Saturday, 25 February 2012

Treasures of the Desert

Camping in the BLM lands of Arizona's desert is so laid back and peaceful. At Painted Rock Petroglyph Park we lived like the cowboys, rising with the sun, playing out on the range during the day and eatin some grub around the campfire after dark. I suspect that the cowboys did not have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, salad stuff in the fridge and selections for the bar-b-que on ice.

The hiking paths were sandy and after our hikes past the gorgeous fat fishhook barrel cactus and stony outcroppings, we carted tons of desert dust into CC on a daily basis.
Farming in the area is mainly cotton and roadsides and pathways were often lined with soft fluffy cotton balls that also decorated low trees looking like fake spider webs that folks put out at Halloween. Irrigation was also supporting green fields of clover used to feed the local dairy cattle. Cows here are penned into small areas in the dead heat and corralled for milking The Ontario cattle don't know how good they have it!

We enjoyed daily airshows from the local base who flew by a couple of times a day. Also a crop duster would fly over the local field and drop showers of "whatever it was?"; it was far enough away not to worry about.  Also, one of the campers had a battery operated plane that he flew a couple of times a day. Yes, life is simple in the desert.
The landmark at the park entrance was literally a pile of rocks bearing petroglyphs from many eras. Lizard's, hunting figures and spirals were remains of native prehistoric peoples. There were also some signatures from
some explorers in the 1700's and a few 1950's mementos. Unfortunately a few modern obscenities were carved next to the historic treasures. Alas, graffiti has been around for centuries.

We drove a couple of miles over to some historic burial sites of some pioneer families. One grave held some children from the Forr family whose lives were short due to harsh living conditions and poor medical knowledge. The site was a simple pile of rocks and a small brass marker. People had left coins in homage.
Many of these places could be missed if not for word of mouth directions from the locals. We climbed up a nearby rocky cliff to see a simple sign and humble grave site for the Oattman family. As many were in those days, the Oattman's were murdered by Indians when they headed out on their own from their wagon train. The story was preserved by one daughter who survived her capture and lived to tell the sad news of her family's demise. Later that day we listened to the calls of a burrowing owl hooting up a storm in the night.

The most isolated camping spot we've stayed at was in BLM land just outside of Ajo. We spent eight days there taking daily hikes, visiting the sights of the mining town of Ajo, reading and relaxing. Our nearest neighbours were at least a mile away. The solitude was magnificent. There are a large number of Saguaro cactus here, each unique with personalities like people, some tall and proud, others outgoing with many arms flailing, a few shy babies growing up,as they do, in the shelter of trees and bushes and others with top notches, or those with 5 or 6 rounds sprouts, like small hedgehogs, ready to grow into huge arms one day. The wear and tear on some of those monumental plants is amazing, large gashes, woodpecker holes and shrivelled skin due to lack of moisture or disease. Those beauties don't even grow arms until they are a minimum fifty years old!  There were patches of teddy bear cactus so crammed with lethal needles on their boughs and in the piles on the ground below, we were calling them mine fields. Dixie got a few stuck in her paws but luckily would stop immediately for us to pluck out the spines.
We also investigated many Organ Pipe Cactus, a species we'd not seen before. The days are getting warmer and some new flowers are blooming like the bushes of yellow Woolly Marigolds, purple Scorpion Weed and tiny white blooms of Rattlesnake Weed. Bunches of red berried Misletoe hang in clumps from the green Palo Verde trees attracting birds and bees; although we have not seen much kissing. One day we searched for some rare Elephant trees which proved to be difficult to identify. We startled 3 mule deer who bounded away at top speed well camouflaged except by their movement. We've also seen a couple of Black-tailed Jack Rabbits whose ear length equal their body height. A group of brightly coloured orange and black Long-Jawed Long-Horn Beetles put on an entertaining mating display for us. There are many birds here whose songs begin at sunrise and carry on into dusk. We've identified ravens, golden eagles,hawks of some sort, doves,woodpeckers, wrens and warblers.

It is amazing how each desert environment is slightly different from another when separated only by miles. The lands around the campsite were used as military training grounds in the past and we found deep craters,presumably from old dropped bombs in the ground to attest to this. We also enjoyed daily very low flybys of two A10 Warthogs from a local Air force Base.  In the night sky we witnessed flares on the horizon dropping in some sort of training manoeuvres.
 The town of Ajo was built around a very successful copper mine. On our daily hikes we passed many small mine sites, some abandoned and others fenced and ready for further exploration. We also found was a maze of old rusted cans created by some creative and very patient person.

 Ajo had an attractive city centre with bright white Spanish style church, town hall and market place. An old professor and former
Mexican mine worker enlightened our tour of the quaint Ajo Historical Society Museum. Their eclectic collection inclded an old dentist's office, printing equipment, various tools and military trapping, local ancient pottery and baskets and a mismatched bunch of kitchen and homemaking articles from the 40's and 50's. Our explorations outside town were around the old mill at Darby Well Site, an abandoned cattle ranch and an interesting Mexican cemetary. Our only human contact in our desert site was a visit from a fellow blogger and full time RVer Sue. She is an interesting adventurer who travels with her two small dogs and writes a  personable blog called rvsue and her canine crew. One day we actually had enough rain to form a few puddles! Desert = diversity.


1 comment:

  1. Love the cacti commentary and great photos!!