Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summit of Miller Peak via Lutz Canyon Huachuca Mountains May 9, 2015

Location: Lutz Canyon is located 12 miles to the south of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Take Highway 92 south until you reach Ash Canyon Road and turn right. Stay on Ash until you reach a fork, take the uphill road marked Lutz Canyon. The trail head is about one mile down the Lutz Canyon Road.

Lutz Canyon offers the quickest route to the summit of Miller Peak. The trail is 4.7 miles one way with about 3700 feet of vertical elevation gain. There is minimal route finding skills and trail junctions are marked. The first mile the trail is not very steep as it follows Ash Canyon. The trail becomes much tougher as you climb Lutz Canyon. Lutz Canyon saw mining activity and there are abandoned mine tunnels and equipment at various places in the canyon. It is surprising that the Forest Service has not gated these tunnels to keep people out. Old tunnels and shafts can be dangerous because of bad air, structural instability and drop offs. It is best to stay out. In the second tunnel it is obvious illegal immigrants or vagrants have used it for shelter because of the amount of garbage a couple of feet from the entrance.

 A major fire burned on Miller Peak not too long ago and the forest is recovering. Dominant vegetation is manzanita and the sun can be intense because of the lack of shade. There is a nice place to rest at the junction of the crest trail. I would bring an extra shirt to change into once at the crest trail because the Huachucas can be cool throughout the year and a hiker might become chilled from their own sweat. The crest trail is a very beautiful trail and hikers are rewarded with vistas to the west. This section is rocky but well-built with switch backs that gain altitude but are not overly steep. A half mile from the summit the Miller Peak summit trail exits to the right. This trail has nice gradual switch backs to the top. At the top there are concrete remains of a fire tower that the Forest Service removed in the 80s. While on top I met a guy guy named Jeff who had moved back from Colorado to help take care of his parents.  He invited me to hike back to Montezuma's Pass in Coronado National Forest where he would shuttle me back to my car at Lutz Canyon. I read no danger from him so I obliged and hiked the five miles along the Crest Trail to Coronado National Memorial. Most of this trail is not shaded so drink plenty of water. Views into Mexico were extraordinary. Total mileage for the day was about 10 miles. Disclaimer: Prior to 2008 illegal immigrants and drug runners used the Huachuca Mountains extensively on their hike north. Since 2008 Border Patrol has stepped up patrols and garbage and illegal immigrant sightings have decreased. This doesn't mean there is no danger so please use vigilance and common sense when hiking.  (Information from

                  Mining equipment

                   Rusted mining equipment in the canyon

                              Looking down Lutz Canyon near the crest

                                Side of Lutz Canyon. You can see some of the mining remnants in the lower part of the photo.

                   Lutz Canyon trail and view

                  Huachuca Crest Trail looking south

                View east from top of Miller Peak

               South into Mexico from summit

                    North along the crest of the Huachuca Mountains

                          West from summit

               Me on top

                          Huachuca Crest scenery

             The rocky crest trail with view into Mexico.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Old Tucson Studios May 16, 2015

                  Quintin and performers

Directions: Old Tucson Studios is located near Saguaro National Park West. From town take Speedway BLVD west toward the Tucson Mountains. It will become Gates Pass Road. Drive over Gates Pass and continue driving until you reach a major T-intersection. Turn left and not to far down the road the studios will be on the left.

History: For the western movie history buff The Tuscon Studios have a rich history. Columbia Pictures built 40 buildings to recreate Tucson for the move Arizona. After a few years of dormancy, The Bell's of Saint Mary's was filmed on location. In the 1950s and 1960s John Wayne filmed four movies at the location including McLintock!,   Rio Bravo, El Dorado, and Rio Lobo. Directors filmed a number of successful television series. Among them was The High Chaparral which aired for four years and Little House on the Prairie. In 1959 Robert Shelton leased the property and he added gunfights, shows and a small train. Through its history over 100 films and television shows have been filmed at Old Tucson Studios making it one of the most successful studios outside of Hollywood California.

In 1995 tragedy struck when a fire destroyed buildings, memorabilia, and costumes. According to investigators the fire started at a sign shop on Kansas Street. The fire spread quickly as a result of insufficient fire suppression equipment because most of the buildings were classified as temporary structures and did not have to have sprinklers installed. As a result of a call for resources, over 100 fire engines and 200 fire fighters responded. It took fire fighters over four hours to extinguish the flames and hot spots. Losses amounted to $10 million with all of Kansas Street and  the Mission Area destroyed. (information from wikipedia and Old Tucson History Museum)

Visiting Information: I have to admit I am not into gimmicky tourist attractions and that is what kept me away from the studios. However, over the course of a year and a half everyone I talked to had visited the attraction and they raved about how much fun of an experience it was. In May, Tara and I decided it was time to visit with our son. After paying our entrance fee which is steep we were pleasantly surprised at how many performance the park offered. Over the course of the day we attended comedy shows, gun fights, reenactments and singing and dancing shows. My son also had a fun time riding the miniature train and merry-go-round. Unless a visitor is obsessed with western film history, one visit is enough. During the summer Old Tucson Studios is open Saturday and Sunday from 10-5.

