Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cheech Leech – 03/30/2016

Cheech Leech 03/30/2016 Photo Album

Last year around this time I was on a mission to increase the quantity of streamers in my fly boxes. Historically fishing with streamers has been a choice of last resort, but after viewing numerous photos of massive trout on Instagram that chowed down on streamers, I vowed to change my ways. Unfortunately during 2015 I only landed 8-10 fish using streamers, and none of the meat eaters succumbed to my newly produced peanut envy. I really cannot fault my flies, as I continue to have a mental block against using streamers.

Articulated Cheech Leech

I purchased additional materials to manufacture streamers named the cheech leech and barely legal; however, nice weather arrived last year at this time, and I tossed aside the fly tying vice in favor of my fly rod. As much as I enjoy tying flies, I always prefer days on the stream tossing flies and fooling real fish.

Moving Closer

Since I purchased the necessary materials to produce cheech leeches, and my inventory of proven flies was complete, I decided to experiment. I found an excellent YouTube video that taught me the steps to tie a cheech leech and meticulously followed along. Meticulous is a relative term when referring to any tying venture that involves maribou. Marabou plumes are very difficult to tame, but I am fairly pleased with the appearance of my new creations. The cheech leech features articulation, heavy dumbbell eyes, and three colors of maribou wound as a collar behind the eyes. This fly will wiggle, dive, jump and undulate; and these are the type of actions that drive fish crazy.

I’m anxious to give a cheech leech a spin, but as I look out my window huge snowflakes are fluttering down on Denver, CO. Patience is an important trait for fly fishing.


South Platte River – 03/28/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: South Platte River

Fish Landed: 3

South Platte River 03/28/2016 Photo Album

After a nine day road trip and four days in the heat of Arizona, I was anxious to get my waders wet in a Colorado trout stream. My young friend, Danny Ryan, sent me a text message to check on my availability for Monday March 28. Danny did not need to initiate even slight coaxing, as I was on board immediately. Weather was another positive factor boosting my urge to fish, as high temperatures were projected to reach the low sixties on Monday.

I picked Danny up at his apartment at 8:30, and we made a quick stop at the Discount Tackle shop on South Santa Fe to restock our supplies of tippet material. Before long we pulled in to the parking lot near the South Platte River and began our quest for our favorite cold water species. Danny logged several days of fishing at this location, so he stepped into the guide role. We expected to do mainly subsurface nymphing, so I set up my thingamabobber configuration with five feet of level line below the indicator. Next I tied on a salad spinner and an RS2 and began to dead drift nymphs through a nice run of moderate depth. I began fishing on the gravel beach side of the river, whereas Danny assumed a position on a high bank.

A Wide Fish

From Danny’s high vantage point he could more readily spot fish, but he also shouted out positions to me so I could take advantage of his observation. We fished for only fifteen minutes when Danny shouted that he had a fish on. I glanced in his direction, and sure enough a large football shaped rainbow was thrashing on the end of his line, and his five weight rod exhibited a massive bend. Danny followed the fish down the river until he found a spot where he could clumsily slide down the bank, and here he was finally able to wiggle the large thrashing fish into his net. I immediately dropped my rod and line and rushed to a position opposite Danny, and he then waded across the shallow tail of the run so I could snap some photos. It was a thrilling start to our day on the river. Danny’s trophy fish for the day snatched a salad spinner from the drift.

Vivid Speckles on This Cutbow

We each resumed our positions and continued drifting nymphs through the twenty yard section of the river. Danny could spot numerous decent fish, and the prospect of landing another large rainbow kept us very focused on our venture. After another twenty minutes of fruitless casting I heard Danny once again shout that he hooked a fish. Again he carefully maneuvered his way downstream along the high bank, until eventually the rebellious foe wrapped his line around a branch that was protruding from the bank. I was certain that the fish was gone, but Danny carefully moved into the river and found the fish just downstream of the branch. Once he marked the position of the trout, he was able to slide his net underneath while lifting the branch. The effort was worth it, as he held a gorgeous cutbow in front of his chest so I could once again snap a photo. The cutbow displayed a vast quantity of fine vivid speckles, and Danny grinned from from ear to ear.

Of course I was elated for Danny’s early success, but at the same time seeing the two nice trout in his net spurred me to focus even more on my effort to join the party. Danny traded positions with me, and I assumed the perch on top of the high bank. From where I was standing I could see four or five decent sized fish in addition to three or four active spawners that we avoided out of respect for ethical fishing practices. I executed drift after drift over the sighted fish and watched both my indicator and the movement of the fish, but none of my efforts yielded a hook up.

