Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Devil's Highway - Part 1

Best translated as "The Road of the Devil," it has become an iconic four-wheel drive adventure of the desert southwest.  In ancient, borderless times, it was a trade route between the peoples of northwestern Mexico and the Colorado River.  It was a popular route because the terrain is easy...so easy that people often neglected the potent dangers represented by the heat and lack of water.  This was the lesson learned by 400 people during the rush to the gold-laden valleys of California.  Their graves and the few waterholes they sought are the most interesting stops along the way.  So, stock your truck, get your permit, and let's get going...

In these modern times, the ancient El Camino has been split by the border, roughly following Highway 2 in Mexico until reaching the lava fields of El Pinacate.  There are various access points in Arizona; many folks start out in Ajo and head west, often camping out for one or two nights.  Exiting on Interstate 8 near Tacna or Wellton will cover up to 130 miles and 8-10 hours of driving time.  The westward leg to Yuma follows the original route but is slow going; add another four hours of driving time...or better yet, another day to the journey.

The Old Yuma Wagon Road

The turnoff is a couple of miles south of Ajo and is signed as Darby Wells Road.  That decaying ranch house is soon passed as the main road continues south.  The area is criss-crossed by a network of rutted side roads leading to a myriad of hidden campsites, mining prospects, and even an old runway; it is my favorite place for rockhounding of blue copper ore which I use to accent my gardens at home.

A primitive campsite lays in view of Locomotive Rock.

This photo was a happy accident.  I had scouted the scene and intended for the organ pipe cactus to be silhouetted against polar star trails.  Though a hundred yards from camp and black to the naked eye, the hour-long exposure caught the dim light of our campfire, adding its own pleasing result.

Rocky spires in a lush green desert.

I stole this man's soul.  I now give it back...or maybe I just make it worse.  Or maybe it's just a picture and it never mattered at all.  The town of Ajo has a fair each March, and this O'odham man was cooking up fry bread.  He looked up at me in that moment I clicked the shutter, but I was the one that felt unguarded.

You're going to have to bring some serious equipment if you want to recover some of the larger specimens of copper ore.

A vehicle leaves a line of dust on the Old Yuma Wagon Road.  It's a well-maintained gravel road until you reach Bates Well in the northwestern corner of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  There may or may not be a ranger on duty; illegal activity has become of more of an issue here as there are some backcountry roads and routes coming directly up from the border at Quitobaquito.  Can't say I've heard specifically about four-wheelers having any problems; just exercize common sense.  You're more likely to see vehicles belonging to the Border Patrol.

Kino Peak with a foreground of spring wildflowers.

Travel beyond Bates Well and Organ Pipe Cactus NM requires a permit.  Not only is it the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge...it's also the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. (Seems a compatible arrangement, right?  Works for me.)  Ergo, today's traveler has additional hazards to consider, nicely summed up by these quotes from an older version of the required "Hold Harmless" agreement with the military.

"The Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range (BMGR) contains the danger of property damage and permanent, painful, disabling, and disfiguring injury or death due to high explosive detonations from falling objects such as aircraft, aerial targets, live ammunition, missiles, bombs, etc... There are also physical injury and health dangers from ground and aerial Laser and other electromagnetic emissions."

"The BMGR contains the danger of property damage and permanent, painful, disabling, and disfiguring injury or death due to the presence of expended, but still live bombs, rockets, cannon rounds, flares, and other types of warheads. Unexploded munitions may be encountered anywhere within the BMGR: lying on the ground partially or completely buried. These munitions can still explode though they may have lain in the desert for decades."

Those are the most interesting parts.  I especially like the "permanent, painful, disabling, and disfiguring injury."  Meaning not only could you be hurt, but that you could be crippled, scarred, in terrible pain, and it's going to be that way for the rest of your life.  Indeed, death could be preferable.  The rest of the form goes on about being prepared for the more normal hazards having to do with "one of the most extreme environments in North America."  You know, things like old mine shafts, flash floods, extreme heat, venemous creatures, a complete lack of water, and that if an emergency arises you could well be dead by the time help arrives, so be prepared.

By signing the form, you promise not to sue the military because (for example) you were lost and an air-to-ground missile mistook your signaling mirror for a target beacon.  *ouch*

Continued in Part 2...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Primrose and a Bluebell

A special treat!   We have desert primrose out front; their blossoms are only open for a few hours in the morning.  We also spotted our first desert bluebell.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Has Sprung!!

Okay, I didn't have to dig into the archives...just download what I had on my camera from last week.  After a cool and very rainy couple of months, the sun came out and let our spring gush forth.  Everything is blooming a few weeks late but is doing very well.  I made time to go to the airshow with Brendan and took a bunch of photos of the wildflowers around our yard.  BTW, if you want to see some really awesome photos of the airshow, head over to Dave Harvey's blog.

A collage of images from the airshow.

The smoke is from action going on behind this scene, but it works for me.

