Friday, September 28, 2007

Wrapping Up the Day

After dinner and my mini photo safari at El Encanto, it was once again time to move on.

However, I was not quite ready to return to the Spur Cross.

First of all, I had to get gas for my rental. I sure as hell was not going pay an obscene $6.00 a gallon by returning a car with less than a full tank of gas. Better to gas up now and not owe the car rental place any more money than what I initially planned to pay.

While I was at the gas station, I forgot to check and see if it really did indeed sell booze.

Instead, I struck up a conversation with a fellow at the pump. We talked about tattoos.

I showed him my snake tattoo, and he showed me a design that he was going to have done in memory of his sister who recently died. Then he showed me a Native American style design that he had on his arm where each feather represented a member of his family.

Here was a fellow to whom family seemed very important.

Getting my change back from the clerk inside the mini-mart, I turned the car to head back towards the B & B.

But first I was going to stop at the Satisfied Frog to pick up a 6-pack of chili hard lemonade so that I could have one while packing and bring the rest home.

I also picked up one bottle of the Cave Creek South of the Border Porter. However, I drew the line at buying a can of
Billy Beer. And seeing the sign warning buyers not to drink this beer even more convinced me to stay away.

Why would I want to buy a beer and not drink it? And besides, there were extremely few canned beers that I would even consider buying. So Billy Beer remained at the Satisfied Frog, where it seemed to have been obviously gathering dust.

Now was time to return to the Spur Cross and make my daily call to Ariana.

The sun was starting to set, and I wanted to go out and take a few more pictures before it got too dark. I never did get around to taking pictures of the Spur Cross Bed & Breakfast.

However by now it was already too dark to get a decent picture unless I changed the camera settings, which I did not feel like doing. As a result, this picture of the entrance to the Spur Cross B & B came out way too dark.

But, let's see how much I can lighten up in the computer. Quite a big difference isn't it?

Seeing that is was too dark to get any decent pictures of the B & B, I decided to try my hand at taking pictures of the clouds at sunset.

The only clouds I could see were those over the mountain way yonder.

Here's a close-up of the cloud at the right hand of the picture.

And here's a close-up of the other cloud ~ the one on the left.

I kind of liked this shot of the cloud through the mesquite branches.

As the sun was sinking lower, it was time to go up to the patio so that I could get some better shots.

Carolyn was up on the patio, too, with her camera. She had the same idea in mind ~ taking pictures of the sunset.

Carolyn said that there was lightning coming out of the cloud and hitting the top of the mountain. I did see the lightning. But my finger was never fast enough on the shutter button to capture it.

I even tried shooting several frames one after another in order to capture that elusive lightning. No such luck.

The sun was already fast fading.

I mentioned to Carolyn that judging from the wind direction, it seemed as though the cloud with the lightning was heading our way.

(And I thought about how I would be able to get to the airport were it to rain and give rise to flash floods.)

But Carolyn said, "Don't bet on it." The weather that's up in the mountains doesn't necessarily get to the foot hills and valleys.

Sure enough, Carolyn was right. A short while later, the big cloud with the thunderhead had broken up and was scattering along the ridge of the mountains.

I took my shower so I would not have to take one the next morning.

And now it was time to crack open a cold one ~ the S.O.B. Porter in this case ~ and pack my bags.

That being done, I savored my left-over guacamole, wrote in my journal before popping it into the suit case, and went to bed.

Tomorrow was coming way too early.

El Encanto Revisited

All this shopping and hunting for just the right bracelet had left me hungry ~ and for good reason, too. It was now dinner time.

Wow! Where did the day go?

This time there was no struggle to determine where I wanted to eat. Because I had a hankering for some good guacamole, El Encanto was the no-brainer choice.

And besides, I thought it would be nice to take pictures of the critters around the koi pond at the restaurant.

El Encanto was the first restaurant that I dined at when I arrived at Cave Creek. Now it will be the last restaurant that I dined at during my stay. And just like the first time, I was to dine alone.

I chose a table by the window over-looking the koi pond ~ just like I did when I first dined at El Encanto. I forgot about the chairs that were on wheels and that would roll me away from the table at the slightest push against it.

Instead of Buster, my waiter this time was Jonathan, a young fellow who was one of Cave Creek's many transplants.

In addition to that sumptuous guacamole, which was seasoned with just the right amount of garlic and lime juice, I ordered a bowl of Mexican meatball soup and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. (This meal was going to be just a "one-wine-glass meal.")

The meatball soup was rather tasty. And it filled me up very well ~ so well that I had plenty of left-over guacamole to bring bring back to my room and enjoy later that night.

However, the true highlight of the meal was the guacamole that I was craving. You can't get guacamole this good on the East Coast unless you make it yourself.

After my meal, I went outside to take pictures of the koi pond in front of the restaurant.