Two Large Spawners

There was a very nice deep run and pool thirty yards below our water, but another fisherman claimed first rights by arriving before us. Late in the morning, however, we looked downstream and noticed the area was devoid of fishermen, so we quickly moved. As we began drifting our nymphs, we noticed a pod of at least fifteen large fish hovering along the current seam where the river bottom transitioned from light sand to a dark color. Initially we were quite excited with the opportunity to fish to this significant quantity of large targets, but after a few minutes we realized that it was a school of spawning walleye that held in the deep run. Of course I was not opposed to catching large walleye on a fly, but our next discovery was that these fish had an acute case of lockjaw, and they were not showing interest in our flies.

After fifteen minutes of fruitless casting we abandoned the popular hole and walked upstream to a nice riffle and run area above our starting point. As we waded across the river, Danny spotted a rainbow in some riffles, so he paused to cast to his fish. I went farther downstream and worked my nymphs along the bank in some narrow slack water areas, but I was prospecting and quickly grew weary of blind casting. Danny circled around me and approached a deep section next to some downed timber, and once again he hooked up on a monster fish. This time however the potential trophy spit the hook, and Danny was in a state of disappointment. I began drifting my nymphs so that they tumbled over some gravel and then dropped off into the top of the deep hole above Danny’s position. Again I was thwarted in my efforts, so I made several half-hearted casts to a narrow deep run along some brush on the far bank. Much to my amazement, a fish darted from cover and snatched the RS2. The rainbow that splashed on the end of my line did not measure up to Danny’s earlier conquests, but I was nevertheless exuberant to land a thirteen inch fish and register my first fish of the day.

A nice deep slow moving pool was just upstream from the location that Danny and I were fishing, but another fisherman occupied it when we first arrived, and he appeared to be casting dry flies. While Danny continued to pursue the behemoth that he hooked momentarily, I noticed that the pool was now vacated, so I made my move to claim it. I waded into the tail of the pool, and I did indeed observe several rises. In addition I could see five or six fish cruising the pool. These fish however seemed to be more interested in a mating ritual than eating. Since I did see a couple rises, I decided to abandon the thingamabobber nymph rig, so I sat down on the gravel and made the laborious switch to a tapered leader. To the end of the tippet I knotted a size 22 CDC blue winged olive, and then I paused to observe. It was not long before I noticed a rise near the center of the pool so I began stripping line to lengthen my cast.

Have you ever had one of those days when adversity finds you at every turn? As I began stripping line from my reel, I made repetitive tugs, but after I had twenty-five feet of line out, I felt no more resistance. I looked down at my reel, and I could not believe what I was seeing. The fly line was coiled on the gravel, and the severed end of another end of line protruded from my reel. Somehow my fly line tore as I was stripping line. What should I do? The tear was 25-30 feet from the end, so I concluded that I could knot the line and fish with the length beyond the knot. If I hooked a large fish that stripped line, I was out of luck as the line knot would surely catch, but the only other option was to hike back to the car and retrieve my four weight rod.

I threaded the spooled line through my guides and tied a square knot to reconnect the green line. The square knot eventually unraveled, so I replaced it with a loop to loop connection, and that endured for the remainder of the day. Initially I was disturbed by this turn of events, as I could not get into my normal casting rhythm, but eventually I learned to deal with the shortened amount of running line. I resumed casting to the vicinity of the observed rises and moved up along the bank, so I could reach the midsection without making long casts. I wish I could say that I matched the hatch and landed a batch of large rainbows, but the best I could do was two splashy refusals across from me next to a large submerged boulder. Another fisherman arrived and prepared to fish above me, and Danny approached from below, and I was weary of exercising my arm with no results, so we looped around the new arrival and moved farther upstream.

At the next attractive spot I ceded the nice water to Danny, as I sat down on the bank and ate my lunch. When I resumed I converted to a Fat Albert foam attractor matched with a beadhead hares ear and soft hackle emerger. Unfortunately this approach and fly combination did not pay dividends, so I continued up the river. It was now around 1PM, and although the sky was mainly blue and devoid of cloud cover, I began to notice sporadic small mayflies taking flight. A sparse blue winged olive hatch commenced, and I began to notice occasional rises in the slow moving pools.

Dave Shows a Small Brown

I reached a long smooth section of water above a large deadfall, and here I paused and observed four rises from separate fish spaced out across the pool. I clipped off the three fly dry/dropper set up and tied a different CDC olive to my line and began drifting the tiny imitation over the scene of the previous rises. Nothing. Perhaps I needed to try a different fly? I tied on another CDC olive and this was similarly unmolested. Next I gazed in my fly box and noticed a size 22 parachute olive with a tiny white wing post. The body on this fly appeared to be narrower than the CDC versions, so I gave it a shot. I cast the parachute three quarters upstream and allowed it to drift along the bank, and thwack, a fish surged and slurped my offering.

