Grand Canyon – Rim to Rim – May 26 – 29, 2017

What a wonderful way to spend the Memorial Day weekend. I hiked from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim with my college friends Dan and Natalie along with a family member and friend of Dan and Natalie, Mike and Eric. We started with a 4 and 1/2 hour shuttle drive that took us from the South Rim up through Navajo Indian Reservation and Kaibab National Forest land to the Kaibab Trailhead at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Hiking through the Grand Canyon

We camped at Cottonwood (campground) CG on the first night and Indian Garden CG the second night. We had perfect sleeping weather and we stayed at campsite number 2 at Cottonwood CG, which was the same site we stayed at in 2015. I was looking forward to using the outhouse at Cottonwood CG but they no longer had the 3-sided structure where you had a perfect view of Bright Angel Creek as you sat on the toilet; they now had more modern Phoenix composting toilets.

One thing I looked forward to on this trip was the opportunity to eat the freeze-dried backpacker dinner meals, I remembered them being very tasty the last time I went backpacking. This time I had a pretty good Backpacker’s Pantry, chana masala on the first night and an excellent Good to Go pad thai the second night; the chana masala was a bit crunchy but did have good flavor.

Natalie let me borrow her backpacking pack and it  was the heaviest pack of the groups weighing in at 35.7 pounds when all packed with water and supplies. Other packs ranged from about 25-31 pounds.

On the first day we hiked from the North Kaibab trailhead (TH) at the North Rim to Cottonwood CG which was 6.8 miles long and went from 8,240 ft. to 4,000ft elevation. On the second day we hiked from Cottonwood CG to Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River and up to Indian Garden CG. It was around 7.8 miles to the Colorado River and the elevation at the river was 2,450 ft. After making record time getting to the river we took a respite near the Silver Bridge and continued our trek to Indian Garden. This leg of the hike was around 4.2 miles and increased about 1,310  feet. After setting up camp we took a walk to Plateau Point, a very scenic lookout near Indian Garden CG. We finished our adventure on the third day when we hiked around 4.8 miles to the Bright Angel TH at the South Rim with an elevation of 6,970 ft.

Silver Bridge at the Colorado River

Some other highlights of the the trip included playing O-Hell at night; being able to sleep, almost cowboy style with nothing much more than my sleeping bag, camp pillow, light blanket and rain-fly off of my tent which made for a wonderful view of the stars without having to worry about critters; perfect temperatures; having my friends coin the name “Chips” for me because I decided to buy and carry potato chips into the canyon at a stop on the shuttle up to the North Rim, and spending 3 days with great people.

Dan did a great job organizing this trip and Eric and his brother let us stay at their house in Williams, AZ, which is located about 45 minutes south of the south entrance to the Grand Canyon, the night before we left.

Tonto West trail leading to Plateau Point

Since moving to Phoenix I’ve read several books by Edward Abbey and I often feel that he felt negatively about federal land management agencies because of construction and development on public lands, particularly in the Southwest. I’ve visited the Grand Canyon twice and Zion National Park once and each park is run very well, considering the number of visitors each park receives each year.


Gila River Indian Community Winter Bird Count – December 3, 2016

Hola, it’s been a long time. I guess I just didn’t feel like writing but I feel like writing again. So here goes…

I had a lovely day at the Gila River Indian Community’s annual Winter Bird Count. We started the morning at the Komatke Chevron Station near the southwest corner of South Mountain in Phoenix. We birded at a waste water treatment area for a while and saw lots of waterfowl. Some included northern shoveler, ruddy duck, cinnamon teal, American coot, and mallard. After that we birded at several open fields that either had alfalfa or were vacant.

Our group leader was a man named Charles from the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), there were a couple of families that I think live at the GRIC, as well as some employees from the GRIC. One of my favorite parts of the day was seeing how excited the kids were to see some of the different birds and then the cultural event that occurred after birding in the morning.

