Friday, July 30, 2021

Cat Attractants

Everybody knows cats go for catnip. That's the origin of the name. But after having several cats in the household for the last 16 years, I have discovered a few other "cat attractants."

Wrigley's Doublemint Gum

My old cat Zelda has destroyed several packs of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum over the 15 years we've known each other. Doublemint is my favorite gum and I usually have some around to cleanse the palate and avoid grinding my teeth. I always have to be very careful to store packs in a cabinet where she can't get to it. Even leaving it in the pocket of a jacket in insufficient. She invariably gets it. My other cats also respond to it, especially my youngest, Shadow, who will chew up any errant wrappers. The middle cat, Ada, usually climbs onto my keyboard and stretches out when I'm trying to work and is difficult to remove. Most cats also are at least curious about other mint flavors. This makes sense since catnip is a type of mint.

Listerine Mouthwash (original flavor)

My youngest and oldest cats both respond to this. I also have to keep it locked up, or they will lick around the top of the container, and then flop onto their side and thrash around attacking their own tails. When Zelda was younger, she often would watch carefully as I used the mouthwash and then lap up any splatters that I didn't rinse down the sink immediately. The she would settle into the sink and go in circles for several minutes clawing and biting the tip of her tail. This resulted in me constantly having to clean cat hairs out of my bathroom vanity.

Icy Hot (or similar)
I have a squeeze tube of generic cream that contains menthol and methyl salicylate. It smells like wintergreen, and I think the methyl salicylate is a key ingredient in wintergreen oil. Here is an example of the behavior Zelda shows when I apply this to my legs after a long bike ride. She climbs all over me and then goes to the floor for antics, acting like she's eaten catnip. I didn't take video but basically she flops around on the ground and attacks her own appendages, including her tail.

This is what I call "pathological scratching," a frantic scratching when nothing is there. It makes me think of meth addicts.

Now attacking her own foot.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Snowbowl Road and Birthdays

Looking back up at the main gate to Snowbowl, the usual stopping point for climbing Snowbowl Road on a bicycle (it's often closed). As you can see, storm clouds were building over the high peaks so I was glad to get in my ride before the storms started. The elevation at the gate is over 9,200 ft above sea level.

My annual fitness goal is to be able to ride my bicycle up the road to the local ski resort, Arizona Snowbowl, no later than my birthday. Since I usually take the winter off of bicycling, this is always a challenge.

Last year I had already achieved it early in the year (albeit with insufficient fitness, resulting in a suffer-fest), so instead I went hiking at Skunk Canyon. But I gained weight last winter and lost even more of my aerobic base than usual. Ok, I pretty much lost all of it, and it took longer to build back up, so I arranged for a day off from work on my birthday to hit my goal.

Over the last few months, I have been training steadily for this, but spring wasn't easy. I rode half of Snowbowl Road two weekends ago and it didn't go very well. I came home and didn't take adequate time to elevate my legs, and was horrified to step in the shower and see both legs covered with a blue net of what looked like varicose veins. It's happened before but I still took the time to Google search and reassured myself that it is normal for a cyclist who has just done a particularly taxing climb. It isn't a sign of vascular disease or anything. It's just a sign of a very hard workout.

Today things went better. I avoided "burning" my legs before getting warmed up, and pedaled steadily. Paradoxically, the fastest way to climb on a bicycle is not to charge up the mountain, but to stay just off your stress point. You should feel like you are spinning easily and should neither get short of breath, nor feel as if your leg muscles are straining, though going fast means being near these limits. Pro cyclists use power meters and set wattage goals, but I go by feel. And even then, the wattage goals of pros are ultimately dictated by how they feel. If you push too hard, you will either burn out, or run out of cardiovascular capacity and start to black out.

Before I was diagnosed with asthma, I actually pushed myself into a "grey out" scenario a few times while riding uphill (as opposed to a blackout). If you don't get enough oxygen, your vision will start to narrow and a circle of grey will rim your vision. If you keep pushing, the circle of grey will expand until you get down to tunnel vision, and can only see narrow view of what is in front of you.

I inherited excellent cardiovascular capacity from my dad and was in denial that it might be a shortage of oxygen for a while. Unlike most people, usually my legs fail before my cardio does. Eventually I decided to get a spirometry test and found out it was asthma, probably a result of years of exercising outdoors in one of the worst places in North America for lung health: Chattanooga.

Putting that aside, I had a nice ride up Snowbowl Road today. I've been faster, but that was when I was lighter, so I'm happy I made it all the way to the top. As a testament to increased experience, I got a couple of PRs on the descent. I still got a couple of 3rd bests on the climb. Not great but not terrible, and I feel like I'm recovering ok, though my Garmin watch suggested 4 days of recovery, lol.

