Posts Tagged ‘sonora desert’

Back in March I built a solar still in my backyard.  As Arizona is a dry place and my backyard does not have a creek in it, I tried to suck moisture out of plants.

This did not work.

I finally got around to editing the video.  Watch below if you care to watch my failed attempt as well as my first use of the fast-forward function.  If you don’t care to watch the video, the short version is that a solar still is a ridiculous amount of work for a ridiculously small amount of water.

On a side note, the raised garden did not work either.

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I checked out the video Stay alive! a guide to survival in mountainous areas from my local library.

Random comments after watching:

  • According to the host, Preston Westmoreland, if you have ever heard the idea that you could add whiskey to water to clean the water than that is not true.  Ummmmm, I have never heard that, in fact if one googles adding whiskey to water what one discovers is that most feel this is a waste of good whiskey.
  • The video visits with Peter Bigfoot, which is awesome because I really like that guy.  Bigfoot covers the edible plants of the desert.

July is the best time to eat Saguaro fruit.

  • Peter also eats the hedgehog, he mentions it is better with salt,  hey that’s what I saidThe hedgehog cactus might be a quarter of its size in summer.
  • Some plants are poisonous for some of the year and then not poisonous for other parts of the year.  Great.
  • 90% of prickly pear plants are poisonous, yikes, only eat the fruit, that was the next plant I was going to try so I am glad I watched the video first.
  • Mesquite is the “mother tree” of the desert.  He does not elaborate on why it is the mother tree.
  • To clean water use 2 drops bleach per quart.
  • If one ever needs to make a fire to signal for help while stranded in the desert, the black tubing in your engine makes for good black smoke.
  • Thank god tube socks are out of fashion.

Below are some random notes I took at the survival school the other weekend.  It is not all of the notes, the ones that should be their own subject/post I have not included.  Think of it as random bits of wisdom.

–The animals were skittish for it was a full moon.  The bunny rabbits were not on the move.  There was also a strong cold wind blowing away the tracks of the few brave ones.

–When researching how to survive in the wild it is best to read materials written before 1970.

–Mice leave rice-sized poop.  Rats leave bigger poop.  Fear the smaller poop.

–A cotton-ball soaked in vaseline makes for a hell of a good starter fireball.

–When tracking, keep an eye for things out-of-place.  Remember the print may not be inconsistent.  The “fun part” of tracking is figuring out the story.  Watch for patterns.

–85% of human are right-handed.  The tend to drift right when not paying attention.  This is not a metaphor for the tea party but maybe it should be.  The average american walks 2 miles per hour.  One might be surprised how much they meander right in just one hour of aimless walking.

–When tracking someone who wants to survive, do not discount what would be the easiest path.

–If you stumble across someone’s marijuana field you might get sucker-punched.

–What defines survival?  If one sees famine and death outside of one’s window does that mean survival?   What crazy fool would roll down the window when death is outside?  If one does not look outside of the blinds how can you be sure it is not too late?

–Native Americans in the SouthWest generally used traps and not snares.  There is probably a reason why.  Deadfalls work best here.  One can only generally use snares in the forest where there are plenty of branches and shade.   If desperate, birds over any other animal, is your best chance to catch an AZ animal by snare.

–A Rolling snare jerks the animal off the ground.  Setting one ain’t easy when one is using cacti as one’s trigger.

–The fewer triggers the better.

–Avoid fleas.  Especially when dissecting an animal for dinner.  Fleas suck.

–When learning, focus on a digestible area.  Tony recommends 20 acres.  How big is 20 acres?  I think my yard is .25 acres.  Figure out 20 acres and know that 20 acres well. Use that as lesson one.  Otherwise learning every plant or every technique for all the variations one finds in a desert as big as the Sonoran is simply too overwhelming.  Know the plants in your 20 acres.  Know what plants grow.   Know where the afternoon shade is.  Know the morning shade.  Know the rhythms.  Know what the animals eat in your area.  Know what the smell of rain is like.  Think locally, act micro-locally.

–Best Glide is the best brand for a compact fishing survival kit.

