A few days ago, I started to see news stories pop up about the Santa Cruz River here in Tucson. I think Tony Davis of the Arizona Daily Star wrote the best one. I recommend reading his story. He tells quite a bit of history of the river, and there are a number of historical pictures.
In short, the river has been “dead” for quite some time. The region uses a lot of ground water, and that has caused the river to be dry except when there is rain.
Tucson Water has started the Santa Cruz River Heritage Project, and will be releasing reclaimed water into the river. There will not be enough water released to totally revive the river. They estimate there will be about 5000 feet of the river that will have water.
Yesterday, there was a sort of release party for the project. There was a large crowd that came to see the start of the reclaimed river. Various local politicians and dignitaries gave speeches, then people went down to the water.
It isn’t a vast amount of water, but any flowing water in the desert amazes people. People were walking and splashing in the water. Some people even planted native plants along the water edge in hope they will take root there.
I took some pictures of what the river looks like now. I hope to take comparison pictures in future days to see just what this project does for plants and wildlife.
My favorite picture I took was this one of a cowboy riding his horse in the river with downtown Tucson in the background.
I think this is an interesting project and one that will provide much enjoyment for people and life for nature. There are paths on both sides of the river bank that will provide easy access for people to observe and enjoy the life that this water brings for years to come.
Picacho Peak State Park is located in Arizona about 40 miles from downtown Tucson. It is right off the I-10, so it is easily accessible. It is $7 per vehicle to enter the park. The park opens at 5am and closes at 10pm, though the hiking trails are open from sunrise to sunset.
I have been to Tucson a number of times over the last few years, whether for vacation or job interviews. Picacho Peak is a landmark that shows the trip is almost over. It is very recognizable, and juts out very high over the desert. There is something in me that wants to stand on peaks when I see them. I am not any kind of intrepid mountain climber, but I want to see the world from up there.
A couple of weeks ago, I moved to Tucson to start work. I had the opportunity to go hiking yesterday, and chose Picacho Peak. There are many other places I want to hike here too, but why not start with the place I have been looking at for a few years.
This trail is rated difficult and it is actually difficult. I have been on trails that said difficult, but really was just a steep elevation gain. This one has steep elevation gains, rocky trails, loose rocks, and more. This is only for people who have some experience hiking and who are in at least decent physical condition.
This sign says to bring 2-3 liters of water. Depending on the time of year, I would say that is a minimum. Even on a cool day, this is Arizona and it is dry and sunny. About a month ago a group of Boy Scouts were hiking this trail and one of them died after they ran out of water. Personally, I bring enough for myself plus enough to share with someone who might have ran out.
The park website recommends bringing gloves. I tossed a pair of leather work gloves in my bag just in case, and I am glad I did. There are places on this trail where you will be pulling yourself up the trail using steel cables. Then on the way down you will need to use the cables to keep yourself from going too fast. The gloves are useful to keep your hands from getting friction burns.
There are currently bees on the trail due to the blooming Palo Verde trees. I heard many more than I saw. I only had one disturb me, and it just wanted to check out my backpack when I set it down. However, if you are allergic to bees you might want to take precautions.
The trail is about 2 miles long. It starts out at a fairly steep climb. It goes from about 1500 feet at the desert floor to 2900 feet at the “Saddle” which is about the halfway point. Then it drops down again from the Saddle at least halfway to the desert floor before climbing to 3374 feet at the Peak. There is this lovely but rather faded sign at the Saddle that gives that info, plus some history on the trail. In short, the sign says that Picacho Peak has been a landmark for centuries. It helped early explorers, and had a light beacon put on it in 1932 for aviation navigation. The trail was created to help service that beacon before it was removed.
There are plenty of “steps” put into the trail. They are somewhat helpful, but are rather irregular.
The trail itself isn’t always easy to see. In fact, I ended up taking a few accidental trips off the trail because I followed a rock slide or something that looked more trail-like than the trail. Some kind person has put arrows and other helpful markers at most of the difficult to see sections though.
You can also tell that parts of the trail were made by blasting rock that was in the way. It was never smoothed out by the builders. It is rough and can be slippery on the downhill parts. At a few points I had to use my hands to help me up the trail. A few people I observed had difficulties on these sections. I would recommend decent hiking shoes and not running shoes on this trail for the grip.
