Turtles Brumate. What!?!

Where are all the turtles? Last month the question was asked of me by a young girl who obviously knew we usually see many, many turtles basking in the sun on the logs near the pond’s edge. Not on this winter day though. My answer was, the turtles probably are buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond since the water is very cold in winter. We will see them again when the weather warms.

I worked as a naturalist for a few summers when I was in my 20’s and learned to follow up on questions asked by people on my nature walks. It was important for me to learn more about a topic so I could provide accurate information when asked again by someone on my next hike. So I did some reading about the red-eared slider. This semi-aquatic, freshwater turtle is often seen here and I no doubt will hear that question again.

Red-eared slider

So where did the turtles go? Turtles are cold-blooded animals not capable of generating body heat. When water is below 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle slows down, is less active, and does bury itself only to rise to the surface as needed. Since it needs to drink water during this time it is not hibernation like we read about with bears, it is brumation. As a turtle brumates it can still move around, sleep underwater by resting on a pond’s bottom or float on the surface with an inflated throat as a floatation aid. Apparently a red-eared slider can survive in this cold water with no food for 70 – 100 days. If water dries up, they will travel in search of more water.

The turtles are back! Red-eared turtles are semi-aquatic so we see them in water and on land. They eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, tadpoles and fish. We love seeing them on rocks and logs as they warm themselves in the sun. If there are not enough logs they will even stack upon one another. They communicate with each other through touch and vibrations. One could wonder what the “message” was between them all.

Want one as a pet? The red-eared slider is one of 3 North American Pond Sliders. While red-eared sliders live long in captivity, they are one of the most invasive species found on every continent, except Antarctica, due to people unfortunately releasing their turtle to the wild. If you want a turtle at home, know the rules and regulations which vary per state in keeping it as a pet. Plus know how to care for it through all seasons, especially knowing it could live with you for many years. Otherwise, enjoy your red-eared turtle sightings when you are outdoors!

Habitat for Humanity: Real World Building Experience

Affordable housing is needed in the USA. Habitat for Humanity, as an organization, works diligently in making what it can available. But building houses entails construction time and builders, money for building materials, and buyers interested in purchasing a home. Habitat receives monetary donations and grants. Wishful homeowners apply for an opportunity to buy a home through their dollars, attending classes and providing sweat equity. The real challenge is building more homes since the need is so great. 

Habitat for Humanity in Tucson, AZ will have a job training opportunity soon realized at the CHUCK (Connie Hillman Urban Construction Knowledge) Center. I became interested in Habitat’s new direction. It reminded me of NYS’s BOCES programs where young people were taught construction skills: electrical, plumbing, welding, etc. How often have you realized the importance of trade skills when needing to call a plumber or craftsperson to do/help with your own home project? 

The CHUCK Center has a classroom where teaching will provide interns with skills and opportunities to learn how to build affordable housing. A win for the learner who can use the new skills right on Tucson’s Habitat for Humanity housing project. A win for the future homeowner, possibly in a new home sooner because we have more skilled workers building homes in our area. 

The CHUCK Center is a huge space. Some parts of the building process will be accomplished in the warehouse, not in the cold, hot weather or muddy area by the future home. Also, some aspects of the construction can be built and stored in the warehouse, then rolled onto the site when needed.

Additionally, the CHUCK Center will have 2 apartments to house Americorp volunteers and 2 RV spaces for traveling Habitat volunteers. The goal is to have these two aspects accomplished in upcoming months. The warehouse with classroom to be done by February 2023. To have internship opportunities available for young people is truly a gift to this community!

I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. A photo of the place from the outside and another photo of the tables we assembled one day. More work to be accomplished to assemble it all. The CHUCK Center is taking shape and soon to be in action!

Front of Tucson’s CHUCK Center
Classroom desks all assembled by volunteers.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Great Place to Visit

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is located in southern Arizona, south of Sierra Vista and north of Mexico. Its present-day 380 acres of land are on the east side of the Huachuca Mountains. I wanted to scope the canyon out because it has a couple of hiking trails and is known as a birder’s hotspot.

