A Federal Prison Camp Was Just Up The Road?

Japanese Americans had once been sentenced to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp between 1939 and 1973. I had not been aware of the camp’s presence, just six miles from my Tucson, Arizona home, till recently. 

Mt Lemmon is in my backyard and years ago the original main road was up the north side of the mountain whereas I live on the south side. In 1933, the idea to build a road from the south side was decided so travel to the mountain top from Tucson was a shorter route. Prisoners from temporary prison camps were relocated to a newly built “Federal Honor Camp” in 1939. Prisoners provided the labor to build the 25 mile Mt Lemmon Highway. When the workers no longer used only picks to break rocks, but had jackhammers, tractors and bulldozers finally available to them the work went faster. Plus the prison was located just off the highway so prisoners quickly got to work each day. Anyone who drives the road today can fully understand and appreciate the amazing work these men had accomplished!

Prisoners were individuals who had been convicted of refusing to join the military for moral or religious reasons, examples: Hopi Indians from northern Arizona and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others broke tax or immigration laws or were protesting the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, such as Gordon Hirabayashi.

But why is this place on the mountain where the prison, Catalina Federal Honor Camp once stood, now called the “Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site”? Today there is a trail head at a hiking trail, a campground and information placards about the area’s history. Here is what I learned.

There is plenty of history to be understood here. While I am no historian, this is my understanding of the facts. Gordon Hirabayashi’s parents were both born in Japan, emigrated to the USA, met and were married. Gordon Hirabayashi was born an American citizen, was an active Christian, and eventually attended the University of Washington. He never had any affiliation with Japan or Japanese individuals in Japan.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, USA was attacked by Japanese military planes. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a proclamation of war with the Japanese empire and issued some executive orders which delegated authority to General DeWitt to issue specific proclamations. One such proclamation he established was a curfew in specific military zones requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to be home between 8pm and 6am and to report within 2 days to a civilian control station as a prerequisite to an assignment to an internment camp. Hirabayashi instead turned himself in at his attorney’s office and stated as a matter of conscience he was refusing to report to the control station. 

So in 1942 a Japanese American, aged 24, Gordon Hirabayashi, who violated a curfew was convicted and sentenced to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp. General DeWitt’s report explained why his internment orders were justified and that they had been unable to quickly determine loyalties of citizens with Japanese ancestry. But in 1987 Hirabayashi’s case was reopened, the US government officially apologized for the mass incarceration of 117,000 Japanese Americans and aliens alike, and President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. There is much more to know of Gordon Hirabayashi’s life so if you are inclined it is really quite interesting history of a man, the US court decisions and governmental actions. 

In honor of Gordon Hirabayashi who questioned the constitutionality of the internment camps, this former site of the prison camp is here to remind us all of the importance in respecting each other so we can live in a peaceful world. As you walk this historical site where most the buildings no longer stand, it is easy to see why it was a good location for an outdoor prison. The camp closed in the 1970’s but I hope the history and lessons learned remain for generations to come.

Two important quotes from Gordon Hirabayashi:

“This is a great Constitution, but if it doesn’t serve you during a crisis, what good is it? We faltered once, but to show how good our constitution is, we were able to apologize and acknowledge an error, and we’re going to be stronger for it.”

“If you forget about it, you’re more vulnerable to having it repeated, and we don’t want to have this ever happen to any citizen again.”

So I walked up the steps and looked out upon the land and thought of all this history. In 1999, the Coronado National Forest named the site: Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site and at the opening ceremony Gordon Hirabayashi was present. In 2012, President Barack Obama presented the highest civil award of the USA, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Gordon Hirabayashi posthumously. It was accepted by family members and in 2014 donated to the University of Washington Library Special Collections.

As I stood on the land and contemplated all the injustices in our world, locally and globally, I can only wonder if problem-solving with pro-active solutions, resolution to conflicts with less hate toward one another, and wanting the best for each other each day and around the world is ever achievable. We are so capable of so much yet we seem so slow. It took 45 years for an acknowledgement of a wrong-doing in Hirabayashi’s case. We need to do better than that on so many fronts!

Camping At Catalina State Park

Second adventure: My Honda Element “camper” camping this time was to see how comfortable I would be sleeping with my bicycle and that gear also packed into the back area of the car. Plus, I wanted to determine if the additional thermamest I added did provide more cushioning under me for my sleeping comfort. So off I went to Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, AZ.

