Messing With Time

Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone, which means that Arizona should be two hours behind Columbus and other locations in the Eastern Time Zone. Yet, when we arrived in Tucson for our recent trip, we learned that it was three hours behind us. What gives?

It’s because Arizona doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time. As a result, Arizona swings from Mountain Time Zone time, during the part of the year when other states are on Standard Time, to Pacific Time Zone time when those states switch to Daylight Savings Time. The only exceptions to this are the portions of the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona; those areas follow Daylight Savings Time.

Arizona is officially part of the Mountain Time Zone, as a result of the 1918 Standard Time Act that established the American time zones. But Arizona’s effective time changes from Mountain to Pacific because Arizona asked for, and received, an exemption to the federal law that established Daylight Savings Time. According to the first article linked above, Arizona wanted to be excused from springing ahead and falling back because it gets hot there in the summer, and going to Daylight Savings Time–which means the sun doesn’t set until about 9 p.m.–would ensure that it stays hot until later in the day and defers any relief from the blazing temperatures.

It’s weird to think that one state can be excused from the time rules, but Arizona isn’t alone: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands also don’t recognize Daylight Savings Time. Those other states and territories probably also have good reasons for their approach, too. That’s our federal system for you.

On The Upper Javelina Trail

Yesterday afternoon I tackled the Upper Javelina Trail at Dove Mountain. It is categorized as a medium difficulty trail, and it was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve taken this week—but it offers a great payoff of some stunning views, like the one shown above, as you walk along the summits of some of the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains.

To get to the Upper Javelina Trail, you first follow the Wild Burro Trail, then a segment of the Lower Javelina Trail, both which are relatively flat. Once you link up with the Upper Javelina Trail, you immediately start to ascend—first gradually, and then more abruptly.

The trail becomes rocky, and there are a lot or tight squeezes between some of the rock formations. For the most part, the trail is well-marked and easy to follow—provided you like climbing, because there is lots of climbing. It is narrow, which made me glad that I went out in the afternoon, when other hikers weren’t out. There wasn’t a lot of room to pass hikers headed the other way.

I wasn’t quite sure where the trail led, so I kept my eye on the rock shown above as a likely goal. The trail is a continuous climb with lots of switchbacks, and with each turn of the path I came closer to the outcropping, until finally I reached the ridge line and left the rock formation behind me, as shown in the photo below.

When I reached the summit, I was rewarded with spectacular views in every direction. The sky was crystal clear, the sun was bright, and you could see for miles. The trail wound along the summits of several of the peaks, so you got the chance to enjoy views that changed with every bend in the trail. The view above looks east, toward other peaks in the Tortolitas.

As the trail passed between the foothill peaks, it skirted a kind of Saguaro forest, shown below, with dozens of the big cacti spread from one hillside to the other. Very cool! As I hiked on, a huge hawk circled overhead, drifting lazily on the heat updrafts and scouting for a potential meal down below.

The trail comes perilously close to some sheer drops, as shown in the first photo of this post. If you are afraid of heights or freaked out by a lack of guard rails, this is not the trail for you! The view below looks south and shows another mountain range on the far horizon.

The trail gives lots of photo opportunities, with some interesting rock formations and many sweeping views. There’s a constant temptation to get right to the edge to maximize the view, but any false move would send you crashing to the rocks far below. I stayed a respectful distance from the edge and didn’t take any blind steps forward or backward.

The Upper Javelina Trail extends for almost three miles and the trail map says it has a 450-foot elevation change— but it sure feels like more than that as you trudge directly uphill and enjoy commanding views where you feel far above ground level. At about midpoint the trail links with two other longer trails with even more elevation changes. If you take the entire Upper Javelina trail, it deposits you on a community trail that is about a mile and a half from the trail head. In all, my hike was about five miles and took about two and a half hours. It was well worth the time and effort.

On The Wild Burro Trail

The Wild Burro Trail is one of the primary trails in the Dove Mountain network of trails, and is also one of the longest. It’s the trail that you find at the trailhead, and it stretches for 6.5 miles and links up with many of the other trails.

The trail begins flat, and winds through and around some of the dry washes on the floor of the canyon between the mountains. It’s an easy hike, and it was not hard to imagine herds of braying wild burros trotting down the canyon and kicking up a cloud of dust as they followed the trail.

Once you reach the ruins of a stone house (shown above) about a mile into the hike, however, the trail becomes a lot more challenging, and heads up the hillside at a pretty good incline.

