Archive for April, 2010

Our Edible Desert, Cholla Buds: Part Two

Friday, April 30th, 2010

My harvest went wonderfully, Staghorn and buckhorn cholla are the specific plants used for their buds. I harvested a modest number from multiple plants. You’ll want to wear full length clothes and gloves while harvesting. It is also helpful to stand uphill, upwind etc. to prevent thorns and buds from landing on you. For beauty sake I only removed every other bud, so some could flower and attempt to reproduce.
I then used a short mesquite branch to rake the cholla buds across a 1/4″ metal sifter screen. This a a light raking and removes most of the spines. Next  they boil. (See Part 1) I went on to make the following three dishes.(I don’t really use recipes)

Cholla Bud Appetizer
3 cups of cholla buds(boiled and strained)
1/2 stick butter
3 garlic cloves finely diced
soy sauce to taste
1/2 orange squeezed
In a sauce pan combine, warm and serve.

Mango, Cholla bud Salsa
1  mango (chopped)
2 cups cholla buds (boiled and strained)
4  green chiles (roasted, skinned and diced)
1 onion (diced)
3  cloves garlic (minced)
2  avocados (chopped)
2  tomatoes (diced)

Chipotle Corn Chowder with cholla buds and black beans.
I cheated on this one I used a organic premade  chipotle corn chowder and added cholla buds, black beans and some queso casero (a crumbly Mexican white cheese)

The cholla buds were great.  A friend said they were gooey, I quickly retorted:  These are the reproductive organs of one of the most formidable things in  the desert, they aren’t gooey, those are luxuriously soft flower petals.  This is a desert plant that will grace my plate regularly. Remember they can be dried and stored, then rehydrated later!

Randy Young, Southwest Trekking Guide

Our edible desert, Cholla buds

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The chollas are just beginning to bloom. This is the time that desert dwellers of ages past foraged and feasted on these abundant little morsels. I recently bought a house with some land in the Tucson mountains, and plan to harvest all of the deserts abundance in a sustainable manner. The characteristics of our desert plants are those that help us live in tune with our environment. The nutritional value of our desert is immense, for instance two tablespoons of  buckhorn cholla buds,  provide as much calcium as a glass of milk. Yet, while a glass of milk may have 100-150 calories, the cholla buds only have 28 calories.  They are also a good source of protein and soluble fiber.

To harvest them use tongs and a bucket. Then shake and rake the buds on a 1/4″ sifter screen to remove most of the spines. Next boil the buds for 15 to 20 minutes. this cooks them and makes any remaining spines soft and edible. They can now be dried for later use or used in many ways including, as a appetizer with butter and garlic, in a salad, saute, stew, or chili. Cholla buds are said to absorb flavor well making them well suited to marinades and sauces.

I’ll be harvesting today, and will update you all on how this piece of our edible desert goes down!

Randy Young, Southwest Trekking Guide

Active Day at the JW Marriot Starr Pass

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

The day began with three guests on the 6am Sunrise hike. As we rounded the mountain on the Lorraine Lee Hidden Canyon loop, the sun broke free of the clouds and the dew on the cactus spines shone a bright golden hue. With the sun now warming our souls we marched on. The guests enjoyed a great workout, “better than a stairmaster any day” one guest commented. We spoke about our plant life and how other worldly it is to our guests from other regions. Back at the Jw the guests thanked me for a very informative hike, and went on with their day. After consuming some much needed calories, I prepped the bikes for the next adventure.

The first escorted  bike ride was with an off-site guest. He arrived promptly, and after a brief photo shoot with his mom, we got underway. He is an experienced mountain biker, which for a guide is a wonderful opportunity to speed up and enjoy the thrill. Once on trail I gave him some pointers on riding in our area and we were off. The fast pace riding was a ball for both of us, and we were soon challenging each other on the climbs, and grinning big on the descents. It was a hard decision to turn around to get back on time, but my next guest would be waiting.

