Friends of Cave Creek Canyon - Garden Work Day

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon held a work day in the gardens planted last year by the visitors center in Cave Creek Canyon.  Eight participants turned out for the event and a sunny Saturday morning was spent removing weeds and laying ground barriers around several of the planting areas to reduce future weeding. Images from the event are shown below.


The Desert Garden in Bloom

With more more work on the irrigation system at the Painted Pony Resort the front garden is looking good.  Everything is in bloom and the predominant color is now purple replacing the white of the Yucca blooms which peaked several weeks ago.  The butterfly bushes are large and lush and the Crape Myrtles are busy adding to color.  The Lantana and Gold Mound are adding additional colors making the front garden an inviting place to stroll.  The butterflies and hummingbirds are enjoying the bounty of nectar and are constantly found feeding.  A single moth species, the hummingbird moth, is also visiting the explosion of garden colors currently available in the front garden.

A large butterfly bush in front of the main house at PPR

Gold Mound and Butterfly bush


Painted Pony Resort front garden
Panorama of the front garden in bloom with the Chiricahua mountains behind.



Tarantula Behavior and the Monsoons

The arrival of the summer monsoons is always a big event in the high desert of New Mexico.  Working with the law of the minimum the rains awaken the desert and the wildlife explodes across the landscape.  From the emergence of frogs and toads singing for mates at ephemeral pools to the ants on their mating flights, the desert suddenly becomes alive with the rains.

One of the species visible on the landscape are the tarantulas (Aphonopelma sp.).  A large female has maintained a burrow by the garage for years, and is always a good indicator of monsoon season.  She digs herself out every year and can be found mating just before the start of the rains, (video).  A second female has established a burrow about 100 ft away by a concrete pad and both have mated several times this year with local wandering males.

A new behavior was observed in these insects with the first significant rain of the season.  The estate received 0.15" the other afternoon and while out wandering in the rain both females were observed sitting partially outside their respective burrows, see images below.  Curious as to this behavior observations continued (yes, I was standing around in rain watching insects).  Seeing females out during the day is unusual and their position suggested they were either blocking their entrance from the rain or funneling water to drink.  As the rain subsided the female by the garage emerged completely from her burrow, circled the entrance, and went back inside.  The other female also retreated into her burrow after the rain stopped.  A single male arrived approaching one of the burrows, but the female did not respond or emerge, so the idea of a mating behavior was discarded and it was concluded that the entrance sitting behavior was not associated with mating but rather related to the rain.

Several days later the estate received another rain, 0.53".  This rain came in several waves.  The first (0.03") did not elicit any response from either female and they stayed well inside their burrows.  The second wave of rain (0.13") was rapid and flooded the entrance to one burrow but at the other burrow the female could be seen in throat of the burrow but not partially emerged as noted during the previous rain.  During a lull in the rain the burrow that was flooded was again open and the female observed sitting in the throat of the burrow.  With subsequent waves of rain neither female repeated the partial emergence behavior but continued to sit in the throat of their respective burrows.  Though after the rain one female did completely emerge and circle the entrance before reentering and disappearing, see last image below. 

It is still not clear whether the entrance sitting behavior is related to capturing water for drinking or a burrow protection behavior.  But it is clear that Tarantulas also like the rain.

female tarantula sitting at the entrance to her burrow
Female Tarantula by the garage.

female tarantula sitting in the entrance during a rain
The newest female Tarantula sitting in her burrow.

tarantula behavior
Female emerging after the rain


Cloning - Old School

Cloning or the production of genetically identical individuals is a process that has existed for thousands of years.  Yet in today's world cloning is still feared by some, especially when discussing the potential of human cloning.  As a Biologist and former molecular geneticist much of my time was spent cloning, mostly just DNA fragments which required producing populations of cloned bacteria with the DNA fragment of interest for analysis.  Cloning was a fundamental tool in the work on the genetics of Type II Diabetes in Pima Indians.  With DNA sequencers, a dozen PCR machines, and an oligonucleotide synthesizer, it was possible to localize regions of specific human chromosomes which were linked to a number of diabetic traits in the study population.

