Arizona: Life in the Desert

White Winged Dove on Saguaro Flowers

Cluster of Saguaro Flowers

Young Saguaro (100 years old)

Multiple Saguaro Arms

Mature Saguaro (200 years old)

Barrel Cactus Group

Barrel Cactus Flower Smile

Purple Prickly Pear Pad

Reg Manning – Cartoon Cactus Postcard

Reg Manning – Cartoon Elf Owl Nest in Saguaro

Horny Toad on Opuntia Cactus Pad

Desert Spiny Lizard

Sonoran Gopher Snake

Javelina (Peccary) and Twin Piglets

Round Tailed Ground Squirrel

Male Gambel’s Quail

Anna’s Hummingbird on Nest

Desert Pollinators Sign

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on Red Salvia

White Datura Flower (Moon Lily)

Cercidium Desert Museum Palo Verde Tree

Giant Easter Lily (Red Cactus Flowers)

The abundance of life in the Arizona desert is amazing!  If you look closely, you will see all kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and plants.  

The cacti in Arizona are especially fascinating.  Barrel cactus act like a compass and usually lean south.  Saguaros come in endless shapes and sizes.  They grow their first arm when they reach 75‑100 years old, and don’t reach full size until the age of 200!  They are 98% water and can survive 4 years without a drink.  Bats pollinate the flowers at night, and hummingbirds visit the flowers during the day.  Sometimes little elf owls and woodpeckers nest inside the cactus – it keeps them nice and cool.  Saguaros are so unique and full of character that a funny cartoon book was written about them by Reg Manning: “What Kinda Cactus Izzat?”.

Although the desert may seem somewhat barren during the dry season, flowers can appear quickly after a rain.  The desert is most beautiful at that time!  We are already planning another visit!

Arizona: Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert Overlook

Teepees Rock Formation at Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa Badlands Trail

Photography from Crystal Forest Trail

Petrified Wood Bark and Knot Hole

Sectioned Petrified Logs in Landscape

Sign Describing Who Cut the Wood (no one)

Colorful Petrified Wood

Postcard: Origin of Colors in Petrified Wood

Sign Describing Time to Petrify Wood

Painted Desert Inn

Inn’s Glass Skylight Ceiling with Pottery Designs

Famous Mountain Lion Petroglyph

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs

Petrified Forest Visitor Center by Architect Neutra

Rock Shop Outside Park

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has one of the best concentrations of petrified wood in the world!  One of the largest logs (Old Faithful) is 35 feet long, 10 feet wide, and weighs 44 tons! 

The trees (mostly conifers) were buried in mud during the late Triassic Period 225 million years ago.  The mud contained volcanic ash.  Silica in the ash was absorbed by the wood and crystallized into quartz over time.  This happened through a process called permineralization – the minerals do not actually replace all the organic material, but instead take on the shape of the cells.  Some petrified wood is so perfectly preserved that you can see individual tree rings, bark, and even knot holes!  Color results from minerals in the ash. In general, iron oxides produce red, yellow, orange, and purple; manganese oxide produces black; and pure quartz produces white.  Since petrified wood is so brittle and splits easily, it looks like someone took a chainsaw and cut up logs across the landscape.

A portion of the Painted Desert is contained within the park – scenic badlands with rocks of every color and hue (blue, lavender, red, and pink).  Vivid layered deposits of clay and sandstone make the scenery particularly dramatic.  You can hike through this landscape at Blue Mesa Badlands Trail.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center (at the entrance to the park off I-40) opened in 1963 and was designed by architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander.  Large windows let the sun in and high walls keep the wind out.  Neutra is famous for his midcentury modern buildings in Palm Springs and Los Angeles.  Nearby, the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark showcases a variety of historic artifacts.  The Rainbow Forest Complex at the south entrance contains the Rainbow Forest Museum, Visitor Center, Bookstore, Gift Shop, and access to the Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House Trails. 

In June 2018 Petrified Forest National Park was designated an official International Dark Sky Park, which means it is one of the top places in the world for star gazing!  If you would like to enjoy the park’s night sky programming or other park activities, more info is at:  https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/index.htm

A kid’s guide to Petrified Forest National Park is at: https://www.nps.gov/pefo/upload/YoungerStudent2006.pdf

Remember, if you want your own piece of petrified wood, please don’t take it from the park.  There are plenty of rock shops outside the park with an amazing selection for your collection.

