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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

Penstemon

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.

Love,

The ERM Family

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

March 20th, 2015 by valerieosborne

Gems

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! www.tgms.org

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

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.  http://www.innkeeping.org/

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 http://www.lavenderinn.com/inncourage/one 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!   http://www.charleston-sc.gov/

Music of the Monsoon ~ the amazing Spadefoot Toad!

July 13th, 2013 by pattiebell

Couchs_spadefoot_toad_frog_detailed

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

A fine reward at the end of a blustery day!

March 9th, 2013 by pattiebell

sunset 001

Our Joshua Tree in bloom ~ can you see the bird house?

March 7th, 2013 by pattiebell

Joshua Tree Bloom 003

That’s right, snow in Tucson!

February 20th, 2013 by pattiebell

SNOW 004

Visit from a Walking Stick ~

November 7th, 2012 by pattiebell

The bizarre-looking, slow-moving, plant-eating walking stick – among the most intriguing of the insects – has raised camouflage, mimicry and defense to a veritable art form. Through an adaptation called “crypsis,” it blends in so perfectly with its natural habitat that it often goes completely undetected by would-be predators.

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!

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