Fast forward in time, no longer running a laboratory but instead running a 750 acre estate in the remote southwest corner of New Mexico.  Without the large grants and federal support there is no laboratory, no DNA sequencers, no PCR machines.  So, is it possible to still clone?  The answer is yes, but only using old school techniques, and while not cloning DNA fragments it is still possible to clone.  Instead of cloning human DNA it is possible to clone plant material using the tools available. Oaks were chosen since rhizomes from the tree send up new shoots around the base of tree.  Several of these sprouts were isolated, cut, and treated with rooting hormone then individually planted in 1 gallon plastic ice cream buckets, creating a second mechanism (besides growing from acorns) to produce oaks for the Painted Pony Resort.  It is nice to be able to practice some of the old skills (cloning) in a new way.

cloned oaks
Cloned oaks with lizard.
For anyone interested, here are links to some papers that resulted from the Diabetes research.



Rodeo New Mexico, Independence Day Celebrations

The 4th of July is here again, signaling the traditional start of the Monsoon season in the San Simon valley, the emergence of the Tarantulas to mate, and time to celebrate Independence day.  The Town of Rodeo traditionally has lots of festivities on the 4th starting with softball in the morning, the parade at 6:00 PM followed by a community dinner, cake auction, fireworks, and a dance.  Arriving about 5:30 PM I found a spot to park and walked into town.  Folks were parked along highway 80, some cooking out and many enjoying refreshments while awaiting the start of the parade.

There was a slight intermittent drizzle signaling the arrival of the monsoon season, but it did not dampen the spectators enthusiasm and the parade came off without a hitch.  Afterwards Highway 80 was reopened to traffic and everyone headed over to the community center for dinner, float prizes, the cake auction, and dance.  Another wonderful event in Rodeo, New Mexico's most western town.

The start of the parade in Rodeo

Mounted riders

Welcome to Rodeo New Mexico

Chiricahua Desert Museum's giant rattlesnake

Local bagpipe player

the local 4H club

Welcome to the land of OZ

Celebrating the designation of Jaguar habitat in the Peloncillo mountains

A WWII themed float


Painted Pony Resort is Expanding, Again.

Several years ago the Painted Pony Resort expanded to include about 240 acres which included the Rustic Cabin and a segment of the San Simon riverbed.  Recently, additional property became available further to the east and the owner decided to expand adding an additional 440 acres to the estate.  This brings the total size of the Painted Pony Resort to 756 acres of deeded land.  The newly added property consists of the old Wolf Song Ranch which served as a wolf and wolf hybrid sanctuary.

The first step in considering the expansion was a survey of the property, locating existing benchmarks and property corners.  GPS locations were recorded and t-posts installed at the corners of unfenced segments of the property and the resulting information used to create a new map of the property, see below.

satellite image of resort expansion
Painted Pony Resort outside Rodeo New Mexico
The white lines represent current fence lines while the purple indicates an unfenced 80 acre New Mexico State land parcel within the resort, and the red line represents an unfenced segment on the south side of the expansion that crosses Gas Line Rd.  Consisting of landscapes that rise from the San Simon River up across the old El Paso and Southwestern Railroad past the old townsite of Apan N.M. toward the Peloncillo Mountains, the circumference is 6 miles and it is 1.75 miles from west to east across the estate.

A gate and trail now lead from the interior fence along the old railroad to the SE corner of the property.  Guests may now hike or ride to within a mile of the large outcrops at the base of the Peloncillo mountains without leaving the estate.


