Category Archives: Nature

Floridian Alpacas

Florida might not seem like the right place to have an alpaca farm; it’s hot, humid, and full of bugs, whereas alpacas are cold-weather animals from thin-aired mountaintops, without long tails to flick away pesky insects. Florida alpacas usually have lice burrowing in their thick fur, because the winters aren’t cold enough to kill the mites off.

So why would anyone have an alpaca farm in such as seemingly unsuitable climate? It’s actually not that uncommon, and for a simple reason: people like living where it’s warm. Sure, it takes more work to keep one’s herd happy and healthy, but it’s certainly do-able. There are sprays and ointments for repelling and killing insects, and the particular alpaca breeder we visited kept fans and water running in the summer and on hotter “winter” days (typically about 80 degrees). The alpacas get used to their climate fairly well, too, and after a while they need a coat of shaggy fur to keep warm in the “chilly” December nights we’re experiencing here now (again, it’s currently 75, with 89% humidity). So maybe it’s not so crazy to keep the animals after all… especially considering the heavenly fuzziness of an alpaca’s fleece.

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Photo creds: the Mace family, at TheLightRoad.us

We headed over to LunaSea Alpaca Farm a few days ago, accompanied by many of the RVing families currently staying in Orlando. After examining the store and hugging alpaca-fleece teddy bears again and again (you can’t even imagine how wonderful they felt), we split into two groups; us older kids in one, and younger kids in the other. My group headed off to a shelter where the alpacas and one llama lived and hid from the sun, and started to admire the interesting creatures as King, the breeder of these alpacas, told us about them.

You might not know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, but it’s really rather simple, and it won’t take me long to tell. A llama is far larger than an alpaca, for one thing, and also braver. They act as “guard dogs,” which is why they’re almost always kept on alpaca farms: to protect their timid cousins. A llama would attack a coyote if it roamed into its territory, and though Rose, the llama who lives at LunaSea, has never had to do anything quite so drastic as that, she did once find a ten-foot alligator. 

 

We fed some of the young alpacas, and I played with my special favorite, an adorable brown suri named Topaz. Of course, I haven’t yet said anything about the different kinds of alpacas. They vary only in their fleece type, suris having dreadlocks without being matted, while huacayas are covered in a fluffier, airier stuff. It’s true that a huacaya is softer than a suri, but I prefer the latter for the cosmetic aspect.

After visiting the babies, we went off to the pen which contained Midas, a five-time Judges’ Choice champion. He was a brown suri, and wouldn’t let anyone touch or feed him; the adult males are a lot less trusting than the babies and females. After hanging around with Midas and some others, we headed home. I was exhausted, but it had been a great experience, and I’d learned a lot.

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Header image: Midas, the prize-winner. Photo credit: the Mace family.

Kentucky Meetup (Caves)

The Nomadica October Meetup is almost over and I’m just barely getting time to write about it now. We’ve all been so busy between field trips and football games that blogging has kinda taken the backseat.dc-001

Here’s an overview of the place we’re staying: Diamond Caverns RV Park, right across the street from Diamond Caverns (the cave). We went to the cave the first week we were here and heard ghost stories from the employees, who say they are mysteriously locked in the building and often hear things in the cave.img_3348

We talked to the ranger at the RV park and he told us how to get to a secret cave, where three mummified bodies were found almost two hundred years ago. The story is that the man who owned the land had a guano mining operation going on in the cave and one of his slaves found a mummified baby. The slaves were scared and threw the baby into the woods so they wouldn’t have to look at it. When they told their boss, he said to get him if they found anything else. They did. When he arrived he was looking at two more mummies, a man and a woman. He took them to the city and sold them to a museum. Both are in museums or exhibitions to this day. (That’s the story, anyway.)img_3358

We made a trip through the woods to explore the cave, which has an opening on each end and is not enormous in size. Its ceiling is about a hundred feet from the ground, and it’s about three hundred yards long. It has a stage in the middle because they used to have concerts for the campers. There are lights on the walls, made to shine down on the stage, which are now, of course, defunct. There are ledges to walk along on both sides of the cave, letting you get a good view of the cavern below. We would go to the cave and climb up to the ledges and just explore. We brought speakers and listened to Hotline Bling on repeat. It was our little spot.img_3276