— For catching fish a cast net is the “way to go.”  It is currently illegal to fish with a cast net.  Cast netting would give a “bathtub full of fish in 15 minutes.”  Sidenote:  It is also illegal to hunt with a salt lick.  Both of these methods are illegal for a reason.  Once we no longer care about the rules, hunt in whatever manner was previously illegal.  They were originally made illegal because it made things just too easy.

–A Dip net is an easy way to gather minnows.   Minnows will probably easier to gather than one big fish.  Multiple strips of protein might be better than the fish that got away.

–Don’t count your fish before they are in the skillet.

–“Primitive fishing is like primitive hunting.  It is a numbers game.” 20 baited traps = 1 edible animal, if you are lucky.

–Before the bow and arrow was the atlatl.  It was the weapon of choice for big game.  Get all Aztec up on it.  It is a difficult weapon to get accurate with but great for sheer ease and power.

–When shooting bows and arrows switch arms from time to time to avoid arthritis.

–Arrows over 33 inches do not need feathers.

–Michelle’s craft store is a great place to get marbles for sling shots and craft wire (which is already made camouflage) for cheap.  Buy galvanized wire, at least 20 gauge.  A 550 cord is best for snares for Coyotes.

— When using a knife think safety first-ish.  Think through if you were to slip while carving, where would the knife go?

— Rabbitt’s eat their own poop.  The first pass is brown, the second is white.  If you see rabbit poop where there are brown and white droplets beside each other than the rabbit goes one way at sunrise and another at sunset.  Try to ignore that you are hunting an animal that eats its own poop.

–Hunting rabbits is not easy.

–Cats have  asymmetrcal toes.

–As a general rule, if the hind foot falls in front of the front foot then that means speed.

–Don’t put anything camouflage in your survival kit, because you might lose it.

–Surviving is not living.  When people say “The Navajo survived in the Southwest for centuries”, they did not “survive” they lived.

–Spam is the culinary equivalent of the cockroach.

–In Hunter/gatherer society’s people did not live alone.  The lived in groups of 15 to 30 people.  To survive one needs more than oneself.

–Diesel is a better shelf life than gasoline.

–To use bleach to preserve water, pick ordinary bleach not one that is “scented” or has “lemon.”  6 drops of bleach per quart.  There are 4 quarts per gallon. 

–The SODIS method for purifying water is the easiest.  It is used around the world in developing nations.  It involves putting water in a clear plastic bottle and setting that in the sun for 6 hours.  –Anybody who has ever been in a natural catastrophe and had to struggle to survive has said “Man, we did not have enough water.”

Thermal Cooker’s are a good way to cook with minimal energy. They are big in Japan.

Flash cooking is where you put your meat on a stick, put a trash can or other large metal can around it and put coals of the outside of the can.  So far I have only found one internet site that describes it.

–If you put insects in a stew you won’t even know they are there.

–A good reachable goal when learning this stuff is to learn 12 edible plants in your area.  Trying to learn every plant can be overwhelming.

–When learning edible plants, also take time to learn poisonous plants as they kill.  You want to know what to avoid.   Hemlock kills!  I think I also might have it in my yard. http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/poison/plants/pppoiso.htm

–Pine Nuts are ripe in Sept.

Permaculture would be a good thing to research. –Mustard plant is easy to find in Phoenix in spring.

–Pine sap has antibacterial features.  Olive oil will help make it less sticky.

–A good book to read is “Gathering the Desert” 

–Rendezvous are events were people who are into this stuff present their skills and teach others.  A complete list of events can be found at hollowtop.com.

–Whichever foot print is bigger means means more weight.

–Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use bear spray on a cougar.

–Japanese wet stones are awesome because they only need water and not oil to sharpen a knife.

–The bubonic plague kills prairie dogs.  Do not eat a mangy-looking mammal that lives in a dark hole surrounded by other mammals.  Disease and plague can run rampant.  On a side note, if an animal does not look healthy do not eat that animal, no matter how hungry one is.  This rule also applies to zombies.