I put away his large bike and got out the small for my next guest, and there she was. A mother of two from Minnesota and beginner mountain biker. As we climbed the hill into the trail head and parking lot, she exclaimed “we don’t have hills like this in Minnesota”. I assured her she would have plenty of opportunity to get comfortable with our “hills”. Once on trail I observed her riding and gave advice. She was able to apply my advice well and her riding immediately improved. She said that, when she gets home, she is going to take her two teenagers out for a ride to teach them some of the life lessons of mountain biking. “Focus on the way around an obstacle, not the obstacle itself” and “Keep your head up and always look ahead”. After much up, down and around, a few photo shoots and many smiles we rounded out the trail. She thanked me for the “coaching” and it was now time for rest and relaxation for all.

Rock Climbing

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

If you talk to anyone who knows me there is one consistent fact, I absolutely love rock climbing.  It doesn’t matter what style were talking about, from bouldering to sport climbing, alpine traditional to plain old scrambling on rocks, I love it all.

The one thing that makes climbing stand out to me is the mental aspect involved.  Most climbers will tell you that the mind is the hardest thing to train, but has the most control over anything you do.  Many times, a climber will fail on a route not because they are unfit or can’t physically do the move, but because the mental aspect (weather its fear or fatigue) has taken control over their actions. 

Just like many things in life, climbing is really about keeping your wits about you in extreme situations.  The mental control involved with climbing is what is most impressive to me.  If you’ve never tried climbing, you should.  From a physical stand point, climbing is a great work out.  From a mental stand point, climbing will teach you things about yourself that few sports will touch. 

Just so happens that Tucson has lots of mountains, and Southwest Trekking offers guided climbing trips.

Climbing in Tucson

Climber: Brent Silvester on Golden Beaver 5.12+

Photo:  Mike Pasier

Unlikely encounter

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

On Saturday I did a mountain bike guide at Starr Pass, but the spring weather was so beautiful I had to head back out for some more time on the trails. So, I headed up toward Catalina State Park to explore some more remote trails higher in the foothills. This is what I found…

He wasn't too happy to see me, but I was elated to see him!

Gila Monsters are remarkable animals. They are one of only two venemous lizards in North America. The can grow to over two feet long. Their limbs and feet are strong and well suited for both burrowing and climbing. These animals are also absolutely fearless and can fend off animals several times their size- as I was about to find out.

Now, I’ve been fascinated with reptiles for as long as I can remember and when I was six years old I spent $85 of saved allowance to buy a boa constrictor. Since then I’ve owned nile monitors, pythons, snapping turtles, rattlesnakes, kingsnakes, geckos, tortoises, and just to spice it up a bit a tarantula or two (one that I kept in middle school locker for a week). Anyway, I wasn’t about to let this guy get away without a closer look- so, I got in closer and took some photos.

After my chance encounter with one of the rarest and most impressive Sonoran desert creatures I continued on my way. I’d brought my dog with me for the ride and she made good use of the numerous stream crossings that are running up higher in the foothills.

They scenery wasn’t bad either. The desert is in full bloom right now and the wildflowers are covering the hillsides. The Arizona hedgehog cactus have started blooming and soon the cholla and others will be a fire of color.

some impressive large saguaros on baby jesus trail

My Mom

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

So you love your mama.  Don’t you?  It was going to be my mom’s 80th birthday.  The whole family was planning on getting together.  Now some of you know this and some don’t, my mom and dad, I think he had something to do with it, had 11 children.  So this is going to be a big deal.  But wait let me regress, I decide that for my mother’s birthday gift, that I was going to give to her early, was to be a trike.  You know the bad ass trike that really cool people ride around on.  Twenty inch wheels and heck even a bell.  I get it in, put it together put on a bell and deliver it to the folks.  I had given my dad a bike some years ago and he still rides it.  I know, I know, come on John get on with the story.  So she gets into riding it for fun and exercise.  Cool.  The party comes and she actuially rides her trike up to the party at the community center.  “Right on mom.”  But there is a problem with the tires and rims.  The tire keeps slipping off the rims, so they say.  Like a good little son I go over one evening to take a look.  I spend some time and get it right.  The next day they were going to go out for a ride.  So, that next evening I give them a call to ask how the trike performed.  My dad answers the phone.  I ask him how the ride went.  My dad responds, “Oh, I guess you have not heard.”  “No,” I answer.  My dad, “we are at the hospital.”  To make a long story short, my dad says that my mom got out of control on the trike, hit a curb and crashed.  Great, I take off for the hospital.  And, as you will be able to see from the picture below, well, my mom got pretty banged up.  I walk into her room in the mergency room, there she lay, “Oh my god mom what the hell happened?”  To say the least it was kinda crazy to see your mom who is eighty to have the same crazy crashs that I have had but from riding a trike.

