I Found a Rock

Of course your laughing after reading the title but being out on the landscape working always provides opportunities to find something new.  While driving down the entrance road on the estate the other day I noticed some new burrows along the drive, stopping to investigate I noticed a strange stone lying in the excavated dirt pile next to an entrance.  Perhaps 2" long and about 3/8" in diameter this elongated piece at first resembled a segment of root.  Upon picking it up I noticed it was stone not wood, with a crusty like exterior but a very fine grained interior.  There appeared to be a central core partially hollow at both ends.  Stumped as to its identity I put it away and went on working.  Later I started searching for a possible identity to this unusual find and came across descriptions of fulgurite or fused sand and dirt from a cloud to ground lightning strike.  The area does see many lightning strikes especially during the monsoon season and of course there is the New Mexico Lightning Field, so perhaps this is a piece of petrified lightning.  It is interesting to note that the bulk of the interior is very fine grained while the outside layer is much courser as if the interior material fused at a much higher temperature which decreased further out from the center.  Just one more reminder to keep ones eyes open when out on the landscape.  Oh, I still have not figured out what animal dug the burrows along the fence line.

Fulgurite specimen from the Painted Pony Resort

Cross sectional view of the fulgurite

What About the Other Native Bee Species?

Oops, after uploading the last post on Honey Bees to Facebook a local Biologist asked about all the other bee species native to the desert southwest.  Most other bee species important for pollination are solitary and do not form hives.  As such their nesting requirements differ from the common honey bee.  To remedy this situation several nest sites were created that cater specifically to solitary bees.  These nesting sites 1/4" - 3/8" in diameter and 3-5" in depth were drilled in left over 2 x 4s and placed inside segments of old drainage pipe.  After finishing, these nesting tubes seemed functional but sometimes functional is not enough.  Something visually interesting out on the landscape is also required.  So a grubbed mesquite was chosen and after some time with the saw a much more interesting shape for a bee nesting site emerged.  Covered in 1/4" - 3/8" holes 3-5" deep and with a rebar pin in the base this section of stump was inverted and placed on the top a railroad tie fence post at one corner of the property close to the riverbed..  The dried mesquite is hard and with a covering of bark should last many years in the weather.  By inverting the stump the nest holes are protected from the weather and by drilling holes all around the stump the bees have a variety of choices for micro-climate specific nesting sites, sun, shade, amount of breeze, choice of views etc..

For more on the native bee species please see:  Pocket Guide to Native Bee Species of New Mexico, in a pdf format.

2 x 4 and drainage pipe solitary bee nesting site.

A more visually interesting solitary bee nesting site out of Mesquite.
Functional solitary bee nesting site in place.

A visually interesting mesquite stump bee nesting site in place on a fence corner post.
A new website specifically about pollinators in the southwest "Pollinator Corridors Southwest".


Honey Bees Part II

As noted in a previous post, this year has been full of honey bees.  I made the mistake of using caulk to try and seal hive entrances where new colonies of honey bees were establishing themselves.  The bees made fast work of the caulk and reopened sealed entrances requiring a layer of stucco to permanently seal up entrances.  Despite the aggravation of new colonies trying to establish themselves honey bees are good for the landscape.  Reports of the decline in bee colonies is in the news prompting the Painted Pony Resort to do its' part in maintaining local bee populations.  Habitat restoration as part of the grassland restoration project is one of the goals of the resort so honey bees are a natural target for restoration activities.  To that end a 2 tiered bee box was placed in the riverbed as a home for a honey bee colony.  Under the shade of a large mesquite and with the entrance facing southeast (away from the predominate winds) the site is well suited for a colony of honey bees.  Located in the middle of the riverbed the area is surrounded with grasslands and wild native flowers.  Although I have missed this springs movement of new queens the location is ready for any wandering queen looking for a new home.

For more information on habitat restoration for Honey Bees see the Great Pollinator Project.

Honey Bee habitat restoration
A new home for some local honey bees


An Early Monsoon?

Traditionally, the local community looks for the summer monsoon season around the beginning of July and the common wisdom holds that it begins on the 4th.  The estate received 0.05” of rain 2 days ago and then yesterday another build up of cumulus clouds appeared over the Chiricahua mountains during the afternoon. A typical monsoon season cloud buildup heralding perhaps an early start to the summer rainy season. The event resulted in winds in the canyon dropping trees along the road and rain was visible around the valley as well as on the eastern side of Antelope pass, but no rain at the Painted Pony Resort. The resulting sunset was brilliant with vibrant reds and yellows illuminating the residual rain clouds. I made a 4 image panorama to try and capture the sunset but the brilliance overwhelmed the camera chip.

