Archive for the ‘Sonoran desert’ Category

Many years ago I was a Park Ranger at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.   In my mind, Chaco Canyon is the most impressive Native American Ruins in the United States.  I feel it is sad that every school kid in america does not know the story of Chaco.  The Anasazi built a great trading network across the South West, with Chaco as its central trading hub.  And then one day they left.    There is debate of where they went, many would say (and I agree) that they became the Pueblo people of the SouthWest.  

Another great debate about Chaco is WHY they left.  If they became the Pueblo, then the equivalent of what they did would be if we, in modern America, decided to abandon our legal system, our education system, our monetary system, our transportation system, and went and lived in the woods like the uni-bomber.   What would make a society throw away everything they had built? 

There is no evidence of  war on ascale that would take to decimate a society.  There is no evidence of mass plague.  There is some evidence of drought, but not on a scale that we would expect would cause mass starvation.

On the summer solstice, it appears the sun does not move for three days.  For those skywatchers this would have been signficant.  A common Native American belief is that on the summer solstice, the sun goes into his house and decides if his people are worthy of another year of life.   If the sun decides his people do not deserve another day, he stays in his house, which would mean endless summer, which for those living in the SouthWest, would really suck.

The Dine’ people tell stories of how the Anasazi were punished by the gods because of their immoral lifestyle, just like we think orgies helped bring down the Romans.   I suspect an “immoral lifestyle” in the SouthWest is the waste of precious resources. 

My guess, and others as well, is that drought caused the abandonment of Chaco Canyon, but not because the loss of crops forced the people out, but the people interpreted the drought as they should leave, that the life they were living was not approved.  Which in a way it wouldn’t have been, as more and more people lived in the desert city, then the resources would have been maxed out.    I don’t think we today are capable of doing what the Anasazi did.   Al Gore might win an Oscar for An Inconvient Truth, but little else changes. 

So, if I am right, which is a big if, then Anasazi, as a society, volunteered to create their own Apocalypse.  Which is either extremely noble or stupid, depending how one looks at it.

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I went for a hike last weekend to see what the desert is currently producing.  There are no pods yet on the mesquite,  and no wildflowers yet.  However, I did see several Ocotillo plants in full bloom.

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Above: Blooming Ocotillo plant.

According to Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest by Charles W. Kane the bark and flower can be used to dislodge phlegm, sedate a cough, provide relief to hemorrhoids, encourage circulation for prostatitis and simulate menses. Being a real man, I had no idea what “simulate menses” meant, and had to google it.  I discovered it means “the monthly flow of blood and cellular debris from the uterus.”  Why anyone would want to simulate this is beyond me. 

I have been using myself as a guinea pig for all the medicines I have been gathering.  Luckily I don’t (currently) have hemorrhoids or an enlarged prostatitis.  I would also expect it would be difficult to find a woman who is willing to volunteer to drink plant bark in order to, you know, simulate the return of Miss Scarlett.  But I am going to collect some of the flowers and bark anyway.

As a coincidence (I am reluctant to call it a sign) the Ocotillo plant I photographed above was right beside the petroglyph photographed below.  I have long wondered if the central character in this panel represents a woman going through her monthly cycle. 

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Update:  This link shows how to make Homemade Sanitary Pads.

Getting ready for the heat.  Today I went to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore – south side – to buy window screens.

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Lesson Learned: Security bars on windows make it hard to put in screens.  With the bars, putting screens on the outside of the window is impossible.  Putting screens on the inside is awkward because every time you want to open or close a window there is a screen in the way,  which is a pain-in-the-ruckuss.

Living close to the mountain means I get nice cool night breezes late into the season.  However, if I keep my window open without screens then my house becomes infested with weird desert insects.  Security for comfort is a unpleasant choice.

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I been studying desert trees because The Arizona Desert Botanical Garden is going to have their spring sale on March 18 and 19th, and I want to know what I should get to add to the backyard.

The Velvet Mesquite is the best type of mesquite tree to plant.