The confident eater proved to be a nine inch brown, but I was nevertheless excited to have found a fly that a fish regarded as food. I continued casting to the places where other rises occurred, but the hatch waned, and the fish showed no interest. Danny was downstream working his nymph magic, and it was getting late in the afternoon, so I decided to once again move to new scenery.

I waded upstream a bit and noticed another twenty to thirty yard long pool. As I paused and observed, I saw a dimple along the right bank near the top where the current angled toward the bank. I crossed to the other side, so I would be opposite the high bank and worked my way to the top where I spotted the single rise. When I arrived I stood motionless for a few minutes, and my patience paid off when I saw another greedy rise in front of a long submerged rock a couple feet out from the bank. My heart beat ticked up a bit, and I began to toss casts five feet above the location of the rise. I made five or six such casts, and I was about to give up, when I saw a decent fish dart from cover. The yellow missile chomped on my tiny blue winged olive offering, and I set the hook and played a thirteen inch brown trout to my net. It was not fat and was evidently recovering from the winter, but I was thrilled to net this gold colored beauty.

13″ Brown Trout

I continued upstream and scouted another very tempting bend pool, but the hatch was now over, and I saw no rises to straggling mayflies. Continuing to fish the size 22 olive was a fools errand, and I did not relish changing back to the dry/dropper configuration, so I retreated downstream and found Danny. We both agreed that it was getting late, and I was tired and hungry, so I cajoled him into calling it a day. We progressed so far up the river that it took thirty minutes via a well marked path to return to the parking lot.

It was a gorgeous early spring day, and although I did not catch many fish, I did enjoy fishing dry flies to rising fish. This was my first surface fishing in 2016, and I was rewarded with three brightly colored jewels. A day of fishing is always a success in my book.

Fat Albert – 03/27/2016

Fat Albert 03/27/2016 Photo Album

What does a Fat Albert imitate? Surely not a character in a Bill Cosby comedy skit. In today’s world even a mention of Bill Cosby is probably politically incorrect. During my fishing trip to Rio Manso Lodge in Argentina in December 2013 two fishing guests from California were in our group, and I fished with each of them during my one week stay. Todd was the other occupant of our boat on Lago Roca on the last fishing day, and he deployed a Fat Albert on his line for much of the time. Todd registered a very successful day of fishing on December 7, 2013, and accolades for the Fat Albert made a huge impression on my thinking. It was not readily apparent what the Fat Albert was imitating, but when it was fooling twenty inch fish with regularity, who cared?

A Fat Albert Parade

Since I was nearing the end of my production tying of tried and true patterns, I decided to create some Fat Alberts to test in North America. I searched on line for tying instructions and found several YouTube demonstrations. I possessed all the necessary materials, so I sat down at my tying desk and produced ten foam attractors. I varied the underbody colors between green, orange, yellow and tan ice dub. For the foam overbody I stuck with brown, tan and yellow for the first versions. but then I created some prototypes using medium green and light green.

Close Up of Some Fat Alberts

These flies are now secured in my boat box and ready for action in 2016. In fact, I used the Fat Albert on two trips to the North Fork of the Saint Vrain in March. It did not produce any fish, but served its purpose well as a buoyant surface indicator. Hopefully as the water warms up, and as the fish look more toward the surface for their meals, the Fat Albert will quickly prove its worth.

Hopper Juan – 03/26/2016

Hopper Juan 03/26/2016 Photo Album

How many grasshopper patterns does one fly fisherman need? I assumed that I settled on four effective imitations that would suffice in nearly all circumstances. I began my hopper search with the yellow Letort hopper, and this simple tie that originated on the limestone creeks of my native Pennsylvania served me well for many years. Next I added the parachute hopper, and this handsome fly demonstrated superior effectiveness late in the summer and in early fall. The parachute hopper with its knotted pheasant tail legs offered an incremental level of realism over the Letort hopper. The parachute hackle allowed it to land upright on nearly every cast, and it proved to be adequate as the top fly in a dry/dropper set up with one beadhead nymph suspended.

From the Side

Both of these flies, however, contain dubbed bodies which tend to absorb moisture over time and thus require frequent reconditioning. Drying a fly takes away from fishing time, so I went in search of foam grasshoppers that also presented a decent level of realism. My first discovery was the Charlie Boy hopper. Initially I was dissatisfied with the performance of the Charlie Boy as a fish attractor, although it performed admirably as an indicator on a dry/dropper arrangement. Recently the Charlie Boy staged a comeback, and it spent a fair amount of time on my line in 2015. While the Charlie Boy was in my dog house, I produced some pool toy hoppers. These flies were even more buoyant than the Charlie Boy, but they also seemed to fall short in the fish catching category compared to the Letort hopper and parachute hopper.

