Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spending Time With The Monarchs

    As your family’s winter vacation escape is being planned, let us suggest a destination that we think is quite special especially if you love the wonders of nature.  A one day drive to the California beach town of Pismo Beach will bring you to one of nature’s most unique animal winter migrations - the annual overwintering gathering of thousands of monarch butterflies.
    Monarch butterflies are some of the most beautiful and unique of nature’s creatures and the only species of butterflies known to migrate.  These vibrant black and orange tropical butterflies travel thousands of miles to escape the freezing temperatures so common across Canada and a good portion of the United States.
    Many folks know about the gathering of monarch butterflies in the central mountains of Mexico, but fewer seem to know that they can experience this same butterfly gathering much closer to home by simply visiting this beautiful central coastal California city.
    Pismo Beach is a classic beach town located half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco along the Pacific Coastal and 101 Highways.  Tourists seeking the surf, sun and fun are the common summer visitors.
    But from late October until late February monarch butterflies gather in a small grove of eucalyptus and Monterey Spruce trees at the southern end of town and literally hang-out on the tree branches enjoying the weather and breezes of the Pacific Ocean.  Last year’s count shows some 34,000 butterflies were over-wintering in these trees.  During the winter of 1990-91 that number was 230,000 beautiful butterflies.
    The home range of the monarch butterflies that come to Pismo Beach is those lands west of the Rocky Mountains extending into southern Canada.  Their close cousins who range east of the Rocky Mountains are the monarch butterflies who make the longer journey to the central mountains of Mexico.
    Some of the monarchs found at Pismo Beach will have traveled over 2000 miles, covering about 100 miles each day.  They have been seen flying toward the Pacific Ocean at an elevations up to  10,000 feet, slowly making their way to a climate that is not cold enough to kill them nor warm enough to waste their precious, stored energy.
    Once they arrive at the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove, they arrange themselves into dense clusters, wings hanging down over the butterfly below them like the shingles on a roof.  This arrangement provides shelter from rain and wind and provides warmth for the entire group.
    Since the life span of the monarchs of Pismo Beach is only six months, the butterflies there this winter will leave their ocean retreat in March never to return again.    But their descendants will continue this thousand-year-old cycle and return to their Pismo Beach winter tree grove again in October 2016.  How this new generation of monarch butterflies know how to return to Pismo Beach each year is an unknown mystery of science.
    The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is closely monitored to keep the thousands of butterflies safe.  But the grove is easily accessible and open each day of the week. Trained docents provide free informational walks/talks at 10 am and 2pm daily weather permitting.  Be sure to check out the following website - www.monarchbutterfly.org/

Other Nearby Attractions:

    1.     Avilia Valley Barn is 2 miles north of Pismo Beach and is a fabulous family farm with a petting zoo with a wide variety of fresh fruits/vegetables and gifts - http://www.avilavalleybarn.com/

2.  Just 26 miles north of Pismo Beach is the community of Morro Bay whose Natural History Museum has a fabulous program about monarch butterflies and the most extensive collection of shells from around the world in the best shell shop that we have ever visited - http://ccspa.info/morrobay/ and http://www.theshellshop.net/

3.  San Simeon is just 55 miles north of Pismo 
Beach and home to both the Hearst Castle and 17,000 incredible elephant seals.  From mid-December thru mid-January hundreds of female elephant seals give birth to their pups.  Another amazing sight of the natural world - http://hearstcastle.org/ and http://www.elephantseal.org/

Monarchs of Pismo Beach

The beach of Pismo Beach

One of those California sunsets

A male elephant seal

A female elephant seal

A young beachmaster calls out his claim


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Nightfall in Old Tucson

       Across the great State of Arizona each October there are some pretty incredible places and events where one can go to literally have the bejeebers scared out of you while enjoying the Halloween season.  And certainly, if you really like being scared and entertained, NIGHTFALL at Old Tucson just might be your perfect destination this October - that is, IF YOU DARE!
    NIGHTFALL at Old Tucson is back for its 25th year of haunting, magical and laughter filled shows.  This year’s “scarefest” presents live shows that entertain, amaze and frighten guests of all ages.  Both the family oriented shows, like the amazing Magic of the Macabre,  as well as the adult nerve-challenging experiences, like the walking nightmare of fear known as Fertile Ground,  are offered.
    If you are looking for some really scary experiences, NIGHTFALL offer you the chance to survive the characters of Terror Square,  the perpetual nightmare of Psychomania, the colorful tribute to the Day of the Dead known as the Creepy Crawly Cave and so much more.
    And if you want to spend a little more money, you can encounter the Twisted Circus which features creepy clowns and a town overrun by Zombies or join in the Zombie Shoot and rid the town from the undead terror.
    If you enjoy an old fashion hay ride, just dare to take NIGHTFALL’s Haunted Hay Ride for a trip through the hinterlands of fright.  Yes, all the thrills and excitement of a fabulous “All Hallows’ Evening!”
    It’s October and why not just plan to get out and spend an evening in Tucson and attend all the “happenings” of Nightfall at Old Tucson.  If you do, you will never forget the thrills and chills of this Halloween!  Boo!

