Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Earth Laughs in Flowers"

"Since 1939, the Desert Botanical Garden has been home to one of the finest and most diverse collections of succulent plants, including rare, threatened and endangered species from around the Southwest.

It is the only botanical garden in the world whose mission, from its early inception, was to focus solely on desert plants." So read the Garden's informational brochure.

We have been to the Botanical Garden often--and have become members during one of our visits. On this visit, our primary objective was to walk the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail.

"Earth laughs in flowers." --Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As we walked, we overheard more than one frequent visitor say, "I've never seen so many flowers looking so beautiful."

Placed among the flowers and cacti in the Garden were sculptures by Chiricahua Apache master artist Allan Houser. Shown on the left is one of the 18 sculptures on display at the Garden. It is entitled "Watercarrier," 1986.

The winter rains are credited with the wash of color throughout the Garden and the deserts surrounding the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

We also overheard this part of a rain-related conversation between two other visitors to the Garden: "We have received about six inches of rain this winter" (spoken with the tone of disbelief). Later I checked the rainfall totals since January 1st at Sky Harbor International Airport: 4.88" (+2.20" above normal).

We also stopped in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion. Hundreds of butterflies are reported to be housed in the exhibit space. I think this is a Pipevine Swallowtail (above).

"You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.” --Henry David Thoreau.

Makes sense to me.

We will be writing about the flowering cacti we have seen, but this succulent (a type of agave, I think) caught our attention.

I believe this is a Zebra Longwing.

"When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other." --Chinese Proverb.

Another of Allan Houser's sculptures: "Spirit of the Mountain," 1994.

This one-of-a-kind museum showcases 50 acres of beautiful outdoor exhibits, and once again we maybe walked over 10 percent of that total.

"Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts." --Sigmund Freud.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Only Thing Missing . . .

is the chicken wire cage around the stage.

Welcome to the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, AZ!

Carefree, AZ and Cave Creek are two immediately adjacent communities north of Phoenix, but they seem to be worlds apart. Carefree is an upscale town and was one of the country’s first planned communities. Cave Creek, on the other hand, celebrates its cowboy quirkiness. The Buffalo Chip Saloon is just one of the Cave Creek bars/restaurants that uses a western theme, but takes it to new heights. The saloon’s web site proclaims: “One of the last truly western saloons and restaurants…Voted Arizona's best western saloon and restaurant…Horses Welcome!...Free country-western dance lessons.”

“Be sure and check out our new outdoor dining and entertainment area in back. Go down the old boardwalk at the front entrance or out the ‘back door’ near the pool tables. You’ll find a Wagon Camp full of 1800s stuff! It’s served by its own bar with indoor plumbing no less. You can also listen to the live music, play horseshoes, sit next to a fire pit, or just sit and enjoy beautiful Black Mountain with a cold one.”

With live music every night, country line dance lessons and all Green Bay Packer football games shown on every one of the ten big TV’s, what could be missing? Live bull riding, of course. We’re not talking your rhinestone cowboy mechanical bull riding here. We are talking real live bulls ridden by real live cowboys (or wanna be’s). (The bull riding ring is shown behind the tables in the photo above.)

The obligatory "we’ve-posted-this-warning-so-now-we-can’t-be-sued" sign is posted in various locations on the premises. And, yes, we know that "equine" (in the "Warning" sign) refers to horses--not bulls--but we're assuming that this is an all-encompassing rodeo activity warning.

Since we had been tromping around outside that morning, the Urban Cowboy (I do so love a man in chaps) and I decided to forgo the outdoor patio and head inside. The décor is what you might expect--cowboy boots hanging from the rafters and dusty bison and moose heads hanging on the walls (shown in the photo below).

Half of the room was devoted to a large dance floor.

There was a bar on each of two opposing walls (shown at the right is the smaller unoccupied bar; Chuck thought it best for the "stranger in these parts" not to be photographing patrons at the main bar).

And lest there be a moment of silence between band sets, a juke box stood over in a corner (far left in the photo on the left).

Do you really think people come here for the food? Of course not. Food is a way to soak up the contents of those long necks. The short menu was divided into Tex-Mex and Steak House categories. Under the Tex-Mex was the usual line-up of tacos, enchiladas, and burritos. Steak House included a three-quarter pound burger, a pulled pork sandwich, a grilled or fried chicken sandwich with cheese and green chilis, a beef brisket sandwich, a brat with grilled onions, breaded cod or catfish, two steaks, and – hard to believe – grilled salmon steak.