Making an Impact

The recent loss, and recovery, of several computers reinforced the idea of the utility of the internet and computers in general.  Without internet access it was difficult to maintain real time contact with the owner, especially when 80 guests were expected for a wedding and he was traveling.  It was impossible to order computer parts needed to repair the broken computers and impossible to upload any information about the Painted Pony Resort or the area.  Fortunately the problems were resolved, one by one, and the ability to communicate with the rest of the planet re-established.  As a measure of the utility of the ability to communicate (and have an impact on the rest of the world) from the heart of the San Simon Valley, tallies of  some of the materials created and published from a trailer were collected.  To date, there were a total of 1,942,520 views of the material produced by a guy in a trailer sitting in the desert, demonstrating that even in an isolated place like the bubble it is possible to create and distribute material that interests other people.  While in the grand scheme of things 2 million views may not be much, in the final analysis, the most important measure is the effect on local business.  That is do other businesses see a tangible result as a result of these efforts?  Six weddings at the Painted Pony Resort (with more scheduled) is consistent with the notion that by providing interesting information about the area does bring in more business.  Who would have thought the San Simon valley could be a wedding destination?

The ability of an individual to create and then reach out and present the material to others on the planet is unique and only possible with a computer and internet access and as a result I believe the internet is most democratizing tool invented by our species.  Everyone has a voice in the marketplace of ideas and everyone has a chance to be heard and make a difference.


Google Earth photographs - 1,260,214 views.

 Blogging from the Boot Heel - 68,990 views

 The Sky Gypsies - 50,302 views

 The Painted Pony Resort - 72,778 views

Flickr photographs - not available

Hiking maps - 256,038 views

YouTube videos - 125,750 views

Photobucket - 108448 views


Desert Gardening

Not having a green thumb nor being a gardener an inordinate amount of time is spent gardening at PPR.  In the past, buying plants from nursery's was the way new plants arrived at the Painted Pony Resort.  But not any more, instead gardening skills were developed in an attempt to grow new plants for the estate.

Awhile back trees were purchased and stored on the estate, but a number up and died.  All received the same amount of water and care, yet some would inexplicably die.  Frustrated and to combat this loss of investment dollars it was decided to grow trees and other plants from seed and cuttings.  Starting with spineless prickly pear cactus pads provided by Mountain Valley Lodge the first attempt was successful.  Planted around the estate and at the entrance to the Rustic Cabin, as long as the transplanted cactus were protected from the rabbits by chicken wire they survived.  Without chicken wire the rabbits and cattle destroyed everything.  The next attempt was Agave (starting with drought tolerant plants seemed prudent since my gardening skills were initially non-existent).  Several small Agave were rooted and successfully transplanted but the Javelina also found them tasty and the first crop of Agave were lost to rooting Javelina.  But eventually by protecting the plants from these browsers the problem was resolved.

Emboldened by the initial success with drought tolerant plants, oaks were chosen for the next try.  Oaks grow on the estate and in the fall acorns abound.  Usually, these are removed from the courtyards and left on the open landscape surrounding the houses where the birds and other wildlife consume them.  This past fall though several hundred acorns were saved and used for the next experiment at growing plants for the estate.  The acorns were bagged in wet potting soil and left in the refrigerator for several months.  Once germinated the acorns were transplanted to 1 gallon buckets outside.  Watering and watching the buckets on the ground for any sign of sprouting was slow.  After several months nothing came up.  Periodic soil disturbances were noted in the containers and eventually the realization dawned that something must be stealing the buried germinated acorns.  Emptying several buckets no germinated acorns were found.  The best guess is that by keeping the buckets on the ground rodents and birds were digging up the acorns for food.  So, more germinated acorns were planted and this time the buckets were raised off the ground, see below.  After another couple of months of daily watering small sprouts began to appear.  Over a dozen oaks have sprouted so far and once established these will be transplanted to individual containers and then replanted for use as a wind break at the Rustic Cabin.

While a slow process, the results of these gardening experiments are proving fruitful and will provide the estate with locally grown plant resources.  The next species will be the Afghan Pines found on the estate.  A number of pines were lost as a result of irrigation problems in combination with the big freeze 2 years ago and require replacement. 

cactus for planting
A Christmas cactus, Agave, and Spineless Prickly Pear grown for the estate

growing trees
An Oak seedling sprouting

Keeping the germinated oaks above the ground reduces rodent activity
Addendum:  Five of the 20 sprouted oak seedlings now have leaves as other seedlings sprout in the makeshift raised planters.

growing trees
Five seedlings have leafed out in this experiment.  Empty buckets and buckets of dirt are the controls.