It was a pretty good birthday. After I got back I elevated my legs to drain them for 20 minutes, then went out to one of my favorite local restaurants, Tiki Grill, for a salmon salad.

The view from where I stopped to rest before riding back down the mountain. Even though I've held an annual Snowbowl pass for several years now, I kind of resent the construction of this huge parking lot, which replaced beautiful forest and alpine meadow with a plain of cinders.

I was feeling pretty good and self-satisfied until I remembered it was my birthday, and my Dad, who died in 2018, used to call me every year and recount the story of driving my mother to the hospital in the middle of the night back in 1973 and it made me cry. It doesn't help that we shared the same birth month.

As Paul "Bono" Hewson said about the loss of his father, "There's no end to grief," but as he also said later in the same song, which is the song's subtitle, "There Is No End to Love."

But it was still a good day. I'm another year older but I can still ride a bicycle up a mountain.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Surface Water

Sandy's Canyon Trail after a night of rain. I was surprised that there was no flowing water in it, but it was humid wonderful.

I went hiking Saturday morning, looking for flowing water. Flagstaff has almost no flowing surface water, although there are some artificial ponds and lakes around, and just one natural lake: Mormon Lake. But the soil is volcanic, and even very heavy rains tend to soak in. And we've had a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks. I've seen water flowing down the paved alley behind my house and in other storm drains and flood control structures, but you can't see it much in a natural setting around here.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I saw plenty of puddles, but I don't think I saw any flowing water, not even a trickle. I was pretty surprised by this, since rains have been so heavy at my house. But an examination of National Weather Service data indicates that other areas haven't received quite as much, and apparently the volcanic soil once again drank whatever fell.

In Walnut Canyon, you could just see a short segment where water had obviously flowed over the trail. Why wasn't there more water? I think it probably has to do with the proximity to the dams on Upper and Lower Lake Mary. I assume they are retaining water right now to refill the lakes. Lower Lake Mary is still completely empty.

I enjoyed the walking anyway. The grass and ground cover are all green now, the tree trunks refreshed and the lichens look healthy. A light mist floated in front of the ridges and peaks. After two very dry years, it was wonderful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


Late summer in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, September 2017.

I usually say that summer is the best time of year in Flagstaff, but that's somewhat because we had a couple of very dry summers in a row until this year. Now I remember that it's actually hard to do anything outside when the monsoon is strong. We've been getting thunderstorms every day beginning as early as 11:00 am. Worse yet, the storms tend to form earliest and be strongest atop the highest peaks, which loom over the best summer trails. And the lightning . . . 

Basically, I'm not having a very good summer. I enjoyed visiting my family in Tennessee and we got lucky with the weather over there, but I'm now having to "look forward" to some necessary travel to Indiana that will not be fun, instead of traveling, say to California or Colorado for leisure activities.

But maybe I'll do that in September or October.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Two Kinds of Bicyclists

Schultz Tank. Time outdoors is mostly why I ride. The other reason is fitness.

Speaking of bicycling, after resuming cycling as an adult over a decade ago, I determined that there are two types of bicyclists. The first type is the person who simply enjoys riding. This would include those who like to compete, and people like me who like to be outside, but also includes joyriders and fitness freaks for whom the riding is the point. The other type is the gear head.

Gear heads don't so much like bicycling as much as the bicycles. They are obsessed with the machinery of a bike. In the field of mountain biking, they can be identified as owning expensive mountain bikes that are kept in pristine condition at all times. This is achieved by a combination of simply not riding (because they don't want to get the bike dirty or scratched), and completely disassembling the bicycle to clean it after every ride, literally. Or at least disassembling the entire drive train to include pedals and maybe even the crank.

Disassembling a mountain bike is not a trivial undertaking. I suppose once you have done it a few times it goes easier and faster, but it's slow even for an expert. And the process requires special tools that are not necessarily useful for other things, including a torque wrench, and the proper values to set the torque wrench. This is such a complex process that the average bicyclist who simply likes riding would not normally do it. It's especially notable when you consider that most experienced bike mechanics do not think it is strictly necessary to disassemble a bicycle to get it completely clean. Just search YouTube on the topic if you disagree.

You could go years without ever taking apart the entire bicycle to keep it clean and functioning properly. I know. That's exactly what I've done for over a decade now.

I wish I had the maintenance skill of the gear head bicyclists, but I wouldn't want to be afraid to ride my bicycle just because I'm obsessed with the shiny, cold machine perfection of a clean bicycle. That's ridiculous.

