Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big Chill

When the weather cools to that perfect high of around 70, we start seeing hot air balloons more frequently, early in the mornings when the atmosphere is cool enough for their warmed balloon interiors to make a difference and provide the essential lift.

Chilly morning hot air ride
Tucson gets about 20 nights of freezing temperatures a year, usually a glancing blow of a few hours just below 32 degrees.  The first one usually occurs right around Thanksgiving, so we were right on schedule.  Problem was, it was predicted to be a hard freeze -- 24 degrees.  It was time to deter the Big Chill.

Out came the styrofoam cups, insulating caps for columnar cacti.  Out came the paper bags, ditto.  Out came the plastic picnic tablecloths with the fuzzy underside (important), old beach towels and coverlets.
We even used a few baseball caps for our larger cactus "heads".

One of my very favorite plants in our backyard is the chuparosa.  It begins flowering in November and flowers all winter long, its tubular orange flowers providing nectar for our year-round Anna's and Costa's hummingbirds along with the nectar robbing mustard headed perpetual motion verdins.  We have a few of these magic winter plants, but my favorite is right outside the dining room window and is the size of a Volkswagen beetle.  I was determined to save this plant from freezing -- it wouldn't kill it but would literally nip it in the bud, likely nixing any more flowers for almost a year.  Several years ago we had a freeze in the high teens and the chuparosa looked like it had been freeze-dried.  We cut it back to medicine ball size in the spring and it bounced back, but I wanted a natural food source for our hummers.

I took every large plastic tablecloth I had, plus some old towels and a bedspread, draped them over the chuparosa and clothes-pinned them together.  We put a trouble light under the cover and kept it lit all night.  It looked like The Blob was having an eerie picnic in the back yard.  Out of appropriate covering, the two rows of green beans we'd been nursing along in our feeble winter vegetable garden would have to fend for themselves.

By night
By day
We saw hummingbirds zipping under the cover at first light, the sugar water in their feeders frozen solid. As I uncovered the chuparosa today, a Costa's hummingbird flashed his royal purple gorget at me, whether in thanks for saving his favorite winter plant or to urge me to get out of the way, I'll never know.

Success!  At least for Round One...
The hummers' food survived.  The green beans -- not so much -- but I can get great ones, cheap, at Costco.  Our flashy hummingbird winter companions?  Priceless.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If You are Thinking This is a Bird Deterrent...'d be wrong.

Not more than a few hours after carefully sowing our seeds in nice straight rows, plant stakes in place with names and planting date, we went out to finish the watering job Mother Nature had started.  Our lovely garden, well mulched with an even coat of alfalfa hay, had big gouged out areas, hay tossed aside, spots in the amended soil -- amended with steer manure -- showing dark and moist.

As this area is inside our block walls, the culprit couldn't be a rogue javelina, mule deer, or bobcat.  No birds around are big enough, or interested enough, to so seriously mar the new garden.  No children here to run amuck.  

The real culprit

The string and tin foil solution?  So far so good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Winter Garden

Queen's wreath, tangled in the limbs (and shade) of a palo verde tree
We're not novice gardeners.  For many years we've learned, mostly through trial and error, about what will work in our desert garden and what won't.  We've become increasingly committed to native or desert adapted plants -- plants that work well here and are of use to the local birds and other critters.

A ghostly aloe in the barrio garden
It seems a bit odd to be putting in a winter garden when we were in triple digit heat a few days ago.  Now there's nothing but highs in the 90's in the forecast, and the nights are promised to be blissfully in the lower 60's, so hopefully we've turned a corner.  Still, while our family in Denver are harvesting the last of their crops, we are just beginning.

We always said that if anyplace could drag us permanently away from Tucson it would have to be somewhere that we could do edible gardening in terrific soil with rain that fell from the sky on a regular basis.  But we both love living in the Sonoran desert, especially now that we have a real cabin in the Colorado Rockies to escape to in the summers, so we're not moving.  Ever.  Recently my husband went to a winter gardening class at Plants for the Southwest, one of our favorite nurseries here.  The class was taught by a woman who's been veggie gardening here year 'round for over two decades.  Soil amendments (organic) and knowing what to plant when were the keys.