The event after birding included members of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Liberty Wildlife Rescue Center showing off birds that weren’t able to be released and were being used for educational purposes, a bird-feeder making station, a sustainability table, and an excellent burrito lunch. Everyone was happy and the GRIC performed awesome song and dance.

The performances included a person who was singing a song in native language with a maraca in his hand while the girls, dressed in beautiful dresses, semi-danced and followed each other in a circle while carrying what looked like hand-made Native American plates and streamers. It was really wonderful. After that  community members sang a song in the center of the square while tapping on a box with long sticks. The girls then came around and took the hand of community members and guests and brought them into a circle that formed by people holding hands and semi-dancing around the singing community members.

Gila River Indian Community Cultural Center, Winter Bird Count Event, December 3, 2016

Mingus Mountain, Yavapai County, Arizona, Part II – July 31, 2016

Well, I’ve been in Arizona for one year and I’m writing about a hike that I have done more than once, WooHoo! 🙂 One of the first hikes that I did when I arrived in Arizona was at Mingus Mountain and I really enjoyed it. Mingus Mountain is located near Jerome, an old mining town built on Mingus Mountain, with some believed-to-be haunted locations, and nice shops and restaurants. The trail that my cousin Stephen and I hiked is lightly traveled, not too difficult, fairly close to Phoenix , has a very nice drive to the trail, and is a very spectacular place. I saw my first wild pronghorn antelope on the way there.

American pronghorn seen along Route 69 or Route 89A southwest of Jerome, AZ

We decided to hike early in the morning in order to be finished around lunch time because there was a 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms beginning at 11:00am. One thing I’ve learned over my first year in Arizona is to take the forecast seriously. We were lucky this day and the weather was absolutely beautiful, we didn’t see a stormy cloud in the sky while hiking.

Recently, I was doing some fieldwork in northern Minnesota where I had the opportunity to work alongside several professional botanists and biologists. I enjoyed the work in Minnesota because I really had time to search and learn about lots of new plants. I was able to take my time and identify some plants on this hike as well.

I believe this is golden draba (Draba aurea)
I think this is mock-pennyroyal (Hedeoma oblongifolium)

One noticeable difference between this year and last year was that last year the Parry’s agave were in full bloom and the two-tailed swallowtails were swarming the spectacular agave flowers (see the first paragraph for a link to Mingus Mountain Part I). Parry’s agave were not in full bloom this year and we saw several dead stalks left from last year. Some of the stalks still looked alive and had a reddish-green color, although the leaves appeared dead. It looked like seed pods located where the flowers were last year were still alive. One difference that I’ve read between agaves and yuccas is that agaves die after flowering. After last years abundant bloom, it’s no wonder the agaves were not in such a bloom this year.

The agave stalk on the left has a vibrant red color with green and yellow seed pods while the agave on the right doesn’t have the red stalk or vibrant seed pods. Also, note that both agave leaves appear dead on the plants with stalks.

When I visited this place last year I saw my first greater short-horned lizard and this year we saw them again….along with young that were size of nickels or quarters! Some interesting birds that we saw included hermit warbler, black-throated gray warbler, mountain chickadee, as well as what I believe to be a zone-tailed hawk.

Greater short-horned lizard

This was a great day because the weather was nice, the hike was not too long or difficult, I was able to focus on “botanizing” some plants, Steven joined (and Cousin Patrick was supposed to join as well but couldn’t at the last minute, next time!), and we stopped, ate lunch, and walked around the town of Jerome afterwards. We were back in Phoenix before dinner time on a Saturday night.




Humphrey’s Peak – June 25, 2016

At 12,633 feet, Humphrey’s Peak is the highest mountain in Arizona. It is located about 10 miles north of Flagstaff.

I had originally planned to d0 this hike with my cousin Steven but I had to change my plans. Luckily some friends at work had reserved a house from AirBnB and there was plenty of room for me to join.

