May 27th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Southeast Arizona Parks – The Unknown Jewels
Down By The River B and B is “The Lodging Hub of Cochise County” and you can see all the things to do in the area from this map
Southeast Arizona parks and historic sites are not as well known or frequented like the Grand Canyon but have their own charm that will delight you when you visit this part of Arizona. The better known park in this part of Southeast Arizona is Kartchner Caverns State Park. But we have many guests from Arizona that have never heard of it. Tombstone is a National Historic Site best known as the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. For some reason, the majority of parks in Southeastern Arizona are one of the best kept secrets around. So let me give you a quick review of places that you can visit here in Southeast Arizona.
Chiricahua National Monument encompasses a volcanic formation from the Turkey Creek Caldera that erupted millions of years ago. Over time the elements have worn down the rock to form many interesting rock features similar to Bryce Canyon only to a smaller scale. The color of the rocks is not orangish red but shades of browns, grays and whites. Many of the rock features have names such as balance rock, Punch and Judy and Duck on a Rock to name a few. It is almost to the New Mexico Border south of Willcox.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is east of Willcox about 20 miles just off of Interstate 10. This is the location that was a focal point in the Apache Indian Wars here in Arizona. The actual incident that started the hostilities happened near the ruins of Fort Bowie. Originally the Fort was placed here at Apache Springs to guard the water for the Butterfield Stage line. The old stage road can be seen at this location. Ruins of the stage station, a graveyard, the Jefford’s Indian Agency ruins and the old fort can be explored during your hike into the visitor’s center.
From the top of Coronado National Memorial looking to the Southwest into Mexico.
Coronado National Memorial is located at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains. The site celebrates the Coronado Expedition that entered Arizona along the San Pedro River in their search for Cibola – The Lost Cities of Gold. From the high point in the monument you can look out over the San Pedro Valley toward the Peloncillo Mountains where Geronimo surrendered. Looking south you view Mexico and the foothills of the Sierra Madres. To the west you can see about 80 miles to Baboquivari Peak, a sacred mountain to the Tohono O’odham peoples south of Tucson.
There are many other smaller Southeast Arizona parks and sites to visit when you come to Cochise County. Staying at Down By The River will also not disappoint you. Enjoy the parks all within a short drive time to Down By The River with the seclusion and quiet that can be found here in St. David, AZ. So read up on the area and find out what the well kept secret is and enjoy it.
May 18th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Cochise County Lizards – fun to watch while you sit on the patio.
Cochise County lizards start to come out after the weather warms up. You don’t see them in the winter unless you uncover one in the yard when you are moving rocks. Lizards are cold blooded so they need warmth to become active. We do find some lizards inside the house and usually they are easy to catch on the concrete floors. They don’t get much traction so we can reach down and pick them up easily. Sometimes it is just easier to catch them with the broom and the dust pan.
Great grandad in hand is a Regal Horned Lizard
Most of the lizards here in Cochise County are harmless, even though they may have a frightening appearance. The Horned Lizards, also known as Horny Toads have been used in old scifi 1950 films. The Regal Horned Lizard is the largest horned lizard in Arizona and can fill the palm of your hand. They can blend into the rocks and you can walk right by without seeing it. There is one Cochise County lizard that is dangerous but only if you try to pick it up. That is the Gila Monster or Mexican Beaded Lizard. This reptile is protected and bothering one can get you in trouble with the authorities. In the 10 ½ years I have been here, we have only seen one of these lizards on the property. By the time I got the camera it was gone into the brush and we didn’t see it again.
Arizona Striped Whiptail Lizard has an additional stripe down its back
Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard is missing the stripe in the center of its back
Many lizards look alike but there are subtle differences. We use a link for Arizona Lizards to help us ID Cochise County lizards. The Desert Grassland Whiptail and the Arizona Striped Whiptail look the same until you count the number of strips on the back. Lizards eat insects and ants but I spotted something that was a bit different. One lizard has some bumps on its back and so I took the picture to see what it was. The lizard had 3 riders. I have no idea why they were there but the lizard didn’t seem bothered by them at that location. Lizards also become prey to other animals such as snakes, birds, and mammals. We have seen Roadrunners with lizards and sometimes snakes in their beak running through the breezeway.
3 insects are riding this Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard just over the back legs.
Cochise County lizards are fun to watch and there are a lot of them around the b and b during the warmer times of the year.
