A Walk in the Desert

It was an overcast day, slightly cool. Not a good one for hanging on the beach. So Alfredo and I  decided to head out east of town into the desert to see what we could find.

Mostly, we found plants. This is an area of many cardones but few saguaros, though the locals often call the cardón a saguaro. I wanted to get up close to the giants. This ancient one is maybe thirty feet tall.


I loved how its base had a kind of grotto.


Natural, as in perhaps a lightning strike? Or did an animal, perhaps even a human animal, carve it out for some reason?

The old ones have a thick brown base and are surrounded by a network of roots.   roots

When they, die, they look like this.

dead cardon

There were also cholla, but a different kind than we have in Southeastern Arizona.


When they die, they look like this.

dead cholla

There were a number of ocotillo.  A US nickname for them is the devil’s walking stick.


They don’t look like anything special until spring when are topped with beautiful orange-red blossoms. In summer, and spring and fall if there is rain, they leaf out and look beautiful.

Here as in Arizona, people cut one limb, let the cut end scab over, and then plant it. Do that repeatedly and you get a living fence.


See? A few leaves, though I can’t imagine how it got enough water to leaf out.

green ocotillo

There were even some interesting small plants. Wildlowers on the last day of December!

flower2 This little one was only about an inch tall.

Alfredo wandered down the road and I was roaming a different area looking for more flowers when a truck came down this road out in the middle of nowhere. The driver spotted my car, then spotted me, and stopped to see if I was okay. I told him I was taking photos of flowers, and I think he must have believed I was a bit nuts.


However, after a few minutes of conversation in which we disclosed he raised goats at a little ranch back up the road, Alfredo and I were soon invited to follow him to his ranchito to meet the mamas and new babies.

Pascual had a piece about 100 meters by 100 meters totally fenced in ocotillo.

One lone dog guarded the goats. Pascual led us to the pen of mommies and babies explaining that the males were loose in the desert, guarded by six very brave and fierce dogs.

goat momMom is grabbing some lunch, while a youngster tries in vain to sunbathe.

goat sunbathing

The youngest are about ten days old and the ones slightly larger are about a month old.

Pascual also has one pig who complained bitterly about not having enough food, though being a pig, my guess is he’s almost never satisfied. He was quite a well-rounded pig.

Pascual also has a small garden going. Watermelon, squash, and a few fruit trees lined the western edge of his property. Quite a project since he has to haul all the water to the ranchito as he lives in town.


As we chatted with Pascual, several trucks went by loaded with firewood. Preparations for outdoor barbacoas tonight, New Year’s Eve.

Clearly Pascual is  ready for a small fiesta here, too.

 chairs for party

But not tonight. Like us, Pascual will be spending New Year’s Eve in town.

Happy New Year everyone!

Fiesta de la Piñata – Piñata Party

The first time I met Martha, I was a bit stunned.

I mean, it’s not every day I meet a young, vibrant Mexican woman in a full hijab.

Martha, born and raised in the fishing village of Bahia Kino, was searching for something deeper in her life and looked to religion. She found what she wanted in the Muslim faith.

She studied the Koran online and learned passable Arabic. She began to going to Hermosillo to pray in the mosque rather than to shop for clothes.

But there she was, office manager, the first time I entered the office at Islandia Marina in Kino Viejo, smiling and welcoming me in English.

Over the years, we became friends and I saw her meet Mohamed, a Moroccan man who spoke Spanish. She married Mohamed, and had a beautiful baby, Ryan Mohamed, who is now almost three. Martha continues her job as office manager and Mohamed has found a job in town.

My partner and I are in Kino through the holidays and Martha invited us to her parents’ home last night for a piñata party for the kids. “Five o’clock” she said.

In typical Mexican fashion, we arrived around 6:30 to find the festivities not quite yet underway. Martha told us the party was going to be a bit low key since right across the street a family was holding a wake and they didn’t want the party to interfere. Still, the stuffed piñata hung from the tree.