Nightfall - http://nightfallaz.com/

More scary places around Arizona…

    1.  Fear Farm - http://www.fearfarm.com/ - near
        Loop 101 and I-10 Exchange

    2.  13th Floor Haunted House - http://13thflooraz.com/ - 2814 W. Bell Road

    3.  Halloween In Phoenix - http://phoenix.about.com/od/halloween/tp/Halloween.htm

    4  Real Haunted Places In Arizona - http://phoenix.about.com/od/wacky/a/haunted.htm

    5.  Day of the Dead Celebrations - http://phoenix.about.com/od/events/a/dayofthedead.htm

All pictures are from Marie Demarals who asked photo credit to be “Nightfall At Old Tucson”

Pumpkin Time

    Two great pumpkin festivals are now beginning in the cool autumn weather of northern Arizona.  The wonderful Mortimer Family Farms in Dewey begin their annual Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 2.  This “A-Maze-ing” farm opens their fields for the whole family to search the 15-acre Pumpkin Patch for that most special orange October gourd. 
    While at the farm, test your directional skills in the challenging 25-acre corn maze.  In addition, the whole family can enjoy the games, tractor pulls, barn dances, hayrides, arts and crafts shows and more that are found on this most special Arizona farm.
    Mortimer Family Farms continues the old and grand traditions of the American farm that once was so common everywhere.  Their Pumpkin Festival each October is a perfect way for every family to discover and share this most time-honored way of making a living.

    “The Train” from Williams, Arizona has certainly carried many famous as well as ordinary Arizona citizens over the steel rails that wind their way through the forests to the Grand Canyon since first opening  in 1901 .  But each October for the past four years when the conductor cries “All Aboard,” some of the most unique yet friendly ghouls, ghosts and goblins now climb into those historic train cars on their way to a secret Arizona Halloween pumpkin patch.  
    The Pumpkin Patch Train of the Grand Canyon Railway begins it fifth year of Halloween festivities during the first three weekends of October.  Those who dare to board this train full of costumed children will travel through the forest for some 40 minutes to a magical patch of pumpkins.
       Upon arriving the friendly ghouls, ghosts and goblins de-board the train and select their very own special Halloween pumpkin.  The pumpkin search lasts some 45 minutes and everyone also has the opportunity to explore the Haunted Train Car and a hay bale maze. 
    Upon returning to the Williams Depot, all passengers get the opportunity to paint/carve their special pumpkin and enjoy a special arts and crafts gallery.  Of course pumpkin pie and other Halloween treats are available for those friendly yet ghastly Halloween passengers.Last year nearly 3,000 passengers enjoyed the ride and the adventures so tickets can be in great demand. 
    So there are two great family-oriented events to kick-off this Halloween season.  Why not getting out and travel with your own group of trick-or-treaters to these two magical pumpkin patch adventures in northern Arizona?  Both will be “spook-tacular!”

Other Family Fun October/Halloween Adventures

    1.     Schnepf Farms, Queen Creek - Pumpkin & Chili Party - five weekends of fun in October - http://www.schnepffarms.com/event/pumpkin-chili-party-2/
    2.    Tolmachoff Farms - Glendale - Pumpkin Days & Corn Maze - throughout October - http://tolmachoff-farms.com/corn_maze_pumpkin_patch_glendale_arizona.htmlt
    3.    Mossther Nature’s Farm - Gilbert - Halloween Pumpkin Patch - New Times Arizona’s Best - throughout October - http://www.mothernaturesfarm.com/pumpkinpatch.aspx

