Spring in the Garden

The front garden at the Painted Pony Resort is one of the first things guests see when they arrive so it is an important visual component in the presentation of the estate.  The goal is that when arriving guests round the corner of the driveway and catch their first close up view of the main estate buildings they ask themselves "what is this doing out here?".  A nice presentation is the first reward for those driving into the bubble and as a consequence a good deal of time is spent working in garden to insure it is visually pleasing and inviting.  Currently, the Ocotillo are in bloom and with their large red clusters of flowers they are particularly enticing.  Commonly used as living fences in the desert, Ocotillo are visually unique succulents. The local hummingbirds also find the flowers enticing and they can be seen gathering nectar from the individual flowers.  Note, that the Yucca are also starting to bloom (in the background in the first photograph below) and should soon be filling the garden with large white flowers which should attract the yucca moths.

spring in the desert garden
A 10 -12' high specimen of Ocotillo

desert gardening
Ocotillo flowers

Another grouping of bright red Ocotillo flowers


Lunar Eclipse 2014

Astronomy is favorite pastime of some guests at the Painted Pony Resort and the resort attracts astronomy groups looking for clear night skies with southern views.  The San Simon valley, lying between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountains in southwestern New Mexico, provides such an observing opportunity.  All-Star Telescope is just one of the groups making yearly visits to PPR for the observing opportunities in the remote high desert.  During their visits, the 50x50 hanger is converted into base of operations for the astronomers while the wives and other family members enjoy the comforts of the estate, creating an environment where everyone is accommodated and feels comfortable.

Not being an astronomer, but with the encouragement of guests, I tried my hand at some simple photographs of the first lunar eclipse of the year visible in the U.S..  I took the opportunity to get out with my simple point and shoot digital camera, view the eclipse, and try for some images.  The full moon rise over the Peloncillo moutains was large and bright and even without a tripod several photographs were captured.  Somewhat later once the eclipse started it became more difficult for the auto focus to settle in on the moon and only a couple of images were captured.  Clearly a tripod would have been a useful addition for night time photography of an object as close and bright as the moon.  In comparison to images taken from the resort that guests have shared, these first attempts only offer a faint imitation of the beauty of the night sky visible here.  Fortunately lunar eclipses are regular occurrences and there will be other opportunities to try again.

Moon rise in the San Simon valley.

Partial eclipse.


Working with Mud (mud through time)

Mud, wet clay, plaster, daub, whatever you call the material it has been in use for thousands of years.  Humans have created all sorts of things with mud over time from utensils to housing.  Considering the utility of the material, mud/clay is a just not for making mud pies.

The cultural resource inventory at the Painted Pony Resort identified a small prehistoric hamlet on the property and in an attempt to date and identify the residents, a single room was cleared of rock in hopes of identifying the floor and finding a piece of diagnostic pottery (more mud).  While no diagnostic pottery was found evidence of stucco plastering was recovered from the collapsed walls.  The masonry walls of each room were covered in an early form of stucco, presumably to keep out the wind.  While other Mogollon cultural groups built solely with adobe (mud), the Mimbres built with stone which was skinned with locally obtained clay.  The source of the clay was identified with the discovery of large modified flakes in several pits/arroyos which served as digging tools to excavate clay for various uses in the hamlet, plastering walls and pottery.  The 2 fragments of stucco show that small rocks were added to the mix before applying to the masonry walls. 

mimbres stucco tool
Clay pit with a prehistoric digging tool.

mud adobe with rock fill
Daub (left) and adobe fragment from a wall.

This clay source was also tested for its suitability for pottery by creating a crude vessel which was then fired in a fire pit kiln at the Painted Pony Resort.  Not being a potter the esthetic results were less than ideal, but the coil and scape method used by potters proved suitable for making something that resembled an ashtray created by a 4 yr old.  Firing the piece of plainware resulted in a well hardened piece with a nice ring when tapped and one that did not melt in the rain like earlier attempts.

first pottery attempt
First attempt at firing pottery.

