Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yoga and Liquor

What a neighborly sign!

I don't know about the yoga place, but Plaza Liquor really is the best liquor store in Tucson. They carry a really wide variety of beers from around the world and you can make your own six packs. Here's my typical six pack; it's a pretty heavy selection, so it's obviously not a party pack:

1. Ten Fidy
2. Old Rasputin
3. Ayinger Celebrator
4. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
5. New Belgium Ranger IPA
6. Young's Double Chocolate Stout*

* Note: With the exception of Celebrator, I would gladly substitute a Narragansett for any of these beers.

I love me some 'Gansett.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Desert Close-ups

When you're in the desert, it's tempting to take landscape photos. The mountains, buttes, and canyons create dramatic topography; saguaros grow perpendicular to the ground, but with asymmetrical arms; the clouds cast shadows on distant hills. Yet, desert details are also dramatic, often pairing spines with flowers and emphasizing a pronounced geometry. Here are some desert close-ups that I've collected. Enjoy!
barrel cactus flowers
dead cholla arm
Saguaro Ribs
Cactus Close Up
prickly pear

Thursday, September 23, 2010

George L. Mountainlion

George L. Mountainlion was, not surprisingly, a male mountain lion who lived at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Actually, there were several George L. Mountainlions, each named in order - George I, George II, George III and George IV - like members of a royal house. Here on this postcard, George II sits next to the memorial for George I. The first two Georges were hand-raised and remarkably tame. They bonded with their human friends and met Museum visitors while walking on leashes.

George was very popular and received lots of fan mail. On kid wrote him a letter that confessed, "This is the first time I have ever written to a lion." Probably not a necessary confession. I would  liked to meet the person who makes a habit of keeping lions as pen pals. 

Poor George I had hepatitis and died only two years after arriving at the museum. He died at the San Diego Zoo in 1953. Here's what Bill Carr, the founder of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, wrote for George's memorial:

I freely give all sights and sounds of nature I have known to those who have the grace to enjoy not man-made materialism but God-made beauty.

The magnificent Arizona sunsets I have watched from my enclosure, I bequeath to all who see not only with their eyes but with their hearts.

To humans who are tired, worried or discouraged, I bequeath the silence, majesty and peace of the Great American Desert.

To those walk the trails, I bequeath the early morning voices of the birds and the glory of the flowering desert in the Springtime.

To the children who have enjoyed seeing me purr, and watching me turn my somersaults, I offer the precious gift of laughter and joy. The world so needs these things.

And lastly, I bequeath my own happy spirit and affection for others, to all who may remember me and my museum where for three years, I did my best to show people that I truly liked them. 

It's probably not a good idea to bring tame, large predatory animals around people and American museums and zoos don't do that very much anymore. Though these animals become "ambassadors for their species," introducing them to the general population endangers the animal and people. Where large predators are concerned, there's a fine line between the type of fear that keeps us safe in the back country and the type of fear that leads to the extermination of valuable species; the first is to be encourage and the latter, discouraged. I understand all this, but I sure would have liked to have met George and scratched his chin. He's reported to have liked that; it made him purr.

Here's a recent story on George from the Arizona Daily Star, a Tucson newspaper.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lake Pleasant

If you take I-17 take I-17 North out of Phoenix and head west on the Carefree Highway, you'll soon pass signs for Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Lake Pleasant is Arizona's second largest lake. The largest lake is Theodore Roosevelt Lake, if you exclude the lakes Arizona shares with neighbors.

Though I'm endlessly impressed by the desert and Arizona's landscapes, I have to say, Lake Pleasant doesn't do it for me. Originally formed with the creation of the Waddell Dam in 1973, a second dam, creatively named the New Waddell Dam, was constructed in 1993 and vastly expanded the size of the lake.  The water comes from the Agua Fria River and is also brought in by the Central Arizona Project Aqueduct from the Colorado River. It's a man-made lake, but that's not necessarily why I'm not impressed. It's $6 to get in and most of what you see are picnic tables, boats, trucks, awnings, radio towers, marinas, more trucks, barbed wire fences, asphalt, power lines, nondescript tan tanks with pipes, and other concrete monstrosities that surround what was probably a very nice canyon at one time. The wildlife is either on display, like the desert tortoise to whom the Maricopa Regional Parks has so generously donated several square yards of dirt. Or the critters have adapted to the environment, like the wake of vultures that has claimed the radio towers. Clearly, Lake Pleasant is really the native habitat of the jet-ski and Toyota Titan, the RV and the pontoon boat. Feral species.

