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Contest Winner! A Cute Desert Tortoise; Not So Cute Rattlesnakes and Scorpions; Soaring! Boating! Saguaros; Up Close and Personal

I am pleased to announce the winner of last week’s “Vote on Ty’s Hat” contest. Valerie Molle of Salt Lake City was selected from the hundreds of ballots I received. Valerie voted for my old, dusty, Foreign Legion camouflage hat with the cool neck flap, which only a select few actually preferred over the Indiana Jones hat which My Lovely Bride bought for me. (Now, whenever we hike together, I wear the new model, in deference to MLB’s desires…) Valerie will receive this very cool looking stuffed desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). These tortoises are very hard to find in the wild, because they rarely emerge from their burrows, except during the summer monsoon season (July-September). But they are long-lived (50-80 years) and survive on grasses, herbs and some varieties of cacti.

We are now staying in Cave Creek Regional Park, north of Scottsdale, AZ, and the daily temps are running 93-100F, requiring that we get out to hike very early. Rudy and Gretchen, our two Dachshunds, get us up at 0530, and after Suzanne’s meditation and a quick breakfast, we’re hiking by 0715. Other early risers are out on the trail as well – other hikers, mountain bikers and local residents, like this speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus) that I encountered in the middle of my hiking trail while MLB was back in Florida. This species is very adaptive to its locale, and five different populations in the Phoeniz area have totally different colorations, depending on the color or rocks in which they reside. This two foot long critter was almost pink, but others are white, brown or even lavender-tinted. Evolution is amazing…

At the end of that hike, I stopped in a restroom to wash my hands, and as I reached down into the sink to rinse them, my eyes caught movement… this striped bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus), the most venomous of American scorpions. The bubbles around him (her) are from the soap on my hands… I picked up a coffee cup out of the trash and relocated this little guy outside. 

I then stopped at the visitor center to let the rangers know about the scorpion, because their stings can be fatal to children, older adults or those with medical problems. (Fortunately, I don’t fall into any of those categories.) Mark, the resident ranger and wildlife expert, gave me all the scoop on local snakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, tortoises, deer, coyotes, etc. Mark has been stung 7 or 8 times by scorpions, and fortunately, the worst effects were intense pain and sore arm muscles for 48 hours. 

He also showed me another local resident, a giant hairy desert scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis), a much less aggressive variety than the bark scorpion. I couldn’t believe he was picking it up in his hand, but he assured me that it was safe. Relatively speaking. 

After surviving encounters with slithery critters, Suzanne and I were very fortunate to be able to go soaring (separately) with John Weber, who is an expert pilot of sailplanes and powered aircraft (he has 5 or 6 planes). John has been flying gliders (sailplanes) since he was 15 years old, and put his carbon fiber craft through its paces, taking advantage of thermals to rise from 1,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Here John and Suzanne are about to take off. This model has a retractable propeller that allows the pilot to take off without a tow plane. (The propeller is known to other glider pilots as “the mast of shame” and is retracted shortly after take-off.  If all goes well, it is not used any more except in an emergency, even not to land.) See Suzanne’s video at for a great summary of the flight. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us. We were amazed by John’s ability to find thermals (updrafts) that lifted the sailplane up and up – you can hear the variometer beeping in the background – it’s a device that lets the pilot know when he’s climbing (higher pitch) or falling (lower pitch). Thank you, John, for an incredible experience!!!

While Suzanne was back in Florida visiting her mom, I got to go on a ski boat ride with Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson and several friends. All of us had lost a child, but as members of Helping Parents Heal, we all know that our kids are always with us – as they must have been on this special day zooming around Bartlett Reservoir. (I did catch some grief from MLB for hanging out with four beautiful bikini-clad ladies while she was out of area…)

Suzanne returned from Florida and we continued our daily hikes; here she is in the early morning’s light at Gunsight Pass on the Go John Trail. (The name comes from the similarity of this rock formation with the iron sights on a Model 94 Winchester.)  After viewing my photos of the boat trip, she said she thought of wearing her bikini for the hike, but prudence prevailed.

Another desert hike took us to Spur Cross Regional Park, where last year we participated in a bench dedication ceremony for Morgan Boisson and Kyle Erickson, two young men who have passed to the other side. We are now friends with their parents, and wanted to spend a few minutes in the special serenity at the top of Mariposa Hill. 

While at Spur Cross Park, we found this incredible saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), with more twisted arms than an octopus…

We have enjoyed special friendships here in the Phoenix area – this dinner was at Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson’s beautiful home in Cave Creek with its amazing art collection – along with Lynn and Jeff Hollahan and Debra Henson. Suzanne’s wonderful assistant Bev was to have flown out to Phoenix for Suzanne’s event in Scottsdale the next day laden with supplies like folders and nametags, but she was sidelined by a nasty case of pneumonia.  So, in addition to dinner, we had a “folder-stuffing party” after dessert. Suzanne’s marketing assistant, Brenda Baker, was also seriously ill and in the hospital during this period. Fortunately, both Brenda and Bev are recovering after their ordeals.

The big event was titled “Up Close and Personal with Susanne and Suzanne”. Susanne Wilson is a medium here in Arizona, whom Suzanne met at the bench ceremony discussed earlier. They hit it off, and over the past year developed a program first presented here in Scottsdale, where it was enthusiastically received by over 100 attendees. Susanne and Suzanne will be holding another workshop at the Hacienda Center in The Villages, Florida, in March, 2018 (details to follow). 

We enjoyed a great dinner with Susanne and her husband Carl, a former Marine who has run several successful businesses and enjoyed sailing in the San Francisco Bay area. We got along very well with this great couple and look forward to their visiting us in Florida.

Speaking of wine… were we? Well, anyway, I would like to acknowledge the fine bottle of Ed’s Red from Texas that Ed Reaves presented me back in Kerrville. Who knew that Texas produced good red wines? It went very nicely with Suzanne’s pasta. Thanks, Ed (Oh, Ed Reaves didn’t actually produce it himself, although I think he may occasionally take credit for it.) Look out, Napa…

Finally, a couple of comments about a sister service from two retired naval officers. We were going through the gate at Davis-Monthan AFB, and the gate guard , a young Air Force guy, checked our ID cards, saluted, and then said something that we had never heard from a tough security force person… normally, a Marine gate guard will say, “Ooh-rah, sir!” A Navy seaman will say “Go Navy, sir!” A soldier will say, “Hooah, sir!” This young Air Force guy said, “Fine and dandy, sir!” “Fine and dandy???” 

That interaction led me to recall this photo…  “Just sayin’…”

1 Comment

  • Lynette
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 1:04 am

    Re the hats: I demand a recount!

    Gopher tortoises! They're thick as fleas in my sister's woods just north of you in FL. The stuffed one is adorable.

    I am even more in awe of your bad assedness now that you've given a scorpion a bath.

    It was great to see you guys in Phoenix. Again soon, I hope.


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