And it was not just a piñata party. We soon learned there would be a complete barbacoa, a sort of Mexican barbecue in which very thin slices of meat are grilled over wood, usually mesquite, then chopped and stuffed into fresh, warm tortillas.

There were five small children in attendance, and about seven teen and pre-teen girls, all ages eleven to seventeen, who were great hams and jumped in front of my camera at every opportunity.


Margarita, Martha and Alfredo were okay with photos, too.


Soon, however, the fire was lit – after a quick dash to Margarita’s house for charcoal lighter.

Margarita lit the fire.      margarita+fire

It was well guarded.      guarding fire

And the fire was used for a quick warmup.     warming hands

But it was finally about ready for the meat.     fire

Martha filled the tea kettle so people could have tea or coffee.

martha+water      The women retired to the kitchen to prepare salsa and guacamole toppings.

making salsa.

The meat, however, is the man’s domain.

meat prep    grill prep

grill meat

Two of Mohamed’s Moroccan friends from Hermosillo came to the party. They are both graduate students at the university. Abraham, Mohamed’s childhood friend, studies Spanish and is currently polishing his thesis and studying for his final exams which are coming up in February.                                                                             Abraham    Abraham speaks five languages including his native berber dialect. Aris is studying linguistics and is far more comfortable with Chomsky’s theories than I am (try it sometime if you want to be totally confounded).

Abraham and Aris arrived and immediately retired,with Mohamed, for evening prayers, then rejoined the small crowd in the front yard.

As the fire settled into coals, it was time for the piñata. The little children were lined up by size, smallest first.

blindfold  Aris  Aris   stood on a chair and Martha’s father  roof   hopped up on a four-foot-tall block wall, onto a shed, then up on his neighbor’s roof.

He and Aris would hold the piñata, pulling it up, down and sideways while the blindfolded children swung at it with a long stick.

hit pinata    Each child got several swings, and finally it was the eleven-year-old who smashed through the piñata, spilling candies, little plastic toys, and nuts onto the ground.

The candies and toys and even a few of the nuts were scooped up by the children.

The dogs polished off the leftover nuts.  dog

There were uses for parts of the opened piñata. hat

Finally, all the meat was grilled and chopped, and the condiments were set outside on a small table.condiments Notice the girls inserting them into even this photo.

Martha skillfully created soft tacos of frijoles (mashed pinto beans often with a bit of cheese) and chopped barbacoa.  make taco

The other women carried plate after plate to the adult males. Then I was served, then the boys and girls and then the women served themselves.

We continued with stories and laughter for the next forty-five minutes or so. Then we saw the family gathered around the Christmas tree inside, forming a large arc around it. All were there, from toddlers through grandparents, holding hands. That is when we quietly left.


At 7:40 am yesterday I headed north to Bisbee to meet friends for an outing to Cascabel. In our usually arid climate, I was surprised I had to do things to my car because of the dew.


When I got to Cinda’s, she had to deal with dew too since she was the day’s driver.

Cinda dew

We headed up High Road to pick up Debra, then off we went.

View into
View into Mexico from High Road, Bisbee. It was extremely overcast or you’d see Mexico.

Why would the three of us drive nearly two hours to Cascabel? After all, Wikipedia calls it a ghost town. But that would be a surprise to Lisa, a Cascabel firefighter who says there are probably between 125 and maybe 250 residents, depending on the season (some flee the hot summers).

Cascabel has a delightful little holiday community fair each year. Cinda and I have gone several times, but this was Debra’s first visit.

Tombstone signOut of Bisbee we went, then through the town of Tombstone (the Town Too Tough to Die).

Immediately out of town, traffic came to a stop. Lights flashed up ahead and we feared there’d been a horrible accident.