May 12th, 2015 by Mike Hug
B and B owner’s day – Now comes the rest
The b and b owner’s day starts early but after breakfast the harder work will come. If you do things right breakfast is easy and you have some time to relax. If you have guests leaving your relaxation will be short lived. But if you have guests that are staying and you don’t have to clean and do laundry you can get some things done that help you our cause. So here is part 2 of the narrative.
Our table can seat 10 guests comfortably during our b and b breakfast.
After the guests leave the table, we will finish up our cleaning and straightening up the kitchen and table. We will update our menu for tomorrow and get any cooking dishes we need to have ready for tomorrows breakfast prep. As the guest leave we will tidy rooms, take out the trash, check for any dishes that we need to put in the dishwasher and check for any shortages of tissues and such that may need to be replaced. We will clean the rooms if guests check out. We try to run a quick spot check of the rooms for anything left behind before they get out the gate. We start the laundry and the dishwasher and hang the clothes on the line as they are done. In between we check the emails and telephone for messages.
Once we finish laundry, cleaning the rooms and putting the laundry away, we get the paperwork out for the incoming guests; start the prep for the next morning breakfast and other household chores that we need to get done that day. We check ingredients as we make breakfast and write down items which will need to be replenished. A running list keeps you from forgetting things when you have a long drive to the store. Wasted trips don’t help efficiencies and time is precious. We field phone calls as needed and many are from solicitors that want to sell us the cheapest insurance, best credit card set up, advertizing. While we do have online reservations, we get the call from potential guests who have questions and want to make a reservation. There are many balls to juggle but with two people working at it we usually aren’t overburdened. We get the morning meal into the refrigerator to sit overnight. In amongst all of this we try to fit in lunch.
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May 5th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Day for a B and B owner – the morning
Early in the morning I am headed over to the guest side to start preparing the morning breakfast prep. This is after and hour or so that I have been on the computer.
The routine day of the b and b owner may vary as to specifics but there is always the one thing in common. The essentials everyday tasks are doing maintenance, cleaning, cooking, processing reservations and greeting guests. Most guests don’t know about all the other hats that a b and b owner may wear. There is the bookkeeping, budgeting, planning meals, gardening, scheduling time for shopping, banking, paying bills and maintenance. Then there are some b and b owners that do their own websites and marketing. If you aren’t organized and if you don’t have a system that works for you, things can unravel quickly at inopportune times.
We are starting our 11th year at Down By The River B and B. We have developed systems that save us time and effort. We only have 4 rooms at our b and b but that is enough to make our business plan work. We are able to do everything ourselves without needing to hire help for the normal day to day operation. When it comes to special maintenance or repair work we do find someone that is qualified to work with us in that area. So just what exactly is our normal day like? Well I can tell you that it isn’t ever the same but this is probably a typical scenario.
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April 26th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Arizona Winery Events – Sample that perfect wine.
Wineries such as Carlson Creek will have venues such as Cafe Roka for dinner and wine pairings.
Throughout the year the calendar is filled with Arizona winery events. Some of the wineries have special events that are strictly for their club members. One that we have oped to join is Coronado and Zarpara Vineyards. Some wineries such as Carlson Creek or Flying Leap that have events where wines are paired at a dinner and people on their email list are invited. Other wineries have dates where musical entertainment is offered during the wine tasting weekends. Then you may find vineyards that celebrate their new releases with a special event such as Sonoita Vineyards with their Blessing of the Vines. There are regional events that take place with many vintners setting up their booths so that the attendees can sample the wines.
These Arizona winery events are held all over the state and one way you can find out about them is to get on a mailing list of the individual wineries or become a club member. You can always go to a winery website and see if they have posted an event that will be coming up in the future. Another source for events is the calendar at AZ Wine Lifestyle Magazine. Anyone can submit an event on this magazine for inclusion. Local chambers of commerce will also let you know about events or their members.
The Wine and Music Festival in Sonoita this Spring brought out a lot of people to sample wines from 20 wineries.
Although Angie and I have gone to smaller events, we prefer the regional Arizona winery events. These usually allow us to schedule a time when our guests at Down By The River B and B are out for the day. Some of our guests may even be at the event and that makes it a little more fun. In mid April, The 4 th Annual Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Music Festival was held at Kief – Joshua Vineyards. There were 20 wineries there along with food, music, a chili cook off and other vendor booths. There was a wide range of wines available for tasting. If you couldn’t find one that you liked then it was because you didn’t try hard enough.