Great Clarity

I assumed that I was locked into these four hopper imitations, when I stumbled across another pattern that caught my attention. I am an avid member of the Instagram family, and a participant named @hopperjuan_fly_fishing liked one of my posts. I checked his profile page and discovered that his name was Juan Ramirez, and he had a web page called I browsed his blog and determined that he was the creator of a fly named the hopper Juan. The hopper Juan was another foam grasshopper pattern that intrigued me, so I took the plunge and tied some. Conveniently I found a video on Mr. Ramirez’s web site that demonstrated the tying steps, so I followed along and produced six Juan’s in size six and eight.

Three Size 6 and Three Size 8 Hopper Juans

This means I now have five different options for hopper fishing. More importantly I have an additional large buoyant foam pattern that can suspend multiple beadhead droppers for my favorite technique for fishing in western streams. Who knows, perhaps this could be my preferred approach in eastern and mid-western streams as well. I probably need to allocate more time to drifting dry/dropper flies in other geographies.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 – 03/23/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 03/23/2016 Photo Album

While eating dinner at the Thai restaurant in Cedar City, UT on Tuesday night, snow began to fall, but the flakes were quite large. Large wet snowflakes are usually indicative of a brief snow squall, so we were not very concerned about the condition of roads for our planned drive to Bryce Canyon National Park on Wednesday. What did worry us was the weather report for Bryce Canyon which projected highs in the mid forties and strong wind.

The Pass on the Way to Bryce Canyon

After breakfast at the B&B on Wednesday morning, we gathered our bags and transported them to the Santa Fe. We heard someone scraping their windshield before breakfast, so we were pleased to find only a small accumulation of snow on the ground when we finally poked our heads from the inn and walked across the icy sidewalk. Once we started, it did not take long before we found the main highway that led us to Bryce Canyon. One thing we did, however, omit from our thoughts was the steady climb over a mountain pass between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. As we gained elevation the amount of snow on the ground increased until it peaked at five inches, but the snowplows were patrolling the pass, and we made the trip without incident albeit at a relatively slow safe pace.

Our next surprise was the long line of cars ahead of us at the entry gate to Bryce Canyon National Park. We assumed that tourist traffic would be light in the middle of the week with cold temperatures, wind and snow present. We were wrong. The entrance gate and the visitor center were crawling with people including a substantial number of international visitors. Fortunately once we left the visitor center and drove the main road, the density of guests spread out. The experience was comparable to a day of skiing at Vail. Upon arrival one is overwhelmed by the crowd of enthusiastic skiers and boarders tromping about in boots, but as the day progresses, the masses spread out over the vast expanse of terrain until one sometimes feels alone in a remote backcountry location.

Jane on the Trail to Queens Garden

Our first stop was Sunrise Point, and after gazing in amazement from the overlook at the layers upon layers of canyons and rock formations, we embarked on a brief hike on the Queens Garden Trail. The trail was somewhat muddy, but we each had the foresight to pack hiking boots, and they were secured on our feet for the entire day. We did not descend the entire trial, but turned around once we reached a point where the slope leveled out. After we climbed back to the top of the canyon rim, we hiked from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Sunset Point offered the best panorama of the vast Amphitheater area. Rows upon rows of curved canyons, walls, and hoodoos create the impression of the largest amphitheater in the world. The dusting of snow added even more interest to the spectacular vista before us. Come to think of it, perhaps the fresh snow is what brought the mid-week crowds to Bryce Canyon.

The Depth of This Place Is Amazing

Once we returned to the Santa Fe, we continued to the turn for the two mile drive to Bryce Point. Bryce Point is situated southeast of the Amphitheater, and it provided additional spectacular views of the natural wonder. Rather than continue on the main road to the south, we decided to eat lunch. The map indicated there was a picnic area near the North Campground across from the Visitor Center, so we negotiated our way to that area and found a cluster of picnic tables that were partially covered with snow. We expected to make our sandwiches on the table and then retreat to the car; but the sun appeared, and we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, so we had our first picnic in the snow. I found the ice scraper in the car, and pushed all the slush off the table and bench. It actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, as we reveled in our outdoor toughness.

A Picnic Lunch in the Snow

After lunch we returned to the main street and drove the full length of the national park paved road surface. I was navigating while Jane drove, so I made sure we stopped at each of thirteen overlooks. Each displayed its unique beauty, but none were as magnificent as the Amphitheater. By the time we reached Yovimpa Point at the southern end of the park, we were saturated with hoodoos and canyon formations.

Natural Bridge

After reaching the end of the trail, we reversed direction and exited the park, and then we drove north to Interstate 70. By now we were hearing dire reports of a major snowstorm in progress in Denver, so we decided to interrupt our journey and stay in Grand Junction. Jane called a La Quinta Inn on the western side of Grand Junction and reserved a room. This proved to be a prescient move as Interstate 70 was closed in both directions for periods during Wednesday night. The five hour drive on Thursday was uneventful, and we were pleased to arrive home, although the sixteen inches of snow surrounding our house was a bit of a shock after enjoying ninety degree temperatures in Phoenix.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 – 03/22/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 03/22/2016 Photo Album

Tuesday March 22 marked the beginning of our return from Arizona to colder northern climates. Learning from our difficulties finding lodging during the spring break time period, Jane reserved a room at the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT for Tuesday night. The bed and breakfast was mentioned in Jane’s western national parks guide book.