Some history:

In the 1880’s Gardner Ramsey was one of the hundred people who eventually live in the canyon. What is really amazing, Ramsey built a 2.5 mile long road by hand! It was from the current visitor center to what was the Hamburg mine area! The quality of the silver, copper, zinc, gold and lead was poor so mining stopped in 1931. It seems the creek may have been moved because there is a fireplace so near to the creek I cannot imagine where a house was at the time.

Fireplace currently on the trail.

Today one can still see the 1902 James cabin built by John James and the James house which the family moved into in 1911. It is an easy hike in this area. Both houses are beside the Ramsey Creek which you walk along while hiking from the 5500 feet elevation where today’s visitor center stands to a trail leading you to an overlook point at 6200 feet. When you start up the final 500 foot elevation, your heart really does some serious pumping! Take your time, you’ll be fine.

1902 John James cabin
1911 John James house

The birds were quiet in the early morning hours. When headed to the overlook, we are now on Coronado National Forest Land. The overlook point was beautiful, peaceful, and a quiet place to enjoy and have a snack before heading back down. The birds were more numerous in the sun-filled wooded areas near the creek as we descended from the overlook. Numerous benches are on the trail so one could spend time watching birds, nature journaling/sketching, or relaxing. I did see at least 12 different species of birds on this day. More will be here in April. The violet-crowned hummingbird is rare for this area, yet I captured one photo when a bird stopped at the visitor center’s  hummingbird feeder.

Violet-crowned hummingbird
Red-naped woodpecker

1970, Ramsey Canyon was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. In 1974, 280 acres in the canyon were bequested to The Nature Conservancy from Dr. Nelson C. Bledsoe. The preserve has now expanded to 380 acres. I will need to return here when it is prime birding time!

Note: The Nature Conservancy since its inception in 1951 has protected more than 125 million acres of land around the world in 70 countries and 100 marine conservation programs. Their 400+ scientists with others on staff work to conserve lands and waters which all life depends on. If you are not familiar with their mission, check out The Nature Conservancy. Visiting Arizona, add Ramsey Canyon Preserve to your list.

Other photos from our hike:

On the trail
From the overlook.
Looking toward Sierra Vista, AZ

Morocco, Oh What Memories!

I had a busy 2019 traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, then a few weeks in Canada, a month in Poland, and at the last minute I added a fall trip to Morocco. I thought, why not? My lifetime goal is to see the world, get on with it! Little did I know in March 2020 all my upcoming plans of international travel would be scuttled by the Covid virus affecting the entire globe!

While hearing recently about Morocco’s team playing at the World Cup, I realized I had fond memories of that trip. I traveled with a friend and the tour company Intrepid. It is a no-frills company. We carry our own luggage, why I always pack and use my backpack, use public transportation, and meet with local guides in each town. The tour company attracts younger people than us, but we held our own, especially as they tried to roll suitcases down escalators or to carry their heavy bags up stairs!

Morocco is beautiful! Here are some photos from that adventure. My goal is to return and spend more than one night in the Sahara Desert. While I loved our one desert night there it was not enough! I love dark skies as stars pop through and always seem to twinkle my way. Enjoy the photos!

Boots Are Made For Walking…

It was in the early 1970’s when Mike said to me, “Always take care of your feet”. We were talking about the hiking I was accomplishing in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Then, I carried my full backpack and slept out multiple nights during all seasons of a year. Yes, my 40 – 50 pound backpack pounded all the bones in my body … right down to my toes … Mike was right!

