Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yeee haw!

Welcome to real cowboy country. We're driving down the road near the Billy the Kid Casino when Nora says we should go check it out.
That big casino? Ok then. Upon entering however we are easily distracted by the horse race track. We are surprised to find standing is free, and watch a few races. Tractors prepare the race course to be trampled on as a truck drives the starting gate to the appropriate place. We stand so close to the course that Aslin and I are splattered with dirt as the horses charge past us. The horses we bet on, Back by Fact and Show me the Policy, (the only woman jockey, #8, pink) get 2nd and 3rd place - That's bad luck.

A friendly lizard apparently knew its way back to where it was found, it walked on my hand the whole way. We looked in the field guide and think it might be a tiger salamander.

I just met 4 of the greatest dogs ever, Tycho, Anise, Ouzel, and Brie. Tycho and Anise are boys and Ouzel and Brie are girls. Anise is the oldest. Tycho and Ouzel are about the same age and Brie is HUGE but she is just a puppy (the youngest). When Brie is done drinking she will come and drool on you (I know what you are thinking, that's nasty, and yes it is). Anise loves to lie right up on the back door, blocking the dog door is his way of controlling the other dogs. Tycho is a cutie for sure and we love him. We took the dogs for a walk and he got really exited and tried to bite off his leash. Last but not least, Ouzel is the most hyper of all the dogs. On our walk she could run forever! The dogs are all one big bucket of fun.

Aside from the dogs, Luther is a great cook he can make the best french bread, from scratch. Amanda is a wonderful veterinarian she can really do her job, I know because I went to work with her. Plus she is really good at teamwork, working with other people to shave dogs, do surgery and clean teeth. by-Aslin

Monday, May 28, 2007

white sands

If you're looking to film a snow/desert segment for your upcoming feature film, we suggest White Sands National Monument. In the Tulorosa Basin, low between the San Andres and Sacrament mountains, Lake Lucero collects spring run-off and monsoon tides. No rivers run from the lake. Slow evaporation and ground absorption allow for an unusual mineral concentration. Seasonally the lake recedes, exposing selenite crystals to substantial southwest winds. Gypsym sands blow through the basin, moving the 275 square miles (largest white sand dune int he world!) of dunes up to 30 feet annually.

Near the end of the eight mile park drive, a recreation area is dedicated to sledding, trampling, rolling, writing and angel making.

In the nature study area, where no sleds are allowed, a few plant-types have adapted to life in the sands. A rosemary-mint does wonders to counter the sand's slight urine scent. The soaptree yucca works to out pace the ever moving sands, elongating its leaves by more than a foot per year. The desert cottonwood can survive if even a few of its leaves remain above ground. These plants may thrive even when their first 30 feet are buried. As the parabolic and transverse dunes move on, the newly exposed yucca will collapse while the fibrous roots of other plants will hold a mound of sand, creating a landscape of green-topped mushrooms.

Racing up and down the dunes, self-generating breezes were a great relief from the mid-day heat.

King of the hill, Ukiah practices handstands and wonders why we only get one day in this magical kingdom. Off trail hiking and back "woods" camping are allowed. Another for our must return list.

Brad watched the clouds on the horizon, wondered if it might rain. Aslin, studying for her junior ranger badge, quoted the safety procedures. "If you see lightening, get off the dunes. If you can't, curl into a ball, not touching anything, keeping your knees to your chest." At the first marker, we heard thunder. Half-way through our short hike, Ukiah finally saw lightening first hand. Laughing, running, fearing, mesmerized, the end of the hike found us surrounded by storm clouds on three sides.

Observations on the missile range surrounding the sands, the noticeable decrease in road-kill along that section of hwy 70, the blinding yellow Oklahoma Hummer heavy with drycleaning, the unremarkable Rio
Grande at Los Cruces, the dramatic increase in southern accents- another time.

Off to Ruidoso Downs...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Best hike ever!"

Aslin's words. "You know I'm usually complaining by this far into a hike."