I always try to spend more time riding my bike than I do maintaining it. It's completely possible and more fun.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Rain Cycling

A rainy view from Snowbowl Road. This is just about at 8000 feet above sea level.

I know I've written how happy I am that we are finally receiving good rainfall, but Flagstaff has also been in the national news with cars floating down the street. I'm very fortunate that my neighborhood is not prone to that type of flooding. Not to mention somebody was just killed in the Grand Canyon by a flash flood.


Monday 8:00 - clear skies, I had to work, rained in the afternoon.

Tuesday 8:00 - same

Wednesday 8:00 - same

Thursday 8:00 - same

Friday 8:00 - same

Saturday 8:00 - yeah! Finally a day off, I'll go bicycling. Oh, wait, it's raining!

I went anyway. It wasn't too bad as I made my way slowly up Snowbowl Road but the downhill was fast enough to spray me with road grime. This is why commuter bikes have fenders. The ride went ok otherwise, but I don't think I'm going to be able to make it all the way to the top on my upcoming birthday, when I have arranged a day off for the purpose. At least not without stopping to rest and probably eat on the way up. I'll prepare appropriately and hope for a couple of hours of dry road conditions.

The monsoon is an important source of water for dry Arizona, but it also floods people to death, destroys houses and cars, and generally ruins your plans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Weather Update


Kitty watching a downpour. I know it's good when there is a small stream flowing down the alley.

The North American Monsoon returned this year. We've had several good downpours and a few periods of light to moderate rain. It's a huge relief after two summers of no rain.

Unfortunately there has been some flash flooding in areas downstream of burn scars, but on the whole I think we are all grateful for the rain.

I hope it keeps going for a few weeks so we will be setup for the usually dry fall.

Hail or graupel last week. The Monsoon is delivering this year.

I'm trying to solve the riddle of getting things done for my day job, planning more necessary travel, and living my life in a way that makes me happy. It's not always easy, but at least we've gotten some rain this summer.

I also keep training for my goal of bicycling up Snowbowl Road as I watch the Tour de France. Everybody has to dream.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Brutalist Architecture

Brutalism at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. I'm unsure of the purpose of the tower. It appears to be a sign, but look how small the logos are. I'm sure it's almost completely tornado-proof but its aesthetic blandness overwhelms.

This entry echoes my previous entry regarding mid-century modern design. For any artistic movement, there are good examples and poor examples, but some trends are inferior on the balance, and I'm not a fan of much post-war architecture. I would include Brutalism in the list.

I traveled by air recently and there is practically no place better than an airport to see Brutalist architecture. To a certain extent, Brutalism is a necessary outcome of efficient use of concrete. Yet it also seems to have been selected for use in some locations. I don't feel any attraction to it, and I don't understand its widespread use.

Unfortunately, like mid-century modern, Brutalism has become a favorite of the hipsters in the Millennial and post-Millennial (Generation Z) demographics. I personally think this is fashionable nostalgia for eras in which they didn't live, because otherwise it's inexplicable. The movement is aptly named. Brutalism is ugly. It brutalizes the senses.

It Was All A Dream About Tennessee

It's kind of a pet peeve of mine that people always call Independence Day the "Fourth of July." Yes, we know the date, but does anyone remember why it's a holiday? This is emblematic of what's wrong with contemporary American culture.

Our family has a recent tradition of gathering on Independence Day to shoot off fireworks and catch up. Until this year, I've been missing it. This was somewhat because of my choice to live in Arizona. All my siblings have chosen to live within a day's drive of Mom's house in Middle Tennessee. It was also complicated by my desire to balance visiting my Dad in Indiana. Of course, he died in 2018, so that is no longer an issue1. I joined everybody this year and a good time was had by all.

As I have mentioned before, our family dynamic can be contentious at times so it was not entirely without flaws, and I'm partially to blame for a heated exchange after my mother suggested it was time for me to move back to Tennessee where she could keep an eye on me. But for the most part I enjoyed it, and I think everyone else did too. The air travel, not so much.

Airplanes can be uncomfortable if you ride in coach, but I try to always get window seats so I can at least enjoy the view. Also you don't get bumped by everybody that walks past.

I always go back and forth about whether or not to fly out of Flagstaff's baby airport or drive down to Phoenix. After sweating for hours driving to the airport and waiting on my plane, I think I'll switch back to flying from Flagstaff next time. The parking and security are easier, and the drive is negligible. And it never gets to 107 Fahrenheit in Flagstaff.

1 Unfortunately Dad insisted my sister and I inherit his house when he died. Yet his Last Will and Testament also gave my stepmother permission to live in it until she dies, without paying rent. This means I have to travel back to Indiana periodically to check up on the house and carry out maintenance, with no income to offset the requirement.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Marmalade Pizza

Marmalade pizza from local restaurant Fat Olives.

