Visit San José de Tumacácori

Tumacácori is a park preserving a Spanish mission ruin where you can also walk to the Santa Cruz River and two trailheads of the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail on the park boundary. During this COVID pandemic, rules are listed at the entrance and certain areas, such as visitor center, are not open. Yet one can walk the property and feel its history.

Tumacácori is one of 24 missions founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an advocate for the O’odham native people and spreader of the Catholic faith. As the O’odham people rebelled against Spain a military post was built in Tubac for Spain to protect its interests. Plenty of history to be understood and realized here and fortunately the National Park Service has an informative pamphlet available to help one understand it.

Walking the property, you’ll see fruit trees at the heritage orchard, water ditch, the church built during the 1800’s, a cemetery, lime kiln and courtyard. I also spent time in front of the place where there is a butterfly garden. A “monarch waystation” with flowers which truly attract many butterflies this time of year! This is a park worth visiting and I am sure when the visitor center is open to show displays and videos it will even be better.

Here are some photos from my visit:

The mission church and grounds at Tumacácori.
Another view of the church and Santa Rita Mountains beyond.

Peña Blanca Lake, Today & Past

Eighteen miles northwest of Nogales, Arizona is a man-made reservoir originally built in 1957 by the AZ Game & Fish department. It sits in the Pajarito Mountain foothills of Nogales and was a new adventure for me the other day. Everything was lush green and it did look like a thunderstorm was to descend on this 3800 foot area, but I wanted to see what was there!

It is only about 10 miles west of the exit where I had been on Interstate-19 and a good paved road. Beautiful scenery as I drove into the Coronado National Forest to visit this lake.

Few people were there which was wonderful for me as long as the rain did not start. I hiked part of the trail on its west side and saw fishermen on the reservoir’s edge in a couple of locations. With a “hello” wave everyone was able to do what they wished. A rest room is at the main parking lot; nothing else except at picnic areas there are tables.

I walked the trail and saw some birds. As usual I snapped some photos to be pleasantly surprised when home to identify new birds. I knew goldfinch and vermilion flycatchers, but was surprised by the other birds.

Now I will have to return to this lake and try for better photos as the last 2 birds were new ones for my life list! What a surprise to identify them now!

I always research an area to learn more about the place. October 2008 the reservoir was closed for 8 months to drain it. They discovered sediment on its bottom contaminated with mercury and the fish were picking it up, passing it through the food chain. A major concern, I would imagine, as fishermen enjoyed fishing there for trout, sunfish, bass and catfish. An environmental company from Phoenix put three 14-thousand pound pumps to run non-stop for 30 days to drain the lake. Forest Service officials estimated it would take 8 years for the lake to refill itself. As of my visit in 2020, yes, the lake looked full so the rainfall in the area was most helpful.

So of course one should ask, how did the lake become contaminated? In the 1800’s there were mining operations. In 1999, three mining sites were cleaned up south of the reservoir with the mine tailings, waste rock, making their way through the watershed to the bottom of the lake. The mercury contamination needed to be addressed and this was how it was done.

Beautiful lake and fishermen are here too.

Prayers Carried on the Wind

Prayers flags

Each flutter of the flag in the breeze denotes a prayer blown by the wind to spread good will into all pervading space. Every thread unravels, flies away and carries the prayers and mantras to promote peace, compassion, wisdom and strength.

The flags are always arranged in a specific order, from left to right: blue represents the sky, white represents the air, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. All five colors together signifying balance.

I have seen prayer flags flown from stupas and mountain passes in Tibet, Nepal, Northern India, Bhutan and at my home. It is always important to respect and acknowledge their religious meaning. Buddhism is a complicated religion, but learning about the actual teachings of the Buddha has benefits. People find the teachings relevant and helpful in their own lives, including meditation which has been proven to have benefits even according to Western science. Buddhist belief is strong in the power of prayer flags which include mantras from three of the great Buddhist Bodhisattvas: Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the patron of the Tibetan people), and Manjusri, to be carried on the wind.

