Feral watercolor: Painted Desert pigments

Google Earth captures the range of colors of northern Arizona’s Painted Desert.

Google Earth captures the range of colors of northern Arizona’s Painted Desert.

The idea took hold on our first trip into the red desert center of Australia. Surrounded by vast and glowing rusty-red sand seas awash in bright yellow flowers and sea-green eucalypts, I began to think about painting that iconic landscape with watercolors made from the place itself. I collected red sand from several places, sealed it in jars, and—because I hold a Trusted Traveler fast-lane pass from U.S. Border Protection and they most definitely frown upon carrying soil samples in one’s luggage (violate one rule and you lose your pass forever)—I posted them home (*see notes at end). A year later, surrounded by vast and glowing peach sand seas flanked by jagged black slashes of mountains in northern Mexico’s Gran Desierto de Altar, I was again inspired by the rich colors and dramatic landscapes—and this time I had some tools with me to do a little experimenting with the local magnetite to create paint (which I wrote up in this post HERE).

And so Feral Watercolor was born: to collect local pigments and ink-making materials with which to create place-based art.


With jars of material from several continents—including three gorgeous colors from northern Arizona’s Painted Desert—I invested in a small, high-quality hand-crank ore-crusher called The Crunch: 1/4-inch steel, cam-driven, and made in the U.S. (sold on eBay by “GoldMLode”).


The Crunch will process rocks as hard as quartz (it’s made for people who look for remnant gold in mine tailings) into powder fine enough to sieve down to 70 microns—small enough to make make traditional-style earth pigments for making watercolor (reference: Bruce MacEvoy’s exhaustive website Handprint; on particle size of pigments for making watercolor, modern and historical).

First through The Crunch were the yellow ochre-like rocks, part of the Chinle Formation that was laid down in the late Triassic (200 million years ago) as the seas around Pangaea retreated and alluvial plains were covered in silt, mud, and sand—with plenty of iron, manganese, and aluminum. Oxidation (either aerobic or anaerobic) created the reds, purples, yellows, greens, or grays. Would these gorgeously colored rocks result in similar paint hues?


After running through The Crunch a couple times, I put the sand-sized grains through four high-quality stainless steel sieves (made by Talisman in New Zealand; available on Amazon), starting with 40-mesh, then through 60, 100, and finally 200, which yields about 70-micron particle size.

In the 100-mesh sieve . . .

In the 100-mesh sieve . . .

. . . final yield of 200-mesh . . .

. . . final yield of 200-mesh . . .

. . . very fine and still bright.

. . . very fine and still bright.

Now at the mulling bench . . . I processed the 70-micron yellow pigment with gum arabic, Sonoran Desert honey, and oxgall to create watercolor paint (see my notes below, along with swatches of color from three stages of mulling, which takes about 30 minutes per stage.


On paper the yellow was not as bright as in pigment, but it has a lovely warm hue, and nice coverage. Almost between a yellow ochre and umbre.


Next up was the very dark red ochre-like pigment. Its hue on the mulling glass was eye-popping!


And on paper it did not disappoint:


Finally, I processed the rose—which had a lovely “ashes of rose” color in pigment form. Upon processing into paint, its hue on paper was more faded-red, though it’s growing on me!


In all a very satisfying first step in the Feral Watercolor project. I noted that I should have added slightly more binder to the paint, as it is drying too fast and cracking in the pan and the flow is not what I’d like. I have several other regions’ pigments to process and test, and then it will be time to create paintings.


Where to collect: I collect from roadsides or private land where I have permission. There are also state and local parks dedicated to "rockhounding" where it is legal to collect. Do not collect in any local, state, or national park. National forests and BLM may be a bit more open to collecting (since many allow firewood collecting), so you can contact your local office to find out

Travel and collecting: If when you travel you would like to collect raw pigments (rocks or soil) for processing, follow the same guidelines as above, and you should be aware of not only border restrictions for bringing soil back to your home country, but also environmental smarts: soil contains seeds and microbes, and if you are transporting them home, that can be detrimental to your home environment. I make sure I run my pigments through the microwave to semi-sterilize, and then always keep it in sealed containers and never, ever dispose of any of it outdoors or down the drain. I treat it like a toxic chemical.

