Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn above the desert--just a forty-minute-drive...and TURKEYS!

Even after living here for six years now, it still amazes me that I can leave work in this desert city, drive just forty minutes up into the Santa Catalina mountains, and then step out of my car, at 8000', into a mixed conifer/deciduous forest--the equivalent of going from Mexico to Canada in just 30 miles...

So, this past Friday, after work, I decided to take advantage of this ecological nearness--time for a walk in the autumn woods:
At milepost 22 on the Catalina Highway, turn off on the dirt road.
"Bear Wallow" may be a small valley, but it's just spectacular for fall color;
you truly feel you're 'elsewhere'--New England? North Carolina? Korea? Colorado?
The saguaros and prickly pear seem a world away...

The October issue of Arizona Highways magazine has 
ruffled a few feathers with its cover:
Note the "Why It's Better Here Than It Is In Vermont"
Some provocative fun...

The flaming-foliage here might not be as widespread as in New England, but the terrain is so varied, and while most tourists come here for the Grand Canyon and desert vistas, if you want to be a deciduous leaf-peeper, you can be.

Further up, on the flanks of Mt. Lemmon, the range's highest peak (9157'/2791m), you can take the Mint Springs Trail, which meanders through some of the worst damage from the 2003 forest fire that ravaged this part of the Santa Catalinas...but the forest is recovering--young aspens are re-colonizing the slopes:

And it's on this trail that I saw these guys:

...the first wild turkeys I've seen in the Santa Catalinas!
There must've been around a dozen of them, calmly feeding and rambling through the golden aspens... I've seen them in Madera Canyon in the Santa Ritas south of the city, and a week-and-a-half ago my wife and I saw some in Ramsey Canyon down in the Huachuca Mountains...and now, on Mt. Lemmon.

A bit more subtle, under the young aspens, the fading colors of bracken fern--edible when they first appear in the spring, known as "go-sa-ri" in Korean and 'fiddleheads' in English.


Down at the base of the mountains, the creekbeds are running dry as the summer monsoon leftovers are dwindling to just a few pools in the desert...waiting for the winter rains, just over a month away:

In lower Sabino Canyon, I've been running by the "lake"--a seasonal pool formed by a rock dam built in the 1930's--morning and evening reflections:

And down in that lower canyon, the sacred datura blossoms continue to put on a spectacular show--it's been a good year for them:
...and for some other wildflowers as well:


With my iPhone, I've been playing with some 'painterly' photo-effects recently;
just a couple of scenes--
one from downtown Tucson:
While downtown Tucson's cluster of highrises is definitely 'modest,' 
this blue-mosaic-tiled building has always caught my eye...

...and from a couple of weeks ago,
in the red rock country up in Sedona:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

from red rocks to red foods...breathing again, and the parks are open...

Three and a half weeks since the last post; pneumonia tends to get in the way of things. 

(The following paragraph is an 'organ recital;' feel free to skip the lung anecdote.)
I thought, at first, that I was coming down with the usual middle-of-the-fall-semester cold--the annual ritual of students bringing their germs into my classroom...and then I thought it was the flu. I called in sick. And then called in again. And again. Then went to the doctor. "You've got pneumonia." Turns out it's been going around school. And so for the first time in my teaching career, I missed an entire week of work. I'm still coughing a bit, but am back to doing some easy runs, and even a bike ride today...

Just as I was getting over the worst of it, my mother flew in from back east for a visit. Her visit coincided with my fall-break, and so my wife and I took her up to Sedona; she'd never been to the red rock country before...and fortunately, this particular corner of scenic geology wasn't affected by the federal shutdown.

We ran into bus groups of French tourists a couple of times--man, how disappointed would you be if you'd traveled halfway around the world to see, you know, the Grand Canyon...but it's closed! Hmm...okay the Grand Canyon's closed, but maybe we can check out nearby Zion Nat'l Park...NON!--CLOSED TOO! Maybe check out some of the cave pueblo ruins down the road at Montezuma Castle? Wait, that's a 'national monument,' so that too is closed. "Welcome to America, visit our natural wonders...except that you can't." Just amazing...(Of course, this past summer, The Eiffel Tower was closed for a couple of days due to a labor strike...)

There was a trail head just behind our hotel, so we got up early...
...and my wife spotted these tracks: hooves and paws--deer and bobcat:

I've played around a bit with the photo below--
('painterly' effects have been my photo-flavor-of-the-month recently)--
but only a bit--the rocks and the dirt really are this red.