The rest of us confirm on both counts, Echo Canyon in the Chiricahua Mts is possibly the greatest day (morning) hike ever and she usually is complaining by the end of the second mile.

Before the hike details, you should know that we didn't make it out of Tucson with out one final visit with our mechanic, the moonlight voice of Liberty Radio. Marvel of the modern world, air conditioning, kept us cool the the Tucson city limit. I graciously thanked and declined the border patrol agent's (quicker to the scene than highway patrol) offer of water. Freedom fighter Mike was rock solid confident that the van wasn't actually overheating, that it was safe to drive into the shop. We were on the road again before my panic/despair mode even kicked in.

Eventually we made it to the campground- 24 sites in a wilderness area of 11,985 acres. Heading into Memorial Day Weekend, we failed our good intentions to arrive early, but still managed to find a beautiful (though excessively bug-filled) site.

From our base at Bonita Creek, dry except for a few hours a year, we hiked through the alligator junipers along a trail built by Franklin D. Roosevelt's Tree Army. The Civilian Conservation Corp's long abandon bake ovens stand alone at the edge of a meadow. Grateful for a distraction from blood hungry mosquitoes, we searched the tree canopy for the power-tool buzzing cicada. A mile away, at Faraway Ranch, we heard stories of Swedish immigrants and Buffalo soldiers.

The first sold fraudulent stories of battles with the Apache to guests looking for authentic an cowboy experience. The later, after securing watering holes from Apache who never attacked, built a 10-foot monument to President Garfield, who as a senator, worked to secure equal pay for African-American soldiers.

Reacquainted with our tent, we managed our earliest pack ever. Packed, fed and on the road to the trial head at 8:51.

Past the Sea Captain and China boy, Echo Canyon brings us up close and personal to formations whose names have not been published.

"It's like the rocks got too hot, they made bubbles and then, pop," Aslin.

Just past Ukiah's "pancakes,"

through the keyhole, the canyon floor comes into view.

Sure, it's called a "canyon" hike, but the view from Massai point doesn't predict the bird songs and the oak forcing it's way up from a boulder.

A friend suggested that the rock formations of the Chiricahua's rival those of the Grand Canyon. A don't have that point of comparison, but as Ukaih said, "amazingly beautious."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

if at first you don't succeed

try, try again.
David took multiple shots of us in our new let there be light lamps. Regrettably, Brad thought the entire photo session was dedicated to mad scientist impressions. With any luck, er, I mean, with sound mechanical repair, our multiple attempts to get Buttercup back on the road will prove far more successful.

Sure, Mike has his doubts on global warming coupled with a theory on some sort of new communism he's dubbed common-ism, but he'd like to have coffee and discuss our differences. Because that's what Americans do. And this particular libertarian-American seemed to have gone through our car wearing a head lamp of his own. Mike replaced the air filter "for free", doesn't know why anyone would replace just the left tie-rod, and triple checked the fans. The van has a "good aura" and he doesn't even believe in these things. He charged the a/c with F-12 anyway, just to be safe. A mile-a-minute talker, real words, I don't detect fasttalk.

"It's no good having a nice mechanic." He once had a guy from out of state cancel payment on a $4,500 engine rebuild. There's a 200 gallon aquarium in the office. "Need someone to get the job done." Blew a water pump in the outside LA back in what- '93? There should never be televisions in the lobby, they stress people out. Just tranquil fish. He knows what it's like to be stranded. Made a vow to always give priority to water pumps. "You need someone mean to go in, tell you what's going on. What it takes to fix it." At 20-minutes past closing and an off duty mechanic checks the temperature in the tropical tank, says good night to the platy and zebra danios.

Mike and his wife would love to come to Seattle. If we make it home, I'll happily take them for coffee.

there are worse things

Like, say, peacekeepers profiting in gun trade.

Or, engaging in war on fraudulent intelligence, with no regard for history only to leave troops entirely unprepared.

And allowing non-organic hops in "organic" beer.

Then there's the carcinogenic soda industry and new evidence on the link between pesticides and Parkinson's disease.

