Category Archives: Erin’s Tinkerings

Erin’s time to share. Usually these are blog entries that don’t fit nicely into other categories.

Passenger Rail Study in Arizona

Eying the projected doubling of the population here in the Grand Canyon State by 2050 our forward-thinking Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is studying the feasibility of passenger rail service connecting our two main population centers, Tucson and Phoenix.

Giddy with excitement we participated in the first survey back in late 2012. We imagined whizzing through the desert in comfort without the hassle and danger of driving: haboobs, semis, congestion. After arriving in the Phoenix area one could speak their mind at the Governor’s office, explore a museum, attend a professional game, or catch a concert and then return home safely.

So we sent off our surveys and… (crickets chirping)… heard nothing. Figuring the idea had suffered a slow and torturous death we went on with our lives.

Good news! The next part of the survey is now here. ADOT has winnowed through the 6,500 plus comments and narrowed the route options down to three. After reading the background information I am even more impressed by the concept and hopeful that it will get built.

Sure, there are major obstacles such as funding but to ignore the existing traffic problems won’t make them go away, it will only make them worse. Trust me, we’ve tried doing nothing, and that hasn’t worked out so well.

If you live in Arizona please make your voice heard, take a few minutes, and fill out this survey.

Ventana Cave, Window to the Past

Thanks to a tour hosted by Old Pueblo Archaeology I finally had the chance to visit a place I’d long desired to see: Ventana Cave. Twenty (gasp) years ago while attending the University of Arizona I studied the archaeological excavation of the site. It featured prominently in my coursework as it contained evidence of human activity going back 10,000 years.

Looking Up at Ventana Cave

That length of continuous history at one site in the US is rare and it is the only one in southern Arizona. I suppose my professors might have also emphasized it since the dig was under the auspices of Emil Haury, famed archaeologist and early head of our department.

There are a few misconceptions I should dispel before going further. First, it is not a cave, it is technically a large rock shelter located in the side of a volcanic hill. Second, it was never used for long-term habitation, in other words, it was never permanently occupied. Third, the spot is still in use today by Tohono O’odham and migrants.

Why has this spot been so popular with native peoples for thousands and thousands of years? You know what they say in real estate; location, location, location. That was as true back then as it is today and Ventana Cave had everything you could ask for: a commanding view of the valley below and a small spring which is the only permanent water source for miles. Based on the evidence archaeologists believe the site was used as a seasonal camp for hunting and gathering.

Across the Valley

When the excavation began in 1941 Haury had no idea the accumulated layers were 23 feet deep or that they would span such a vast amount of time. The top layer was littered with detritus from contemporary Tohono O’odhams while the bottommost layer contained the remains of Pleistocene megafauna. They uncovered extinct species such as bison, dire wolf, tapir, giant ground sloth, and early horse.

Ventana Cave was clearly an important location for the walls are covered in pictographs (which are rare in southern Arizona), there are a dozen bedrock mortars, and 1585 projectile points were found along with 39 burials, ten of them infants. Of those inhumations, three were associated with the Archaic period (8000-1000 BCE) while the rest date to the Hohokam period (200-1450 CE).

The variety of pictographs also denote the passage of time; from the dots and lines of the Early Archaic period, to the humanoid figures of the Hohokam, to the riders on horseback which can date no early than the the mid 1500s.

Black Figures, Horse and Rider on Painted White Background

Two of the burials were especially interesting. An infant was found with well-preserved feces which were carefully examined. The child’s last meal contained mesquite meal, saguaro seeds, and cholla pollen. Since cholla blooms in the late spring they were able to determine the time of year the child died.

Also unique was Burial 9, a middle-aged male. He was wearing a cotton breech cloth, a rabbit fur belt, a wooden nose plug, shell earrings, a fur robe, and a human hair wig. Next to him was a skin quiver with arrows, creosote branches, a cactus needle, four bone awls, and two Archaic projectile points tied with string. In other words, he was not your average Joe.

To assuage any worries, all the human remains and associated burial items have been turned over to the Tohono O’odham who have reinterred them in a special cemetery set aside for the ancients.

Bone Fragments, Pottery Shard, Lithics

Which brings up a question that Haury was unable to answer and still has yet to be definitively answered, Were the Hohokam the ancestors of the Tohono O’odham? The archaeological record is unclear. The tribe doesn’t know; some elders say no citing oral history, while younger O’odham say yes. Modern techniques such as DNA testing could solve the puzzle but the tribe (like most Native American groups) will not give permission since the test would destroy part of a skeleton and that would be sacrilegious.

Archaeologists are still studying the Ventana Cave artifacts in hopes of answering that question and many others. It is a fascinating place!

Creosote Bloom

Javelina Holiday Feast

A Javelina herd chomped their way through our front yard earlier this week, devouring many of our carefully tended plants. Their favorite “foods” are the starchy roots of our agaves.

TeamworkFinishing off an agave together. Yum!

Deep Thoughts

Tummy full and content.Ouch!