I arrived in the late afternoon, walked to other campgrounds for RV’s and see the park layout, checked out the very clean restroom and shower building, walked the bridle trail to other hiking trails, talked with bicyclists who pedaled in, and then set up my sleeping area in my car for the night. I added a 3/4 length thermamest to my bed padding since the last time sleeping out the bed reminded me of the very hard ones I slept on when in China! 

After eating my dinner and talking with my neighbor who kindly offered their chili, I walked up the ridge behind my car overlooking our campground. As I looked down on the vehicles, in this no water or electricity per site and/or tenting area, I had to chuckle as I searched for where my car “camper” was located. My Honda Element was dwarfed by the vans and trailers, all self-contained vehicles. Across the campground most tents were in a grassy area. Since I was not setting up a tent and wanted to park near my picnic table this was my best spot.

A few of us were standing on the ridge as we watched the sunset. People always find my story interesting in how I sleep in the back part of my car, even with a bicycle, and still can pack all my gear in the car too. The sunset was beautiful and we all stayed awhile and talked. The group of eight were from northern Arizona and pleasant people.

Camping always has its challenges, but the good news: my sleeping area was more comfortable with the additional Thermarest layer and I can also use it in my tent when I sleep there. Being outdoors all day with no protection from the wind left me truly wind-blown! I was glad it was not raining, but I could not keep my stove’s flame efficient in the wind. Fortunately I had other food needing no cooking to eat for breakfast. 

Most fascinating observation: at the top of the ridge there was a huge rock to sit on, yet one could not miss the perfectly-ground hole in it. I believe grain was ground in this hole at some point in time.

Next camping trip, working with my new stove and an idea I will try out for doing my laundry while driving! Hmmm… wonder which direction I will go next? Plus, I would like to sleep in my tent too so it seems it will be to a location or two where I will spend sometime, maybe birding also! Are you taking advantage of the outdoors? I hope you can!

Arizonans Love Water and Horses!

Ever wonder what is down a road? This trip I decided to drive further east along the Salt River in Arizona from Granite Reef Recreation Site, where last time I was birding, to discover what was ahead. I had seen vehicles pulling horse trailers, carrying mountain and road bicycles, kayaks and other watercraft. This area is east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Yes, I discovered on the south side of the road, there is plenty of horseback riding and mountain biking opportunities. Road bicyclists were on the road and happy with the smooth road. Some day I should check the bicycling out.

My first stop was off the main highway to Saguaro Lake Ranch. I passed horse stables and people getting ready for a trail ride. A short distance further there were rustic cabins, all part of the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch. They are in a beautiful location considering this is all part of the Sonoran Desert in the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest forest in North America. As you drive along you’ll see interesting rock formations along with saguaros. At the end of this road is Stewart Mountain Dam, built between 1928-30. The dam includes a 13,000 kilowatt hydroelectric generating unit, operated by and Arizona public utility, SRP, and helps with flood control and provides irrigation. 

My next stop once back on the highway was Saguaro Lake Marina. We are now on the other side of the dam at Saguaro Lake, technically called a reservoir. It is the fourth reservoir on the Salt River, stretching 10 miles, with an average depth of 90 feet and 20 miles of shoreline. This place was jam-packed with people and boaters and it wasn’t even noon on a Friday! There is plenty to do in this area if you wish to rent a boat or use your own, picnic or eat at the ShipRock Restaurant. I do not think tours of the lake are happening right now on the Desert Belle.

You can also drive a few more miles down the road, as I did, to Butcher Jones Beach where people were here to picnic and swim. It was more calm in this area too. I loved seeing the rocky cliffs and will return in the future to hike a trail in this area. I understand it to be a 2 mile rocky, narrow trail of moderate difficulty with views of the lake and then 2 miles back out. Temperatures range in this part of Arizona from 25 to 115 degrees so do plan for a safe time when you visit and bring water!

I then drove 3 more miles down the highway to pick up a road back toward the Phoenix area. It made for an interesting loop to be on the other side of the Salt River. I had never driven this area of the state and it was really interesting seeing the diverse areas and the exploding population just to the edges of these lands which I hope will remain protected for generations to come. This is a perfect time to remember what Stewart Udall, a 3 time congressman from Arizona and Secretary of the Interior from 1961-1969, under presidents John F.Kennedy and Lyndon B.Johnson, once said: “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”. Enough said!

What’s In Your Backyard?

Often we live in an area and do not spend time discovering what is nearby. We hear people talk about living in a town for years and not realizing an interesting or beautiful place is just down the road. I always find this tragic as people miss opportunities to learn or enjoy places right in their backyard!