Do you know how stinky big bags of steer manure are in the back of an SUV on a hot day?!  Luckily that trip was followed by a trek to get a bale of alfalfa hay which has a lovely grassy smell and left enough of itself behind in the car to freshen up the Honda C-RV.  A dozen packets of seeds, some additional drip irrigation sprinklers, and a "flat free" puncture-less foam filled wheelbarrow wheel and tire to replace the far from "flat free" inner-tube (thorny deserts are hard on them) pretty much completed the necessities for planting our winter garden.

Double digging in the last of the shade
We chose a sunny wall to plant the garden against.  After moving a couple of plumbagos, a Mt. Lemmon daisy, and a salvia, Bob began the double digging process to incorporate these new organics.  This is not an untouched area; we have amended this before.  Deserts are not know for their rich humusy soils, and our yard is no exception.  Developing our vegetable garden's soil will be an ongoing project.

Deep digging and existing drip irrigation systems always clash, but after a lot of digging, a few repairs and additions to the drip system, some raking, with a well-deserved brunch mixed in, we were ready to plant.

Big brunch for hard workers

Ready for seed sowing
By the time we were ready to sow some seeds it near noon and in the high 90's, but we were determined.  In less than an hour we had rows of two kinds of snap beans, snap peas, sweet peas (the flowers), quinoa (our experiment), spinach, two kinds of kale, swiss chard, and garlic.  When it cools off a bit more we'll plant some lettuce mixes and radishes.  Herbs are growing in containers.  Onions will go in after Thanksgiving.  Bob spread a nice layer of sweet smelling alfalfa hay over the bed as a mulch to retain moisture and shade the seedlings.  Eventually it will be dug into the soil for enrichment for next years winter garden.

Just went out to check it...nothing yet.  I guess five hours is a little too soon for germination.

Watch this space

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hatch Watch

When we got back from Colorado 20 days ago we spotted a female Gambel's quail roosting in one of our flower pots out back.  We don't know when she finished laying her clutch of 10 eggs, but we do know that incubation is between 21 and 24 days, so we can't be too far away from a hatching.

Last night we noticed a male Gambel's quail lurking around the nest.  Suddenly he squatted down on a bare expanse of gravel.  Had he been on dirt we'd have been expecting to see him take a dust bath, but he hugged the stoney ground, looking over toward where the female sat on her eggs under a potted flowering euphorbia.  These quails are monogamous and both take an active role in raising the chicks, but we had to wonder if this was maternity ward waiting room behavior.

It didn't take long to get our answer.  After a couple of minutes the male rose and cautiously approached the pot with the nest and tentatively joined his mate, carefully settling on some of the eggs.  After doing some research we learned that the male incubating the eggs is not unheard of, but quite rare.

You can see the female in the above picture, her shiny eye just above the edge of the pot.  The male is behind her, his black and chestnut head facing the other direction.

I guess we're the ones waiting anxiously in that maternity ward waiting room.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sanctuary and Answered Prayers

Shortly after the official start of summer the Sonoran desert is well into its infamous heat, but the notorious dry heat is giving way to a steamier version.   When the weather pattern shifts, usually around the 4th of July, our desiccatingly low to nonexistent humidity gives way to an inflow of tropical moisture, bringing the novelty of clouds, and we wait anxiously for the first rain in months.

We like to help out our tough desert birds by providing fresh water, native food sources though habitat gardening (and the occasional handful of bird seed), shelter, and places to raise their young.  Our efforts are rewarded by the constant presence of some of the most fascinating and adaptive birds in the world.  In the middle of our hottest season we are seeing lots of fledgling birds -- slightly smaller than their parents, frequently seen harassing  them with begging behavior, and not quite as expert in the flying department.  We've had juvenile doves, cactus wrens, thrashers, gila woodpeckers, finches, and even a young pyrrhuloxia seeking the shade of the back porch.

While desert birds have strategies to deal with the long months without rain in a land of little standing ground water, an easy source of water for drinking and bathing is much appreciated.  This early clutch of Gambel quail are being shown the ropes by their parents, visiting the bird bath for a quick early morning drink.

While some quail families are just finishing up their parental duties with their fledglings, others are just beginning, or beginning again.  This clutch of ten eggs is usually hidden by a dedicated female quail, and is due to hatch any time now.  Seeing a string of puffball quail chicks obediently following their mother while papa quail stands guard duty on the garden wall is one of our favorite desert experiences.  A year with abundant (for us) rainfall insures the resources needed to raise more than one family a year, and we are witnessing a banner year for wildlife.

