Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Part 1: Borderlands

The lands bordering this national monument to the east are Native American land, belonging to the Tohono O’Odham, and to the south the nation of Mexico. In 1937, this land in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert was established a national monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1976, the United Nations designated it an International Biosphere Reserve. Scientific research studies are done of human impact on it. During our last US president’s term a border wall between the USA and Mexico was built and quite obvious from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

I drove to Lukeville, Arizona, a port-of-entry between USA and Mexico. Only essential travel is supposedly happening. There were few vehicles, but many young people with backpacks and others arriving by shuttle from Phoenix or Tucson walking across the pedestrian bridge to Mexico. I understand going across the border takes little time; however, returning to the USA can take 3 hours! I stopped at one of 2 stores on this border to buy an additional gallon of water. Most people were hanging out at the store to use their wifi. Cellular service is limited here. Another day, Friday afternoon about 2:30pm, I was a mile from the international border and traffic was backed up to this point. Maybe many travelers were visiting Rocky Point, Puerto Peñasco, a resort city on the Gulf of California for the weekend. 

I then drove a 2 mile dirt road east of Lukeville, Arizona, arriving at the Gachado Line Camp; an old adobe building with some wooden fences and downed barb-wire fencing. Driving to this point, one sees the border wall and at the camp you can walk up to the wall. You can hear Mexicans speaking; their homes are just on the other side of the wall. It was an eerie feeling and sad to think a barrier existed between us. Few people were driving this road, but a young man from Florida stopped at the adobe building too and we got talking about borders, walls, and the future of humanity. 

I then drove west of Lukeville, another dirt, wash-board road that parallels the border wall. Here one sees a highly trafficked road with truck trailers on Mexican Highway 2 also running parallel to the wall but on the other side of the wall. Again at certain spots I could walk up to the wall and the same eerie feeling descended on me. 

The Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation is to the east of Organ Pipe National Monument and, my understanding is, a 62 mile border wall exists with gates for people to walk through. While people of this tribe tried to educate others about the importance of protecting their ancestral lands and the migratory paths of the people and animals between Mexico and the USA, Border Patrol has jurisdiction 100 miles inland from US borders, giving it access to most of the reservation. One could spend time just studying the dynamics of the vehicle barriers and surveillance cameras in this area, but I will leave that to those who know more than me.

I wonder how neighborly we really are with the people of Tohona O’Odham Indian Reservation and Mexico? Are we doing the right things: respecting Native American culture, Mexican culture and understanding the plight of those who are escaping their homeland to travel thousands of miles to enter the USA? I am not sure. 

About 20 miles north of the national monument is Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. The bombing range is between the US-Mexican border and Interstate 8 straddling the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife area and the Tohono O’odham Nation. As I write this post, I hear planes in the distance. I have no idea if this is usual or increased air activity. I hope for no world war, especially as we all continue to be concerned about the current Ukrainian – Russian war. Let there be peace!

Want an AZ Escape, No Cell or Wifi Service Where You Stay?

Recently my partner and I discovered a place in the wilderness of Arizona, north of Tucson. Since travel was within 2 hours from our home, we decided to check out the area and stay at Aravaipa Farms, Orchard & Inn for 3 nights. Here is the website: https://www.aravaipafarms.com

We stayed in a casita, purchased all 3 meals per day, and brought our own wine since at the time of our visit they did not have a liquor license. They are the friendliest people with fantastic cooks creating meals to meet our gluten-free, vegetarian and dietary needs. Since Covid was still the reality in Arizona, meals were delivered to us at our casita to be eaten there or as we did take our lunches on the hiking trails!

They have a farm with a burro, goats, miniature horses and chickens. They have an orchard with 900 trees: oranges, peaches, apricots and more. I loved bird-watching in the orchard, plus they have many bird houses hanging around the property. There are casitas of various sizes. We walked around their orchard and on some of the trails rights from their property. To arrive to their place, it is necessary to drive some final 4 miles on a dirt road, down a steep dirt driveway and across a creek, that had about 6 inches of water in it when we arrived, but all doable with a Honda Element.