Naturally, we decided to go on Halloween night, and at about 10:15 pm we started the hike. When we arrived we lit sparklers and walked in like explorers, holding our small torches. When they ran out, someone decided to light some candles that were sitting near the stage. We let them burn while we looked around with our flashlights, and when it was time to go we blew them all out but one. I don’t know why but that one just stayed in the cave, glowing faintly in the dark. It’s disputed what happened after that. We all just stood outside the cave looking at the candle. Some will tell you it moved. Some say nothing happened. Lots of us think there’s something spooky about that cave.img_3275

I’ll let you decide for yourself, but don’t just pass this off as a Halloween special, cause you know I like to report on FACTS. In the meantime, I have to go. I think I heard something coming from that closet…

Backpacking at Pleasant Creek

What? Another backpacking trip? If you don’t remember, my last one was around Fish Lake (read that HERE). I told all about our experiences, fire making, our shelter, and our hike. But what I didn’t say was that that was a test, a sort of what-did-we-forget, let’s-do-this-different-next-time test. Because we had plans to make another visit to the wonderful world of lugging things up a trail.
           Alice and Ellen are some of my dearest friends. We met six years ago, and were incredibly close, but we didn’t see each other much after I left across the country. When we came back to Utah about a year after the start of this great adventure, visiting this wonderful family was one of the first things we did. We’ve been seeing each other a lot while we’re in the same state for once, but it’s the intention to get on the road again at the end of September. This called for a last epic meetup.

Packing and making up ridiculous trail names.
Packing and making up ridiculous trail names.


         The plan was simple: we would be hiking along Pleasant Creek, taking two days to do it. Mrs. Jolly, Alice, and Ellen met us at our RV Park at 11:00 to pack and rearrange, and then we ate lunch and headed out.
         We didn’t have to wait to reach the trail to find an adventure. Not even ten minutes after we’d left, we were headed home again. Us girls had been swinging over the creek on the town rope swing (reason #1 that Torrey is awesome), and Ellen’s hand had slipped. Well, okay, it was a little more dramatic than that. The truth is, she didn’t quite have a hold on the homemade handle hanging from tree above. And then she slipped off the bridge, holding on with only one hand, sliding slowly to the bottom of the smooth stick. And…. sploosh! Alice successfully retrieved the waterlogged hat floating down the stream, and luckily Ellen was only wet to the waist. But still, you know, totally soaked. Torrey is really only two miles across, and so it wasn’t exactly a long drive to reach Wonderland RV Park, where she changed clothes and we started again on our adventure.

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The moment before the fall… You can’t see the creek at all, but it’s there, I promise.


This time we arrived at our trailhead without incident. There was a group of people on horseback about to start out and I, personally, wanted to “borrow” a horse to carry our packs for us. But, of course, this would have been very difficult, and so we backpacked the traditional way.
         We had lots of fun on our hike. Alice, Ellen, and Mrs. Jolly entertained us with songs (they all have amazing voices), while we found our way along the river path. Sometimes, when we got too hot, we would shed our packs to take a break in the cool water. Truly entertaining were the stories the three of us came up with. There was the tale of Cacti, an evil prickly pear who attacked people when they made fun of his purple spikes, the adventures of two Olympian rocks, and many more. They kept our spirits up while we hiked, giving us almost as much energy as the thick strips of beef jerky that accompanied them.