The Changing Face of Computers

Years ago in college interactions with computers took place in special facility, climate controlled and populated by men in white lab coats.  Computer facilities had an air of a scared, hallowed, and special place where through the high priests of the computer facility you could submit your punch cards to run whatever program you had slaved over creating.  Now fast forward to today, computers are ubiquitous, even in the refrigerators at the Painted Pony Resort.  There is talk of the internet of things whereby all our handy appliances will be in communication with each other.  But what happens when your computer goes down and you live in a very rural environment?  This happened a couple of weeks ago when the hard drive on the desktop computer went south.  Knowing the utility of having backups, out came a little netbook which served as a functional backup for a several days.  Then suddenly it too took a nose dive,  a complete recovery of the netbook operating system was useless, it too was no longer functioning.  On to plan C, a very old and slow laptop running an early version of Windows XP.  Since guests were about to arrive and it was imperative that I have communication with the owner back east, the old laptop was the last hope.  After a night of work it was working, sort of.  It was possible to email, in a basic version of Yahoo mail, but nothing else was possible.

After letting the owner know of the communications problems he shipped an old laptop of his while I began investigating the desktop computer to get a list of parts needed for the repairs.  Having no place to work it was out to the open air garage when there was room to work on the desktop tower.  In contrast to the early college experience in the sacred halls of the computer facility, the garage is open to the elements, hot, and has a gravel floor.  So sitting on the ground with the desktop tower placed on top of some boxes and a handy leatherman tool the dis-assembly began.  Off with the covers and after several minutes with the air compressor the interior was clean.  Instead of grounding with straps and wires, I just held the metal case and stood barefooted on the gravel of the garage.  After identifying the important connections to the hard drive, out it came. 

Several days later, when the owners old laptop arrived it was online again to locate suitable replacement parts.  Of course in addition to the new hard drive a new operating system was required, so both Windows 8.1 and a new 2 TB hybrid hard drive were ordered along with cables to allow the installation of a solid state drive received as a Christmas present.  During this time guests came and went and cleaning the estate took up all the time, but eventually parts arrived via UPS and a day was taken to rebuild the desktop computer.  After installing the 2 new drives and loading a new operating system the desktop was up and running.  Loading the operating system as well as other programs on the solid state drive should decrease the amount of work the hybrid hard disk drive experiences and will hopefully lengthen its' lifespan.

Quite a change from the old days when computer access was a lab coat operation, now it is work on the computer where ever there is room, don't worry about climate control and the gravel garage floor will be suitable as workspace.  Special tools, bah, just whatever is in the tool box.

Now it is on to data recovery from the 2 old had disk drives.  Think I'll get the tractor and go out to grub some mesquite from the riverbed first.

repair in the desert
The desktop computer back in service with a 700-900 year old Tularosa fillet rim bowl sculpture on top
Addendum:  The cables arrived that allowed the transfer of data from the old hard drive to the newly installed hard drive.  Quite a relief and it was possible to recover all the photographs that were stored on the old drive so all the aerial photographs of the boot heel as well as hiking photographs are now safely recovered and stored.  The hard drive partition with all the programs was bad but the data on other partitions was fine which is what allowed the recovery.


Art in the Desert

Creating art is often a function of place.  The right place inspires and fires the imagination and gets the creative juices flowing.  The high desert of the San Simon Valley is one of those places.  The open spaces surrounded by mountains with views that are constantly changing with the light and time of year constantly provide new inspiration and generate new ideas.  One of those ideas was about creating artwork relying solely on living plant material found on the landscape.  The idea arose when the yucca stems shown below were found on the landscape.  A number of curved and tapering yucca stems were found near a small grove of yucca one afternoon while checking fence lines.  The unusual shapes immediately attracted attention and several were collected and placed as fence stays at the entrance to the Painted Pony Resort.  Yucca stems are common in the old fence lines around the valley and are generally easy to find when making impromptu fence repairs so adding them to an existing fence seemed only natural.   Since placing the curved yucca stems in the fence line many guests have commented on them, each seeing something different in the funny fence stays.  So an idea was born - how to make more curving yucca stems for the fence? 