Our annual poppy bloom is on in the front yard, despite the masses of weeds also encouraged by the recent rains.  My neighbor tells me those weeds are a native, and edible, wild arugala.  Hmmm, seems a bit much to deal with by grazing.  Our's is more of a live-and-let-live policy until the poppies bite the dust.  At right is a Texas mountain laurel, known locally as mescal bean; it's a slow growing tree that may reach twenty feet after thirty years.  This one is about ten years old and having its best bloom ever, creating a potent aroma not unlike lilacs.

The big carpenter bee happily forages next to a myriad of honey bees, but is aggressively defending the entire tree from other carpenter bees.

This collage includes penstamon, verbena and poppies.

Up close and personal with a golden barrel cactus.

Next to our driveway we share an open-space with our neighbor.  Along with the wildflowers we have both encouraged, she's done a wonderful array of plantings.  Here we have a penstamon, lupine and the flower stalk of an aloe vera.

At left is toad flax, which grows from British Columbia to Florida to southern Mexico.  Considering where it is in our neighborhood, I'm guessing it is a hardy and adaptable species.  Not sure what the little yellow belly-flower is, but is sure is purdy.

Ayiyai!!  Them be fire ants or somesuch nasty species in our driveway.  Brendan had an incident with these guys when he was two years old...not a good time!!

We've had a bush of perennial (indeed) Mexican basil in the front yard for years.  We don't use it for cooking but it smells nice.  On the back patio is this winter's crop of cilantro, one of the easiest things to grow around here.  These plants are soon-destined for a batch of pesto.  Cilantro will bloom as soon as the heat comes on; producing pretty stalks of white flowers.  Later, you can harvest and grind the small round seeds, better known as coriander.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back at Home

Just one night in the hospital but it was nice to sleep in my own bed last night.  Thank you to all who called, emailed, visited, prayed, or otherwise had benevolent thoughts for me.  I'm getting around pretty good this morning though still sore in various places on the left side.  I'm guessing I'll be okay to do Sea World & Legoland about a week from now, just as we had been planning for Brendan's spring break.  Turns out that's also the closest place to see the new IMAX movie about the Hubble Space Telescope...at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

Time to dive into my photo archive to come up with the next post...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Surgery Update #2

Cool, UMC does have wi-fi.

The surgery is done.  Dr. Daniel drained three liters of fluid from around my left lung...that's almost seven pounds!  No wonder I couldn't  breathe.  As for that deflated lobe of my lung, he didn't even try to reinflate it.  He put a camera in my lung and saw that the bronchial tube is effectively pinched off by a tumor.  As he suspected, the tumor is not inside the tube but has grown around it.  So, that leaves me with a drain tube coming out of my side.  Sometime this afternoon, the doc should be coming back to show Kirsteen and I how to use the vacuum-bottles to tap off additional fluid.  After that, I should get to go home.  The doc expects that I'll have the drain in me for a handful of weeks, rather than months.

My oncologist, Dr. Garland, is considering radiation (Tomotherapy?) to go after that particular tumor, with the hope that we could open up that lower lobe.  I guess we'll see.  Meanwhile I get  a break for a couple of weeks until we start a new chemo regimen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Surgery Update

My surgery is scheduled for Tuesday morning at University Medical Center...barring Dr. Daniels being called away for an emergency transplant.  I should be recovering in Unit 4 Northeast for a few days after that.  Yeah, that's an invitation...

Nice digs up there, they might even have wi-fi.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

All the Gory Details

I met with Dr. Daniels today, the cardio-thorasic surgeon.  I like him.
Kirsteen says he’s good-looking too.

The basic situation:  The lower lobe of my left lung has been deflated and shriveled for two years; this because of a tumor blocking/constricting the bronchial tube leading to it.  Dr. Daniels thinks the tumor is wrapped around the bronchial tube and constricting it, rather than growing on the inside and blocking it.  Irregardless, the shriveled lobe creates a space in the plural cavity which allows fluid to build up. (Secretions from the cancer cells, ick.)  It was constant at about a liter for a long time, but lately has increased...maybe double that.  All this fluid would normally drain into the lymphatic system, but I'm overloading it.  There's also a lot pressure inside my chest which makes me short of breath and pushes on my rib cage, esophagus, etc. causing everything from minor shoulder pain to acid reflux.

As I mentioned, they've dealt with this fluid, called a plural effusion, before; by sticking a giant needle through my back (with a local, thank you).  It looks like beer...seriously.  Pilsner is the specific shade they like to see.  I suppose it's because I'm living too damn long that they decided to deal with the effusion more definitively.

The plan is to put me to sleep, put me on a respirator and shut down my left lung.  They’ll make a small incision in my side, go into the plural cavity and drain all the fluid…then they’ll stick a camera on a tube in there.  They’ll probably stick a second one down my throat to look at the lung from the inside; see what that bronchial tube looks like.  Then they’ll try to re-inflate the lower lobe of my lung...pump air in just like a balloon. Whether or not they can determines what happens next.