If Edward Abbey didn't hate Lake Pleasant, he didn't know about it. I just tried to take some nice photos. It seems that when the sun's going down, the hills still glow Arizona-red under the tan paint and black tar.  More on our Flickr page.
trapped desert tortoise
vulture perch 1
Barbed Wire
Sacrificed Horizon
Lake Pleasant 2

Saturday, September 18, 2010

VBS.TV - "Americana" - "The Muscle Shoals Sound"

In VBS.TV's newest installment of their "Americana" series, they move from the forests of Oregon to the swamps of Alabama. "The Muscle Shoals Sound" uses interviews and archival photographs and footage to explore "one of the birthplaces of rock & roll; Muscle Shoals, AL. The place Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Osmonds, Mac Davis, and Duane Allman made famous. We traveled to the internationally acclaimed recording town where host Ian Svenonius talked to some folks who helped establish it's distinctive American R & B sound."

The documentary both unearths the Muscle Shoals, AL area's rich recording history and highlights some contemporary Muscle Shoals musicians trying to make it in the shadow of the giants that came before them. These bands include Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil, Satan's Youth Ministers, and The Pine Hill Haints. My friends may recognize The Haints as one of the bands I've been pestering you to listen to for a few years now. I'm really digging Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil now too. Learn some history and discover cool bands all in one place!

Check out the trailer above and visit VICE/VBS.TV to watch the documentary in its entirety.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Year One

I started this incarnation of Making Owls Cool (since 1986) one year ago today. We found this cool picture at a store in Tucson and I thought to myself, "We should share this stuff." Next thing you know I've posted over 200 times on all manner of interesting things. At first I struggled to come up with a "theme" or a central concept that bound the blog together, but I finally surrendered to the hope that other folks would find the sames thing interesting that I do. I hope people have.

I sit in front of a computer a lot. I read a lot of books. It's work, work, work most of the time. The blog has given me a lot. Some days writing a brief post is the only time during the day I get to sit and think about stuff I really like. It helps me revisit good times, imagine others, and have a good time writing it.

As of tomorrow I will have blogged for over a year, so I'm setting a goal for myself and the blog. My blog resolution: I hereby commit myself to doing anything in my power to interview Farley Mowat about his owls. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I'm sure going to try.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Talking about River House with author Sarahlee Lawrence

The folks over at Tin House Books recently sent me a copy of River House by Sarahlee Lawrence. In the book, Sarahlee faces a conflict that many of us understand - the struggle to find contentment somewhere between what you love to do, where you love to be, and who you need to be with. Sarahlee loves river rafting. By the time she was 21, she had run rivers all over the world and worked as a river guide. Still, though she loves being on the river, she is also drawn home toward her family in the high desert of Oregon. In the book she temporarily gives up running rivers to go home and build a cabin by hand on her parents' ranch.

Over the course of a very cold winter, Sarahlee and her father work relentless to build her a house at her home. When she returns home from adventures to be closer to her family, she finds her counterpart in her father, who is an accomplished surfer; the ocean is to her father what rivers are to Sarahlee. Landlocked for many years, the return of his adventurous daughter makes him question his place as well. It's a story about adventure, family, ecology, and, ultimately, a reflection on how we arrive at happiness.

Sarahlee was obliging enough to answer a few questions for me. Here are my questions with her answers. Oh, and she even included a couple photos of her cabin that follow at the end.

1. "River House" begins in Peru and ends in Oregon. Where were you when you wrote the book? Much of my book came from journals that I wrote at the time of my travels and through the journey of building my house.  I wrote a lot of it in Montana.  But finished it in Oregon.  What, other than writing, were you doing at that time? I was breaking horses, running rivers, getting married and divorced, finishing the house, recreating, etc... What are you doing now? I am an organic farmer.  I also still run rivers and travel.

2. You dedicate considerable space in the book to presenting issues that face the Oregon desert and the people who make their lives there. Was bringing attention to these issues a goal when you set out to write the
memoir? No but it seemed important and very related to what I was doing and why... also, who I am and why.  Were they part of the reason you chose to write "River House"?  Nope.  I didn't even really choose to write River House.  Its just sort of happened.

3. Your relationships with your parents, primarily with your father, comprise the focus of much of "River House." You clearly love them, but you're depictions are also quite honest. Have they read the book? What do they think?  They've both read the book.  They are proud of me.  The truth is the truth.  They are comfortable in their own skins.

4. What was the hardest part about writing "River House?" Well, probably writing it as I was living it.  Not knowing the end or how it would pan out... where was the resolve, when there was so little in real life?  How do I write a convincing and satiating ending when there was none?  That's what I struggled with the most for sure.  

5. You introduce us to many wonderful animals, like your dog, Chyulu, and your horses, Nipper and Meridian. Could you tell us a little more about them?  Well, Chyulu and another black mutt, Abby, spend their days in the field with me.  They are my shadows, yet always ahead of me.  I still ride Nipper regularly and my boyfriend comes along on Meridian.   They both contribute greatly to my compost pile.  