As years went by and I continued to hike, Mike’s words never left me. I have tried and worn many hiking boots. The REI store is my most helpful place to buy hiking boots. No hiking boot is worth buying till you know you can walk many miles in the boot and have your feet feel good at the end of the hike. Most times I get the right boot the first time I try one on; however, it was not the case in 2000. I was preparing for a trek in Nepal to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Good boots were a must. I trained in NYS and AZ. In New York State I was carrying my backpack up and down garage stairwells and notoriously steep roads in Ithaca, NY which happened to also be snow covered at times. In Arizona I was hiking up and down Chimney Rock in Sedona and changing pairs of boots as I tried them out. Fortunately REI allowed returns even after a bit of red dirt would be on the boots!

Recently I was at Grand Canyon National Park. I talk with people as they are standing at the start of the Bright Angel Trail contemplating their next move. Will they go to Phantom Ranch? Will they only hike to Havasupai Garden Campground? On this particular day a party of 3 talked of hiking to the Colorado River and back within the day. While quizzing them about the amount of water and food they had, and being sure they understood it is twice as long to return to the rim than going down, we helped as they struggled getting their Yaktrax’s on their shoes. It was noon and they were off. We worried about them for the rest of the day. I hope they were smart on the trail.

Then I saw a couple walk down the Bright Angel Trail. I could not help but notice their shoes. I watched them carefully walk down the snowy, icy trail to the tunnel. (If you have been on this trail, you know exactly what distance I am talking about.) It’s downhill and not far, but hiking boots are recommended!

I do not make a habit of this, but I really wanted to talk with them when they returned to the rim of the canyon. Fortunately, their walk was not the most fun so they were back before I froze. I asked if I could talk with them. I told them no friend of mine would ever believe me if I said I saw two people walk down the snowy, icy trail with those shoes! They graciously let me photograph their shoes. He had on suede loafers. The woman said her high-heeled chunky boots are so comfortable she wears them everywhere … including on this short hike! But they were glad to be back on the rim!

These shoes are meant for … hiking a snowy, icy trail? I guess …

I also talked with a group of college-aged foreign students visiting the USA. Within the conversation, I noticed all were wearing sneakers which led our discussion to how to pack lightly for a long-distance trip. The challenge really sets in when visiting areas with completely different temperatures. They started in the southeast USA, New Orleans, and driving to the Grand Canyon with snow, then Las Vegas, and off to the sunny Los Angeles. It is a challenge, plus who knew it would be snowing at the Grand Canyon? We all survive those moments of not being totally prepared, but if you’re planning to hike a distance, undoubtedly you will have the appropriate footwear. Mike was right, take care of your feet.

My photo of Mount Everest in 2000. What a trek to see it from Kala Patar!

My 4 Days of Winter!

It’s now winter! We beat the closure of Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. We were already relaxed in a warm Maswik Lodge room at Grand Canyon National Park. Driving the interstate highway the previous day was a breeze. We were ahead of the snow storm that eventually caused the highway’s closure. 

Coming to this national park when fewer people visit is what is best about the winter season. Unfortunately Covid is still in the air so facial masks are required in every building. Due to less staff and various supplies, we did find some restaurants with limited menus. We were here for the beauty of the place, so we were okay with how things were at the moment.

It is easy to spend 4 winter days here. We walked many parts of the rim trail. We stopped in at the art exhibit at the Kolb Studio and the geology museum. I do not think we missed any shop on the rim either. At Desert View we climbed the watchtower to see the eastern end of the canyon. Then we drove all the way to the western end at Hermit’s Rest to walk the rim trail. Meals were eaten at the historic El Tovar, Bright Angel Restaurant and AZ Steakhouse.

The day of our arrival there was no snow, but overnight the winter snow came! Unfortunate for those on the highway, but we woke to at least 6 inches of snow! Mule deer and elk were walking about during our visit. We bundled plenty of clothing layers on our body … it was cold weather! This was our 4 days of winter before returning to southern Arizona where we rarely see snow at our doorstep. It was a wonderful winter!

Enjoy the photos from our Grand Canyon stay.

Grand Canyon before the snow arrived.
Grand Canyon is beautiful all seasons!

