Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tucson in the springtime

Greetings from another of our favorite winter stops, Tucson, AZ. We're enjoying the warmth and breezes of springtime in the desert. The flowers have been really great this year. The roadside from Ajo, across the Tohono O'odham Nation (formerly known as the Papago, or desert Pima Indians) was carpeted with orange and yellow poppies. We stopped over in Sells, AZ for lunch at the Desert Rain Cafe, a restaurant specializing in traditional foods ofthe Tohono O'odham people. Dishes include tepary beans, agave sweeteners, saguaro syrup, cholla cactus buds, prickly pear cactus jellies. We had a wonderful lunch and wandered down the road to the recently finished Cultural Center and Museum. The cultural center included exhibits on traditional and contemporary life of the People of the Desert. We noted that their nation is divided by the international border between the US and Mexico. Before 9/11 it was quite easy for tribal members to cross back and forth, since it was their own lands. But ever since it has become a nightmare with new border security and the atmosphere of distrust and danger as these lands are also remote and favored by human and drug smugglers making them a prime focus of Homeland Security efforts to seal the border. These people are again caught in the middle.

Here in Tucson, the smell of orange blossoms is everywhere or at least in the residential neighborhoods where I ride my bike. We've settled into a mobile home park in the central part of the city, close to lots of great sites and restaurants, yet in a quiet, older neighborhood I get to ride my bike along some very well marked and relatively safe trails through the city. We've enjoyed some hikes, restocking our natural foods and pantry at Trader Joes and Sunflower Markets, outdoor festivals and of course sampling some of the many wonderful ethnic restaurants. In fact, Tom took an afternoon cooking class which resulted in a wonderful meal of Oaxacan Black Mole with rice, fried bananas, chayote (a mild summer-type squash),a good wine and a shot of tequila!

Another afternoon was spent listening to music provided by various local bands all powered by the sunshine via a portable solar electric system. Tucson is a very energy aware town with lots of programs and focus on energy efficiency, solar electricity and water heating systems, and the value of water and water conservation in the desert.

Although this represents the values of the 21st century Tucson, we also had an opportunity to view all around us here evidence of the area from the 18th century with historic adobe buildings including the church and convent at San Xavier de Bac, just southwest of the city limits on the eastern edge of the Tohono O'odham nation. This church as recently completed a major restoration of the interior to when it was constructed by the Jesuits and Indians in the early 1700s when this area was still claimed by Spain.

There's so much to enjoy and savor here in the area, and the weather has been fantastic. But, our time is coming to an end here and we expect to be moving along this weekend towards a visit with friends in the Phoenix area. We'll miss our friends here, and will look forward to return in another year to explore additional parts of the city and the region. Until next time, happy trails....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alive and well in Ajo

We've spent a glorious couple of weeks in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, just the two of us with the Saguaro, hummingbirds, gila woodpeckers and ravens along with the howls and yips of the coyote family that lives near where we're parked. The weather has been chilly in the evenings, with spectacular milky way views at night, and near cloudless deep blue skies daily. A bit of wind and rain greeted us in our first few days, but that gave way to springtime. As daily temps rise, we're seeing the Ajo Lilies begin to pick up growth, but we're afraid there won't be blooms until after we leave.
But we've rested and enjoyed near perfect silence here. An occasional fly by of the A-10s from Tucson en route to gunnery practice was the only "civilized" sound heard. It's remarkable the sounds of breezes through the saguaros and palo verdes as the many branches or needles create a soft whistle almost. With the extra solar modules and system rewire, we're enjoying more solar gain along with clear skies and have been a little less restrictive of our internet and digital entertainment. Nancy has been really getting a charge off working with Amazon's "Mechanical Turk". Most recently she's been troubleshooting customer service issues with a fellow in HongKong who's assessing the performance of the automated bus information for the Pittsburgh PA public transportation authority. All while sitting in the middle of the desert with solar electricity and a satellite internet connection! Que mundo! What a world!

Anyway, time to shuffle along. Hope to get to Tucson by Thursday via the TohonoO'dom reservation and a hoped for native meal and visit to their new cultural center. More later...

Pictures: From top left: 1-our little home in the saguaros, 2. Ocotillo in bloom, 3. Organ Pipe cactus view to southwest, 4. Our nearest neighbors at Tohono Oodum cemetery, 5. Our solar array and internet connection satellite dish. We now have 590 nominal watts of modules...enough for now!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

After visit to the "center of the world", what's next?

Recently enjoyed an afternoon in Felicity, CA, a roadside stop just west of Yuma on I-8. For years I've driven by and was always going to stop. And this year I did. Here was the self-described and promoted Center of the World, with a brass plaque in the floor (just over my right shoulder), beneath the apex of a pyramid. This spot is also to contain the "history of humanity" carved in granite for the millenia. ( This project was the dream construction of a Jacques-Andre Istel, a Franco-American who reportedly finances and directs the work from successful businesses in the early recreational parachute industry. Little information about the background of the project was readily available, but it was a pleasant afternoon to walk around the grounds angling for photos and inspiration. It was a beautiful day in February without need of overcoat or other special preparations. The work is extensive. Two engravers were at work on the granite slabs drawing and printing parts of the narrative. There are also panels dedicated to both California, Arizona, the history of the French Foreign Legion, the solar system, medicine and the sciences and many other topics. Rather eclectic but I guess that's his right to include what he wants.

We've enjoyed our longer than anticipated stay here. Working for StarlightSolar was intense but very enjoyable and it proved a great opportunity to become more uptodate on the latest equipment and installation techniques for battery-based RV systems and to get better acquainted with Larry and Deb Crutcher, the owners. We even added an additional 130watt module to our roof and rewired the setup to cut out the long wire runs and make the system more efficient, and powerful. We now have 590 nominal watts of solar, and will see how we fare...we didn't really have any problems before, but the price on solar modules is pretty low, so now was the time at just under $4.00/watt cost. We're looking at this as a real possibility for next season for an even longer term in the winter

But our part of the solar sales season is at an end for this year. We're off on Friday for Ajo, AZ and then on to Tucson, or at least that is the plan for now...Happy trails