Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Vines

It's going to be April and time to think about the warm weather and getting your vines established into the garden.  There are a lot of vines available for Tucson gardeners.   This blog has covered Catsclaw(dependable), Algerian Ivy(tricky; but all over Tucson), Wisteria(questionable), and the Passion Vine(edible for our butterflies and a fast grower in full sun).  Of course, there are many more vines that people use around town with some being more popular than others. I have a native for our Sonoran desert along with several other exciting vines.  Before beginning this series, we need to examine the types of vines that are out there.
Morning glory twines up plant branches.

Some things we need to consider before choosing a vine are whether or not, we'd like a clinging, twining, or trained typed plant.  Vines, like other plants, come in all shapes and sizes.  Some cling to the side of buildings without support while others will spiral around string, fencing, or other structures, and some need support and training by the human hand.
This cereus nightbloomer crawls up trees like a vine.

Twining Vines. Twining vines naturally curl or spiral around anything that is close by and reasonably slender, including neighboring plants. Good choices for supports for these plants include thin pieces of wire, cord, or rope, or wooden or iron stakes or poles, and trellises.

Algerian Ivy frames these townhomes nicely in our neighborhood.

Clinging Vines. The stems of clinging vines, sometimes called holdfasts, have small tendrils with either suction disks, aerial roots, or claws that grab onto surfaces, especially those that aren’t completely smooth. Typical clinging vines include Boston ivy, Creeping Fig, and Cat's Claw. Because they cling so tenaciously, you won’t need to provide supports. However, you will need to keep an eye on them, as in the long run they can damage building materials such as wood and stucco.

Bougainvillea frames the entrances to homes at El Presidio.  Hooks, into the building,  keep these plants upright and in place.
Freestanding Vines. Some vines, such as bougainvillea, must be physically tied in place, although they may also wind their way through other plants. You can train them on a freestanding trellis or wire grid, using soft plastic ties(extremely cheap to purchase) or twine to hold the branches in place. To train freestanding vines on walls and other structures, insert eye screws into the support and tie the branches to the eye screw. Another approach is to stretch wire between eye screws and tie branches to the wires.  This approach is utilized at the El Presidio Gardens where hooks have been screwed into the building to help support our large bougainvillea. We have a lot of vines to explore and I'll share with you how they do in winter and what to expect from them in summer. Stay tuned for more from the Vine Series this next week.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Redington Pass

Redington Pass is a lot of fun to hike, but there are several things you need to know before going.....
1. Some people spell it Reddington but the correct spell is Redington

Bring water and good shoes that can grip and may potentially get wet.  Best times to go are in March, April, end of October, and November.  Take Tanque Verde east towards the Rincon Mountains until the road ends with gravel.  Continue on the gravel uphill until you reach the first parking spot on the left.  There are several trails further up the dirt road, but this first stop will take you the Tanque Verde Falls.  Park your car and cross the dirt road until you reach a dirt path. There is a rusty brown sign by it that is hard to read. Follow this trail down to the creek. Once you've reached the creek, head north away from the city and up towards the mountains.

Follow the creek and maneuver your way around the rocks carefully always following the creek. Some days have more hikers than others.  Weekends are popular for family excursions. This is an interesting place because there are a lot of people, even Tucsonans, who do not know about this beautiful hike. 

Along the way, peek into all the little cracks and crevices, but do be careful during the warmer months as snakes and larger lizards, like the Gila Monster, wake up from the cold winter sleep.  Listen for rattles, etc and survey the area before grabbing onto a rock or you may get a little surprise:)  I find March a better month to hike because the critters are still sleeping. 

There are several places that hikers like to sit and take a break....sometimes naked.  You'll see past a certain point naked families frolicking under a mini fall or a group of naked men walking together with backpacks so make sure you wear your sunscreen as sunburn can be a real bummer.

Some people may not be used to this.  My first time on this hike, I was humming to my walkman and wasn't aware of the rules.  I was around 23 at the time, turned a bend and voila!!! Nude backpackers!  I fell and they came running to my aide. Thinking back on it, I should have asked for a picture, but at the time, I was so embarrassed. Today, I still hike with clothes and laugh about the incident, and I am a little more enlightened than I was in my earlier years....but do be aware that you'll see more naked people on the 2nd or 3rd parking stops on the gravel road. There are more trails past this first one which I'm writing about today. I believe this is the rule....on the 2nd stop, nudist families and after a certain waterfall, it's a man area.  The Tanque Verde Falls(the first stop) is more family friendly and during this visit, we didn't see nakedness.  Further down the road is a dirt biking route and also several gun ranges. I just find the whole area fascinating. It's a rougher setting and certainly not the tourist friendly Sabino Canyon.

The rocks are large and do require some skill to climb.  Remember to bring water and take little breaks.