An early monsoon cloud buildup over the Chiricahua mountains.

A brilliant sunset after the storm.


The Genesis of an Idea

Halfway between Tucson and El Paso and bypassed by I-10 one of the few surviving segments of Highway 80 still exists in the San Simon Valley.  Memorialized in Bob Wildmire's unfinished mural in the Rodeo Cafe, Highway 80 was once the major east/west auto route across the nation.  Known variously as the Old Spanish Trail, the Broadway of America, and the Overland Dixie Highway, Highway 80 brought travelers through the San Simon Valley.  Some passing through, some staying for a short while, and some staying on permanently Highway 80 was the introduction to the valley for many travelers.

With the construction of I-10 the valley was bypassed and over 18,000 vehicles/day now cross the state line on I-10, unknowing and unaware of the history and beauty that lies just south of the Interstate.  While some travelers are headed to Tucson or the coast some are headed to Tombstone and Bisbee.  Perhaps it takes just the right incentive to encourage folks to take the scenic route around the mountains on one of the last surviving segments of Highway 80 and enjoy an early piece of Americana and automotive history.

A proposed design for a billboard on I-10 promoting Highway 80.


Something to do with Tumbleweeds

Last years crop of tumbleweed was enormous on the estate.  The drive along the fence line at the north end of the property was completely obscured by tumbleweed and required cleaning not once but 4 times.  Dreading the arrival of spring, since tumbleweed produce lots of seed, I watched closely the sprouting of carpets of green baby tumbleweed that appeared across the landscape.   Expecting rapid growth and large plants I was surprised to see many of the carpets of tumbleweed start to die back.  Whether the result of competition between plants or just the result of poor viability, the carpets of green slowly started to turn brown.  Good news since the carpets appeared primarily in barren areas where no grass grew.  The appearance of carpets of baby tumbleweed followed by their die off means the established root systems will help hold the soil in these barren areas as well as providing some aeration allowing other plants to colonize these areas.  The conversion to biomass also means accessible nutrients for other plants.

This years crop of tumbleweeds not only appeared in open barren areas but also along the topsoil restoration barriers and other created edges on the landscape which will help catch more wind and water born soils adding to the process already started.

A green carpet of baby tumbleweeds turning brown, but providing ground cover for barren areas.

The Edge effect, where tumbleweed are growing around a pile of last years decaying tumbleweed skeletons


The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon 2015 Garden Party

Another spring has arrived and it is time again for the annual Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FOCCC) garden party.  A number of ask the expert tables were set up around Cave Creek Canyon's visitor center with topics ranging from local history to jaguars.  The plant sale took place again this year out in the garden FOCCC installed and maintains for the Coronado National Forest and the Painted Pony Resort now has a variety of new local perennials for the front garden.  Of course no garden party is complete without some tasty food and breakfast and lunch were served to visitors attending the garden party.  For additional images of the garden party please see FOCCC's Facebook page.

A panoramic view of FOCCC's 2015 garden party at the Cave Creek Canyon visitors center.
Insects of the Chiricahua mountains

Reptile exhibit.

Tables of experts at the garden party.

Without Color

Recently a post on the importance of light and color in how people "see" was posted which generated a thought.  What becomes important in an image if color is removed.  To see what happens the image below was created of an early morning cloudscape over the Peloncillo mountains.  When the colors are converted to grayscale the result is an image where differences in texture and contrast seem to dominate.  Rather than the wavelength of reflected light being a dominate component of the photograph (a phenomena external to the camera's CMOS chip) it is the internal differences within the image itself that become important to me as a viewer.  Visually exploring the color original my eye first focuses on the blue sky and not the clouds, while in the black and white image my eye is drawn to the clouds and the differences in contrast then in texture.  So perhaps underlying the differences in color are the important differences in contrast and texture which helps make a photograph interesting to a viewer.

peloncillo mountains clouds
Original multi-image panorama in color as a starting point.

grayscale clouds
Final product, an early morning cloudscape in black and white


The Painted Pony Resort and the Internet of Things

Living in a remote area has its drawbacks, for example the San Simon Valley south of I-10 only received cellular phone service last year and only Verizon service is available locally.  Previously, a repeater mounted on the roof of the main house at the Painted Pony Resort allowed Verizon Cellular service in one building.  But progress marches on and eventually service was established around the valley, welcome to the 21st century.  Another step in that direction occurred recently and that was the arrival of the internet of things on the estate.