Late this afternoon, bolstered by adequate humidity and triple digit heat, we had our first brief rain of the monsoon.  There is nothing like the first rain after months without, months of searing heat.  The first drops steam off the hot flagstone, and the fragrance of creosote instantly fills the air.  The cool rain on hot parched skin is an exquisite study in contrasts.  And the breaking of the long absence of life-sustaining rain is an answered prayer.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Heat and Prayers

We're back from a month in the Colorado Rockies.  The triple digit heat is a bit of a shock.

When we left in late May it was certainly warming up.  The paloverdes had finally bloomed, making the desert feel as if pale sulfurous yellow clouds had descended to within a few feet of the ground.  The stately saguaros were starting to bloom, satisfying the white winged doves who'd arrived a few weeks before to fulfill one of their purposes in life of moving saguaro pollen from one cupped flower to the next.  The first strings of puff-ball baby quail were being squired through the backyard by their proud and watchful parents.

Our blessedly cool and rainy winter and early spring created a window of opportunity for plentiful reproduction.  Over a month ago we saw our first fledgelings, almost as big as their parents who they chased down and begged for food by trembling their able wings accompanied by nagging cheeps.  Yesterday I was treated to a display of dove love, a mating session in the mesquite outside my kitchen window.  As soon as the brief tryst was over one of the fledglings from the first clutch flew in to join mom, just in case she had something to feed him.  

We are habitat gardeners, but I'll admit to trying to dissuade the doves from nesting in other than natural spots -- in other words, I'd far prefer they use a tree or cactus than my back porch beam or the porch light.  Since the doves build their nests, a loose pile of twigs, in about seven minutes flat, you have to catch them at it.  Well, we got doved.  Yesterday when I walked out the front door to get the mail something near my head exploded.  It was a panicked momma dove vacating her nest, the one she'd built on our porch light.  I got a step-stool to check for eggs and sure enough, there were two, so mama dove gets to stay.  I'll admit it's a sweet spot for her -- shaded and safe from predators other than the winged variety.   We'll hope for a minimum of dove drama -- no naked babies falling from the nest please -- and hope for two healthy chicks that fledge successfully.

In late June we're heading for 110 degrees.  The saguaro are almost done with their blossoms though you see a stray one here or there, and heavily into fruiting.  Green fruits the size of small pears split open, revealing their juicy crimson interiors riddled with tiny black seeds, over 2,000 of them per fruit.  At a time of the year when rain has been non-existent for months, the sweet wet fruit is irresistible to anything that can get to it.  Birds have the easiest time of this while the fruit is on the cacti, but once it falls to the ground it's appreciated by most desert critters.  Birds and other animals, having eaten the fruit, move on and eventually -- through the process of elimination -- disseminate the seeds where one or two, out of millions produced by a saguaro over its long lifetime (which can be well over 200 years), might survive to maturity. 

It's a harsh environment, and one is reminded of that constantly watching the strings of baby quail get shorter by the day.  Near the summer solstice the light is white over the parched landscape.  Plants employ all their strategies -- dropping leaves, dropping whole branches, shriveling to the point of looking as if they'd been in a wildfire -- to survive until the monsoons arrive.  These summer rains the Sonoran desert is so dependent on are born from our searing heat and tropical moisture.  We've had a little pulse of the moisture in the last couple of days, and heat we have in abundance, but not enough moisture to humidify our scorched atmosphere enough to have something left over to wring out.  This is where the praying kicks in -- praying to Mother Nature to give us what we need so badly, the healing release of a hard cooling rain, the hope for survival.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tribute to a Good Dog