One more thing... Sarahlee also runs Rain Shadow Organics, an organic farm in Oregon. She's got a cool blog over there, too, so check it out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cave Creek, AZ

A herd of clouds meandered over the Valley of the Sun all day yesterday. I watched them throughout morning and into the afternoon from where I read in the shade. We've been in the desert long enough to know what happens when desert clouds meet a desert sunset, so we went to a regional park in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix, to watch the show. Here how it turned out.
cloud levels
Red Clouds
Cloud Sail
Red Hill
More photos here on our Flickr page.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Wickenburg Massacre

This monument commemorates the Wickenburg Massacre. On November 5, 1871, a group of Yavapai Native Americans attacked a stagecoach bound for California outside the town of Wickenburg in what was then the Arizona Territory. They killed six men on board and injured a woman and another man. The attack was likely in response to any number of injustices committed against the Native Americans, most likely the recent killing of 135 Arivaipa Apache at Camp Grant near Tucson.

Some famous names come into play in relation to the Massacre. Up-and-coming Boston writer Frederick Wadsworth Loring was among those killed; the incident was also known as the Loring Massacre. Some in the northeast had been inclined to sympathize with the southwestern Indians, but, in killing a Bostonian, national sentiment turned against the Yavapai.  Initially, people questioned whether they were really Indians or Mexicans in Indian costumes. The killers used guns, but P.M. Hamel was also scalped. Here's an excerpt from The November 11, 1871 Journal-Miner:

"Five men, Messrs. Loring, Shoholm, Lanz, Hamel, and Salmon, who, eighteen hours previous left Wickenburg full of life and hope in the happy anticipation of soon again greeting their friends after a prolonged absence, lay side by side rigid in death and drenched in blood; the unavenged acts of a murder as dark and damnable as ever stained the hands of an assassin."

Famed Indian hunter, General George Crook, investigated the incident, but when he couldn't identify the actual perpetrators, he resorted to the usual form of frontier justice and sent Captain J.W. Mason to attack the Yavapai near Burro Creek. Many Native Americans died in the ensuing battle.

You can read a lot more about the Wickenburg Massacre here or here. The monument sits on Route 60 outside of Wickenburg, but apparently the actual site is off 60 down a dirt road.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Vulture Mine Road

Vulture Mine Road runs through Wickenburg, AZ and is named after the abandoned Vulture Mine outside of the town. Vulture Mine was the most productive gold mine in Arizona history.

On Sunday night, we drove from Glendale to Wickenburg and then followed Vulture Mine Road west for a long, long time. We eventually ended up about 50 miles west of Phoenix in an unincorporated town called Tonopah.

We set out to see the sunset and we found it. Here are a few of the photos we took along the ride. Of course, there are more on our Flickr page.
vulture mine and saguaro
vulture mine road hill
power line backlit
Vulture Mine Sundown

Saturday, September 4, 2010

National Parks Magazine, 1966

Finding information on the history of National Parks Magazine has proven surprisingly difficult. Apparently, it's been around for a long time. It's published by the National Parks Conservation Association and lots of archived back issues are available online.

This particular issue, from December 1966, came along with a slew of back issues of Arizona Highways that my friend scored at a bag sale in California. It's thin - less than 25 pages - and contains only four articles. One of them is about Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park and another is about Cape Cod National Seashore, pictured below. There's also a really great article on the Appalachian Trail. Hiking the AT in 1966 must have been a fairly heavy affair.

That cool picture of the lynx is from the back cover. I wouldn't mind finding some more of these.
NP Magazine 2
Cape Cod Cedar Swamp article
NP Mag lynx

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I and the Bird #133

One of my favorite blog carnivals, I and the Bird, has a new edition up featuring my recent hummingbird post. It's hosted over a A DC Birding Blog. The blog-o-sphere is full of great birding blogs and great bird photography. I've learned a lot about birds recently from reading good bird blogs. Go and have a look and thanks to John at A DC Birding Blog for putting it together.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


It's the first of September and I don't feel like we had a very eventful monsoon season in Arizona this year. In fact, I don't think I saw one impressive thunderstorm all summer. Maybe it's our new vantage point here in Glendale. There's no open space here. Too many buildings, too many walls, too many big, non-native trees. We saw some great storm in Tucson in the summers of '08 and '09 and some longer term residents than us claim we had mild summers compared to others in the past.

I took these lightning photos from the backyard of our first Tucson house near 22nd Street in August 2008. The storm ended up getting pretty powerful, dropping a lot hail, and putting part of the city without electricity for a few days.
Lightning Bolt
There are a few more from this storm in our Flickr "Tucson" set.