I often find artisanal foodie recipes ridiculous but you have to admit some are delicious. I had this marmalade pizza from the local restaurant Fat Olives. The "marmalade" is a bacon marmalade. The pizza was dressed with a mildly spicy wildflower chili honey. The other meat you see is thinly sliced Molinary sopressata, which is an Italian sausage that could be called salami, though it doesn't taste like the sandwich salami we usually eat the US. Cooked up like this, it tastes somewhere between salami and bacon. It's delicious! I'm not exactly sure why it's buried in arugula but perhaps it is to cool off some of the chili. Anyway, I recommend it.

If you ever stop in Flagstaff and you like pizza, you should definitely check out Fat Olives. It's a little "spendy" ($$$) but not any worse than most other restaurants here. This is an expensive town to dine out since they passed the $15 minimum wage.

Friday, June 25, 2021


The smoke is certainly bad for my lungs, but it makes for a beautiful sky when combined with monsoon clouds.

The panic over the Rafael Fire subsided somewhat in Flagstaff and it's apparent the firefighters now believe they can redirect the fire in a safer direction. Unfortunately, a few ranches and some campers had to evacuate.

We had a few sprinkles at my house this week but the forecast calls for a monsoon wave next week. Here's to hoping.

Monday, June 21, 2021



Your eyes tell you it is snow but your brain knows it is ash. Summer is off to a bad start.

Arizona uses a READY, SET, GO method. The neighborhood on the other side of the interstate from mine is in SET. It's less than a half mile as the crow flies. I've made a few preparations in case we have to evacuate but I still hope to avoid it.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Fake Monsoon

This storm built over the peaks, and it looks like it was raining on the high ground when I snapped this photo, but when it moved out over the plateau it didn't drop much. Typical for thunderstorms in June.

In Arizona, we have entered the official monsoon season, which begins on June 15th. As often happens, we have received some scattered thunderstorms, but they don't seem to be the real monsoon, but rather a series of flows of moisture from the Pacific driven by ephemeral weather conditions. It's the fake pre-monsoon season. The real monsoon doesn't usually arrive until July. It kind of looks like it's going to dry out again.

We had a nice little storm yesterday that rained enough for muddy looking water to flow out of the downspouts, but the ground was dry again by sunset.

The state is on fire again, and we all sit around tapping our foot and hoping for a good soaking.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Chained to Choices

The San Francisco Peaks from near my house. I have chosen to live in places where my weekends are like a vacation, placeS with great natural beauty and recreational opportunities, but I'm always looking for new and better things.

I'm struggling to maintain my personal responsibilities this year. After being stuck home for most of 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, I feel like traveling all the time, but find it difficult to justify the trips I want to take. Most days are taken up with work, and I have to use my earned paid time off judiciously.

Perhaps I'm spoiled. I got to take a long weekend to the White Mountains last year, and this year I visited my Mom once already (after a very long break), then I enjoyed a long weekend in Tucson. I have another family visit coming up. But the visits to family don't feel like a vacation. They are usually relaxing, at least in the sense that I get away from work, and it's good to visit loved ones. But we also have a contentious dynamic in my family, and sometimes it isn't all fun and games.

I also have to visit the house I inherited in Indiana this year, because I am responsible for maintenance. But I have no desire to go back to Indiana since my Dad died. It's a place that is now sad for me, and I have few close relatives remaining there. Also, as I have mentioned here before, I didn't particularly enjoy growing up in Indiana. That isn't what one does there (enjoy life). It's a safe place to live, and it's a place I'm tied to by property and family, but it isn't interesting.  Relatives expect me to visit, and I don't want to take all the time to do that, as I will be busy with the house. I can already foresee a desperately crowded itinerary. I may just invite them to stop by the house while I'm working on it.

When I was growing up, we took good vacations when I was young, particularly to Florida. I think this spoiled me with high expectations. But eventually my parents divorced and then we got geographically dispersed, and true vacations (or holidays) became few. We always traveled to visit relatives. This both saved money and took care of family relationships. But it never felt like a vacation.

I guess I'm a jerk, because most of the time I would rather see somewhere new than visit relatives. Nowadays we can keep in touch remotely and I just don't see the need to visit everybody that often. It isn't the old days.

If there is something at fault here, it is perhaps my failure to take chances when I was young, that might have put me in a financial position to travel whenever I want. Instead I chose day jobs, a steady paycheck, and weekend adventures, over entrepreneurialism or aggressive investment. I could write an entire book about the type of conservative, risk-averse culture that led me to those choices, but suffice it say, now I just have to put up with fitting scarce free time for travel in between work days. It's too late in life for me to start taking big chances. I'm anchored to the choices I made when I was in my twenties.