Prayer flags are to be treated with respect and not ever touch the ground. Disposal can be by burning them, but they are not to touch the ground while they burn. The smoke carries sacred blessings. I always keep my flags flying, getting old, fading away and allowed to slowly disintegrate.

My main reason to hang prayer flags is to spread positivity far and wide. 

Truth in a Statue in Tucson

Near downtown Tucson, I noticed a statue of a fireman, so I stopped to learn why it was there by the Central Fire Station. It is a memorial and recognition of firefighter’s “ultimate sacrifice”. 

The past few months, numerous firefighters have been fighting the Bighorn Fire in our national forest and state park. No structures or people have been lost with almost 120,000 acres burned. Seven fire fighters had non-fatal injuries.

Truth be told, we are appreciative of every firefighter. Carrying their gear, climbing the mountainside, working on the fire line, tenting at night, and caring about the people and buildings in the area all in very hot, varying elevation and weather conditions … a profession many people do not run to train and be active in. I greatly appreciate those who do choose this work and relieved when I know all survived. Thank you!

Due to the charred areas not being able to absorb water and the upcoming monsoon season, the areas will remain closed till about November 1. Before you head out, check Pima County website to know if you can hike in certain areas. Be safe.

Monday Memories: India and Bhutan

In 2017, my goal was to visit northern India from west to east, and then the small country of Bhutan. Only my daily journal could capture all I experienced during this trip. It was a fascinating experience and I have hopes of returning to see all of India some day.

Here’s a capsule of the adventure. After arriving in New Delhi, India, walking through various neighborhoods with our guide and seeing historic buildings, we headed toward the India – Pakistan border to watch the daily military ceremony referred to as a “border ceremony”. In the city of Amritsar, where the famous Golden Temple – a religious complex of the Sikh religion – is, I had unique experience with a local man who had poor vision. While helping him cross an area with road barriers, he and I talked. I invited him to join me for a soda or tea. I located a place to have our drink, much to the surprise of the shop owner and adolescent boys sitting in the shop, but my new friend and I had a good conversation.

Our tour continued north to Dharamshala where exiled Tibetan people live and work. The Dalai Lama resides here too when he is not speaking around the world. I loved seeing the Himalayan Mountains once again; last seen in 2001. Shops here support the Tibetan culture and handicrafts.

Women spinning wool.

We returned to New Delhi for a few more days and touring, then flew to Darjeeling, famous for its tea cultivation. While the streets of New Delhi and Delhi are hectic with wandering cows, people with push carts, wires hanging everywhere from poles, I appreciated people allowing me to photograph them; one man even asked that I photograph him! People in the countryside provided permission for me to photograph them too. But it was while I was in a moving vehicle that I caught sight of a man at his roadside dental appointment. Along that wall, many businesses were conducted.

I bought tea while in Darjeeling, relaxed in the British flair of this city, but I wanted to return to the Himalayan Mountains and visit Bhutan! Bhutan caps the number of visitors entering their country and maintains some traditions to hold on to their culture. Bhutan is a very small country between two super powers: India and China. It is an environmentally aware country and known for its “Gross National Happiness” philosophy. I asked for a specific example of where the people’s happiness and decision of the government may influence that philosophical index. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and many workers live on the other side of the mountain and have an hour’s drive to work each day. Workers wanting a shorter drive requested the government build a tunnel through the mountain. The government thought it best to use the construction money to build paved roads throughout the country to help a larger number of people, and thus did not build a tunnel. Great example, and roads were being built mostly by Indian workers throughout the country.

Thimphu is the main city; however, just outside of it you will see a huge statue of Buddha that has many more Buddhas within it. The countryside is beautiful and at one point we did stop to talk with a nomad.

