Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

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

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.


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

First Gambel’s Quail chicks of the season!

April 20th, 2013 by pattiebell

Early birds!

Early birds!

This morning when I popped out of the dining room door I scared up a covey of 5 Gambel’s quail chicks and their chattering parents. I don’t usually expect to see them until well into May, so I was a bit surprised and pretty excited. Chick sightings are one of those things Arizonan’s brag about like the number of fish caught, or the size of bears encountered.

Gambel’s quail primarily move about by walking and can move surprisingly fast through brush and undergrowth. They are a non-migratory species and are rarely seen in flight. Any flight is usually short and explosive, with many rapid wingbeats, followed by a slow glide to the ground.

In the late Summer, Fall, and Winter, the adults and immature young congregate into coveys of many birds. In the Spring, Gambel’s Quail pair off for mating and become very aggressive toward other pairs. The chicks are decidedly more insectivorous than adults, gradually consuming more plant matter as they mature. Gambel’s Quail are monogamous and rarely breed in colonies. The female typically lays 10–12 eggs in a simple scrape concealed in vegetation, often at the base of a rock or tree. Incubation lasts from 21–23 days, usually performed by the female and rarely by the male. The chicks are precocious, leaving the nest with their parents within hours of hatching.

Here’s a link to some great video of  chicks in motion: Gambel’s Quail chicks emerge from their nest – YouTube



Giant Sunflowers!

November 7th, 2012 by pattiebell

Our assistant extraordinaire Molly and the tallest wild sunflowers we have ever seen!   One gallon starters the spring before last, they die back in the winter only to explode in the Spring and bloom again when Autumn rolls around.

Fruit from our Peruvian Cereus Cactus

September 4th, 2012 by pattiebell



While we leave most of them for the birds, we enjoy tasting the light, slightly sweet crunchiness of these amazing fruits!

Possible Coatimundi sightings at the Ranch!

August 11th, 2012 by pattiebell

We have had reports from several guest about an unusual looking visitor to our water bowl.  The description fits. Here’s the lowdown~

The Coati is a raccoon-like omnivore, but is more slender and possesses a longer snout. It is a nosy, busy little creature with an insatiable appetite. The Coati is gregarious and noisy as it travel about in groups of from 6 to 24, holding its tail almost erect and chattering with others.

This grizzled gray-brown mammal grows 30 to 55 inches long and stands 8 to 12 inches high at the shoulder. It can weigh from 10 to 25 pounds. Males are almost twice as large as females.

The Coati has a long snout that is white near the tip and around the eyes, which often have dark patches above. The Coati has small ears, dark feet and a long, thin tail (as much as 2 feet long) with 6 or 7 dark bands.

Coatis are diurnal, spending most of the day foraging for food, which includes insects, lizards, roots, fruits, nuts and eggs. They are very fond of fruit, especially the manzanita berry.

Coatis mate in early spring and deliver a litter of 4 to 6 young after a gestation period of about 11 weeks. The female educates and feeds the young from the den site, usually a rocky niche in a wooded canyon.

The only other member of this species, the Brown-nosed Coati (Nasua nasua) occurs only in South America.

Young Cooper’s Hawk at his favorite watering spot~

August 4th, 2012 by pattiebell

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