Remember how I mentioned gloves? There are helpful steel cables on the trail for the really bald rocks and the really steep areas. Without them the trail wouldn’t work.
There are a couple of particularly fun sections. This first one doesn’t really show well in pictures. You have to pull yourself up using the cables. There are not many great places to put your feet, but it can be done if you take your time. I thought it was a lot of fun, but I am also taller than average. Some of the shorter people I watched had a bit of difficulty.
Then there is a section where you are walking along the edge of a drop off. It isn’t a particularly tall drop off, but the steel cable comes in handy. Also someone put a handy little bridge to make it easier to walk.
There is certainly plenty to see on the trail. The plants are particularly beautiful right now. The Palo Verde trees are blooming, as are some of the Saguaro cactus. There are also many overlook points where you can see for miles. Many people do not like the desert, but there is a rugged beauty to it that I love.
Of course the point to this trail is to get to the top of the Peak. It does not disappoint and thoroughly makes up for all the work to get there. There is a 360 degree view of the surrounding desert, with views for miles and miles in all directions. I am still new to the area, so I wasn’t really sure all that I was looking at. It is still impressive nonetheless. I don’t think I got images that do justice to what I was seeing. The IPhone has a good camera, but I don’t know that it does well in this type of distance situation.
This is a great trail in all ways. However, its close proximity to the Interstate and railroad tracks makes it a noisy trail sometimes. It isn’t overwhelmingly loud, but it is definitely noticeable especially when trains pass by. This picture shows the Interstate and just past it is the train going by.
I will definitely hike this trail again. I need to get in better shape for the second time because my legs are telling me how much they hate me today. I am thinking I may try to take my oldest son with me in the fall so he can learn how to hike a trail like this. It may have been a lot of work, but the beauty made it all worth it.
One of the places we found on our Idaho solar eclipse vacation was the cabin built by Johnny Sack located at Big Springs. The cabin was located only a few miles from the house we were staying at in Island Park, ID. There is parking for the cabin at the Big Springs campground off of Highway 20. There are signs that will get you to the campground. There is an easy path to walk from the parking lot to the cabin.
Johnny Sack was an immigrant from Germany in the late 1800s. He and his brother ended up in Idaho because they wanted to work with cattle. Sack had been a cabinet maker and worked for Studebaker making wagons. The skills learned in those occupations would help him build his cabin.
In 1929, Sack leased land from the Forest Service for $4.15 a year. Three years later he would build start to build his cabin on this land. It took him about 3 year to build the cabin, because he built it entirely by hand. He even built the furniture that is in the cabin.
After his death in 1957, the cabin passed to his sisters. In 1963, his sisters sold the cabin to the Kipp family who used it as a summer home for some years. There were originally other cabins located near by that people used for summer homes, though Johnny lived in his cabin year round. The forest service decided they had made a mistake in allowing those cabins to be built since the ground underneath is volcanic. Apparently, there is no way to create proper drainage in this area. Thankfully, the Kipp family was able to get the cabin turned into an historical site. This is truly a beautiful building and it would be a shame if it had been torn down.
Johnny in particular did beautiful work using the bark of the trees as decoration. In the pictures below, you will be able to see how that bark is used.
The cabin is located next to Big Springs. Johnny built a water mill at the spring that he used for electrical power.
The spring is constantly streaming water, in fact, it pumps out 120 million gallons of water a day. What a perfect place to put a water mill.
The spring itself is also incredibly beautiful. There are many animals that make it their home. We saw trout, muskrat, and ducks on our trip.
This is a great location to spend a few hours if you are in the area. We went here in the morning, and then drove up Sawtell Peak later in the day, so it is possible to do this will visiting other locations in the area. I would highly recommend checking this spot out if you are in the area.