Sorry for the long story.  But as you can see it was kinda crazy.  She is actaully fine and doing very well.  Heck better than most a fourth her age. 

“Rock on mom”

Willow Springs adventure

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

About a week ago I had the opportunity to escort a guest from the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain resort on a mountain bike adventure to a local riding area called Willow Springs near Oracle Az.
This is an area that plays host to an annual bike race called the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. As the name implies, this a 24 hour race. Some people will ride for 24 hours as a solo competitor and others will be part of a team. Yes, the solo riders ride the entire 24 hours.These are the true competitors. Others are there for the fun. For this is more than merely a mountain bike race. This is an event. This event turns a normally quiet,dry patch of desert, into a pulsating miniature town of 5000 citizens. The town is known as 24 hour town. Equipped with eateries, showers, shops, unofficial bars and even its own radio station. The actual ride consists of 18 miles of single track. Built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers.
My guest and I were riding the whole track. The ride had gone great. Lots of hard fast flowy single track stretching for miles through the open desert. One of my favorite aspects of this ride is the speed you can reach while weaving your way through and around the outstretched claws of jumping cholla cactus. One brush against these spinney buggers leaves them clinging to your clothes or worse, skin. The needles of these cactus are barbed so the extraction is sometimes more painful than insertion. But fear not (unless you land in one) small segment can be removed with a strong comb or a couple of sticks.
Our ride had gone fine though, without any unwanted thorny passengers. The only unusual occurance happened when we approached my truck to pack up and head home. I had followed my guest to the truck and we both dismounted our bikes when Inoticed he was standing about 5 feet from a 3 foot western diamondback rattle snake (crotalus atrox). So not to startle him I casually said be careful of the rattlesnake right there. I believe he thought I was joking until he turned and saw this little fella.

angry little snake

Normally I would never bother a snake I came across in the wild.  Although I do feel that rattlesnakes present us with an opportunity to observe, at a relatively close but still very safe distance. No other wild animal, especially one that garners so much fear, will allow you to view it from the distance you can observe a rattlesnake. You would never dream of trying to view a mountain lion or a bear from 15 feet away, but 15 -20 feet is a safe distance for a rattlesnake. That being said this critter was too close for comfort and we needed to pack up and head home. I first attempted to “shew” the snake with a stick off into the desert. My little friend decided to proceed directly under my vehicle behind the tire. Time for a longer stick. Once one was found I was able to scoop the snake away from the truck at witch time I snapped this photo. This is just a little reminder to those that venture outside this time of year. You never need to be afraid out there just be aware. You never know when you might run across one of our crabby desert critters.

Rick Gray, Southwest Trekking Guide

Bigelow Ragged Rock Flower, Crossosoma bigelovii

Sunday, April 4th, 2010
Bigelow Ragged Rock Flower, Crossosoma bigelovii, is a native to the hills. I’ve found it from 1500′ to 4000′. It has 5 petals that do not touch each other and are shaped as a pointy teardrop whit a light yellow center. Very fragrant and blooming now, mid March to April. If you put your nose to it you’ll acquire a pollen mustashe if touched.
It can grow to 6′ and is common on the trails of the Ritz Carlton in the Tortolita Mountains. I’ve also found it near the base of the Santa Catalinas. It’s range extends into southern California and Nevada deserts.