It was a large pond that had a beautiful waterfall in the back.

Such a large body of water in the middle of the desert in Arizona was home to quite a few aquatic critters, including this Mallard that looked like it was doing yoga. And what do you suppose this pose would be called?

There were several varieties of ducks, like these nice brown ducks.

You can see the restaurant reflected in the water above the ducks.

This was one of the sweetest ducks I've seen.

And of course you have to see her other side. It was hard to decide which was this duck's best side.

This fellow hung out with the sweet speckled brown duck.

He looks a bit pleasingly pensive, doesn't he? Maybe he's glad that he didn't wind up on the menu!

Again you can see El Encanto reflected in the water. Those large dark squares are the windows ~ one of the windows that I sat at when I was dining.

Here's a duck party. It was really amazing to see the number of ducks at this pond.

Let us not forget about the geese. There weren't as many geese and there were ducks. But the geese commanded your attention, especially when they trumpeted and honked loud enough to wake the dead.

And let us not forget the turtles. They were everywhere.

Here's one just starting to poke his head out of the water.

Here are 2 turtle buddies swimming side-by-side.

Hey wait a minute! These turtles look like they're more than just buddies!

This fellow looks like he's catching his breath ~ or being in the middle of telling those 2 kissing turtles to "get a room!"

While I was busy taking all these pix of the koi pond critters, one of the waiters approached me.

"Follow me and I'll show something you'llwant to take a picture of."


The waiter led me to a tree and told me to look up. I didn't see anything at first.

"Look up there. There's an owl."

Oh my God! There was an owl! I had never seen an owl in the wild and had always wanted to.

"And that one's just the baby. The mother should be nearby. I'll see if I can find the mother."

And with that he started calling "Hoo! Hoo!" in his Spanish accent.

My God! If that was "just the baby" how big was the mother?

The mother never did show up. And the owl-calling waiter left to return to his post.

In the meantime, I kept watching the owl and taking as many pictures of it as I could.

All the while, the baby owl was following me with its eyes ~ even after I left the courtyard and stood at the other side of the wall where my car was parked.

Seeing that owl was the biggest rush of my day. In fact, it was the biggest rush of my entire trip!

Not only had I fulfilled a long-time dream of visiting Arizona, I also fulfilled another long-time dream of seeing an owl in the wild.

And how was I to know that my long-awaited trip was going to be this awesome "two-for-one" deal?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day 6 - On a Mission

The critters were noisy last night.

There would be a nearby bark, followed by a responding bark somewhere in the far off distance.

The barking noises did not seem to belong to dogs. Yet, they did not have that shrieking, blood-orgy sound that I have heard coyotes make. But then again, coyotes have more than one type of vocalization.

And I was going to say those barks belonged to the coyotes until I read that javelinas also making barking noises.

Yes, javelinas bark. Their bark is a "togetherness call" when they are trying to find other herd members. And they "woof" in alarm when they are running away.

So maybe what I heard that night were javelinas. And that was the closest I was ever going to get experiencing javelinas on my trip out west.

Today was going to be my last full day in Arizona, and there were things that needed to get done today.

The first thing I had to do after breakfast was to drive down to the post office to mail some stuff back home so that I would not have to schlep a heavy suitcase.

There were those books that I packed ~ airplane reading and technical stuff that dealt with my original reason for coming to Cave Creek. The 2-pound portfolio could also be packed, along with all the real estate books that Carolyn got me. The same went for my notebook and information folder. I would not be needing them on my trip back home.

Then I had the gifts and goodies that I bought, the cowboy boots I wore only once, my bathing suit and a top that I never wore. They were to provide extra cushioning for the breakables.

I was originally intending on sending 2 packages ~ the reading material going as media mail, and the other stuff going priority.

But when I selected my mailer from the post office postal products stand, there was plenty of room left to pack everything into one box ~ even with the bubble wrap I bought to further cushion my breakables.

I had to wrestle to remove that damn cardboard hanger thingie from the packaging tape. And in retaliation, it bit me and drew blood. It got me good. But fortunately everything was under control by the time I reached the window. And I did not have to request the first aid kit.

The package was going to go "Priority."

"Do you want delivery confirmation with that?"

"I don't think so. I'll know when it gets there."

Upon saying that, the clerk realized that I was sending the package to myself. It was kind of hard not to notice since the return address was the same as the delivery address.

Having been a postal window clerk 10 years ago, I struck up a conversation with both of the window clerks. It was interesting comparing notes.

After paying for my postal products and postage, it cost me just slightly over $40 to save me from having to pay an additional $25 fee for an overweight suitcase. However, it also saved me the trouble of hauling around a suitcase that weighed a ton.

That mission accomplished, I was off on my next mission.