Our sixteen year old retriever mix, Max, reached the end of his earth walk yesterday.  He suffered a stroke in the morning and deteriorated during the day.  He still knew us and was not in pain, but could not stand or control himself and was clearly distressed.  There was effectively no chance of recovery. We were holding him when he was euthanized.
I was less than a day into a two day housewarming trip to my sister’s in El Paso when my husband called with the news of Max’s crisis.  My husband took him to the vet where they cared for him until I could make the five hour drive home.  Shortly after leaving El Paso I realized that the last time I had made this trip, over eight years ago, I was on my final leg in my move to my new life in Tucson.  My Honda Civic had “Tucson or Bust” in bold letters in the back window and Max was in the backseat enthusiastically keeping an eye on my driving.  The memory did not make the trip to the veterinarian hospital over 300 miles away any easier.
Max spent the first half his life in North Carolina.  My daughter and I adopted him from the animal shelter after he tipped his sweet demeanor by leaning yearningly up against us in his run, slowly and gently working his way into our laps.  My daughter was almost 15 at the time and he was five months old (my daughter will be 31 in May), and in the ensuing sixteen years Max only grew more loving, trusting, and loyal.  His favorite thing on earth was to find deer in our forested Chapel Hill backyard, escaping under the fence (deaf to my commands not to), and chase them full-out through the long leaf pines.  He’d come back fifteen minutes later, tongue dangling long in exhaustion, as happy as it was possible for a dog to be.  He loved walking in Duke Forest, once swimming down the swollen New Hope Creek behind my Teva’d daughter who was wading that hot summer day in water up to her armpits; Max joining her more out of concern for his “girl” than wanting that much swimming.
The other half of his life he was a good desert dog, or at least he became one.  The first few months were a learning process for him – avoid cholla cactus, don’t try to bite off the cholla cactus you didn’t avoid, and above all, javelina are not deer.  It wasn’t long before he was confidently leading the way, off leash, on the hundreds of miles we logged in arroyos and on trails, the soft fringe on his coat sashaying from side to side as he trotted along, frequently looking back to check on his humans.  As he aged and hip-dysplasia began to limit his ability to walk for any distance, our walks dwindled to a block or so, and always at his pace – more an experience in smellivision than exercise.  He was mostly deaf and half blind, and had gotten anxious when he didn’t know exactly where at least one of his humans was.  But he was a dog delighted to greet each day, each meal, and each mostly empty ice cream bowl to prewash until his last few hours.

Max helped me finish my 24/7 stint as a single mom.  He was waiting at home for me when I got back from dropping my daughter off for college, devastated that that part of my life was over.  Shortly after our move to Tucson he facilitated my falling in love with my then neighbor, now husband, by charming him out of bits of his breakfast waffle and giving him an excuse to join Max and I on walks.  He’s been a good companion to us both ever since.  We were hoping against hope that he would be able to come with us for our cabin rebuilding in Colorado this summer, to experience a few weeks among the ponderosa pines and for us to be able to have memories of him there.  Max will make the trip with us, though in a different form.  Some of his ashes will join the remains of many of my husband’s family’s also loved dogs and we’ll know some part of him is nearby no matter where we are residing – Tucson or Colorado.
The passing of a sixteen year old dog cannot be considered a tragedy, but he has left a huge hole in our lives.  Max was not a wonder dog, but more of a Satchel (for other Get Fuzzy fans out there).  He just wanted to please everyone and be loved in return, and he did and he was.  We miss his happy presence, his biscuit dance, and his unfailing good nature.  Most of you knew him, many of you loved him.  Despite his generously long life and the long goodbye – we knew the inevitable was coming, there were signs – we are so much sadder than we imagined we would be.  Tough times, but the sorrow is well-deserved for a dog that brought so much pleasure, companionship, and love to our lives and who will be forever missed.  
If there is such a thing as dog heaven, somewhere Max is chasing deer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Second Spring

Those living in the Sonoran Desert experience two springs.  In this land of five seasons (and you thought we only had one!) our functional spring starts in mid-February when the days lengthen just enough to make the weather begin to warm.  The extra light coaxes plants from their brief winter of idling into rebirth and renewal.  By the time the astronomical northern hemisphere spring arrives -- this year it was March 20th -- the desert has already shifted into high gear.  Plants are leafing out and blooming, and many animals have already given birth, like this nose to tail pair of doves in their twig nest nestled in a cholla cactus.

Blessed by extraordinary rainfall in the first months of this year -- over five inches, almost as much as in the preceding calendar year -- our spring(s) have been prolific.  We had a dry fall, so we didn't get extensive carpets of wildflowers, though if you knew where to look, you could find a pretty good facsimile, like this equestrian trail in Catalina State Park.

The days are warm now, usually in the 80's, but the nights are still deliciously cool.  Meals are seldom eaten indoors.  Instead we sit on the back covered porch, and later go out and sit on the terrace watching for shooting stars and eavesdropping on the quails' conversations as they settle into their evening roost in the big olive tree out back.  If we're lucky the ever-present coyotes will tune up, yipping and howling through the darkness to their own tribe and rivals.

