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Prickly Pear: the ROCK STAR PLANT

April 30th, 2010

Prickly Pear cactusprickly-pear-cactus-flowering has been described by many desert dwelling healers as, "natures medicine cabinet."  It grows up to 15 feet tall in ideal growing conditions and is defined by it structure of pads and spines. It flowers in the spring and the flowers are either yellow, orange or red. Prickly Pear's scientific name is Opuntia phaecantha. It's common names are Prickly Pear, Nopal, Tuna and Beaver tail. Prickly Pear has a very high mineral content including small sized calcium that is easily absorbed by the body.  It contains amino acids, essential fatty acids, anti microbial and anti fungal volatile oils, merulic acid and has a very high vitamin C content. The inside of the pad has a slimy and grainy texture that is known for it's drawing and healing effects. By drawing, I mean the drawing out of venom's and poisons.  It is very effective to use topically after a scorpion sting to draw out the poison and lessen the pain. I have been stung 6 times by scorpions and used prickly pair on my most recent sting and it was amazing how muc20080323081253_prickly-pear-cactus-flowerh better I felt. I also use the slime topically to heal sunburns. If you apply this prickly pear slime to a fresh sunburn the day of the burn you will wake up the next day with a fresh tan. Recent studies have shown prickly pear to lower high blood sugar in patients. However, it will not lower blood sugar on a person with balanced or low blood sugar levels, so no contraindications there. In the old herbal literature, prickly pear was one of the original hang over cures. Whether it was after ceremony or just over indulging, prickly pear was used to bring the body back to homeostasis. I want to use one of my favorite quotes from Herbalist Michael Moore's book, "Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West."  He writes, "Prickly Pear for honeymoon Cystitis, when two frenzied folks have partaken of each other in such giddy abandon that they both waddle crablike and bowlegged for days, the juice helps sooth irritated urethral tissue; take a teaspoon or two every two hours until both can walk at full height for fifty feet" (Moore, 90).  This is like the rock star plant, it fixes the effects of over indulging in sex and alcohol!! CAUTION: Many Prickly Pear's found in the wild are toxic and should not be ingested. If the plant appears purple and has long spines it is usually toxic. Short or non spined Prickly Pear are usually safe but to be sure, I advise you to buy your Prickly Pear from a medicinal distributor. References: Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Herbalist Trent Siever

Tips On Packing Your Backpack

April 26th, 2010

While hiking in Paria Canyon this weekend, I came across a group of backpackers that were moving along rather slowly and just from looking at them I could immediately figure out part of the reason they were slow. Two of the three members of the group had backpacks that were hanging backwards and to one side. In other words, the packs weren't balanced and I'm sure they were off balance trying to carry these packs. This got me thinking that this would be a good time to give everyone out there some tips on properly packing a pack to avoid lugging around awkward loads like those guys were. The following tips are generalized in the interest of keeping this post short. These tips are also meant for internal frame packs with either one or two compartments in the main portion of the pack. Only some of the tips will apply if you are using an external frame pack or ultralight pack.

  • Organize everything you are going to pack in one area so that you can prioritize whats goes into the pack first and in order after that.
  • Pack items that you won't need right away at the bottom of the pack. This would be any item that you won't need until you reach camp such as tent, sleeping bag, and extra changes of clothing.
  • Pack the things you will need frequently towards the top of your pack's main compartment. Your first aid kit is a good example of what goes on top.
  • Use the outer pockets and top pocket of your pack for your easy access items that you will need on the trail such as sunscreen, snacks etc.
  • Pack heavier items near the bottom of your pack and along your back and pack lighter items towards the top of your pack or away from your back.
  • As you are packing, try to distribute the weight of items so that the pack is evenly balanced from side to side.
  • If your pack has a separate sleeping bag compartment, stuff your extra changes of clothing ( under wear, socks, etc) into the spaces not used up by your sleeping bag. Many times there is space in that compartment that goes unused so fill it up.
  • Slide your tent poles and stakes vertically in the pack along your back.


Overall, the goal of packing the pack is to have what you frequently need be easily accessible while at the same time having the weight of the pack lower and closer to you so that the weight of the items in the pack aren't pulling you backwards. It may take some packing and repacking until you get the backpack to feel balanced and not top heavy but once you get the system down, you can avoid an aching back like the guys I saw in Paria Canyon. I wished I had taken a photo so I can show you what not to do. Maybe that would be a good Photo Friday topic one day, "How Not to Pack a Backpack".

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Aravaipa Canyon - A Birder’s Paradise

April 19th, 2010

aravaipacanyonJust 50 miles outside of Tucson, the Aravaipa Canyon’s lush vegetation and annual water source of Aravaipa Creek makes this area ideal for many species of animals - javelina, big horn sheep, coatimundi, gray fox, bob cats, mountain lions, frogs and several species of rattlesnake.  But with all this variety of mammals and reptiles, they don’t hold a candle to the variety of bird species found in this birder’s wonderland!