The hike began by crossing a trail at the Arizona Snowbowl – a place where you can ski and snowboard in the winter

We had a great time playing a pictionary game and a game that I play with my family called O-Hell. The rules for the pictionary game are as follows:

You need several pieces of paper that can be cut small and writing materials for this game. A person begins by  writing something on the paper for the person sitting next to them to draw, then the person sitting next to that person has to draw what is on the paper on a different piece of paper. Once that person draws what is on the paper you pass the paper to the next person and that person guesses what is on the paper and writes it on a different paper. Then, that person draws what is written on the paper on a different paper. There should be a piece of paper for each person playing. As you continue the process, the used piece of paper should go to the bottom of the pile so when everyone has either drawn or guessed you can see the progression of drawings and guesses. We limited our drawing and guessing time to 45 seconds person. This was a fun game where we had quite a few laughs.

We were up around 6:30am on the morning of the hike. It took us about 10 hours to go up and down, which included taking our time hiking and spending over an hour at the Summit. This was a tough hike and I had to stop very often to get my breathing under control; my heart was beating very hard as I ascended. Luckily we had pretty good weather except for a little hail and thunder as we began our descent.

Approaching the tree line where alpine tundra habitat begins – I had never been to a tundra environment before and I was excited to see it
At the Summit
Looking northwest from the Summit is Kendrick Mountain in the distance
Our group at the Summit

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Ramsey Canyon Preserve – Southern Arizona – May 28, 2016

My brother, Peter, was visiting from New York for a few days and we wanted to do something fun.

I have been thinking about going to southern Arizona to try and see an elegant trogon since I learned about this species earlier this year. Trogons are tropical birds and the elegant trogon is the one species that can regularly be seen in the U.S. (All About Birds). It can be found along canyon streams, especially with sycamores in mountain ranges in southern Arizona. The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd edition (2014) and All About Birds

Bridled titmouse at Ramsey Canyon Preserve

My birding friends, Gordon and Veronica, helped me decide on places to go where we might be able to see the elegant trogon as well as other places to visit in southern Arizona. There have been regular sightings of this bird at Madera  Canyon, located in the Santa Rita Mountains about one hour north and a little east of Nogales, Arizona. However, I was told that Madera Canyon would probably be very busy because it is a popular location and it was a holiday weekend. We decided to visit two Nature Conservancy properties: one in Patagonia, Arizona called the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and one in Sierra Vista, Arizona called the Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

Coue’s white-tailed deer at the Patagonia-Sonoita Park Preserve

We spent Friday night in Nogales, which is a small town right on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Brother Pete in Nogales

We didn’t get to see the elegant trogon but that is alright because we saw lots of other amazing things including a rare visitor from Mexico, a bird called the northern tufted flycatcher, a ridge-nosed rattlesnake, and some spectacular landscape.

Yarrow’s spiny lizard at Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Likely ridge-nosed rattlesnake at Ramsey Canyon Preserve  (it went into a crevice before I could get a better shot)

This was my first rattlesnake sighting in Arizona and I asked my friend who knows about Arizona reptiles and he believes it was a ridge-nosed rattlesnake, which happens to be Arizona’s state reptile and quite rare. The landscape in the southern part of Arizona, more specifically along State Route 82 is spectacular; it has vast open areas of plains and great basin grassland and semidesert grassland with mountain ranges in the distance and ranches in the foreground.

Wild turkey male displaying at Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Wild Pete displaying at the top of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix




Horton Creek, Payson, AZ – May 22, 2016

Steven and I went to Payson and did a wonderful eight mile hike along Horton Creek Trail. Our goal was to reach Horton Spring. We left Phoenix at 7:00am and started hiking around 9:30am. The day was sunny and cool with a somewhat loud and perfect breeze, an opinion of my own 🙂

Horton Creek Trail sign – Tonto National Forest

Horton Creek is located about 15 miles northeast of Payson in Tonto National Forest. It’s a wooded area and the main trees are ponderosa pine and juniper with the woody shrub manzanita in the understory. As soon as we arrived a Stellar’s jay swooped in front of Steven’s FJ Cruiser to check us out. After that a small flock of pygmy nuthatches were flitting around while we prepared to start hiking.

