The Arizona Desert: Old West Revisited…Sort Of

Old Tucson Studios Western Town SetSince heading down to the Arizona desert, it does feel sort of like I’ve revisited the old west. Of course a lot of that feeling is down to the fact that if I’m not bicycling or traveling “shank’s mare” to make the 13 mile round trip (plus) to town and back, I’ve no satellite for television. [Or Internet that works well enough to watch anything else.]

Now before folks start thrusting fingers and shouting at me to stop whining, let me explain.

I’ve spent most of the last year watching television shows and doing recaps/reviews each and every week. There was a long list of shows that I covered. From new ones like” Gotham” and “Scorpion,” to older popular ones like “The Walking Dead,” I covered as many as I could. Since many came on at the same time, I used the DVR and Hulu Plus to the maximum extent possible to catch-all that were available.

Now, I’ve only my DVD collection to watch, and write on occasionally, to keep me amused. I’ve discovered that free WiFi, while not strong enough for the screeners sent by Sony/SyFy for “Helix”, work (just barely) for Hulu and Netflix. I’ve not tried Amazon Prime just yet to see if this works at Carl Jr’s or Burger King.

Oddly enough, I had gotten out of the habit of watching telly while living in England. Oh, I had a few favorites. I spent a pretty exciting and very entertaining time binge watching Breaking Bad after finally discovering what all the fuss was about. The Walking Dead was another instant addiction as was American Horror Story.  But other shows on the box were ignored. My biggest passion was playing video games, doing the odd YouTube video on films and writing for this blog.

I am slowly trying to sort out the Internet situation and getting back on the television teat so I can write about shows I like, or in the case of Gracepoint, dislike…a lot. Funds are low and eating, along with paying off bills and medication are the highpoint of my existence at this moment so the problems with reviewing will have to stay unsolved for the time being.

Desert Mountain

Apart from discovering that walking the desert on the way to town (and WiFi) and back feels like revisiting the old west when one strays from the road and crosses the hardpan, I’ve learned that 56 year-old legs, knees, ankles and the back take a pounding. I’ve even gotten the odd blister… Granted, I do tend to powerwalk where I can, after all I was a Prison Officer for 10 years and passed my fitness test each and every year, but my body, since the very invasive operations in 2012, is complaining.

Loudly.

Aches, cramps and bruising aside, the walks are brilliant. The landscape is breathtaking, inspiring and addictive.  This is during the day of course. After dark is another matter. Dusk is interesting, but hazardous. (Dusk was when I did  my faceplant in the dusty desert floor.) There are animals roaming the desert when the sun goes down; most of which are better equipped than I at survival if we should meet.

Listening this evening to a couple of coyotes yipping, yowling and howling just around the corner from my temporary home, goose-flesh marching up and down my entire body while doing so, reminded me that these pack roaming creatures will attack a singleton wandering across the hardpan.

Then there is the mountain lion that is hanging around the area, I have seen his (or her) prints and the thing is huge. Neither of these would have anything to fear from me. Like any unarmed red-blooded male, I would most likely scream in terror and might just get a couple of steps away before getting nom-nommed for their tea.

Still, in the moments where I am walking the desert floor and the 4X4’s, Quads and motorbikes are nowhere too near, I can hear my footsteps. Crunching through the crusty sand and gravel as well as puffing through the dust.  The birds, one who sounds just like he/she is whistling to get your attention, dart and flitter by to have a quick look at the desert newcomer.

Brief glimpses of jack-rabbits bounding away and, just recently, baby jack-rabbits scurrying clumsily to hide are another delightful occurence. These walks, although pretty damned painful at the moment (not to mention slow) are the preferred  way to cross the desert, rather than riding the bike with the dodgy gears. For one thing, who ever heard of biking through the old west? For another,  this rider cannot power the bike across the hardpan. Too much sand, deep dust and gravel make it difficult to keep pedalling. And of course these is the lack of silence connected with the mechanical means of travel. Ruins the desert aesthetic, doesn’t it.

3 February 2015

Living in the Real Desert: Nightlife

Desert Mountain

Since being here in this popular desert oasis near the Arizona/California border, I’ve observed many things. For instance, my smartphone’s 4G from Wal-Mart’s T-Mobile does not work out in the desert, or in town for that matter. It is annoying enough that neither company will be getting any more business from this 50-something customer.