I'm preparing for retirement and eventually will be financially independent, but not until I near the average lifespan for my family. Except for a few of my more careful distant relatives, we generally don't live past our 70s. I'll retire, then die within a few short years like my grandparents and my Dad. If I even make it to retirement.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Golf and Gambling

Celebrating my brother's birthday on a golf course in Tennessee, April 25, 2010. I miss playing golf with my youngest brother. 

I buy the occasional lottery ticket. This is more based upon hope than competitiveness or the risk/reward cycle that I think most gamblers seek. Many gamblers use this catch phrase, "Make it interesting." They do this when they are competing against someone else.

I've never empathized with this sentiment. If something isn't inherently interesting to me, then I won't do it in the first place. Betting money on it is therefore irrelevant to me.

I'm thinking about getting back into golf. I haven't played in over 6 years and I've got the urge. Arizona has many beautiful courses, though there is only a single public course here in Flagstaff. If it weren't for the price of land, I suspect there would be more. But golf is something that can be done on the occasional road trip.

Golf is a sport where gamblers like to run a bet on every round. I don't like playing with people like that. To me, the game is the point. I compete only against myself and I wouldn't do it if it weren't worth doing without a wager.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021


The skies keep threatening but haven't brought much rain. Otherwise the weather has been lovely, despite some of the usual spring winds.

I have burned out before but it feels somehow different this time. Now that we are in the post-lockdown phase of the coronavirus crisis, things seem very strange to me. The country looks like a different place and my life is in a different place. I feel like a different person. I'm not sure what's going on with me but it isn't entirely great.

At least we have entered the warm months. The weather is fair and skies are beautiful. My fitness looked terrible for a few weeks but I kept at it and I'm starting to hit some of my usual goals for this time of year. On my last bicycle ride I conquered my two local nemesis hills, one of which I had failed three times to ride up this year without stopping. That feels good.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Tucson: Mission San Xavier del Bac

After supper on Day 2, I decided to go for the evening light at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a church on the Tohono O'odham Reservation just outside Tucson that dates back to the Spanish colonial period. The Tohono O'odham are an indigenous people of the region. Construction began in 1783. I was originally planning to get up before dawn and drive over for the morning light, but decided I probably wouldn't want to wake up that early and anyway it might be a little discourteous to the neighbors around the Airbnb to leave quite so early in the morning.

This turned out to be a good decision. The light on the church was gorgeous and there were few people, the concessions having been closed for the day. It meant that I didn't have an opportunity to donate any money to the church, which I would normally have done. It's a functioning church and I'm sure they could always use the money. I also did not have an opportunity to go inside the church, as tours are offered. However, having seen photos of the inside of the church, it's ornate but not as beautiful as the outside, and that's the best I'll say about it. You can do a Google image search if you are curious.

As you can see, the mission is still under renovation, but the left tower is complete and beautiful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Spring in the High Country

The Deer Hill Trail. I think that's O'Leary Peak just right of center. You can see what appear to be thunderstorms in the distance but they never came near.

We have entered one of my favorite times of year. The days are warm but not hot. The grass has greened. The grasshoppers buzz and jump.

Still a little bit of snow visible on the high peaks, but I've heard it's still deep in some of the shady areas on the high trails.

I went for a hike last Saturday on the Deer Hill Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. The hike went through a burn scar from the Schultz Fire. It's been many years since the fire so despite being called a "scar" the area is beautiful and is being recolonized by pine trees. Since the young trees are still short, you get sweeping views of the inner core of the peaks, as well as views in other directions of the Cinder Hills, the Sunset Crater volcano, Anderson Mesa, and points beyond.

The hike was quiet. I saw a group of three hikers and a single bike-packer. Other than that I saw four pronghorn, the first I've seen in about three years or so, and one snake, which I haven't been able to identify. Nothing will make you watch your step like coming upon a snake sunning itself in the trail.

What snake?

I went with about 2.5 liters of water in my Camelbak, but as I do so often, got carried away and hiked the whole trail - over 11 miles out-and-back. I ran out of water and the last couple of miles were a little bit of a death march. But now I've done it and don't have to do it again. The trail looks like it would be great for mountain biking. It's just my type of trail: smooth and non-technical. Next time I'll bring my bicycle. If I go back to hike, I'd likely not hike the entire thing. I was limping all day Sunday.

I'll have to get in better shape if I want to hit my goal of doing another "big hike" in the Grand Canyon this fall.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rain and Bikestands


Rain! It's been a while since we've had more than a few sprinkles. Kitty and I watched a short but thorough downpour today. There was even a little thunder and some graupel.