Kief Manning has hosted the Sonoita Wine and Music Festival for 4 years now
The owners of the vineyards are usually at these events and you will be able to meet them and talk about their wines. You will find a lot of very knowledgeable enologists at these events and we meet other people that share the same interest in wine as us. It also allows Angie and I to pass out our cards to people we meet and maybe end up with future guests. All the while a good band was playing music for our enjoyment as we sampled wine. What better way to spend an Arizona Spring day. Now you may be saying to yourself, I will have to wait until next year to experience an Arizona wine event. Well no because the next Arizona Winery Event is going to be held on May 16 and 17. On that date, The Willcox Wine Country Spring Festival will be held in Railroad Park. There should be between 15 and 20 wineries represented there.
The next on the list of Arizona winery events is the Willcox Wine Festival in May.
So think about joining the fun for a day or two and book a room at Down By The River so that you won’t miss out on tasting all that great wine at this Southeastern Arizona winery event. What better thing to do than set back in a secluded quite venue and maybe open one of the wines you purchased to go with your meal. It doesn’t get better than this.
April 12th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Cochise County Ruins – Photographing Yesteryear
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is well preserved considering that it was scavanged after it was abandon by the army.
I love photographing Cochise County ruins in black and white. There are lots of ghost towns in Cochise and neighboring Santa Cruz Counties. Old mining towns dot the landscape. Some boomed and died over 100 years ago while some were thriving 50 years ago. You can find the old ruins of military forts such as Fort Bowie and wander through the building remains at your leisure. Hike the trails around Fairbank and you will come across other ghost towns that had their heyday in the 1880 and 90s. Many of these old towns have little left of the buildings. Maybe you will find foundations or the remnants of adobe walls that have been washed away over the years from the monsoon storms that sweep Cochise County during July and August. Another ghost town with many buildings to photograph is Gleeson, which I wrote about some time back.
The Gleeson Jail was built in 1910. It is constructed from concrete and is now a museum.
Besides ghost towns there are old home sites to explore. There are abandon houses that you will find in different areas of the county as you travel the picturesque back country. These homes are in various states of decay and some are nothing more than foundations or ruins. Travel throughout the county and you will find buildings overgrown with vegetation and in some cases in danger of full collapse. It is always interesting to stop and photograph some of these places. Some can be seen only as you are passing by on a road to somewhere else. In some cases, such as Dos Cabezas, you can’t stop because there isn’t any place to pull off to the side of the road. Then there are others can be seen as you approach so you can plan to stop. What are their stories?
This Black and White photo of an old houses that was abandon to the elements can be found all over Cochise County.
These were usually old abandon family homes that were located in the farming areas. One such area is Kansas Settlement south of Willcox. The area got its name from of the family immigrants that came from Kansas and settled in the area in the early 1900s. The farming was good and the acreage progressively grew. After World War II, the farming grew even faster until 175000 acres were being cultivated. In the late 1970s and early 80s when the price of energy skyrocketed. This caused great hardships and the acreage dropped to less than 40,000. Many of the farms were abandoned or foreclosed upon by banks. Now the area is growing again with grape vineyards. Most of Arizona’s wine grapes are grown in the Sulphur Springs Valley.
Some buildings are very close to total collapse as can be seen in the state of this building.
One building that I see when we go out on the Willcox Bench to do wine tasting is the Arzberger homestead. This building always intrigued me. It gives you a feeling of forlorn desolation. The old dead tree still is standing next to the home giving faint hope of shade in the summer sun. We stopped recently and took pictures inside the building and from other angle. The Arzburger’s were one of 17 families that that settled the area from Kansas. The old homestead was still being farmed by the Arzbergers in 2005. Being centrally located is a great bonus when staying here at Down By The River B and B. With all the things to do in the area, one fun thing is to photograph old Cochise County ruins.
This old Arzberger homestead on Kansas Settlement Rd and Arzberger Rd is one of the most interesting photo subjects as we drive along the back roads. The tree that once gave shade has died and stands like a sentinel waiting for the owners to return.
April 5th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Golden Rule Vineyard on your way to the Willcox Bench
Golden Rule Vineyard is located in the Sulphur Springs Valley at the northern end of the Dragoons. While driving down Dragoon Road on our way into the Sulphur Springs Valley, Angie spotted a sign that heralded the Golden Rule Vineyard Tasting Room. We were in a hurry to make our appointment so we couldn’t stop. We thought we might stop to see where the tasting room was on the way back, if it wasn’t too late. As it turned out, we were back on Dragoon Road around 4 PM and we decided to go and see where the winery was located. We really didn’t expect it to be open since it wasn’t during their normal business hours.