We decided or order three of the appetizers: the jumbo chicken wings, beer battered onion rings, and the Nachos Mamas – a huge plate of tortilla chips topped with refried beans, cheese, pulled pork, and green chilis with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. We took one look at this mass of food and immediately determined what portions would return home with us for a later meal.

I suspect that the rings came frozen from a bag (then again, unless I actually see them made, I think all onion rings come frozen from a bag), but weren’t too large nor were they over-battered. The eleven very large wings had been formed into little “drumettes” which I appreciated (less sauce on the hands), but I just can’t see a macho cowboy eating a chicken drumette. The wing sauce was a little too vinegary for my taste but carried plenty of heat. And the addition of the pulled pork to the nachos was a nice touch.

This looks to be a fun place, and were I twenty years younger might enjoy a night of music, dancing, and beer. Alas, those nights are behind me. On the Addie scale, the Buffalo Chip Saloon gets a 3.5 for food, but a 5.0 for atmosphere.

(By the way, the purpose of the chicken wire cage around the stage is to protect the band from projectiles of the glass beer bottle variety. Remember the treatment Jake and Ellwood and their band, pretending to be The Good Ol' Boys, were receiving from the crowd at Bob's Country Bunker before they began playing "Rawhide?" --1980 film The Blues Brothers.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Along the Jojoba Trail

Photographically we have returned to Bartlett Lake.

Bartlett is a small lake in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, surrounded by some beautiful Sonoran desert scenery. Because of the above average of rainfall this past winter, the desert is particularly colorful this spring.

It is the second largest lake in the Phoenix Metro Valley area, but possibly because it is about 50 miles from downtown Phoenix, it does not receive as many visitors as we had expected.

We drove to Jojoba Boating Site and walked along the shoreline. From here we could see that the marina seemed to have a large number of boats docked there, but few were on the water during the weekday morning that we visited the reservoir.

Along the one mile drive to SB Cove, we passed large beds of wildflowers along the roadside. On more than one occasion, several visitors parked along the road to photograph these bursts of color.

But it was along portions of the Palo Verde Trail and the Jojoba Trail that we found the flowers pictured here.

Information provided by the ranger at the Tonto National Forest noted that the Forest Service had partnered with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to have a women's inmate crew construct the 1.3 mile Jojoba Trail.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It’s a Long Story

Well, not THAT long. I don’t want you to stop reading now.

We decided that our post-Phoenix and pre-Albuquerque plans (Yes, we’re headed back to Albuquerque. We’ve spent so much time there the past nine months that we should register to vote.) would include a week near the New Age capital of America, Sedona, AZ. But the on-line reviews of the nearby campgrounds were so inconclusive that a field trip was in order to check them out. . . . So we found ourselves in Camp Verde, AZ (near Sedona) looking for a spot for lunch.

We picked up a business card for a BBQ place in Cottonwood, so headed off for a lunch of pulled pork. As we pulled up to the parking lot, something was amiss. The place was closed. So we took a drive further down the road and spotted Bing’s Burger Station located in an old gas station with a classic red car parked in front. What? Closed on Sunday? On our way to the BBQ place we had passed a Mexican restaurant (Chuck wasn’t in the mood for Mexican) and a place called Murphy’s Cottonwood Grill. I guess Murphy’s it would be.

Murphy’s is one of six restaurants owned by the Fork in the Road Corporation. Other restaurants are located in Prescott (Gurley Street Grill, Murphy’s, and The Office Restaurant & Bar), Kingman (Dambar Steakhouse), and Phoenix (another The Office Restaurant & Bar). Minimally decorated in a knotty pine pseudo-Western décor, the large space was broken into discrete dining areas by knotty pine dividers. The clientele, at least during our meal, seems to be weighted heavily toward senior citizens and families with young children.