Florida: Rare Atala Butterfly Sighting

Atala Butterfly on Coontie

Atala Butterfly after Emerging from Cocoon

The Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct in Florida until a small colony was discovered in Miami in 1979.  This beautiful iridescent butterfly was protected and expanded its range over time.  We saw this rare butterfly for the first time in Sebastian a couple of weeks ago.  The Atala’s only native host for its eggs is the coontie – a small palm-like cycad.  If you live in Florida and want to do your part to help the Atala hairstreak butterfly, plant a few low-maintenance coonties in your yard.  The butterflies will travel miles to find these host plants by smell!  Locally, Busy Bee Nursery in Vero Beach sells coonties and regularly holds butterfly gardening seminars:  http://archive.tcpalm.com/specialty-publications/vero-beach/careful-gardener-uncovers-rare-butterfly-species-in-indian-river-county-ep-1233688624-340516281.html

Arizona: Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater Overview

Visitor Lookout Platform

Meteor Crater Panorama

Shaded Seating

Blasted Rock

Moon Mountain Telescope to View Crater

Apollo Test Capsule

Meteor Crater T-Shirt

Meteor Crater is the “World’s Best Preserved and First Proven” meteor crater on Earth.  It is nearly 1 mile across and 550 feet deep.  About 50,000 years ago an asteroid raced through the atmosphere at 26,000 miles per hour and slammed into the Earth with the force of 20 million tons of TNT.  The iron-nickel meteor is estimated to have weighed several hundred thousand tons and measured 150 feet in diameter.  Since no large core has ever been found at the base of the crater, scientists think the meteor was blasted to bits by the impact.  Since the landscape is so moon-like, NASA trained Apollo astronauts at the site in the 1960s and 1970s, and it continues to be a field trip for astronauts today.

If you would like to visit and see the crater from an overlook, it is an easy stop on your way off I-40 between Petrified Forest National Park and Winslow/Flagstaff, Arizona.  More info is at:  http://meteorcrater.com/

Florida: Spectacular Solar Probe Launch!

Launch of Parker Solar Probe (click to enlarge)

Image of Sun Taken with Solar Filter

We had a beautiful launch of NASA’s new Parker Solar Probe last night.  Only a few hardy souls managed to be up watching at 3:31 am for the second night in a row (first night was scrubbed).  Nevertheless it was spectacular!  The night was very humid with heavy water vapor in the air.  Can’t wait to see what discoveries will be made about the sun!  As a bonus, I saw a Perseid meteor streak by below the arc of the launch.  Wow!  Read about the solar probe at:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-ula-launch-parker-solar-probe-on-historic-journey-to-touch-sun

Arizona: Monument Valley

Spectacular Sunrise over the Left and Right Mitten Buttes

Classic Monument Valley View

Rider on Horse at John Ford’s Lookout Point

Director John Ford’s Movies Filmed Here

Three Sisters Spires

Big Hogan Rock Formation

The Thumb Stands Out

Tree Silhouette at Moccasin Arch

Antelope Petroglyphs

Milky Way and Meteor

Sunrise on Another Beautiful Day at Monument Valley

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a very scenic location in Utah.  It was a place we visited years ago on our first vacation together with our very first camera, and we’ve never forgotten it.  We returned to see it again last April and it was even better the second time around.  Many classic westerns were filmed in the area including John Wayne in The Searchers, plus also Stagecoach, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump, The Wind Talkers, and Winged Migration among others.  We took a Navajo guided tour by Phillips Photography to see the park and also to photograph the Milky Way and sunrise.  Can’t wait to go back!

We filmed the short timelapse movie below at sunset from our room at “The View” Hotel.

Arizona: Ancient Canyon de Chelly

Canyon View

White House Ruins

Side of Red Clay Pot showing Hogan

Side of Red Clay Pot showing Kokopelli

Description of Red Clay Pot by Navajo Artist Darlene Sam (click to enlarge)

Book “When Clay Sings”

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the nation and is still home to about 40 Navajo families.  The ancient “White House” ruins in the canyon were built around 1070 AD and abandoned in the 1300s.   Info about the park is at:  https://www.nps.gov/cach/index.htm

We purchased a red clay pot there by an elderly Navajo artist named Darlene Sam.  The images on the pot tell her family’s history in the canyon.  You can see her home on one side of the pot, and on the other side are symbols for water, Kokopelli (flute player – symbol of fertility and joy), and a circle of life.  The colors on the pot represent white for the canyon’s walls, green for the trees, black for the small plants, and blue for the sky. A description of the pot says the following:

“Our Navajo Culture makes us who we are and creates the identities that give us meaning and purpose in our lives. Our grandparents teach us about hope. They also give us the strength to have faith when we are faced with troubles that make our lives difficult. Our culture shows us how to love and care through respect for others, our surroundings and ourselves.”  –  Nice words to live by.

An award-winning children’s book “When Clay Sings” by Byrd Baylor is a favorite of ours.  The beautifully illustrated book says that in the Southwest: “Every piece of clay is a piece of someone’s life.  It has its own small voice and sings in its own way.  Even now the wind sometimes finds one of those songs still in the clay and lifts it out and carries it down the canyon and across the hills.  It is a small sound and always far away, but they say sometimes they hear it.”

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