Catalina State Park was one of those places for me so I took time to visit it and actually will return in a few weeks to camp there. This state park is located within a national forest: Coronado, where we had a horrific wildfire burning here a couple of years ago. Many acres of land were burned, forcing wildlife to flee, and still some trails are closed due to the potential of flood waters carrying forest debris down the streams causing mudslides onto trails and roads. But the hiking I did was on three one-mile open trails: an interpretive trail, birding trail and nature trail and fortunately all accomplished with few rain drops.

The Romero Ruin interpretive trail is a loop through the site where a historic ranch and Hohokam village once stood. The signage along the trail helped one understand the advantages of the site’s location, the housing, ball court and trash mound so all the fallen rock walls we saw made sense as we walked the trail.

On the birding trail you see many remaining charred trees with grasses and shrubs growing back. Few birds were seen, yet I did get a chance to photograph one, a northern cardinal.

On our way out of the park we spotted a red-tailed hawk.

Visit Tonto National Forest

I had never realized the Salt River Recreation Areas were part of Tonto National Forest till my recent visit to the area. I hiked parts of three sites to view and photograph birds. Note: have appropriate park pass on your car’s dashboard.

Granite Reef is the first recreation site I stopped at along Bush Highway. Here you can walk along the river and see a dam in the distance. Plenty of waterfowl were on the river. I also saw a group of javelinas, called a squadron, on the other river bank.

My next stop was at Phon D Sutton recreation site a few miles further on Bush Highway. I chose one spot to sit and view the birds. Each of these sites have restrooms, cleaned Friday through Monday, picnic tables and plenty of paths to hike or ride your horse.

Final stop: Coon Bluff, again a few more miles down Bush Highway. Of the three sites, this one was most popular with fishermen and people riding horses. I was told wild horses can sometimes be seen here or at 5pm down the road when they are fed. Interesting! A local photographer, familiar with the area the past 15 years, was talking with me about eagles being seen at times as I had also noted from eBird info, but we had no luck! The squirrels in this area are way too curious. As soon as I took a bite of my lunch a squirrel had its beady eyes focused on my food! I was talking with a young woman who was walking her dog about the squirrel’s reaction. She told me of her attempt to discourage her friend in feeding the squirrels or letting one climb on a pant leg. We are both convinced that there will be a day a squirrel bites her friend!

More sites to visit along Bush Highway which ends at Saguaro Lake. Weekends are when all sites are crowded. Road bicyclists were seen by me as I drove the road and to the south of the road there are areas to horseback ride and mountain bike. I can imagine this area being very, very busy at times! Be sure to have a park permit on your dashboard; no fun getting fined! Otherwise, have fun!

It’s Been A Year and I Am Ready To Go!

Not only has it been a year, but it has been one like no other! Why do I say this? 

Well, a year ago I began to physically distance myself from people, cover my nose and mouth with a bandana or neck gaiter, until I learned a facial mask would better, to protect me from the airborne contagious Covid-19 virus. How could I not be concerned given the fact any virus at other times in my life made me feel lousy for a couple of weeks and this virus is reported to be worse!

Wearing a mask when near people, especially when within 6 feet of a person did take some getting used to, just as doubling my masks now as recently recommended by the scientists. To me, an airborne contagion means no indoor space for periods of time, but outdoor activities are many. I have taken a break from my tennis and pickleball playing, despite them being outdoor activities, because I did not want the stress of interacting with people who may or may not think mask-wearing or physical distancing important. It has been easier and more enjoyable for me to do solo activities or be with individuals within my “bubble”.

During this past year, I read more books, listened to audiobooks, started to sketch birds, bought bird feeders for the backyard to begin learning about birds, which eventually fueled my interest in bird photography. Stimulus check money went to organizations, such as Feeding America, Shelter Box, and some to camera equipment. I found myself driving to birding locations, listening to an audiobook along the way, and hiking an area to observe and photograph birds as my way to be outdoors, active, and safe from the virus. The majority of bird watchers seemed to respect the importance of face masks and physical distancing too when a group may congregate at a birding hot spot.

Reading the news and watching it on television this past year has been distressing most times. Reports of police brutality, especially with the death of George Floyd, boiled into numerous protests. The increased number of coronavirus cases and deaths, along with disrespect for what scientists stated as what each of us could do to “flatten the curve” seemed to fall on deaf ears. This was distressing while many Americans also followed misinformation. Coronavirus cases increased and our businesses, schools and country’s economics faltered while nurses and doctors at hospitals were overwhelmed. UPS, USPS, FedEx and Amazon delivery trucks seemed to be everywhere everyday while essential workers, such as the drivers of those vehicles and other delivery services, and those who worked in grocery stores, nursing homes, and medical centers services available. The news each day became more depressing as milestones of deaths were reported and videos of people at large group celebrations with no masks worn seemed to indicate no concern for their fellow man. And when the country’s president at that time also disregarded what world and national health organizations reported and encouraged none of their guidelines to be followed, then my concern and worry only continued to grow. 