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       Soon we were almost to the end of our trail. Two days we’d walked, sung, told stories, and laughed, and now the adventure was coming to a close. In fact, we were even now on a dirt road where we were often passed by Jeeps. Trying to keep our motivation up in the suffocating heat, Alice, Ellen, and I told a story in which everything had to be refreshing. The general plot was simple: a boy wanted to be able to be a fish and not be a fish at will. Each of us, when it was our turn to add a bit, described in detail the cool flavor of mint ice cream, a tall glass of frosty lemonade, or the chilling effects of ocean water. We called each other forward when we started to lag behind, and we gulped down long draughts of water. But all the same, we were soon asking “how much longer?” Mom said that we would see a gravel road. That would be our sign that we were practically there. All five of us were looking out now, and after a while us girls were exclaiming hopes.
         “I think I saw some dust fly up there!”
“There’s a road sign, look!”
         “I swear I hear cars!”
         And then finally I glanced up and saw, in a dip between the hills, the flash of a bright red vehicle, moving at highway speeds. I quickly related this to the girls. As we were far more motivated, the pace picked up, and it wasn’t long before a gray gravel road was indeed in sight. It was our most important mile-stone, and we were all quite ready to reach it.
         “Ten…” Alice started counting down, even though we were at least twenty seconds away.
“Nine…” This time Ellen and I had joined her, and we all sped up a little.
         “Eight…” We were far louder now.
“Seven…” We quickened again.
“Six…” I started to run.
         “Five…” So did the others.
“Four…” We were dashing as fast as we could go.
“Three…” My backpack was clanging.
“Two…” We didn’t think we could go any faster, but we did.                      “One…” Our destination was right in front of us.
“Zero!” We gasped the last number, standing at the very edge of the road. We were looking out at a great expanse exactly like the one on the other side of the gravel. Completely deserted, void, and, worst of all, without our vehicle.
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         We walked on. And on. It really wasn’t far, but I kept expecting to see the yellow Jeep around every corner. And then Mom told us to go to a tree, a huge tree on the side of the road that cast shade for yards around it. We were to wait there, she said. Then she took off her backpack and ran down the road, going to get the car.
         We rested in the shade, and before long a cool breeze began to blow. We dumped our packs off our shoulders and sat on them, resting after quite a day. Soon Mom arrived in the Jeep, waving and honking her horn. Alice got it on video. We took a few success pictures, and then drove home exhausted, to get ice cream.
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         It was cool and good in my mouth, and I licked away the strawberry while the others talked. It was a wonderful adventure, everyone agreed. A wonderful adventure…

 

Header Picture: Left to right, Mom, Ellen, me, Alice, Mrs. Jolly. Photo credit: someone in a horse riding group who we met at the trailhead.

Backpacking Around Fish Lake

I sit down at my computer, trying to put 101 mosquito bites out of my mind for now. I have a post to write, I remind myself, and no time to delay: I’d better get it down on paper while my memories, and those bites, are fresh. But how did I come to have so many bug bites and memories to write down?

It all started with an idea, like most adventures. It was simple enough: Mom and I were going to backpack around Fish Lake, Utah. It was, allegedly, an eleven mile hike, and we planned to take two days for it. We would hike up to the summit, set up camp and spend the night, and then we would head down the mountain again and around to the car.

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We reached the lake at about 1:00, and started up with a pre-hike paddle. Kind of ridiculous, really, but we  kayaked for an hour. It was a good warm up. Then we tied the kayaks back on top of the Jeep and put on our backpacks. It was time to get going.

At first, my backpack felt a bit strange. I wasn’t used to carrying something this heavy, and it cut into my legs and shoulders a bit, but I ignored the discomfort and it soon passed. After a short while we had gotten around the edge of the lake and we were on the other side, but we hadn’t yet started the assent. We needed to stop, however, because we were already getting eaten by mosquitoes. We put on leggings and long-sleeve shirts to protect ourselves, and then got back on the trail.

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The hike was fairly steep once we started up the mountain, but we were fresh and energetic, and we got up easily with the help of trail mix. I was, at the time, practicing for a Radio Drama, in which I was doing sound effects, and so I passed the time by practicing. Mostly, it was frog noises. Angry frog, encouraged frog, hungry frog, offended frog… the list went on, and I had to come up with a sound for each. As Mom and I walked up the trail, I discovered and perfected each noise, with her help.