Our favorite adventurous hike was the Brandenberg Mountain Ridge Trail. A short distance down the road from Aravaipa Farms, Orchard & Inn was the start of this trail. We hiked 2.5 miles to a lunch spot overlooking, in the distance, the place we were staying and with the orchard being easiest to notice along with great views. The mountain towered behind us at lunch, but on our way up we walked through a wash, steep incline and then an old jeep road on the ridge with so many options to stop for lunch and also make it our turn-around point.

Zoomed in for this photo so you can see the orchard where we stayed.

Another trail we enjoyed when we decided to hike beyond the creek trail was to head up Exploration Trail. This was a fascinating combination of hiking in washes and then to the top of the hill by following rock cairns (rock piles) and making our own way to the ridge to look to the other side. This trail is being created as I write.

One of many short sections off of Exploration Trail to explore!

At night, it is silent or you may hear an owl hooting! One night the wind whipped through the area for the entire night! Earlier that night we had been out walking and star-gazing, although chairs are available in a couple of locations if you wished to sit back and gaze up! We slept well each night after each day of fresh air, fun hiking and delicious food. 

Be sure to visit Aravaipa Farms, Orchard and Inn at https://www.aravaipafarms.com if you enjoy solitude, silence and an opportunity to hike, bird watch, star gaze or simply relax! 

Please know: to hike in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness you need a permit since the number of visitors per day is restricted. Permits are required in advance from recreation.gov for the West Entrance. 

If you are in the area, or staying at the inn, there are other trails to hike with no permit needed! We will return to Aravaipa Farms, Orchard and Inn and to hike Aravaipa Canyon Wildness when we are also ready to have wet feet since there are so many creek crossings there.

Lake Fulmor: Gem in a Californian Forest!

What is interesting about Lake Fulmor is that it is just off the scenic Highway 243 in the San Bernardino National Forest. I can imagine this a busy day use area when the weather is very hot in the Palm Springs, California area! It does take an hour drive to get here, but people could visit for hours, picnic, fish for trout, walk the half mile trail around the lake and relax in a beautiful setting! There is a handicapped accessible trail and beautifully built fishing pier for all to enjoy! Major construction was done in building that pier!

Birds were numerous here … no doubt they were enjoying the water as much as we enjoyed looking at it. This water is not for swimming and if you visit during July and August you may see an algal bloom. The blue-green algae growth is a natural part of a lake’s ecology even though you may feel heart-wrenched as fish have difficulty breathing. A fish kill can result. In the fall the lake will return to normal. Again, it is a normal cycle that occurs on lakes this size.

Lake Fulmor
Sturdy fishing pier and rock-walled paths.
That rock is HUGE!

A Mountain Hike Near Idyllwild, California

Once again we used the All Trail App for what looked like a straight forward hike: Idyllwild South Loop, a 2.3 mile loop with 650 feet ascent. Hiking in the San Bernardino National Forest allows us a higher altitude to escape the Palm Desert heat!

We drove to Idyllwild Park, paid a day use fee and walked around a meadow near the parking area. Informative signs about the Cahuilla tribe migrating from the Coachella Valley to the mountains in this area to stay cooler, sort of our plan too! The Cahuilla hunted many small animals with arrows, did not hunt mountain lions or bears, and never ate eagles or ravens because they were used in sacred rituals. They ate various plants with acorns their primary food source. Some plants were used for medicine. Information about their basket-making, homes and sweat houses was also interesting. They had great respect for each other and the land: plants and animals.

An interesting legend involves a stone monolith as seen in the photograph below:

Notice the stone monolith: Tahquitz Dome or Lily Rock

According to legend, an evil shaman, Tahquitz, was tricked into entering a cave by a great Cahuilla warrior, and is now sealed behind the rock. The trapped evil shaman may still be up to his evil ways as present day rumblings and disappearances are sometimes attributed to Tahquitz. The monolith is referred to as Tahquitz Dome and/or Lily Rock.