Part 2 of 2: Carrizo Canyon Trail, Palm Desert, California

The Carrizo Canyon Trail is an approximately 3 mile out and back trail. I would much prefer a loop trail; however, since there were supposedly bighorn sheep in the area I thought, okay this out and back trail would give me a better chance in seeing the wildlife! Spoiler alert: I did not see even one bighorn sheep! Maybe next visit.

Carrizo Canyon is part of an Ecological Reserve to protect bighorn sheep. This area is only open to the public for 3 months, October – December.  This allows the bighorn sheep safe time for breeding and raising their young during the other months.

Carrizo Canyon trail is a nice mixture of trail surfaces. The trail starts easy, sandy and only interesting in the fact you are searching the mountainside to hopefully see bighorn sheep. The next part of the trail is rocky; I too was hoping to see a bighorn sheep run up some rocky mountainside. The final part of the trail, we climbed over boulders, took a side trail to a waterfall that wasn’t, and then finally at our destination, an overlook. Down below we could see palm trees surviving because of the water they could reach through a large crack in the land’s surface. Our continued search for the bighorn sheep was disappointing because then and on our way to our starting point, we saw no bighorn sheep. Darn … but I understand if I get on the trail in the early morning hours I have a better chance in seeing bighorn sheep. Ok, maybe my next visit here.

A couple of photos from the overlook:

From the overlook, in another direction, to see the growing palm trees.

California’s San Jacinto Wildlife Area

Escape California’s Interstate- 10 traffic and drive to San Jacinto Wildlife Area. As you do, you pass huge dairy farms, dry land wheat farming and agricultural lands. The final mile is down a muddy road to the wildlife area managed by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nine hundred acres of restored wetlands within the 19,000 acres of wildlife area. It is a great place to look for birds along with other wildlife. We were here to see birds.

We spent more than 5 hours driving and walking the trails within the area. Hundreds and thousands of some waterfowl! Yet then there was also the lone mountain bluebird or a couple of loggerhead shrikes. Various hawks were flying around and while looking into the next pond, more birds. It was nice to see a packed-down dirt trail accessible for handicapped individuals and a couple of blinds for a wheelchair-bound person to have space to maneuver within.

My two new birds for my life list: mountain bluebird and a Nuttall’s woodpecker. Fortunately I able to get a photo of the Nuttall’s woodpecker, see below, which is only found in California.

Nuttall’s woodpecker

I thought I had never seen an American pipit so I was looking for it here. The bird was hopping around near water’s edge in some grasses so I was able to photograph it easily. Then I discovered later in the evening I have actually seen this bird a few years ago…. Oh well, this bird is cute!

American pipit

I’ll include a few more photos from this day. It was a worthwhile visit and if you get a chance to visit here, do so. However, be sure to have a CDFW Land Pass, unless you already have a valid CA hunting or fishing license. We bought our land pass at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store while in Palm Springs. Also, check the wildlife area website for more information since the area is closed certain days for duck hunting.

Bald eagles
American kestrel
Long-billed curlew
White-faced ibis
Northern harrier

Volunteer Time: Brush With Kindness

Many people volunteer throughout the year with various organizations. Recently I helped “Brush With Kindness”, a program under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity. Within this program, homeowners apply for and can be selected. Work volunteers complete projects needing to be done outside an individual’s home. Installing gutters or fences or landscaping work are possible projects.

Work volunteers sign-up for shifts for days they wish to help. Mine was Saturday, 7:30am till 1:30pm. Our group of 20 volunteers were tasked with painting and installing rain gutters, and installing and staining a wooden fence. The previous day did have a volunteer group dig post holes for the future fence. They built many, approximately 6 foot, sections of fence for a total 147 feet of fence.

Our work time began. Four of us started painting rain gutters. The homeowner wanted them to match the color of the fascia board. We created a set-up to paint three sides of each gutter. When dry easily flip them and paint the other side … and put on a second coat where needed. Another group was on ladders painting fascia boards. The third group was installing fence sections.