The white wing doves have reappeared, harbingers of the heat to come with their call of "who cooks for you?"  By the time they ask that question, I've quit using the oven and am relearning my hot weather strategies such as walking and gardening when  the sun either hasn't made an appearance yet or is still low in the morning sky, closing the house up by mid-morning to retain the night's cool air, and making sun tea, lots of salads, and enlisting my husband's outdoor grilling talents.  Six weeks from now it will be searing.  Right now it's complete bliss.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rain is Life

If your religion is the desert, rain is the blessing.  In the desert rain is life.  Pure and simple.

Rain in the desert is a wake your spouse up event.  A go out and stand in it with your face to the sky event.  A time to suck in all the sweet moist smells of the ancient creosote bush that perfumes the air with the falling of the first drops.

Without rain, and enough of it, our Sonoran desert would cease to be what it is, one of the most lush and diverse places on the planet.

No, I did not misuse the word "lush".

Our part of the Sonoran desert has an incredible volume of biomass,  all plants that are adapted to hot and dry, and just as adapted to be opportunists who know how to quickly capture and store any moisture that comes their way.

There is incredible diversity here, both plants and animals, which is due in large part to the two distinct rainfalls we expect each year, rainfall seasons that provide a bridge for surviving a year in the desert.

The monsoons usually start in July and provide most of our average   (in a good year) ten inches of rain; ten inches is the upper limit in the definition of "desert".  These summer rains are tropical in nature and origin, towering cumulus building from the heat of the summer desert.  They fling lightning bolts with careless abandon, their thunder ricochetting off the mountains through the valley, black curtains of rain filling the bone dry arroyos in a matter of minutes.  The indigenous people here, the Tohono O'odham, call these the masculine rains -- sweeping in, suddenly hard and furious, and quickly gone.  Our winter rains, the feminine rain, are in contrast soft and gentle and can last a day or two, their slower pace soaking into the desert floor, nurturing with gentle abundance.

My husband woke me at 4 AM with one word.  Rain.  Five hours later it is still falling steadily from the sky.  I can barely make out the Tucson Mountains that loom a very few miles to our west.  Our backyard creosotes, trunks purple black in the rain, are filling the air with their sharp clean smell.  Our constant and intrepid hummingbirds (they may look cute, but are truly fierce) are zipping through the raindrops; the mourning doves are hunkered down, enduring on the garden wall.

Later, when the rains pass and the sun comes out, the desert will be clean and fresh and sparkling.  More plants and animals will have been assured of the potential of a good year for procreation, and we can look forward to a prolific bloom of our trees, cactus, and perennials, and long strings of baby quail.  A blessing indeed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joshua Tree -- Two Deserts, One Park

We spent three days in Joshua Tree National Park last weekend, not far over the Colorado River into California.  It's a huge park, a million acres, big enough to house two distinct deserts.  Entering the park from the south, it was 27 miles to our campsite in the White Tank campground.  During the drive we climbed 800 feet, from an elevation of 3,000 to one of 3,800.  We also left behind some of the most familiar plants of our Sonoran desert -- the palo verde trees and the ocotillo.

We slept in the transition zone between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.  A five minute walk to the northwest put us firmly in the Mojave, amidst the Joshua trees.  A stroll to the south, beyond the enormous boulders ringing our campsite, provided a vista over the wide valley of the northern reach of the Sonoran desert.  It was like hangin' ten in a different desert every time you turned around.

The icon of the Sonoran Desert is the saguaro.

The icon of the Mojave is the Joshua tree, a fascinating plant to be sure.  I was as much taken by the sheer numbers, the forest of them, as by the plant itself.  But for me the iconic part of the park was the massive outcroppings of boulders, stunning in their size, changing constantly in the light.

By night, and they were long and magical winter nights, we slept outside under the stars, marking the progression of time by the changing positions of the constellations overhead. Time awake was spent counting shooting stars and listening to coyotes call across the distances or the hoot of a lone great horned owl.

By day we hiked.  Forty-nine Palms Oasis was our most adventurous hike, three miles round trip up and over a rocky ridge and down into a deep canyon where a steady water supply creates an oasis that is the antithesis of the surrounding landscape, and a magnet for water seeking wildlife.  Views from the trail were spectacular, the rock pile mountains dotted with red barrel cactus.  Rounding the ridge line before descending into the canyon the upper section of the oasis was visible over a smaller ridgeline, the dark green of the palm fronds like a shadow at the base of a mountain.