The last two years of drought have been oppressive on the mind, especially since we also had to endure the coronavirus pandemic. At least we have a few days of reprieve from the fire danger.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tucson: Mount Lemmon - From Desert to Sky

Mount Lemmon Highway ascends the Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson. It's one of the most scenic drives in the United States.

A summary from my 2016 visit . . .

I toured the town via car and eventually drove over to the University of Arizona campus to have a look. It was a school I was tempted to apply to when I was graduating high school but decided it was not viable. The campus is mostly unremarkable except for a particularly dramatic green or common lined with palm trees. It looks like something more appropriate to Florida. They also have an interesting street car line that I didn't think to photograph. Other than that it is a pretty typical large university.

Palms on the University of Arizona campus. It's a nice enough campus, but thoroughly urban in character, which I didn't really expect.

By that point I had pretty much had enough of the city and was ready for some outdoor adventure and scenery. I went over to the Tucson Mountain County Park to view the saguaro cacti. This is an amazing park adjacent to the western division of Saguaro National Park in the small Tucson mountain range. Rain clouds were threatening but I never got more than a few sprinkles so my escape from the very, very long winter in Flagstaff was successful, and the clouds were lit from a low angle by a revealed sunset to create beautiful views of the mountains and desert. It was spectacular!
Slopes of the Tucson Mountains under gathering cloud.


The view over a pass towards Tucson. Looks like it was raining in the distance. I recall a few sprinkles but it never rained properly on the park.

The hour was getting late so I did not do any real hiking or riding but it was still worth a visit.

The next day, I did some mountain biking. I visited a local mountain bike trail system called Fantasy Island. There I rode winding trails through mostly flat Sonoran Desert. It was light on saguaro but heavy on cholla and other desert plants and I came across a pink rattlesnake at one point. I kept my distance. Later research indicates it was a Mojave Green Rattlesnake (even though it was pink). This is the most poisonous of the rattlesnakes.

The Fantasy Island Trail System was full of these cholla "trees." It's not a good place to crash your mountain bike, but on the other hand it's very smooth and you are unlikely to crash there. Very fast trail.

Fantasy Island was a decent trail system, but not something worth driving several hours for on its own. It's right next to an Air Force base and I got the feeling most of the other riders there were off duty military. My Dad served 27 years of combined active and National Guard duty and you get to where you can tell, even if they aren't in uniform.

Rattlesnake in the trail.

The Santa Catalina Mountains from Fantasy Island. Headed up there later in the day. I have noticed that locals often refer to the Catalinas as "Mount Lemmon" collectively, even though that is just one peak. People from greater Phoenix do this with Flagstaff, collectively referring to the entire area as "Snowbowl," even though Snowbowl is just the name of the ski resort. People are funny.

The next bicycling location on my list was Mount Lemmon. I wasn't in shape for trails on this notorious mountain, but I wanted to get up out of the desert into the high country, and the Mount Lemmon Highway itself is well-know for scenery. This turned out to be an understatement. I have driven many scenic drives but this is one of the tops I've been on anywhere. The drive up into the high country was winding and somewhat busy with traffic and bicycles. I have to admit there was some type of permit system in place but I couldn't figure out how to get one, so I took a chance. I simply found a place where I could park and ride at least a couple of miles near the top, with open views onto the lower slopes of the Santa Catalinas and adjacent mountains, such as the Rincons.

There are amazing rock formations in several places along Mount Lemmon Highway.

By now, my knees were shot and my leg muscles dead. I wasn't yet fully in shape from moving to Arizona, though I had adapted to the altitude at least. The Mount Lemmon highway exceeds 8000 feet above sea level. The air temps were drastically cooler than in Tucson. I rode a little along the highway and then down a gravel side road to where a trickling stream flowed near some houses. The rough track seemed to head over a crest toward the tiny town of Summer Haven, but it was so steep that I declined to keep riding as I did not want to have to ride back over the top or take a ride of unknown length on the paved highway to get back to my car.


I stopped in Summerhaven at the end of the highway for some meatloaf at the small restaurant. The village has been threatened by wildfire several times in recent years and some houses have burned.

I was impressed with Mount Lemmon, and if I lived in Tucson, I would probably be up there many weekends during the hot part of the year. Mount Lemmon actually has a ski area, but it seems inferior to Arizona Snowbowl. It's still amazing it even exists though, providing skiing to the people of southern Arizona. Since I spent my childhood in flat Indiana, far from any real mountains, I have never ceased to be amazed by the differences in climate provided by mountains within a short distance.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Tucson: Pima Air and Space Museum

A former Air Force One - Used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

I think I have blogged here a couple of times about my lifelong interest in aviation. I particularly like military aircraft because they lead technology in the same way that race cars lead technology for more practical cars. They also have unique niche capabilities compared to civilian aviation, which almost entirely are used for transportation of people or stuff. Military aircraft often do other things that are task oriented and not simply transportation. There is also the dark thrill of warfare.

