Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Sky Island Scenic Byway Revisited

This highway road that we traveled to get the changes in climate from the Arizona desert to the Canadian-like forests is called the "Sky Islands Scenic Byway" because it gets its name from such biological diversity as the Arizona desert floor to the Canadian like pine forests. By the time you get to the top of Mt. Lemmon, the surrounding mountains are like "islands in the sky." 

We've seen all kinds of signs throughout our travels---moose signs, armadillo signs, cattle crossing "open range" signs, and my favorite--"Watch for animals" signs (geez, that's a lot of help! What kind of animals? deer? roadrunner? prairie dogs?) and panther crossing we saw our first "bear crossing" out for bear the next 9 miles, but we didn't see any bear!

This beautiful highway is one of the only paved roads leading to the top of Mount Lemon, the southernmost ski resort in the U.S. We did not see any ski activity, and only a little bit of remnants of snow. But I got excited to see snow in Arizona! And I even made a snowball and threatened to get Eldy with it, until he pointed out the "No snowplay" sign at the resort....must be quite a few people get the itch to have a snowball fight if they are transplants from somewhere else, like me! We were hoping to have lunch at the restaurant at the top of the mountain but it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we went looking elsewhere.

We saw many, many serious cyclists on the highway climbing up to the top of Mt. Lemmon, and coming back down. This is a major training venue for professional cyclists apparently. I can't even imagine the dedication and stamina it takes to ride a bike from 3,000 feet starting at the BOTTOM to the top--9,000 feet, but they were doing it!  On  the way down, we passed a lone female cyclist who was boogying down the mountain, doing at least 40! Yikes!
Partway down the mountain, we saw a little community nestled in the foothills of the mountains. There were lots of log cabin houses and a lodge. This area was called Summerhaven. They had a really cute little restaurant called the "Cookie Cabin & Pizza" was great!
This drive was about a three hour drive from the start of the byway to the finish, but you could easily spend another couple of hours exploring all the overlooks and taking time out to photograph the fantastic scenery...see the little ribbon road down below? That shows you how high up we are....
Wherever we go, there's always a risk taker who wants to get out and look over the edge of some precipitous canyon or rock ledge...usually, it's me! But this time, it was someone else. And we usually see somebody's parent nearby, if it's a young kid, saying, "Ok, honey, that's far enough! C'mon back! You are making me nervous!" This young woman's mother was a nervous wreck watching her daughter go right out to the edge to look down...made me nervous, too!
It's going to get really, really hot early here...record breaking 99 degree high, they are saying...UGH!!!!
We're going to have to find some indoor activity.....(Oh, BOY! says E.) going to the Biosphere 2, an indoor science museum maybe?  (oh......)   ; >    See you later.......say Sparky and Eldo....

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We'll Take the High Road

We decided to take a scenic drive yesterday along the Catalina Highway.  Officially, it is known as Hitchcock Highway, but everybody calls it the Catalina. This 27 mile highway out of Tucson, AZ takes you from an elevation of 3,000 feet at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, all the way to the top of Mt. Lemmon, which is 9100 feet. The highway starts of Tanque Verde Road in Tucson, then as the road climbs, the vegetation changes from Sonoran Desert to the high forests of the Canadian it's like driving from Arizona to Canada in a brief period of time. The temperature changed from 87 degrees to 57 degrees during the drive....boy, did that feel good!  It took us about an hour and half from Casa Grande to get to the start of the Catalina Highway.

The overlooks are spectacular, the geological formations AMAZING! Isn't it incredible what Mother Nature has done with all these rocks!?...there are cool pine forests and hiking trails and beautiful picnic areas...there are campgrounds, but the highway and campgrounds are NOT big rig friendly.. It's a trip best made by car or possibly a class C motorhome. Places to turn around are few and far between....

We'll take today and tomorrow to show you some of the most wonderful views.....Here are some today....
It's a big world out there, and we're just a tiny, tiny part of it. (See the tiny trio standing on the rocks?)...but what an impact we have on our planet!

