Monthly Archives: January 2018

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play.  –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona.  From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”

On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape.   I think my wife is used to this by now.  After every trip we take I want to move there.  This is probably what makes me a  geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.

After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide.  The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights.  You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive.  A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins.  The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light.  Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here.  As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.

The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado.  With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation.  The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.

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The cycling here is gorgeous.  I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company.  The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons.  Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.

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Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter…  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine

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We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible.  They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road.  It’s beautiful to watch them fly.

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The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool.  The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight.  From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains.  Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living.  Returning to city life, I feel ambitious.  We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution.  We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities.  Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

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Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!