Safety: always wear eye protection and a dust mask when handling and processing rocks and pigment into paint. Natural pigments are not “safe” because they are “natural”—remember that they contain metals such as manganese and aluminum (among many others) and you are grinding them into powder that easily goes airborne and is inhaled.

Feral watercolor & place-based art


I’ve been experimenting with making pigments from locally sourced minerals (and plant matter) for "extreme" place-based nature journaling and art. I call it "feral watercolor." 

Because the pigments come from the location being represented in the art, the colors can be strikingly true and the sense of place profound.

The pigment (and resin binder) below is from the Sierra El Rosario in Northern Mexico’s La Reserva Pinacate del Gran Desierto.


I collected magnetite and ground it into powder, then for a binder I added resin from a plant growing in a canyon in the Sierra — Bursera microphylla — and Sonoran Desert honey as a humectant. I also experimented with adding a little oxgall, although I’m not sure it made a difference in the adhesion.

The result is a paint that perfectly mimics the stark, nearly black mountains that rise out of the sand dunes (see the painting, top).


I have mineral soils from all over the world, and have quite a few projects planned—in addition to a workshop in the near future—email me if you are interested!

Adventures in making paint


In the past year I began making my own watercolor paint from pigments—both purchased and wild-found.

I was very excited about this rare pigment from one of London’s oldest and finest colorists, L. Cornelissen. This is genuine Lapis Lazuli, true Ultramarine Blue in a painter’s palette.


I used natural gum arabic as the binder, and the humectant is honey.

This is a WIP: I was not 100% happy with the flow or transparency—will have to mull another batch. Each takes about 2 hours so it’s quite a commitment!


Next up: grinding found ochres from Australia’s Great Victoria Desert into fine enough powder I can make paint.


Simple Leather Journal — 15 years on


My faithful companion now for 15 years, over five continents, tens of thousands of miles. Nothing fancy: It's a one-piece unstructured cover cut from simple vegetable-tanned cowhide, which was simply finished with olive oil. I incorporated the natural edge of the hide into the front cover. (Find a book about the size you want, cover it with plastic, get the leather wet, and shape it to the book and let dry; when the leather is wet, you can also score the cover with decorations—I added my initials.) As you can see, after 15 years of use it gets a nice patina but holds up well; it's been on five continents with me—tens of thousands of miles!

I use Bee Paper 90-pound 9x6 sheets, which is inexpensive but good 100% cotton paper that is archival and holds up well to watercolor washes.

A couple of cheap leather bootlaces act as the sheet binder and the keeper (decorated with African trade beads).

When I fill up a journal, I unbind it and transfer the pages to inexpensive three-ring binders (last photo; I plan to cover these in nice leather eventually—I have 40 years' worth!). 

Advantages: inexpensive, customizable (can add fancy papers, insert memorabilia, maps, etc.), lays flat, durable. Disadvantages: double-page spread is not contiguous (but it works fine for journaling), it's self-made so it's not as easy as buying a new notebook off the shelf, threading the leather cord into the holes is a pain, and sometimes the flexible cover makes it hard to draw (but I found a plastic board to put behind it when I need).

EDC Field Notebook

1000w copy.jpeg

Sometimes the world aligns in wonderful ways. 

Just before Overland Expo 2016 WEST, I was looking to replace my longtime EDC notebook (Every Day Carry). Since 2006, I've used a Moleskine Cahier notebook encased in a leather cover that I had designed myself and was stitched by Jonathan.

But over the years it became too small, and also I had lost track of so many notebooks — I had no system for managing them. 