We'll see you out on the Catalina Highway again tomorrow....also known as the Sky Island Scenic can certainly see why!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Farewell Party at Palm Creek

Palm Creek knows how to throw a good end-of-season party! Since MANY of the residents are leaving in the next two weeks, they had a farewell party. They had a great band this evening called "Apple". They were a Beatles sound alike band and they were terrific! They also had a beer wagon...2.00 a beer, wine cooler, and pop for 2.00. Many tables and chairs were set up outside for the residents..tablecloths and all. Dinner and dessert were served earlier and then the band played from 6:00-8:00 and kept the residents hopping up to the dance floor outside. It was a beautiful night and warmer than it has been the last several nights. The park is beautiful at night with all the palm trees lit up with little white lights every night.

We were very comfortable outside sitting at the table. We didn't dance much because Eldy has some kind of tendon inflammation on his heel. So Nurse Sparky has been having him ice it up and taking ibuprofen.

I have to say, he's not very good about following nurse instructions but as the pain is getting a little worse, he's decided to follow his nurse's recommendations a little more closely.

Earlier, I took a pickleball lesson for the first time...I had already bought my racket, knowing I would love it and I did. Palm Creek has great instructors available, and a unique round robin setup where you can get lots of experience playing several times a week. You don't always have to have a partner, the round robin setup lets everyone play with a variety of partners. You start out at a 2.5 beginner level, and monitors and instructors are available courtside for tips and instructions and to suggest when you are ready to move to the next instructional level. Having played tennis and racketball all my life, I'm ready to progress! Now I just have to get some games in to improve my skills. Pickleball takes a little getting used to as far as how hard to hit the whiffle like ball. Scoring is a little complicated, but the best way to figure it out is to take a lesson, then get out and play! As soon as Eldy gets his heel in better shape, he'll be right there with me.

We've got a scenic drive planned soon...we'll let you know when and where....see you on the road tomorrow!

Golf in Casa Grande and Dinner with My Daughter

Yesterday afternoon we decided to finally play some golf in the area....we're not quite ready to play the short par 3, 18 hole golf course at Palm Creek. We are waiting for the regulars to head back home so we aren't quite so pressed on the course. Being a beginner, I need a little more time to 1) find lost balls, 2) get up the nerve to hit balls on a course lined with park models, 3) make sure my insurance policy is up to date, because the GOLFER is responsible for property damage for wayward balls!  Not like some courses where if you hit a house, the homeowner is expected to bear the brunt of any wayward golf  ball damage, having built a home on a golf course. That last requirement is enough to keep me off the par 3 course until I get a little better on my aim!

We played at the Mission Royale golf course in Casa Grande....We were supposed to play 18 holes of golf yesterday, but ended up playing only 15 as we skipped three holes due to pressure from golfers coming fast on our heels. For some odd reason, we each lost two balls on a course that hardly had any trees, and very little water! That's why we had people coming up behind us, waiting, and we got rattled!  Uh, I should say, I got rattled. It was my bright idea to skip a couple of holes, AND daylight was dimming quickly. By this time, we were just practicing our game as it was the first time out in weeks....But, despite losing a couple balls each, we had a lot of fun. Eldy looks good on his swing, I think!

One of the nice things about the course is, they had beautiful greens and thick green grass surrounding the greens...I just had to get down and smell it!  Ah-h-h-h-h....GRASS! Green grass, lush and sure smelled good!

We got to do something special last night....we headed to Tucson to have dinner at The Abbey. The food was what I would call American gourmet, it was good, but not outstanding......but the company was extra special! My other daughter, Kelly, flew in from Virginia for business in Tucson and wanted to meet us for dinner in Tucson. I had not been able to see her since last April as we have been on roads headed west.....we had a great time, lots of laughs and lots of hugs, it was so great to see her!....I am very proud of her!

We hope to get together again before she has to head back to Virginia later this's been a wonderful day!  Until later......