Simply put, "[t]he Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure", Wikipedia.  The idea of connecting together all the electronics in a home is not a new idea, but only recently has it been possible to make this idea a reality for everyone.  The idea of a WiFi connection between physical objects like dishwashers, washing machines and the like makes sense but it still has a Skynet feel to it and leaves one with a vague uneasiness.

The arrival of the IoT was precipitated by the laundry.  With 13 bedrooms and 21 beds there are 30 to 35 loads of laundry done each after a set of guests leave.  The household sized machines in the main house and guest house just were not big enough to accommodate the amount of laundry that is done in a reasonable time period.  So the owner invested in new much larger machines for the main house which will reduce the number of loads and easily accommodate comforters making life easier.

One interesting aspect to the IoT on the estate is the downloadable application for a smart phone that allows one to remotely monitor and control their washer and dryer and instead of walking over to the main house the status of the wash can be checked from a phone.  The only problem, I don't own a cell phone much less a smart phone, so I will continue to walk over.

New washer and dryer, the IoT at the Painted Pony Resort.


A Chance to Say Goodbye

Saying goodbye, whether parting from family or friends. is always difficult.  Perhaps the most difficult is the permanent goodbye that accompanies the loss of a beloved pet.  The loss of a long term companion like a dog or cat is a change we are often not prepared for but must face like most changes in life.

My constant companion for the past 12-13 years was a dog named "Cholla", a little mixed breed female who resembled a fox or small coyote and was often mistaken by others as a wild animal even though she had a bobbed tail.  Tan in coloration, she was a rescue animal I acquired when working for the National Institutes of Health at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center.  Coming back from lunch with co-workers one day I noticed a women with this dog on a string.  The women was sitting outside on the steps to the building waiting for her daughter who had an appointment with a physician and asked if anyone wanted a dog.  It was a stray they had captured and were looking for a home for the animal.  One look and I wanted to take the dog home but initially suggested that a co-worker who had pets might take her.  She declined so I said OK.  Taking my new dog over to my truck she hopped right in and made herself right at home, it was just the beginning of a long relationship.  Having her checked out at the vet where she was neutered and received her shots I learned she was an estimated 1-1.5 yrs old.  I named her Cholla because it was clear she was a desert dog, she didn't like the water and could be a pain at times (just like the cactus).  After house training I soon discovered that she was deathly afraid of other dogs and most people, and when another dog approached she would try and climb up my leg to get away from the other animal.  She rarely barked and always stayed by my side unless she spotted a rabbit, she liked to chase rabbits but never caught any, just enjoyed the chase.  As a pilot I also taught Cholla about aircraft.  All I would have to say was "airplanes" and point away from the aircraft and she would move away, a good dog.  She never got into trouble with rattlers and would always steer clear when she encountered one, a true dog of the desert.

But we all age, Cholla included.  First her hearing started going followed by her eyesight, I would often find her standing in a corner seemly lost but once moved she was OK.  Then her hips started giving her problems and soon I had to carry her in and out of the trailer because the 3 steps were to much.  Last November there was a morning she could not get up and thinking this was it, I got the 30-30, a shovel, and prepared a grave next to the other dogs buried on the estate.  When I returned though she had managed to get up and was moving around so we continued with our routine of carrying her in and out of the trailer every day.

Cholla always stayed near the trailer and was not prone to wandering off.  I could always find her ensconced in her hole under the trailer staying cool during the summer or lying out in the warm sun during winter.  But the other day turned out to be different.  I took her outside as usual in the morning and went to work installing a washer and dryer, this was the last time I was to see Cholla.  By late afternoon I returned to the trailer but could not find Cholla.  Worried I began searching around for her but no luck.  Then I hopped in the Kubota and started driving around the estate.  This continued to well after sunset and I would periodically open the trailer door throughout the evening looking around expecting to see her sitting out on the concrete pad, but she did not return.  The next morning still no Cholla.  I can only hope she found someplace comfortable to rest.  She will be missed, goodbye Cholla.

Cholla sitting up waiting for a treat.

Cholla and Sonny sitting in a trike, ready to fly.

Cholla and me.