Saguaro Blossom Time in Arizona

We seldom seem to be able to get out of Southeast Arizona before the saguaro bloom. Afternoon temps are passing 90; can 100 be far behind? The tops of the saguaro are crowded with dozens of buds, a month’s worth of blooming, white trumpets beckoning to doves, bats and bees. The green ribbed stems and arms, reach ten metres or more against the blue desert sky crowned with a ring of fat green buds and white blossoms.

By mid April the prickly pear buds swell, turn a soft peach, open and slowly turn lemon yellow. The mix of colors on the green (or purple) thorny pads is a joy. By now, early May, the cholla begin to bloom; my favorite combo is one with burgundy arms and bright bronze blossoms Our bicycle rides already begin early, to beat the heat and the afternoon spring winds.

Still, the nights are in the 50’s and evenings are just right: the scent of orange blossoms and barbeque mix. Gambels quail couples, he with the outrageous topknot, scurry across streets, surrounded by peeps about the size of your thumb, organized chaos, they manage to follow their parents soft exclamations. When they reach the opposite curb, the fun begins: the little balls of fluff throw themselves at the top of the curb, three times their stature, some make it the first time, most bounce off, some more than once, and finally arrive; no time to celebrate though, mom and dad are off into a patch of desert, looking for food, and a place to hide the night away from hungry coyotes, hawks and owls, all plentiful in the city of Tucson’s washes.

I’m always amazed when people seem to think that the Southwest deserts don’t have seasons. I don’t think we have been anywhere in the world that doesn’t have distinct seasons. It’s just that you have to spend a couple of years in a place to fully perceive and appreciate the seasons on offer. We bicycled past snowy patches on our weekly Mount Lemmon ride in late April, at between 7,000 and 8,000 feet about 20 miles from Tucson; we descended into high 80’s on our way home: vertical seasons are always available where there are mountains.

Bob
brogers644@yahoo.com

To the Edge of the Universe With VERITAS

High-energy particle scientists traveled from all over the world to a tiny cluster of buildings, and four unusual telescopes, on the lower slopes of Mount Hopkins in Southeast Arizona. April 27th and 28th, they came to celebrate first light for VERITAS, leading edge technology in the quest to understand the universe through the interaction of high energy particles with our atmosphere. Of course any get-together of scientists is an excuse for a day of one-upmanship presentations on their own projects; funding is a dog-eat-dog deal among this group!

Trevor Weekes parked his pickup truck near this spot forty years ago. He unloaded a couple of surplus searchlights, aimed them at the dark clear Arizona sky, and launched an influential branch of science. Trevor has skillfully moved his observations from those surplus searchlights to a bank of four state of the art telescopes that could just possibly be the instruments that answers the all important question: just what is the stuff that makes up the majority our universe?

Claire was invited as independent journalist representative of Smithsonian Magazine. She has been following closely the progress of VERITAS for more than two years, and each visit to the site, about an hour south of Tucson, I have taken photographs to support the article. The Smithsonian has made no promises to publish what Claire writes; Smithsonian supports so many scientific projects that they can’t publish something on each, without boring their readership. We think VERITAS is special, and have reason to believe that important findings will be announced this summer.

The scientists were amazingly patient with us in explaining the basics of high energy astrophysics, and the role VERITAS plays in it. It’s heady stuff, having the leaders in an increasingly important branch of science, explain to you personally concepts of universal (literally) import.

Our two day stay at Veritas was made more comfortable by taking our motorhome, Turtle (there was a Turtle 1) and parking in the Forest Service parking lot just outside the gates to the Whipple Observatory Visitor’s Center (the Whipple complex is about 6,000 feet above us, and another story). We were so knackered Saturday night; our heads were bursting with heavy ideas, and the celebratory margaritas. What a treat it was to walk a hundred metres to our own bed and sleep under the quiet dark skies that VERITAS will help us understand ever more deeply.

Congratulations VERITAS!