Rosemary, Rabbits and Rattlers

Clump of Rosemary at our Arizona house

This story starts with a large clump of Rosemary. It has apparently become the home of an Arizona Cottontail Rabbit – or I think that is so, since I have seen it (the rabbit) bolt from there on a number of occasions.

Arizona
A Cottontail Rabbit

It is a very handsome rabbit and except for it’s fondness for the leaves of my Torch Glow Bougainvillea, it isn’t what I’d call a pest.

Rosemary leaves

I would have thought the Rabbit would eat the rosemary leaves too, but if it is so inclined, it isn’t making much of dent in the rapidly spreading foliage!

Yesterday, a new dessert occupant appeared on our patio. At first, I thought it was another non-venomous gopher snake. We see them relatively frequently in our yard. However, when the snake finally decided to slither away, I realized that the pointed end of its 3 foot body was suspiciously rattler-like.

I have to admit that I was startled when The Car Guy pointed out that the snake had chosen to come within 15 feet of where I was quietly sitting and reading. It was only 8 feet away from where The Car Guy had been walking back and forth as he worked on a construction project.

The Rattlesnake (probably a Diamond Back) eventually headed into the clump of Rosemary. I don’t wish to think about whether a rattlesnake and a rabbit can enter into a relationship where the rabbit doesn’t become dinner.

The curious thing is, seeing a Rattlesnake on my patio made me want to pack up and head back to Alberta. It’s highly unlikely that there has never been a Rattlesnake on my patio before – it’s just that I’ve never seen one there before. That makes all the difference.

Today, there is NO rattlesnake on my patio, and I’ve ventured out into the yard to do all the spring gardening tasks that need to be done before we head for our Northern home. Of course, I’m extremely more cautious than I was a few days ago. I’m also hopeful that the snake will chow down on the wood (pack) rats that inhabit parts of our yard, then move over to the neighbour’s yard and never visit my patio again.

Question of the day – what would you do if you found a Rattlesnake on your patio? (I went inside and got my camera, of course…)

Blanche Russell Rock Houses

A few years ago, after a visit to the Grand Canyon, we drove east on Hgw 64, then north on Hgws 89 and 89A. We crossed the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge, and were on final approach to the Vermillion Cliffs when we were surprised to see some mushroom shaped rocks that looked like a group of Smurfs had built houses under them.

Arizona

We stopped to investigate  and quickly realized they really were ‘Tiny Houses’. A worn and badly damaged sign nearby told the story of  Blanche Russell  and her husband William (Bill), whose car broke down in the area in about 1927 (or maybe 1920)…

Arizona

The pair took shelter under the mushroom rocks over night. Blanche liked the area so much that she bought the property and built permanent structures. She lived there for about 10 years and operated a business.

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

When I looked online for more information about the Blanche Russel Rock Houses, I found a number of  ‘folklore’ stories on several sites:

“Around 1927, Blanch Russell’s car broke down as she traveled through this area. Forced to camp overnight, she decided she liked the scenery so well that she bought the property and stayed. The stone buildings under these balanced rocks were built shortly after that in the 1930’s.”
http://arizona.untraveledroad.com/Coconino/HouseRock/56SSign.htm

“The Old Cliff Dwellers’ Lodge (Blanche Russell Rock House) is located on 89-A in Marble Canyon, AZ…  Blanche built a meager lean-to against the largest rock of many… and gradually built a life by serving food to passer-bys visiting the Grand Canyon. Guests of particular interest included Mormons traveling the nearby Honeymoon Trail to the temple in St. George, Utah.”
https://www.zdziarski.com/blog/?p=5326