A view of the Mogollon Rim from Horton Creek Trail

More birds were singing when we began hiking and I think some were yellow-rumped warblers. Soon after that I saw my first painted redstart, which turned out to be a pretty common bird on this hike.

Hiking through a ponderosa pine forest
The bark of a ponderosa pine smells like vanilla – Steven titled this photo “PonderosaJoe”

After a couple of hours Steven’s hips were bothering him and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to Horton Spring. We decided that we would turn around at noon and start to head back. I knew that we had to be fairly close so I went ahead and sure enough, after a few switchbacks up a hill, arrived at Horton Spring. I saw two other hikers that were just leaving and asked them to give Steven some encouragement and tell him that he was really close. Sure enough, Steven arrived a few minutes later and said the hikers told him to keep trucking along.

Horton Spring – worth the hike

We saw several lizards and as I was browsing through my photos I tried to identify them. I believe they are a greater short-horned lizard, either a Gila spotted or plateau striped whiptail, and a plateau lizard. The lizards really seem to like posing for pictures.

Greater short-horned lizard
Gila spotted whiptail or a plateau striped whiptail (I think)
Plateau lizard (pretty sure)

Until next time… 🙂

Washington Park Trailhead and the Mogollon Rim – Payson, AZ – May 7, 2016

During the early part of the first week of May 2016 I received an instant message from Kat, my friend from work, asking if I wanted to join her for a hike that coming weekend in Payson, AZ. I had the weekend free and thought this sounded like a great idea. Around 10pm on the Friday night before our planned trip Kat and I were determining if the trip was worth taking because of auspicious weather forecasts: there was a 40% chance of thunderstorms and morning rain but the afternoon was supposed to clear up.

Kat, Cody, Joe, and Meredith near the abandoned railroad tunnel

Ultimately, we decided to take the trip. On Saturday Kat, Kat’s friend Meredith, and myself headed up to Payson to meet an “acquaintance” of Kat’s. His name was Cody and he grew up in Arizona but has lived in New York City since 1991 (I think). Kat had met him one other time at a work function a few months earlier at Cody’s parents home near the woods where we hiked.

This was an abandoned railroad tunnel where we stopped on our way to General Springs Cabin

The weather turned out to be fine: it was mostly cloudy but we did have some sunny spells and a brief period of hail and drizzle. We parked at the Washington Park Trailhead and hiked to a location on the crest of the Mogollon Rim near General Springs Cabin, which is located along the Rim Trail. We had a great time and saw an old railroad tunnel that was going to be built but was ultimately abandoned, Cody found and kept a nice shovel, and the bird of the day was definitely a red-faced warbler that was singing along the creek and flew in when I did a little audio playback of the bird’s song.

General Springs Cabin (I’m pretty sure near the Arizona Trail and Rim Trail) on the Mogollon Rim
House wren singing on our descent down from the Mogollon Rim
Common Buckeye (first guess)
Castilleja sp. (paintbrush; first guess)

It took me a little while to get used to being in the woods after hiking and always being surrounded by a desert environment. After the hike we stopped at THAT Bar and Pub in Pine, AZ and ate nachos with elk meat chili and cheese, tasty burgers, and tater tots. Kat and Meredith had a beer and I enjoyed a hot chocolate.


McDowell Sonoran Preserve, April 23 and May 1, 2016

I’ve visited the McDowell Sonaran Preserve in Scottsdale, AZ almost every weekend after attending an Arizona Association of Environmental Professionals meeting at the end of March where the guest speaker spoke about this preserve. I have gone by myself a couple of times and my cousin Steven joined me once as well. The trails that I have visited are fairly quiet, free, and nearby. I love taking in the distant desert views but I’m also interested in seeing how the desert environment changes over the year.