Changing Hands

     Bookstores all across America have sadly been closing their doors permanently, victims to the ways of the new digital age for obtaining information and leisure reading.  Yet, one Valley bookstore has successfully bucked that national, closing trend to not only survive but to thrive in this most competitive media world.
    “We strive to be nimble” is how co-owner Cindy Dach summarizes the key to a forty-one years of  business success for Tempe’s historic Changing Hands bookstore.  “We adapt with the times.  As the world changes, we do too!”
    And possibly the most wonderful change for those of us living in the north Valley is the opening of the second Changing Hands Bookstore/First Draft Book Bar on West Camelback Road in Phoenix.  Now we too are only a few miles from all the wonderful children and adult programs and author events along with the many great books and gifts for which the Changing Hands bookstore is known.
    Since 1974 the good people of the Changing Hands bookstore have “worked hard to make every experience a great one inside of our stores.  We concentrate on the community experience” with all the books, programs and gifts offered.
    The new book store/book bar is located in the historic Beefeaters Restaurant building, once a hot-spot of Phoenix nightlife.  The restaurant’s bar still remains now surrounded by bookshelves, gifts and presentation areas.  According to Dach, since the Camelback store is “only 15 months old, we are focusing on making the book bar a really unique experience.  There are less than 10 book bars in the country and we want ours to be a pride for Arizona.”
    The wonderful, yearlong author series, book clubs, workshops, classes and community events offered by the Changing Hands bookstores make for their charming uniqueness.    New York bestselling authors such as Sarah J. Maas, Dav Pilkey and Christopher Moore spoke here this summer, as too did former President Jimmy Carter.  On September 5 Adam Bray and Michael Kogge authors of Stormtroopers of the 501st Legion will do a book signing at the First Draft while featuring Star War themed activities. 
    Recent workshops dealing with comedy writing techniques, writing a mystery thriller, Opera 101, Printing Without A Press and Chanting The Chakras highlight the wide and eclectic offerings found at these two, family-friendly Valley bookstores.
    The Changing Hands bookstores in Tempe and now Phoenix feel like comfortable old time establishments that wisely have adapted to the modern digital age.  Their highly informative website, e-newsletters and community service projects makes for a digital connected establishment while still being a warm, friendly, repository of knowledge.  Go on, take the time to get out and enjoy these two marvelous Valley of the Sun bookstore treasures!  You will be delighted by what you discover!


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Precott's Highlands Center of Natural History

     One of the great benefits of living in the far north Valley is just how quickly one can drive from the heat of the Sonoran Desert and be hiking among the refreshing smell of a ponderosa pine forest while mountain breezes “sing” through their evergreen needles.  And when you have a pine forest destination like the Highlands Center for Natural History near Lynx Lake in Prescott, the quick 70-minute drive north is well worth the effort.
    Visitors to the Highlands Center are greeted by an 80-acre natural preserve with 3-miles of hiking trails all found within the boundaries of the Prescott National Forest.  The Center’s goal is to provide a place where “children and adults discover the wonders of nature and become wise caretakers of the land.”  This discovery and connection with nature “is fostered by the Center through outdoor science education based on observation and discovery of the Central Arizona Highlands.”
    The outdoor classrooms without walls found here allow visitors to discover deeply shaded riparian habitats, woodland and chaparral hillsides all under the canopy of tall ponderosa pines.  All types of common forest critters can be seen along the trails or in the forests of oak, juniper and pine trees. 
    For lovers of geology, the half-mile Stretch-Pebble Loop Trail leads visitors to one of the best examples of a stretch-pebble conglomerate formation found anywhere in the world.  To see the small pebbles of red jasper and milky quartz imbedded in the conglomerate and stretched into rod-like shapes some 1.75 million years ago makes every rock-hound heart leap with excitement of discovery.  
    The jewel of the Highlands Center is the James Environmental Learning Center. Opened in 2007 this is Prescott’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified building and the first LEED-Gold Award building in Yavapai County.  Home to educational classrooms and administrative offices, the 4,250 square foot building is completely off-grid and its unique inverted roof collects rainwater for the center’s irrigation use. 
    The Highlands Center for Natural History is a non-profit, membership funded organization.  The fabulous hiking trails are open to the public year round.  Environmental classes and programs for both students and adults are offered weekly; check out the Center’s website for details.   Docent led hikes are offered each Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The trails are wide, well maintained and several are handicapped accessible.   Dogs on their leashes are welcome too!
    This is the perfect time of year to get out and become familiar with all the wonderful family-friendly offerings of the Highlands Center for Natural History in nearby Prescott.  Fall programs, like the September 11th & 12th Nature Festival and the “Take A Hike” challenge of the Prescott National Forest all begin happening during the cooler, soon to be arriving fall season.  

James Environmental Learning Center

Wide, easy to walk trails

Site of the greatest collection of Stretch-Pebbles

Red jasper as a Stretch-Pebble

Some red jasper and milky quartz Stretch-Pebble

Monday, August 3, 2015

Greer is Certainly Green!

   We were fortunate enough to spend a week in the White Mountain community of Greer.  Greer has had a tremendous amount of rain this summer and the meadows, forest floor and nearby cinder cones are covered with green grasses and wildflowers.  It is truly beautiful!
     We have been going to Greer for some twenty summers now and we have never seen the landscape so lush.  Here are a few pictures showing the beauty of Greer in the Summer of 2015! 
      If you have looking for a cool escape from the Arizona summer heat, go to Greer!
One of the many mountain meadows covered with wildflowers.

The Greer meadow covered with a sea of red thistles.

Clouds and Rainbows

A nearby cinder cone covered in green

Red, volcanic cinder covered with summer grasses

Wildflowers along the backroad to Big Lake

A local crosses the road

Stopping to see if we are going to follow