We found the start of the Idyllwild South Loop trail with the use of the app, yet on the ground it was not named that ever during our hike. There are many trails in this area: Perimeter Trail, a multi-purpose trail, a campground area, thus at the start there was a bit of confusion. What I did know was to go left per an All Trail reviewer’s note about the Idyllwild South loop. Since I read the suggestion I decided it was a good way to approach the hillside … a steep ascent at the start of the trail than returning that way. That was fine by me, except we never saw the trail named Idyllwild South Loop!

When in doubt, at some intersections, we navigated via the app assured we were completing a loop and returning to our car in a few hours! Best idea was hiking the steeper side first and really enjoy the way down without climbing over so many rocks as we had done on our way up. The air was cool as we climbed higher, yet the sun was warm!

Nice vistas along the way as we climbed higher into the pines and could look out across the land. Supposedly on a clear day one can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This day was not so clear but you could see quite a distance! It was beautiful! I think there was probably much more to see on this trail but most my time was spent being sure we were on the correct trail! It was a good short day hike, but I still cannot figure how these trails get named on the All Trails app since we never saw the name of the trail here.

Here are some photos from this hike:

American kestrel
American kestrel flying overhead
Acorn woodpecker
Squirrel
Love the mountain areas!

CA Desert Hike Reinforces Importance of Preparedness!

We set off to visit Coachella Valley Preserve on a 4.4 mile loop hike: Hidden Horseshoe Palms and Pushwalla Palms Trail. It seemed like a perfect plan. We each had snacks, water, lunch and appropriate hiking gear for a moderate hike. We followed the recommendation: best hiked September to April, yet November and December temperatures were still mid to high 80 degrees.

The heavily-trafficked trail at the entrance of the preserve was an uphill well-trenched path with a sign indicating the direction for Pushwalla Palms, but no trail sign for Hidden Horseshoe. So we hiked the main trail believing we would see a side trail to Hidden Horseshoe. In time we were at a high point looking down on palm trees and thinking, that may be the Hidden Horseshoe trail down there! My guess, at this high point, was the unnamed side trail near the entrance of the preserve was the loop trail. How were we to know that I am not sure. I am never on an outdoor adventure walking and watching my location on any app each step of the way, but maybe if I had been I would have known early on the unsigned trail was the one for us! It did not look like the trail we were on would hook up with what we supposed may be a Hidden Horseshoe trail since we were on a high point and seemingly an endpoint. Since trail signs were few and far between it now became obvious we should not have hiked to the high point, yet this social trail to the top surely had been popular!

The problem with any social trail appearing to be a main trail is it may not be the correct trail to be on at all. In the desert especially, people can wander and walk almost anywhere; through the years others will follow and a trail becomes worn and looking like a main trail. (If you are a hiker, please use designated trails in a park.)

With some thought and use of the All Trails app, because I had downloaded this loop trail before coming here, we were able to orient ourselves to some degree. The downside was no consistent GPS in the desert! Thankfully when we stood at the high point GPS marked our location; we knew where we were. With the downloaded map and compass on my iPhone, we had a good idea the direction we should head. Did it seem unsettling at times? Yes! But we had water, snacks and daylight to figure it all out. We eventually hiked through Pushwalla Palms and along the foothills of a ridge. I knew we needed to get to the other side of this particular ridge and we should see a road and possibly even our car. At least an hour later we saw our car in the distance and could breathe a sigh of relief in knowing we would be fine.

As with all hiking, it is important to always be prepared! I remember a friend of mine in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains telling me she’ll hike a trail that looked to her like a parallel path of the main trail. To me, it looked like a fork in the trail. I made my decision and she made hers. Long story short, hours later I saw her again! I was on the main trail and she was on a side trail to elsewhere before she realized her error. Things can happen so quickly when in environments with so many unknowns. I got thinking about that NY situation realizing I forgot to pack my headlamp and long sleeve shirt even on this hike. My habit was to have a headlamp and a wool long sleeve shirt, but in the desert hike I sometimes forget to be as prepared as I should be. Nights get cold in the desert, and I was glad to not have that experience with this hike! Our loop hike was an adventure and good reminder to take the desert seriously. The sunny blue sky and almost barren landscape does bring challenges different than a forested area. All require preparedness and as hikers it is our responsibility to be safe!