About 2 years ago, Lynn started to talk about the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. If we had the opportunity, she wanted to go to an area with 100% totality. Last year in August, we started to get serious about going to the eclipse. Even then it was difficult to find a place to rent to stay in the area we wanted to go because of cost and availability. With our large family, a hotel would be much too expensive, renting an RV was not an option, so a vacation rental through VRBO was the way to go for us. We were able to find a house to rent in Island Park, Idaho. It was about 30 minutes away from the 100% totality area, and about 40 minutes away from the area with over 2 minutes of complete totality. We figured we would rent the house, and then find a decent place to drive to observe the eclipse.
We left Friday the 18th of August around 7pm from our home in San Diego County. We drove through the night and met my parents in Beaver, Utah. They had left earlier Friday morning so they wouldn’t have to drive through the night. We arrived in Island Park about 5pm Saturday. The distance we traveled was about 1050 miles, but we did make some fairly long stops.
On Sunday, we drove around Rexburg, Idaho and Ashton, Idaho, both towns being in the 100% totality area, including going to church. There were farmers who had harvested their crops in fields along the Highway 20 and were allowing visitors to camp in those fields for a fee. There were also farmers who had fields with KEEP OUT on hay bales. If I had a field that had not been harvested yet, I definitely would not want anyone trampling my crops!
On August 21st or Eclipse Day, there were also people who parked along the pullouts off of the freeway who may have come up just for the few hours it would take to view the eclipse.
We did not have a definite plan for Eclipse Day because we weren’t quite sure where exactly we would be able to go to watch. We knew that there were going to be many, many people in the area that day and were unsure where parking would be available. Josh preferred to be where there would be less people.
We told the pastor of the church we were visiting about the reason for our visit to the area (Total solar eclipse, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons) and he and his wife were extremely generous and invited us to their home for Eclipse Day, which was located in the zone of on totality with a duration of 2 minutes!
On Eclipse Day morning, we probably should have left earlier because of traffic, but we left a little later and arrived at the pastor’s house at 10:15 AM, right at the beginning of the partial eclipse.
Josh, my father-in-law, and I all had cameras set up to photograph the eclipse through partial phase and totality. None of us are expert photographers, but we tried to photograph it anyway.
I do have to say that none of the pictures you see online of a total solar eclipse can compare to seeing one in person. There is also a huge difference between a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse. At our vacation rental, coverage was 99.4% but even that was not enough to experience totality.
Experiencing totality was not even close to what I was expecting. I knew it would get cold, I knew about the darkness, I knew that I might go a bit crazy trying to do too many things in two minutes. But for me, the highlight was looking up at the sun during totality and seeing the black hole where the sun should be and the delicate ribbons and streamers of the sun’s corona. It was beautiful and alien at the same time, and most likely is something that I will never see again.
The horizon around us took on the light of sunset/sunrise. The air turned cold, shadows became sharper, like sitting in the lights of a football stadium at night. You can see, but everything looks slightly faded, like looking at a sepia photo. We could hear cheering from fellow eclipse watchers in the neighborhood.
Then, totality ended and the sun and normality returned.
One thing that struck me about the eclipse: it is silent. There is no fanfare when totality begins and there is no taps when it ends. There is nothing you can do but watch and experience and admire. You are only an onlooker in this dance between the sun and the moon.
After the eclipse, life went on. We ate lunch with the pastor and his family, left around 3:30 PM for our vacation rental, took a detour to see a waterfall called Mesa Falls, and didn’t get back to the house until about 6:45 PM. A 50 mile trip took us close to 3 hours because of traffic.
In spite of the traffic, it was worth it to experience this once in a lifetime event. Though, if we have a mind to, I suppose we could try to make it to the next total solar eclipse in the US, which will be on April 8, 2024, in seven years!
P.S. We took many more pictures and videos during the eclipse. Hopefully, we will get a post up soon with all of those. They need to be processed, edited, or reduced to be posted. Thank you so much for reading!
Last year, I didn’t have a chance to write about the San Diego County Fair itself. So this year, I decided to take as many pictures as I could while we were there and write about our favorite parts! I will try to write about the Zucchini Race in a separate post. Hopefully, I will get to it!
Because we were “exhibitors,” we were able to enter through a different gate that had no line to get into the fair. That alone is one of the big pluses of entering the Zucchini Race every year!
After checking in at the agricultural building with the boys’ zucchini cars, we walked around to look at all the different displays located in the area.
