Following the Labyrinth…A journey to the center and back

July 31st, 2015 by valerieosborne


Knossos Crete Labyrinth

Coin From Knossos, Greece ~ 100BCE

Found in nearly every culture and continent in the world, labyrinths are a shape or pattern which create a single path from the outside edge to the center.  Unlike mazes, there are no wrong turns.  Labyrinths are one of the earliest symbols that Man inscribed on rocks, in caves, and later on coins, in mosaics and churches.  Intertwined in its curves is the pattern of this mysterious human journey we call life, and our relationship to the source of life itself.  Wherever the labyrinth is found, a reverence for this deep human symbol is expressed, as if there is an important knowledge inherent in it.  Look at the labyrinth images here.  What do you feel as you gaze upon them?  Also, notice the striking similarities in labyrinth style despite disparate cultures and era of creation.

Hohokam Labyrinth


Superstition Mtns, Arizona ~ Hohokam Time Period






Burt Ireland Labyrinth


Burt, Ireland ~ 15th Century



Pylos Greece Labyrinth

Pylos, Greece ~ 1200BCE  



Anasazi Labyrinth


Arizona ~ Anasazi







Even though I know there are no wrong turns in a labyrinth, no dead ends, and I have walked them dozens of times, a funny phenomenon often happens to me as I walk. Along the path I encounter doubt.  I catch myself thinking, “this will never get me to the center.  I am totally lost and turned around!”  Yet, eventually, if I trust and continue upon this mysterious path, it delivers me to the center.  What relief!  As I return from the center, sure I will return to the perimeter, this experience gives me the gift of the insight: in my life I am always on the right path.  If I trust and continue, I cannot get lost.  A powerful gift indeed.

13 Circuit Flower of Life Labyrinth


Labyrinth ~ Modern

There are studies that have been done at Harvard Medical School among others which show that walking a labyrinth creates a “relaxation effect.”  It is highly effective at increasing relaxation and reducing anxiety.  Believe it or not, simply being relaxed results in tremendous long term health benefits!

brain labyrinth

Scientifically it is also interesting that the labyrinth patterns of repeating left and right turns are thought to stimulate the left and right sides of the brain.  We may actually be creating new neural pathways in our brain as we move our bodies through these twists and turns.  Do you see similarities between a brain and a labyrinth?  What if our brain is a complex, 3-dimensional labyrinth?

Rancho Merlita Labyrinth Man in the Maze

Tucson, Arizona ~ 2010

At the Inns at El Rancho Merlita, owner Diana Osborne poured her heart into creating a labyrinth for our guests and our community.  She chose the Tohono O’odham labyrinth design because it is of this Sonoran Desert land.   Known to the O’odham as “I’itoi ki:k,” meaning I’itoi’s house (I’itoi is name of a Creator God), this design is often referred to as the “Man in the Maze”.

Man in the Maze Labyrinth Basket



Southern Arizona, Pima & Tohono O’dham Tribes ~basket c. 1900




For the Tohono O’odham, the path is our life with our goals and dreams at the center surrounded by the turns and challenges along the way.  You can read a little more in detail from our labyrinth handout here.

Chartes Cathedral Labyrinth


Chartes Cathedral, France ~ 17th Century

Labyrinths speak to a deep part of us which transcends time, culture, and language, perhaps that is unconscious much of the time.  Carl Jung said that, “the unconscious fulfills a positive role…showing the conscious mind what needs to be done to get rid of unease and unhappiness and achieve fuller satisfaction in life.” Walking the labyrinth allows us to re-enter the deep, innate wisdom that lives within each of us.

As always, we’d love to have you come visit us at the Inns at Rancho Merlita.  Come experience a desert-born labyrinth on this desert soil.  If by chance you can’t make it here, you may find it interesting that finger labyrinths have long been used in the same way as walking labyrinths.  In Lucca, Italy, there is a small labyrinth on the wall before entering a cathedral dating back to the 1200s.  Worshipers would trace the lines before entering, creating a separation from ordinary life to the inner cathedral of sacredness contained within us all.

