A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Author Appearance and Travelogue

I'm doing a free interactive presentation about my experiences living and traveling abroad.  It's next Thursday, March 15, 2018 , at 6:30 pm at Velma Teague Library in Glendale (59th Ave and Glendale--7010 N 58th Ave, Glendale, AZ  85301)

If you're in the area, you can...
-Learn about how to teach ESL in a foreign country
-Hear funny travel stories
-See interesting pictures
-Answer fun cultural quiz questions
-Possibly win one of my books

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sonoran Desert Birds

The other day at the fantastic Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, we had some lovely bird encounters. 

Gambel's quail in a tree:

I usually see them on the ground, so it was a treat to see this lookout in the tree. 

I think Gambel's quail are so beautiful.  And sooo cute when you see a whole chain of them following behind their mama. 

And here again is the beautiful hummingbird I posted the other day.  The ones we usually see around our yard are not so flamboyant and have no purple bib, so this one was especially striking:

And...bird in a sahuaro "apartment!"

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sunset in the Desert

Sunset at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, on the north edge of the city:

It's one of my new favorite sunset spots.  You'll often see hot hair balloons in the distance and the views are good, with the sun setting behind lovely mountains and sahuaro silhouettes.   Plus...the scorpion hunting is good after sunset.  Just take a black (UV) light.  As my Czech friends exclaimed, "This is good sport!  It's better than geo-caching!  Better than mushroom hunting!" 

If you go:

Park at the Apache Vista Trailhead in the north section of the park (1600 E. Sonoran Desert Drive).

The trail is a short loop made of the Ocotillo, Apache Wash, and Sidewinder trails with an uphill section that leads to Apache Vista.  The 360-degree views are worth the modest climb.

Loop length:  2.8 miles
Elevation gain:  Appx 500 ft 

Many other longer trails and combinations await from the same trailhead.

Take a black light after dark, especially in spring, fall, and summer, and you'll find plenty of these:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hummingbird at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Another beautiful day at the Desert Botanical Garden with amazing hummingbirds.  This is the only one who sat still long enough for a good photo op. 

If you live in Phoenix and have never been to the Botanical Garden, go to your library, get a culture pass (good for two free admissions) and GO!  It's awesome.  If you're visiting for more than a few days, you can get a library card too and get your own culture pass!

Here's the link: https://www.dbg.org/

And the amazing butterfly exhibit starts next week!!!  It usually goes from about the end of February to the beginning of May.   

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Great Chuckwalla Safari

My friend Nikki and I went on a chuckwalla safari a couple of weeks ago at Camelback Mountain.  I'd only seen one in the wild before, and she hadn't seen any, so we were on the lookout:

The common chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) is a very large lizard.  Some people call them desert iguanas. They're the second-largest lizard in the US (first is the gila monster, also found in Arizona, but much rarer). Chuckwallas are non-venomous and harmless.  They have flabby skin, especially around their necks, and many adult males sport some orange coloring, leading people to occasionally mistake them for Gila monsters. 

Chuckwallas are not always so active in the cooler months, so we weren't sure we'd have success.  It was a beautiful day, however, with bright sun and short-sleeve temperatures.  On the way to the summit, much of the trail was in shade, and we had no success. 

But just below the summit, on the way down the other side of the mountain, an uphill hiker spotted this little beauty:

Then, a little lower down, Nikki spotted this one on the next ridge.  Awesome!

SoonI want to go on a South Mountain chuckwalla safari.  There's a special variation there--and only there--where the chuckwallas have bright orange tails.

We took great pleasure in pointing our our chuckwallas to other hikers, many of whom had never heard of them.  A great day for a new experience!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain is THE city mountain to climb in the Phoenix area.  It's the tallest, maybe the toughest, the most iconic.  And the most crowded.  I tend to avoid these bumper-to-bumper "Disneyland trails."  Parking has always sounded like a hassle too, so I never got around to it

Bad move.  Because, despite being a Disneyland trail, it was so worth it.  The trail was...    

Beautiful:  big, dramatic red cliffs of rock above you, great views.

Fun:  clambering over rocks, pulling yourself up with handrails, choosing the best path.

Good exercise:  elevation gain of over 1200 ft in 1.2 miles. 

Perfect for a chuckwalla safari:  we found two of these big lizards, even in January.

If you go:

Do NOT go in the summer, unless you're used to hiking in such temperatures.  Even then, hike early, use extreme caution, pay attention to your body's warning signals, and don't try to be macho.  Every summer people have to be evacuated off the mountain.  Many summers we have at least one fatality.  Though many of these fatalities are from falls, I have to think many wouldn't have fallen if they hadn't been fatigued, light-headed, dizzy, disoriented, etc. from the effects of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Heat kills more than cold, especially since people don't respect it enough.    

Take some snacks and plenty of water.  Do not underestimate the amount of water you'll need, especially if it's hot.  For a hike this short (but strenuous), you'll still want at very minimum 1.5 quarts/liters of water.  Take more if you plan to spend a long time on the trail, if it's very hot, or if you're not used to this type of hiking.  Turn back once you've used half your water.  

Put everything in a backpack so you have two free hands.  You'll want them on some sections.

Also consider a shade hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.  The sun's pretty unforgiving, even in winter.    

As for parking, here's what we did:  We arrived at the Echo Canyon Trailhead at about 10:15 on a Thursday in January with beautiful weather.  There was plenty of parking.  Perhaps it was a fluke, but it worked fine.  Try to avoid weekends if possible.  We hiked up the Echo Canyon Trail, down the Cholla Trail on the other side, and then took Lyft back to the trailhead.  It went really smoothly.

Have fun and be safe!