We always seem to come to the fair during chicken week. So those were the small animals on display this year.
I’m afraid these displays of chickens are what got us started on eventually wanting a chicken coop!
This is the hydroponics display. It is different every year. But it is always beautifully set up.
After the races at 11 AM, we head out into the main part of the fair. We always gravitate away from the all the rides and carnival games… but there is one thing you just cannot avoid: Fair Food!
Somehow, we always end up at Chicken Charlie’s. This year’s interesting offering: A Krispy Kreme fried chicken ice cream sandwich…
The menu at Chicken Charlie’s!
Meet the Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger. It doesn’t sound like it should taste good but it does! It tasted so good that the kids ate it all up and didn’t leave any for Josh! It is kind of expensive ($10.99 for one), which is why we only bought one and all seven of us shared it.
The fair special for our sides: french fried onion rings, fried zucchini, and chicken tenders. Lots more of the fried zucchini than anything else… and only Josh and I liked it. Silly kids don’t like their veggies even when they’re deep fried!
One of many ice cream vendors at the fair. The signage here is always a little bit overwhelming!
I still remember coming to the fair with my parents and my brother when I was a teenager, and getting frozen cheesecake dipped in chocolate on a stick. I should have gotten one just for old times’ sake. But Corran and I really wanted funnel cake instead. The rest of the family got ice cream.
Our favorite part of the fair: The Garden Show! Josh likes to walk through here and get ideas for our yard.
Since this year’s theme was the Old West, the displays weren’t quite as vibrant as in past years. I still loved them anyway.
I love this part of the garden show! It is called the Children’s Garden, and we take our kids here every year. They have different activities for kids about eating healthy, and learning about fruits and vegetables. They even get to go home with a small plant. Last year, we came home with a few tomato plants and they gave us so many yummy cherry tomatoes! This year, the kids came home with bell pepper plants and beefsteak tomato plants.
The kids digging for gold nuggets so that they can each bring home a plant! Gwen LOVED this activity. She has always enjoyed playing in the dirt. There were also craft activities on the other side of the garden, like coloring and making a ladybug out of egg carton pieces.
I love to walk around and look at all the plants on display in the children’s garden. There are fruit trees, berry bushes, and all sorts of raised beds full of edible plants.
I had to take a picture of this flower rainbow. Just lovely.
One of the many peaceful displays at the garden show. So inviting!
My kids loved this model railroad display. It must have taken a lot of time and effort to set this up!
Another annual visit to the Gem and Mineral Show in Mission Tower. Every year we come here to look at rocks. This is Matthias’ favorite place. He has always been our family rock hound.
They have these grab bags for sale every year too! The kids always enjoy opening up their bags when we get home to see what interesting rocks or fossils they received. Two of my kids also got a free polished rock from the vendor. Gwen held tight to hers for the rest of our day.
I had to take a picture of these small animal carvings! They really are very tiny!
Our next stop was the home and hobby building, which is right next door to Mission Tower. We had never actually been in here before, but I’m glad we were able to this year! It is full of collections of different objects: rockets, disneyland pins, quilts, matchbooks, Star Trek memorabilia, even fake plastic food. If you can collect it, it was probably here! The baked goods competition was also here (my secret reason for wanting to come take a look). I am considering entering next year.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip to the fair. I know that there are no pictures of the rides, but they would have been quite expensive for all the kids to ride everything (although some years we have gone on the rides and they are a lot of fun too!). Usually for our family, the fair is a place to learn and still have fun!
Every year, if possible, we attend Lego Star Wars Days at Legoland California on Saturday. It is one of the highlights of our year and we had been looking forward to this year’s Lego Star Wars Days for a few months! We were not able to attend last year since we did not all have membership passes.
This is definitely a geeky post so feel free to skip if Star Wars is not your thing! This post will also be mostly pictures.
This year’s banner at the main stage near Miniland was great. I really liked the Death Star logo. This is where most of the contests for Star Wars Days takes place: Jedi Trivia, Family Build Challenge, and Costume Contest.