Hike safely everyone! 

Photos from the hike:

Why you carry plenty of water; this is the only water we saw all hike!

License Plate Fun!

While growing up my family traveled various times of the year either north to a New England state or Canada and other times south to Florida. To pass the hours of travel while my Dad drove and my Mom navigated from the other front seat, my sisters and I would entertain ourselves in the back seats. I got motion-sick/car-sick so easily it was better for me to sit by a window and find license plates on cars from different states. How many would we find? What car had the most distant license plate? Where were the people in the car coming from, where were they going to and why? The activity meshed well with my daydreaming and helped pass many an hour during my adolescent family trips.

Now I drive my own vehicle on long trips, still noticing license plates, but with more interest in what people choose to put on their custom license plate (vanity plate/personalized plate). Is it an opinion, interest, or humor? What are they expressing and willing to pay additional dollars to have on their plate? 

For some fun, I have included some I have seen these past few months. As I look at the plate and the type of car, I try to create a story about each driver and why their choice was that particular plate. I’ll never know if I had guessed correctly, but it is my fun way to pass the driving hours in a very simple mind-bending way.

Plates on Tesla cars:  EVULTIN  and SUN GAS

Other plates: IM4UK,  XGEOCON,  GUDAYSR,  AWSOM1,  OMYGOTH,  TRUEGRC, HPYHLDA,  LABORRN, 

5NICKEL,  RANTING,  MYSTYCL,  VAXN8,  HUMNGBRD, FOXYOTE,  11GR8KD,  MS TEN,  AZTURTL, 

HPYBUMS,  OM NAMA,  XNTDTL, GMASBUS, WZUPDOG,  XOFISHO,  VIRIBUS, NHANCIN,  QUEENU, 

NJROUT3, L8RUNNR,  4BUDGE

How do you pass the hours when you’re driving? Audiobook, music or ??? I am curious!

Not all cars I see have a license plate, but I can bet there is a good story behind this car and its driver!

A license plate may have helped me with this car and driver’s story!

Do You Know What a Kula Cloth Is?

Well we have been down this path before in discussing the world of pee and poop, but with so many people getting outdoors I wanted to go one step further than my other blog posts, Pee & Poop, We All Do It and Women Can Stand To Pee. Of course, check them out if you have not already done so!

I do not want to repeat myself so let’s move on with my latest info. If you are needing to poop in the woods, please follow this instruction:

For those of you camping in your van with no toilet within it or at a dispersed camping site where there are not even pit toilets for your use, consider purchasing a “toilet”, put the poop/solid waste bag in it and dispose the bag after your use.

Another “toilet” possibility for your purchase and use:

And what is the Kula Cloth? I was at my favorite store, REI and saw this sign:

It is important to pack out all toilet paper you use. Or use less TP for pee times; this antimicrobial cloth allows you to use it all day, then wash it at the end of the day! Less toilet paper being used and we can certainly pack this out, wash and re-use the next time!

So, do your part in keeping our outdoor lands fecal and toilet paper/solid waste-free and try the Kula Cloth for your pee times so less TP is even needed. Thanks!

Stop By Marana’s El Rio OpenSpace

In the 18th century Juan Bautista de Anza once camped in this area as he and his followers were on their way from southern Arizona to San Francisco. I could see how this area would be best to travel through; flattened by any run-off from the Tucson Mountain slopes and the Santa Cruz River overflow. Today, many people live in the Marana, Arizona area and enjoy the outdoor space for hiking, bicycling the Loop path, and bird-watching. Within the 104 acres, the wetland area attracts resident and migrating birds. Recently I observed 15 different species of birds of the 244 individual bird species reported to stop by sometime within a year. 

Looking for another area to explore? Stop by when you are riding the bicycle Loop path or park your car and observe birds from the observation deck. A hiking trail seems to be taking shape and you’ll also notice a variety of bird houses. It looks like the area will continue to develop.

Here are a few birds I saw on my most recent visit:

Greater Yellowlegs
WILSON’S PHALAROPE
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER
Solitary sandpiper

Pee & Poop, We All Do It!

