Tag Archives: Arizona

It’s All Fun and Games . . . Until It Isn’t.

I hate sounding like a Negative Nellie but the last few months have gone by at an alarming rate and I’m not sure I have much to show for it. We’re settling into our new home a bit slower than I anticipated. Being a creature of instant gratification does not bode well when certain projects take months to complete or when I can’t even instigate a start date until next year. I’m learning patience . . . and can’t say I find the virtue terribly endearing.

Even though we live at a higher elevation and enjoy cooler temperatures than metro areas like Tucson and Phoenix, it was still hot this summer. My courtyard is concrete surrounded by an adobe wall. No matter how much I watered, my plants suffered from the heat which sometimes reached 115 degrees or more during mid-day. I needed a plan to alter the reflective, heat-absorbing design before next summer and I think I have a solution. We’re installing a large pergola with water misters to lower the temperature. I’m re-landscaping the border flower beds with succulents and adding garden totems for color, relocating the rose bushes and forsythia to the back of the house where I plan to create a little oasis in the middle of the landscaping rock and trees surrounding our property.

I discovered no matter how much time I invested in pulling weeds from the roots, they continued to invade our property at an alarming rate. After enduring snide remarks and laughter from my neighbors because I refused to use Round-Up or any toxic weed killer, I finally succumbed to the urge and sprayed the outer perimeters. Before moving here, I thought tumbleweeds were quaint and picturesque, a lovely symbol of the old west. They are now my enemy and I am waging war. Plus, the darned things have stickers that embed their gnarly little thorns in my fingers even through leather gloves.

I erected a multi-unit bird feeder pole outside my office window. It was lovely watching the little guys hop around from feeding station to the feeding station. But then the doves invaded. They kicked, shoved, bullied their way through the seed, tossing it to the ground with an irreverence that was beyond annoying. I tried to compromise with a ground feeder but they preferred to chase away my little lovelies, bobbing their heads with an attitude that clearly said, “We’re not sharing.” If there is such a thing as dove “tagging” on feeders, I’m sure these pillagers marked their territory. I kept a loaded water gun at my desk and delighted in squirting the feathered marauders through an open screened window. My day soon changed from writing and doing business to plotting battle lines and plans of attack. Realizing I was taking things way too personally, especially after watching Bill Murray pursue a gopher in the movie, Caddyshack and recognizing a disturbing similarity to my own actions, I resigned to moving the bird feeder to another area. I’m now more productive. Calmer. Happier. But still pissed off at those damn doves!

I took a couple of breaks from the bird droppings and constant weed pulling to attend two incredible writer’s conferences – one of which was MurderCon, presented by Writer’s Police Academy in conjunction with Sirchie Institute. It was all about homicide but included so much more. I filled an entire spiral with notes. Wow!!! Truly an amazing experience. I also attended one of the best “small” conferences in the area – Sister’s in Crime Desert Sleuth chapter’s Write Now conference in Scottsdale. Great speakers, great information, great location. Another wow!

As I mentioned earlier, I’m short on patience – so I took a seasonal job working at an Amazon fulfillment center. It’s a good opportunity. Pays well. Will fund my projects and more. But I hurt in places I didn’t know I had muscles. This work is not for the faint of heart or old people. I’m hanging in but only by a thread. It’s little consolation to know I’ve outlasted much younger people in my hire “class” when I can barely straighten up to full standing height after a 10-hour shift. I truly hope I make it through these next two months but I’m not placing any bets. It’s almost time to hit the hiking trails . . . but I may not have the time or energy.

In the midst of this turmoil, hubs and I found a happy place creating and selling Thunder Gourds, and offering organic CBD at a few local farmer’s markets. Our favorite is Tombstone. Such a fun town and our fellow vendors are great. There’s always a nice blend of locals and tourists, and the cowboys in period dress are interesting eye candy.