I found the Midori notebooks (now called Traveler's Notebooks) and was looking at the Bullet Journal system for tracking multiple EDC journals (


) over time, using indexes and notes-journals as well as task-journals. 

I loved how the Midori notebooks and covers were so versatile: you can combine multiple journals with a clever elastic band system.

But I found the Midori sizing to be not quite right—they offer either passport-sized (too small) or much-larger sized journals (8.2 x 5.5) in leather covers. I waffled. 

To feed my journal lust while postponing the decision about the actual journal, I ordered a new fountain pen from GouletPens.com, a lovely brown-iridescent swirled pen handmade by Brian Hall in Ohio (


), along with some Midori accessories—pockets, a pen clip, and ink.

Then, in Asheville this week while planning the upcoming new EAST show with our wonderful core staff, assistant director Alison DeLapp presented the whole team with Field Notes (


) journals encased in custom leather covers made by one of our favorite instructors, Andrew Pain of MinimalMotorcyclist.com. 

Based on the 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 size of the Field Notes (and Moleskine Cahier), it was perfect. And, it had a custom stamping on the cover: our tagline, "The World Is Waiting."

En route home from Asheville, I discovered it perfectly held two Field Notes insets plus my passport and my iPhone 6S in a Lifeproof case. 

Once home, I collected my new Midori accessories and pen, and put them together into what I think is going to be the perfect EDC field notebook:


Another addition I made was a center insert of watercolor paper (90-pound cold-press) I cut myself and added, about 10 pages total. With my Expeditionary Art watercolor set

https://expeditionaryart.com/shop/art-toolkit/  and a little mini-field-palette I made from a folded coroplast board with a water-well cut to size for an old Bausch-and-Lomb contact cleaning reservoir (which has a water-tight gasket), I have a perfect mini-field-sketching kit right in my EDC. The little bulldog clip that holds the watercolor set acts as the perfect brush holder for my No. 3 Escoda sable traveler's brush.


Ultralight plein air painting kit

Finally got a chance to field test my ultralight plein air painting kit — love it. I saw a similar setup for sale at an art website for $200 and weighs 10 pounds (and does not include a chair). Being a cheap (and small of frame) Celt, I decided I could do that for under $45 and a whole lot lighter! The tripod, a terribly inexpensive aluminum Sunpak 2001UT ($15!) is just 2.3 pounds and 19.7 inches long folded up. The little chair is just over a pound ($18). I glued strong magnets (a couple bucks) to the base plate of the tripod and a 30-cent 3" steel washer to a piece of Coroplast. Even in a modest breeze it holds tight. Two pieces of the Coroplast ($8) clipped together with bulldog clips hold a paper assortment. This fits in my shoulder bag with my paints, brushes, and other supplies. The tripod and chair strap on top.

Learning watercolor

In September I took the leap and decided to get serious about learning to sketch and paint with watercolor and ink washes—with a plan to become good enough to use my own art in future book and conservation projects.

I started with books by Cathy Johnson and Clare Walker Leslie, two of the best nature illustrators and teacher-authors. But I need to see things demonstrated, just reading about watercolor was not enough. So I discovered both Craftsy.com and Artclick.tv. Both have excellent, affordable tutorials you can buy individually, or in the case of Artclick.tv, subscribe monthly for unlimited access.

I discovered I love color theory, and particularly love painting in triads, especially Daniel Smith watercolors (made in Washington). Right now favoring old-fashioned tint-like colors and pen-and-ink. And I rediscovered how much I love my old Montblanc, a gift 30 years ago from Jonathan. The Montblanc is charged with Platinum Carbon waterproof ink, and a Vintage Parker 75 has a soft, soluble black. Also experimenting with brush pens, with J.Herbin Lie de Thé, a sepia color.

Daniel Smith's Primatek Genuine mineral paints are particularly gorgeous; this hummingbird's gorget is Rhodonite Genuine and Amethyst Genuine, which sparkles in the light.