If they can re-inflate the lung sufficiently, they’ll put some talc in there (yes, the mineral) which will cause inflammation of the plural linings of both my lung and my chest wall, causing them to stick together.  That would close up most of the space and, for various reasons, prevent both the buildup and production of fluid.  I’d have a drain in me for a few days afterward.

If they can’t re-inflate the lung, then they leave a drain in me…coming out my side where the incision will be.  I would have to periodically “tap” myself with a vacuum bottle. (Anybody care for a pint?)  If I’m producing a lot of fluid, it could start out a few times a week but it should diminish with time.  Dr. Daniels also said that keeping the cavity clear of fluid could help to re-inflate the lung over time and/or encourage my body to stop producing the fluid.

Either way I'll be in the hospital for a few days with a couple of weeks to recover.  Dr. Daniels didn’t feel there was a rush to get it done but I’m pretty uncomfortable (not in pain per se) and get out of breath really easily, so I asked to do it as soon as we could…perhaps next week.

I think I feel a little better knowing the plan.  Been freaking out a bit lately.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the Hovatter Road: A Kofa Wilderness Odyssey


This a tale long past telling.  It was 11 years ago that I first visited the Kofa Mountains in the western desert; most popularly known for Palm Canyon, the only place in Arizona with wild and native palm trees.  One of the first features on my old website were photos of that adventure I had taken with an old camping buddy.  It generated a small number of emails over the months, including one asking me about some graves near the Hovatter Mines.  It was from a fellow backroad enthusiast, Steve, who had seen my picture of the water tower and mentioned he had found the graves of Ray Hovatter and perhaps a daughter nearby and asked if I knew anything about it.  I didn't but it sounded intriguing and we kept in touch.

Steve was very resourceful...he got in touch with a Col. Hovatter, then on assignment in Kosovo/Bosnia.  The Colonel was a member of the Yuma clan of Hovatters and had met the family out in the Kofas many times, but made it clear they were not closely related.  This correspondence would lead Steve and I on a camping trip to the Kofas to meet one of the sisters who lived out there with her family.

I actually have two tales in this story.

Interstate 10 in Arizona.  Exit 53.  Hovatter Road.  The epitome of the middle of nowhere.  It's the the 1960s and the interstate is under construction.  A young engineer on the project spends some of his free time exploring the backroads crossed by this lonely stretch of highway.  On one trip, he meets and befriends a family living out there, then falling in love with and marrying one of the daughters.  And that's how the road got its name.

The rest is the story of the graves and that, unfortunately, is far more tragic.

Ray Hovatter was a WWII veteran who served under Patton in North Africa.  He may have learned of the Kofas during training for desert warfare.  After the war he moved to the area and started mining for copper.  His wife, Barbara, did scientific illustrations for the University of Arizona, mostly arachnids.  She would keep gallon-jar terrariums of scorpions on the kitchen table.  They had three girls; Sandra, Lindsay, and Jeanette, who kept a menagerie of rabbits, chickens and other animals; carrying wooden ax handles to kill any snakes that tried to go after them.  Their homestead consisted of two trailers and several connected sheds, a water pump, and a rock and cactus garden that Barbara created and took care of.  Everyone referred to it simply as "Camp."

One night in the early 1970s, Ray was working with one of the girls on a leaking propane tank.  Another of the girls came out to help carrying a lantern, but the flame of the lantern ignited the propane and a harrowing fire ensued which destroyed most of the homestead.  Barbara and Jeanette were unhurt.  Ray was burned a little but Lindsay and Sandra were burned very badly.  Lindsay died a month later and was buried on the property (after a long battle with the funeral lobby).  Barbara moved to Phoenix with Sandra for the medical care she would need.  Ray stayed on the homestead and was found dead (from natural causes) several years later.  I'm not sure if anybody asked this time when they buried him next to Lindsay.

Looking back to Coyote Peak from the Yuma / La Paz county line.  Interstate 10 is an equal distance beyond.  You better be well-prepared because it could be days before you see another vehicle on this road.

Just south of the county line, the Hovatter girls called this little canyon "Boulder Wash."  The low hills are part of the Little Horn Mountains, spilling out the northeast side of the Kofa Wildlife Refuge.

This is about as bad as the road gets; it's narrow and you'll get plenty of "Arizona pin-striping" on your paintjob, but almost any car could drive it in good weather.  That basically means, I would have done it in my old 1979 Corolla...your mileage may vary.

Sandra Hovatter shows us around Camp, where her mother's cactus garden still remains.  Then she summons us down the old runway to surprise us with largest ocotillo I have ever seen!

Palm Canyon splits the western face of the Kofa Mountains.  The palm trees (Washingtonian fan palm) are located in a cleft on the north side of the canyon and are in sunlight for only a couple of hours each day.  Despite appearances, the trees can be reached by clamboring up a steep rocky chute contained by a separated slab of cliff face on the right side of the cleft.

If you exit the Kofa Wildlife Refuge to the southeast, you may find yourself having made an inadvertent crossing of the Yuma Proving Grounds.  Oops.