Since living in the real desert, I’ve been caught out, so to speak, several times and wound up walking, or biking, back from town after dark. This habit has provided a great look at the local nightlife. As mentioned in an earlier article about this haven for the aged, one local denizen reported coming face to face with a mountain lion in their front yard. Luckily, I’ve not come into contact with this feline. Yet.

I’ve seen the tracks across the hardpan desert floor and saw more again this evening in my trip through the dusk back to the RV. The paw marks of this beast are huge. At one point the tracks showed the creature had run after something, probably one of the jackrabbits that bound through the cactus and sagebrush.

While walking to and from the town, I’ve seen a surprisingly large amount of jackrabbits, a few smaller longer eared types of bunny (this evening at dusk), a doe (the night before last actually) and something yellow, small and faster than a speeding bullet (the same night).

Getting a late start back to my temporary home, I walked the long way along the road rather than taking my “shortcut” across the desert. Remembering those mountain lion tracks made me err to the side of caution. About a quarter mile from the turn-off to the small community where the RV is located, a small deer came right up to the opposite side of the road from where I was walking.

The distance between the creature and myself could have been no more than 15 to 20 feet as it started to cross to my side of the desert. I lit her up with my small shotgun shell LED torch and seconds later a car came up and stopped. All three participants in this little tableau froze.

After a frozen second or two, the deer turned and disappeared into the darkness and the car reversed a little; looking for the animal presumably and then both the vehicle and I moved on. The doe was nowhere to be seen so she obviously changed her mind about crossing the suddenly crowded road.

Desert Road

No other living wild thing was seen until reaching the desert community where I am currently staying. Three streets away from “home,” I saw a streak of yellow shoot across the road with a burst of speed that would have turned Speedy Gonzalez green with envy.

Despite this lightening-like dash into the desert, the small creature was slow enough that a few details stood out. Its color, for one thing, and that it was covered in fur another. It had a small head so the first thing I thought was, “Weasel?”

This was immediately followed by, “What the hell does a weasel look like?” I honestly could not remember. For all I knew, that could have been a baby coyote or some other small creature. It seemed to be around 18 to 20 inches long…maybe. One thing for certain, at night all creatures look bigger, in the desert, in the dark.

Nearing the RV while pondering the recent animals sighted around the local area I thought of how tickled I’d been in England when I spied a hedgehog (my favorite small wild creature) or a wild fox. When driving for the East Anglian Times back in the 1990s there were a huge group of foxes that ran around Colchester Park on the Essex paper run. Sadly there were always a few dead ones on the side of the road, the price paid by the group for getting too close to civilization.

Hedgehogs were also seen quite a lot and not just on the Essex run. One foggy morning, around 0200, while unloading bundles of papers at a newsagents, a packet of crisps (potato chips) was spotted floating above the ground by three or four inches.

This odd sight was not caused by wind and the packet did not appear to be blown by anything. Instead, it was jerking forward and then backward before floating forward again. The chap who was teaching me the Felixstowe run reached down and snatched at the floating crisp packet. A baby hedgehog came flying along with the plastic bag. The little creature had gotten its head stuck in the thing and was walking along while trying to dislodge it.

I was thinking of both these separate incidents and briefly remembered that one thing that was not an issue in the United Kingdom was rabies. Mainly due to the country’s strict quarantine laws there has not been an outbreak for what seems a millennia. The second I had this thought, about rabies, I broke out in goose flesh.

What in the hell was I doing marching along after dark in a country where rabies was not banished from memory? What if that streaking yellow thing had been heading towards me and not across the road in front of me? Could I have reacted in time to keep a rabid animal from nom-nomming on part of my body?

Rabid rabbit image...

Having been to the ER (emergency room) and then later the hospital for a heart attack, with the end result being two emergency surgeries, I’ve had injections in my stomach. I can personally attest to the fact that these are not fun, but better than the alternative. The fact that rabies used to be treated by receiving a shed-load of injections in the navel means the shots must be pure agony.

As I’ve mentioned before, the stars in the desert seem to be just out of arms reach. The dark desert sky is full of these celestial sparks of memory. The desert itself is  full of animals that, despite the profusion of people who have flocked to the desert for the season, call this area home. Living abroad for so long, and in a country where there are more people than open spaces, helped me to forget that America is full of wild areas where civilization is just an illusion waiting to be shattered.

22 January 2015