Two experiences stand out in my memory from our eight hour trip from Phoenix to Cedar City on Tuesday. A cold front moved into Arizona and Utah, and the change in weather spawned high velocity gusting winds. We were listening to a spring training broadcast on the radio, and the announcers mentioned the drop in temperature and strong winds as far south as Phoenix. By the time the front crossed our paths, we advanced north on highway 89 between Flagstaff and the crossing of the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. Jane drove, and as I looked ahead in the distance, I stared in amazement at brown clouds sweeping across the dry landscape.

Drifting Sand

The blowing sand and dirt was similar to drifting snow except that it was brown and much more dense than snow. The force of the wind pushed against the side of the Santa Fe, and when we eventually passed through the brown cloud, we could hear the tiny particles glancing off the automobile. It sounded like we were being sand blasted, and sand and dirt swirled across the highway just like snow. Perhaps the most significant positive was that the sand was gritty and not slick like the ice and snow comparison.

Dust Storm in Northern Arizona

Fortunately these conditions only persisted for a half hour, and eventually we were north of the dust storm area. We turned left onto highway 89A and traveled west and then north toward the border with Utah. During this leg of our trip we passed the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Jacob Lake and then continued until we reached route 389 in a small town called Fredonia. As we motored along 389 we saw a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument, and we were in need of a rest area, so we stopped. We were on track for a timely arrival in Cedar City, so we decided to investigate the small national monument.

Jane and I have been checking off national parks and monuments at a rapid clip, and we discovered that many of the more obscure places are quite interesting. Pipe Spring proved to fall into the latter category. We watched a short film at the visitor center, and then we strolled around the small ranch and refuge featured on the park grounds. Pipe Spring was a valuable source of water in the vast high desert between the Grand Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs of northern Arizona. As one might expect this attracted inhabitants, and the first known settlers were the Pueblan peoples who lived in pit house villages between 1000 and 1250. For some reason this culture moved on, and the next native Americans to call the location home were the Kaibab Paiutes. The Paiutes were mainly hunters, but they also cultivated maize and beans using the nearby water source.

Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring Ranch

The Paiutes were present when Mormon ranchers began settling the area in the 1860’s, and these settlers built the Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring ranch, and this structure covered the spring. Of course the native Americans objected to this confiscation of their key water source, and as one would expect, conflict ensued. Eventually in 1933 an agreement was reached whereby the water was shared among the tribe, the local cattlemen, and the National Park System.

The Much Desired Spring

Jane and I casually strolled down the path behind the visitor center to the ranch area where we observed examples of the Paiute huts, the livestock area next to Winsor Castle, the building itself, and the two ponds where the spring water bubbled to the surface in this arid area of northern Arizona. Pipe Spring was a surprise discovery on our path to Cedar City, and we greatly enjoyed our one hour visit.

Our B-B Room in Cedar City

After our brief sightseeing detour we returned to our travel itinerary and crossed into Utah and reached the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT near dinner time. Jane called Scott, the owner, and he greeted us and showed us our room and provided some dinner options. Once we lugged our suitcases to our room, we found a Thai restaurant near Interstate 15, and unlike the Saing Thai in Tucson, this establishment was open and ready to serve us. We savored an excellent Thai dinner and returned to our room where we crashed in the old fashioned king size bed. We rested in anticipation of a new adventure on Wednesday.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 7 – 03/21/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 7 03/21/2016 Photo Album

Monday was another travel day. We bought our tickets for the Monday night Cactus League game between the Brewers and Diamondbacks online on Sunday, but we had quite a bit of time to kill during the day. I used my smart phone to search for parks and hikes in Phoenix, and found two likely destinations. One was Camelback Mountain, but I was discouraged somewhat by numerous comments about crowds and limited parking. It was Monday and a weekday, but we were learning that the time of the week was not very relevant during the spring break and spring training madness of Phoenix.

The second option was North Mountain Park. The location of this park was near our hotel, and also reasonably close the the ballpark, so we chose this as our Monday place for outdoor adventure. We arrived at the South 7th Avenue trailhead in late morning and quickly lathered up with sunscreen. The park appeared to be similar to Saguaro National Park but with far fewer saguaro cactus. The landscape was covered in many more low growing cactus, but as we looked north we saw two fairly imposing mountains. It was already quite warm, and the environment appeared to be even more imposing than the trails we hiked near Tucson.