“Blanche Russell was a successful dancer in a series of sophisticated theatrical productions called The Ziegfeld Follies. Blanche left the limelight when her husband Bill was diagnosed with Pulmonary Tuberculosis… They immediately purchased the land and constructed a unique rock house which they later converted into a roadside trading post. The structure was built with stacked rock against a large fallen boulder… The original home remains on the property today… They started serving food to travelers and later found themselves running a full-scale restaurant, trading post and even selling gasoline. The area became so popular, travelers began to refer to the area as Soup Creek or House Rock Valley… After a decade, the Russell’s grew tired of the desolate desert and sold the land to a rancher named Jack Church, who later turned the restaurant into a bar. It wasn’t but three years later when he sold the establishment to Art & Evelyn Greene.”
http://theproperfunction.com/the-cliff-dwellers/

“According to author Kay Campbell, who wrote a booklet about the Cliff Dwellers lodges, (Cliff dweller’s old and new: A history of the rock “village” on Highway 89A near Lee’s Ferry – 1998) the Russells sold water they took out of nearby Soap Springs and also sold pigeons out of a coop they kept at the site.” (This booklet is listed on Amazon, but is not available for purchase.)
– This site is no longer available: archive.azcentral.com/travel/arizona/features/articles/archive/0928cliffdwellers –

“By the 1930’s, their full-scale restaurant evolved to include a trading post, both of which are just a stone’s throw further down the road. The little settlement, known as Soup Creek or Houserock Valley, included several attendant outbuildings.”
https://frametoframe.ca/2014/10/blanche-russells-rock-houses-marble-canyon-arizona/

Jack Church, who added his own personal touch by turning the restaurant into a bar during World War II. In 1943, third owners, Art and Evelyn Greene, purchased the land. They kept the old dwelling, which then consisted of eight buildings and a gas generator.”
http://www.kitchensaremonkeybusiness.com/2012/05/may-20-2012-rock-houses.html

In 2001, Sandy Nevills Reiff interviewed Evelyn Greene for  the Northern Arizona University. The Greene family established trading posts, restaurants, and motels in the region. Evelyn’s recollection was that  Blanche Russell and her husband had come from New York in about 1920 or 1921. (She says the exact dates are in their archives, which are at ASU.) Evelyn says that Blanche and her husband set up a small business by the road side. Since the husband couldn’t do much in the way of helping, they would ask their customers to help them lay blocks and rocks to  make the buildings.
http://archive.li.suu.edu/voices/archive/transcripts/greenetranscript.htm

The only verifiable source facts I could find about the Blanche Russell story were  William Russel’s Death Certificate and the Patent for the land:

According to an Arizona State Board of Health’s Certificate of Death, William Pat Russel of Soap Creek, Coconino County, died July 27, 1936 of chronic myocarditis and mitral regurgitation. He was born on May 10, 1864 in Boston Mass, and was 72 years old when he died. He worked at a Service Station. He was married to Blanche Russell (nee Dodge) of Cameron Arizona. His father was Wm. Russell Sr. and his mother was Mary Sheets. He was buried in Flagstaff.
http://genealogy.az.gov/

The Bureau of Land Management holds the document that shows Blanche A. Russell, the widow of William Russell, was issued the Patent for 400 Acres of land on 1/11/1939.

The Bureau of Land Management also shows that Art Greene acquired 40 acres of Blanche’s property (039N – 006E SE¼SE¼ 28) on 4/21/1955.
https://glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx

The Arizona State University Libraries Archivist was kind enough to look through the Greene Family Collection for me. The only relevant item he found was a negative photostat copy of a 1930’s application for homestead by William Russell for the land Cliff Dweller’s Lodge occupies. (That application was denied by the federal government.)

Google Maps for the area:

Google Map – Blanche Russell Rock Houses (Cliff Dweller’s Stone House)
Google Map – Blanche Russell Rock Houses (Cliff Dweller’s Stone House)

So many questions, so few answers about a woman, who by all accounts, was a remarkably resourceful and adventurous person!

Wouldn’t you love to know ‘the rest of the story’!

I’d Rather Be… Here than There

March is a strange month.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations –

I’d rather be here where it is warm:

Warm and sunny Arizona

Than there where it is cold:

Cold and snowy Alberta

This week’s WordPress.com Photo Challenge is I’d Rather Be…

Where would you rather be?