The trail even goes between two giant Saguaros that look a bit like praying hands as it progresses up the hillside. It’s a narrow trail that has a steep drop-off to one side, which is common on the trails here. I took my hike in the afternoon heat, when only a lunatic would be out on the trails, so I didn’t see another soul and had the trails completely to myself. As a result, I didn’t have to share the narrow passes with anyone.

As you gain in altitude you see some interesting desert plant life, like the furry plants shown below. I also saw eagles, lizards, jack rabbits, chipmunk-like creatures, and a number of birds. There were no large critters, though.

The Wild Burro Trail heads straight up and out of the canyon and intersects with other long and challenging trails. I didn’t have the time for a real lengthy hike, so when I reached the ridge line on one of the hills I stopped and turned around to head back. You have commanding views up there, but you need to be careful where you put your feet lest you go careening down the hillside. Selfie takers, take note!

Pictures from the heights really don’t convey the view. You are far above the canyon floor, but it is hard to give a good sense of the drop to the wash far below.

You also need to be careful about where you place you feet heading down. Stumbles could be disastrous. And Midwesterners like me need to remember that you have to watch what you touch to brace yourself on the way down. Rocks are okay, obviously, but you’ve got to remember that those objects that seem like telephone poles as you pass by have thorns, and so do many of the other plants.

By the time I reached the canyon floor and the dry wash, the sun was starting to sink, and it backlit the Saguaros on the rocky hillsides as I headed home. These Saguaros almost looked like they were trying to spell something. “It’s too hot to hike,” perhaps?

Wild Burros And Javelinas

Some of the trails at Dove Mountain, in Marana, Arizona, are named for animals. There is a Wild Burro trail, and there are two Javelina trails–the Upper Javelina Trail, and the Lower Javelina trail.

I recognized the burro as a donkey, shown above, but I was not acquainted with the javelina, which is pictured below. The name makes it sound like a kind of antelope, but actually it is a “collared peccary” that looks a lot like a wild boar. Javelinas apparently can be aggressive, so I’m glad that I haven’t encountered a javelina on the trails, or for that matter a rampaging herd of wild burros, either.

If the name of the trails is any indication, I know one thing for sure about wild burros and javelinas–they are sure-footed climbers who don’t mind scrambling over rocks or walking along steep ledges.

Dry Heat

There’s really no need for a big thermometer on a hiking trail—especially in Arizona. Hikers know what the weather is like, obviously: it’s hot as blazes! And if you’re not already well-equipped with a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, a few degrees aren’t going to make a difference.

The last few days the temperature has hit 90 degrees and stayed there. When I took my hike today, starting at about 1 p.m., it was 90 out, and there was no one—literally, not a single soul—on the trails. When I looped back around 3 p.m. it was still 90 out, and I saw two intrepid hikers as I neared the trail head. Those were the only people I saw on some very cool trails.

People around here call it a dry heat, because there is no humidity. Unlike the Midwest, where 90 degrees would mean you’re dissolved in sweat, 90 is much more tolerable here— but it’s still hot. If you don’t have a good hat and water, you’re begging for a case of sunstroke and cramps.

Green Trees

We are enjoying the desert foliage in the Oro Valley area. One of our favorite plants is this green tree, which is found all over the region and seems to thrive in the arid, sunny conditions.

All trees are green, of course, but this tree takes green to an entirely new level, because even the trunk and bark is a fluorescent green, which looks even greener in the bright sunshine. It’s the kind of tree Dr. Seuss would love.

Oro Valley Sunrise

We’re spending some time this week in the Oro Valley, just north of Tucson. It’s a beautiful area if, like me, you enjoy desert scenery, mountains, desert plants, and rocks. Today I got up early and caught this picture of the sun just beginning to peek over the foothills immediately to the north. The photo is a bit unusual because it shows some high clouds; for the most part we’ve had crystal clear blue skies and blazing sunshine.

On The Canyon Loop Trail

Yesterday morning we went for a hike at the Catalina State Park, one of the many parks in the Arizona state parks and trails system. The Catalina State Park is located in the Oro Valley, a rapidly growing area just north of Tucson, and is part of the Coronado National Forest. The park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a classically craggy desert mountain range. We went in the morning because it gets blistering hot in the afternoon, and morning hikes are more manageable for people who aren’t accustomed to hiking in sun-blasted 90-degree temperatures.