Lucca Italy Labyrinth

Lucca, Italy ~ 1200s

So wherever you are, you can take a minute to zoom into your favorite labyrinth in this blog and take the journey deep into this timeless human experience.  Write us and let us know what you find!

With love,

The ERM Family

Celtic Labyrinth

Celtic Labyrinth ~ 14th Century

All About the Sonoran Desert – The Dry Summer Season is here, come check it out!

June 14th, 2015 by valerieosborne

Here at the Inns at El Rancho Merlita, we love all things Sonoran Desert…even the heat!  It is all part of the unique warp and weft that make the Sonoran Desert a most fascinating bioregion in all the world.

Sonoran desert map


As you can see in the above map, the Sonoran Desert is the region colored in the 1960’s mustard yellow theme.  It covers parts of Arizona and California, and strides effortlessly into Mexico as if the border were just an figment of our human imagi-nation.  When I say desert, most people conjure images of sand dunes and starkness in their minds.  Thankfully for us, the Sonoran desert shrugs off all stereotypes in its diversity and relative lushness, with over 2,000 species of plants calling this place home including the giant Saguaro cacti.  Believe it or not, within the Sonoran Desert one can find plant and animal communities representing all of the world’s biomes: tundra (at the top of the San Fancisco Peaks), coniferous forest, temperate deciduous forest, grassland, chaparral, desert (of course ;)), thornscrub, and tropical forest (in Southern Sonora and Baja California Sur, Mx).

 Arizona Tundra





Arizona Coniferous Fores






Arizona Temperate Deciduous ForestArizona grasslandArizona Chaparralsonoran desert wildflowers with saguaros

Arizona Thornscrub

Arizona Tropical Forest

If you were surprised by the variety of ecosystems found within the bounds of the Sonoran Desert, you may also be surprised that although rain may be the last thing we think of with deserts, its amount and seasonality are defining features of deserts.  The Sonoran Desert is defined by two beautiful rainy seasons:  the winter and summer rains.  The winter rains, approximately from December-March, are widespread and gentle.  They come to us from frontal storms originating in the North Pacific Ocean.

sonoran desert gentle winter rain sonoran desert snow storm

The summer rains, approximately from July to mid-September, bring daily, localized yet fiercely intense thunderstorms we call “Monsoons” which arise from influxes of wet tropical air from the south.  The summer rain season ends a seasonal period of drought and high heat.  It’s arrival is so important to the indigenous people of this land, this time of “Big Rains” marks the beginning of the new year.

sonoran desert monsoon rain

sonoran desert saguaro with lightning

sonoran desert lightning

In the Sonoran desert, we do not have the 4 season temperate cycle which we are all so familiar with from school as the simple Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.  The Sonoran desert has 5 seasons if you know what to watch for.  You already know two of the seasons, just by watching the rain patterns.  The full order, beginning with the beginning as marked by those indigenous to this land:  Summer Monsoon Rainy Season (early July to mid-September), Fall (October & November), Winter – including the Winter Rains (December to February), Spring (early February- April), Dry Summer – Foresummer Drought (May & June).

Sonoran Desert Tohono Oodham Calendar


Right now we are finally in the Dry Summer season.  We enjoyed a long and colorful spring this year!  No complaints about that.  This Dry Summer Season is our extreme season.  Most of the rest of the year is quite mild.  In this time we usually experience high temperatures, very low humidity, and no rain.  Yet, in this dry summer heat there come many gifts.  The mighty Saguaro flower and fruit along with the Palo Verdes, and Desert Ironwood trees.  In the wee morning hours and the evenings, you will find all the creatures, including humans coming out to enjoy in the harvest.  During the scorching days, you’ll find most everyone resting in the shade.