For most humans, the trail can be dangerous, but on top of the falls, a crow lands for a cold sip of water.

Keep your eyes open for desert critters and beautiful birds and butterflies native to the Sonoran desert.
Some people hike alone while others go in groups.  It's not uncommon to see groups of 3-6 people hiking.

Here's a short video shot from our hike.

The end of this trail will reward you with breathtaking scenery.

Bring your bathing suit...or not:) for a quick or long dip in the shade and cool waters. If you are nudist, I don't want to give inaccurate information here because I know that many of you take this it's not the first stop but the second parking on the dirt road.  The first stop is the falls trail while the second stop is clothing optional after a couple of the mini falls.

Happy Adventures!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sweet Broom

For homeowners wondering what happened to the cacti garden planned for the whiskey barrels, this is an update for what is going on with that project.  As you may or may not know, Tucson suffered an extreme freeze this winter causing me to lose most of my cacti and succulent transplants.  Basically I have to start over from scratch and in April, I'll be heading up to Phoenix to restock our cacti around the property.  For now, I have placed sweet broom in the 10 whiskey barrels which will give us something to look at as we drive towards our places.  I have not given up the cacti garden's just on hold until there is more money and more transplants to work with......the sweet broom was on sale this past weekend and there was a little money to spare to fill up the barrels for the time being.  Here are some pics of what it looks like......

As for sweet broom, it is a loved or hated plant depending on what part of the country you live in.  In the Pacific Northwest, it's invasive and even banned in some states. I was laughing as I watched people buy this plant in the bunches.  If they only knew how much this plant was hated in those homeowner actually had it out for another neighbor who put this plant in their yard in Washington state.  Ahhhh good times!  In fact, last weekend, both Home Depot and Lowe's ran out of this plant within the first day!!  I had actually been there during the delivery so I was lucky to snag 10 of them.  It's just amazing how many people have off during spring break.  Here in Arizona, this plant is limited to where it can grow because our ground is too hard.  It likes sun and is hardy up to 20 degrees.  It has an arching habit.  It needs to be watered once a week once established.  They were $3.30 per plant so it was not an expense getting those barrels filled quickly.  In my opinion, the barrels are an eyesore without some sort of plant in them.  Hang tight as I get some really nice cacti specimens organized for the cacti garden over the summer. 

Tanque Verde Falls

Waterfalls in Tucson? Yes.
This is part 3 of the Redington Pass adventure.  It's a rough hike along the way, but worth it all once you've reached the Tanque Verde Falls. 

Getting there can be difficult and you have to climb many rocks making this an excellent day hike in March and April.

You have to climb a steep hill to reach this little canyon oasis.  Next to the waterfall is our beautiful Arizona Cottonwood which is commonly found along rivers/creeks here.

Please be careful during monsoon in our summer months or during a big rain event as people have lost their lives here.  A story comes to mind of a college student who jumped in after his poor little puppy and never returned.  Bring your swim suit but be careful of the rocks in the water.  These falls are wonderful but many college kids are new to the area and don't always understand the dangers of our desert. However, this is a popular place that is in a spot where not everyone can get to......

....therefore making it a Tucson treasure for hikers who want to escape from the general tourist population.

Happy Adventures from Tanque Verde Falls!!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Butterfly Magic

A real quick break between the Redington Pass adventures, I wanted to let you know that there is one more month left to the Butterfly Magic exhibit going on at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  After April, you'll have to wait until Fall.  Here are some of my shots taken in early March.

You'll see these little food containers all around for the butterflies to grab a "snack". (above) Here is a Morphos taking a quick break from flying.

It does get warm in the exhibit so bring some bottled water with you.  You may sweat a bit:)

Watch where you step as they are all over the place.

They many times may decide to land on you.

Butterfly Magic is at the Tucson Botanical Gardens for a few more weeks! It's a great place to bring kids or just learn about the many butterflies flying around the garden. Bring your camera:) Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on Tanque Verde Falls in Redington Pass.

Sara's Orangetip Butterfly

Continuing on with our Redington Pass adventure, I snapped several shots of this tiny beautiful butterfly.

This was a tricky little butterfly to follow, but eventually I was able to get several shots of this dainty and beautiful little bug. The insect is commonly seen around the Tucson area and especially on the outskirts of town which include our riparian areas.

Here's some information on this butterfly that you may see fluttering around your yard this time of year as the wildflowers pop up.

