Dreamy Draw Trail Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Brittlebush

Brittlebush

The gentle grade Dreamy Draw Trail #220 loops below Piestewa Peak in a Phoenix Mountains Preserve. This pleasant 1.5 mile trek through upturned schist ranged in elevation from 1,380 feet to 1,580 feet. The wildflowers provided bursts of color just in time for Easter. Yellow creosote bushes lined the trail interspersed with the bright yellow flowers of brittlebush. Low lying beds of gold poppies were prominent in a few places, too. The purple colored flowers of lupine and blue dicks contrasted with all the yellows. A close examination also showed a bed of white cream cups. The magenta colored hedgehog cactus blooms made a fashion statement among the Sonoran desert vegetation. Our hike sometimes intersected with the Perl Charles Memorial Trail #1A and the Charles M. Christiansen Memorial Trail #100. Another great Phoenix area hike.

While shopping in the Biltmore Fashion Park, we stopped for lunch at Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill . Dining alfresco, a chicken chopped salad and evil jungle princess shrimp tasted delicious.

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Wagner, Granite, & Bluff Trails Monday, Mar 25 2013 

Wildflowers Adorn 4 Peaks

Wildflowers Adorn View of Four Peaks

Yesterday we drove to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park four miles north of Fountain Hills for a hike. We started on the 1.1 mile Wagner Trail that connected with the 3.5 mile Granite Trail and looped back on the 2.2 mile Bluff Trail. These trails are on a gentle grade with little shade. Although surrounded by mountains, the Four Peaks to the east captured my attention. Wildflowers delighted the eye. Mexican gold poppies created a bold yellow foreground. Arizona lupine provided colorful spikes of purple but were harder for the camera to capture. Owl’s clover, with a distinctive magenta color, was a special treat. In a wash there were flashes of bright red from Arizona scarlet-bugler. Some areas were covered with yellow Menzies’ fiddlestick. There were also patches of orange globe mallow, yellow brittle bush and creosote, and a few fairy dusters. There were also large beds of tiny yellow daisy-like flowers and in some places tiny white daisy-like flowers. Spring hiking in Arizona is colorful!

Moon Over Fountain Hills

Moon Over Fountain Hills

We stopped in Fountain Hills for something to eat. The All American Sports Grill offered alfresco dining. We enjoyed a view of Fountain Park and Lake with a backdrop of the Goldfield Mountains and Superstition Mountains. On the hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. a 330 foot high fountain explodes from the center of the 33-acre, million gallon man-made lake. This unique tourist attraction first blew on December 15, 1970. We could see it at 5 p.m. when we were driving toward Fountain Hills. We observed it again at 6 p.m. while dining. After eating we walked down to the lake for the 7 p.m. show, back-lit by the moon. The park also has an 18-hole disc golf course. Another great day in Arizona!

Paul Jacobs & the Phoenix Symphony Sunday, Mar 24 2013 

Organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs wowed Phoenix concert goers last night by soloing in two pieces followed by two dazzling encores. Peggy and Jerry Schuld commissioned composer Stephen Paulus to write Organ Concerto No. 4. “Robust,” the first movement, begins with thunderous percussion. The lyrical second movement, “Soaring,” evoked an airy feel. “Whirling, with Agitation,” continued to bring out interesting sounds from both orchestra and organ. Our seats allowed us to intimately observe Jacobs as he used all four limbs. Interestingly, conductor Michael Christie started the program with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D minor as orchestrated by Stokowski and deftly used in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Thus, it was only appropriate that Paul Jacobs’ selected Bach fugues for his encores. During the intermission Christie brought Jacobs out to answer questions about the organ rented for this performance. He diplomatically avoided indicating his favorite organ or his favorite piece of music. After the intermission Jacobs soloed in Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 78. Micahael Christie’s interview by Ed Masley quoted in the Arizona Republic (3/17/2013 p AE5) stated that Saint-Saëns “crafted the piece in a way that orchestra can sound like an organ in certain places and the organ can sound like an orchestra…” Another terrific evening of music with the Phoenix Symphony!