Sonoran Desert Flowering Saguaro

Sonoran Desert Ironwood blossoms

Sonoran Desert palo Verde Pods

It is worth it to come here during this Dry Summer Season for lots of reasons.  Number one, saguaro fruit!!!  Some claim it’s the best fruit in the world!  Number two, everything is cheaper!  You can get great deals all over town for braving the heat.  Number 3, you do not need a sauna, because you can just walk outside.  Just kidding!  In all seriousness, let’s get back to number 2.  Read our “Why We Love Summer in Tucson” blog for more great Summer Tourist tips.  Also, come find great deals for the Inns at Rancho Merlita as a home base from which to explore the myriad of treasures the Sonoran Desert has to offer.  We would love to be your Sonoran Desert ambassadors, because we are truly and deeply all about the Sonoran Desert.

Sonoran Desert Jackrabbit

With Love,

The ERM Family

P.S.  If you want more information on the Sonoran Desert, visit the Sonoran Desert Museum website.

More Desert Wildflowers! – Beauty in the Sonoran Apothecary

May 5th, 2015 by valerieosborne

desert wildflowers with saguaros

Although the yellows are dominant in our Sonoran Springtime flower pageant, there is a diverse cast of delightful characters that we can continue to explore this month!  And of course, every plant seems to be here to bring unique gifts, many of which are healing properties for us humans.

Brodia, Blue Dicks, Papago Lily, Desert Hyacinth – Dichelostemma capitatum, Brodiaea capitata

This delicate flower is an important wild food staple, thus the many names.  The entire plant, flowers, stem, leaves, and tuber, is edible and tastes pretty good.  The bulbs are edible raw, as well as cooked.  They are creamy and delicious.

Desert Flower Brodia Closeup Desert Flower Brodia

Hedgehog Cactus – Mammillaria spp.

“The inner flesh is an excellent remedy for sunburn.  Use it the same day as the burn for miraculous results.  Several applications will bring amazing relief and most likely you will tan and not peel.  Apply a piece of the inner flesh externally for open wounds such as cuts, abrasions, compound fractures, open blisters, and some insect bites and stings, etc.  Put gauze over it and tape it on.  This will relieve the pain and promote rapid healing.  Keep this on for as long as needed for healing.  Use this inner flesh to remove dirt from a wound.  Leave it on for an hour, and upon removing, much of the dirt will be stuck to the cactus.

The inner flesh can also be eaten as a food.  You can eat it raw, boil it a few times (throwing out the water each time), or you can cook it in water for 30 minutes and throw out the pulp, saving the juice.  This juice is very slimy in texture, but a great emergency food.

This is a precious and endangered cactus, so take care with them.” PB

Desert Flower Scene Desert Flowers Hedgehog Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus – Opuntia polyacantha, O. basilaris

“The prickly pear is one of the most valuable plants we have in the Sonoran Desert.  The sweet fruits are edible raw or cooked (must be totally ripe – dark purple or deep red and shiny).  This plant is an important part of our desert fruit orchard.

You can also eat the pads, especially the tender new growth, but take caution, because not all prickly pear have edible pads.  After scraping the thorns off, the pads must be cooked or roasted.  Do not eat them raw.  If you are unsure about the variety, better skip it!” PB

Desert Flowers Prickley Pear

Ocotillo – Fouquieria splendens

“The flowers can be dried and made into a pleasant beverage, merely by steeping in cold water overnight.  The main medicianl part is found in the new growth branch tips.  Break the branch off about a foot from the end.  Crush it, and let it dry.  Used as a tea, the dried branch tips is a lymphatic stimulant and cleanser for swollen glands, mumps, lumps, and tonsillitis.  Some say it will even help dissolve tumors and cysts.  It helps mucous congestion, especially clearing phlegm left over from a lung infection or cold.  It is good to move blockages of the lower abdominal area, so it relieves an enlarged prostate gland.  Both stem and blossom may be used as a tea for sore throats and delayed menstruation.  The seeds are edible, and taste like puffed rice.”