"The Sara's Orangetip butterfly, also know as the Pacific Orangetip is a striking butterfly.
Field identification is very easy. It's a variation on the white butterfly theme, with bright orange spots on the tips of the wings. Female color is more pale than the male color. The underside of the wings are marbled, making it easy for them to hide when they close their wings and sit on an oak tree branch. They are abundant up and down the West Coast, making their home in fields, deserts and other areas. They are one of the first butterflies to appear in early spring and their bright colors add a touch of sparkle to their newly emerging green environment. Butterflies are generally categorized as one of two types, patroller or percher, depending on mating strategies. Sara's Orangetips fall in the patroller category of butterflies. Males patrol, or fly up and down a particular territory, in search of female butterflies. As it relates to butterfly photography, the patrollers are sometimes difficult subjects because you can follow them for up to an hour without their settling down on a flower long enough for a decent picture."

Sunday, March 27, 2011


This morning we took a look at the Canyon Tree Frog from Redington Pass. Here is a fun shot I took while doing my photoshoot from the canyon.  Can you find this little guy in the picture? Look carefully.

Canyon Tree Frog

Taking a break from the plant series, I took a hike at the wonderful Redington Pass several weeks ago with my visiting family. One never knows what they'll find on their adventures and the hike proved just as interesting.  Here, with the camera, I got some great close up shots on a fantastic little frog in our canyons. This week's close up is on the beautiful and less travelled Redington Pass.

You'll find these little guys along the creeks that run through our Tucson area.  Be careful where you step and look carefully as they blend in with their surroundings.
This is a small treefrog with highly variable pattern and color. It grows to 2½ inches (56 mm) with a ground color of cream to brown and irregular bars, blotches, and spots of olive to brown. Its color matches its substrate extremely well. Large adhesive toe pads are present on all 4 feet. Adult males have dusky (darkened) or yellow throats, whereas females have white to cream colored throats (which match the underside).

This species is largely restricted to riparian areas in rocky canyons. It is typically found along streams among medium to large boulders from desert to desert grassland and into oak-pine forests. The canyon treefrog can operate at cooler temperatures than many frogs; it avoids cold surface temperatures by retreating underground

The canyon treefrog eats insects of various kinds. It breeds in July and August during summer rains as well as in spring. The abrupt, explosive call of males attracts females to breeding sites; males then mount females and spawning may begin. Eggs are laid in a large mass that floats on the surface of the water.

Source for information: The Desert Museum

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Semuc Champey

The Lagoons of Semuc Champey

A side trip into the northern interior of Guatemala lead us to this magical place of lagoons.  It's a system of pools that flow into caves below ground.  The trickiest part was getting there, but it was worth the effort.  We stopped in a village near Coban where only Mayan languages were about being in another world.  The city was located in a cold cloud forest and had a lot of charm.  We kept going until we arrived at Coban and then we hired a van that followed a road to the tiny rain forest community of Lanquin.  It was here that we took our day trip to these amazing lagoons and several uncharted caves.

Beautiful lagoons link together in this amazing hike out of Lanquin
Be careful entering this water as the rocks can be slippery.  Also look for the many brown fish swimming around nibbling on the hairs of your legs.  Some people actually jump from the trees into these pools.  I was a little bit leary about doing this.
Bring your swimming trunks and some water shoes

In the above pic, my sister is sitting at the edge of one of these pools.  It's absolutely gorgeous there and sparkles green like an emerald.....and just simply breathtaking.   The village of Lanquin is just as charming as the surrounding area.  I'll never forget the night at a small local restaurant having some chicken and salad.  It had rained and hundreds of fireflies came out in the night sky flashing their beautiful blue and green lights around us.  Also hanging out with us during dinner were several local toads catching themselves their own dinner. 
Don't get too close to this part of the river

Be careful along the edges of certain parts of this trail.  This river rages into the Earth through an underground cavern system.   One slip and you're dead.  I took this picture from a safe distance thanks to the zoom lense:)
Jump off a bridge into a river below
The hikes are great and will really blow your mind.  Today this bridge is used to get to one of the most interesting caves I've ever seen.  If you can't swim, this is not a recommended cave to take because inside you have to swim through deep parts to get to the inside waterfall....and it's dark....and there are bats:)  But is it cool:)  The cave is called the Kan Bah Cavern.  Wear water shoes on these hikes.  PS.  Please be careful going down that river during the monsoon season.  Everyone says the Coban River is a safe tubing experience but it can be dangerous. My little sister almost drowned here and we'll never forget that experience.  Several hours before we went on this "little" adventure, a person from Holland had the same experience and it was no laughing matter.  Also, a headlamp for this part is recommended especially at night when the critters come out.  An Emperor Scorpion came out and stung one of our was hiding in the bedsheets.  Needless to say, this was a memorable journey that will not be forgotten.  This is definitely for the experienced traveler.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Do bear live in the desert southwest?   Just ask Richard Rohr of Sierra Vista.  He snapped these shots by his home last year.  Bear will usually come down from the mountains in search of food:) In other words....yes.:)
In the background, a beautiful desert willow tree.