Excreting, ridding our body’s waste products: urine and stool or feces, is an important daily function. Lately, I have spent time thinking about how to manage my pee and poop when on the road traveling through areas where a toilet may not be available. When I trekked to Everest Base Camp we had the same concern at certain locations. A flush toilet was rare, a pit toilet more common, and other places we had our “pot to pee in” or our “poop tent with a view” with our responsibility then of disposing all our waste. It’s not only mountaineers with this concern, but river rafters and astronauts needing to collect and dispose their body’s waste. We continue to learn best practices from each other!

Let’s start with the morning jolt. I cannot speak for you, but my morning cup of coffee and/or tea stimulates my body within about an hour for my need to pee. I’ll bet you’ve had that feeling too! When living in the NE USA, I easily found trees and bushes roadside to hide behind, comfortably squat and pee. Not so in the desert! Besides not wanting to handhold a spiny cactus, none grow wide enough for me to hide behind! I recall nights in the mountain, especially when cold outside, and using a wide-mouthed water bottle as a pee bottle. I also recall almost breaking my leg in Nepal when I needed to use a crude pit toilet; slats of wood a few feet above the ground with dried plants stalks below. I slid on the frozen pee around the “hole” from previous visitors and fortunately caught myself so my leg did not go down the hole!

Solid waste, your poop, feces or the medical term: stool, has a way of letting you know it is done spending time in your colon and needs to make an exit. Here in the desert sand there is no organic material to help with decay, even if I was to dig a deep hole away from a water source to bury my solid waste in, as I did when living on the east coast of the USA. Added to that dilemma, during this past year with Covid-19, many of our usual toilet stops: restaurants, libraries and rest rooms have not been available for our pee and poop needs. What is a person to do? When you have to go, I mean sometimes you really have to go!

Let’s talk pee first. Men, you have no issue as far as I am aware. For women it is a bit more complicated, especially if the wide-mouthed bottle, or pot to pee in, is not for you. But do give it a try with some Simple Green in the pot to dilute the urine smell. I now know what size pee bottle works best for me. Trial and error, practice at home, was the key to success.

I have also tried various products and “Go Girl” is a possible one. Honestly, I have not gotten the hang of it to know that I will not soil my clothing while using this product, so more often than not I squat and pee wherever I am. I even created privacy curtains to hang on the bottom of my car doors so I can easily squat between them if no bushes are around! Pee and cover it over with dirt. Check the privacy curtains out below:

Here is a “Go Girl” and I absolutely recommend trying to use it at home so you can figure out how best to use it for yourself. I discovered having your fingers at the correct locations and with a slight squeeze does help. This may be more information than what you need, but if you pee like a high-pressured fire hose, hold the “Go Girl” tightly against your body! When one needs to pee so bad and so quickly, the funnel is only so big to direct your pee … but I hope it works for you.

Now let’s talk solid waste. During the Covid-19 months/year I noticed more porta-potties being available on roadsides and at parks, used by hundreds of people, and personally I have found them, more often than not, to be disgusting. Even pit toilets in some places are nasty, thus I looked to a product I used when backpacking years ago in the narrow canyons of Arizona’s Paria River. Each backpacker had to carry their solid waste out and we were encouraged to re-use the kit more than once. It used to be referred to as the “WAG” bag, meaning Waste Alleviation and Gelling bag, but now it is called a GO Anywhere Toilet Kit from Cleanwaste. The waste bag opens up to line a pail or portable toilet, or to be laid on the ground or within rocks you may have arranged as your “toilet”. There is a gel within the bag to control odor and begin the decay process of your urine and feces. If you no longer need to use the bag, squeeze out excess air, seal it up in the disposal bag for eventual disposal in your home or a public trash can. This product is easy to use and includes toilet paper, but always carry more toilet paper so you are never caught short. There is some hand sanitizer in the kit too. Think about where you will use it as there is no privacy curtain around you while you use it! YouTube videos are available for a more detailed explanation.