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Craft Fair at Palm Creek

There are two craft fairs here at Palm Creek in Casa in November, and one in March. Unfortunately, so many people are leaving here in a matter of a few weeks or less (snowbirds returning home and other snowbirds returning to Canada) that the buying mood did not prevail today. I guess people were trying to pack up what they do have and not too interested in buying more STUFF.....I did sell a couple of cell phone covers and got the word out about Tastefully Simple....this park is BIG on happy hours every day around 4:00, so I'll have to get here earlier next year to get some parties going....

I really enjoy learning new things from lady came by to talk and chat...she had family in the South Bend area. She is going to call me and show me how to do felted mittens and how she sells them. I thought that was really nice of her to share something that she does to make money in her spare time. Another lady told me to stop by the knitting group on Monday, and she'll show me how to make socks. (Uh-oh! ANOTHER craft idea? asks E.) Well, now I've got to use up all this sock yarn so that sounds like a great idea!

I had a great time today...I love talking to people..the lady next to me selling pottery was from South Bend, IN, too!--- my old stomping/teaching ground and so we had lots to talk about during lulls in the visitors checking us out...they moved from South Bend to Colorado, so she told me some great places to visit when we get to that state...They also talked a lot about Bryce Canyon in Utah (?)...which we really want to see this year. They now live in this area of Casa Grande in a section called Robson Ranch, a subdivision, I believe..another 55 and older community. There sure are LOTS of them in the area!

Many talented vendors today..beautiful jewelry, painters, watercolor artists, woodworkers, carvers, and knitters as well...glad I wasn't competing with the lady who had knitted hats and scarves! Not exactly sure what this woodworking gentleman was selling, I didn't get a chance to ask! I'm wondering if these are cribbage boards, maybe?

Another lady had beautiful pendants she had made from polished stones and then silver wire!
It's been a busy day today, and it's flown by so fast...heading for dinner in Tucson this evening at the Abbey...heard it's a great place!  See you later......

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More Palm Creek Offerings

It's a low key caught up on laundry today....Palm Creek gives you an empty but reloadable "credit card" that you load with money to do laundry. That's different from the usual throwing quarters in the machines and having to have a supply of them all the time! They have these credit card machines in the laundries throughout the park where you can reload the card. You throw dollars into the credit card machine to load the card instead of quarters! The laundries are spacious and easy to use with the cards and very reasonable, and the dryers actually dry your clothes! What a concept!.....After doing the laundry today, I headed to the sewing room to finish up some projects for Sunday's craft fair...the craft show is from 1:00-4:00 tomorrow. I'm putting out all my knitted stuff that I have been making ever since we got here the first week of March, a few sewn items and some Tastefully Simple stuff to see if I can get some orders for this quarter.

sectioned bowl in the process
This afternoon, I visited the Palm Creek woodshop. I love the smell of wood...who knows, I might head down there one of these days and try a project of my own! They have an AMAZING woodshop, at least I thought so..I couldn't believe all the saws, planers, lathes, tools, and a resaw bandsaw (I think that's what you call it). For 1.00 an hour, you "rent" the woodshop and all the saws and tools you can possibly imagine are at your disposal. They even furnish sandpaper and glue for you! You do have to furnish your own wood when the stock gets low. The woodshop had vacuum systems everywhere and major air filters keeping the dusty air to a minimum. Eldy needs to get down there and sign up! Let's see, I need a dip/chip bowl for my Tastefully Simple business, and maybe a quilt ruler holder, a wine bottle stopper.....etc. etc...(I get the picture, and we'll see....says E.)
slotted wooden holders for quilt rulers

Somebody is making a sectioned bowl that is just gorgeous, and somebody else is making some beautiful quilt ruler! I love the smell of wood and could have stayed for awhile to watch people work....but it's time get back and wash my car. Palm Creek even has several car washing stations!
We'll see you tomorrow at the craft show.....