So clearly, life complicated by our demanding little miss Buttercup, is on the low end of things that are wrong in the world. And while many are overwhelmed when confronted with the pain and injustice in the world, I am optimistic. Cynically optimistic, but hopeful none the less. I marvel at our accomplishment in spite of it all.

In a former life, Chris was a travel agent. With a few clicks, she found us $95 seats out of Phoenix. We passed. The cash cushion is wearing quite thin, but we'll press on. One way to Seattle out of Denver can't be that much more. With any luck, we'll be on the road tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


no one wants to end the day on a sad note.

Tomorrow's another day.
(Anyone with "I told you so" comments or thoughts,
should not share them.
Words of encouragement and/or standing job offers in Seattle
are most welcome.)

the good news

- the pump probably only started leaking in the last 100 miles. Not really good news, now is it? But that's not all... every new water pump loves the company of a brand new thermostat. Oh. And. That hose. Way in the back. It appears to be cracked.

I've concluded that Buttercup loves Canada but struggles here in the states. Whose idea was this anyway?

I'm going to watch a movie and ignore the realities. Head in the sand.

No. nononononono....

The cooler's half packed, last of the laundry in the dryer. When what to our wondering eyes should appear? A few drops of liquid under the van.

Maybe the oil pan wasn't secured after the oil change. No, it's good.
Looks like the water pump is beginning to fail. Just as we're ready to head into the wild for camping in the Chiricahuas on our way to New Mexico. We've had two days of goodbyes, our final pot-luck and now this.

We can't help but feel just a little ill.
What do you suppose it costs to fly the 4 of us home?

Monday, May 21, 2007

kitten blogging- pt 2

They're back. Resident-stray Skinny Kitty moved her babes when they were just about a week old. With the 90 degree weather, no water, neighborhood cat fights aplenty, we all feared the worst. Then three days ago, SK and her family were sitting on the neighbors back porch, healthier than anyone would have predicted.

"Rescuing" the kittens included separating them from their mom, bringing them into the home. Their first night was spent huddled in the back of a cat carrier, spitting kitten hisses as we looked in. Within a day, the fluffiest most outgoing of the bunch was wrestling a cat string and teaching herself to use the litter box. Her siblings watch.

Our dear crazy cat lady has a call in to a feral cat expert with 20 felines of her own. The big questions-
How long might it take stray kittens to transition to domestic life?
How can we catch Skinny Kitty and should she be reintroduced to her kids?

Fuel for philosophical discussion as we clean the van, mend clothes and pack books for the next leg of this here adventure of ours.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

morning quote

"I like the grasshoppers so much better than the ants. It's in their best interest to get out of my way, not climb on and bite me. Plus they're kind of cute" -- Ukiah

Today we'll be looking into herbal and homeopathic insect repellents. Garlic and B vitamins are not enough.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

mid-thought news-roundup

Hugo Chavez has been accused of "using [Venezuela's] state oil company to funnel billions of dollars to his social projects."
"His." I could be generous and suppose that Wall Street Journal reporter, Jose de Cordoba meant
Venezuelan social projects, rather than a health care system or farm established solely for use by the President. But this appears not to have been a verbal stumble for de Cordoba. In today's article, Farms are Latest Target in Venezuelan Upheaval, he goes on to state that land reform is possible because by 2005, Mr. Chavez "controlled the courts as well as congress..." The socialist reforms undertaken by the Chavez government make use of "rhetoric" that "smacks of the 1960's..." "Some Chavez initiatives recall disastrous past experiments with collective agriculture, such as... the Cuban revolution, which helped turn one of Latin America's richest lands into one of its poorest."

Venezuelan Coffee Farm

Millions of acres, 8.8, have been
reclaimed for agricultural use by the poor. Less than half the distributed land was owned by the state. Micro-lending programs have been corrupted. Food production appears to be down. Too bad de Cordoba "reports" with such bias and ignorance of history politics and economics that his writings on the challenges of the nation's current revolutionary undertakings can not be taken with any confidence.