While I was on this mission of how to care for my pee and poop, I decided to try another product. I noticed the “Biffy Bag” because it is one product allowing you to stand during nature’s call. (A “biffy” is a toilet or outhouse and now you have your personal one.) This took some getting used to since you tie part of it around your waist and grab another part between your legs before you start any other action. It too has a powdered material within it to gel all the waste, and the package includes toilet paper and a fragrant wipe. This product I want to try a few more times before I can be as enthusiastic as others who have liked it. I seem to get tangled up in it all and wondered why one would not reverse the tying position so wiping your butt could be easier. The good news though is, in following their directions, I could easily stand and do my business. Once again I recommend trying it at home and thinking where you would use it since there is no privacy curtain. YouTube videos are available for a more detailed explanation.

Here’s the bottomline: figure out what works best for you when nature calls for your pee and/or poop needs. Sure, if you can dig your hole in organic material and away from a water source, then care for your human waste that way. If you cannot and also cannot get to a toilet, then know how you can create your own “toilet” with some product. All of these products are small, well-packaged and easy to carry in your car or backpack so you have them when you may need them. Good luck and check out those YouTube videos as they may help you decide!

Overnight in Honda & With Cranes!

I did it! My overnight adventure at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area was an interesting 26 hours. I saw the sandhill cranes fly in during the late afternoon, sleep during the night and fly off in the morning. I slept in my recently converted Honda Element, detailed in a previous post: conversion of my Honda Element to a camper. I talked with various people on the trail and at the overnight camping area. Weather was a sunny 70 something degrees during the day and a very cold 28 degrees at night, as observed in a slushy-water bottle! Many people visited the wildlife area both days I was at Whitewater Draw and at least 15 campers, tents to class b motorhomes, stayed overnight.

First, let’s talk about my “camper”. I built a bed platform in the rear area of my Honda Element and left space for a bicycle, but on this first try-out I did not bring my bicycle. My milk carts were under the platform and worked well when I opened my folding kitchen shelf. At night I had my winter sleeping bag and absolutely needed it since by 3am it was very, very cold! I slept on my bed platform on an ensolite pad and thermarest, unfortunately bringing back memories of sleeping on very hard beds when I visited China. So, I need to improve that concern so I sleep more comfortably. Just as I have organized my gear for solo backpacking and bicycling adventures, I need to arrange items in the car and be sure all fits when I also have a bicycle and that gear in the car. The other need is the importance of how and where to pee and poop. We all do it and as I watched people hesitate to use the available port-a-potties, I was glad I had my supplies. (To be discussed in a future blog post.) Overall, I was happy with my set-up.

With travel I love talking with people who are also viewing wildlife and, in this case, the birds. The majority of people were wearing facial masks and maintaining physical distancing since we are still in the throes of the coronavirus. One couple from Idaho camped right next to me. A solo bicyclist camped across the way. Others on the trail were visiting for their first-time to see the cranes. Each person I spoke with has a love for the outdoors and birds which is so important as we need to understand the importance of providing habitats for all wildlife. We are losing riparian habitats too quickly, and when wildlife goes, so do we … remember the canary in the coal mine? I want to have clean water and clean air in a natural environment for generations to come.

And now for the birds, specifically the sandhill cranes. It was a challenge to estimate the number of birds there but during late afternoon maybe 3,000 sandhill cranes and by nightfall or the next morning as they were taking off it looked like 5,000. I will admit my numbers could very well be low. There were other birds too: northern pintails, northern shovelers, western meadowlarks, killdeer, Greater roadrunner, black phoebe, green-winged teal, red-winged blackbird, Lincoln’s sparrow, curve-billed thrasher, red-tailed hawk which looked on as the sandhill cranes took off in the morning.

Here are some of the other birds:

Photos of the sandhill cranes as they flew in at night and also as they took off in the morning. Their loud gurgling bugle was always heard. It almost felt weird when for a few seconds you did not hear a sound from all of them! A second or two of silence!

I have many more photos, but I want to finish with one photo. I saw this sticker on the back of the van I camped near …

and immediately knew these are people I want to meet! And we did! They are snowbirds from Idaho enjoying SE Arizona for a few months. I enjoyed their company. Plus, they were most kind when I needed fresh matches to start my stove in the morning! I look forward to seeing them and the sandhill cranes again next year!