A couple of hours before sunset we had arrived at the peak, and it was time to start looking for a campsite. Ideally, it would be a fair-sized clearing amidst the quakie (also called aspen) trees, close to the trail and with plenty of wood at hand for a fire. After a while of “That one’s good,” and “But maybe there’s a better one just ahead,” we found a site that was indisputably perfect. It was even near a nice overlook from which we could see over the whole lake. We took off our packs and I started clearing up the site, gathering kindling and bigger bits of fire wood, while Mom made our tarp tent in the trees. When camp was all ready we made a fire. Mom had brought a lighter, but we made the kindling up in a sort of “nest,” as is the primitive way. While tending the fire we started on our dinner, eating pineapple out of cans. Once we had finished, the cans were our pots to cook soup, which was eaten with beef jerky. Mom had brought a book on constellations, which I read while we ate. After dinner, we crawled into our sleeping bags, on our ground pads, under our tarp tent, and fell quickly asleep.

The next day we woke early and had a breakfast of tea and sandwiches, before clearing up camp. We were back on the trail by nine o’clock, and I was terribly sore. The places where my pack rubbed on my legs and shoulders were bruised, and it took quite a while to get used to. Our first hour or so of walking was uneventful and quiet, until Mom found a raspberry bush. We picked berries for a minute, and then got going again, but it wasn’t long before a second patch came up. It was absolutely huge, and after a minute we had the sense to take off our packs. With mine on, every time I leaned over to get a particularly juicy berry I nearly toppled over. After several minutes of raspberry picking, however, Mom remarked that it was like the Land of the Lotus Eaters. You couldn’t leave, you simply couldn’t, but the paradise was guarded by monsters… er, mosquitoes. Same thing. Finally, we hoisted our packs on our backs and got going again.

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Picking raspberries.

We headed on until two o’clock, by which time Mom and I both felt we ought to have reached the end of our journey. We had walked at least five miles since the morning, and that was what we had estimated was left. Had we really covered such a small distance yesterday? There was a bridge just ahead that lead over the creek at the end of Fish Lake and connected the lake to a bay about a mile north. We would stop for lunch in a trail-head parking lot near the river.
We ate sandwiches and, since our water was running low, made a fire and boiled some river water for tea. I made three trips across a trail to the creek to get water, but all in vain. For when I finally sat down  with my lunch, I spilled my tea all over my leggings. I drank the remaining half a cup and changed into shorts, but my legs were much more susceptible to mosquito bites after that.

The last several miles were draining. It was threatening to rain, and Mom was on the lookout for a patch of quakies to set up a temporary camp in. She was even up for hitchhiking  the rest of the way, but I wouldn’t hear of it.  We had come at least eleven miles, I wasn’t going to give in at the end! After a while, lightning flashed. In Southern Utah, lightning is no laughing matter. Everyone in Wayne County has a story about someone they know being struck, or almost struck. So we headed for the quakies (which, though trees, are great protection, because they’re so much shorter than the others around them), and made a hasty shelter. Pushing under our backpacks, we sat under the tarp until the storm passed over. It never got really bad, but it poured pretty hard, and better safe than sorry!

 

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After the storm we started up again. It didn’t take long to reach a marina store, where we got sodas to give us a bit of fresh energy, and then we lost the trail several times and followed the water instead. Eventually we made it back to our path, and found we were so close to the car, but yet so, so far away! Mom began a song about “The trail that never ends,” and we were kept occupied by trying to make up new verses without messing up the rhythm. For example:
And when your back does cease to bend
It is the trail that never ends!
And when your knees will never mend
It is the trail that never ends! 

It went on for quite a while, while we searched high and low for the Jeep. Finally, Mom looked back and saw that we had passed it! Needless to say, we hurried back, dropped our packs in the trunk, and drove home, exhausted. We ate at a burger place that night with Dad, and whenever Mom or I tried to walk we stumbled and tripped over our own stiff legs.

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The finish!

 

BY THE WAY: I updated the About Page.

