Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Highway to the stars

On yet another lovely sunny day we set off to explore Kitt Peak National Observatory.   We followed highway 86 until we reached highway 386,
we took a left and followed the road up the very steep, curvy mountain road. 

There were great views, and, unlike Mount Lemmon we didn’t see any cyclists.

The original way up the mountain was a 7 mile long, very steep, very rough dirt road that literally went straight up the side, the road is still there and apparently very occasionally someone will ride a motorbike up that way. 

The observatory, which was established in 1957, occupies 200 acres of the summit.   Our guide told us that Kitt Peak is the second most sacred peak of the Tohono O’odham people and is known as I'itoli’s garden, Baboquivari Peak, below, is the most sacred peak and home to I'itoli, the Creator.

There are 25 optical and 2 radio telescopes on the summit of Kitt Peak, and in 1985 the National Science Foundation signed a perpetual agreement with the Tribal Council of the Tohono O’odham Nation for the use of the mountaintop as long as only scientific research facilities are maintained there. 

Kitt Peak National Observatory is part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) which is based in Tucson.  NOAO also operates an observatory in Chile and provides US astronomers with access to the Gemini North and South telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. 

The first tour took us to the 2.1M telescope that was built in 1964, which is still in use on a nightly basis.   

Our next stop was the Meade Solar Telescope Array

where we were able to look through a telescope at the sun and see sunspots and solar flares, it was fascinating.

Sadly we hadn't allowed ourselves enough time to look at the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope as well.

After some lunch I headed off to visit the Mayall 4M Telescope, our first stop was actually the car park where there is what looks like a concrete donut.

It’s actually an almost exact replica of a telescope mirror and is used when setting up a telescope instead of the highly polished mirror, just in case after all imagine something happening to the actual mirror! 

On the way up to the Mayall 4M Telescope we saw an open radio telescope being re-positioned.

The Mayall 4M Telescope

A model of a working telescope

From the observation deck part way up the telescope we had a great view of the site.

The observatory closes at 4.00 p.m. but if for any reason you were there on a tour and left after dark, then for the first mile down the mountain you can’t use your headlights, you simply follow the tail lights of someone who knows the way.  I bet that’s pretty spectacular and probably the longest mile you’d ever drive!  

On both the tours our guide was very informative and knowledgeable, not too technical and at the time it all made perfect sense.   At the end of the tour our guide touched on the expanding universe, dark matter and dark energy now, to me, that really sounds like something out of Star Trek!

Have fun, we are!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Escaping the heat and heading for the hills!

Tucson was getting decidedly hot so a hike up on Mount Lemmon sounded like a good idea.
As you drive up the Catalina Highway the views are amazing, Tucson never feels like a big city, but looking down on it you realise just how big it really is.
Although we cycle we’re always impressed when we pass cyclists riding up the mountain, I’m not sure I’d make it to the first corner.

We parked at the trailhead and set off along the Bigelow Trail, it’s a nice trail through the trees.

There were also some pretty amazing rocks in places, I’ve no idea what type of rock this is but the colours were gorgeous and I loved the way it sparkled in the sunshine.

Arriving at a cross roads in the trail, we walked a little way over and took in the view of, I think, the San Pedro Valley.   The dead trees on either side of the trail, are, I think, the result of a forest fire.

Turning back to the Bigelow trail, we headed up the final section before we arrived at the fire lookout and communication towers at the top.

We followed the road round the top and, would you believe it, there was a parking area with a small Fiesta type car parked there! 

The view from the end of the parking area.

A little way down the road

a trail sign told us that it was 0.7 miles back to the Palisades visitor centre, we decided to go back the way we’d come, because as we’d only planned a short hike we hadn’t bothered with a map, so if we took a wrong turn along the way we could’ve ended up in Timbuctoo.   I know, I know you should always carry a map, but………………….

DB went to see if he could climb the fire lookout, but it was fenced and locked so he couldn’t. 

We chatted to a local couple for a while before heading back down the trail, where we saw a sign advising us that due to fire damage the trail could have loose rock, it did and it was much harder coming down. 