I've been to a few air and space museums over the years, but for viewing examples of airframes, I've never seen so many types in one place. I actually didn't allow myself enough time to view every aircraft, and forgot to bring a hat, so now I have a sunburn on my scalp (I have a fair complexion and burn easily). Perhaps I'll go back someday and complete the visit. They also offer guided tours of the aircraft "boneyard" during non-pandemic times. The boneyard is where the United States military stores "mothballed" airframes as spares, or for the event of a dire need of more military aircraft, as in a major war. The dry desert of southern Arizona is a nearly perfect place for long term storage of mostly-metal aircraft.

Since my time was slightly limited, I made sure to see the precise airframe examples that interested me most. This basically meant fighter aircraft and bombers. I didn't spend much time on transports and none on helicopters. Since I've been to airshows before, and viewed many static displays, I've seen many of the types elsewhere anyway. Once, a long time ago, I actually rode in a KC-135 air tanker.

Below are some of my favorites from the museum.

F-15A. The F-15 family is probably my favorite aircraft of all time. It conveys a sense of speed and power, and it looks menacing, yet also looks graceful. All of these impressions are true. It also has an exceptional record of combat service, with over a hundred air-to-air victories and no losses. There are also dedicated strike versions. The production line is still running and the US Air Force just ordered dozens more, over 40 years after the initial production run began.

The O-2A. I used to have the Matchbox version of this and played happily for hours with it. The pusher propeller on the back is not visible here.

The F-100 Super Sabre, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. Like many early jets, it had some flaws, but for a short time it was the fastest mass-produced jet aircraft. Prior to the A-10, I think this aircraft was one of the most heavily armed single-seat fighters, with four 20 mm cannons, firing a combined rate of over 4000 rounds per minute.

The F-5 Freedom Fighter. This is a small, affordable, supersonic aircraft that was designed to be exported to allies of the United States without compromising the state secrets in America's more expensive and advanced aircraft. Pilots love flying this aircraft and it is still in use for a few niche applications. Gorgeous!

The F/A-18 Hornet, painted in the colors of the US Navy's performance team the Blue Angels. I fell in love with this type after seeing the Blue Angels at the airport in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my dad served in the Indiana Air National Guard. I'm unsure if this exact airframe might have been used in that display?

The B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II fame. I can't say this is necessarily one of my favorite aircraft, but it provided important and commendable service during the largest war in history. It's found in a museum within the museum and they ask for donations, which I happily provided to review the aircraft. I'm only disappointed that I couldn't climb up into it.

The venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the "Warthog," with it's ludicrously destructive 30 mm Gatling cannon. I saw some of these while out hiking as a wing is stationed at Davis-Monthnan Air Force Base in Tucson. These are a familiar sight for me because there was a wing stationed at the now-defunct Grissom Air Force Base near where I grew up in Indiana, and they routinely flew at low altitude, sometimes coming out from behind the trees, despite hypothetical bans on flying quite so low. I also saw some F-16 Fighting Falcons flying while in Tucson. These were probably from fighter wings of the Arizona National Guard or an Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, both of which are stationed at the Tucson International Airport. Tucson is a great place for plane spotting!

I also like some foreign (not United States) aircraft. This is one of my favorites: the Sea Harrier, used successfully by the British Royal Navy during the Falkland Islands War (this example is a slightly newer, or upgraded varient). This aircraft was capable of vertical takeoff and landing. There were several versions of the Harrier, but this one is distinguishable by the protruding nose, which contained a radar, and provided the British with a valuable advantage during the war. Earlier Harrier varients lacked a radar.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Tucson: Saguaro National Park - Day 2, Douglas Spring Trail

A view of outlying areas of Tucson over a saguaro forest with the Santa Catalina Mountains behind. The Catalinas loom over the entire Tucson area. The highest peaks are over 9000 ft above sea level. This was taken from early in Douglas Spring Trail, when it starts to climb the Sierra Rincon.


I got up at 6 am, worried about the limited parking at the trailhead, but once I arrived I realized that this was irrelevant. The Douglas Spring trailhead is outside of the main part of the park and not only was the "official" parking lot already full by 7:30 am local time, but the approach road had very wide, sandy desert shoulders with a few cars already overflowing. I went ahead and parked along the road and put my annual interagency pass on the rear view mirror, though I doubt it was applicable or necessary.