Friday, March 25, 2011

Madera Canyon

View from 6,000 feet up
Yesterday we drove about two hours to get to this beautiful canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, just south of Tucson. From I-10 to I-19 S, then exit 63 Continental Rd to Whitehouse Canyon Rd. to the Madera Canyon Recreational Area. Five dollars to get in, but once again, free if you have the senior pass. The Santa Rita Mountains are part of the Coronado National Forest. There are many habitats between the desert floor and the tops of the mountains there....the variety of climates is similar to if you drove from Arizona to Canada...all in one place, here at Madera Canyon.

There are exceptional and varied hiking trails at the canyon...also three places of lodging--the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Kubo B & B, and Chuparosa Inn. During the spring and summer birding season, the area is known for its variety of hummingbirds and songbirds, over 250 species of birds. There is also a campground there called Bog Springs, but it only has 13 sites for tents or RVs and no hookups. We did not check that part out yesterday.

There is a paved loop trail with occasional benches following a creek (which had just about dried up when we were there yesterday). There are trails leading up to Mt. Wrightson where experienced hikers can climb to about 9,000 feet.

interesting footprint!
We hiked for FIVE HOURS straight yesterday...and not on purpose. Being relatively newbies, we didn't really know how long it would take us to hike these trails!..We followed the recommendation of some hikers at the beginning of a trail, who advised us to take the Old Baldy trail for 2.2 miles..they said it was shady and interesting...WELL! Shady it was, interesting, it was....level, it was NOT! It was straight up for 2.2 miles, VERY steep, never leveled out once...we climbed in elevation from  starting at 5300 feet at the bottom of the trailhead and went to 7080 feet...we were panting with exertion and had to take many rest breaks. BUT, it was worth it! The views of Tucson were incredible from those heights, and so was the view of Mt. Wrightson, (9000 ft. plus) which was always in our sights. There were a lot of hikers on the trail today..MANY of them were much older than us! That gave me inspiration to know that if they could do it, WE could do it! And it's never too late to start getting in shape to be able to do that in your seventies and eighties, right, Eldy? (Yes, dear!) It took us two and a half hours to get up the 2.2 mile trail. Then, we decided to take the Super Tail down, as the aforementioned experienced hikers said it was a little longer, but more level. HA!  A little more level, yes...what we ASSUMED would be a little easier coming down was much more rocky and pebbly than we expected. And this trail was 3.7 miles back down.....So we hiked 5.9 miles calves are screaming, my Achilles tendons are sore, but it was an exhilarating hike! The temperatures were in the low 60's at that height, so it was very very comfortable being out in the mountainside today.....

We  didn't get to see any hummingbirds at the many feeders near the inns as we drove towards the exit of the was too late and too cool in the day, I expect, but it looks to be a wonderful birding spot as well....We did see a small herd of deer running alongside the canyon road on our way out...these two stopped to look at us as we went by!
This is what full timing is all about...seeing God's due dates, no pressures to be anywhere at a certain time, see what you want to see when you want to see it...we love that we can do it now, while we are healthy. We are REALLY glad we didn't wait.....

If gas/diesel continues to climb to a ridiculous amount, we'll just stay put longer in one place...

Tomorrow, we are going to take it easy.....we've got a steak dinner dance lined up for the evening, so we'll need to take our Aleve,  hit the hot tub, and then hit the dance floor! Not necessarily in that order, Eldo! (I don't know if these tired legs can dance! says E.) I'll get him out there on the dance floor, says Sparky....see you later!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sparky's Back in School and in Class

I decided to sign up for a basket weaving class...(Now, Sparky, you know you are REALLY getting old when you sign up for basket weaving, says E.)  Hey, I use to love Longaberger baskets..collected them, sold them, and so I thought I'd like to learn how to make my own. It was an all day class, with a lunch break that was quite different from the norm. More about that later.....

The class today was for a market basket....the teacher, Nancy Johnson, was from South Bend, IN where I lived for over twenty years, and raised my girls. Her kids went through South Bend schools, and it was great to reminisce about places in South Bend while we were taught how to make a market basket. Here's the process from left to right:
My finished basket
It was a lot of fun, and not as hard as it looks! The basket still needs to be stained and ends trimmed up, but it looks pretty good, I think!  We took a break around 11:30 today, and while our small basketweaving class of five ate lunch and continued working, I headed over to Evergreen Elementary School to have lunch with some second graders.