–The bigger the wood the bigger the fire bubble.

–To survive and prosper in the wilderness you will need a knife, a saw, an axe and a good pot to cook in.

–Anything left over goes in the stew, this is why one needs a good pot.

–Belive in yourself.

Part of the Complete Survivor Class from Ancient Pathways was a brief introduction to tracking.  We practiced tracking humans and then looked at animal tracks as we came across them.  Just like everything else in the class the key to this skill is practice. 

I liked how our instructor, Tony Nester, set up the tracking exercises.  Both of these exercises could be done in the backyard, and I am debating doing it some Saturday at the Firehouse in beautiful downtown Phoenix.

The first exercise we did was block off a small patch of desert, walk across the patch and then inspect our footprints.  Notice how the edges look, study what a fresh print looks like, and then return multiple times over the next couple of days and see how the print ages.

The second exercise was to track Tony for about 20 paces.  Tony had us turn around, then walked for a while and when done told us to turn around.  We tried to figure out where he had stepped.   We marked the heel print of each step with a popsicle stick so we could mark our progress.

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Once you have figured out a few steps, mark with a stick how long the normal stride of the person is. Then you can use as a guide as you come across the harder to read prints.

Get all up in the print, look at it from multiple angles. Don’t assume you will be able to read the print from several feet away.  Try to think through if the person is walking, limping, stumbling, running or anything else.

Below: Studying the print.

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To become a good (or even half-decent) tracker one would need to practice this a lot. I was reminded of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell which is about “rapid cognition” or the ability to know something in the blink of the eye. Instinct, it turns out, comes from doing something over and over until you know something so well you process it without having to actually “think” about it. Tracking would be a great example of this.

The flip side of knowing how to track is knowing how to not be tracked. The most useful tip we covered for how to (hopefully) fool someone tracking you is to use the human inclination for open spaces. Our eyes and feet are drawn to them.  If you are trying to fool someone, look for  a stretch of desert that was narrow because of the brush and then opens up walk through the open part. Stop, then walk backwards stepping on your own prints and break off carefully through an obscured part of desert. When walking backwards you take smaller strides so when walking through the false path the first time take smaller strides so it will be easier to walk backwards later.

When Tony pulled this trick on us, he fooled up completely. He said this would not fool an expert tracker. But how many expert trackers are out there?  My hope is that one rises to the challenge of one’s nemesis.

Below: Trying to decipher a print.
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A report on what the Pueblo Ruins look like has already been commented on in a previous post.  This post is more about getting to the ruins and comments on the surrounding area.

The ruins I went to 7 years ago were NOT Pueblo Canyon, they were the appropriately named Devil’s Chasm Ruins.  The two sets of ruins are relatively close to each other (I would need to consult a topo map to determine how far, but the drive to the head of each trail is 2.9 miles apart.)  Devil’s Chasm is a much more difficult, even though a shorter hike.

We met a Park Ranger in the ruins and spoke with him for a while.  He mentioned another set of ruins called Cold Spring Ruins, which is his favorite, but according to the Ranger they are hard to find and many people don’t find them.   The fact that there are separate awesome places for a post-apocalypse desert bunker so close to together emphasizes how the area is a decent place to start rebuilding.

The drive in is around 24 miles down a dirt road off of HWY188 (the road between Globe and Roosevelt Lake).   On the dirt road you cross a river three times.  The fact there is such easy water to find in the area is awesome.  You pass (I think) two ranches and multiple cow pens.  I would assume the family’s that live in these two ranches are a hearty bunch.

Below: Crossing a river on the drive in.
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Despite the fact you cross the river three times I think my Honda civic could make it the first 20.5 miles.  However, I am not sure what the parking would be like.  The last 4 miles on most definitely needs 4WD, even better if you have high-clearance.    Here is the link to what I thought were the best directions to Pueblo Canyon.

As part of my research on how I should spend my vacation time, I have been checking out what survival schools I could sign up for.