At first I was considering in going for a horseback ride. But I figured that I had enough of outdoor adventures. Besides, I needed to find a bracelet to replace the one I had to return after the stone fell out.

I planned my attack.

First of all, I was going to drive down to North Scottsdale and check out the gift shop at the Heard Museum. Their ad on the local map looked promising.

So, driving to Carefree, I took a right onto Tom Darlington Road. The museum was supposed to be at the corner of Scottsdale Road (which is what Tom Darlington turns into) and Carefree Highway.

I got there alright. But where was the museum? I drove into the mall-like area on my right, where I saw a Starbucks and some other shops with very familiar names. However, the museum was nowhere in sight.

Going a few miles down Carefree Highway did not meet with any success either.

OK. Let's turn around and go the other direction and see if that elusive museum is tucked somewhere inside El Pedregal, an up-scale, multi-level and open-air shopping plaza.

However, I didn't see too many signs of activity. Could it be because it was not quite 10 in the morning?

Oh well, all I could do was to head back to Cave Creek and hit every shop along the way.

I was first going to hit the shops in Carefee. But while driving through the shopping areas nothing caught my eye.

It was hard to spot any interesting shops among the plethora building supply stores, real estate offices, and nail salons. If there were any neat and interesting shops, they must have been Carefree's well-kept secrets.

Shortly upon entering Cave Creek I passed the Town Dump. No sense in stopping there, especially after I have done some serious damage to my wallet 4 days earlier.

The next shop, Indian Village, was a bust.

Big Bronco was interesting. There was even a really cool antler basket that I was almost tempted to buy. However, I was on a mission for a bracelet.

And besides, with all the disarray in my house from my stalled studio renovation project, where would I put the antler basket without Attila thinking it was another litter box alternative and the dogs thinking I brought home a new bone for them to chew on?

The fellow there was a nice chap ~ a Brit actually. He got a big kick out of the fact that I was born in Corby and that Roma had attended Our Lady's Convent School in Kettering.

"Oh. there aren't all that many convent schools anymore."

And there also wasn't that special bracelet that I was looking for either.

I could smell the Cave Creek Candles and Gifts from the outside. And even though I knew that I would not find my bracelet there, I still went in for a look and and a whiff.

Neat place! There were candles everywhere. Duh! And some of them had scents that I never encountered before in a candle, like leather.

In addition to candles, there were scented oils and incense, a hookah, interesting metal sculptures, and a few pieces of clothing.

I also poked my nose into a tiny art gallery next to the candle shop and had a pleasant conversation with the gallery keeper.

(Yeah, I've been having lots of pleasant conversations wherever I went. People were incredibly friendly where I was visiting.)

Further up the road, I stopped at the Shoppes At the Creek. Only 2 stores were open at the time, a western clothing store, which carried had no jewelry except for belt buckles, and Spirit of the West Boot Company, which was a lot more promising.

And boy was it promising!

Hey! Now we're talking!

There were tons of gorgeous jewelry there ~ even silver cuff bracelets with turquoise. The shop keeper was very friendly and patient, allowing me all the time in the world that I needed to try on all the bracelets that caught my eye.

After trying one countless bracelets, my eye kept coming back to this one cuff that was made out of multiple skinny bands of silver and had 2 good-sized stones set on top.

The stones weren't as beautiful as the pale green turquoise from the original bracelet. However, they were beautiful in a different way. The stones had greenish blue spots in a black matrix. And it was a shade of greenish blue that agreed with my complexion.

The store had more than just silver and turquoise jewelry.

There were ropes of tiny beads that were beaded in a spiral pattern so that they had a very serpentine appearance. Simply gorgeous.

I wanted to buy one for Roma, who I knew would appreciate such fine bead work. Unfortunately, I had to balk at the $400 price tag. If only Roma were there to see the bead work herself!

There was also a wall full of gorgeous western boots ~ some even custom-made, along with their custom-made price tags.

There were Tony Lama and Lucchese boots ~ the premier names in western boots.

Oh! The temptation was great ~ especially for a girl who loves her shoes! (And what girl doesn't love shoes?) In fact, I had even considered coming home with a pair of gen-you-ine cowboy boots. But I remained firm resisting all temptation.

And then there was the shop bird ~ an African Grey parrot. What a delightful character! And nowhere near the ornery bugger that our Double-Yellow Amazon was.

I liked that bracelet, but I decided on holding off until I explored my other other options.

I did mention to the shop keeper that I tried finding the Heard Museum, but that it was not where the map said it should be.

"Oh, that's because it just moved. Just go further down the road and you'll see it. But if you get to Ashler Hills, you've gone too far."

OK, I'll keep that in mind.

After leaving that fabuloso store I went to the very funky Lazy Lizard, a consignment shop that would have had Roma spending hours exploring every nook and cranny.