While the front page gives gallery space to the dangerous faults of returning land and trusting food production to the masses under a socialist system, today's WSJ page D-1 gives us a rosy version of the same story, under our very own capitalist system. For Sale: Condo w/ Chicken Coop, by Sara Schaefer Munoz shines light on a growing trend among housing developers. "Forget the golf course community," she tells us. The demand wasn't necessarily quick access to the gentleman's game. It was about living in a
green community, where outdoor space and views are protected. Condos and new homes are being built around existing farms, or in conjunction with new agricultural developments.

So, a developer in southwest Florida constructs a 17,000 acre housing community surrounded by "73,000 acres including a nature preservation and a cattle farm" and the WSJ states that "for city folks, moving to a farm can require some adjustment." When the democratically elected leader of Venezuela offers a free 2-year farm voc-tech program for urban poor, the WSJ considers it a "hodgepodge of Marxism, 'ancestral' Venezuelan farming methods and Cuban fertilizing techniques."

Are we clear now? Spend between $200,000 and million on a home with access (hands on or off) to an organic farm in Florida, and you're part of a pioneering, eco-friendly revolution. Start a farming cooperative under the leadership of a Latin American president working to end decades of corporate pillage and massive absentee landownership, and you're destined for (continued) poverty if not starvation.

(The Wall St. Journal arrives at the house every morning courtesy of a plethora of airline miles not eligible for use on actual flights.)

We're planning to head out on Monday, so I'm working overtime to meet my news junkie need. Other stories making their way through my mind-

» The F-16 flare drop over south Jersey. Not only is the story of note, but the comments at this site have been fantastic.

» James Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is notable as much for its content as for his candor and humility. Never, in a million years, would I have trusted John Ashcroft as the last line of defense for our constitution. Suppose history shows him as our last principled attorney general.

» US investors are finally just saying no to profiteering in war-torn Sudan. I'm overly optimistic in wishing that some of that pulled capitol would be directed, even "funneled" into social programs in the region.

» Christopher Hitchens is unapologetic in his lack of remorse for the recently deceased Jerry Falwell. This on the heels of Richard Dawkins' "'re an atheist about all those Gods, some of us just take it one God further..." debate with Steven Colbert.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The dinner dishes are long done, ice cream has been served. The bunnies are out for the night, parakeets resting. At 10:00pm and 86 degrees, it's a good news/bad news situation, the Tucson temperature.

On the plus side, apricots are ripe. Marscapone tart perfect. Apples, figs, grapes and the citrus family are making strides, led by rapidly maturing pomegranates. Laundry on the line dries faster than a pizza can be delivered.

Bad news is, herbs a half-day with out water wilt beyond recognition. Harmless, burn-free, radiant floor sidewalk hours are limited from 10p-8:30am.

Teaming up to help us walk the fine line- sandals and sunscreen. This week's challenges include finding a perfect sunscreen for my face and distracting Aslin from her summer-shoe quest.

Another Goodwill visit had me considering an "atrocious shoe" post. I took this photo as Aslin tried on a pair of shorts. They fit, I hung the rejects on the rack and Aslin described her need for new sandals. One of her pairs is dirty, the sole wearing down. From all the cast-off shoes in Tucson, she picked up the metallic mock-instocks, suggesting they would make good replacement shoes. No. "I love these," she rubbed the patriotic slip-ons, leaving me to wonder/shudder. Continuing down the aisle, she made multiple attempts to show me that heels really are sandals. Repeat after me, no. No heels with with real fur, zippers, fake fur, beads, or orange Muppet fur. No.

We have a date to shop for funky shoes on our return home. I promised.

Last week ended with a rude awakening. Zia's Daily Moisture Screen, SPF 15, contains parabens. So off to Wild Oats for an afternoon of label reading.