Desert Flowers Ocotillo Desert Flowers Ocotillo close


There are too many varieties of desert penstemon to list!  The innkeeper at the Inns at El Rancho Merlita has a favorite, Parry’s Penstemon, pictured below.  The flower colors can vary from pink to red, and purple.  The leaves and flowers of Penstemons can be used together topically as a mild therapy for bites, stings, rashes, and poorly healing tissues.  Thus the plant is also applicable to cut and wound healing.  For a quick fix, use a poltice (simply crush up the plant parts), or with more time infuse an oil or salve.

Parry PenstemenDesert Flowers Parry's Penstemon Close Up

I hope you have enjoyed this blog entry as much as I enjoy celebrating our beautiful flower friends.  I hope to add a handful more of our spring flowers in the next blog entry.  At the Inns at El Rancho Merlita, you can come relax, recharge, explore the flowers and take care of your good health.


The ERM Family

Yellow Moon Wildflowers Bloom in the Heart of the Sonoran Desert, Giving Gifts Beyond Beauty

April 7th, 2015 by valerieosborne

Desert  Wildflower Scene 2

Spring is a time of celebration!  The Earth’s northern hemisphere leans back torwards the lovely star we call the sun, and we pass the time of the Spring Equinox.  This is a moment of balance between our extremes.  It is a time where we enjoy equal days and nights, the air warms, and the plants and animals begin to stir.  Humans of different places, times, and faiths have been deeply stirred by the beauty with which Spring returns, celebrating it with the Equinox, Easter, passover, and even the ides of March, which was originally the Roman New Year.  In the desert, Nature celebrates with a grand display of impossibly bright and diverse wildflowers.

In the calendar of the Tohono O’odham, the tribe indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, March is called C:edaai Masad, meaning “Green Moon.”  April is called Uad Masad, meaning “Yellow Moon.”  Like clockwork, in March the leaves and greenery begin to reemerge from their Winter;s sleep in seemingly dead branches.  In April, flowers suddenly pop their bright heads our from under their covers.  Many of these first blossoms are yellow, creating the effect of a great yellow tide taking over the desert landscape in April!  Many of these blooms have gifts to give us beyond their beauty.  Below are photos and a brief description of the Yellow Moon stars of the show.


Desert Flowers California Poppy Scene

  California Poppy – Eschscholzia californica
“Michael Moore says this flower is known to be a sedative    and analgesic, and is gentle enough for children.”  Peter Bigfoot (PB)**

Desert Flowers California Poppy


Brittlebush – Encelia farinosa Desert Flowers Brittle Bush 1

“The branches of this shrub are thick yet brittle, and contain a resin-like sap that resembles pinesap.  The resinous sap is helpful to use on burns, aching muscles and bones, and herpes sores.  Simply chew up the stems and put the saliva on.  The dried yellow-orange sap crystals that form on the outside of the stems can be packed in and around a tooth that is aching for relief.

The flower stems that rise above the woody stems are very thin.  A tea of the flowers and leaves is a good remedy for lung congestion and cholera, and is also an excellent remedy for springtime pollen allergies.” PB

Desert Flowers Brittle Bush Close up







Desert Flowers Paloverde

Paloverde – Cercidium microphyllum (yellow), C. floridum (blue)

“The Blue Palo Verde matures first with the largest and best peas.  The yellow Palo Verde matures about two weeks later, with smaller peas.  The peas when mature yet still green are good tasting, substantial food, and may be eaten raw or cooked.  The Seri Indians of Mexico toasted the hardened seeds and then ground them into flour.  These same people also ate the flowers.  It is possible a tea of the bark is a remedy for arthritis if taken continually for a few months.” PB