After taking a quick ride through the Lego Ninjago ride, we went to the Model Shop Rooftop, which is also very close to Miniland. Usually, when we go to Lego Star Wars Days, we don’t really ride many of the rides. We are off having too much fun being Star Wars fans! The Model Shop Rooftop is where you can pick up some free goodies: this year’s giveaways were a poster, two pop badges, and a pin.
For the droid hunt, you walk around Legoland, usually near the Beginning or in the Star Wars Miniland area to find a costumed member of either the Rebel Legion or the 501st to “catch” you. This year and the last year we went, we were caught by members of the Rebel Legion I think. They will say to you, “How long have you had these droids?” Usually, we just smile widely and say, “We’ve been looking for you!” Then they put the red ribbons over our droid hunt ribbons and give us each a raffle ticket for a 4:30 PM drawing for prizes.
There were also two contests to enter at the Model Shop rooftop, one was a drawing to win a piece of Star Wars artwork, and the other was to guess the number of Lego bricks used to build a full-scale R2D2.
The highlight of our visit to the Model Shop rooftop though is the fan gallery. Star Wars fans and Lego fans bring their own creations (called MOCs) to display.
We were able to talk to two MOC creators and we were so impressed with their models that we went and bought two power functions motors to play with at home! It helped that I had a 15% off coupon to use at the Big Shop.
I LOVED this Lego Star Wars Ferris wheel. We are also big fans of the Star Wars Rebels (minifigures on Ferris wheel left side) cartoon series as well as the Freemakers (minifigures on Ferris wheel right side). Can you find Grand Admiral Thrawn on the Star Wars Rebels side?
Isn’t this carousel awesome? Poor Chewie is probably not enjoying waiting his turn.
We also picked up our Scavenger Hunt entry forms at the Model Shop rooftop. The Scavenger Hunt is always fun for the kids.
One of the questions from the Scavenger Hunt entry form: How many Y-wings are in the battle around the Death Star? Answer: Zero! Because X-wings are cooler, and Y-wings are slow (sorry to any Y-wing pilots out there).
We also got to see the newest Star Wars Miniland addition: the planet Jakku and Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer The Finalizer.
Another highlight to our day: seeing the 501st and the Rebel Legion walking around in costume. Of course, we took their pictures and also had our pictures taken with them.
The most impressive costume to me: Kylo Ren’s.
We haven’t had the kids enter the costume contest for ages 12 and under for a few years, but we always enjoy watching it at 4 PM. This year’s contest was hilarious. Kids say the craziest things!
This year’s three winners were 3rd place – General Grievous, 2nd place – Lego minifigure Emperor Palpatine, and 1st place – a probe droid. You can see the prizes they won on the platform.
After the contest, they had the raffle for the tickets we received during the droid hunt. We didn’t win, but there’s always a chance!
We had a blast at Lego Star Wars Days 2017! Hopefully, we will be able to make it again next year. Until then, may the Force be with you!
Living in Washington, D.C. when Josh was stationed there from 2003 to 2008 was not always easy, but there were two events that I loved, and we tried our best to experience annually: Cherry blossom time in the spring and Christmas at the White House in December.
Since it is cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C. now (article linked here about how peak bloom was March 25), I thought I would post about it. It’s been 9 years now since we moved back to SoCal after living in D.C., but I imagine that it is still much the same and still beautiful during cherry blossom time.
The following pictures are all from either April 2006 or April 2008.
Two-year-old Corran at the Washington Monument. This boy is now taller than I am! At this age, Corran was very interested in space shuttles and rockets, so to him the Washington Monument was a “rocketship stuck in the ground.”
Cherry tree by the Washington Monument – April 2006
It is magical to walk under these trees. Yes, there were crowds everywhere, but somehow, it didn’t matter very much. We were all there to experience beauty.
These, of course, are not cherry blossoms! These are tulips at the Floral Library run by the National Park Service. The Floral Library was always a must-see when we were at the Tidal Basin for the cherry blossoms. It is a lovely photo opportunity and a wonderful place to take your children.
Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms in foreground
A close-up of the cherry blossoms.
When you visit D.C., be prepared to walk, and walk, and walk some more! We went to this area numerous times when we lived there and still did not get to everything that there is to see!