Until now, I've been a huge fan of Aubry products. Given their long history and commitment to organic sourcing, I assumed. I'd have preferred to sample. It wasn't an option but the HABA clerk encouraged me to give it a try. WO does offer a satisfaction guarantee, she assured. For the record, Green Tea & Ginkgo Moisturizer, SPF 15 , is more heavily scented than a new issue of Vogue Magazine. On many key points, the lotion scored well- light and creamy, easily absorbed, did not melt into my eyes. It's unwelcome floral notes have a longer life-span than its UV protection. My feelings of guilt for returning it were quite short lived.

Next up, Alba Botanica's new mineral suncreen, chemical-free, SPF 10. Relatively inexpensive, fragrance free, now if only it would blend into your skin. Another long time favorite, Alba, needs to understand that not everyone looks their best with milky bluish-hue. (Alba Sport, SPF 30 and Daily Moisture, SPF 16 are Owlhouse staples, but do not meet the standard of a facial sunscreen.)

Turning to MyChelle. On the shelf, Sun Shield, SPF 28 looked especially attractive under a sale sticker. We have a winner. Unscented, blends well, and following an afternoon of swimming and monkey-in-the-middle, MyChelle's eye irritation was slight. Plus, any company making a honeydew cleanser deserves our support.

Need more info on sunscreen and ingredients?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

emmer rye

The mystical grain I couldn't remember. A paper published in 1972, on the comparative evolution of cereal and a passover quiz are among the few google hits.

True or False- According to Mishnah, matzoh could be made from wheat, barley, emmer, rye and oats.

You may be interested to note that the quiz distinguishes between emmer and rye, opening a natural connection to the evolution article.

So. The scone, I'm sorry to report, fell far short of the scone of my memory. The tomatoes, greens, B & D's early trip to another bakery, and my brief encounter with the intriguing scone-selling character more than made up for it. A gift, complete with Warren Buffett tribute followed by a walk to the apricot tree, and I've over come the let down entirely.

Peace, love and promise to all you mamas, this and every day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

pre-emptive justification

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to spend $5 on a scone.
It means I'll talk with the nutty woman who denounces, from under her green, plastic-fringe palm, the evils of grains. All grain except that which her baked goods are made from.
It's not kamut or amaranth but some other near-forgotten grain with a lineage unbroken since the birth of the fertile crescent.
She'll offer me the energy bar, a fermented apricot square made from the recipe that sustained the Swedes through the coldest of winters.
"Washington," she'll say, and my attention will abandon the peppers roasting in the stall behind me; I'll focus on her eyes, wondering what kind of sunscreen she wears.

Pointing past the fountain, towards fields in the Cascade foothills, she'll chatter.
Fond words of the wold's only raw, vegan bakery where they roast the mystery grain.
And if I ask about the $7 biscotti, she'll tell of sorting gems and invite me to a drum circle. She got distracted, forgot the biscotti. She'll go get me one, she's happy to. It will take a half-hour, which would suggest the bakery is in Arizona, not Washington, but I can't be sure. She'll leave her stand at the market, if I want a hazelnut biscotti.

But I don't. Just a maple scone made of a grain I can't remember.

I have a soft spot for cut zinnias and potted herbs.
A scenario that finds me sitting sideways in the corner of the couch, accompanied by dark chocolate, a glass of wine and a good book tops my relaxation list.
I rarely pooh-pooh kind words on my parenting (witnessed by my extraordinary children) sealed in a card.
Fluffy or heart-felt, I won't shy away from acknowledgment of my role as a mother. Tomorrow, or any other day. From the bandwagon, I'll channel thanks and admiration to the mothers I know, recognition of their strength and beauty.

In the morning, I'll walk the market, eating half my scone, noticing the mothers. They'll help their children choose lettuce and pull the stroller a few inches back from the tomato table. One mother will carry a baguette for brunch with her son while another reminds her daughter to hold the eggs with two hands. I'll marvel at the heat of 10am, regret the lack of local fruit available and wink. Or think of winking. A code of solidarity with mothers.

Home with my half scone, I'll curl up with a cup of tea and the news. I'll read of Darfur after signing an e-petition against mandatory pasteurization of almonds. Honor killings, profiteering in public education. And war. Our war that has yet to solicit my health or assets, asking instead for my complacency.