What I cannot understand even a year later is why people still do not understand the science. There is information available to learn about the virus and how it spreads, but instead they would rather do what they wish and complain about their business or job not being available to them or their children at home not getting the best education, despite attempts to do so with their teachers through virtual learning. If we looked to other countries to see how they have been more successful handling the situation and incorporated any of those best practices we could also have been in a better position. Yet I notice many people in the USA not caring.

So here we are a year later with many people hesitant to be vaccinated. Scientists have accomplished an amazing task in having 3 different vaccines available for use within a short period of time. The scientific method was followed at each institution and accelerated which does not mean corners had been cut, so I wish people understood their work. While I am within the process of receiving my vaccine doses, I continue to spend time outdoors discovering the parks and places to roam where few people do. But I have discovered many other people realize the outdoors for hiking, bicycling and camping provide great opportunities for them too. Let’s get ourselves healthy so we can get back on an airplane and travel the world beyond our “bubble”. I’m doing my part to reach that goal, can you? I am ready to move on and see the rest of the world! How about you? 

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!

Conversion of Honda Element to Camper

I love my Honda Element! I also love putting my bicycle inside the car. I enjoy tent camping, but there are times I need to roll out of my sleeping bag and hit the road right away to see birds as they wake up and take-off in flight. So, I decided I needed a bed in the back of my Honda Element. This would allow me to sleep in my vehicle and in the early morning simply move myself to behind the steering wheel and drive to a birding spot. No packing up of a tent, etc.

With forty hours of my labor, about $150.00 of materials and help from my ACE Hardware neighborhood store employees, I accomplished building a bed and other touches while also leaving space for my bicycle! I saw many conversion kits more luxurious than what I needed or could afford, and I thought I have time to build this since we are still in our Covid-19 pandemic days/months/year? (I know many of you could build all this faster, but I learned so much while doing this!)

The most useful resource was at ethanmaurice.com He built a larger bed and cabinet in his Honda Element, more than what I needed, but he had some super suggestions.

Here is the back of my car totally empty.

Tools/materials I used for this project: 

hand saw, drill, leveler, tape measure, screwdriver, paint brush, box cutter, scissors, pencil, permanent marker, ratchet, measuring tape, safety glasses and yardstick. 

I used a step stool and/or my car’s tailgate when I needed to saw some wood. The ACE Hardware employee’s cut my lumber per my instructions so I did not need a radial saw or jigsaw. Huge help from those guys!

Materials I bought for this project:

4 x 8 foot x 1/2 inch plywood, 4 x 4 x 8 foot lumber, various screws, various hinges, nails, sandpaper, polyurethane coating, paint thinner, shims, wood filler, pipe insulation, mosquito netting.

I started with drawing my bed design details on a cardboard bicycle box I collected from a local bicycle shop. With box cutter, I cut out the shape and put the pieces in the car to see if all will fit as I wish. I then calculated the height of the bed and what number of legs I wanted.

I brought my cardboard cut-outs and leg lengths to ACE Hardware where I bought my lumber. Abraham, Danny and I drew the template onto the wood and Abraham sawed away! Two bed pieces and 6 legs. Eventually I did place the legs in slightly different positions from my initial plan, but all went well.

Here are photos of the bed looking in from the rear:

Securing the bicycle was an issue because it was sliding around when I drove. My usual bike mount was to large for this project so I created my own. Since taking the photo, I have built a more secure base.

My other idea was that the top third of the bed frame would flip, with hinges, over the back portion. When I use the car at other times I wanted to be able to put items right behind the driver’s seat. Photos here of the top third and then flipped over so I could store items right behind my seat other times when not needing the bed.

I need to say, I have a few wood-working skills, but have learned much in the past from my dad and my volunteer time building homes with Habitat for Humanity in New York, Arizona and Poland. The most important: always re-measure and check measurements before anyone cuts anything! I had to-do lists for everything. I had daily plans in my notebook. I learned the importance of pre-drilling holes for screws. I know now polyurethane needs at least 24 hours to gas-off because I was under its effects when driving the car the next day. Definitely should not have been in an enclosed car! Chunkier screws were good, but a bit to long … so I learned how to file down their tip. And for nails that were to long, ACE Hardware employee cut the nails to the length I needed! Safety glasses were always important even when sanding wood! Finally I discovered, some of my best thinking was at 10pm.