We stayed in Paro, Bhutan for a couple of days so we could climb to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, a sacred Buddhist site. It requires an entire day to drive about 10 miles to the site, climb the 2 miles up to the monastery with an elevation gain of 1700 feet, and be at 10,232 feet where the air is thin. No vehicles are in this area, one must climb. It was worth the hike!

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Two men from Bhutan will always remain in my memory. In my wandering I started speaking with a young man asking about his work. He acknowledged he was a young artist, but his job now was to sell the owner’s art work. I asked to see what he had drawn and I bought a piece of his work. Today it is framed and hangs on my wall. The other man was carving wood with his feet. I learned Bhutan’s Queen Jetsun Pema supports people living with disabilities and he has gained a thriving business as a result of Her Majesty’s support.

There are so many more memories of my visit to India and Bhutan, but I have kept these for now along with a fraction of photos taken during this trip. Someday I will return and create new memories. People have asked why I did not go to the Taj Mahal, etc. My answer: those areas are so over-run with tourists and I believe I will be able to visit them while in a wheel chair. On this trip I wanted to go where I had to hike to see the sites.

Never in my mind did I think there would be a global pandemic, as we have happening now, where country borders and sites are closed. I am so glad I traveled when I did. I look forward to more travel in the future.

Monday Memories: Morocco

In my last “Monday Memories” post I mentioned Morocco, so I caught myself thinking about my 2019 trip. I am so glad I did not put that trip off to now, 2020. I would not have been able to travel to Morocco at the rate this pandemic is affecting our planet.

After three weeks of travel in the Kingdom of Morocco, I realized what a learning experience it was for me. In Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque, second largest mosque in Africa, was simply incredible to see. I could not imagine 25,000 people inside it and 80,000 on its outdoor grounds. The mosque is huge, beautifully situated by the oceanside, ornate, and with a 210 meter minaret. Specific rules were followed to allow non-Muslim visitors inside the mosque.

I loved Moroccan food. Each day I had freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread and olives of all kinds, and hot, sweet, mint tea. Meats, vegetables and couscous were cooked in tajines and a Berber omelet were my most delicious meals.

We visited many cities around the country. The tannery in Fez was fascinating as we saw early stages of the product that would become a leather jacket. Every visitor to Morocco speaks of the blue city, Chefchaouen, so we visited there too. Four years earlier I visited Tangier’s old medina and thought the winding pathways and various markets chaotic. Its new town did not seem to be so crazy, but I am sure you can still buy just about everything there. Whenever we were in the countryside or the mountain villages, it was more relaxing and enjoyable to me. 

Most relaxing was our time in the Sahara Desert. To be honest, it was not very relaxing riding the camel to our campsite. But once there, climbing and then sitting on the ridge of a sand dune with a glass of wine, it was relaxing! Even better, the night came with shining stars and silence. I loved it!

I will remember many things about Morocco: our fantastic guide, people who allowed me to photograph them as I asked permission to do so, the women cooperatives we visited, the cats seen everywhere in so many cities and the goats in the trees!

When I return to Morocco some day, I wish to spend more time in the desert and to photograph it day and night. That would be an amazing accomplishment for me to be able to do such photography, and to enjoy the desert! 

Wander Down the AZ Road

It was time to wander south of Tucson, Arizona and discover new places. My opportunity to escape the Bighorn wildfire’s smoke, listen to classical music and Broadway tunes on my car radio, see big sky country, and whatever came my way.

An hour’s drive south, I took a lefthand turn to visit Las Cienegas National Conservation Area where 45,000 acres of protected grasslands and woodlands are available for wildlife viewing, bird watching, primitive camping, mountain biking and many more activities. Classic films had been filmed on or near the Empire Ranch, which is still a working cattle ranch. I’ll need to spend a day here another time.

Photography is my never-ending challenge so I decided to have some fun with shutter speed and a windmill. I set my camera’s shutter speed, took a photo and then changed it to be a slower shutter speed and took another photo. I remind myself, practice is important!