Tomorrow morning, belly full, I'll think of Julia "Disarm, disarm. The sword of murder is not the balance of justice..." Ward Howe. Her faith in me. In all us mothers. I'll spend a moment on the absurdity of misunderstandings. The difference of confusion on the origins of a scone and falsified documents offered as justification for war.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

if you have an opinion on wyoming,

please share with the group.

We dug out the maps today, an attempt to make our departure plans a little more concrete. After sketching a rough travel route, circling possible stops and refering to my calender for some semblance of a time-line, I sent emails to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and one in Oregon. Feeling quite accomplished, I turned my attention to cooking dinner, internet fishing and an attempt at a game of xeri complicated by a lack of complete instructions.

A touch more white wine, pinch of salt and I pulled the beans from the heat. Today's 97 degrees were no match for my lifetime of conditioning. I cleared the atlas, notebooks and earphones (our day's sprawl) from the living room, upstairs to the bedroom, convinced I'd need a sweater for our potluck picnic. The ceiling fan ushered reality my way. Plenty warm, even in the evening. So I skipped the sweater search and dedicated the two bonus-minutes to reviewing our freshly charted course through the southwest.

That's when it hit me. I've never been to Wyoming. Aside from Yellowstone, there appear to be rivers and the possibility of mouse-free camping. Plus, this could give Ukiah and Aslin some context for my seemingly inexplicable Yogi bear impressions. "Hey there BooBoo, what's in the pic-a-nic basket today?" Of course from there, it's really just a hop, skip and jump to the Dakotas. Next thing you know, my superb plan 'o the afternoon is facing more significant questioning than Alberto Gonzalez on his 437th day of testimony before congress.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

atrocious grocery, pt 3

The plant inside the dirty glass doors has a sign resting on its soil. "No cigarettes or trash in plant." Not specific enough. There's a fast food cup and mis-matched napkin.

The Stone-Grant Asian Market is a brick and mortar store, the centerpiece of a shopping development mostly abandon. Nestled by empty storefronts, it and a smoke shop are the lone inhabitants of the once modern mall. With its in-house butcher counter, it was surely touted as "convenient for the modern housewife."

We came for the tofu. Fresh, frozen, fried, marinated, canned- they have it all. Vacuum-sealed pickled mustard greens or durian popsicles? No thank you. Partly in response to our culturally acquired tastes and partly for concern of the not-so-thin layer of dust and grime colonizing the market's inventory.

Much has been written on the politics of food availability and cost in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The formula seems to fit this market as well. A small flock of whole, frozen ducks suffer freezer burn. Ice crystals an inch thick coat dis-colored ribs. Packages of noodles are split and taped closed, the onions are soft and sprouting. Competing for today's atrocious grocery recognition are three common "food" products- aerosol cheese, canned meat loaf and a marshmallow shortbread "treat". Our winner, the Gamesa/Frito-Lay cookies, have not yet expired.

Arcoiris- high fructose corn syrup, enriched flour, coconut, sugar, vegetable shortening, hydrogenated oils.

For those with allergy concerns- this product may contain soy, milk, wheat, and nuts

(side note- anyone into the ghost theory of digital photo orbs? Are these cookies haunted or is that just a reflection from florescent light reflecting off an asbestos floor?)

Monday, May 07, 2007

we heart film!

Thanks to library cards in California and an extended stay in Tucson, we've seen many more movies than one might expect on a road trip. Of course if we'd known our pace would be so relaxed, allowing for dozens of movie nights, we might have started a process for reviewing movies. We could have used a four-thumb system and Ukiah's inevitable career as a critic could be funding this trip by now. Alas.

Our profile page is constantly calling for revision. The interests and favorite music of these four people tend to shift depending on climate, dinner plans, general irritability and most recent trip to the ocean/favorite on-line forum/gelato shop. Our hand was forced when we had to make space for a particularly crazy, magic-themed film, The Prestige with David Bowie (and other big names).