Faces in the Car Show Crowd

January and February are the best time of the year for the car buffs in Arizona! This year The Car Guy went to Russo and Steele, Silver Auction at Fort McDowell and the Fountain Hills Concours in the Hills. He would have gone to Barrett-Jackson too, but got tired of trying to find a place to park.

Silver Auctions At Fort McDowell
Chrysler Town and Country
Fountain Hills Car Show
Triumph TR250
Fountain Hills Car Show
Shelby Cobra
Fountain Hills Car Show
Ford Ratrod

This week’s WordPress.com Photo Challenge is A Face in the Crowd.

Water Fountain Bubble

I could have (okay I did) spend hours one afternoon in front of a water fountain – taking photos of ‘never two the same’ Shape Shifting Blobs and impressively big Bubbles.

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

– William Shakespeare –

Grow Up, Snake!

Transient – a snake passing through the yard, my ‘fear’ of said snake, the snakes skin.

I have to say at the outset that I don’t really like snakes all that much. Not big snakes, for sure. (A snake always looks bigger than it really is, by the way.) So the first time I saw a ‘pretty big’ snake in my yard in Arizona, I was a bit ‘freaked’ out. It looked suspiciously like a Rattlesnake… Fortunately, our local Fire Department comes running when you call and ask for their Snake Removal assistance. I think they would rather deal with a snake than with a snake bite.

The snake turned out to be a Gopher (or Bull) Snake. From a safe distance, Gopher snakes and Rattlesnakes resemble each other – they have the same sort of markings and colors.

A stretched out Gopher Snake – about 3 ft (1 metre) long.

When I’d calmed down, and took a closer look, I saw how the Gopher Snake differed from a Rattlesnake.

round pupils
Gopher Snake head – no facial pit, and round pupils distinguish the gopher snake from the rattlesnake.

Both snakes can be a bit short-tempered. The Gopher Snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at intruders. The ruse works very well if the snake also happens to have it’s tail hidden in tall dry grass.

tapered tail
Gopher Snake – tapered tail, no rattles

After this particular snake had slithered off, The Car Guy discovered that it had left it’s skin behind. ‘Love the Skin You’re In’ only works for a month or so for a snake, then they discard it for a nice new one so that they can grow larger.

Here is the skin – each scale sparkled in the bright sunlight. Quite beautiful.

Snake Stories
Common Name: Gopher Snake or Bull Snake
Scientific Name: Pituophis
Description: The top of the snake is tan, cream, yellow, orange-brown, or pale gray, with a series of large dark brown or black blotches, with smaller dark spots on the sides. They can reach 9 feet (275 cm) in length, but 4 feet (120 cm) is more common.
Native to: from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans, as far north as southern Canada, and as far south as Veracruz and southern Sinaloa, Mexico, including Baja California.
Date Seen: April 28, 2017
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona
Comments: This is a powerful constrictor that preys on a wide variety of animals including rats, mice, rabbits, lizards, birds, snakes, eggs, and insects. It hibernates during the cold months of late fall and winter.

Have you ever found a snake skin? Did you know that humans shed their entire outer layer of skin every 2-4 weeks at the rate of 0.001 – 0.003 ounces of skin flakes every hour?

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Transient.

Common Raven

Corvus corax black bird
Common Raven in my yard in Arizona

The Common Raven is entirely black – feathers, bill, eyes, legs and feet! Their wingspan is 45.7–46.5 in (116–118 cm). In size, they are about half again larger than an American Crow or Chihuahuan Raven.