Eliot Ramada Loop Trail Sunday, Mar 17 2013 

Papago Park

Papago Park

The Eliot Ramada Loop Trail is one of several trails in Papago Park. The flat 2.7 mile trail circles the Papago Golf Course. This golf course designed by William Bell, best known for Torrey Pines, opened in 1963 and was redesigned in 1977 by Jack Snyder. During World War II Camp Papago was a German prisoner of war facility with 5 compounds, 4 for enlisted men and 1 for officers. In December 1944, 25 prisoners escaped only to learn that there was no water in the river on their map. In addition to the municipal golf course, the nearby Phoenix Municipal Stadium, home of the Oakland A’s, hosted a game with the Los Angels Angels. The Phoenix Zoo is east of Papago Park. The Desert Botanical Garden shares space north of the zoo. The Chihuly “Desert Towers” distinguishes the entrance to the Garden. This weekend they are holding their popular Plant Sale Festival which offers trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, cacti, and agaves for sale. A saguaro, however, costs $1,000.

Kartchner Caverns & Foothills Loop Trail Saturday, Mar 16 2013 

Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns State Park is located near Benson, Arizona, 50 miles southeast of Tucson. There are two separate tours. On this trip we visited the Rotunda and Throne Room, walking a half-mile in one-and-a-half hours through 99% humidity. The large curved roof of the Rotunda overlooks a massive mud pit where the discovers’, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, original trail is evident. The world’s longest (21 feet, 2 inches) soda straw is found here. Sorry, no cameras are allowed in the caverns. The original entrance, a narrow crack, has been preserved. Now there are two entrances with air-lock doors and misting machines. The discovers kept the site a secret for several years before approaching the land owners, the Kartchner family. They then secretly lobbied the state to develop this treasure as a state park. Would today’s governor and legislature make the equivalent $28 million investment? The Throne Room features a 58 foot high column called Kubla Khan. Three rows of seats allowed us to meditate in this space with soft music and lights changing to highlight different formations. Within the space of two days we explored outer space through a telescope and contemplated the treasures of planet Earth inside a cave.

The 2.5 mile Foothills Loop Trail, located outside the Visitor’s Center, starts at an elevation of 4,625 feet and gains about 453 feet. The Chihuahuan Desert terrain follows a wash between the Whetstone Block and the San Pedro Block and circles the limestone hill north of the cave. While I did not take the 1/3 mile side trip for a hilltop overview, I did examine the bedrock mortar used by Native Americans who lived in this area. Arizona offers unique experiences.

SkyNights StarGazing Friday, Mar 15 2013 

Alan Strauss, tour leader

Alan Strauss, tour leader

The University of Arizona’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter offers an exceptional program to explore astronomical wonders. We attended the Wednesday evening program that met at 3:50 p.m. at the gate near the Iron Door Restaurant parking lot. Program director Alan Strauss gathered the 21 participants, including 3 younger than 18, in a bus where we filled out and signed a liability waiver. He then drove us atop Mt. Lemmon, an elevation of 9,157 feet, where a complex of observatories and associated buildings are located. During the Cold War, the Air Force maintained a close watch on activity that might be directed against the U.S. from Mexico or west of California. South Koreans have one of the observatories. The University of Minnesota also has one. The University of Arizona uses another to find asteroids. We learned about the Schulman Telescope, a 32 inch Ritchey-Chrètien telescope that was was dedicated by the Schulman Foundation in August 2010, by oberserving the sun and a sat as seen during daylight. We then headed to an administrative building for a light dinner and program featuring the work of astrophotographer Adam Block such as Orion Nebula time lapse image. We were issued 7×50 binoculars and an infrared flashlight. On the western side of the campus we observed the “green flash” as the sun set and successfully found the Pan-STARRS comet under the crescent moon in the twilight sky. We were warned to wear ski clothing and gloves for the cold temperatures. The observatory is not heated in order to avoid affecting the glass used in viewing. Each participant viewed about a dozen different objects, including a red star, a binary star system, M42 from the Orion Nebula, NGC 2392 in the constellation Gemini known as the Eskimo, and Jupiter, the largest planet. The program concluded about 9:30 P.M. The SkyCenter offers an out-of-this-world experience!

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