Skipping forward in time about 800 years from the prehistoric uses of mud a more modern example of stucco work involves the rustic cabin at PPR.  After installing the split heating/air conditioning units in the rustic cabin, the exposed piping required covers.  Decorative pilasters were built and attached to the walls which were then covered with stucco.  Modern stucco differs from the early stucco material used on the rooms of the hamlet and is a processed material instead of locally obtained clay, but the process of mudding the exterior of a structure has not changed.

Modern stucco pilaster on the Rustic Cabin at PPR.
 So, across a time span of approximately 800 years things have not changed, we are still playing in the mud.


Arizona New Mexico Bicycle Tour

A group of riders arrived this afternoon at the Painted Pony Resort after an 88 mile ride from Bisbee.  Lizard Head Cycling Guides is escorting a group of cyclists across the basin and range region of southern Arizona and New Mexico.  Traveling along Highway 80, the Broadway of America, the group is taking in the views and covering some ground on road bikes.  There are currently 2 cycling tours in Rodeo, a coast to coast group and the southern Arizona New Mexico group.

lizard head cycling tours
Lizard Head Cycling Guides trailer

Lizard Head tours
Lizard Head van and trailer at the Painted Pony Resort


A Finished Image from the Chiricahua Mountains in Southern Arizona

Water is vital to the health of all living things and in arid climates such as the desert southwest this is even more important.  Below is a partially desaturated image of a well known landmark in the south fork of Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua mountains.  Known as the Bathtub, it is a small waterfall that pours into a deep pool along the trail.  On a hike with guests from the Painted Pony Resort the group stopped for photographs at this spot and everyone spent time composing and capturing images.  This is my contribution.  The blue of the falling water stands in sharp contrast to the desaturated background highlighting the importance of water in the desert.

chiricahua mountains Coronado National Forest
Blue water in a black and white landscape (click to enlarge)


A New Mexico Selfie

Back at work on the Galion road grader, still trying to loosen the stuck but broken ball joint arm by applying heat.  In light of the popularity of selfie's here is a contribution from the high desert of New Mexico, where social media meets heavy equipment repair.

heavy equipment repair
Heating the broken ball joint arm.


Winter Rain

Those living in the high desert of New Mexico, especially those with agricultural professions, are always concerned about the weather.  The winter rains have been sparse again this year until yesterday.  The first big storm of the year arrived yesterday and dropped 0.92" of rain at the Painted Pony Resort .  This welcomed rainfall was a fairly gentle rain and the ground received a good soaking.  To top things off, upon going outside this morning the residents of the valley were greeted to a particularly spectacular sunrise shown below.  Perhaps the poppies will bloom soon.

sunrise in the mountains
March sunrise (click to enlarge)


The Hazards of Being Out Standing in the Desert

I rarely post events about myself, believing that readers would rather see and read about the boot heel of New Mexico and southern Arizona, but an event occurred recently that merits a story.  The road grader at the Painted Pony Resort is a useful tool for road maintenance around the estate, but with all tools accidents happen.  In the case of the Galion road grader it was being used at the north end of the estate across the riverbed.  Water in New Mexico's rivers is an option and the San Simon does not flow but does get muddy during the rainy season.  Well, the grader got stuck in the mud and while trying to get unstuck it broke.  The arm that lifts front blade has a ball joint that the hydraulics use to lift the blade and this piece broke.  So, after the end of the monsoons and ground had dried out it was shovel time.  After digging out the grader and temporarily tying the broken arm so it was possible to raise the blade I got the grader moved and stored.  Then it was on to repair work.  Galion is no longer in business and this is the boot heel with an average population density of 1 person/square mile, so the repair work fell to me.  A replacement ball joint was found (from another grader) and purchased.  Then armed with sledge hammers, steel wedges, a come-along, heavy chain, and assorted tools I attacked the road grader and started dismantling the arm.  Of course all the parts were frozen on the grader with years of accumulated rust and covered by many layers of paint.  But with the use of a rust dissolver (PB Blaster) and lots of time with the sledge hammer it was possible to loosen and eventually move all of the seized parts except one, you guessed it, the broken ball joint arm on the shaft that raised the front blade.  Friends were helpful with suggestions and the most common comment was "try heat".  This sounded like a good idea but the size of the parts dictated something larger than a simple hand torch.  Heating a 70 lb piece of metal on a shaft several inches in diameter was going to require a significant heat source so I found a heating wand that fit a 5 gallon tank of propane.  With the new tool in hand I began heating and bashing, then heating and bashing some more.  I thought there was evidence of movement,  perhaps 1/16 of an inch.  Encouraged, I continued and it was at that point disaster struck.  While heating the broken ball joint arm I heard a loud pop and at the same time saw a fireball rising before my eyes.  Engulfed in fire, my response was to shut my eyes, drop the heating wand and dive to the ground.  Rolling around to make sure I was not on fire, I then got up and shut off the propane tank to prevent a grass fire.  The smell of burnt hair was all around and upon examining the heating wand I saw a broken and melted hose near the handle.  The failure of the hose and the resulting explosion shocked me, but I seemed to be intact.  Checking myself for other injuries I found my hand was burned.  Fortunately it is my habit to always wear long sleeve shirts and hats but no gloves that day.  So after making sure there were no grass fires and securing the site it was back to the main estate for some burn management.  Redness and swelling were becoming noticeable and I searched around for something to put on the burns.  Bag Balm came to mind and I used a liberal amount on the burned areas.  Bag Balm, a lanolin based product, was originally created for cow udders and is primarily for animals but the product works well on humans, it even accompanied Admiral Bird to the North Pole.  Liberal application of Bag Balm kept the burns moist and helped with the pain.  After the blistering and with continued use the healing process is progressing.  In response, I moved work back to the main estate and I'm concentrating on projects that only involve water, like irrigation.  I can deal with cracked pipes and getting wet while working, it is always better that getting burned.