The school wanted some seniors to come over and have lunch with kids as a reward for "caught being good" in their "I Rock" program. If the kids got a certain number of points during a certain time period, then a reward was planned. This month it was have lunch with a guest. We were treated to a free lunch, and a table set with a tablecloth, flowers, and the best little company you could have, five little second grade girls. One of the other volunteers from the Palm Creek activity office happened to get five little boys at her table.  We sat and chatted about anything and everything going on in their lives--school, home, etc. We commiserated on how the juice for the day was frozen solid. But most of the talk at my table was on sisters' hair and what color it was dyed at the moment, and what they like to do when they get out of school for the day...(hit the swimming pool). The other volunteer said that her little boys all wanted to talk about horror movies.....sterotypes start young, don't they? We really enjoyed our lunch today with the little kids...I hope I get to do it again some time....see you later.....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, Arizona

This is a fantastic place to get your hiking feet "wet" so to speak, in the desert. This gem of a nature spot is an oasis, (really!) in the Sonoran Desert. Sabino Canyon is located within the Coronado National Forest. It is a canyon with steep rock cliffs and foothills covered with unique desert vegetation and is next to something called a riparian corridor... which is a fancy way of saying a watery ecosystem exists nearby. You can walk, jog, hike several different trails that are not difficult, ride a tram up quite a ways and get some very interesting information about the canyon, study wildlife, and take fantastic photos while you are there. The C.C.C. workers built 3.8 miles of bridges and road up into the Santa Catalina Mountains in the 1930's. The roads are still used today but for hikers, walkers and the trams only. The canyon is about an hour and fifteen minutes from Casa Grande, and is located 30 minutes outside Tucson, AZ. There is a 5.00 entrance fee, but if you have the senior pass, it's free. It was 8.00 for each of us to ride the tram partway up the mountain. You can get off the tram at designated stops on the way up or down, and get back on again if you like. We rode to the end of the line, then started off on a trail that went beyond the "easy" hike. We hiked at least a couple of miles before turning around and coming back down. At one of the stops there was a little sandy place almost like a beach where you could wade in the waters and cool your hot little tootsies off! I was dying to see if the water was cold, but I didn't hop off the tram and kept riding.....

We had an excellent guide by the name of Bill O'Driscoll who told us lots of interesting things about the canyon. We learned that the green trees that are totally green, bark and all, are called palo verde trees. I've seen those lining the streets of Casa Grande and thought they were very interesting looking! He told us the saguaro (suh-war-o) cactus grows only an inch a YEAR in dry climates. So when you are looking at the tall cacti growing in the desert, you are looking at cacti over 100 years old! The first flowers don't come out on them until they are between 36 and 69 years old, depending on how much moisture they get.  The first branch or "arm" of this type of cactus doesn't show up until they are about 55-100 years old! Talk about a "late bloomer"! I don't feel so bad now......

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We saw a roadrunner again in the parking lot! He (or she) apparently hangs out around the area....

It was a great trip to the canyon today..we got a late start this morning so by the time we finished checking everything out, it was about a three hour trip to get there, explore, and head on home back to Casa Grande. It was really worth it and the views were just amazing in this oasis in the desert. We could have easily spent lots more time hiking and exploring the canyon...maybe we will on another day.....see you in school tomorrow!  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

On the way back from driving through the Tonto National Forest on highway 60, milepost 223, we stopped off at the Boye Thompson Arboretum State Park which is located near the Superstition Mountain range...I know that "arbor" has to do with trees, so I knew this must be a special place for desert plants before ever stepping foot in the place. It sure was! We happened to hit on a Sunday where they were selling all kinds of cactus plants and desert plants so the park was packed! There was a 7.50 admission fee per person, but alas, no senior rate...they are open from September thru April from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There are LOTS of weekly walks, special events, photo classes, bird walks, edible and medicinal desert plant talks, all kinds of interesting things. How about a "Gourd Art Class"? Or a "dog socialization walk"? There's even a "Plants of the Bible Guided Walk" and sometimes live music!...But we just went exploring on our own today.