Would you believe that chatting and not paying attention as we neared the parking area we actually lost the trail and ended up coming out on the road by the visitor centre?   I’ve no idea how we managed that so it’s probably a very good job we didn’t take the other trail. 

Another view of the Catalina Highway.

The temperature on top of the mountain was in the high 60’s when we got back down into Tucson the truck thermometer hit 93 it felt like we were driving in an oven. 

Have fun, we are!

In search of Oklahoma and John Wayne!

Years ago, after reading an article in Arizona Highways we took a drive through the Patagonia Mountains and San Raphael Valley, it was a great trip that included old mining towns, almost ghost towns and movies.
We decided we’d like to take that trip again, naturally, despite searching through my back copies of Arizona Highways I couldn’t find the details anywhere, luckily for us the visitor centre in Patagonia had a map showing the roads we needed.
From Patagonia we followed Harshaw Road and where the pavement ended we turned onto FR49.
Our first stop was the old townsite of Harshaw at an elevation of 4,850ft, there is very little left.

Across the road is a cemetery which is either very well looked after or still in use, I’m not sure which.

We continued to follow FR49 as it climbed up and around into the mountains, although we saw the side road to Mowry, it was marked as a primitive road, rarely maintained, so we gave it a miss.  Besides which after our experience on the Old Peavine road last year we’re a bit more careful about which dirt roads we drive. 

There are a surprising number of houses and ranches along FR49 so it’s pretty well maintained and we saw several Border Patrol vehicles, every so often we saw tyres chained together on the side of the road.  I seem to remember hearing somewhere that they're used by Border Patrol, not exactly sure why.

Further along the road we drove through Washington Camp, our next stop should’ve been the old mining town of Dusquene.   Would you believe we missed it, we reached a split in the road and I sent us left when we should’ve gone right and driven up the hill.   Ooops!

The next thing knew we were almost in Lochiel.   We only knew this because we suddenly saw the Cross on the side of the road commemorating Fray Marcos De Niza.   When Fray Marcos entered what is now Arizona on 15 April 1593, as a delegate of the Viceroy in Mexico he was the first European West of the Rockies.

There is an old school and church in Lochiel, but I believe they’re not open to the public as both on private ground. 

Lochiel is only a couple of miles from the border and at one time was a border crossing.   The crossing has long since closed, we did wonder if we’d see any sign of the border fence but we didn’t.

Following the road took us further into the beautiful San Raphael Valley, if you want huge skies, wide open spaces and rolling grasslands this is the place for you, it’s also where Oklahoma was filmed.   I entertained DB by singing what I remember (not much) of the theme song but he didn’t seem particularly impressed, can’t imagine why?

San Raphael State Park is further along the road, last time we drove this way it was closed, it’s still closed and not marked, so who knows if it’ll ever be open.   From the road you can see the ranch house which was used in the film McLintock, John Wayne used to throw his hat onto the weathervane when he arrived home.

From here we carried on following the road across the rolling grasslands until we came to a t-junction.   Originally we had planned to turn right and drive over Canelo Pass which would bring us out on the Parker Canyon Road.   Left would take us back into Patagonia.

In the end the thought of coffee won out so we headed towards Patagonia.   This road took us around the mountains rather than over the top.    Driving back we saw deer feeding on the side of the road

and then before we knew it we were back in Patagonia and enjoying our coffee.   We had a great day. 

Have fun, we are!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Patagonia Lake State Park

We’ve been to Patagonia Lake State Park several times, but it’s a lovely spot so we decided to return, needless to say we carefully watched our speed as we drove through the town of Patagonia on our way.
At Patagonia Lake, you can camp, fish, boat, swim and hike.   The hike takes you along the Sonoita Creek trail and as we’ve already done that we decided to just have lunch and mooch around.   Unfortunately for us we visited on a Tuesday and the visitor centre is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
We parked in the day use area and set off to have lunch by the lake, it was very pretty but a bit on the breezy side, even the ducks were struggling to make headway so we didn’t linger.
Swimming in Patagonia Lake is classed as wild swimming, not that I would it’s too darn cold for me, and the day we visited the beach area was being renovated so it was closed anyway.

These pretty flowers were on the lakeshore, I have no idea what they are.

A view across to the mountains, not sure which mountains though.