In the midst of this turmoil, hubs and I found a happy place making and selling Thunder Gourds, and offering organic CBD at a few local farmer’s markets. Our favorite is Tombstone. Such a fun town and our fellow vendors are great. There’s always a nice blend of locals and tourists, and the cowboys in period dress are interesting eye candy. 🙂

So that’s all the news from here. How did you spend YOUR summer vacation?

FISH BAIT

The Lore:

Crazy Woman Camp, Why, AZ

In the far reaches of southern Arizona, just north of Organ Pipe National Monument, lies the tiny hamlet of Why. Little more than a wide spot in the road, the town’s main attraction is a rustic market and gift shop –  aptly named “The Why Not Store”. One can purchase fuel, snacks and Mexican insurance before traveling across the border. Some partake of homemade biscuits and gravy at the restaurant next door, and many of those folks are winter visitors who populate the nearby RV parks and BLM land in campers and RVs.

Gunsight Wash is a favorite of those “dry campers” – people with self-contained rigs who prefer solitude to a crowded RV park.

The local Border Patrol division maintains a strong presence in the area, monitoring the adjacent Tohono O’odham tribal land providing campers with a sense of security. Well traveled routes are used by illegal immigrants and Mexican drug cartels. Unfortunately, many illegals venturing into the U.S. with a backpack of canned tuna, a change of clothes and dreams of wealth face harsh conditions in the desert. Hikers and OHV riders often stumble upon shallow graves or sun bleached skeletons.

On a day hike near Gunsight Wash, I discovered a primitive but elaborate campsite with an odd history. It was located in the middle of nowhere, next to a dry wash, which made the find even more astounding. How could anyone survive out there for any length of time?

At first glance, it was obvious the occupant exerted great effort to make the area “homey”, circling bushes and trees with carefully placed stones.

A four-foot tall rock oven with metal grates had been built beneath a sprawling Ironwood tree. Positioned on top of the fireplace was an empty liquor bottle bearing a hand-written card – “Crazy Woman Camp”. Upon closer inspection, I found a note inside which read:

“The way the story goes is this – A woman and her son lived in town where the son got into drugs and such. Determined to free her son of his demons, she set camp on this spot. Days filled with desert solitude, loneliness & hard living, the son was forced to give up his sinful ways. Living in a tent, they built the stonework you see & buried their horse in a grave just to the west of here. Locals called her Crazy Woman but far from crazy, I think she was a loving mother who was willing to suffer along with son to bring him to a better life.”

After wandering around the area, I discovered two graves a short distance away which may or may not have been the final resting places of Crazy Woman and her son. Closer to the camp was a large mound where their horse allegedly was buried. Scratched into the surface of a flat stone read the words, “A Man’s Best Pal”.

I often wonder what happened to Crazy Woman. The desert and isolation can magnify irrational thought. Perhaps she could no longer function in society and found peace with her own reality in the harsh elements. Regardless, I feel there is more to her legacy than what was written inside that empty liquor bottle.

The Story:

Fish Bait

by Debra S. Sanders

Jack Brody eased back on the accelerator, bringing his ATV to a halt near a barren patch of desert next to an Ironwood tree. Removing his helmet, he glanced around the primitive campsite before shutting off the engine and disembarking.

She’s not here.

Walking to the back of his vehicle, he removed a case of water strapped to the rack and placed it next to the tree. A tiny puff of smoke emanated from a rock fireplace a few feet away, suggesting Crazy Woman might be hiding. He grinned. She was a feisty old gal.

“Hey, Nana . . . where you at?”

Jack sauntered to the edge of a wide wash and slid down the four-foot embankment to soft sand and gravel. It was hot and dry this time of year. Even the rattlesnakes stayed underground during the day. His brows drew together as he searched the dusty landscape. What if Nana was sick? Heatstroke  wasn’t uncommon during the summer months in southern Arizona, especially for the elderly. Why the hell an eighty-year-old woman would want to live out here was beyond his comprehension. Maybe she didn’t have any money or family – at least none who cared.