And guess what? There were quite a few used Tony Lama and Lucchese boots there ~ and at a fraction of the cost of those just a few stores down.

Unfortunately, none were in my size. I left the store telling the shop keepers, "There are no Tony Lamas or Luccheses in my size. I guess God doesn't want me to get a pair of boots just yet."

At this point, I continued further up the road, turning left onto Skyline Road to check out the Cave Creek Museum. I over-shot it and had to turn around in the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall parking lot. However, when I got to the museum, I discovered that it was closed.

Keep on driving.

I was going to stop at the Blue Coyote Gallery, but I over-shot that, too, and did not feel like turning around. In retrospect, I wish I had turned around and stopped in for a visit. But at that time I was a woman on a mission.

The next stop was the various shops in Frontier Town, the same place where I bought my goodies 4 days ago. And while I did find some more wonderful conversation, there were no bracelets to distract me from the one I saw at the Spirit of the West Boot Company.

However, I did buy some more of that intriguing southwestern style candy and those very inexpensive rose-scented clay-like thingies (presumably for your lingerie drawer) that I forgot to buy earlier when I was there.

Time to move on.

Deciding to by-pass the Western Mercantile store that was near Carefree (mainly because I did not get the feeling that I would find what I was looking for), I made my way back to North Scottsdale to find the Heard Museum.

And find it I did, after driving to Ashler Heights and having to turn around.

It wasn't big for what I was expecting in a museum. But then, this location was the main museum's (which is in Phoenix) northern annex.

I paid my $5.00 admission and received a museum booklet, bookmark, and paper fan before I made my way to the single gallery room. It featured mainly contemporary Native art from the area. The jewelry was gorgeous. The other stuff was note-worthy too. But I had jewelry on the brain.

After spending sufficient time in the gallery, I exited through the side door to the much-anticipated gift shop. However, I did not rush to the jewelry counter right away. I first lingered over the books and folk art that was for sale.

The prices on many of the folk art pieces already gave me a foreshadowing of what to expect at the jewelry counter. But undaunted, that's where I proceeded to after I checked out all the other wares for sale.

As expected, the jewelry was stunning and the sales help extremely accommodating. (I had yet to meet someone who was not friendly and accommodating!)

The sales lady graciously got out every single piece that I was interested in trying on. I tried not to look at the price tags, but I couldn't help it.

These pieces were the costliest I've seen so far. But then, since the museum did not charge sales tax, I probably would have wound up paying close to the same amount elsewhere.

As with the other store, it was hard finding a bracelet that would fit me. I have very skinny wrists, which are perhaps the only parts of my body that are still skinny. So, I did not have as many choices as I would have liked.

And even the smaller bracelets would have still has to be taken to a jeweler to be properly sized to my skinny and bony wrist. (I was warned many times not to do the sizing myself.)

There was one bracelet that I absolutely adored and would have even considered purchasing over the one I saw in Cave Creek. It was gorgeous ~ the nicest bracelet ever.

But the sucker had no price tag. And why was that? Because it was part of a $3200 set! Ouch!

Why? Oh why does the most expensive bling catch my eyes? Why doesn't my eye find something far less expensive more pleasing?

Yeah, I did have the money to buy that set. But was I going to spend the amount of money that was more than a mortgage payment on a drool-worthy bracelet and a delectably gorgeous squash blossom necklace?

I don't think so.

And just for the heck of it, I decided to look at the other squash blossom necklaces. They, too, were off limits in price.

Just as God did not want me to get a pair of boots, He also did not want me to get a bracelet from the Heard Museum. So, I left empty handed,

but not without first stopping at the sculptural garden before making my way back to the car.

It wasn't an overly large sculptural garden, but there were some interesting things to look at.

Of course, I was more interested in the cacti than I was in the sculpture.

However, I wasn't the total cultureless Philistine. The sculptural garden did have some whimsical pieces.

And it also had some more traditional-style pieces.

Here's a closer look of the Native American woman with an umbrella. Check out the nice copper patina.

The Red Bird of Paradise was one of the desert plants that was still in bloom. People often speak about how gorgeous the desert looks in springtime when just about everything is in bloom. But there are also plenty of flowering plants whose blooming season falls later on in the year.

Here's a close-up of the Red Bird of Paradise flowers.

Anyhow, I was all done with the Heard Museum. Now it was time to venture back the way I came.

Seeing that it was around lunch time, I figured there would be more signs of life at El Pedregal than there were when I passed by earlier.

The many cars in the parking did make it look more promising.

The hills at El Pedregal were very different from the ones I saw at Cave Creek. These were very "bouldery." In fact, El Pedregal is located in the area of North Scottsdale that's known as "The Boulders."

Here's a closer view of the boulders.

And a bit further away was this rocky hill.