Although I saw signs for “entering wine country”, I think this photo indicates more of my travel today.

Cool sign!

When I travel, I like to read roadside historical markers. I read this marker and researched the topic further when home, to discover the middle initial of the man’s name is incorrect on the marker. Fort/camp Crittendon, the US Army post, was established in August 1867. It was in honor of Thomas S. (or should be “L”) Crittendon. The fort saw action during the Apache Wars in 1870 and 1871. The camp closed in June 1873, and supposedly with only crumbling barrack walls remaining on what is now private land. AZ Highway Department in 1968 made the error. I will check and see how it can be remedied.

Finally arrived at Patagonia Lake State Park where face masks were required and people had camping with space to provide social distancing in this 2020 covid-19 pandemic. The 265-acre man-made lake was enjoyed by swimmers and anglers can catch bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie. Cabins are available to sleep up to 6 people with restrooms and showers within walking distance. Will need to check this again as the park is also a good place for birdwatching.

Beautiful scenery all day and more places for me to visit. I will love to visit some small towns in the future, but for right now the great outdoors is perfect!

Monday Memories: Poland

As I look back on 2019, I am thrilled I did not put off international travel to save money for future trips: New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and Antartica. On this trip to Poland I had an opportunity to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity (H4H) in Gliwice, Poland. Once realizing I was flying from western USA to Poland, I decided to travel on my own prior to my H4H responsibility.

I arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spent a few days joining walking tours to learn about and understand Poland’s history. I walked around the city which has so many museums and places to visit, such as the POLIN Museum about the history of the Polish Jewish community and the Warsaw Rising Museum, just to mention a couple of museums. I was glad to return to this city for a couple of days before flying home at the end of this trip, especially to decompress while walking through the Royal Łazienki Park.

Walk the city of Warsaw and see where the ghetto wall held in the Jewish people.

My travel around the country was by train so I could talk with people and see the countryside while traveling. Polish people were very friendly and there were interesting small towns and beautiful fields along the way to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. Buildings here were more colorful than Warsaw and the Museum of the Second World War was definitely worth visiting. I took the train to Sopot and Gdynia for a day trip. Sopot was unbelievably crowded and Gydnia’s Emigration Museum telling the history of migrating Poles was worth visiting.

My two favorite meals while in Poland were pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese, cooked in boiling water and not pan-fried, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. I was becoming a critic of the best of each during my 3 weeks in Poland and loved eating it all!

There were so many cities to visit in Poland, yet I hop off the train in Wrocław. As you stand in the main square of this city, you’ll see the Gothic Old Town Hall with its astronomical clock and have plenty of time to people watch. I loved looking for the gnomes around the city … visit to find out the history and importance of these characters.

After a few days I visited Kraków. As you stand in its main square you see the Cloth Hall and the 14th century Gothic church: St. Mary’s Basilica, where I also attended an evening organ concert. The Rynek Underground Museum was interesting and the walking tours about Jewish history were informative. There is plenty to do in Kraków and it is an easy city to walk.

I joined a day tour to learn more about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against Poles at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau sites. While some buildings are not open to the public, one clearly feels the horror that occurred at these places. The shoes, luggage and hair collected, the sleeping areas, electric fences, cattle cars which brought people in to these concentration camps, and the crematoriums were just horrifying to see knowing now the history. Another day I toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine where all statues, etc are carved into the salt. It was a good way to decompress after being at the camps the day before.

I met the team of Global Village/Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Krakow and we traveled to Gliwice, northwest of Kraków. For the next 5 days we helped renovate some old buildings to eventually house teenagers with addiction issues. We met and had dinner with some of the young people at their current site. Our work during the day was plastering walls or pulling up old flooring. Our hard-working crews accomplished so much in the short time; however, it may be a year before all work is complete … and that was the prediction before Covid-19 became real.