Arriving at the oasis was as much an auditory adventure as a visual one -- Gambels Quail clucked unseen in the grasses and the thatch on the California fan palms rattled with the constant motion from its sheltering occupants who were calling to each other, perhaps warning others of the two-footed interlopers.  Cottonwoods and tangles of mesquites shared the space, their snarls of desert mistletoe guarded by phainopepla protecting the ripe red berries whose one note calls reminded me of a child learning to whistle.  Areas of standing water were crowded with grass and willows and reeds.  We heard tumbles of rocks on the hillside above the oasis, behind the palms, but never saw the big horned sheep that were the likely culprits.

The next day we made several shorter hikes in some of the more visited spots in the park.  We took the gently rolling trail to the aptly named Skull Rock, educated along the way by the many interpretive signs.

Barker Dam was next and despite their seriously deficient rainfall last year, getting less than half of their normal four inches, there was still a bit of water at the base of the dam, built 60 years ago during the short lived effort at cattle ranching in the area.

We headed over to Hidden Valley, one of the rock climbing hot spots, but before hiking we had lunch in a picnic area nestled next to some of the park's iconic boulders where we were entertained by some park residents, clearly habituated to visitors, and this Western Scrub Jay was quite interested in the proceedings.  Walking Hidden Valley after lunch we couldn't decided which was more amazing -- the landscape or the people climbing up it.

One of my favorite walks was at sunset down the wash south of our campsite.  After a day of walking around families with over-excited children, the wash provided the quiet solitude we prefer.  The low sun lit up the boulders and cast long shadows across the wash.  There were no interpretive signs, but we learned more about that part of the transitional desert on that walk than on any other.  Some "knowing" requires no words.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

That Hiking Time of the Year

Tucson and the surrounding Sonoran Desert is reliably a hiker's paradise from November through March.  The sun softens a bit, even becoming a welcome friend at times.  The temperatures are near perfect most days, usually in the 60's or 70's.  The air is clear, wonderful for a little cleansing of the lungs on the ascents.

We struck out for our first real hike of 2010 to Pima Canyon, an opening on the south side of the Catalina Mountains below Pusch Ridge.  The trailhead has a good sized paved parking lot; a lot which is almost always full until early afternoon.  We lucked out with some early hikers' departure and snagged a spot.

The trail crosses private property for the first half mile or so, and causes you to wonder how Pima County Parks & Rec accomplished that.  Above you are a few mulit-million dollar estates snugged up against the base of the Catalinas, the high end of the exclusive foothills so to speak.  Their infinity pools' overflows and engineered waterfalls provide an unexpected sound track to this portion of the hike.  Soon you leave the burbs behind, rounding the mouth of the canyon and heading what would be upstream if there were water from a natural source to take over the audio portion of the trek.  Instead you hear birdsong -- the squeaky toy impersonation of the Gila woodpeckers, swooping across the broad expanse of the canyon, or the grinding old-car-that-won't-quite-start call of the cactus wren.  You also hear the chatter of hikers and cries of their excited kids from time to time as this is a heavily traveled, step-aside trail.  We spent a lot of time moving off the trail for others, or trying to hustle when they'd move aside for us.

It's a bouldery sort of place, on the trail too.  We were shooting for the dam, an apparently elusive feature in the canyon, but whose broad horizontal slabs of rock invited picnicking and a natural turn-around about three miles from the trail head.  According to hiking guides, the trail would make a 850 foot ascent by the time we reached this spot, not bad considering it took three miles to do that.  You only really noticed much of an uphill when you hit the frequent jumbo steps the boulders in the trail required.

Up the canyon, in the bottom where we saw the occasional water standing in a tenaja (a rock basin) or small pool (likely from a seep), there were mesquite bosques and looming cottonwood trees.  Saguaro stood sentinel on the canyon walls and care was required along the trail, often edged with prickly pear and cholla cactus.

We never saw the dam, which is apparently not much to see as far as dams go, and blew by the rock slabs.  It's that kind of canyon.  Despite feeling a bit whipped, you want to see what's around the next corner.  We stopped in the shade of some boulders and shrubs, had a snack, and headed back down.  On the way we registered those rock slabs, complete with the requisite picnickers.

The thing with an out and back hike is that when you turn around, you have a completely different view.  Framed by the sides of the canyon west Tucson lay at our feet, the Santa Ritas to the south and our own Tucson Mountains -- we live in the "other" foothills -- to the west.

It was a great first hike of the year.  Now that the sun is up, our only question is, where today?