Monday, January 30, 2012

Sonoran Desert Hideaway for the new year

I celebrate the new year with both the solstice, the time when the days reach their shortest period and then begin the climb back to more and more light, and with the calendar which ends Dec 31 and begins in a new document on January 1st. I celebrated both in my little hideaway in the quiet of the Sonoran Desert. This year I got to celebrate the new year by hanging the 2012 calendar I made with photos of Ecuador and Yellowstone.

I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert 19 years ago. I try, usually successfully, to return to my special spot for a couple of weeks each year. This year Chris joined me for the calendar turning. He was quiet and didn't express concern as I drove him out of the tiny town of Ajo, onto dirt roads, turning off on a less graded and smaller dirt road, and finally a couple of tracks. He called home later and told them he had been blindfolded, kidnapped to a remote location and he hadn't the slightest idea where he was. Later he admitted he had looked at aerial views of the region ahead of time. Not quite fair.

For the next few days he got to enjoy the quiet, the lack of light pollution, the lack of neighbors and traffic. The incredible night skies led to some experimentation with night photography. We still have some work to perfect this technique, but here is a joint project showing night sky and my motorhome. The picture works best in large format so click on it to see the stars better.

This is Chris's view of the desert from near our spot

Here is the motorhome, far from neighbors, traffic, noise and lights.

Breakfast on New Year's Day.

This "slim jim" is Chris's view of sunrise.

One more night view. The camera was set on a tripod for a long exposure. We used a flashlight to "paint" light on the motorhome in the photo at the top of the page. The sliver of a moon was still below the horizon line. Next time we will go for an even longer exposure, toward the north, to get the movement of the stars.

Desert Rain Cafe

Between Tucson and Ajo, or the route to Organ Pipe National Monument and the border crossing to Puerto Penasco, Mexico lies the huge Tohono O'odham Nation. This sparsely populated nation of close to 4500 square miles is the third largest reservation in the nation.
Traditionally the Tohono O'odham peoples learned to live in and appreciate this arid, unforgiving land, learning to cultivate crops when the rains come and to harvest the cactus and other plants of the region. But modern times brought processed foods and too much sugar. Today the reservation has one of the highest diabetes rates in the nation, with about 60% of her people with this disease.
With this in mind, the community is looking at ways to counter the trend. One of those ideas was a restaurant featuring the traditional ingredients of the desert. I've eaten there twice, most recently with 8 friends who met their for a late afternoon lunch which evolved into a discussion with Ivalee Pablo, the chef, a photo shoot with her and tour of the kitchen. Learning to cook from her grandfather, a resident of the reservation, Ivalee cooked at a number of important Tucson restaurants. Now she showcases her skills in the special restaurant.

Every item on the menu includes at least one native ingredient. It might be agave nectar to sweeten the lemonade, or native squash filling in enchilladas. On Thursday when I was there with Chris, Sally and Gerry, Ajo, Chuck and Nan, and Margy and Frank, the daily special was prickly pear glazed pork ribs. Nan declared them the best ribs she had ever had. They were tender, delicately seasoned, and delightful. The hummus is made from native tepary beans, there is a cholla bud pico de gallo, salads are served with a prickly pear vinaigrette, and deserts include mesquite (used for flour in their baked goods) and oatmeal cookies. I note the breakfast menu includes a homemade granola of mesquite, agave nectar and squash seeds.

I've tried appetizers, a sampler plate and the ribs. All of them were excellent. The prices are reasonable, and the setting is simple but pleasant with both indoor and outdoor seating.

Besides the efforts of TOCA, the Tohono O'Odham Community Action organization, to set up this restaurant and other programs, native foods are now being featured on the menus in the local schools.

If you are traveling Hwy 87 plan to stop in Sells. The restaurant is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. It is located in downtown Sells, in the small shopping center where the Basha's grocery store and post office are located. A large empty lot next to the shopping center is handy for RVers

Photos are by Chris Nelson. He photographed while I interviewed Ivalee for an article I hope to complete soon.