The park has several walking trails that have wide paths thru designated types of deserts and forests such as a eucalyptus forest. There was an Australian "walkabout" area that had interesting carvings, and a stone maze. There were statues in the park that were beautiful artwork. There were fountains and plenty of resting places to sit and enjoy the beauty all around. It was very informative as most of the plantings had the botanical names in front of them so you could learn more about these desert plants. The cacti are about ready to bloom. I had no idea the blooms were so beautiful coming out of these prickly cactus! All the cactus are shooting up either tall stalks with blooms on the ends of them, or budding at the tips like the prickly pear cactus.
concentric ripples on this circular fountain

The park also had beautiful stone tiles marking different sections of the gardens.

AND, they had a hummingbird garden that attracted some of the prettiest hummingbirds I have seen...There was also one particular flowering tree/bush that had some beautiful butterflies swarming all over it. It was a mesclun tree. I guess the berries are extremely poisonous if you were to chew them, as in you'd be DEAD.
Butterfly on a mesclun tree/bush
I'm really learning a lot about the desert climate while we are here in Arizona...the Sonoran Desert climate, to be exact. It's an interesting temperature variation that's pretty consistent here every day. The temperatures start very cool in the morning (from the desert cool down the night before), and then it keeps warming up all day gets hotter and hotter as the afternoon continues on. Then around about five o'clock, a breeze usually starts up and the temperatures drop very quickly. By sunset, temperatures are down to between the 60's and 70's....very pleasant! However, we had a cold front pass through today, and with the rain came cooler temperatures--fifties this afternoon! (Sparky is enjoying the cool down from the nineties a couple of days ago!) Eldy keeps threatening to take me to the mountains so I can get my snow fix, but I'm ok with this cool down for now....We'll see what the weather brings the rest of this week.....   Bye for now.....

The World's Smallest Museum

It was a beautiful day and we decided to go for a drive through the Tonto National Forest east of the town of Superior, AZ on scenic highway 60. This area is part of the heart of Arizona's copper belt. Arizona is the top copper producer in the nation. But first we stopped off at the mining town of Superior to see the "World's Smallest Museum".

This little building houses 134 square feet of offbeat displays in glass cases, tracing everything from rock and roll history to local mining. The building's roof is made of empty beer cans! Outside, there is some recycled working metal parts from mining operations that have been recycled into fountains and a little mini waterfall. There's even a street intersection sign to the side of the museum proclaiming you are standing at the junction of "Waterfall Avenue" and "?????",  I can't remember the name.

They had a Compaq computer in there from the '60's that had a whopping 10 megs of storage space. Another exhibit was a mimeograph machine. That took me back instantly to my first years of teaching, even a flashback of memory to what the mimeograph purple chemical fluid smelled like. I remember it took me hours of making my own worksheets on special paper for the students. You wrote on the front sheet, writing HARD so it would transfer to the copying part of the paper, then you peeled off the back layer and clamped the paper into the machine. Then you cranked the handle and ran your worksheets. I  always had purple ink on my hands after making those. I don''t remember workbooks with ready made worksheets until the early '80's, but maybe that's because I couldn't have afforded to buy them in my first few years of teaching in the early 70's.  When I first started teaching, I was in a three room schoolhouse in Jeffersonville, IN, and the entire little building was for special education students. I didn't have to start in a basement, but that was almost as bad, putting the kids into their own building away from other children! But I digress.....
Artwork on the outside--horseshoe flowers
After touring, er, walking through the little single- aisle museum covering the front door to the back exit in about ten steps, we headed back outside to see some of the little exhibits on the "grounds" of the museum.
Interesting waterfall! Tribute to the working man, perhaps? I remember...the intersection sign said, "Waterfall Lane" and "Memory Lane"...good one, Sparky! Until tomorrow......