There were definitely signs of life inside El Pedregal. Not only were there people inside its many shops and restaurants, I saw a significant number of people wearing the type of ID tags one would find among conference-goers. Obviously whatever conference was going on broke for lunch at the time of my visit.

One of the most intriguing shops at El Pedregal was Adelante, a gallery that featured folk and devotional art, and jewelry.

It was obvious from the start that this was not the place for me to find that special bracelet that I was looking for. But that did not matter, because Adelante was quite the visual treat in itself. This gallery deserved a special visit on its own.

This is how El Pedregal's web site described Adelante:

Folk and devotional art and jewelry. A featured gallery on CNN International's program "Art Club", Adelante celebrated its 10th year at el Pedregal in September. Adelante showcases paintings, sculptures, and jewelry by local and international folk and fine artists, whose work runs the gamut from the devotional to the irreverent.

And this how Adelante was described by

Adelante features whimsical art, photographs, paintings, a few furniture pieces and objects that defy description. Check out the tower made of brightly colored paint cans and the giant pig sculpture. Owner Meg Witwer calls her shop "a singular vision . . . an interesting gallery for people who are interesting."

I must say that both descriptions were fitting.

One of the first things that I noticed was the proliferation of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) artifacts. My eyes could not get enough of all the many various Day of the Dead figures, altars, nichos, etc.

There was also a painting of St. George slaying the dragon, which was a fairly common motif in traditional religious folk art. However what was not common ~ nor typical ~ was seeing Michael Jackson's face on St. George!

There were frames, mirrors, and wall art made by this one artist using only found material.

Another artist cut bracelets out of tin cans that had the labels painted on, and then lined the inside with felt.

There was also an intriguing snake sculpture that was made by stringing loads of bottle caps on a thick, but flexible wire.

What was also intriguing was the story behind the couple of tiny Sculpy clay figures in the display case. They were made by a 9-year-old New England boy whose aunt lives locally.

Whenever the boy came to Arizona to visit his aunt, he would bring with him his tiny Sculpy figures to sell at Adelante.

To me, that spoke very highly of Adelante. Here was a gallery that welcomed and supported the work of even very young artists. No one could accuse Adelante of being a hoity-toity gallery that's too big for its britches.

The shop-keeper (who may have been Meg, the owner) was a nice and interesting person to talk to. She very eagerly showed me around the small gallery, even unlocking the glass case so that I could have a better look at the pieces inside.

On the sales counter were a pair of socks that Meg(?) was knitting in a complex Fair Isle type of pattern out of very lightweight wool. (Honestly! Who would be wearing socks in Arizona, let alone socks knit out of wool?)

In another glass case, there were some interesting silver rings where the top of the ring was fashioned in a graceful knuckle guard. Not only were these rings unusual and gorgeous, they were also quite comfortable.

And guess what? One of them was a size 6 ~ just perfect for my pointer finger. (Too bad there wasn't another one the same size, otherwise I would have bought a second ring to give to Ariana.)

After lingering a considerable time at Adelante, it was time to mosey on and check out the other shops in El Pedregal.

While there where other neat shops on both top and bottom levels, none had matched Adelante in the "Blow-Me-Away-and-Knock-My-Socks-Off" category. Adelante was by far the most interesting establishment in El Pedregal.

Seeing that none of the other shops at El Pedregal had what I was looking for, it was time for me to head back to Cave Creek. My destination? Spirit of the West Boot Company.

When I got to Spirit of the West Boot, I noticed that one of the shops in the building that was closed earlier was now open. And because it looked promising, I went in.

There were 2 people there, a burly fellow that I presumed was the owner, and a quiet Native shop girl. The guy was impressed with my most recent jewelry purchase.

After letting Mr. Burly know what I was looking for, he directed Miss Shy & Quiet to assist me. There were plenty of silver and turquoise bracelets to be seen.

But none were as pretty as the ones I saw in the Horny Toad gift shop and the Spirit of the West Boot Company. Also, none seemed to carry the aura and mystique that I was seeking in a bracelet.

And besides, while the folks in the store seemed pleasant enough, the vibes of the store did not quite sit right with me. Thus, I made my polite farewell and walked towards the Spirit of the West Boot Company.

The shop keeper I talked to earlier was outside, getting ready to smoke a cigarette ~ American Spirit, methol flavor. Even though it was a few days since I had a butt, and not missing it in the least, I asked her if I could have one too. She gladly obliged.

So we sat on the bench and talked for awhile. We talked about guacamole and sales tax.

That was when I found out that the Cave Creek city taxes went to buying up the land at the Spur Cross Ranch to save it from developers. Cool! I would not complain if my tax dollars went towards conservation efforts.

In the meantime, another shop girl came out with the phone in one hand and the African Grey parrot on the other arm. Shop girl #1 paused to take a call from a customer who was inquiring about posters for Cave Creek's Annual Wild West Days.