The menu broke no new ground. Nor did we expect it to. Appetizers included Fire Roasted Corn on the Cob, a Quesadilla (chipotle tortilla filled with green chilis, tomatoes, and melted cheese), Nachos, Chicken Wings (bones or not), Sliders, Potato Skins, and Beer Battered Onion Rings. Soup choices were a Sonoran Corn Chowder or Chicken Enchilada. For salads there were a Caesar Salad, the Pacific Rim Salmon Salad (grilled marinated salmon with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, toasted pumpkin seeds, and Feta cheese), Cobb Salad, and the Pistachio Chicken Sweet Potato Salad (romaine topped with fried pistachio chicken, sweet potato fries, julienne carrots, roma tomatoes, roasted pistachios, and red onion served with raspberry vinaigrette). For entrees, the menu listed steaks, sandwiches, pasta, and seafood.

To get over my disappointment at Bing’s Burger Station being closed, I decided to order the half pound burger on an onion roll with pepper jack cheese and green chilis. And from the list of sides (coleslaw, fries, cottage cheese, rice, baked potato or green chili mac & cheese), I chose the mac and cheese.

As is so often the case, Chuck’s attention was drawn to the Comfort Food section of the menu and there he saw the Murphy’s Grill Signature Pot Pie (chicken and garden veggies in a rich sauce and topped with a flaky crust). But before ordering the pot pie, he wanted to make sure that he could get mashed potatoes as a side. Sorry. No mashed but he could get a baked potato. Then our waitress spoke the dreaded words: “I’m not sure we have the pot pie today. Let me go check.”

Sorry, no pot pie for you today, Chuck. So he, too, decided to order the half-pound burger with Swiss and green chilis and, of course, fries.

Both of the sides were quite good. The fries were hand-cut, skin-on, and hot, crisp, and grease-free. The green chili mac and cheese was cheesy rich and contained an abundance of chopped medium hot green chilis and was topped with buttered bread crumbs. Delicious as it was, it was almost too much of a good thing when accompanied by a giant half-pound hamburger.

The burgers were a pleasant surprise. As always, I was faced with the quandary of medium rare or medium. Medium rare normally results in a moister and juicier burger, but when you’re lucky, medium results in an almost crisp and crunchier exterior surface. We both chose medium, and we did get lucky. Both burgers had a light pink center, but best of all, the edges had those little crunchy, charred bits that, to us, make for a really good burger.

Murphy’s Cottonwood Grill was a roll of the dice, and we feel fortunate that we found a 4.0 Addie restaurant.

As we drove around Camp Verde and Cottonwood at an altitude nearly 2000 feet higher than the desert surrounding Phoenix, we noticed the absence of wildflowers.

Since the colors of these flowers have changed our concept of "desert," we decided to add a few photos of these colorful desert inhabitants.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cacti by the Lake

We had been following the wildflower reports on a web page for the Phoenix area, and Bartlett Lake was mentioned as a destination for wildflower viewing.

Bartlett Lake is located 50 miles northeast of downtown Phoenix or about 30 miles east of our RV Park.

After passing countless cacti, bushes and boulders around the town of Carefree, we reached grassy plains as the road climbed to a plateau at 3,300 feet. Here a side road forked off to the north, leading to the more remote Horseshoe Lake, which we hope to visit on a later trip. From this junction, it is nine more miles downhill to the Lake, where the grasslands are replaced once more by cacti.

It was interesting to see saguaro cacti so close to this Lake.

The Lake is a reservoir that was formed by the damming of the Verde River in 1936 - 1939. The dam produced the first reservoir built on the Verde River.

Our Golden Age Passport, which now goes by a new name, was good for a 50% reduction in the entrance fee. The Lake is in the Tonto National Forest and is operated by the Forest Service. Our Passport is good for free admission to the National Parks, but only half price for national forests.

We headed for Rattlesnake Cove--a "journey" of several minutes due to having to make a number of photo stops.

The majority of the photo opportunities were along the roadside, so we were able to avoid the possibility of trampling these delicate flowers on the walk for that closer shot.

Once we reached the parking area at Rattlesnake Cove, we had lunch at one of the several ramadas with picnic tables and barbecue grills.

Bartlett Lake is 12 miles long with a boatable surface area of 2,815 acres, offering several opportunities for boating, water skiing and fishing.

A short drive took us to the section of the resevoir called Yellow Cliffs.

On the day we walked around Bartlett Lake, there were only a few other visitors with whom we could share the beauty of the season.