Jack scratched the back of his head, eyes running up and down the wash. One of his buddies said she moved to the desert with her son ten years ago. The teenager fell into dangerous habits involving drugs and she thought the isolation would cure him of his “demons. If that were true, the kid must have hauled ass a long time ago. And ho would blame him if he did? This place was as close to Hell as anyone could get without dying.

He crawled up the embankment and headed for the shade, still worried but needing a cooler place to think. Nana was tough but not that tough.

After discovering the withered old woman during his first week working at the local Border Patrol division, Jack took it upon himself to bring her care packages on a regular basis, keeping his off-duty activities a secret until another agent saw him in the desert.

“She’s loco,” he warned Jack. “We stay away from Crazy Woman’s camp. You best do the same.”

Jack refused to heed his co-worker’s advice, continuing to make weekly visits to the woman he nicknamed “Nana” and establishing an uneasy trust similar to feeding a feral animal.

As he brushed dirt from his jeans, a low, husky voice crept over Jack’s shoulder like a slithering serpent.

“Jaaaack . . .”

He whirled around, smiling at the hunched figure eyeing him from a few feet away. White hair stuck out in tufts from under a sweat-stained cowboy hat. Coppery wrinkles lined her face, the result of too much time under an unforgiving sun.

“I brought you a case of water.”

“I see. You good boy, Jack.”

He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “It’s gonna be real hot for the next few days. Why don’t I take you to Ajo? One of the churches opened a shelter for people with nowhere to go.”

“I got a place. This my home.”

“It’s a tent, Nana, not a home.”

She jutted her chin and looked away. “Home.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Yesterday. Maybe longer. But today, Jack, I eat good. Let me cook for you.”

He arched a brow. “What you got to cook?”

The old woman flashed a broad smile. Most of her front teeth were missing, evidenced by a gaping hole. “Big surprise. You stay, Jack. I cook.”

His mouth twisted to one side, contemplating the invitation. He was off work until Thursday. It wasn’t as if anyone was waiting at home. Why the hell not? “Okay, Nana. I’ll stay but I want to work for my supper. What can I do to help?”

“Rocks. I need more rocks for my garden.”

Jack bit his tongue to keep from laughing. No wonder all the agents called her Crazy Woman. She’d gathered stones from the desert and boxed in every bush and tree around her camp. Some of the edgings were shaped in hearts, others a linear border. Further away, small bits of white quartz formed a maze. Or walk. Or some kind of odd shape she’d dreamed up in her head. Not that it mattered because in Nana’s mind it was pretty.

Pulling a backpack from his ATV, Jack wandered a short distance into the desert and began filling the bag with baseball sized rocks. Damn, it was hot. How did the old gal keep from getting heat stroke?

He looked up just as she removed something from inside a ragged piece of old canvas. What the heck was she up to now?

Jack dumped his bag of rocks near the Ironwood tree and grabbed one of the waters from the case. He drained half the contents while watching her place a slab of pink meat on the grill. “What ’cha got there?”

“Fish.”

His brows shot up. “Fish? Where’d you get fish, Nana? There ain’t no water around here.”

“I know where to go but not as many fish as there used to be. Harder to catch.” She stoked the coals without looking up. Smoke curled around her hunched figure, hiding her face.

He shook his head and walked back to the ATV. That wasn’t fish. Maybe rabbit. Jack stopped and looked back. Aw, hell . . . it was probably coyote.

“Jack, come here. Eat.”

His first instinct was to leave but he didn’t want to hurt the old woman’s feelings. Wiping his hands on a faded rag, Jack turned and made his way back to the masonry fireplace.  “Smells good.”

She shot him a toothless grin. “I smoked this piece just for you. It real tender. Sit on that rock.”

He did as requested, easing his large frame onto a flat topped boulder. A few minutes later, gnarled fingers handed him a six-inch strip of meat on a mat woven from grass. A gooey sauce lathered its surface topped with what he guessed were dried herbs.