I returned to Warsaw. I flew home thankful for the opportunity to volunteer my time and energy to a worthy project and also visit a country I had wished to visit someday. Now in 2020 I wonder when my international travel will resume. Only time will tell as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Juan Bautista de Anza Trail

In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza was helped by American Indian guides to discover a land route from Mexico to California. Various times in my travel I noticed Juan Bautista trail signs, and now I know it is an auto tour marking the more than 1200 mile historic trail from Nogales, AZ to Monterey, CA which includes many historic sites. In 1775, Juan brought about 240 people across the new frontier of New Spain from Mexico to California. With military escort and 1000 head of livestock, the journey took 5.5 months for the settlers to complete.

The settlers camped at some historic places I have visited, such as Historic Canoa Ranch – campsite #15, Mission San Xavier del Bac – campsite #17, and Picacho Peak State Park – campsite #21. Someday I will visit other historic sites on this national historic trail. I walked a couple of miles of the trail in the Rio Rico area beginning at the Guy Tobin Trailhead.

A short distance from the trailhead there is a chained gate. It was a local man, Guy Tobin, who had the foresight and public support to contribute land and establish a 13 mile segment of trail from Rio Rico to Tubac. He worked with the Anza Trail Coalition and National Park Service. Guy Tobin died in 2008 and a few months later the trailhead was dedicated to him. In 2011, Friends of the Santa Cruz River and Tucson’s Watershed Management started a year-long project constructing rainwater harvesting features at the trailhead.

Once upon a time, there were Mexican wolves and jaguars here, but now one may see bobcat, coyote, javelina and mule deer. I was happy to photograph this mule deer!

It is a very sandy trail with plenty of birds singing in the trees. The only flower I saw was the southwestern prickly poppy.

It was a wonderful place to escape everyone and have a trail almost to myself. I saw 2 people the entire time!

Monday Memories: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand

January 2019, international travel started for me and a friend with a supported bicycling tour in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was my first time to this region of the world and an area I will definitely return, one country at a time. The weather was good for cycling, visiting places, and the people especially in Vietnam were friendly.

Here are a few photos as I remember this trip. Many people were also on bicycles, cycling on walkways between rice paddies, small trails, or roads which were crazy with hectic interchanges. It seemed however there were more riders on scooters and motorcycles. Unfortunately the last day of our cycling, a motorcyclist was killed in Thailand. When I first heard a thud, I worried it was a fellow bicyclist. Once I rounded the corner I saw the man on the road … instantly killed. As sorry as I was about the accident, I was also relieved to be going home in a few days and not be on a bicycle as I grieved his death.

Our guide made arrangements for us to visit many temples and historic places. Prior to meeting our guide, we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, where we saw a very small section of the 70 mile wartime tunnels used by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. Near Siem Reap, Cambodia, we visited Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Little time was spent in Thailand, thus my need to return there someday, along with more time in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I like Vietnamese food and love Thai food, but the best food during our travels was the fresh seafood. We saw many markets and local people shopping for all kinds of items. I was introduced to dragon fruit which grows on cacti-like trees. When the reddish, scaly exterior is cut open, one sees the white flesh and black, crunchy seeds within the fruit.

Travel is also done by boat and many people live on the river. One day we spent 6 hours on a boat to travel to another location and continue our bicycle ride. It was fascinating to see fishing rigs, school children being brought to school by boat, local people doing their work, but depressing to see garbage dumped into the river.

We had opportunities to cook some food and make rice wrappers, all of which I did not meet with success. People work hard and I was really impressed with an older woman who collected dead wood, balanced them on the rear of her bicycle and brought the load to her family as they cooked at their oven. She never stopped smiling so I had to capture a photo of her. The other woman was working hard at the river’s edge from her boat.

What I love most about travel is seeing people in action and interacting with them when possible. One young lady was waiting for a ferry ride across the river and a child’s attention was absorbed while playing with straws. We met many wonderful people and had a safe tour. Someday I will return to this region of the world; so much more to see!