Poke on the nose. Ouch!Yep, I'm CuteDiscolored nose sets this one apart.

I suppose it is the time of year for feasting…

A Cat is a Puzzle…

Recently read a paper from last month (dentist office, ‘nuf said). Came across a Mutts comic that featured the following quote by Hazel Nicholson:

A cat is a puzzle for which there is no solution.

I would say this applies to all cats (except Bailey, because he thinks he’s a dog). But it is especially appropriate for our little Wylie.

Here’s Wylie “helping” us rake up the needles from our Palo Verde tree. It is worth noting that even Bailey is thoroughly dismayed by her antics.

From Another Era

I recently came across a series of Christmas photo cards while sorting through some old family memorabilia. After putting them in chronological order I just could not get them out of my mind, so I thought I’d share them with you. Granted a few years are missing, but what remains is a visual record stretching over 20 years. I found the meticulously posed and painstakingly orchestrated cards frighteningly compelling. The people in the photos did everything humanly possible to portray a perfect, well-to-do suburban family.

There are so many fascinating aspects of this photo series that cry out for discussion. I’m curious, what stands out to you? Please understand that while I may be poking fun I mean no disrespect to the family—they were merely products of their time. Also, it should be noted that I am not related to this family.

Just June

Can we say hot? Every single day in June was over 100 degrees with a few extra special days in the 110s. On top of that the humidity started to rise. Now I know that has to happen before our summer monsoons can start but that knowledge hardly makes it more bearable. Especially since we still rely on an evaporative cooler (aka swamp cooler) to control the temps in our house. Swamps work fantastic in hot and dry conditions but their efficacy declines drastically as the humidity rises.

Biosphere 2

Escaping from the heat was on our minds as we headed north towards Oracle to tour Biosphere 2 (B2). It was a first visit for both of us which is rather silly when you consider that we’ve lived nearby for all these years. B2 was a privately funded experiment designed to replicate Earth systems with an eye toward space colonization. Completed in 1991 the 3.14-acre enclosed structure contained five artificially created biomes (rainforest, desert, grassland, ocean, and wetland), an agricultural area, and crew living quarters.

In late 1991 eight researchers (Biospherians) were sealed inside the airtight, glass-domed enclosure with their tools and a few animals. The experiment was designed to last for two years with the intent of survival in a self-contained system. In theory, the Biospherians would live off the food they grew and would optimize their atmosphere by altering the amount of foliage grown.

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Wylie’s First Month

If we didn’t know better we wouldn’t recognize Wylie Kitty as the injured, dehydrated, malnourished, pathetic little kitten that we found at Sweetwater Wetlands last month.

She has completely recovered from her puncture wound, she’s doubled her weight, and grown in size. She’s proven to be a smart cat and a quick learner, similar to Bailey in that way. She’s integrated well into our household; she started eating and drinking out of Bailey’s bowls on her own initiative within the first week, all cat toys are now hers, and just recently she started using his litter box. Yay—one less box for me to clean!

Considering all that Wylie’s been through she is surprisingly loving, outgoing, and fearless. Her purr is loud and she revs it up often. After her first nerve-wracking introduction to our backyard she now loves to romp out there. We watch as a grey blur zips by; dashing to the top of dirt mounds, hiding in the grass, catching (and eating) crickets, and climbing high in the trees. Bailey occasionally chases her but she easily leaves him in the dust…

Wylie is especially fond of Lance and it is adorable to watch them together—she still fits in his hand (he does have large hands). I get a teensy bit jealous but I recognize that I’m the meanie who took her to the vet twice (both rather unpleasant experiences with shots and such) and I’m the one who had to dose her with meds morning and night for three weeks. She’s really gonna love me next month when I take her in to get fixed…

All in all, we feel pretty lucky to have found her!

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April Activities

The month started off on a bad note, we had to find Keaton a new home. In one of those bizarre and unfortunate occurrences we had adopted a highly allergenic cat. Lance has one known allergy but I’ve never been allergic to an animal. Ever. I’ve been around animals my whole life. I grew up on a small farm where we had cats, dogs, cows, horses, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, fish, tortoises, and even a parrot. Something about Keaton made us both miserable. It was so bad that Lance walked around the house with a tissue stuck up his nose. It was a difficult and sad decision to have to make.

That same week work commenced on our final porch project. We were excited to think that it would be finished by the weekend. After all, the other two porch projects went relatively well and we were using the same crew so what could go wrong? Imagine my consternation when I returned home the afternoon of the pour and found cracks running throughout the freshly poured concrete. I was not amused.

front porch

I called our contractor. He called the concrete crew. The concrete crew called the concrete company. All of them said they’d never seen anything like it and none of them knew what went wrong. And then the finger pointing began. I gritted my teeth and tried to remain calm though inside my head panic alarms were ringing (I’ve heard so many contractor horror stories). We braced ourselves for the worst—being stuck with cracked concrete and out our deposit.

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