Jane Ready to Ascend to the Towers in the Desert Heat

Nevertheless we set out with hydration bladders and trekking poles. Our rattlesnake radar was set on high alert, as the terrain struck us as the perfect setting for an encounter. Fortunately we learned at the desert museum presentation that rattlesnakes seek shade during the hottest part of the day, and our trail rarely crossed this scarce commodity. We climbed a steep path over a saddle and then dipped and resumed the climb until we peaked at Shaw Butte. We curled around the butte to the north side and enjoyed some spectacular vistas, and then we reversed our steps. When we reached the Y near the parking lot, we turned left and hiked on a .2 mile spur, and then returned to the trailhead. In total the hike was four miles, and we were quite ready for it to be over due to the sun and the heat.

Looking North from North Mountain Park

Once we were settled in the car, we skirted the western edge of the park and circled on to Thunderbird Road and then turned right on 7th Street, until we found the North Park Mountain Visitor Center. Near the front of the parking lot we spotted a round pergola structure that had a large round concrete table in the middle. We adopted this space for our lunch, and munched our typical snacks while resting in the perforated shade.

Beer and Baseball

After lunch we continued south and found the Best Western Metro Center Inn, and the woman at the counter allowed us to check in. After reading some negative comments on Yelp, Jane and I were both concerned about the quality of the room, but it ended up being one of our favorites. The lobby and breakfast area was bright and clean, and the pool was very inviting. The room itself was clean and spacious, and the only negative we could find were the large groups of high school baseball and softball players present. Their behavior was fine, but they tended to take up space and contributed to the high noise level at breakfast.

Preparing the Fields for a Game

Once we were situated, we turned our attention to the baseball game. We checked the map, and Salt River Fields were nearly due east. We got off to an early start so we could inspect the relatively new spring training complex and grab some food. Everything worked out according to plan, and we savored some excellent grilled bratwurst sandwiches while waiting for the game to begin. The air temperature dropped into the low 80’s, and it was a perfect evening to watch the Brewers and Diamondbacks play to a 2-2 tie. It was a great finish to our stay in the warm temperatures of Arizona. On Tuesday we would brace ourselves for the cold of Utah.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 6 – 03/21/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 6 03/21/2016 Photo Album

Our destination on Sunday was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and this proved to be the highlight of our trip. The desert museum is located on the west side of Tucson on North Kinney Road just south of the entrance to Saguaro National Park Tuscon Mountain District. The facility is called a museum, but this is really a misnomer. 90% of the exhibits are outdoors, and I would consider it a hybrid zoo and botanical garden.

Entry requires a fee, but Jane and I felt it was well worth the expenditure. The grounds are expertly landscaped and well maintained. The managers were careful to preserve the desert landscape, while at the same time compressing nearly every imaginable organism that lives in the desert into the compact area. Volunteer hosts are scattered about the area, and they provide in depth information and answer visitor questions.

Barn Owl

One of Many Agave Varieties

A number of special programs are scheduled throughout the day, and we particularly enjoyed the birds of prey presentation in the morning and the reptile demonstration after noon. Our favorite botanical areas were the cactus and agave gardens. The creators did a fantastic job of preserving the natural look while introducing many additional varieties of each species.

A Lobo, Mexican Wolf


Native birds, mammals, insects and reptiles are on display throughout the area. Unlike most zoos I have been too, it seemed like the animal areas were nicely buffered by vegetation and other displays. This created the feeling that each had its own separate natural zone and space. We were excited to finally see javelinas, even though they were confined to a captive area. Other unique sightings were the Mexican black bear and the wolf or lobo. A hummingbird aviary enabled us to observe and photograph several species. For some reason I am particularly intrigued by these tiny birds with non-stop wings.

Great Shot of Horned Owl

Jane and I gathered with the attending crowd at 11AM for the birds of prey demonstration. An announcer introduced the stars of the show, and then each bird was released sequentially. First a raven appeared, and it swooped and fluttered overhead while periodically perching on a trainer’s gloved hand. Next a great horned owl was released, and this majestic bird went through the same trained routine. Even though the birds were trained to follow a sequence of stops, it was nevertheless exciting when they swooped within a foot or two of our heads. The last performer was a falcon, but in the middle of flying from perch to perch, it got distracted by some natural hawks in the area.

River Otter Appears

The second show that we attended was a reptile lecture in one of the theaters. This was scheduled for early afternoon, and being inside was a nice respite from the midday heat. Two presenters displayed a gila monster and rattlesnake on a rectangular table at the front of the auditorium, and they were extra careful to use long metal poles to continually reposition the reptiles and prevent them from escaping the table. The gila monster was particularly interesting to me as it is a fairly large venomous desert dwelling lizard. We learned that gila monsters predate lizards on the evolutionary path. Jane possesses an extreme snake phobia, so I was proud of her ability to endure the rattlesnake talk. She even admitted that she learned quite a bit, and the knowledge will enable her to better understand how to avoid the poisonous serpents, but her phobia remains as strong as ever.