Corvus corax black brd
Common Raven at the Painted Desert, Arizona

The captive ravens at the Tower of London in England are perhaps the most famous ravens in the world, and the most difficult ones to manage:

Despite their having one wing trimmed, some ravens do in fact go absent without leave and others have had to be sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials, and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub.
– The Ravens, Tower of London –

San José del Cabo Mexico
Common Raven on beach in San José del Cabo, Mexico

The most feared Raven was in the poem by Edgar Allan Poe:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
– Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven –

The Feather Files
Name: Common Raven
Species: Corvus corax
Native to and Migration: They do not migrate (though some Northern birds might wander south in winter) and can be found throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere (from the coast of Siberia, to the slopes of Mt. Everest, across to Spain, and through much of North America down to southern Mexico) – in nearly any habitat except America’s eastern forests and open Great Plains.
Date Seen: September 2010, April 2016, January 2017
Location: Painted Desert Arizona,  north of Fountain Hills Arizona; San José del Cabo Mexico

Cactus Spines – A ‘Don’t Touch Me’ World

Living in Arizona has taught me a few things about the Danger of Cactus Spines! While it is unlikely they would cause any serious reaction, the punctures can be painful!

When I go on a ‘Nature’ walk, I carry a pair of pliers to pull cactus spines out of the soles of my shoes. When I am working in my yard, I wear thick leather gloves, and I never back up without knowing which plant is poised and ready to attack my leg. Even plants in the succulent family can inflict damage – Agave leaves can have razor sharp edges or wicked spears on the tips.

Like a porcupine, some cactus readily shed their spines into your skin. Usually I can remove them with a pair of tweezers. Then it is a simple matter to wash off the blood, and apply an antiseptic of some sort.

If I had been attacked by a large number of very small ‘hairy’ spines, there are apparently several ‘bulk removal’ methods. The first is to spread a layer of white glue over the area, let it dry, then peel it off. The other way is to smooth a piece of sticky tape over the area, then peel it off. Apparently duct tape works well.

I bought a cactus. A week later it died. And I got depressed, because I thought, Damn. I am less nurturing than a desert.
– Demetri Martin –

This week’s WordPress.com Photo Challenge is Danger.

What is the most dangerous thing that grows in your ‘neck of the woods’?

Bark Scorpion – In my Closet in Arizona

Bark Scorpions are usually 2 – 3 inches long, are nocturnal, and eat crickets, roaches and other insects. Scorpions hibernate in the winter.

This one was lurking in my broom closet, and unfortunately met an untimely ‘death by swiffer sweeper’. Scorpions glow in the dark if you shine a Black UV light on them, as you can see in this photo. Most local hardware stories around here carry Black light flashlights. We, of course, have one. It has good entertainment value for visitors. I  don’t go around  shining the flashlight in dark closets – live and let live. Except when I find one inside the house, and it doesn’t hide fast enough.

Bug Bits
Common Name: Arizona Bark Scorpion
Scientific Name: Centruroides sculpturatus
Native to: Baja California del Norte, northern Sonora, southeastern California, southeastern Utah, Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
Date Seen: April 24, 2017
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona

Many Rocks and a Lot of Hardscape

Earththe substance of the land surface – in my part of Arizona it reminds me of the saying ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’! Landscaping strategies here include generous numbers of Rocks and plenty of gravel Hardscape.

Arizona
Big River

Our yard consists of a gravel mulch that covers soil that is a course reddish material with large sections of impenetrable caliche (soil particles that have been cemented together by calcium carbonate.)

Meandering from one end of the yard to the other is a stone feature I call ‘Big River’.

‘Big River’ is a make believe creek bed that only gets wet when it rains.

‘Big River’ begins in a spiral rock feature I call ‘The Maze’.

A large stone lizard slithers towards the patio and breaks the monotony of yet some more gravel (the maze area is in the distance.)

In contrast, Earth at our Alberta house is a rich black soil. A carpet of green grass (sometimes a blanket of dead yellow grass if we don’t get enough rain) circles flower beds and stone walkways.

The Arizona yard and the Alberta yard, though on different ends of a spectrum of what Earth has to offer, are in just two of the many ecosystems that the Earth’s surface can support.  What kind of land surface do you call home?

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Earth.