Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in the Canyon

There's nothing more embarrassing than a 38 year old hiker struggling up a mountain being passed up by a 60 something  mountain biker!  Well to be fair, we were both struggling, but I seriously don't find riding bikes uphill very exciting stuff.  I prefer the walking workout because I can stop,scan, and snap!  However, I was impressed and fell in love with the idea that getting older does get better if we don't let our bodies go to hell. So I'm not going to dwell on that for now because a lot of incredible things happened on our 3 day escape from the holidays.  This year I took the initiative and made Christmas with my other half our own tradition. I have to admit that it's not an easy thing to do because when I get used to a routine, it's hard for me to change it.  And it was time for a change.  We both love returning back to Wisconsin for Christmas to be with the family, but it's costly and a bit crazy with all the kids running around.  Instead, we rented out a cabin in Madera Canyon and had a blast!  Christmas for me isn't so much religious as it is a time to be with my family which is what I miss the most this time of year.  So we escaped into the woods and discovered several things........

1. There are a lot of birds.  So when I wasn't hiking, having friends over for a meal, or sharing time with Pat, I would try and sit down and quiet. On our cabin porch, I discovered why Madera Canyon is a huge birder's paradise.  Southwestern Tucson is a hotspot for birds and people come from all over the world to visit places like the Buenos Aires Bird Refuge, Carr Canyon near Sierra Vista, Madera Canyon in Green Valley, and of course, the Santa Catalina mountains.  Now there are more places like this that I haven't mentioned, but these are the top 4 that birders come to visit.  So I'm reading my book quietly in the rocking chair, occassionally being passed by hikers, when suddenly a hummer starts flying around me.  The noise of a hummer's wings sounds like a rapid succession of a plane flying overhead while you are sitting in front of your fan at home.  And just as quickly as it came; it will disappear.  When the fear of human presence was gone, the forest erupted with bird sounds from all over the place.  Several other birds noticed me and flew onto the porch and watched me read....or try to read.  It was really really loud and there were A LOT of birds.  The minute hikers passed by, the birds stopped chirping for several minutes.  After the several minutes of quiet time passed, everyone would be back up flying around and having their bird party.  Tap tap tap.  Squeak squak. Gobble gobble gobble. Fluuuuum fluuuuumm. And other various sounds like those of parrots squaking in the tree tops.  In the video below, you'll see what I'm writing about....I snapped quite a bit of video from some of the action.  It was fun to see what birders get excited about.......and speaking of birders......

Our woodpeckers

2.  Birders are creepy... and kind of neat people.  I can understand their frustrations with people who are loud and annoying in the woods as you need total quiet to see the action happen above and around you.   But again, I tried reading my book, and out of nowhere there were several birders staring into the trees whispering like they were French people at a Paris cafe. Birders are cool people because they respect their noise levels and their surroundings extremely well.  It is a rule that when you travel in any kind of natural setting to keep your volume levels down so that you can spot more wildlife.  Had I been on a boat full of loud tourists in the Amazon, I would not have been able to spot my first Jaguar in the wild.  It's just a bit freaky to think you are not alone in the woods.  There was something else that was unique and I need to ask about this.....but, the birders proceeded to take money out of their wallets and put it in a can.  Was this to support homeowners so that they keep putting the bird seed out to keep attracting birds to their cabins?  Or a thank you for allowing them to look upon their bird haven? Anyhow...fascinating group of people:)

3. There's a good reason why paved roads end.  There were loud obnoxious people who drove up the road into the canyon only to spin around and drive back.  What's the purpose of that?  Get out of your car.  Look around and breathe.  Some sports cars would fly up the road at dangerous speeds and fly back down as if they were the only ones who mattered. Many of them were older drivers which was completely shocking to me.  A dead squirrel was the product of one of these idiot drivers.  I am grateful that the road limits the morons from the heart of the canyon and forest.  If you travel to Madera canyon, the best parts are the hikes that lead off into the park.  You won't be disappointed.  I shot some video from these quiet trails.  I think naturalists and birders enjoy the fact that most people are contained within this rather small area into the park.  It's not worth driving to if you're not going to spend some quality time there:)

4. Sky Islands are amazing. They really are.  In the desert, you'll find heat and the brutal sun during our summer months.  These "sky islands" are contained mountains of cooler, shadier, and greener areas. Because of their higher altitudes, they will also have higher than average precipitation rates. A person is always reminded that they are on these islands when they look below or around them and can see the yellowish brown of the desert in the far distance.  Tucson, and Southwestern Arizona, are much more diverse than other areas in Arizona because of several factors.....the desert, the subtropical currents that make the Sonoran desert what it is, and our Sky Islands.
Sky Island view when above the treeline.

We had a fantastic time and I'm thinking we may do this again next year.  This week I have a house to clean and I'll also be working at the butterfly magic exhibit on Thursday morning at the gardens.  It's hard to imagine that we are celebrating winter right now and that we've got a garden where butterflies thrive! Happy Holidays wherever you may be!!


  1. Sounds like a great getaway whenever you go. Thank you for sharing the bird photos. I had never heard the phrase sky island before. Very nice.

  2. It sounds like a great birdwatching place!
    Your video describes a very peaceful atmosphere.

  3. Wow, what an excellent post you have written! Mind if I link to it? I love your thoughts and recognition of the birds' quiet and disappearance. They are the wise ones, aren't they?
    A walk offers the quiet thinking change; a bike offers the struggle and rush of success.

    Love the photos, too. Your new tradition sounds worthy of maintaining.
    Silence, watching. A worthy day, life.
    (Yes, cold weather is approaching. We stopped by Goodwill and stocked up on sheets to use for covering the garden plants. Good value!)

  4. It's good to have bonding times with family in private excursions like these. I laughed when you said it is embarrassing when a 60yr old passed by a 38-yr-old guy uphill. Yes it is all in the practice, when a body is not used often it gets rusted, haha! I can relate to this because i am the oldest of a group of photographers whom i frequently join, but they are so good to me during difficult walks and climbs. Happy Holidays and thanks for your visit and comments to my post.

  5. No problem with the linking....I am grateful for the suggestions....Goodwill=sheets! That is the best idea ever. Thank you. I'm running errands tomorrow:)

  6. "Whispering like they were French people at a Paris cafe" LOL!

    I love birds. But I guess I'll never be a serious birder because I'm such a naturally loud person. Oh well.

    Great pics!

  7. Your winter getaway sounds wonderful!! I share your frustration with loud people in wild places. I've always thought the best part of the trip begins once the road ends. :o)

  8. What an awesome way to spend Christmas!


Thanks for stopping by!