Jack stared at the charred meat for a full minute before tearing off a sliver and sliding it into his mouth. He rolled it over his tongue before swallowing, surprised by the flavor. Not gamey at all. And tender, just like she said.

“This is good, Nana. I really like the sauce.”

The old woman cackled. “See. I tell you.”

He needed no encouragement to finish the meal. “It was nice of you to share your food. I know you don’t have a lot to eat.”

She shrugged. “It been slow fishing with all this heat but I got good bait. I know how to catch ’em.”

“Well, you’ll have to tell me your secret. The last time I went fishing, I didn’t even get a bite.”

Blue eyes twinkled beneath the brim of her hat. “Used to be easier. You soldier men chase the fish away.”

A thick line formed between his brows. Was she talking about the Border Patrol agents? “How did we chase the fish away?”

Nana didn’t answer, her pinpointed gaze tracking his movements as Jack reached for his water bottle..

“Man, you must have coated that meat in red pepper. It sure is spicy.” The back of his hand swiped across his forehead. “I’m sweating even in the shade. How do you stand this heat?”

“I like it hot. Good for jerky. Dries the meat real fast.”

Jack handed her the grass mat before struggling to his feet. “Whoa, I’m feeling a little dizzy. Mind if I stay for a bit? Just until it cools down.”

“No, no . . . you sit. Feel better soon.”

His knees buckled as he tried to sit, causing him to miss the boulder and land in the dirt. Something was wrong. The fish must have been tainted. “I . . . I think I got food poisoning. I don’t feel so good.”

“Not poison. That ruin meat. Just herbs to make you sleep.”

Jack blinked several times as his vision blurred. His tongue felt thick, swollen. Opening his mouth, he gasped for air. Words gurgled in his throat but never made it past his lips. Pushing to his feet, Jack took one step before collapsing.

“He asleep?” A man with long hair and a scraggly beard emerged from a deep hole covered with brush.

The woman nodded. “Get the rope, boy.”

She tied it to Jack’s feet. The man threw the other end over a sturdy limb and hoisted the unconscious body into the air. He walked away, returning a few minutes later dragging an empty metal drum which he centered under Jack’s body.

Nana grabbed Jack’s hair and pulled his head back, revealing a wide expanse of neck. “I stick him. He bleed out quick. You get rid of motor car.”

“Can’t I keep it, Mama?”

“No, no, not good. Someone might see it.”

“But I want it. None of the other fish ever have anything we can use.”

“You get rid of it like I say!” The old woman whirled around, pointing a bony finger at her son. “I’ll sharpen the knife. We get lots of jerky outta this one.” She tugged on Jack’s arm, examining the muscular tone of his shoulder. “This white meat. Not like those dark ones we catch in the desert. I feed you good, boy.”

“Do ya want me to bury the bones in the same place as the others?”

She nodded. “Now you know why I say dig that hole wide and deep. Gotta cover up these fish guts afore they start stinkin’!”

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words . . .

I’ve been playing hard and loving every minute of it. Great hiking in the Arizona desert, spectacular views – as always. We’re camped near Salome, between Quartzsite and Parker, visiting friends. They brought along their Quads so we’ve had some great rides through the washes and over mountain passes, and exploring an old mine. Found some memorials tucked away between boulders and cacti, and ripped the seat of my pants sliding down a granite slope. That was embarrassing! Rather than explain where I’ve been, I decided to let the photos do the talking. I only have a few more days of fun and frolic before locking myself away to prepare for a very busy March. Lots of author promotions! I’ve planned a short hike tomorrow to include some geocaching then we’re attending a Super Bowl party. Lake Havasu on Monday or Tuesday – and after that ….WORK!  20170105_131021_burst011 20170203_143422120161218_1226382 20170203_151118_hdr1 20170203_1506301 20170204_1041301-copy20170204_101847-copy 20170204_1020001-copy20170204_1043141-copy20170204_112218_burst011-copy 20170204_1057441-copy

Quartzsite – Desert Oasis or Hot Mess?