After the phone call was done, we all went in, where it was time to make my wallet scream.

But those screams fell on deaf ears as I admired the gorgeous new bracelet that was now sitting on my wrist.

Back to the Horny Toad

I had returned to the B & B so exhausted and bummed that I did not even notice the local real estate books that Carolyn got for me and put on my bed.

(God! That lady has been SO sweet and accommodating since day one!)

I just wanted to lay down on the bed and suck up the AC.

But I managed to muster myself and go and find Carolyn.

I showed her my bracelet with the big gaping space where the stone used to be. She was shocked.

I explained that I should not have worn it while hiking.

"Still that shouldn't have happened."

Because Victoria had failed to get me a receipt, and I forgot to ask for one (thinking I was not going to need to return my bracelet), Carolyn strongly suggested that I go back RIGHT NOW while the shop-keeper still remembers me.

Oh geez! I guess I'm going to have to wait until later before I could resume my love affair with the air conditioning.

When I entered the Horny Toad Gift Shop, there was one other customer with Victoria. However, she did not appear to have been engaging in any heavy transaction.

At first Victoria did not recognize me. Then she noticed my tattoo, which is rather hard to forget.

I showed her my defective bracelet and said, "I am broken-hearted."

Victoria was shocked.

And upon examining the bracelet and seeing absolutely no scratches or damage to the setting that could have caused the stone to fall out, she was even more shocked.

She asked if I had the stone.

I said that I didn't.

Not wanting to jeopardize my chances of getting my money back, I fibbed and said that I had been going shopping between Cave Creek and North Scottsdale, and that I did not even notice that the stone fell out until someone at the CVS said, "Do you know the stone in your bracelet is missing?"

I said that I tried back-tracking as best as could, but it was difficult since I had been driving all over the place. And in the meantime, someone could have spotted the stone and picked it up.

Victoria called Bill, whom Gary and I met the day before.

Without a doubt, Bill told Victoria to refund my money. It was unfortunate that I could not recover the stone, especially since it was of significant value. But still, the bottom line was that stone should have not fallen out in the first place.

Victoria refunded my money and had me sign a receipt saying that I accepted the refund money.

I thanked her and told her that I really would have preferred to have the bracelet instead of the money. The bracelet was to be my tangible reminder of the time I spent in Arizona.

Every time I looked at it, I would have been reminded of this place and how much I loved being there. Bills in my wallet could have not served the same purpose.

I returned to the Spur Cross B & B, and asked Carolyn for any recommendations for shops where I could find another bracelet that could be as special as the one I had to return.

At this point, it already was late in the afternoon ~ nearly evening. And I was hungry.

I was excited to still have had those left-over beef ribs from the night before.

However, the mini-fridge was stilled filled with my collection of left-overs from previous days. The chili relleno was particularly nasty looking, swimming in a dubious soupy sea of black beans.

Who was I kidding when I thought I was going to eat all those left-overs? The only left-over I did eat was that to-die-for guacamole from El Encanto.

Well, I had one more night (Oh! Please don't remind me!) after tonight, and I did not want to leave Carolyn w/a messy refrigerator. At the same time, I did not want to toss all that unwanted food into the trash and stink have my room smelling like a dumpster behind a restaurant.

So I decided to let the coyotes have a feast.

I opened my window and tossed all the scraps and left-overs out the window. There was an embankment several feet beyond the window, so the left-overs would have not made that big a mess outside.

(After all, I had this silly, naive concern that Carolyn was going to walk behind the guest house and get pissed off from seeing all that wasted food littering the outside and attracting vermin.)

Those ribs and a chili beer hit the spot.

And while reflecting back on the past five days, I noticed a sense of peace that has kept me company all this time. It was as though the malaise and depression I experienced back home did not even exist. In fact there was nothing to indicate that it ever did exist in the first place.


This why people take vacations.

And just think, it took me 27 years to find this out!

The Mother of All Adventures

I was done with church, and I had bought my bracelet. Yet the day was still young.

Getting back to the B & B, I changed out of my Sunday-Go-To-Meeting clothes and put on something more appropriate for adventuring.

This time, I was going to take a drive out to the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. It was about a 5 mile ride.

Having learned my lesson from previous hikes, I brought my boonie hat and, more importantly, packed my replenished water bottle.

Driving is easy in Arizona. The roads make sense. And people seem to respect the plentiful 4-way stop signs. Even when the pavement gives way to dirt the roads still have appeared easily navigable.

I drove up the occasionally twisty and turny Spur Cross Road, passing a couple of horse ranches, until I reached an area that looked like it had some heavy excavation going on.

Was I heading in the right direction?

Well, I had to be. There was no other way I could have gone.