Birdwatcher's Paradise

In this famed birdwatcher’s paradise, you will find over 200 different bird species.  Nearly every desert songbird, zone and black-tailed hawks, yellow billed cuckoos, Bell’s vireo, peregrine falcons, beardless tyannulets, warblers, flycatchers, great blue herons, woodpeckers, raptors, orioles, and more. Saguaros and other cacti growing on Aravaipa’s rocky ledges provide nesting places for wrens and other desert birds, while the mesquite-covered grassy canyon floor is perfect for abundant birdlife.  The calls, signs, and sounds of these creatures are something you’ll never forget.  Birders and non-birders alike are amazed by the sites and sounds experienced in this canyon. As you make your way into the canyon, be prepared for some driving on uneven gravel roads.  Once you get into the preserve, you’ll also notice that there are no set trails, but rather paths that have been “blazed” or trampled by previous visitors.   Oh, and did I mention your feet will get wet? You will spend much of your adventure hiking in Aravaipa Creek.

Limited Permits for High Demand Area

Because this area is in such high demand, only 50 permits to access the area are sold each day. This helps keep the noise to a reasonable level so the birds and other wildlife can continue their journey in natural surroundings while minimizing the impact of humans.  It is this rule that contributes to the solitude and preservation of the area.  Just be sure to obtain your permit by calling the Bureau of Land Management in advance of your trip. Aravaipa Canyon is like any desert hiking. Make sure you have a hat, sunscreen with a high SPF, and anything else you may need for sun protection. Don’t forget binoculars and a camera.  What makes Aravaipa different from most other places in the desert is the abundance of water. You can bring your own water, but having some kind of water treatment device will allow you to stay hydrated and save some water weight.

Arizona’s UFO Connection

April 17th, 2010

Instead of being productive today, I was vegging on the couch watching the Travel Channel and the show I was watching reminded me of Arizona's connection to the UFO phenomenon. Whether you believe in unidentified flying objects or not, Arizona is home to some of the most noted stories in UFO history.
Phoenix Lights
Arizona made national news for an event that took place on March 13th 1997.  Thousands of eyewitnesses from Kingman to Tucson saw a series a lights in a triangular formation in the night sky. These lights seem to stop and hover in the Phoenix area and thus became known as the Phoenix Lights. The official explanation from the USAF is that the lights were caused by a series of flares dropped from A-10 Warhog aircraft but because of the motion and the path of the lights many people do not believe this explanation. This is a well documented event with many still photos and videos of these lights and this event is a well research one thanks to the amount of evidence available. Another famous Arizona UFO incident took place on November 5th 1975. It was after a long day of logging near Snowflake AZ that the co-workers of Travis Walton watched him get attacked by a glowing orb of light on a lonely logging road. They left the scene in a panic with Walton laying by the side of the road but when they returned with police, Walton's body was no where to be found. Five days later Walton appeared in 30 miles away at Heber AZ, alive but naked and incoherent. Walton told a story of being abducted by aliens which was later turned into the book and movie "Fire in the Sky". To this day, Walton's story is still one of the most noted and controversial alien abduction stories. Finally, there is a well known connection between Sedona, Arizona and UFO's. Sedona is the location for numerous UFO sightings with the most recent I can find taking place on September 15th, 2009 on Wilson Mountain. Many believers feel that alien beings are attracted to Sedona because of a powerful crystal that is buried under Bell Rock about 5 miles outside of town and some people even believe that Bell Rock is actually an alien space ship. One restaurant in town, The Red Planet Diner, has gone so far as to have an alien theme throughout. In all the time I've spent looking at the night skies of Arizona while backpacking, I've seen many shooting stars, airplanes and even a satellite or two but I have yet to see anything I would call strange. I'll let you know if I do. Hopefully I'll have a camera handy.

Fred Harvey’s “Appetite for America”

April 14th, 2010

I normally read a book before I blog about it and thus the reason that you see so few book reviews on this blog. I'm making an exception to the rule this time because I've stumbled upon a book that covers a slice of history that I find intriguing.  The book is titled " Appetite for America" and it's about the history of the Fred Harvey family and the hospitality empire they created. ob-hx208_harvey_cv_201003191251441Fred Harvey may not be a household name today but back in the early 1900's, the Fred Harvey name was associated with quality restaurants and hotels. Actually, the more I read about Fred Harvey, the more I see that he is credited for helping to create America's hospitality industry. He is created with creating the first chain hotels, restaurants, lunchrooms, and bookstores. Fred Harvey was a well known brand to many Americans much like Coca Cola.  The Harvey Company was also famous for it's female work force known as the Harvey Girls. They set the standard for the customer service that we still see today in restaurants. They even made a movie about the Harvey Girls called "The Harvey Girls" which starred Judy Garland and no I haven't seen the movie either. Why am I spending my time writing a blog post about a book I never read about a guy who has been dead for over 100 years? It's because the Fred Harvey Company has a huge connection to Arizona. Fred Harvey Company ran the hotels at the Grand Canyon as well as  the La Posada Resort in Winslow,  AZ among other hotels throughout the Southwest. I've seen his name plastered on the side of the Harvey Car tour buses at the Grand Canyon and there are plenty of references to the Harvey Company when you read about the history of tourism at the canyon. I knew the company was pretty important but I never realized it was such an innovator. I guess I can thank Fred Harvey every time I see a new Applebee's pop up in Phoenix.