Desert Flowers Paloverde Tree








Chaparral, Creosote, Greasewood – Larrea tridentata, L. divaricata

“This is an awesome healing plant.  It is one of the oldest living plants in the US, with individual plants dated to as much as ten thousand years old.  It defends itself well against bugs, fungus, and disease.  As a tea it has a strong flavor, so go light on quantity.  I use a pinch or two of the leaves.  This tea is an excellent remedy for any type of flu, cold, or virus that is going around.  Chaparral has excellent antioxidant and anti-aging qualities.  Its antioxidant qualities protect us rom free radicals and cancers.  It strengthens our immune system and is effective against infectious conditions and fevers.  It is a good blood detoxifier and can be taken internally for bites and stings.  For most it is a good remedy for prostate gland and kidney infections.  Chaparral also preserves oils to keep them from going rancid, so it is good to add to salves and lotions.  One caution: it seems to be harmful if taken for liver infections like hepatitus or other liver disorders.” PB

Desert Flowers Creosote Desert Flowers Creosote scene

Desert Marigold – Baileya multiradiata

“A tea of the leaves, stems, and flowers is calming to the nerves and may be used as a remedy for migraine headaches.  Only small doses should be used — large amounts can cause nausea.” PB

Desert Flowers MarigoldDesert Flowers Marigold close

Desert Senna – Cassia covesii

“The mature yet still green seed pods, dried, make a laxative tea.  A tea of the leaves and flowers can be used to relax our nervous system and upper back tension.  Start with small amounts and make sure it feels right in your body.” PB

Desert Flowers Desert Senna

 Deer Vetch – Lotus wrightii

“A tea of the green twigs makes a pleasant beverage and gives relief from tight lungs and restricted breathing.  It is an uplifting and happy tea, perhaps a remedy for depression.” PB

Desert Flowers Deer VetchDesert Flowers Deer Vetch close

Fiddleneck – Amsinckia tessellata

“Use the dried leaves and roots before the flower stalk rises more than halfway to blooming size.  The tea can be used as a soothing eyewash.  It also improves eyesight and helps the optic nerves.  It also may help with macular degeneration.  Only use when needed.  If used continually over time, it can cause liver problems.” PB

Desert Flowers Fiddleneck plant Desert Flowers Fiddleneck


As I walk through the desert this spring, the blooming of the flowers creats a great blossoming in my heart.  Their sudden emergence and gift of beauty brings hope for a new season following the challenges of winter.  The yellows lift my spirits.  I am happy they are the leaders.  I am humbled to remember that Nature contains so many gifts for us as reflected in the very specific and diverse assistance the plants can give us.  So, let this blog post celebrate Spring as carried on by the Yellow Moon!

This is one of our finest seasons here in the Sonoran Desert, where we are ahead of the curve.  It is delightful weather here, while much of the land is still in Winter’s grip.  So come visit us at the Inns at El Rancho Merlita!  Enjoy the flowers, gentle warmth, and our  Spring offerings.  Hope to see you soon!


The ERM Family


**IMPORTANT NOTE:  All of the plant medicine information is from personal experience and also the groundbreaking work of Sonoran Desert Herbalist and Teacher of Self-Reliance, Peter Bigfoot.  Most of the quotes are from his book, “Useful Wild Western Plants.”  You can find out more about him and his work, as well as classes he is offering at his website: 



What You May Not Know about the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

March 20th, 2015 by valerieosborne


Tucson has many treasures, but the Tucson Gem and Mineral show may be the crowning jewel.  Since the 1970’s, gem and mineral professionals, enthusiasts, collectors, and major museums from all over the world come together in little ol’ Tucson in the beautiful month of February.  So how did it come to be that all these folks, including miners from Mali, Morocco, and Switzerland, ship themselves and their most precious rocks and fossils to the deserts of Arizona?

The roots of this legendary gathering reach back to 1954 in a Tucson elementary school parking lot.  On this blacktop a group of mineral collectors and rock hounds under the name of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society created a free exhibition open to the public.  The society’s intent for themselves and the show was to further the knowledge and appreciation for the hobby of mineral collection and lapidary that was just beginning to grow.

vintage parking lot

The exhibition was so successful the organizers decided to make it an annual event.  Over the years the show grew considerably.  Today this “main show” continues to be held by Tucson Gem and Mineral Society volunteers at the Tucson Convention Center.  As a result of the powerful popularity of the main show, many spin-off shows have sprouted up all over the greater Tucson area, bringing even more fun and variety to the scene.