Nope. Just a few horse-drawn wagons carrying folks from Kansas. We never learned the reason why they were plodding down a 65 mph highway causing all kinds of backups.  Kansas

A few miles later and we got to the Customs checkpoint (yes, we were 25 miles from the border of Mexico, but apparently Customs folks don’t read maps well).


Through St. David, Benson, and Pomerene, then north on Cascabel Road where we encountered several interesting sights and many interesting signs.

sign2  and sign3  and sign4 and even sign5 and even  sign1 this!

And finally this. sign-encouraging

The last five miles of Cascabel Road were dirt, and Cinda’s blue dolphin guided us well.  dirt road

We parked amid old mesquite trees and wandered up the road to the little fair.

parking   But first things first.  toilets

We spent the next several hours wandering the twenty-five or so booths.

booths and booths2 and

Jill and Lura of Brookmoore Creations.
Jill and Lura of Brookmoore Creations.
DJ of Benson and his beautiful mesquite creations.
DJ of Benson and his beautiful mesquite creations.
Martha is a potter with Cascabel Clayworks. She apprenticed 24 years ago and returns yearly for the festival.
Martha is a potter with Cascabel Clayworks. She apprenticed 24 years ago and returns yearly for the festival.

And having some great soup – the kitchen offered seven or eight kinds and also had hamburgers.

The kitchen kitchen and grill hamburger grill and us having lunch!  lunch

And visiting inside the first house constructed in Cascabel community when it was revived in 1970.

The main house (Barbara's) has a skylight with this fab parachute beneath it!
The main house (Barbara’s) has a skylight with this fab parachute beneath it!

Bottles are a part of the house’s eastern wall. It was hard getting photos because so many people stood in front of them taking pictures!

bottlewall1        and           bottlewall2

And a walk through the (currently) dry San Pedro River.

river cliffs and river gold, the fallen leaves  river gold of the cottonwood tree. And the sun desperately trying to come out.  river wall sun

The canyon walls of the river are about twelve feet high. riverr 2 And in a good rainy season like we had this last summer, the waters roar through the normally dry wash that deep and even spill over the banks.

In fact, this summer the river tickled the underbellies of several bridges, and roads had to be shut down.

We chatted briefly with Barbara Clark who moved to Cascabel in 1970 (she began the revival) and started Cascabel Clayworks where many potters have worked and apprenticed over the years. She says this is the thirty-fourth winter festival.

Barbara Clark who moved to the area in 1970 and began creating pottery. Thank you Barbara!
Barbara Clark who moved to the area in 1970 and began creating pottery. Thank you Barbara!

We also met Ivan who came here and built this house in 1974. He offers tours of his insanely wonderful art-filled house for $1 (self guided).

Ivan Ivan and his house. house

We finally left, climbing into Cinda’s car and looking forward to a blast of heat. The gray day had grown cooler and cooler.

Back twenty-six miles or so to Benson. Next stop: Singing Winds Bookstore. You have to know where it is. Heck, you have to even know it exists. There’s no sign on the road. You have to be halfway up the long, long driveway before there’s a sign, and there’s no sign in front of the store itself which looks like a house, just a small notice on the fence that it’s open, and when you go through the gate, then you see the sign.

bok The sign reads thus:

Singing Wind Bookshop

Headquarters for books about the Southwest

The stuff of dreams make up books

Please ring bell for service

There’s also a big sign by the door warning customers not to let the cat out.

Book browsing (and purchasing) completed, we headed back to Benson for some Mexican food.1

As we sat down to eat, the sun finally emerged. The forecast would have been more accurate if it had said barely sunny instead of partly cloudy.

After dinner, an hour’s drive home watching the sky slip from blues an grays to yellows and pinks. We three (even Cinda, the driver) craned our heads every which way watching the colors change, noticing a partial rainbow in the distance, and watching the setting sun glance off the mountains to the east.

Trust me, I wanted many more photos of the sunset. Please be content with the three below. First a view to the south,

sunset1   then east    unset3east

and finally to the west.    sunset2 west