We took the canyon loop trail at the park, which winds for several miles along the foothills of the mountains and offers lots of opportunities to see the native plants in their natural habitat. I was surprised at the number of plants, large and small, that have adapted to life in a dry, dusty desert environment. There were plenty of Saguaro cacti, barrel cacti, prickly pears, and a lot of other hardy plant life. We didn’t see any desert animals, however.

The first part of the trail meandered through the landscape and was dry and dusty , , , and hot. We were glad we brought plenty of water. The views were great, though, and the hiking wasn’t too strenuous, other than dealing with the heat, without a lot of elevation changes. There were a lot of people out on the trail, some with dogs. There were a few obnoxious hikers–including a gang of loud, shirtless guys who were hiking with a radio blaring bad ’80s rock songs–but for the most part the hikers were quiet and friendly.

As the trail continued, we descended into the canyon and rounded the sun-bleached rock outcropping shown above. After the trial turned and descended, we were surprised to find a stream and running water at the bottom of the canyon, notwithstanding the heat and the otherwise dry conditions. It was hard not to think of travelers in the Old West being happy to find a stream of running water to fill up their saddlebags and water their horses. The stream made an interesting contrast with the Saguaro cactus plants, which I normally don’t associate with water.

The trail followed the stream bed for a while, where the foliage was notably greener than the plants on the hillside. The trail ultimately veered away from the streambed and took us back to the dusty desert landscape. With the Saguaro cactus plants on top of a ridge framed against a cloudless blue sky, we got to enjoy a classic Arizona vista as our hike came to an end.

Big Cactus

We’re in the land of the big cactus, in the Oro Valley near Tucson, Arizona, for a short visit to get a change of scenery. And there’s no doubt about the change of scenery here; there are lots of Saguaro cacti in our immediate vicinity, including this big guy just outside the back door. You wouldn’t see this scene in Columbus.

No one knows precisely how old Saguaro cacti are, but the best guess is that adult plants are more than 100 years old, and perhaps even older. It’s interesting to think that this big fella probably was around to witness the last big pandemic to hit the U.S.

Arizona Sunset

On my last night in the Southwest, we were treated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. We just don’t get them in Ohio during the winter months.

We came to the Southwest in search of the sun — and we found it, and how. The temperatures have been a bit cooler than normal, but seeing Old Sol everyday makes up for just about anything. I’d recommend the desert in winter to anyone interested in combating the Midwestern gray sky blahs.

On The Dusty Trail To Las Cruces

It’s 275 miles from Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the crow flies, and it’s just about the same distance if you’re traveling by car.  You get on I-10 and head east, and it’s a straight shot on an unbending road that takes you past long freight trains rattling west and dusty mountains framed by blue sky, bright sunshine, and high clouds.

And speaking of dust, the section of I-10 from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the few places in America where you’ll see highway signs warning you of what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm.  As I took in the brittle, dry look of the surrounding landscape, with only a few desert plants here and there and lots of exposed earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine a dust storm kicking up.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any dust storms — the recent snow presumably tamped down the dust, and it wasn’t that windy, anyway — but I now know from seeing multiple signs that you’re supposed to pull to the side immediately, turn off all lights, set your emergency brake, take your foot off the brake, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled, and wait until the storm passes.

Shortly after you pass from Arizona to New Mexico you pass a notch in the southern border of the state that puts you within 40 miles or so of Mexico.  If you look south from the roadway you see desolate countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, more dusty looking mountains in the distance, and not much else.  You do, however, have a great selection of Mexican AM radio stations to keep you company as you roll along.

Firefighter Tragedy

There aren’t many jobs that require more bravery than being a firefighter.  You risk your life to try to save those in danger, battling a blaze that could take the floor from under you or burst unexpectedly through a wall.  When your job is fighting wildfires, when wind conditions can shift suddenly and fires can leap quickly from tree to tree, the risks are even greater.

So it was yesterday in Arizona, when 19 firefighters — 19! — were killed while trying to contain a huge wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona.  It’s the largest loss of firefighters in a single day since 9/11.

The firefighters were part of an experienced, elite unit that was attempting to clear brush to prevent the spread of the fire.  The members of the unit were equipped with the latest technology, including special fire retardant blankets that are designed to allow firefighters to dig a hole, crouch in, cover themselves with the blanket, and hope that the fire burns over the top of the blanket without harming them.  Yesterday, though, something happened.  The fire turned, caught the firefighters in the wrong position, and the result was disaster.  Some of the dead firefighters were found beneath their fire blankets, but the heat and flames were too intense for the technology.  It must have been a terrifying and horrible way to go.  Two members of the unit somehow survived and are being treated for severe burns.