Tucson Gem Mineral and Fossil Showcase from above

Some say the main show gained its global reputation due to the variety and quality of specimens on display including prominent gem, mineral, and fossil displays from museums such as the Smithsonian, the London Museum of Nautral Hisotry, and many more.  For example, one year the Hope Diamond attended the show!  Yet, this does not fully explain how the show became an international phenomenon…how it attracted such special exhibitions.

hope diamond

The main show is philanthropic in nature.  In alignment with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society’s mission to encourage interest and study in geology, mineralogy, lapidary, and allied earth sciences, all of the proceeds are invested into mineral collections with local organizations such as the University of Arizona, and the Arizona Sonora Desert museum, which further mineral knowledge and appreciation.  Proceeds from the show also go to scholarships in the Geosciences Department at the University of Arizona, and to the Boys and Girls Club.  The Gem Show’s philanthropic orientation helps attract world-class museum quality specimens, but the attraction of this show goes even deeper than that.

If you visit the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society’s website you will find the true magnet.  It is the simple, no-nonsense, and singular passion of the members of this Tucson society that makes the Gem Show what it is.  They are so passionate about mineral collecting and lapidary that they do their best to share the best of it.  Their enthusiasm is contagious, and The Gem and Mineral Show is just one facet of the riches they offer to the public.

tucson gem and mineral society

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Society offers meeting on the first Monday of each month (except September).  These meetings present gems and minerals from many perspectives with the intention to excite adventurers and collectors alike.  In the summer the Society holds potluck dinners.  The Tucson Gem and Mineral Society also offers classes and field trips to broaden the knowlege and skills of members.  Visit their website to find out more!

The story of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show reminds me of the amazing feats a small group of dedicated people can achieve when we pool our passion together.  So, I invite you to come to the sunny Sonoran Desert, sit on a rock, and ponder a while.  What are your passions? We’d love to host you here at The Inns at El Rancho Merlita.  Maybe you’ll come take a class such as “Everything You Need to Know on Gemstones.”  Perhaps you will even make it to the fabulous 2016 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, “Shades of Bule – Minerals of the World,” February 11-14, 2016.  Until then, shine on you crazy diamond!

All the best,

The ERM Family

Desert view

Desert view with the Catalina Mountains

Why we love Summer in Tucson!

June 5th, 2014 by pattiebell

83 degree Salt Water!

83 degree Salt Water!

We love Summer in Tucson because everything in general is calmer and more relaxed.

Less traffic ~ The absence of our winter tourists, who of course we love, quiets the byways of our town considerably.

No crowds to fight at our favorite restaurants  ~  For the same reason.  All businesses  are happy to see customers during the summer months in Tucson. It’s a perfect time to experience the many new eateries calling Downtown Tucson home.

Mount Lemmon ~ At 92,000 feet, the highest peak in the Catalina Mountains.  The beginning of the Catalina Highway which takes you there is just a 15 minute drive from El Rancho Merlita.  Hike in the tall cool pines. Enjoy lunch in the village of Summerhaven.  Ride the lift at Ski Valley.  Gaze at the stars from The University of Az’s Sky Center.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s Cool Summer Nights program.

The Ranch House front porch is the perfect place to watch the Monsoon storms roll in. The Monsoon is our summer rainy season. Typically it begins in early July and can last until mid-September, bringing the possibility of rain every day. The storms usually occur in the afternoons or early evening  and are accompanied by plenty of wind, thunder and lightning. They move around the valley swiftly and don’t last very long. Once a monsoon rain has fallen around you the air is cooled and refreshed.

Our salt water swimming pool temperature is PERFECT ~  83 degrees.

Taking advantage of our seriously discounted rates means you can splurge on a massage.  Mention you have read this Blog post and receive $10 off One Hour, and $15 off a Ninety minute massage.,_Arizona


Spring Activities!