Pick the bean (or pod) from June through early August.  There is a tight window because you want the bean to be dry (it should come off the tree easily) but before the monsoons hit.

Milling is a process to pulverize the bean into a protein rick powder similar to flour.   The husks is where the flavor is and the protein is in the hard seed.  Milling is done in fall.  It takes that long for the moisture to get out of the pods.  Store in a manner that the Bruchid beetles inside the pods can hatch and escape.  The Bruchid beetle is harmless.

Desert Harvesters is a great site about harvesting food from Desert trees.

The Arizona Desert Botanical Garden is going to have their spring sale on March 18 and 19th.   I am getting ready by figuring out what plants they will most likely have that would be good to have growing in the backyard for when civilization conks out. 

Thanks to itsadisaster over at the American Preppers Network Forum, I found the great Desert Harvesters website.   Along the left side of the Desert Harvesters site is the list of trees that provide food and also tons of great information.  

I will be looking for..

  • Ironweed
  • Mesquite (already two in the backyard).  The Velvet Mesquite is the best type of mesquite tree to plant.
  • Palo Verde.  The Foothills Palo Verde has better tasking (sweeter) seeds than the Blue Palo Verde.
  • Prickly Pear (good for fruits, but this plant is so easy to find, do I really want to use precious space in the backyard on it?)

 

shots from 4 years ago, trees purchased at last sale I went to.

I did not have a lot of success with my experiments over the weekend. On Saturday I dug a shallow bath-tub size hole, put six handfuls of weeds in the hole, and covered it with clear plastic. This was my first attempt at a solar still.

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Water did collect on the bottom of the plastic, but did not drop into the collection device.  On the next attempt, I am going to put more weeds in the hole, and try to tap the plastic before I remove it. 

I was also unsuccessful at rubbing two sticks together to start a fire. I think I failed for two reasons. One: I was feeling very lazy having just dug the hole for the solar still and only tried for like 3 minutes. Second: My drill was pine. The drill has to be harder than the fireboard.  So I am going to keep my eye out for a good hard drill.

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I did however gather or make all the other necessary ingredients  for my second attempt: different types of tinder, a fireboard, and a coal catcher.

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The weekend was not a total wash, I was succesful in one thing. I successfully melted wax in the solar oven. I figure this is a good way to recycle the nubs of used candles to make new candles.

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I am looking forward to the weekend.  I had to work last Saturday, which made the last two weeks go long.  I have not been able to do many experiments in the last couple of weeks, so I spent more time doing internet research.    This weekend’s plans include the following:

  • Turn Brittlebush leaves into medicine.   A couple of weekends ago I went for a hike and saw the desert has a ton of brittlebush right now.   I gathered some leaves and have dried them out, so now I think I am supposed to mash them up or something.  While doing research I learned the sap from brittlebush can be used as incense and/or gum, which I think is pretty cool, so next time out I might see how much sap I can gather.

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Brittlebush in AZ Desert Botanical Garden

  • Build a solar still, which will involve digging a wide hole.  One is supposed to dig in a place that would have water in the soil, but as I am doing this in my backyard, I am going to supplement the water still but putting in weeds and sucking the water out of the plants. 
  • Use shadow of stick to figure out which way is west.
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    • Prep for the no grid water for the weekend experiment.
    • Gather water bottles.
    • Gather pine needles for composting toilet.
    • Begin gathering some Creosote Bush stems.  According to Survivorman, one can burn the stems in a fire and the smoke can be used to clean (or rather disinfect) oneself.  The plant makes its own chemicals that make animals and insects not want to eat it, and these same chemicals can be used to disinfect oneself if you don’t have any water.  It is also one of the few desert plants that can be used for toilet paper in a pinch (bad pun intended).     One a side note, the plant is a virtual medicine cabinet for many other uses as well.   Maybe make some tea out of it?  Creosote is so good at repelling harmful stuff, I wonder if it would work on Zombies?

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    Creosote in AZ Desert Botanical Garden