Look at that sky!

And then it began to rain!

Within an hour and half of our start, it began to rain! In all my volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, there has never been rain. Actually monsoon season is when we really have rain here in Tucson, not now! Tarps with telescoping poles were quickly put up over our work areas. The gutters sticking out did get paint washed off and the paint we put on, certainly was not drying. 

Volunteers painting the fascia quit, as we did too, and we all helped with the fence installation. Some of us dug a trench for the fence. Others helped carry and hold fence sections in position as it was determined level and ready for screws. All of this happened while it rained. Fortunately the tarp with telescoping poles could be moved over those working on a section of fence. Everyone had muddy boots, wet clothing and were disappointed we could not accomplish the entire project. However, it was truly amazing all the work we had done!  

All kept working in the rain to get the fence up!

Volunteers will sign up for another time to finish the project. I know the homeowner will be thrilled when it is all done. Unfortunately, I will not see this project through to its finish due to other responsibilities. We all did appreciate the person who came by with hot coffee. I thought it was fantastic how we all worked together in miserable conditions and truly accomplished quite a bit!

If you are interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, check out the website and find you local group. In Tucson, besides the home buyer/home building program and “Brush With Kindness”, there is “Habitat for Humanity’s Repair Corps Program”.  Thanks to generous funding from Home Depot, this program focuses on repairs being done for veterans within their home. Finally, you may also donate items to your local Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. Reusable household items and building materials are for sale at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. It also keeps many items out of the local landfill. Selling those items allows Habitat to buy appliances and items needed in the newly built Habitat home. All homes have new products installed. And new homeowners are taught how to care for and fix things in their home. 

Check out Habitat for Humanity for how you can help. Know they will teach you, on-site, how to paint, use a drill or do whatever skill you need help with. Truly wonderful people work for and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity wherever I have been volunteering. Don’t hesitate to volunteer here if you enjoy working with your hands and meeting other people with like interests.

On the Road to Home!

The last couple of days on the road I decided to eat Mexican food in Texas and in New Mexico, pleasant switches from the food I had been cooking. I Yelped for suggestions of places to eat and planned accordingly. What I had not planned for was the rock flying from a sleeper commercial truck trailer east of El Paso, Texas into my windshield … bummer … and then to watch the crack lengthen in the next day! Not fun … a whole 8 inches!

A better time …. my late Mexican lunch at Mi Pueblo Nuevo in El Paso was fantastic. I ordered horchata and it was huge! The drink was so large that I left with 8 oz in a to-go cup. The chips were tasty. The salsa so hot I could only have a small amount on each chip. The tortilla soup came with my meal and was hot and delicious. The green chili chicken enchiladas, rice and pinto beans hit the spot. The staff were friendly and most spoke Spanish. As I left I was practicing with one young lady on how to say eighteen, nineteen, etc…. in English. Maybe I should try to learn Spanish despite my difficulty learning French.

Green chili chicken enchiladas

At night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I needed my fall sleeping bag and a fleece blanket as the late night, early morning temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit. I had already selected where I would eat my Mexican breakfast the next morning. Yelp reviews forewarned me about the popularity of OMPC, The Shed in Las Cruces so I arrived before the place opened. Four other vehicles were there too. I had huevos ranchero with pinto beans and the best green chili cheddar toast! Yum!

Huevos ranchero with scrambled egg, pinto beans and delicious toast!

Now for my final hours on the road. My audiobooks had been listened to, the interstate driving was tiresome and I was ready to be home! Along the way I did stop to make my cup of tea … thankfully rest areas were open so I had easy places to pull off. Time to think about upcoming projects: Habitat for Humanity work, holiday prep, and getting back to routines. The Harlingen – Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was a wonderful experience! I was happy to have attended. Meeting new people, seeing 35 new birds, and for the most part we had very good weather … who could ask for more? Not me, it was all fun!