March 4th, 2014 by pattiebell

Although Spring does not officially arrive until later this month, it has definitely sprung early in Tucson this year. Wildflowers blooming, milder than average temperatures and that certain something in the air make it a great time to get out and enjoy the many activities being offered around town!

Did you know Tucson hosts the 4th largest Festival of Books in the country?  March 15 and 16 on the University of Arizona Mall brings us 300 presentations, 200 exhibitors, and tons of opportunities to meet authors, poets, screenwriters and journalists participating in signings, panel discussions and book sharing.

Tucson’s proud and lively Irish community throws their 27th Annual St Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival in Armory Park in Downtown Tucson on March 15th. Guaranteed to get your green up!

The Historic 4th Avenue Shopping District is home to the 4th Ave. Street Fair twice each year and this Spring’s event is Mar. 21-23.  Hundreds of juried artist and crafts persons, plenty of food and refreshing beverages, live music, kid’s activities and street performers.

Are you a train enthusiast? Tucson has a very special transportation museum at the Tucson Historic Depot.  On March 22nd The Silver Spike Festival celebrates the 134th anniversary of the railroad in Tucson!

Theater buffs will be happy to know that the Arizona Theater Company presents “Around the World in 80 Days” through Mar 22. Boasting incredible sets and productions, our theater company makes its home in the beautifully restored Temple of Music and Art.

And Broadway in Tucson brings us “I Love Lucy: Live on Stage” March 25 – 30. This acclaimed show puts you in the seat at the studio where the famous TV shows were taped and includes plenty of the original music from Ricky and the band.

What says Spring more that fluttering butterflies? Experience a live tropical butterfly exhibit everyday through April 30th at Butterfly Magic at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

The Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University presents “Edward Curtis Reframed: The Arizona Volumes” through July 30, 2015. The exhibit will display 20 of the famed photographer’s portraits of the American West at a time, rotating every 6 months, to show a total of 60 works. The State Museum also houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of 2000 years worth of Native pottery making in the Southwest – that’s  over 20,000 whole vessels.

This is just a sampling!  Visit for more.


PAII Conference Thoughts

February 8th, 2014 by pattiebell

In January I was fortunate enough to attend the PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International) Conference in Charleston, SC.  It is the big annual meeting of innkeepers from all over the country.

We go to these kinds of gatherings for a number of reasons – to educate ourselves, to spread the word about our properties, to be inspired, and to enjoy the fellowship of other innkeepers.

When doctors and lawyers and teachers go to their workplaces, they usually work side by side with other doctors, lawyers and teachers. While we innkeepers enjoy the company of our many interesting guests, we tend to be isolated from colleagues by the nature of our work. So to be in the presence of hundreds of other innkeepers and vendors who support our industry for four full days is a pretty exciting thing.

I learned more than I wish I needed to know about the constantly changing face of the internet, our all-important marketing tool these days. I was truly inspired by a fellow innkeeper’s program for pampering cancer patients that I hope to recreate here at El Rancho Merlita. I met some seasoned veterans of the Bed & Breakfast world, some keepers of newly established inns, and some aspiring innkeepers, doing their homework before they take the dive!  And most fun of all, I got to hang out with some Arizona innkeepers I have known “virtually” for a while but had never met face to face.

A big component of the event is the vendor show. Purveyors of all the many resources one needs to run a Bed and Breakfast Inn – linens, insurance, soap, china, PR and marketing services – put in long days schmoozing and sharing their wares.  I picked out some new sheets, found the perfect robe for our setting, and got to meet several people I have great long-standing working relationships with, though we had only ever spoken to over the phone.

Charleston is a great city to explore, bursting with history, beautiful architecture, delicious food and true Southern Hospitality!