Shortly after what appeared to be a giant gravel pit lay the parking lot.

I discovered a bit later on that the gravel pit area was the closed-down Phoenix Mine. So that's what a mine looked like.

When it came to mines, I had visions of mineral carts on rails that led down a dark maw into the pit of the earth and where miners wore helmets with lights on them.

This mine looked nothing like the mines I pictured in my imagination. This was just a whole bunch of huge piles of dirt.

There was one other car in the parking area. (I hate to call it a "parking lot" because it is not nicely paved with neatly painted lines. It was just an area that had been cleared out and had its surface leveled.)

Getting out of my car, I followed the signs that pointed towards the trails.

The information hut was about a quarter of a mile walk. However, I had to stop and take pictures of the beautiful panoramic view.

And what a view it was!

Breathtakingly gorgeous!

There were mountains all around

and as far as the eye could see.

See that VERY tiny light colored rectangular structure under the mountain on the right? That was the information hut and the starting point of the hiking and horse trails.

After having taken my panoramic shots, I started walking towards the trails.

Coming from the opposite direction were 2 young women wearing white pants and what looked like, to me, resort wear. One was carrying a small white and red umbrella, daintily holding it aloft like a parasol. The other was carrying what looked like an extra pair of shoes.


What were they doing here? They looked like they just came back from sipping mojitos in Miami instead of hiking the hard-scrabble desert trails of Arizona.

Shortly after passing the odd couple, I came to a locked gate that had a small opening to the right to permit people and horses.

Just beyond the opening, there was an information kiosk ~ sort of like those "you-are-here" thingies.

I read the rules, observed the honor system by paying my $3.00 permit fee, grabbed my permit number and a trail map, and proceeded to the trails.

Just before the start of the trails was the information hut with a couple of ATVs parked to the side. At least somebody thought to make the building more interesting by painting a mural of desert life on its side.

Now, let the hike begin!

The trails were nice and wide. And I definitely made sure to stick to the middle of the trail.

There was desert scrub everywhere. In some spots, these areas were fenced off from the trail because they were private property. God! Imagine having all this beauty in your backyard!

Where the areas were not fenced off, I had to resist the temptation to go off-trail and explore. After all, I never knew where a rattlesnake would be hiding. At least with a wide trail I have more ground visibility than were I to go off and play in the scrub.

Along the trail I came to a dried out riverbed.

This is the ONLY water I saw in any of my desert hikes in Arizona.

This is the other side of the riverbed that I just crossed.

And this is looking down on the same riverbed further up the trail.

Further up the trail, the landscape gets more hilly.

I just can't get enough of those saguaro cacti.

Oh wow! I've entered a saguaro forest. Cool!

That poor fellow on the left looks rather tired and beat, doesn't he?

It gets awfully hot hoofing it uphill.

In addition to saguaro, there's prickly pear.

Here's a close-up so that you can see the fruit on the cactus. I was thinking of picking the fruit. But 2 things stopped me.

First of all, I did not want to get too close to annoy any sleeping rattlesnakes.

Secondly, the fruit itself is dotted with tiny spines that I did not feel like making the effort to remove them before taking a taste.

Both the leaves and fruit of the prickly pear cactus are edible. However, it does take some preparation before you can safely eat the cactus without running the risk of getting a mouthful of spines.

Look at all those hills and mountains. I'm sure glad I wasn't going to be climbing them.

God! I may be hot and exhausted from the unrelenting sun and practically non-existent shade, but I still cannot get enough of all this desert beauty!

I came across another dried out riverbed.

Can you imagine a river flowing through here? Or even a creek?

Look at all the cracks of this dried up river bottom.

I picked up one of those dried chunks to see how it would feel. I was curious to see if it crumbled in my hand.

It didn't!

That dried river cake was nearly hard as a rock. I could not break it in half. And it did not shatter into pieces when I dropped it.

I was contemplating in putting a piece of the dried river bed in my pack to bring back with me. However I decided against it. Even though it did not break with my rough handling, I felt that travelling all the way back to Massachusetts would reduce it to a powder.

Look at all the erosion! I wonder what could have caused it. A flash flood perhaps during monsoon season?

One would normally associate flooding with coastal communities because of the hurricanes and tropical storms that commonly occur in the ocean and then move towards land.

However, the danger of flooding is very real in desert communities. And there are very specific steps and precautions concerning emergency preparations in the event of flooding.

I had bought a post card with a picture of an Arizona flash flood. The back of the postcard has this to say:

"During the rainy season in Arizona, rain water does not absorb into the dry ground like it should. This often causes many flash floods to occur. Flash flooding is a major danger in Arizona as these waves of flood water move at incredible speeds and can roll boulders, tear out trees, or destroy bridges."

Wow! That's intense!

In all likelihood, that eroded cliff could have very easily been carved out by a flash flood.