The one I ended up settling on is the Ancient Pathways’ Complete Survivor class near Flagstaff, AZ. The class covers edible plants, deadfalls, snares, and game preparation. What I am most excited about is making jerky, I love jerky! Who doesn’t? (I mean, besides vegetarians. Sidenote: How do you find a vegetarian at a cocktail party? Don’t worry they will find you. ) At first the cost for 4 days of instruction seemed a bit steep but looking at other survival courses it is not so much. I have to get a hunting license for the class.

There are other options out there.  Here is what I have found so far:

Cody Lundin in Prescott, AZ is famous from being on the cover of Backpacker magazine, Discovery Channel, and Dateline NBC which has also added to the tab for his courses.   If money was no object I would take his Self-Reliance Symposium class, 7 days at $1790 which covers all sorts of stuff, and prepares one for living off the grid.

Another good option available for folks in AZ is the Reavis Mountain School, run by Peter Bigfoot.  The prices are more reasonable.  I took his wild medicinal, edible and useful plants class a couple of years back and enjoyed it.  Over many years Peter has experimented with about every type of plant one could find in the Superstition Mountains.  Years of trial and error (and he has plenty of error stories) made it so he knows what each plant’s nutritional and medicinal uses are.     My favorite quote from the weekend was someone asked “Peter, what plant confused you the longest?”  His answer, “MJ.”

He also has classes on “off the grid” living and other survival skills.  Bring your own coffee, he doesn’t believe in it.

Another local is the AZbushman.  I have not taken any of his classes, but I really like his videos on youtube.

The person probably best known in the United States for wilderness survival skills is Tom Brown.   For example he was the technical advisor for the film The Hunted starring Tommy Lee Jones.   His Tracker School has the longest list of classes, but his website could use a little work.   It was tough to figure out which classes were actually happening.  Plus the classes are in New Jersey, which I also find a little funny.  I figure I should take classes in AZ, because that is where I will be when the SHTF.  Wikipedia has a good links of articles he wrote for Mother Earth News.

I ended up going with the Ancient pathways because their site does not emphasize one man.    Wilderness survival should be about how anyone can do it, and by empasizing one person detracts from this in some subtile way.  Plus I am a little jealous of how manly all their names are.  My parents told me that they were going to call me “Adam” and my grandmother responded, “What?!? Adam!  As in Adam and Eve?  What else you got?”  In the moment of panic they said “Kevin”.  I think I would have been taller if they had stuck with Adam.

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Above: Kindling I tried to use at my first attempt and building fire with two pieces of wood.

 When I first moved in AZ 8 years ago I did a lot of hiking.  I stumbled across a hiking group that made was made up of a bunch of retired people and me.  Despite the fact I was looking more to meet some ladies my own age I kept going back because they took me to some pretty amazing places.
One of those places was a set of native American Ruins in Pueblo Canyon near Globe, AZ.  It is not an easy place to get to.  It is about 2 hour drive time from Phoenix on paved roads plus 2 hour drive time down a 4Wheeldirt road, and finally a 6 mile hike with a whole lot of bushwhacking to get through.  The exact directions are possible to find on the internet, but I am not sure if I want to link to them.  The ruins are amazing, but they are fragile.  I vaguely recall there being two springs there.
Below: Shot taken in the ruins, the ceiling was still intact in multiple places.
If the apocalypse hits my first choice is to stay hunkered down in my own house/compound.    FEMA and others recommend that you have an escape route planned and mapped out for emergencies that make you leave your home base.  Preferably your destination should be family or friends that live about 1.5 or 2 hours drive time away.  Unfortunately for me, my Mom and Dad are in North Carolina, my brother is in NYC, and all my friends in Arizona live in Phoenix.  However, I know a place in an old boarding town of Miami, AZ where I don’t think they would refuse me.
But if the giant-life turd hits the fan hard enough and it’s a good idea to escape all of uncivilization, I am heading to the ruins in Pueblo Canyon.  I figure I won’t be the only person heading there.  I would hope the only people who would know about this very hard to find place would be like-minded individuals.
I am trying to organize a mock-exodus/scouting mission over the April 30th weekend, but I need to find somebody willing to go with high clearance.