Working trip to the UK

We made a mad-dash across the Atlantic in July-August to meet up with a few colleagues and friends, including the dashing and lovely Tom Sheppard of Desert Winds Publishing and author of the venerable Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide (for which he recruited Jonathan as co-author in a massive new update released this spring.). Here we are at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. More images here.

News updates

It's been a busy two years, so much so we've neglected to post updates here.

Overland Expo, our do-it-yourself-adventure travel event, added a second show in North Carolina this past October. It was a fantastic success. After the event in Asheville, we took some time to explore the Outer Banks and learn to flyfish in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Meanwhile Jonathan finished up work as the new co-author of the seminal Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide, the most respected manual for global exploration by self-suffient means. Tom Sheppard is a legend and a gentleman, and we have enjoyed working with him immensely. Our ExploringOverland.com has become the Americas distributor for the book, which is now shipping.

And we spent an amazing, expected month this past February driving from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Arequipa, Perú. We'll release a story on the trip in the upcoming Overland Sourcebook: Your guide to adventure.

Update: We've released a new story about the trip on ExploringOverland.com/explore

New video prepared for cultural conservation

On November 7 - 8, 2013, the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) hosted the first annual Maasai Cultural Festival at the historic Olegorsaille site in southern Kenya. Hundreds of Maa-speaking people, dignitaries, and politicians from around Kenya attended, shared ideas for how to ensure their cultural future, and to commit to a common festival every year to celebrate, conserve, and share their unique culture. We provided donated photography and videography for the project through our charity, ConserVentures.



To view / download the Egypt portfolio PDF, click here.

To view / download the shield portfolio PDF, click here.



We have written many natural history and outdoor adventure travel books together, as well as several under their our own names.

Our books are very special to us, especially our nature books, because each one represents a real part of us—a passion for a place, for wild things, for wildness. The creative process for writing a book is the same as that for a craft such as creating jewelry, working with leather, or even cooking—it is a sum of many parts, carefully wrought, over time, into a final work to be shared.

All of our nature books combine our writing and artistic skills, and most of them drew upon Roseann's daily nature journals. We each write separate chapters, or we alternate writing sections or sidebars. Jonathan is a wonderful scientific illustrator, and Roseann field sketches. Below are some of our nature books, and reviews from fellow naturalists, authors, and media. We've also added a few scans of almanac pages, and click here to hear a reading by Roseann for a radio program in Tucson, of the introduction to the month of May.

"An exquisite guide book for what to look for in this intriguing area." - Jim Harrison

"This book is vibrant with fresh insights into a landscape that many of us barely know but already love." - Gary Paul  Nabhan 

"A reference guide both scientifically accurate and immediately understandable . . . a welcome addition to all bookshelves and backpacks." - Tucson Weekly

"The Hansons analyze, categorize, and bring to life every month of the year." - Tucson Citizen

"A valuable reference tool for both casual and detailed scientific inquiry." - Desert Leaf

"An abundance of information in short and sprightly bites, adding up to a definitive guide." - Santa Cruz Valley Sun

"Someone recommended this book to me when I first moved to Tucson after living 'up north' all my life. I had relocated to Arizona for a job and was in somewhat of a state of culture shock at the lack of green grass, no four seasons, etc. This book was a real god-send for me. It breaks the year into 12 months and describes what is happening in the environment in terms of climate, wildlife, plant life, and the constellations. It is filled with fun-facts and things to do and watch for, so adults and children alike will find this book fun and interesting to read. It is fascinating learning about the uniqueness of the Sonoran desert and it made me really appreciate how incredible and diverse it really is! I now recommend this book to everyone (native or newcomer) and buy it regularly as a 'welcome' gift to my colleagues that relocate here from other parts of the country. I highly recommend it." - B. Gores, Amazon.com review

"To adequately describe a place like the San Pedro River, if such a complex and fascinating place can ever be adequately described, one must know it like an old friend. To reach that level of familiarity, one has to have spent countless hours with the place, gaining an intimate knowledge of the multitudes of nuances and wonders to which the casual visitor will be oblivious.

