Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

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My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: picacho peak

Now, anyone who has made it to the top of Picacho Peak knows that it obviously isn’t a good hike for small children. The trail is steep and slippery, to the point that there are cables drilled into the rock as handholds to prevent hikers from falling – and it’s an amazing trail if you can do it, but there’s no way I’m going to recommend doing it with three kids five and under!

However, Picacho Peak is one of the most beautiful wildflower sites in the state, particularly during a magnificent spring bloom like the one we’re having this year, so we made the drive down to bask in the beauty along all the short interpretative trails around the base of the mountain.

There were so many poppies. The wild golden poppies that grow here are one of my favorite flowers – like a more glamorous version of the buttercups I loved as a child in the Northeast – and when they carpet the ground it seems to shimmer in the sunlight.

There were patches of lupine as well, their deep blues and purples providing the perfect foil to the golden poppies.

One of the shorter trails led up to a small cave overlooking the valley around the base of the peak, and the kids had a lot of fun clambering over the boulders above the cave, as well as stroking the velvet softness of the poppies and delighting in the presence of the wildflowers (as is only to be expected!).

I really couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to bask in the desert spring. I would definitely and without hesitation recommend Picacho Peak to anyone who is in the state in the month of March, especially if the preceding winter has been on the rainier side, no matter their hiking abilities – there is something for every level here, and beauty to make it worthwhile even without reaching the summit.

There is a $7.00 entrance fee since the peak is a state park, but there are also covered picnic tables, clean bathrooms, a very nice little gift store/information center (with some fun Southwest themed souvenirs and books), and even a small playground, and the trails are well-maintained – so the fees are apparently being used to good effect here 🙂 My only regret is that I have waited so long to come back since the last time I hiked the peak (with my dad, as a teenager, to the top), and I won’t be making that mistake again.

How to get there from the East Valley: There are a few ways to get started, but whether you take the US-60 or the Loop 101 or the Loop 202, you’ll want to end up on the I-10 E headed toward Tuscon. From there it’s very straightforward – you just keep driving south until exit 219, and then follow the signs into the state park. I believe you can pay the entrance fee with a card if you go into the visitor’s center, but it is simplest to bring cash and pay as you drive by.

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: rim lake vista trail

In an attempt to catch some fall colors up north (I think they are delayed because of our warm, moist summer this year), we drove up to the Mogollon Rim this weekend, just northeast of Payson to the Rim Lake Vista trail specifically. I chose this trail because it was recommended for fall colors in October, because it should have gorgeous views off the edge of the rim even if we were too early for colors, and because it is mostly paved and there was rain in the forecast. In other words, I wanted something with no flash flood risk, where we wouldn’t be stepping in mud puddles and getting our feet soaked in the cold.

While we did end up being too early for fall colors, the trail was undeniably beautiful and – totally unexpectedly – we got caught in a snow flurry! There isn’t much else to say about this trail except that it is ideal for new walkers and could even be navigated by a stroller if necessary; likewise, it would be good for older out-of-state family who want to hike and sightsee but who aren’t up for something challenging.

Some views looking off the rim down towards Payson (approximately 7700ft up, looking down at mountains around 5000ft in elevation – Payson is not objectively low):

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The clouds were draped so low over the mountains – at some points on the trail we were walking through small wispy clouds, and the large heavy clouds looked ready to break open at any moment.

It wasn’t raining when we parked (it had been for most of the drive from Payson up to the rim!), so the kids were excited to get out of the car and start off down the trail.

While there weren’t many changing leaves yet, the small ground plants and flowers bearing their glassy beads of water were calling all of us to stop and pay attention to their subtle beauty:

Before the rain started up again, Aubade meandered along immersing herself in the wildflowers – she was so excited about every new plant, so eager to touch each new flower.

Towards the end of our hike, however, it started to sprinkle – and then it began to pour – and then I noticed that snowflakes were sticking to the fuzzy hood of Limerick’s jacket, and – and then suddenly the air was full of fat white flakes! It was the first time any of the kids have seen snow; Rondel was excited, Limerick was chill, and Aubade (who was already really bothered by the cold wind) completely lost it and cried the rest of the way to the car. So it ended up being a shorter hike than usual because we were just so cold!

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However, along the way we discovered a plant I’d never encountered before, with bright red stems and a sharp smell that remind me of mint and fir together. From a brief search online I think it is a fetid goosefoot, which is quite an unpleasant name for a plant that I found both visually and aromatically attractive – do any of you know for sure?

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How to get there from the East Valley: take the 87 up to Payson; turn right at the McDonald’s on to the 260-E and continue for 30 miles until FR300. Turn left onto FR300 (the Rim Visitors Center is on the right) and park at the lot on the left between mile markers 39 and 40.