Each spring all the yucca plants put out a vertical stem which supports the yucca flowers and eventually the seed pods.  These stems grow rapidly and in several days they may be several feet in length.  Choosing a yucca over at the Rustic Cabin which had just started sending up a new flowering stem and with some bailing wire the rapidly growing stem was bent and tied.  Within 24 hours the stem had grown enough to require another bend and more wire was used to train the stem into another curve.  This was continued on a daily basis until several curves were produced.  At this point the stem quite growing and began to flower so the yucca was left alone.  After the seed pods open, the stem will die and dry providing another curvilinear stem for an unusual fence stay for the resort.  Now that the process of training yucca stems is understood, it will be possible to create a number of the pieces next year.

Curved and tapering yucca stem

Tapering and twisted yucca stem

Growing curved and tapered yucca stems for fence stays

Experimental Archaeology 101 or Building Old School

A hallmark of a Mimbres archeological site is masonry construction.  While other cultural groups built with adobe, the Mimbres built with stone that was covered in stucco.  Evidence of this stucco was recovered from the presumptive Mimbres hamlet discovered at the Painted Pony Resort and in an effort to understand the building techniques used a replica wall was built around the wellhead and pressure tank at the Rustic Cabin on the estate.

The first step in the process was to find a suitable source of rock for the walls.  This was located at the outflow of a large arroyo on the property and a number of trips were made collecting and transporting rock to the Rustic Cabin.  The next step involved making small (1/4-1/2") gravel for inclusion in stucco mix.  Surface material from a sandy arroyo provided the starting material and after sifting out the sand, the residual small rock was collected.  Although clay pits were located, commercially prepared stucco/mortar mix was chosen as the binding/filling agent because of its longevity as opposed to using local clay which would require constant maintenance.

The site chosen for the replica walls was the well head and pressure tank at the Rustic Cabin.  After running electricity to the site for pipe heating tape, a free standing rock wall was constructed from the rocks collected previously. After a first pass on building the wall it was noted a number of openings and spaces existed.  These spaces were filled with smaller rock before applying the stucco.  Stucco was made using the small gravel mixed with mortar mix (at a ratio of 2:1, mortar to rock) and then applied by hand to all exposed cracks between the rocks inside and out.  The results of replicating a Mimbres style rock wall indicate that building rooms was a slow laborious process and partially explains the location chosen for the hamlet, with access to building materials and clay found on the east side of the San Simon riverbed.  The amount of effort taken to build this small reproduction also suggests the quality of workmanship should vary from the Mimbres field houses and hamlets when compared with the larger classic period villages.  It is only hoped the reproduction wall will be around in 800 years like the hamlet.

Stucco from the hamlet.  Note the inclusion of small rocks creating a clay based concrete.
rustic cabin well
Well head and pressure tank site

building with rocks
Free standing wall around the well head and pressure tank

rock wall
The free standing Mimbres style rock wall with locally produced rock stucco filling open spaces.


More from Apan New Mexico

While back out walking, looking for survey markers, a side trip was taken to further explore the site of Apan NM.  A turn of the century rail/water stop on the old El Paso and Southwestern railroad north of Rodeo NM, Apan was of no particular importance in the grand scheme of things just a place to pick up water, drop off the mail, and perhaps load some cattle.  But it does help place into context how people have used the landscape through time.  This trip revealed the foundations of 4 buildings just south of the water tank (all on the east side of the tracks about 10' x 15') as well as parts of battery jars.  Wet cell battery jars were prevalent before electrification and were used to power railroad signal lights, telegraphs, and telephones.  Although no evidence of a signal light remains, an insulated guy wire for a pole as well as a cross arm and broken glass insulators were found which is consistent with battery use for telegraph/telephone.

battery jar parts
"Edison" ceramic battery jar lids and other electrical parts from Apan NM.
Apan nm battery jar
A broken Corning battery jar.