                            Tara and Quintin and Reno; a locomotive built for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad


                              The Mission set (original one burned in the fire)

                        Bank robbery and gun fight

                                   Gun fight between bank robbers


                   Equipment and Tucson Mountains from train

                           Cactus on the grounds

                  Hollywood Stunt Demonstration at the Mission

                                Hollywood Stunt Demonstration

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Raptor Flight Program Sonoran Desert Museum Spring 2015

                 Harris hawk; photo taken by Tara Stauffer

The Raptor flight program at the Sonoran Desert Museum is one of my favorite shows in Tucson. Conducted at 10 and 2 the features raptors common throughout Arizona and the United States, If a visitor goes to both the morning and afternoon shows he or she will see 10 plus different animals in all. The raptors are not tethered but fly to different handlers and perches.They will fly so low that visitors are commonly buzzed adding to the excitement. The program features two species of raptors that are not commonly seen at shows: Harris hawk and Gray Hawk The Harris hawk is the only species of hawk that hunts in groups. The Gray hawk used to be critically endangered in Arizona before recovering to a population of 80. The shows run October through April and is part of a visitors' admission to the museum.

To view the photo full and be able to zoom in right click on the photo and choose open link in new tab.

                   Peregrine falcon

                                     Gray hawk

                       Harris hawk

                          Harris hawks

                          Great horned owl

                          Great horned owl

                             Red-tailed hawk

                             Red tail flying

                                              Barn owl

                                   Harris hawk; photo taken by Tara Stauffer

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Herpetology Show Tohono Chul Park Tucson, Arizona May 2015

                     A Gopher snake; non venomous they like to act like rattlers.

Location: Tohono Chul is located in west Tucson on Paseo Del Norte off of Ina Road. The park is open daily from 9-4 pm. Make sure to bring sunscreen and sunblock because temperatures can be hot even during the winter. Admission is about $14 per visitor and yearly passes are available for purchase.

While visiting Tohono Chul on a Friday, Quintin and I watched a splendid reptile show at one of the pavilions at the park. The show lasted over an hour and it featured about seven snakes, two turtles and a Gila monster. The reptiles are all owned by the Tucson Herpetological Society.    The docents were also very informative and gave excellent information about each animal. Except for the Gila monster and rattlesnake, a docent walked around with each animal for individuals to touch and see up close.  What is obvious at shows like this is that the younger generation has a healthier attitude towards snakes and their place in the ecosystem. The show takes places every Friday at 10 am through May and is part of the admission to the park..

To view full-size photo: right click on photo and select open link in new tab.

                    Coachwhip they eat many types of rodents.

                Sonoran king snake. They are constrictors and will eat many different types of rodents and snakes including rattlesnakes.

                 Milksnake; named because it likes to hang out in barns.

                  Mountain kingsnake

                   Mud turtle

                         Gila monster

                    Gopher snake

Arizona mountain king snake

                                        Mountain King snake

                         Western diamondback rattlesnake

Monday, May 18, 2015

Biosphere 2 Tucson, Arizona May 2, 205

                             The Ocean environment and grassland on the right

Directions: Biosphere 2 is located about 20 miles to the north of Tucson.The easiest way to get to the facility is to take Ina Road toward the Oro Valley. A driver has to be patient because of all the stoplights and traffic. Hours are 9-4 pm Monday through Sunday. Admission is about $20 per person but discounts are offered for U of A students as well as military and senior citizens.

History: Biosphere 2 has had a rich history throughout the years. In 1960 and 1970 this area served as a conference center for Motorola and the University of Arizona. Space Biospheres Ventures brought the site in 1986 to research the feasibility of self-sustaining space colonization technology. The idea behind the project was to construct a small representation of the Earth with a rain forest, desert, ocean, orchard and farm. "Biospherians" would live inside the facility for up to two years excluded from the outside world grow their food and raise their own animals. The first group of  eight entered the Biosphere in 1991 and stayed for two years. A second group entered in March of 1994 and stayed for about six months before they were extracted. Many people thought the experiment was a failure however, it did show how difficult it is for a group of people to be self-sustained in an enclosure and survive. From 1996-2003 Columbia University managed the Biosphere and reconfigured the building to study the effects of carbon dioxide on plant life. The facility ceased to be a closed system. In 2007 until 2011 the University of Arizona leased the property from CDO Ranching. In 2011 the structure was given to the University of Arizona for scientific research. Through the years hundreds of papers have been published based on research that has been done at the Biosphere. (Information from

Tours are required to visit the Biosphere. They are about 1.5 to two hours long. Make sure to bring water and walking shoes because visitors walk about a mile and temperatures can be hot at any time of the year. On each tour visitors will see the rain forest environment, the ocean/grassland, a desert environment based on the Baja California ecosystem, and a visit to the south lung (helps regulate air pressure inside the structure). The tour guides are very knowledgeable and provide a wealth of information about the facility's history as well as present experiments being conducted by the University of Arizona. For example, one of Earth system's processes that couldn't be duplicated in the Biosphere was wind. As a result, the trees have not developed a strong outer supportive layer and have to be supported to keep from falling over. In the future researchers are going to change the ocean to model the Sea Cortez. It will have a tidal zone complete with tidal creatures and an island.

             Rain forest, which is self-contained from the rest of the Biosphere.

             Waterfall in the rain forest

                    The beach and vegetation

           Looking back toward the rain forest

                         A photo of the structure specially designed to be self-contained

            Desert environment; modeled after Baja California

                        The desert

                     The chilled water return for the Biosphere

                  Outside the Biosphere looking toward LEO

               View of the ocean from underneath

                    Ocean and displays

                      Hydroponic garden; similar to the one on the Apollo missions.