Jane Not Happy

By 2:00 we covered nearly all the displays and areas within the desert museum, so we moved on to the Tuscon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Similar to the Rincon District, there was a single one-way loop road that we were encouraged to drive. The name of the road was Hohokam. Near the start we found a picnic area that contained one covered ramada in the center. We backed into a parking spot there and once again carried our cooler and food bin to a table and enjoyed a quick lunch. After lunch we continued on the loop to the Signal Hill area. We parked and completed a short hike to an area that contained numerous petroglyphs, and then we returned to the car and exited the park.

Tough Love

Once again we were both feeling very lethargic from the unaccustomed sun and heat so we returned to the Baymont, a shower and some rest. Since we learned that one cannot take lodging and baseball game tickets for granted during the middle of March, we busied ourselves with reserving a room for Monday night in Phoenix and also purchased seats for the Monday night baseball game at Salt River Fields. The effort to find reasonably priced lodging in Phoenix did in fact prove to be a challenge. Eventually we settled on the Best Western Metro Center Inn at a cost of $100 per night. Some derogatory reviews on Yelp caused us concern, but lacking other attractive alternatives, we made the plunge.

For dinner we both hoped to try some Thai food, and I found a small family owned restaurant called Saing Thai Cuisine. It was rated very high, and we were both excited to give it a try. Unfortunately when we arrived a sign on the door informed us that the restaurant was closed even though the web site noted that closing time was 8:30, and we arrived at 7:00. While we sat in the car consulting with our smart phones attempting to find another nearby option, a woman appeared from the small establishment, and she informed us that she closed early because it was her mother’s birthday. How can one be upset with that excuse?

We settled on another restaurant in the vicinity called the Happy Wok. We both rated it average, as it offered the normal Chinese dishes in fairly heavy sauces. It was not our favorite, but it fulfilled our need for sustenance.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 5 – 03/20/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 5 03/20/2016 Photo Album

Saturday March 20 was all about needles, pins, spikes, thorns, and spines. Can you think of any other synonyms for the sharp pointy extensions that protrude from a cactus plant?

Jane and I decided to visit Saguaro National Park on Saturday and saved the Sonoran Desert Museum for Sunday. Saguaro National Park is divided into an eastern area (Rincon Mountain District) and a western area (Tucson Mountain District). The city of Tucson separates the two. Since the Sonoran Desert Museum is just outside the Tucson District, we combined those two destinations on Sunday and explored the Rincon Mountain District on Saturday.

A Small Barrel Cactus

The eastern Saguaro National Park is less visited than the west, and only a small portion of the total acreage is easily visited without a long hike. Since we only had a day to devote to the eastern park, we followed the herd and drove the Cactus Forest Drive starting from the visitor center. The circle is mostly one way, so we slowly cruised the loop and stopped at several points along the way. We were surprised by the number of bicyclists pedaling the hilly desert terrain. When we began our visit, the temperature was in the eighties, but it quickly climbed into the nineties by the early afternoon.

Half way around the circle Jane and I parked at the Loma Verde trailhead and completed a 3.4 mile round trip that combined several trails. This was a relatively easy hike with minimal change in elevation. The heat and bright sun were the main factors to be aware of, so we lathered up with sunscreen and carried plenty of water.

Dave Prepared for Heat

The Sonoran Desert is an amazing place to me. How can so many plants and animals inhabit such a forbidding environment? The soil is sand, rocks and gravel; and moisture is a rare commodity. Yet the ground is covered with a fairly dense array of plant life that adapted to this harsh environment and even appears to thrive. The most striking plant of course is the saguaro cactus, and we passed through numerous cactus forests. Just typing the term cactus forest strikes me as odd, since I grew up associating forests with leaves, and it is quite a stretch to call saguaro needles leaves. But in reality they are the cactus’s answer to leaves. Unlike normal leaves, the needles serve a different purpose in the life of a saguaro. They shade the plant, shield it from drying winds, and discourage animals.

Gnarly Saguaro

We also learned that the pleated surface of the saguaro trunk and limbs allow the cactus to rapidly expand and hold water captured during rare rain events. The spongy flesh in the trunk and limbs enable the saguaro to store water in a gelatin form that is slow to evaporate. The saguaro is an amazing adaptation to the harsh desert environment. Of course I could not help matching the saguaro shapes to human forms. In many cases the branches appear to be arms, and it is fun to visualize the cactus taking various human poses.