From the red rocks of Sedona, it's only about thirty miles up to Flagstaff, which sits in the middle of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world...and then rising from the 7000' plateau are the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountains in Arizona. They top out at over 12,000' and their flanks are covered with forests of aspens, which were at their fall color peak:

A bit of Colorado glory here in Arizona...
The next day, it snowed.


On the way up from Tucson, we took a break from the road, stopping at "Rooster Cogburn's Ostrich Ranch." We've lived in Arizona for six years, but had never stopped. It's just off I-10 at Picacho Peak, and for six years we'd been reading the signs "Feed the ostriches" and "feed the lorikeets" while whizzing by at 75 mph, telling each other: "what a tourist trap!" Well, we finally succumbed, and it was worth every penny of the $5 admission fee as we spent the better part of an hour feeding and laughing at ostriches, donkeys, goats, prairie dogs, deer, and lorikeets in their large aviary.
How can you not love this face? docile...

These comical Australian parrots look, well, almost fake with their technicolor feathers...

It's the highlight of I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.
And that reveals a lot about that stretch of desert...


A few days later, we drove my mother down to Sierra Vista so she could spend the day visiting some old friends, and while she caught up with them, S. and I went for a hike in the Huachuca Mountains. Ramsey Canyon is a Nature Conservancy preserve and is one of the best places in the country for birdwatching; 15 species of hummingbird Bears also roam the slopes above this riparian preserve full of agave, pine, oak, maple, walnut, cottonwood, sycamore, juniper, ash...
Fall is just beginning in southern Arizona; mid-November is when the colors peak in the canyons of the Huachuca mountains.
     The cottonwoods in Tucson's lower elevation canyons wait until mid- and even late December to put on their show.

(My mother often says that her friends back east think that Arizona is just a whole bunch of sand, that it's all desert. Not true, not true...the ecological diversity is so striking here.)

And deer. So many deer. 
No hunting allowed in this preserve, so they're completely at ease as you hike by...

A few cabins and relics of homesteads remain, 
from after the Apache wars at the end of the 19th century...

And more deer.
No photos to show, but we also came across a flock ('herd?') of wild turkeys...

From the trail above the canyon, you can look back out over the town of Sierra Vista, 
over the grasslands of the San Pedro valley toward Tombstone
and beyond, the Dragoon Mountains:

Okay, so, as the title of this post says--from red rocks to red foods.

Korean food--so often so red,
with its fondness for red pepper.
And with my Korean mother visiting us, 
there has been no shortage of red foods in our kitchen.

One of the stand-bys of Korean home cooking,
"soon-doo-boo chi-gye,"
or 'soft tofu stew:'
An outline:
sautée some red pepper powder in a bit of oil, to get 
a roasty taste...add some chopped pork, green onion, 
onion, sautée...add sesame oil...
add water/stock...bring to a simmer...
add mushrooms...
at the end, add the soft ('silken') tofu,
and then just before serving, break in a few eggs
so they can poach.
Garnish with toasted seaweed
Here is one recipe, if you want specifics.

When we lived in Seattle, we had several 'soon-doo-booh houses' to choose from; one of my wife's favorite adopted dishes...and now we know how to make it at home.

a.k.a. 'dumplings,' 'gyoza,' 'wontons,' or 'ravioli coréen'
Good when fried as 'pot-stickers'
and so good in soup...
Not, technically, a ''red food," but an essential
taste of Korea...and of my childhood.
As we sat at the table making them, 
my mother even commended me, saying
 "ung, how come your mahndooh prettier than mine?"
Practice, practice, practice...and, I gotta say, I had a good teacher...

Now, THIS is a red food:
"Tteok-pok-gee" is one (phonetically mysterious) way to transliterate it. Looks scary, eh? "Tteok" is a 'pasta' made from rice--it has the consistency of gnocchi, and this preparation is a popular street-food in Korea--the tteok are stir-fried in a red-pepper sauce with onions and, in my mom's version, meat...

To pronounce "tteok"--think of saying "hoT Dog"--feel the tenseness as you end the word "hoT" and begin the word "Dog"...Now keep that "TD" sound and use it to say "TDawk" it? 


This evening, after work, I went to Sabino Canyon. For most of the year, I'm there at least once or twice a week...but after two weeks of pneumonia and its after effects overlapping with the 16 days of the federal government shutdown (Sabino Canyon is overseen by the National Forest service)--it's been nearly a month since I was last there! 

Ahh, a bike ride just before sunset;
breathing deep on a cool evening...

...and riding out just after moonrise over the desert...