One of us suffers from "deficient movie-memory syndrome" and tends to rent/borrow the same films over and over, only to realize 39 minutes into the show, that the other members of the family were correct. We have seen this before. So, rather than delete the old list, I'm saving it here. If you wonder how I can in good conscience spit the list into a post with out even bothering to link to the reviews of others, please know that I'm alleviating feelings of guilt/laziness by offering a personalized review of any of the entertainment gems below. By someone who remembers the film in question. Feel free to ask.


list includes all films seen, not necessarily recommended

Nacho Libre
Walk the Line
Strangers with Candy
Oliver Twist
Miracle on 34th St.
Tallageda Nights
Pirates of the Caribbean
Motorcycle Diaries
Paradise Now
1 Hour Photo
Cafe Lumiere
Iron Jawed Angles
Man on the Train
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe
Up and Down
Battlestar Galactia
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Off the Map
Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Pursuit of Happyness
Jesus Camp
Bubba Ho-Tep
Weeds- season 1
Mr. Deity
The Prestige
Night at the Museum
The Illusionist

Saturday, May 05, 2007

kartchner and kubla khan

Last week, as we were loading furniture on a hand truck, the clouds rolled in. Thunder in the distance. Hail on the open boxes labeled "kitchen" and "upstairs bath."

An hour south of Tucson, the remains of the same storm are taking their time, seeping through the limestone, exposing traces of iron. It's a theory anyway; underground, precious drops of water build conulites on the driest days of desert summer. Some hundreds of thousands of years ago a geological shift rocked the hills from their foundation, creating underground craters. Reservoirs that feed the caves.

In 1974, a couple of young, trespassing, cavers found a sinkhole at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. Belly crawling through a one-foot opening, they smelled success. A scent so powerful, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts knew they were on to something. Only a cavern of significant size, with at least moderate air-flow, could house a bat colony capable of such a stench. After four years of exploration and mapping, the two approached the property owners with news of their find.

Rewind 330 million years, and the arid lands of Kartchner Caverns were a shallow inland sea. Shell fragments and creature remains contributed to layers of sediment, eventually hardening into limestone. Eons passed, mountains rose, rainwater penetrated cracks in the stone. Climate change escorted the desert, ground water levels fell and the caverns were born. 200,000 years of drips and condensation later, Kratchner remains a living cave. Home of the Arizona's crowned column, the 58 foot tall Kubla Khan, named for the mythological ruler of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.

At the park gate, again at the discovery center and before boarding the tram, the Kartchner staff ran us through the long list of "no's":
foods, drinks, tobacco, gum, bags, sun glasses, jackets tired around waists, backpacks, strollers, binoculars, crutches...
Our ranger tried to soften the "don'ts" with humor, but a cave enterence complete with 4 air-locked steel doors, paints a clear picture. Pristine caves are a rare find; the rangers and researchers are not fooling around. I want to pet the shelfstones and wonder, would a soda straws break with just a flick of the finger? He describes the moonmilk as "tacky, like cream cheese" and I'm tempted to squeeze it through my fingers. A series of half-domes form "popcorn" on the ceiling and "fried eggs" stalagmites rise from the floor. Not long after breakfast, and far from hungry, I'm curious what a small grain of coral pipe might taste like. Well intentioned and semi-sensible, I am, with my inquisitive nature and greasy fingerprints, the reason Tenen and Tufts kept discovery of the cave hushed for 14 years.

It's a sensory experience; the impenetrable black of the "research-only" tunnels , condensation at 95% wraps my skin, the still of earth's hollows in my ears. Photos are off limits, a sudden flash could potentially startle a visitor who could lose her balance and reach to steady herself on a drapery. The cave might recover, in 100,000 years. Our elbows and eye lashes, finger prints and clothes lint are hazards. Above a mound of 45,000 year old guano, the cave ceiling is scratched, darkened. No canopy or coralloids. The bats gave up this roost 40,000 years before the birth of Buddha, Muhammad or Jesus, and cave-life has yet to recover.

Under that rough exterior, below the the desert landscape's thorns and needles, it's seems a very fragile earth.