Ocatillo Near Full Bloom

In addition to the namesake saguaro, many other cacti and desert plants covered the Sonoran landscape. We learned to identify barrel cactus, chollo, ocatillo, and prickly pear as well as the palo verde and mesquite, which are non-cactus desert trees. Walking among this dense population of desert vegetation in an arid forbidding environment was a unique thrill for Jane and I. Because it was early spring, there were also many low flowering shrubs that displayed yellow flowers, and this added quite a bit of color to the cactus forest.

Plenty of Yellow Flowers in the Desert

Near the end of our loop we pulled into a parking space at the javelina picnic area, where we found a ramada and prepared our lunches. Several birds entertained us by perching on the nearby cactus. I put my binoculars to good use and concluded that they were cactus wrens, although I am not a bird identification expert. We were guardedly hoping to see some javelina, but that never happened, and we were probably better off since they travel in packs.

A Type of Chollo

Since we came from Colorado where it was still winter; the sun, heat and dry air took its toll, and we departed the park by 2:30. We both felt extraordinarily drained despite drinking liberal quantities of water. We returned to our air conditioned hotel room and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, and then we decided to explore downtown Tucson for dinner.

Fortunately we began this adventure early. I found a brochure describing the Old Town Artisans block, so we parked nearby and explored the shops that surrounded a courtyard. From here we walked south to Congress Street and followed it eastward toward the University of Arizona. This street was comparable to Colfax Avenue in Denver with numerous restaurants and shops distributed among abandoned storefronts. There was a similar mix of pedestrians ranging from nicely dressed diners to street people asking for charity handouts.

Our Saturday Night Restaurant. Delicious.

We did not find a restaurant that appealed to our Saturday night appetites along Congress Street, so we retreated to an establishment across from our parking lot called El Charro. The Mexican restaurant spewed delightful smells from its chimney, and a crowd of diners milled about on the sidewalk waiting to be seated. We expected to have a long wait, but amazingly our buzzing device beckoned us after only fifteen minutes. The choice proved to be fortuitous one, as Jane and I enjoyed one of the best meals on the trip.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 4 – 03/19/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 4 03/19/2016 Photo Album

Day 4 of our road trip to Arizona took us from Flagstaff to Tucson. After our Thursday lodging scare, Jane went online and reserved a room at the Baymont Inn and Suites near the Tucson Airport. We were set with a hotel for the weekend, and we were relieved to avoid concerns on that front.

One of the goals of our trip was to attend several spring training baseball games, and we made that happen on Friday. Phoenix was along our path to Tucson, so we decided to view the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The Rockies and Diamondbacks share the same spring training complex at Talking Stick; however, when I reviewed the schedule, I realized that the Rockies games took place over the weekend while we stayed in Tucson. Tucson is two hours from Phoenix, and we did not relish the thought of a four hour round trip to see the Rockies.

I saw the Salt River complex in 2011, when I spent a long weekend in Phoenix with Dan, but Jane missed out on that trip, and she hoped to see the modern facility. During my schedule review, I noticed that the Dodgers played the Diamondbacks in a day game on Friday at Salt River Fields, so we made it our destination and programmed the iPhone app to guide us there.

The View from RF

In theory this was a fantastic plan, but in reality it did not happen. We exited Interstate 17 and merged on to the 101 loop, but when we exited near the ballpark, we noticed several signs that informed us that the game was sold out. What was going on? First we had difficulty finding lodging, and now a spring training game was sold out. Needless to say we were disappointed with our foiled plan, so we pulled into a dirt turnout near the stadium parking lot to consider our options. I reopened the Cactus League schedule and scanned the afternoon games. The Angels vs the world champion Kansas City Royals stood out as an interesting option, and the ballpark was on the northwest side of Phoenix in a suburb called Surprise. We reset the map app and made our way back across town to the Royals spring home.

This Resulted in a Fly Ball

The field at Surprise was not as new and modern as Salt River, but it was very well maintained and provided intimate seating on a bright sunny day with many enthusiastic fans in attendance. It was Cactus League baseball, and we enjoyed every minute of it. With my Phillies and Rockies struggling to assemble competitive teams, I adopted the Royals as an American League favorite. I love their style of play which features strong relief, excellent defense, contact hitting and speed on the basepaths. Jane and I purchased Italian sausage sandwiches for lunch and then escaped to the shade with temperatures spiking in the high eighties while the Royals trounced the Angels. Surprise field was the relaxing pleasant atmosphere that we yearned for when we made our plans to visit Arizona.

Surprise Stadium Views

After the game ended we drove west until we found a road that skirted the perimeter of Phoenix. We headed south and mostly avoided rush hour traffic and then continued for another two hours to Tucson. We arrived around dinner time, and since we had a room reserved, we headed directly to Barrios Brewing Co. on the east side of Tucson. I found this brew pub when I searched my phone. Jane and I each enjoyed a craft brew and inhaled some tasty casual fare and then continued on to the Baymont Inn. We could now unpack a bit and settle in for a weekend in Tucson.