We walked around the park and back through the marina, where we watched someone attempting to put their boat back on the trailer and someone else rowing out of the calm waters of the marina onto the windy lake.

Keeping a watchful eye over things and for any unwary fish was a heron perched on the rangers boathouse.

On the way back we pulled in at a layby with a historical marker sign, complete with bullet holes, and discovered that we were on the site of John Ward’s Ranch.   In 1861 Indians kidnapped his Mexican stepson, Felix, army officers wrongly assumed that the local Chiricahua Apache were responsible, they weren’t it was actually the Pinal Band of the Western Apache.   This mistake led to the infamous Bascom Affair between Lt Bascom and Cochise.  I’m not sure if John Ward ever saw his stepson again, but he died in 1867, after which the site became a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, a mining headquarters, a store and finally a produce farm before being abandoned in 1903.

Just beyond the historical marker is the Telles Family Shrine which was begun in 1941 after Juanita and Juan Telles made a vow to God for the safety of their sons in WWII.   The shrine was rededicated in 1988 and the plaque was erected by the Pimeria Alta Historical Society.

It just goes to show you never know what you’re going to find on the side of the road. 

Have fun, we are!

Looking for Greaterville

When we drove over the Box Canyon road a couple of days earlier we took the right-hand road, the left went to Greaterville.   We had no idea what if anything was at Greaterville, or even if it was an actual place so we decided to find out.
This time when we came to the junction we turned left, somehow I sort of expected that not very far up the road we’d come into a very small community, we didn’t, although there was a ranch on one side of the road.
We continued to follow the road, as we did it got narrower and steeper, we had no detailed map of the area so were following the roads on sat nav, needless to say that didn’t exactly fill me with confidence! 

Eventually we came to a crossroads with a huge parking area and fabulous views over across what I think, is Empire Ranch and the Whetstone Mountains.

DB stopped and I hopped out with my camera, it was pretty windy and absolutely freezing out of the nice warm truck.   I walked over to read what looked like an informational board, but it was blank so that was no help at all. 

Okay so this road goes to Fish Canyon, I’ve seen the name somewhere, but where exactly is it and do we want to actually go there?   Absolutely no idea!

After taking a few photographs and waving to a Border Patrol truck as it whizzed past we decided that as we didn’t exactly now where we were going and it was late afternoon it was probably a good idea to retrace our steps and head back, so that’s what we did.

I still want to know if there's a town/community/village at Greaterville or if it’s just an area, so I need to go buy a proper map for that section. 

Have fun, we are!

Box Canyon to Madera Canyon

After having some lunch by the truck and leaving Kentucky Camp, we decided to drive over to Madera Canyon, by way of Box Canyon.
Back on highway 83 and through the Border Patrol Checkpoint, we turned onto the Greaterville/Madera Canyon Road.   Houses and ranches line the road which is paved for a few miles until you reach the turn offs for Greaterville and Box Canyon.
As you enter Box Canyon there is the usual sign warning you that you may possibly encounter smugglers and drug runners in the area, even though we’ve seen lots of these signs they certainly make you think, which is what I guess they’re intended to do.
It’s a lovely drive on a good dirt road as it winds along a dry stream over a mountain pass and down the other side and needless to say the views are great and, naturally I drove DB mad by asking him to stop so I could take photographs.
Starting up
Further up

Through the windscreen coming down the otherside as DB said he definitely wasn’t going to stop on this section!

Looking back, the road we drove down is somewhere up there.

Once on the otherside of the mountain we drove past the Santa Rita Experimental Range and onto Whitehorse Road, that takes you directly into Madera Canyon. 

Gorgeous views of the mountains and wildflowers.

Mexican gold poppies and lupine.

Deer at the bottom of Madera Canyon Road

The start of Madera Canyon road, more fabulous mountain views.

We drove as far up Mount Wrightson as the road goes, for a weekday it was surprisingly busy, but I believe it’s a good birding area and that it’s the right time of the year to be looking for Elegant Trogons. 

Even closer to the mountains

Heading back down to the valley.

It’s a lovely spot with lots of hiking, so I imagine this is another place we’ll be back to visit again.

Have fun, we are!