The Yarnell fire was started by lightning, during a period of intense heat in the desert southwest.  It’s a natural occurrence that probably has been happening for thousands of years.  The difference is that now people are building houses in those arid hills, and when fires start they expect firefighters to try to stop the fires and save their homes.  Every summer, we read about wildfires threatening communities in California, Arizona, Nevada, and other states in the western U.S.

When a tragedy like this occurs, and so many people die, I wonder:  why are we allowing people to build houses in places that are regularly exposed to wildfires, and why are we asking courageous firefighters, and their families, to run deadly risks as a result?  Wouldn’t it be prudent to reexamine our western land use policies, rather than regularly mourning the loss of some of our bravest citizens who died trying to protect homes that should not have been built in the first place?

The President And The Governor

When I read the political news, I often feel like I’m in high school again.  That was my reaction when I read the story this week about an apparently testy exchange between President Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on an airport tarmac.

President Obama, fresh from his State of the Union speech, flew to Arizona to talk about his policy proposals.  Brewer met him at the airport tarmac, and the two had a terse discussion.  The President’s press secretary says the President told Brewer her version of a 2010 Oval Office meeting they had, described in a book Brewer recently wrote, was inaccurate.  Brewer says she went to meet the President to talk about “Arizona’s comeback” and instead he focused on the book and seemed “thin-skinned” and “a little tense.”  The President says the little snit was “no big deal.”  No kidding!

I find this kind of story embarrassing, because it exposes the unflattering qualities of our political leaders.  With all of the problems besetting America and Arizona, why would the President need to bring up the characterization of a meeting that happened two years ago in a book that almost no one has even heard of, much less read?  Isn’t he big enough to shrug off such things?  If not, how much time is he spending fretting about other minor stuff?  As for Governor Brewer, can’t she give the President a break and simply report that they had an animated discussion without calling him “thin-skinned”?  Couldn’t she be a big enough person to resist the temptation to score cheap political points from this silly, meaningless incident?

Next thing you know, we’ll learn that the President and the Governor were passing notes in study hall.

Signs of Trouble

Yesterday an interesting story reported on signs posted in Arizona by the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The signs warn that drivers are entering “an active drug and human smuggling area” and “may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.”  The signs suggest that travelers drive farther north.

Given the presence of these signs, can anyone really question why Arizonans are so incensed about immigration problems and the lack of border security?  If the Obama Administration insists that enforcement of federal immigration law really is an exclusively federal issue, as is the case in its lawsuit against Arizona, then don’t those signs confirm that the federal government has miserably failed in that task?  Although Americans have many different views on immigration, I think a vast majority of Americans would agree that the borders need to be secure, such that “armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed” can’t easily enter our country.

What is happening in Arizona is intolerable — and in view of the rampant drug-related violence and disorder in Mexico, is high dangerous to our national security.  Warning signs obviously are no substitute for personnel and equipment that actually secure our borders.

Protecting Us From Arizona

Here’s a curious story:  the United States State Department has cited the federal government’s lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law in a “required report” to the United Nations Human Rights Council as one of the 100 steps the federal government has taken to uphold human and civil rights in the United States.  Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has reacted to this news with studied outrage.

There are lots of weird facets to this news item.  For example, why is the United States “required” to file a report about its internal affairs with the United Nations Human Rights Council?  (If we didn’t file the report, would the Council “flunk” us?)  Why should we be reporting to a Council that includes such noted freedom-loving countries as Cuba, Libya, China, and Saudi Arabia (among other countries where citizens enjoy fewer freedoms than are found in the U.S.A.)?   Moreover, do we really think that bringing a lawsuit that sought to enjoin the Arizona law before its enforcement was even attempted by police officers was really an important step in upholding human and civil rights?

The clear impression is that the State Department is pandering to an international community that is desperate to conclude that the United States is filled with angry xenophobes whose hate-filled bigotry is only barely being held in check through legal steps taken by our federal government.  The reaction of the Arizona Governor reported in the story linked above seems overdone, but it does rankle to think that our own national government is suggesting that one of our states needs to be restrained from violating human rights — and then is broadcasting that suggestion to repressive governments who don’t afford their citizens even the most basic freedoms provided by our Bill of Rights.