Golden Rule Vineyards Tasting Room is open to the public Thursday through Sunday and by appointment.
As we drove down the dirt road, we were enjoying viewing the scenery with the fresh wild flowers that dotted the landscape. Red, yellow, purple and white flowers growing in the fields added to the ambiance of the country road. We finally came over a rise and around a turn to see the vineyards on the side of the sloping hill. We drove on to the parking lot and found that there was another couple from Pennsylvania wine tasting. I got out of the car and took a photo of the tasting room and we were greeted at the door by Jim Graham. Jim and his wife Ruth own the vineyard and run the tasting room. We had met them both previously at a couple of the Willcox wine festivals. There are almost 20 wineries represented at the festivals in the spring and fall.
You will find Golden Rule Vineyards at the Willcox Wine Festivals.
While sampling wines, they told us about their venture and we told them about our b and b. Jims and Ruth’s story was interesting and we found that Jim has always been farming. He grew up in Iowa and farmed there for many years. Jim was on his way to a conference when he met Ruth on a plane. They started talking and things evolved. In the end Ruth married Jim and moving to Iowa. An uncle who owned the land where Golden Rule is now located decided to quit farming. Jim and Ruth came out to take over the operation and thus started Golden Rule winery. The winery is named after the gold mine that is located on the hill behind the property.
We enjoyed or palaver and of course their red wines. We hadn’t noticed the time but after almost 2 hours before we knew it. We purchased a few bottle to take home but it was a tough choice to decide which ones. They were all so good. Golden Rule is not located in the clusters of tasting rooms that you find in Willcox or Kansas Settlement. Golden Rule Vineyards about 9 miles west of the other tasting rooms. However, if you are coming from Down By The River B and B, the tasting room is on the way to the Kansas Settlement tasting rooms. The drive is enjoyable and you will pass through Texas Canyon with all the beautiful rocks. If you wish to go to the Willcox Wine Festival, book your room at Down By The River B and B. You can have fun during the day samplings wines from many vintners, including Golden Rule, and spend the night enjoying the seclusion of a fine b and b.
March 29th, 2015 by Mike Hug
Greater Roadrunners – Arizona’s rascal with feathers
The Greater Roadrunner sometime follows me to see what I scare up for dinner while I am walking through the brush.
Greater Roadrunners is a bird that lives in the southwest and was revered by the native peoples for its speed, bravery and endurance. The Hopi and Pueblo Peoples thought that the Roadrunner was a protection from evil spirits and would provide good medicine. They would look at the tracks of a Roadrunner and see an X shaped print. They believed that the tracks would confuse evil spirits because they wouldn’t know which way the Roadrunner was going. Some Indian tribes in Mexico consider Roadrunners sacred. The Apache also have a legend of how the Roadrunner was made the leader of the birds.
As the Greater Roadrunner came out from behind the bush the birds all took flight into the top branches of the tree.
The Greater Roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family and inhabits the northern Mexico and most of the Southwestern US. The Roadrunner ranges into Texas and up into Kansas. There is a lesser Roadrunner that lives in on the western Mexico mainland coast and down into Central America. It’s similar looking but smaller in size and their range overlaps slightly in northern Mexico with the Greater Roadrunner. Here is Southeastern Arizona, Roadrunners can be found in the many areas of Cochise County but especially near the San Pedro River. While driving on the roads you may see one dart across the road in front of the car. Very seldom will you see a Roadrunner leave the ground in flight. They will take flight in times of danger but prefers running on the ground.
Growing up we always watched the Roadrunner Coyote cartoons. It was always fun to see the coyote being bested by the Roadrunner. From those cartoons there was never any doubt in my mind that the Roadrunner ate seeds and could outrun a coyote. Alas the cartoon was a false image of true life. Coyotes are twice as fast as a Roadrunner and can easily catch them in an even race. As for the Roadrunners, their bill of fare of seeds are only about 10% of their diet.
After the birds flew into the tree the Greater Roadrunner jumped up on the wall to see if it was possible to get to the birds.
Roadrunners mainly eat insects, smaller birds, reptiles including snakes and lizards and smaller rodents. In the desert environment the live food provides the bulk of the water that the Roadrunner requires. The Greater Roadrunner is quick enough to snatch hummingbirds and dragonflies out of the air if they come too close. We have watched Roadrunners running through the breezeway with snakes and lizards in the beak. The Roadrunner is a clever bird. For example while hunting for prey such as rattlesnakes, they will team up with another Roadrunner. One will distract the snake the other will move up from behind to ambush and grab the snake at the back of the head. It will then beat the snake on a rock to kill it.
