Monday, January 24, 2022

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

We only spent two nights near the ghost town at Harshaw, because of all the mine related traffic on the road past the camping areas.


We pulled out and re-joined highway 82 at Patagonia for the short trip north-east to our next planned stop in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.  

 (Just a few of the Border Patrol vehicles at the Sonoita Border Patrol Station.)

This Conservation Area is a huge ranching area administered by BLM, containing the historic Empire Ranch.  The original buildings have been maintained and restored, and are open to the public.  Quite a few western movies were filmed at the ranch, including stars such as John Wayne, who stayed here while filming.

Most of the ranch area is open to dispersed camping, with the usual 14 day limit, and cattle still roam the range much as they have for well over a hundred years.  Except now, they all have ear tags.

We came across a number of these strange contraptions, scattered across the grazing area, and after consulting with others, including some ranch hands who were servicing them we found out what they are for!  They are filled with a molasses-like liquid, combined with nutrients and supplements for the cattle.  On each corner is a large wheel, that the cattle lick to get at the stuff below! 

This girl was just enjoying some dry grass!

We have camped in several different areas of this Conservation Area in the past, but were hoping our favourite spot might be available!  Because the road to it is a bit rough, with few places to turn around, we dropped the rig and went to check it out first.  Luckily, it was available, so we moved in promptly, under some huge old Oak trees in the wash.

Of course, soon after parking, I discovered the scourge of random camp sites - old fire pit locations just full of old rusty nails and screws.  Out came my floor magnet, and I picked up at least a pound of nails, right from where I was parked!  Hoping there's not enough left to cause trouble on departure ;-).
Fortunately, our camp spot is fairly far removed from the more popular spots where people tend to camp.  Good thing, as there was a dog field trial event going on, signs for a youth camp, lots of equestrian users, as well as others.  And of course, that means barking dogs, generators running at all hours, and traffic.  Other than a lot of ATV's on the weekend, it's pretty peaceful where we are.

 Being fairly close to Tucson, we took advantage to collect some Amazon packages from their lockers at Circle K stations.  I do sometimes wonder how they decide what box to use, or is it just the closest one?  The bag for my bike came in this huge box.
I thought I'd try an Apple Air Tag to see if it would help me track Hailey when she's out hunting ...
I think that box could have held about 1000 of them, not the single one I ordered!
And finally, the small holder to attach the airtag
to her collar, along with her tags, and two bells ...  A bit more of a reasonable size package.

For some reason, I haven't seen a single lizard, till now.  Not sure if it is too cold for them, or if we've just been camping in the wrong locations?  This little guy I spotted laying upside down in a depression in the sand of the wash-showing his pale underside.  I assumed it was dead, but when I flipped it over with a stick, it was very much alive, though it did not run away.  Perhaps just getting thawed out from a long, cold sleep!


Everything in the desert has thorns!  This 'grass' looks soft and fuzzy from a distance, but all of those are thorns that will stick to your clothes!


Found this section of exposed pipeline right on a steep, rough 4x4 trail.  It's marked as high pressure natural gas.  I e-mailed the company, but haven't gotten a response beyond an automated reply ...
Lots of old windmills around in the south-west ranching country, but not many operational ones pumping water anymore, with solar taking over most of the active wells.  So this one, adorned with cell antennas, and a microwave dish was a bit of an anomoly!  It was fairly near a border patrol checkpoint on the highway, but I couldn't see any cameras on it.
That's about it for now.  Not sure where we're off to next.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Buenos Aires NWR to Harshaw, AZ

 Our time in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge was enjoyable, though there was some rather cool weather, including a quite a bit of rain for a day or two.  There was even some good frost some nights!


Really enjoyed getting out on the e-bike, which was great for patrolling the miles and miles of back trails through the refuge.  

I even went as far as the refuge headquarters one day, all on back trails.

Sticking mostly to the well traveled routes was hopefully going to reduce the chances of a tire puncture from the various thorns in the desert.  But one day, about 2-3 miles from camp, I got a flat.  Unlike my previous experience with flat bike tires, this time I did not have to carry the bike for miles.  I was on a good road, and surprised to be able to push it all the way home along the road.  The tire was filled with 'Slime' and aired up, but that did not seem to stop the leak, and no thorns or punctures were found.  I was a bit intimidated about having to remove the back wheel on the hub-drive bike, but after watching the requisite number of Youtube videos, I became an expert bike mechanic! 

 The wheel came off easily, and the problem was found to be a 1/4" tear on the inner portion of the tube, right beside the valve stem.  Without a spare tube on hand, I did a backwoods repair by wrapping the injury with a circle of gorilla tape, and inverted it so the slime could do it's work.  That repair lasted long enough for the next day's ride, but it went flat again overnight :-(.
So, eventually I had to resort to a new tube, and become a bike mechanic again!  Even bought a spare tube this time.
Watch the video of Hailey doing battle with imaginary enemy(s)!  She's still pretty quick for a middle-aged, 3 legged feline.


When we arrived at the refuge, there was only one other camper in the area.  But after New years, the hunters started to show up, and it wasn't long before all the camp spots in the area were full to overflowing, and the number of trucks, atv's, and noisy traffic in the early mornings started to build. 

Border patrol brought an injured person out of the desert in the area, and met the local EMS at the highway jct.

So - it was time to move on.  Besides, we had almost used up our allotted two weeks of free camping, and it was time for a change of scenery.  After a short debate, it was decided to head further east and check out bustling Harshaw, a ghost (!) town near Patagonia.  We had to pass through Nogales on the way, and took the opportunity to stock up on food, fuel, and propane - after missing the turnoff and almost driving into Mexico!

On the way from Nogales to Patagonia was the turnoff to Patagonia Lake State Park.  Wanting to check it out on the way, we drove the very hilly access road, only to find out that they had 'no trespassing' (twice) on their sign at the gate.  The park was clearly open to the public (!), and I think they wanted at $15 day use fee, so we made a quick U-turn and continued on our way.

We continued through Patagonia, and on to the ghost townsite at Harshaw.
There are quite a number of large open camp spots along the road, under some huge old Cottonwood trees.  The last time I camped here was several years ago, and there was a lot of expectation of a new mine opening in the immediate area.
Well, there is certainly a lot of activity now, though I doubt the mine itself will be operating for a year or two.  But during 'rush hour' on this rough section of forest service road there must be 50-60 vehicles an hour, many hauling trailers, rattling and banging their way up the road.  Luckily, most of them are pickups, with a few semis, loaders, vans, even full size buses, water trucks wetting the road down, fuel trucks, border patrol.  No dust, because of the water truck working 24 hrs a day, but not much peace and quiet here - unless you were deaf!
But Hailey loved the trees she could climb.

At one point a lone California Scrub-Jay spotted her in the tree, and called in his whole flock!

 Watch the video for the result!

Very nice country in that area, and because of the mine (?), most of the previously dusty washboard road is now hard surfaced - except for about the last mile, where the camping is!

Main road to the mine under development.

 I guess I'd better not include any aerial shots in this blog post!

We only stayed two nights because of all the traffic, which typically started to get heavy sometime before 5 AM.  Next on the itinerary - another visit to Las Cienegas National Conservation area and the Empire Ranch, near Sonoita, AZ.