 

Five Reasons why Small Craft are Better

A small craft is any sail boat 21 feet long or less. Some of the commonly acknowledged advantages of small craft are their ability to go under low bridges and squeeze into tight places, but are there more reasons to get a small craft, rather than a larger one? Here are five reasons why small craft are better:

  1. Ease of use
    The smaller your boat, the easier it is to use. Out on a singlehanding trip?  Not to worry! Your mini vessel has you covered! Are you being pulled towards a lee shore? It’s far easier to claw off when you have a light boat, as it can still carry quite good sail.
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  2.  Trailer Sailor
    Some of us can’t keep our boats docked at our favorite body of water. Consequently, they’re on a trailer in the driveway. Those of us who still go out on our vessels in these conditions call our little ships “trailer sailors.”  These small craft are transported and placed into the water with relative ease, compared to the
    40-footers dropped in by crane.
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  3. Rowing
    You know the feeling. It’s getting dark, you’re getting cold, and the wind is dead. The dock is in sight, sure, but it’s going to take forever to reach it. That’s when a small craft, complete with a sturdy set of oars, is just what you need. She’ll get you home in no time!
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  4. Repairs
    In a larger boat, hull repairs can be a pain. But along with its lower risk of grounding, a smaller boat is far easier to repair. On a trailer, all of the boat can be easily reached. And there’s no fooling around with a 10-foot-tall fin keel, either, so you won’t have to deal with awkward positions while leaning out the side of your ship.
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  5. Teaching
    Small craft are great for teaching your kids to sail! For the reasons above, they can be great trailering boats, vessels that don’t try their patience, and great “practice” boats. In a boat designated for practice, you allow minor scrapes and groundings. You won’t have to worry when letting your child try his hand, because you can keep in mind the ease of repairs, and that grounding won’t hurt anything too bad.

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The Gila Monsters of Arizona (Could They Eat You?)

At first glance, you wouldn’t think Mesa, Arizona, would be home to anything interesting. It’s a desolate desert, made up of dirt and spikes. The only plants here are incredibly painful to touch, such as the tall, famous saguaro cactus, and the evil tree-like substance called cholla.

Teddy Bear Cholla, the most evil variety.
Teddy Bear Cholla, the most evil variety.

After looking over this barren land more carefully, however, you’re bound to notice a couple kinds of wildlife. There are a few birds that roost on cactus spines, and a squirrel here and there. You can hear coyotes calling in the evening. But the really incredible creature that inhabits this strange place is the Gila Monster. Pronounced HEE-luh, this strange beast is named for the Gila River, a stretch of water that snakes 600 miles across Arizona. They’re one of only two species of venomous lizards that have currently been discovered, the Mexican Beaded Lizard being the other.

The totally bare landscape.
The totally bare landscape.

Possibly you’ve heard stories of Gila Monsters growing to giant sizes on desert islands, and eating any unfortunate sailors that take refuge there. I had. And though, as far as I know, it hasn’t been verified that they can kill and consume humans, I still believe it’s possible. For one thing, their two feet of length, though fairly small for a “monster,” is quite giant for a lizard, and is certainly big enough to induce extreme fear, freezing some people up. If it catches you, you’ll be lucky to make it. Why? For one thing, they don’t let go.

The gila monster Mom saw.
The gila monster Mom saw.

Gila Monsters will latch their teeth onto a human and keep them there, and not without good reason, looking from their point of view! If you could live for a year on only three to four meals, as Gila Monsters can, wouldn’t it be great to store up a whole human’s worth of meat? That could sustain a Gila Monster for all of its 20-30 years!

Another reason Gila Monsters can be deadly is their venom. It’s hardly poisonous to humans, but for smaller creatures it does a great deal. As a Gila Monster latches its teeth onto its victim, it settles in for the kill. As they chew, they work more and more poison into the body.

