Since mid-February we helped our community with our annual Soup Kitchen to raise money for Portal Rescue, our local volunteer fire and EMT organization. For three days, local folks supply crock pots of soups, breads and deserts for lunch and all funds go to Portal Rescue. It's a great effort by everyone and people come from as far away as Tucson, Sierra Vista, Silver City and Deming to enjoy the wind variety of soups and stews! You have to get there early, because the good stuff runs out fast!
After talking to a lot of the locals about the need for music in the community, we started inviting our local music lovers to our house on Sunday afternoons through February and March and enjoyed making music, from old cowboy songs, folk songs, even some Beatles & John Denver songs. Guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, harmonicas, spoons and washboards, as well as some folks who just come to sing along. It's a lot of fun. And we all know how music makes everyone happy! There are some very talented musicians here and a few beginners that benefit from playing with others who can give them some tips and pointers. Most of our winter residents are heading north or south in some cases now and we'll be picking up again in the fall.
We enjoyed an Historical Society field trip to the old townsite of Hilltop in White Tail Canyon and learned of the many mining operations that once covered the area, the businesses that sprung up to support the miners and the one room school house that some kids had to walk through a tunnel in the mountain to get to! Imagine having to do your morning chores, then walk 2-3 miles uphill, then through a tunnel and then downhill to the school. In the early 1900s there was always the threat of indian attacks too. This was the homeland of Geronimo and Cochise and it's no wonder they fought so hard to stay here.
The current claim to fame in this area is birding. The Sky Island canyons are home to birds and other wildlife that don't occur anywhere else in the United States. In April and May, we meet people from all over the world with one focus, birds. I'll be hosting a birding group from North Carolina this weekend. I just have to point out a few interesting spots to find birds and they'll be happy. There's a Blue-Throated hummingbird sitting on a nest on a light fixture at our neighbors house and Elf owls are courting up and down our short dirt road each evening. I saw our first Summer Tanager yesterday and today a Cassin's Kingbird and a flock of Cedar Waxwings. They are beautiful!
In March The Banjo Blasters came to Portal to participate in the annual St. Patricks Day Parade and played a concert to benefit the Scholarship Fund for our local ladies organization. We had a great time! The Blasters stayed at the Cave Creek Ranch and we jammed into the night at our house Friday and Saturday nights. The locals really enjoyed our music and invited us back again for next year's event. We might even get the group to come for Octoberfest.
March was a really busy month. We had to go to Tucson 3 times to play banjo gigs. Most in Green Valley at club dinners like the Eastern States Club and the Minnesota Club and an outdoor public concert at La Posada Shoppes always has a big crowd. We did another fund raiser at Voyager RV Park and it was a huge success. We always have fun when we play with the Blasters, so we are torn sometimes because we hate to leave Portal. We prefer to only return to Tucson once or twice a month, but the band is so popular with winter visitors in Green Valley, that there were 4 gigs in Green Valley alone! We also try to spend a day with Melody and the boys when we're in Tucson. Wes will be starting kindergarten in August and Greg goes to nursery school for a couple hours a day, so we have to work around their schedules, but so far we've been seeing them once or twice a month. They are fun little boys and are growing up fast. We're looking forward to the days when they'll want to hike with us.
Our Fairbanks friend Frank Keim spent two months in the house across our road. He's a really interesting guy and we took a few walks with him in the mountains and to Willcox Lake. His wife Jennifer was here for the first month, then his twin brothers came for a few weeks. Their family used to come here for winters when they were teens, so they've hiked all over these mountains. Frank led us to North Fork Cave Creek Falls. A short by difficult hike because of all the rock hopping and downed trees we had to navigate through, but it was worth the effort. Frank taught school in the remote villages along the Yukon River for 20 years and has walked across Alaska beyond the Brooks Range more than once. He speaks Upik pretty well for a white man.
We really had fun when Melody brought the boys out here for a weekend and we took them to our friends Frances & Peter Grills ranch. They got to feed a orphaned calf from a bottle and feed treats to the camels and horses. Yes, I said camels. They have two camels and they are huge animals! I never realized how big they were until I stood next to one! Very strange to see them in this environment. The Grills have llamas too, but the llamas weren't as friendly as the camels and wouldn't come to the fence to be petted. The boys loved petting and feeding the horses and Wesley fell in love with the dog named Gracie and wanted to take her home.
Bud & I volunteer at the Visitors Information Center in the Portal Ranger Station at the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon a couple days a month. The forest service can't afford to hire a ranger this year, so the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon has a group of volunteers who are taking over as hosts. We love meeting people and telling about the great birding and hiking here. Cave Creek Canyon is truly a natural treasure. We share the VIC with 5 rattlesnakes, a gila monster, a hog-nosed snake and a king snake. These are tended and owned by our local snake guy Barney. The large Western Diamondback does give me goosebumps when he decides to rattle.