To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here. I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tucson Camping


My last day at Gilbert Ray campground
I was really sad to leave Gilbert Ray County Park Campground. It is the nicest campground in the area, in my opinion, and I would have stayed there to sketch for the entire time given a choice. 

But since there was no choice, I headed across Tucson to Catalina State Park campground on the east side.  Now, if you don't mind flat and urban, this is a fine campground, and it is right up against the Catalina Mountains, which boast wonderful hiking trails. Additionally, an adjacent nature trail which heads sharply uphill from the trailhead cluster just up the road is an excellent place to sketch and see nature. But the camp itself is a little more populated than I like.   

Eye-level canyon wren nest in a cholla
One of the attractions on that trail is a cholla cactus right beside the trail with a cactus wren nest in it.  That wren must be one of the bravest birds alive, since the nest looks out directly on the trail an arm's length away, at human eye level.  That would alarm ME!
A madrone tree at my house.
The Sonoran Desert has some pretty nifty trees, one of which reminds me of my bare-naked madrone trees at home with their cinnamon-orange skin. Here's a sketch of one madrone's trunk from my last summer Sit Spot sessions.  The desert look-alike is actually green, and its Spanish name, palo verde, reflects that, meaning "green stick."
Palo verde trunk
The skin is a lovely shade of chartreuse, and wrinkles and folds just like human skin, just as the madrone skin does. Other than that, though, they don't have much in common, because the palo verde tree has spike branches and twigs with miniature leaves, some no larger than 1/8" (see image).  
Palo verde twigs
Even though it's winter, many of the palo verdes still retained their tiny leaves. 

My spot at Colossal Cave campground

The next night I tried out the Colossal Caves campground, which is REALLY wild. You have to repeatedly cross washes to get to some of the campsites, but they do have water and restrooms. I was the only one in my campground most of the time. 
The next day while exploring around the campground I discovered two saguaros cuddling other plants ~ a small soaptree like the ones by my chair here, and a little prickly pear cactus. While I was sketching the one with the prickly pear, two mule deer approached within twenty feet of me before one saw me.  
Stalactites at Colossal Cave
Here's a sketch of the doe. She knew SOMEbody was there but couldn't spot me.

Since I was so close, I visited Colossal Cave. I was quite pleased with the tour. There are miles and miles of tunnels not offered on the regular tour, but the ones you do see have some interesting features.  
It was pretty cold staying down in the creek bottoms, though, so I opted for a nice night in a motel to get warmed up, have a good night's sleep, and a bath.  Since it was so cold at night that I had been sleeping in all my clothes, it was also quite nice to get "refreshed" as well.  
Hohokam mortar,  inset is from above.
Hohokam mortar and side-view
I  stayed overnight at Catalina State Park again so I could sketch on the nature trail some more and I was really glad I did, because I spotted some amazing Hohokam mortars, holes drilled into huge flat boulders where the Native American women once ground seeds, grains, and other foodstuffs.  I sat where they would have sat and sketched a mortar hole which had been worn into a deep V by generations of patient women. It was humbling.  
Javelina diggings at a kangaroo rat mound.
I couldn't identify these.

I saw a lot of neat tracks during my two weeks visit, from dainty ground-squirrel tracks to cougar pug marks (the cougar track was confirmed by a ranger), and I found a great "track tale" written on what had been a kangaroo rat mound by digging javelinas. I devoted a whole page to that in my sketchbook.
 
My catfood can camp stove.
I had been using my little catfood can camp stove nearly every day to make coffee and heat dinners, and Idiscovered that it made a wonderful ice-breaker of the conversation sort. I showed it to a number of other campers who thought its portability and simplicity were pretty cool. I met a lovely lady, Mimi, over that little camp stove.
Monument Wash, Saguaro Nat. Pk.
Saguaro National Park (East) lies adjacent to Catalina State Park, and I spent an afternoon hiking up Monument Wash then returning on the Loma Verde trail, sketching a verdin nest and seedpods along the way.  

I had been keeping track of the weather on the cell phone Dan had lent me. When the weather app forecast snow for my final night, I chickened out and opted for a motel again.  Mimi helped me jam my two extra blankets into my suitcase, and I gave away my camp chair and everything else I couldn't squeeze in, then tidied up the Jeep to remove the traces of my two-week residency. Then it was over: rental car returned, plane caught and flown, my car retrieved at the home airport and driven home.   

Sunset in the saguaros.
In retrospect, I will, in the future, either go to the warm tropics for a winter break, or I will go even further, to bask in summer in the southern hemisphere ~ some place where the days are longer than the nights, anyway.  That is my pledge to myself.  Hope I'm smart enough to remember that! But I'd love to go back to Saguaro country in the spring. It must be absolutely heavenly when the cactus blooms and the ocotillos burst out in red flowers [I apologize for the hackneyed sunset picture. But you have to admit, it IS pretty striking, isn't it?]

6 comments:

Dorothy said...

Hi Irene, I love your blog, this one especially. You are a brave lady going out camping by yourself, I don't think I'd have the courage to do this alone. But I am grateful you did, as I loved reading about the trees and cactus and seeing your sketches! One question, how does that catfood can camp stove work? I'd love to know. Thanks!!!
Dorothy

Anonymous said...

Hi, Irene,
I've somehow lost your email address, but still have the body of the email, which had a link to your blog. I wanted to mail you a pic of the treadle machine, back in operation! :-)
Thank you again!
--Shawnna.
mbkt@hushmail.com

Lois said...

I love your journaling comments on your travels....you're a great journal mentor. Thanks so much for sharing.

Irene said...

Lois, you are so welcome, and I feel honored that you see me as a journal mentor ~ that is what I had hoped for with these blog entries. Thanks!

Joan said...

My, my! What an interesting trip to the Tucson area. I had no idea the lower Sonoran desert got so cold in winter. The high desert (Mojave) were I live gets frigid weather in winter, much to the surprise of the tourists who come here to visit by the zillions.

I have been birding in Tucson area in Spring...you must go back, it's just spectacular.

I'm intrigued by your Cat Can Camp Stove: Please tell how you made it and how it works! What fuel is used?

Joan

Irene Brady said...

Hi Joan,
The camp stove is a snap. Use an aluminum catfood can (empty ;^) and with a hand-held paper punch, punch out about 12- 16 holes fairly evenly spaced around the perimeter, about a half inch down from the edge and you're done. Pour in about half an inch of denatured alcohol, light it and let it heat for about 20 seconds, and put your pot on the top to cook.

This is a pretty good video: although I recommend using the tuna-can-sized catfood can, since it makes a larger base to set your pot on. I also prefer using a long-nose lighter rather than a match cuz I don't like singed knuckle hairs. But you could light a long stick and use that to light it in an emergency.

As for birding Tucson in the spring, that's definitely on my Bucket List. Maybe Mouse and I will come down to do it!

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