise some sort of communication antenna by paining it green and adding some arms.  In any case, this bird likes his perch. 

Just down the road is a rather attractive fake palm tree.  This one might be hard to land in because it has a lot of metal spikes among the palm leaves.

My plan today was to check out of my campsite and run some errands.  I had to pick up my new shoes I had ordered and stop by Lowes to get some supplies for a couple of projects I need to do next weekend.  Even after picking up some KFC to take with me on the plane tomorrow and stopping at McDonalds for lunch, I had quite a bit of extra time to get to my next campground, so I saw the sign for the Casa Grande National Monument, and headed that way.

I had been here about ten years ago, but I wanted to see it again.  It was not too far off the freeway and the day was sunny and almost warm!  

Casa Grande is a very old native American three-story ruin in the center of an area that once was a major farming area for the local O'odham Indians for a thousand years, ending in about 1,450.  There were several rivers in the area, and the ancient peoples had dug many miles of irrigation ditches to make the area green with crops.   

Following are the visitor center and some of the displays.

The main structure is made of blocks of mud, smoothed over by more mud which hardened in the sun.  However, the park service built a roof over it to protect it from rains that would eventually destroy it.  

In this photo, you can see the layers and blocks of mud that built up the walls.  Floors were constructed by embedding long timbers in the walls. 

This drawing shows how the main structure was surrounded by a plaza and many smaller buildings. 

This model shows the interior as it was originally, and how the floors were constructed of logs. 

The next photo shows how beams have been added to keep some of the walls from falling down.


This shows how irrigation make the desert into gardens for crops. 

The weather has been cold and rainy for the last couple of weeks, and I have been occupied with motorhome repairs, so I have not done much sightseeing as I wanted to,  I have to make a quick trip this week to visit a family member, but will be headed to New Mexico when I get back.  Hopefully, I will be able to do more posting then. 



2/26 Usery Mountain State Park & Some Cacti

Usery Mountain State Park is just north of Mesa, AZ, which is just east of Phoenix.  It is one of my favorite places and has some beautiful desert scenery, complete with lots of saguaro cactus.  I am headed south tomorrow, so I took my last walk around the place and finished taking some photos. 

First, on the road to the state park is this interesting house on a hill.  There is a very steep driveway on the other side, but I would not like to drive up that hill very often.  Also, I have no idea how they get water up there!

Nice that they have installed a new gate to keep people from driving through after closing.  Nice security touch.

These are the camp host sites.  It is very common in hot places to provide camp hosts with shade covers and even sunshade hanging curtains on sides of the shelters to make trailers and motorhomes bearable during the summers. 

This is Slash Mountain bordering the state park. 

Nice, big campsites with water and electric hookups, and a decent amount of space between sites.

It has been very cold this month, even to the point of a few snow flakes in the desert.  On the mountains, like this one east of the state park, there is a LOT more snow.  

One of my cuter neighbors.  This little bunny was only about 6" long.  Desert cottontails have long ears for cooling.  Hope this one survives the nearby group of coyotes.  Other critters hanging around my campsite were Gambel's Quail, Mourning Doves, and a few roadrunners.  Notice that there is lots of grass in the desert right now due to all the rain this area has had over the fall and winter. 

Nice path into the desert nearby. 

Saguaro cactus come in all sizes and shapes.  They also live a very long time, and one with as many arms as this one is probably at least 200 years old!  It must be very healthy because it has arms on arms on arms. 

The problem with the one above is that the stem looks really beat up.

This one has lost its main stem and does not look very healthy. It still has several bird nest holes in it, however, so it is serving as a home for cactus wrens.

This tall saguaro has started a family of arms! What is interesting in this one is that all the new arms are about the same size and have started at the same height.

A small group of multi-arms older cactus, probably aged over 150 years each. 

Saguaro without arms are probably about 50 years old. 

This cactus has lost the top of its main stems, and three of its arms look like they are ready to fall off. 


This one is exceptionally tall to have just two tiny arms. 

Teeny, tiny arms. 

Buddies grown up??

Something happened to the top of this one. 

A really old saguaro.

Saguaro cactus will not be blooming until about June, but the wildflowers are getting very close to a full bloom, especially with all the recent rain.  This one has started.

 Can't ignore the cholla.  This one is buckhorn cholla and is already almost ready to bloom.
This is a closeup of the cholla flower buds.  

You can tell this is a fishhook barrel cactus because each of the spines has a hook at the end. 


I'll miss the Arizona wildflower bloom because I will be in New Mexico in about a week.  It is probably going to be a little cooler there, but I should be there long enough to see the wildflowers and some of the cactus blooming there. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

2/9 Gilbert Ray Campground & Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Gilbert Ray is a popular campground about 15 miles west of Tucson, just on the other side of the Tucson Mountain Park.  However, I am not allowed to drive through the mountain pass because my vehicle is too long and too heavy for the curving mountain road.  There is a route south of the mountain park I am allowed to take and another from the north that is much longer.  

There are a couple of reasons this county campground is so popular.  The first is that it is so isolated in some of the prettiest desert around, and the second is that it costs only $20 per night for an electric hookup site.  Sites are basic gravel, but well taken care of and there is a very nice water fill and dump station area.  It is almost always full, so you are limited to only one 7-night stay per year, which is one of the most restrictive lengths I have experienced.  It used to be first-come, first-served, and you could stay two weeks, but its popularity has caused the county to restrict usage.  Most people staying here come from other states, however, and come back every year.  I have been here almost every year I have traveled to Arizona! 

I had a little trouble backing into my site because my backup camera is not working, but a couple walking by helped me out.  I did not want to hit the beautiful saguaro cactus at the entrance or the cement picnic table at the back.  As you can see from the photo below, sites are large and well-separated from neighbors. 

The next few photos are from a walk I took yesterday.

This is a cactus wren sitting on a cactus.  They dig holes in the saguaro cactus for their nests, but the hole quickly develops a hard crust around it, so it does not damage the cactus. 

It is unusual to find so many saguaro growing so closely in a group like this one. 

Today, I drove out to the nearby Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.  This is really more of a botanical garden and zoo combination than what we usually think of as a museum, however.

Part of the museum are left natural, while other parts are more landscaped with cactus and other plants being brought in from other locations.  The natural area looks exactly like my campground because it is only a couple of miles away!!

The only animals in the "zoo" part of the museum are animals that are native to the Sonoran Desert.  This is a prairie dog.  I remember there being a lot more in this exhibit the last time I was here, but only saw two this time.

The photos following are of the part of the zoo where plants have been added to the natural plants and are labeled with signs identifying them. 

Some of the plants here were brought in from the Sonoran Desert area of nearby Mexico. 

I had never seen these cacti before, so took a photo of the sign.

There is a bird aviary and also a hummingbird aviary in the museum.  This little guy is a rufus hummingbird.

On my way out of the museum, I took a photo of this set of three bronze statues.  This is a mother javelina and her two babies.  While they look a lot like pigs, javalina are actually collared peccaries, and they are native to this desert.  They mostly eat agave, prickly pear, and other desert plants, with an occasional lizard or rodent thrown in.  There is a famous children's book about them called "Don't call me pig!" 

Another pair of bronze javelina.

I am here for only a couple more days, but am enjoying the incredible quiet of the desert here, punctuated only by the occasional sounds of coyotes yapping and howling at night.