Farmers Market inspired Salad Nicoise and Tucson’s Own Barrio Bread ~

August 7th, 2013 by pattiebell

nicoise best croppedMy trip this past weekend to one of Tucson’s many Farmers Markets was most fruitful! Well, mostly it was vegetableful – perfect green beans, fresh new potatoes and salad greens, all locally grown. Today I combined them with some other on-hand ingredients to create one of my favorite composed saladsSalad Niçoise

I boiled the green beans in plenty of salted water until tender. This method cooks the beans faster and more evenly than steaming. The potatoes were cubed and tossed in olive oil with salt, pepper and some red bell pepper that needed to be consumed, and roasted in a hot oven until crisp on the edges.  My preferred approach to boiling eggs – place eggs in a pan, cover with cool water, and bring to boil uncovered. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for 30 minutes before rinsing in cool water.

I can certainly appreciate a fancy restaurant Nicoise with a chunk of seared Ahi Tuna on top, but I also really like the canned stuff. I found a nice variety of pole and troll caught Wild Albacore at Wild Planet Foods

I also had some young homegrown garlic on hand so it went into a simple LemonGarlic Vinaigrette

The beans, potatoes, and tuna are marinated generously and separately in the vinaigrette  (the beans and potatoes while still warm). Place a bed of greens on your plate and arrange sections of each ingredient on top, thus composing the salad as you go. I like them at room temperature but you may want to chill everything first. Either way it is a lovely and satisfying summer meal.

Especially if you have a big chunk of beautifully baked fresh bread, which is what got me to the Farmers Market in the first place. Here in Tucson we are blessed with a unique bread baking venture –Barrio Bread

Barrio Bread is not your traditional bakery! Their business model is a CSB, Community Supported Baker. There is  no retail store, instead the bread is offered at different locations in the community. Don carefully crafts every loaf of Barrio Bread and has a small and dedicated team to assist in the distribution and sales. Production is driven by a pre-order system or a Bread Share at the Tucson CSA. This maximizes the use of resources and minimizes waste and spoilage, thus creating a smaller carbon footprint. The CSB model also ensures the freshest and healthiest bread for the bread lovers of our community. I tried the Cranberry Walnut and Pain au Levain – both wonderful. Can’t wait to try the other varieties, and incorporate them into some of my breakfast recipes for our guests!

Shopping at the Farmers Market gives me a warm glow – both because I am supporting these vital food producing efforts and because it truly inspires me to take better care of myself. And you know, a well nourished innkeeper is a happy innkeeper!



Music of the Monsoon ~ the amazing Spadefoot Toad!

July 13th, 2013 by pattiebell


Found primarily in the Sonoran Desert, the Couch’s spadefoot  is named for the elongated, sickle-shaped, horny tubercle on the underside of each rear foot, which it uses to dig itself into the ground. There it remains buried in the soil for 8-10 months only to emerge at the onset of the summer monsoons.

During the first night of or after the first significant summer storm, Couch’s spadefoots move to rain-filled temporary pools for a night or two of frantic breeding and foraging, and then may remain active for as long as moist, warm conditions persist, often traveling far from the breeding ponds. Although most breeding is timed to the first summer storm, occasional breeding congregations can be found throughout the summer. Eggs are usually laid the first night that ponds fill, and are deposited on submerged vegetation in small masses that hatch within 36 hours.  Tadpoles can metamorphose in as little as 7-8 days. Drying of a pond stimulates rapid metamorphosis and smaller toadlets. The call, given by males as they float in the breeding pond, is a plaintive “wah! wah!”, suggestive of a bleating sheep. The call carries well on humid summer evenings and is a sure sign that the often long-awaited summer monsoon has finally begun.  

Couch’s spadefoot will eat anything that moves and fits into its mouth. Winged termites, which are high in fat content, also emerge with the first monsoon storms, and often make up a high percentage of the spadefoot’s diet. A Couch’s spadefoot can eat enough termites during one or two nights to survive and breed for a year. Tadpoles are carnivorous; cannibalism has been documented.

This species has benefited from construction of berms, cattle tanks, and other ground disturbance that promotes collection of rainwater. It is relatively long-lived; some live as long as 13 years in the wild.

Spadefoot ToadYouTube

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