The other day we watched a Roadrunner hop over the patio fence and move slowly using the cover of the planters and furniture. It moved into bushes until it was close to the seed feeders. The birds were on the ground and all foraging for seeds that had fallen from the feeders. It wasn’t too long when the birds all took flight leaving the Roadrunner alone on the ground. The Roadrunner jumped up on the patio wall and surveyed the tree where the birds had flown to the top branches. Soon the birds flew off to other areas and the Roadrunner hopped down and started looking again for food. It was really interesting to watch the drama play out. I have also had the Greater Roadrunner follow me as I went to the well house. He stayed back a little waiting for me to scare up a lizard or bird. If I did he would dart out and grab it then go off to feed.
The Roadrunner roosting at Down By The River a Cochise County Birding Hotspot.
We have had the Greater Roadrunner roost for the night on the breezeway fireplace and on a beam near the ceiling of the breezeway. It took us a while to figure out what the bird did to get 8 feet up onto those roosts. That is when we found out that the Roadrunner could fly if need be. He flew up to the mantle from the furniture then to the beam from the mantle. By early in the morning he would launch himself off the beam and glide down to the floor. Then the bird would head out to find breakfast and to start a new day. This is a fascinating bird to watch. So if you want a good chance to see the Greater Roadrunner here in Southeastern Arizona, spend some time at Down By The River B and B here in St. David, AZ.
March 22nd, 2015 by Mike Hug
Migratory Bird Photography Lots of Opportunity on the San Pedro River
Wilson’s Snipe flew off as we were walking along the edge of the lake at White Water Draw.
Migratory bird photography is one of those simple pleasures that can be a thrill when you find out that you have the unexpected picture of a bird in flight. Or it can be one of those frustrating shots where the bird in out of focus because your automatic focus was on a branch and not the bird. Sometimes you get the shot just as the bird takes flight and if you are lucky an action shot has been caught or if not then you have the background and maybe the tail of the bird as a reminder of what you saw.
Patience and a little luck will sometimes give you a great shot.
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is renowned for the migratory bird photography that can be had with a little patience and some good luck. During the year up to 400 species of birds can be found in the area and I have been lucky enough to have been able to record around 100 in the ten years that I have been here at Down By The River B and B. Naturally I am not out every day taking photos or I would probably have more. Some birds are easier to photograph than others. The ones at the feeders are posing as you sit on the patio while others only appear when you don’t have your camera or dart in and out.
I have found that it is wise always to have your camera with you as you walk around the San Pedro River. There are times you need to just sit and wait in an area that you hear bird calls. After a while they come out. But there are
Lady Luck allowed me to spot this Gray Hawk and take a photograph of him before he took flight.
things that will mess up your day. Two such problems are simple things that you do to yourself. They are not having your battery fully charged or not having a spare. The other is not checking to make sure your card too full with shots that you have taken and not saved to your computer. I have made both mistakes when I was in a hurry and regretted it later. The bird flew away while I did the Homer Simpson “DOH!”
I have had some success with migratory bird photography because I did have my camera and a long range lens. In 10 years I have seen many Gray Hawks but only once was I able to get a photograph of one. I almost left my camera at home that morning but was persuaded to go back and get it before we left. The bird was on a pole 2 minutes into our drive and allowed me to shoot 4 shots before it decided to leave. Just a little preparation will help you more times than good luck.
By following the hawk with the camera as if flew, I was able to catch its body. The wings were moving and the background is a blur to give the effect of movement.
There has been other times when I came into view of birds and they started flying off in all directions. I have had my camera at the ready and followed a bird in the viewfinder. I never know what I have and hoped that the shot would take. When I get it on the computer then I know if my shot was successful. With practice, if you follow the bird with the camera and take the shot, you get the bird perfectly frozen in flight while the background is blurry. This gives you the effect of motion. This is much better than not moving the camera and you see a clear background and a blurry bird. Try it out sometime and see what you get. You may surprise yourself with one of those shots that make you go Wahoo!
So prepare, be patient, be ready and improvise to see what works. Good luck. Oh and one last thing don’t watch the bird in your view finder for so long that you forget to take the picture while you have it. Been there and did that too many times to remember.