Now a bit about appearance. The Gila Monster has round scales, very uncommon in modern lizards, that cover its leathery skin. Its coloration is mostly black, with orange patterned bands across its back. Baby Gilas are pretty cute, actually, but still very painful.
The tongue of the Gila Monster reminds me of the back end of a fish. Strange? Maybe.
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I’ve told all the scary facts now, though! The end of this post is to motivate you, and encourage you to set another foot in the desert. Firstly, it’s incredibly unlikely that a Gila Monster will find you in the first place. They spend most of their lives in burrows underground, napping. Like most animals of that sort, they’re exceedingly lazy, sluggish, and slow. They’re rare to even see: We know some people in Mesa who have only seen one in eight years.

Mom saw one recently, but she didn’t leave the car to document the experience. She got a shot from the safety of that driving metal box. That’s probably your safest bet. So if you see a Gila Monster, take a picture and then continue on your way. Just stay out of his.

 

 

The Cabrillo Tidepools

We recently went to the Cabrillo National Monument in Southern California. It’s home to some of California’s most famous tide pools, and it’s not too rare to find an octopus, marooned in a larger divot by the retreating tide. Unfortunately, no octopi that day! But we saw a shrimp, some turban snails, and countless varieties of limpets, barnacles, and chitons.

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The rocks were covered in what, at first glance, looked like little piles of broken shell. Not even wondering about these perfectly normal phenomena, I took no care to keep my bare feet off of them. I soon learned, however, what they truly were when my toes made contact with an unpleasant squelch! Shells shouldn’t feel like that!

These small piles made to grab me, their unsuspecting prey, with their sticky blue fingers, and I pulled away, finally realizing: They were a cleverly disguised form of anemone, a form which sticks onto stray bits of shell as a costume. I carefully avoided stepping on any more of the little traps, as the strong adhesive on each tentacle makes for a very unpleasant surprise.

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I still hadn’t stuck my finger in one, however, and I must admit I wanted to, just a little. I tested it by inserting a small stick right into the cavity of one of these strange beasts, to see what it did. Nothing except curl up around the twig. Alright, I’d try it. I found a large one, under water so it was both more active, and stayed open, revealing its gooey blue inside. Slowly, I applied a finger, and squealed. What a feeling! Quickly ripping away my finger, before the anemone had time to swallow it whole, I laughed. What an animal that was. They’re very strange.


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Cabrillo has a lighthouse, too, that we visited. It’s a tall, narrow house, like any other old-fashioned lighthouse, with only two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a kitchen. It was a very beautiful old house, with a winding staircase that is equip with both satisfying acoustics, and superior picture opportunities (you may rest assured I used both to the fullest extent). Read Gordon’s post to find out all about that! 

Death Cactus In Arizona!

If you visit Usury Mountain State Park, Arizona, you’ll find lots of nature, but not the kind of nature that just wants to sit in a tree and sing, or use photosynthesis all day. No, this kind of nature is out to kill you.

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All of the green parts are evil spike balls.

I’m talking about cholla, a plant so vicious and evil that it makes any stereotypical comic book villain look like Mr. Rodgers and makes a saguaro cactus look huggable. This plant looks like the child of a tree and a sea urchin. It does a great job of getting stuck in your appendages, but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that cholla can fly. When the wind blows, the urchin-like spike balls break off the tree and soar through the air toward the nearest victim. When stuck inside human flesh, it is extremely hard to pull out, and leaves glochids (tiny pieces of cactus spike) in your skin. Obviously cholla isn’t a fun guy.

There are also saguaros, not out to kill you, but also not like teddy bears. These things are about 15 to 20 feet tall and are a hundred years old when they grow their first arm. They’re a lot like that old dude who sits on the bench outside the mom n’ pop hardware store and whittles in those 50’s movies.IMG_5537

While those are the two most prominent plants of the desert, there are also various types of murderous bushes that scratch your legs and get stuck in your socks. These plants can be mostly ignored and passed aside as “puckerbrush,” just more annoying little plants and bushes. They do have names though, like: cat-claw acacia, honey mesquite, and, palo verde. These plants all have one thing in common; they’re really annoying!IMG_5534

The point however, that I’m trying to make, is that the desert is out to kill you, so make sure to wear closed-toed shoes and probably some full-body judo sparring armor.