Final touches: a kitchen shelf off the bed platform and mosquito netting on back when nights are hot. With the shelf, I used removable hinges so I can take the folding kitchen shelf off. Hinges, wow! what a learning curve to get all to move or slide properly, but it is done! I slide my milk crate out to create a level tabletop. In that crate will be my stove and all utensils and pots, etc for cooking or organizing a meal.

I do not have a sun roof with this model Honda Element, so I needed to think of a way to get air into the car for hot nights and me sleeping on the bed. While there was no rush to get it done now, since it is currently the winter season, I decided to repurpose mosquito netting used on a child’s stroller. Using the netting and 4 toggles, here is what I created for the upper half of the tailgate area:

This has been quite a project! Now I am ready to figure out what containers and supplies to pack. My ensolite pad, thermarest and pillow will go on top of the bed platform. This will allow me to either use them when sleeping in the car or easily drag them into my tent when sleeping there. Everything else will be stored underneath. 

Cannot wait to get out on the road!

Note: my next Honda Element will have an electric engine, a back area floor surface that is not so slippery and a sun roof. I keep hoping the reason Honda has not continued making this vehicle is they are working on an electric version of this vehicle! Time will tell!

San Pedro House & Trails, Sierra Vista, AZ

Nine miles east of downtown Sierra Vista is the San Pedro River. It is a northward-flowing, 143 mile undammed river in the southwest, from Mexico into the USA; however, parts of the San Pedro are no longer perennially flowing. The river basin is home to many species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, but with the water table lowered due to irrigation and human/domestic use there is huge concern for this riparian area. Nature Conservancy is one organization working to protect tracts along the river.

On my recent visit to the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, we parked near the historic ranch house, now a gift shop unfortunately closed due to Covid-19. We walked at least 2 miles of the trail network viewing birds, huge cottonwood and willow trees, and noticing the trail is also available to mountain bikers and equestrians.

We walked along the river most of our time during this visit and also in what once was agricultural land. There was a time when alfalfa and other feed for cattle grew there. But the shady river bed was our favorite area.

We saw a variety of birds and many, many white-crowned sparrows! Fortunately we became aware of a great horned owl sitting in a tree so we spent time observing him as he slept.

There once was a sand and gravel quarry a short distance from the ranch house. It is now referred to as Kingfisher Pond; despite reports, I saw no kingfisher in the area. It is a large hole filled with ground and flood water with no surface inlets or outlets. We did see an American coot, a pied-billed grebe and once again more white-crowned sparrows hiding under the reeds along the pond’s edge.

Eventually there will be a 30 mile trail and hopefully have more environmental protections for this wildlife area. It is necessary to protect areas such as here. The area provides a passage/greenway for wildlife from one area to another, especially between mountain ranges. If you are interested in conservation and restoration of the area, look into Friends of the San Pedro River, a non-profit organization assisting the Bureau of Land management, or The Nature Conservancy with its goal of creating a world where people and nature can thrive. We need rivers with water flow and a variety of habitats for wildlife to survive while we also build our communities. It does require thought, planning and recognition of the importance of nature in our world. We can do it!

Sam Lena Recreation Area, Tucson

The Kino Sports Complex is huge when you consider the north and south side, but today I am only focusing on Sam Lena Park which is part of the north complex. Sam Lena was a longtime politician, member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, served twice in AZ House and four terms in the State Senate. As a supporter of parks and recreation, the park was named in Sam Lena’s honor (1921-1996) along with a Sam Lena – South Tucson Library which he advocated for many years.

I was visiting the park to see what birds might be around since the last time I was here was about a year ago when I first began birding and had a birding workshop here. While walking a small part of the park, I noticed ramadas, fitness/1 mile walking trail, softball fields and had to keep an eye open as some played disc golf around me and where I was also watching a few birds.

I saw a number of birds:

Gray flycatcher
Greater yellowlegs
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Great blue heron

If it wasn’t for the pandemic we are currently experiencing, this park would be very busy with people. Almost everyone I saw today was wearing a facial mask and many were visiting with me to ask what birds I was seeing and asking about my camera equipment. I like those teachable moments and it seemed all were wanting some conversation! The disc golfers even showed me their discs! I am not sure I will ever play that game as I can only envision losing the disc just like I lose golf balls! Who knows, someday maybe I will give it a try. I can always use another new activity in my life!

Sorry to tell them they have a spelling error on the “disc” golf.