I had to get up super-early today to catch a flight, and stopped on my way to my rental car to take this photo of some cacti around our hotel.
Marana, Arizona is, intentionally, a “dark” community with minimal lighting to avoid light pollution and facilitate better viewing of stars. Desert darkness is about as absolutely dark as it gets. The stars stand out in sharp relief, to be sure, while the giant saguaros are ghostly figures in the gloom, unless you use a flash as I did here.
The night and early morning hours are apparently a favorite time for gangs of Javelina to prowl the neighborhood, although I didn’t see any on my way to the parking lot. I was happy about that, because I’m not sure I would know how to deal with a nighttime encounter with a herd of wild, pig-like creatures.
When ended our visit to Marana, Arizona today with an early wake-up call and flight back to Columbus. As a result, we were treated to a pretty sunrise over the Tortolita Mountains as we began our journey.
We were looking for a breakfast place in Marana, Arizona this morning. When I saw there was a place called the Feedlot Cafe, I figured we had to try it. When we drove up to the entrance and saw that the restaurant was part of the Marana Stock Yards, and you entered the building with the restaurant under a statue of a bull, I knew we made the right choice.
It turns out that most of the Marana Stock Yard building isn’t a restaurant at all. The Feedlot Cafe is in one corner of the building, most of which is devoted to a livestock auction arena. You can see the holding pen and some of the seats for bidders in the photo above, but the hall itself is much larger. And whoever decorated it really, really liked cattle heads.
The Feedlot Cafe itself was great. if you’re looking for a breakfast spot, eschew the chains and look for a joint that only serves breakfast and lunch. If you find one, that means you’ve likely found a local place that draws a local crowd and charges local prices. And that, in turn, means you’re doing to get great value and great food for your dollar. The Feedlot checked all those boxes and didn’t disappoint. My sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and an oversized biscuit slathered with fresh butter and honey was a serious breakfast feast for less than $10. Add in some orange juice and a bottomless cup of very good coffee and you’re looking at a fine meal for a very reasonable price.
This place was terrific in every respect. The food was great, the waitress was polite and friendly, the locals who were eating didn’t give us the evil eye, and the decorations screamed authenticity. My favorite touch was the cowboy boots spelling out “howdy” in front of pictures of cowboys at rodeos.
If you’re in Marana (which is a bit north of Tucson off I-10) and looking for breakfast or lunch, you can’t go wrong at the Feedlot. I’d gladly tie on the feedbag there any day.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?