The trail starts off in a relatively flat area of typical Sonoran Desert and crosses through several sandy dry washes. The cacti were starting to bloom and I took several photos of the flowers.

Ocotillo were blooming.

Teddy bear cholla? Not sure.

After about 0.8 miles the trail starts to head uphill, and I was glad I brought my trekking poles, which I had considered leaving behind. The next couple of miles were almost entirely uphill into the lower slopes of the Sierra Rincon.

The Sonoran Desert teems with life, even after the last two years of extreme drought. The desert tans are opposed by the deep greens of the succulents, and enlivened by the scurrying of lizards and rodents. I startled Gambel's Quail a couple of times and saw and heard a myriad of other small birds. After the sun warms the day, the ground crawls with red ants and other insects dragging food stuff to the underground colonies. Flying species visit the flowers. Beware of the africanized bees.

Climbing into the foothills of the Sierra Rincon (Rincon Mountains).

The trail steepened, and soon I hiked up a well-maintained, stepped path that ascended above a narrow canyon. I enjoyed views of the eastern and northern suburbs of Tucson, with the Rincons and the Sierra Santa Catalina looming on northern and southern sides. As the sun rose, the air temps increased, but remained tolerable, even considering the uphill slope.

I'm out of shape from the snowy Flagstaff winter, but I found the uphill going reasonable, perhaps assisted by my everyday existence on the thin air of high altitude. That is not to say I wasn't passed, but I was passed mostly by trail runners.

I bought a Garmin GPS watch several months back, and I found myself watching it like a hawk, trying to decide if I had missed the side trail to Bridal Wreath Falls, but I persisted in the lack of evidence that my hike had gone astray. I passed the streaked rock of the high end of a dry wash, and eventually came upon a trail intersection with a metal sign that confirmed that my hike had gone true, and that I needed to turn right to get to Bridal Veil Falls.

Along the side trail the terrain broadened and it became clear I was climbing to an obvious place for a waterfall, and though the rising April wind tricked my mind a couple of times, I eventually realized that no water was flowing. The side trail deposited me into a dry wash that nonetheless showed signs of being a riparian area. I startled birds and lizards and a chipmunk. I made my way up 50 meters of dry boulders and found the "falls." As I anticipated, the falls were dry but for an area of rock darkened by water oozing out of cracks in the rock. I would have preferred an actual waterfall, but close examination revealed small plants living off the meager flow.

Water oozing from cracks in the rock at Bridal Veil Falls.

Tiny plants thriving on the meager water supply.

I spent some time taking photos and rock hopping, then decided to go back to the trail and try a "goat track" that I'd seen climbing the right bank of the arroyo. This lead to sketchy views down onto the "waterfall" and more bird spotting, but I finally decided that I was risking my life. The trail, such as it was, consisted of loose gravel surrounded by cacti and other spiky plants.

The day was young, so when I got back to the trail intersection, I decided to take another side trail downhill on a completely different arroyo to Ernie's Falls. Considering the lack of water on Bridal Wreath Falls, my expectations of flowing water were low.

Ernie's Falls is presumably at center. It's difficult to see but there were dark streaks that presumably were wet. The mountains above are the Sierra Rincon. They have pine forest on the higher elevations.

Ernie's Falls were almost completely dry, but I could see black areas on the rock face which I suspect revealed oozing sheets of moisture, much like at Bridal Wreath Falls. The trail continued to the park boundary, but I saw no reason to continue. If I'd taken the Douglas Spring trail further, beta tells me that it eventually leads up into pine forest above 7000 feet, but I wasn't in shape for that, nor was I prepared with my pack. I was already approaching 6 miles and carrying extra mass around my midsection from the Flagstaff winter and the COVID lockdowns and knew that hiking back to the car would take all my energy. I started back to the trail intersection, and having reached it, immediately headed downhill on the Douglas Spring Trail.

Douglas Spring Trail headed downhill.

Just another photo of beautiful Sonoran Desert slopes. Places like this make me remember my childhood visit to Arizona.

After a few minutes I was tired and moving slowly despite going downhill. I found a rock to sit on high up in a steep dry wash. It was midday, and there was no shade. I ate a leftover breakfast burrito and resumed my descent. The good thing about doing an out-and-back: you always notice things on the way back that you didn't on the way out. Like a rare opportunity to see a saguaro bloom up close. Usually they are too high to see into.

A rare look into a saguaro bloom. Usually they are too high up to see into!

I finished up, tired and feeling my continued lack of fitness. But it's amazing how much better I feel than I did a month ago. The only solution for a lack of fitness is to get fit.