This saguaro looks as though it went to a party and had one too many margaritas.

Here's a saguaro skeleton. Bet that could made made into something really cool.

Wish I had that in my backyard!

Anyhow, I had my hike all planned out and was moving right along.

As with the other hikes, this one was grueling. I could not help but think that had I been home, walking this same distance would have hardly been a problem.

As much as I relished the high heat and low humidity, I was not used to physical exertion in this kind of climate. I could shovel snow for 2 hours and hardly have to stop to catch my breath. Here, just a 15-minute trail walk was asking a lot.

But I could not go home without having experienced the desert environment and hiked the desert trails.

My hiking plan had been to do a 2.5 mile loop and then return to my car, making it just a little bit over 3 miles total.

I started on the the main trail and hiked 0.2 miles to the Metate Trail junction. Seeing that the main trail was a total of 5.3 miles, I decided to take the much shorter Metate Trail which measured a mere 0.8 miles.

Along the Metate Trail was the short Towhee Trail that started at one point of the Metate Trail and bowed along for 0.2 miles before it came further out along the Metate Trail.

Seeing that I was already hot and feeling the effects of physical exertion, I decided to skip the Towhee Trail and continue along the Metate before it linked up with the main trail.

From there I was planning on hopping onto the main trail and completing the loop back to the information hut.

I had long passed the end junction of the Towhee Trail. The elevation was getting higher, and the going was more strenuous. All along I passed several times to take pictures, drink some water, and once to pee.

I was perhaps 0.1 to 0.2 miles from the junction with the main trail that I happened to glance at my wrist and notice that I forgot to take off my new bracelet before going on the hike.

And, as I turned my wrist to glimpse at that gorgeous green turquoise stone, I noticed that it was missing!


I was shocked, pissed, and heart-broken all rolled into one.

There was nothing I could do but turn around and backtrack, even if that meant adding more distance and time to my hike.

I didn't want to turn around, not only for the fact that it would have taken me longer to get back to the car, but also for the fact that I did not want to see what I had already seen.

Sure, all those cacti, mountains, and desert scrub may look the same after awhile. Still, I wanted to see what else was up the trail. And now I couldn't because I had to turn around and look for that damn stone.

In backtracking, I had a very vague recollection of hearing something drop. But I figured that it was my lens cap, which has a tendency to fall off if it's not snapped on securely.

I was just praying that I would not have to travel far until I came to the spot where I thought I heard something fall.

My hiking now took on a different focus. Instead of looking up and all around me, I was scanning the ground while slowly walking.

And forget about taking any more pictures. My eyes had to be focused on the ground and not through a view-finder.

In some places, the bare earth made it easy to see that there weren't any stones out of the ordinary. (I even stopped to pick up a couple of interesting local rocks.) That, however, was more difficult in sections where the path was covered with stones for several feet along the trail.

It would have taken me hours just to carefully go through all the rocks and stones in that patch of trail.

In the meantime, I was getting even more hot. While I had started this hike right after lunch time, the sun had been climbing high and warming up the air even more.

I had to stop more often to take more drinks of water. I still had about half a mile to go to where the main trail starts. After that, there was another 0.3 mile hike back to the car.

In my desperation about over-heating, I even scooped some water from a puddle at the dried-up riverbed to splash on the back of my neck, all along praying there was no unfriendly fauna in it just waiting to do me harm.

All the while, my water bottle was getting concerningly low.

As I travelled another quarter of a mile, I started getting alarmed when I realized that I had to start rationing my water. That was one concept I never had to deal with before. And it was a tad bit scary.

These trails are not as heavily populated as those back in New England. What if I had succomb to the elements? How long would it have taken before someone discovered that I was missing and organized a rescue party?

And for that matter, did I even tell Carolyn where I was planning to go before I headed out to hike the trails at the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area?

Let's hope to God I did.

And what if I had an encounter with one of those ornery rattlesnakes?

I would have been dead meat.

Fortunatety the angels were with me all the way, with every slow and difficult step.

Unfortunately, in keeping me safe from harm, they too missed the errant stone.

The stone was nowhere to be found along the trails. It also eluded me when I went to the area where I took the mountain panorama shots.

The only thing left was to walk back to the car and hope that it was there when I circled around it.


Nothing at all.

I had even hoped that perhaps there was some chance that the stone could have fallen into my backpack when I went to withdraw the water bottle. Or perhaps fallen somewhere in the car.

No such luck.

At this point, hot and dehydrated, all I cared about was that now-familiar ritual of getting into my car and cranking the AC for several minutes while my body recovered from the heat and exertion.

I could not help but think that someone will someday stumble upon the stone and get excited over such an amazing find.

But until then, it'll be a pretty bauble for the desert devas to enjoy and play with.