While visiting the Preserve I especially like to see the new plants that are flowering, keep my eyes open for reptiles, although I think I need to take a stroll at night to see the snakes, and of course see what the birds are up to. Some new plant photos that I’ve taken include flowering Saguaro, range ratany, gray thorn, chuckwallas delight, and a species in the phlox family. My identification of these plants could be wrong but this is what I think they are.

Flowering Saguaro along the Whiskey Bottle Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ – April 23,2016
Range ratany (Krameria parvifolia), April 23, 2016
Gray thorn (Ziziphus obtusifolia), April 23, 2016
Chuckwalla’s delight (Bebbia juncea), May 1, 2016
Phlox, May 1, 2016
Photo taken on May 1, 2016
As I was leaving one afternoon, a Harris’s hawk was hanging out on a Saguaro


A Family Visit: April 4 to April 9, 2016

I had some special east coast visitors during the first week of April: my parents and my uncle John and aunt Judi, I hadn’t seen them since July of 2015. The last and only time that my parents visited Arizona was in 1978 for their honeymoon. I don’t think any of them had ever visited the Sonoran desert region of Arizona before.

Wayne, Sue, Judi, and John

We did a lot of walking and eating great food during their visit. The first night we ate at an excellent taco restaurant called the Taco Guild Gastropub. The following morning we went for a short walk at Squaw Peak, which is close to my apartment in Phoenix and part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. After that we went to Old Town Scottsdale for a bit, then decided to go to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, AZ, which is about 60 miles east of Phoenix. We enjoyed the visit to the arboretum very much and especially enjoyed eating lunch at Los Hermanos Restaurant and Lounge. My uncle John and I were surprised by and loved the chiles rellenos.

The next day we went to Sedona and hung out and hiked at Devil’s Bridge. I found out about this trail in my 50 Favorite Hikes: Flagstaff and Sedona by Cosmic Ray hiking guide. I think the guide may be a little out-of-date because it said that we could get to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead somewhat easily but there were rocks buried in the ground at the beginning of an unpaved road that prevented low-clearance vehicles from entering. This added an extra 1.5 miles or so to the hike. My mom, dad, and aunt Judi hiked for a bit on the dirt road to the trailhead then turned around. My Uncle John and I continued to the Bridge and enjoyed walking to the middle for a photo.

Uncle John at Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, AZ
View from just below Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, AZ

The following day my east coast family walked around Downtown Phoenix while I attended a work event. Later that afternoon we all met at my west coast family’s house for dinner. I think everyone had a wonderful time meeting and talking with each other.

Katherine, Tonya, Wayne, Joe, Steven

The next day we visited the Musical Instrument Museum and ate dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from my apartment that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. The pasta was homemade and excellent.

It was great to see my family that I hadn’t seen in a long time and sad to see them go. They continued their vacation with a visit to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, and up the California coast to visit my cousin Anna in the San Francisco bay area.

Greater short-horned lizard seen in Sedona, AZ

It was great to see everyone and hopefully I’ll see my east coast family again later this year.




Tom’s Thumb, April 3, 2016

I hiked to Tom’s Thumb and The Lookout at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve last Sunday. I started around 9:30am and finished around 1:30pm, the total distance was around 5.5 miles. It was a beautiful, sunny day with several species of cacti and other plants flowering and lizards soaking in the sunshine. The day before I biked several miles around the City of Phoenix and after this strenuous weekend the muscles near my groin and butt were pretty sore.

Tom’s Thumb, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ
Tom’s Thumb
Flowering buckhorn cholla
Buckhorn cholla beginning to flower
Flowering prickly pear
Flowering hedgehog cactus
I think this is a zebra-tailed lizard but need to confirm