Galion grader at PPR
The Galion Road Grader
The broken ball arm joint on the road grader


Well, maybe one more.

An image from the McCord trail looking across Cave Creek Canyon at the rhyolite outcrops towering along the west side of the canyon.

scenic mountain landscape
Still the Yosemite of Arizona


One More Image from the McCord Tail

Although not the best weather conditions for landscape photography, with some work one image did turn out.  A desaturated view from the overlook on the McCord trail, looking west across Cave Creek Canyon is shown below.  By desaturating the colors the differences in texture create a layered 3D effect with the rock outcrops appearing layered upon one another (click on the photograph to get a larger image).  This creates a diagonal composition with layers of rock outcrops running from the upper left (background layer) down to the lower right (foreground layer).  The layering effect is mirrored by the shadows which also run from the upper right to the lower left.  Notice also how the edges of the rock outcrops are sharp and crisp which lends to the layering effect and enhances the 3D appearance of the image.  All in all, a pleasing image of the landscape.

rock outcrops
A view from the McCord trail above Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua mountains.


Back on the McCord Trail

The Portal Rodeo Hiking Club headed out for a favorite hike along the McCord Trail.  Not having hiked in awhile a small group decided to check out Cathedral Rock while the majority completed the up and over to finish at Naturalist Journeys.  As with many plans this began to fall apart heading up the trail.  The steep climb from Cave Creek Ranch resulted in a long string of hikers as various skill levels sorted themselves out.  As a straggler (taking photographs) a late arrival at the overlook was guaranteed and as the majority of the group headed to the top of the ridge the small group decided to forgo Cathedral Rock and head back down hill.  While the slight overcast reduced the landscape photographic opportunities something new was seen.  An obsidian outcrop along the trail jumped out as the sunlight reflected off broken pieces of obsidian lying on the ground.  A dark grey with red inclusions and highlights, the outcrop shows no evidence of prehistoric mining activity and is the first outcrop personally seen in the Chiricahua mountains.  Generally obsidian nodules are found along the stream beds where they were tumbled to smooth round nodules.  Further down the trail a side route was taken to explore another trail not previously visited.  After about a quarter of a mile and in a wooded gully a Coues doe was found.  She was bedded down as I came around the corner and got up and watched me watching her.  Carefully getting the camera out the image below was captured.  I moved on and so did she, her bedding area vacant about 15 minutes later when passing by on the way back down the trail.  Although not a long hike, it was nice to see familiar faces of the hiking club and get out to explore a little more of the Sky Islands.

rockhounding in arizoan
Obsidian outcrop

coues doe
Coues whitetailed deer in the Chiricahua mountains