I can’t say I “love” Quartzsite enough to make the Big Show an annual sojourn. I’m sure some RVers plan their visit a year in advance but from the dwindling crowds and vendors, I suspect they might be the minority. Not even the weather cooperated this year. It was cold, breezy and often overcast, banishing all thoughts of hot and dry, terms usually associated with Arizona.

20170127_1210531The Swap Meet, Rock and Gem Show and Arts and Craft Show draws a lot of people during January and February, which means RV dealers arrive as well, promising spectacular bargains on a variety of units. Cue in “captive market”. Most businesses in Quartzsite depend on this annual revenue to keep them afloat the remainder of the year, and offer creative, often humorous marketing to snag your dollars.

Our visit coincided with my scheduled book signing at the Readers Oasis Bookstore, owned by naturalist Paul Winer and his wife.  The Author’s Fair included several other writers, and although my plans took a nose dive resulting in one appearance out of three, I enjoyed meeting and talking with readers.

Hubs and I set up our rig in one of the gravel “dry” camping lots close to the RV Show and Swap Meet tents. The downside was noise, a large group of RVers from Sun Lakes with attitude i.e. rude and inconsiderate of fellow campers, and traffic. The upside was walking distance to the show tents, a great Canadian couple camped nearby who were absolutely lovely, and walking distance to Silly Al’s Pizza . . . a must see and do in Q.

The rest of the experience was meh. We stayed a week last year – before the major events started – and left unimpressed. This year, we came, we saw, we shopped – and still left unimpressed. In my opinion, the cost of everything including RVs is inflated. The food was typical carnival fare . . . priced high and low on flavor. We threw away our Alligator on a Stick after two bites. Five half dollar sized nuggets were $10, undercooked and rubbery.20170122_1053351

I think Q would be more palpable if one arrived with a group and planned day trips to other areas. The landscape is actually pretty with jagged mountains circling the town. If you have an ATV, this is definitely a great part of the state to explore. Unfortunately, we don’t own such a vehicle, although one may end up on our wish list.

So there you have it. A few days of craziness which produced nothing more than a need for some quiet boondocking in the desert to unplug from the crowds. We left with our pocketbooks a little thinner and our waists a little thicker but at least now we know what all the hub-bub is about. No repeats necessary.

A Delightful Diversion

Authors are a creative lot. Our imaginations are spurred by the simplest thing which often manifests into a novel or short story. We don’t just people watch. We study mannerisms, physical features, and voice inflections for character development. We are creatures of hot and cold. When we’re “on”, we  write non-stop, producing thousands of words while ingesting large amounts of caffeine and a single slice of toast. When we’re “off”, we play online games,  keep an active presence on social media, read the latest celebrity gossip, hike, paint, cook, play with the dog . . . basically anything to avoid working through a writer’s block.

And then there’s the family. A joyful cameraderie when we’re “off”. A bane when we’re “on”  which often results in frothing at the mouth. My children are grown but I still have a chatty husband. He’s the reason I write at night – well, part of the reason. I’m a night owl. He’s a morning person. I don’t like interruptions when I’m writing. He doesn’t like interruptions when he’s reading the news and drinking that first cup of coffee. So we enjoy our “quiet” time while the other sleeps which means we have lots of daytime hours to savor life.

And that’s exactly what we did on Sunday. We are currently camped near Why, Arizona which is a few miles north of the Organ Pipe National Monument. After loading up the dog, a picnic lunch and our binoculars, we headed to the twenty-one mile loop suitable for two-wheel drive automobiles. There are more roads for high clearance  or four-wheel drive vehicles but we chose the more developed route. Just because it was easier to navigate didn’t mean we were shorted on majestic landscape or breathtaking views as you can see from the photos below.

The best part? I was inspired by this delightful diversion and have been pounding the keyboard ever since. I’d pound it a lot more if my husband would shut up.