Ten Hiking Essentials - and then some

April 9th, 2010

Ten Hiking EssentialsThe Ten Essentials is a list of items hiking professionals and authorities urge all hikers to carry with them on any hike into the back country - whether you are out for just a few hours or several days at a time. The Ten Essentials were first promoted in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a non-profit, outdoor recreation and awareness group in Seattle, WA and is the third largest of its kind in the United States.  The essentials given here is just the first part of a series of blogs coming soon to a computer screen near year.  We will discuss each item's importance and include updated information since so much has changed since the 1930's. Regardless, having these ten items can save your life.  Remember, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. 1.  Map/GPS - just remember that a GPS takes batteries and can malfunction.  Maps are now printed on tear and waterproof paper so are still your best bet.  Just be sure you know how to read it! 2.  Compass/GPS 3.  Sunglasses and Sunscreen 4.  Extra Food and Water 5.  Extra Clothing - i.e. layers for a possible unexpected overnight stay 6.  Headlamp/Flashlight 7.  First Aid Kit 8.  Fire Starter 9.  Matches 10.  Knife And then some includes...
  • Water treatment device or method
  • Repair kit - i.e. Duct Tape
  • Signaling devices such as mirror, whistle, satellite phone, etc.
  • Plastic tarp and rope for shelter
  • And...don't forget the tubing in case you need to give yourself an enema vis-a-vis Bear Grylls.
The plan is to add to this series bi-weekly but as said earlier, even the best laid plans...

Peeps - They’re Not Just for Easter Anymore!

April 4th, 2010

Peeps for backpacking and hiking trips.Nothing screams non-secular Easter more than that wonderful bird shaped marshmallow treat called Peeps.  Peeps are sold in the United States and Canada and come in various shapes and colors. In 1958, Peeps were introduced to the nation's sugar loving population.  Introduced by Just Born, Peeps were incarnated as birds; but now you can find Peeps for most any holiday - green Christmas trees for Christmas, orange pumpkins and even black bats for Halloween, and red and pink hearts for Valentine's Day.  I think I even saw green clovers for St Patrick's Day this year.  These marshmallow treats are made of sugar, corn syrup, gelatin and preservatives (including caranuba wax). So what's the point of writing about Peeps in an adventure travel blog?  Well, since Peeps are available most seasons of the year, they make a great hiking and backpacking food.  Lightweight, spoil proof, can be crammed in any small area within your pack and still tasty whether cold or hot.  So they may get a bit deformed, but who cares!  These colorful treats are always fun to eat, on the trail or off.  Not to mention they are full of carbs (at 36g), so they will give you a very quick boost of energy. I do feel the need to qualify this statement with - "Do not use Peeps as your only source of food on any outdoors trip."

Going Backpacking?  Don’t Forget Your Bandana(s)

April 2nd, 2010

bandanas fro backpackingThere are many essentials you must remember to bring when you are hiking or backpacking, but none are as versatile as the bandana, also spelled bandanna.  Here is a list of the many uses for a bandanna for your next hiking or backpacking trip, but first, a little background on the bandanna just in case you need a topic for conversation at your next happy hour. The bandanna is a type of large, colorful kerchief that is usually worn around the head and has a paisley pattern.  A kerchief is from the French couvre-chef that means "cover the head."  The kerchief is worn around the head or neck for protective or decorative purposes and its popularity varies by culture and religion.  A handkerchief is a smaller version of the kerchief, like a napkin made of cloth and can be used as a way to clear the nostrils (i.e. as a snot rag), wipe away sweat or to flirt with a potential suitor - remember when you were interested in that cute boy in your class and you would drop your hanky as a means to flirt?  Me neither, but I guess that depends on how old you are.  It can also be used to cover your mouth and nose to avoid foul odors, like your fellow hikers. So after much ado, here are the many uses for a bandanna on a hiking or backpacking trip.  By the way, just a few (2-4) will suffice and will keep your packs much lighter.

  • washcloth, dish rag, hand towel, napkin
  • snot rag
  • place mat
  • emergency coffee filter
  • pre-filter when purifying silty water
  • pot holder
  • cover food to keep bugs out
  • head wear (do-rag, hat, headband or hair tie)
  • to wipe away sweat
  • wear a wet one around your neck to stay cool
  • first aid sling, bandage, eye patch or for splinting  (some people will say tourniquet, I don't promote anyone without the proper training to ever use a tourniquet)
  • to clean glass or camera lenses
  • emergency toilet paper
  • to just tie stuff
  • to cover your mouth and nose to block the elements such as dust or offensive smells
  • not essential to hiking or backpacking, bandannas can also be used for origami

I have also seen bandannas used as trail markers and belts.  I do not suggest using them as trail markers since that is like leaving trash on the trail and is not "Leave No Trace."  They work well as a belt if you have a few to tie together, but can be bulky and uncomfortable under the hip-belt of your backpack.  A friend uses shoe strings - much lighter and quite fashionable. If you can think of any other uses, would love to hear about them!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.