If a person gains such a level of understanding of a great natural area, and if that person happens to be an accomplished writer, a worthwhile and entertaining book may be the result, if we, the readers, are lucky. Fortunately, that is precisely what has happened in the case of the book, The San Pedro River, by Roseann Hanson.

Few areas in our country are more biologically rich than the San Pedro River. This small river and the riparian forest that surrounds it are home to more species of wild animals than virtually any other area of equal size on the North American Continent. Nearly 400 species of birds have been seen there. The San Pedro was named one of the Last Great Places in the Northern Hemisphere by the Nature Conservancy. Having been there, I would not hesitate to drive thousands of miles to walk its banks again.

Ms. Hanson knows the San Pedro River from having roamed its forests over much of her life. Too, she is an alert observer and an excellent writer with a deep understanding of people and wildlife, and a real gift for description. Her rendition of the call of a yellow-billed cuckoo was so well done that I instantly recognized the bird before reading its name later in the text. I could hear the call; it took me back to the West Virginia Appalachians where I grew up, and to the haunting song of what we then called the rain crow.

If you have any interest in birding, in wildlife, in ecology, in the Southwest, in the preservation of certain of our most precious natural areas, or in the San Pedro River itself, or if you simply have a desire to sit down and read something that can transport you to an incredibly interesting outdoor area, buy at least two copies of this book. You'll want to share it with friends, and you won't want to be without a copy yourself." - Amazon.com review

In September 2013 we completed a 112-page photographic record of the first authentic Maasai war shield making in some 50 years. The artisan project took place in Kenya's South Rift Valley in October 2012, and we took thousands of photographs over a week period. We printed 125 copies of these books for the community and for numerous museums and cultural institutions, including the first Maasai Cultural Heritage Center. For more information please see ConserVentures.org/done

* * * *

Full Bibliography
Books co-authored by Roseann & Jonathan:
Southern Arizona Nature Almanac (University of Arizona Press, 2001; reprint of original Pruett Publishing, 1996)
Basic Essentials: Animal Tracking (Globe Pequot Books, 2000)
Backroad Adventuring in Your Sport Utility Vehicle (McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1998)
50 Common Reptiles and Amphibians of the Southwest (Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1997) — Winner, 1997 Award for Interpretive Excellence, National Park Service
Ragged Mountain Guide to Outdoor Sports (McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1997) —  Winner, 1997 National Outdoor Book Award, Instructional
National Park Tours of the Southwest (Southwest Parks and Monuments Association)
Desert Dogs (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)
Discovering the Desert Museum and the Sonoran Desert Region (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)
Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1999)

Essential Sea Kayaking (Ragged Mountain Press, 2000) 
Amazing Arthropods (ASDM Press, 1997)
The Nature of Arizona (Waterford Press, 1996)
Whole Paddler's Catalog (Ragged Mountain Press, 1997)

Books by Jonathan Hanson:
There's a Bobcat in My Backyard! A Guide to Living with and Enjoying Desert Wildlife (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and University of Arizona Press, 2004)
Outside's Great Destinations of the World: Sea Kayaking (WW Norton, New York, 2000) - finalist, 2001 Banff Mountain Book Festival Best Adventure Writing Award
Essential Sea Kayaking (Lyons Press, New York, 1999)
Sea Kayak Touring (McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mt. Press, 1998)
Basic Essentials Guide to Outdoor Photography (Globe Pequot Books, 1999)
Overland Journal - co-founder and executive editor, 2007 - 2011
Arizona Highways
Bugle (news, conservation)
Outside - (contributor - gear reviews, travel)
Global Adventure
National Geographic Adventure
Nature Conservancy
Sea Kayaker (features - gear reviews)
Sunset (travel)
Books & Publications by Roseann Hanson:
San Pedro River - A Discovery Guide (University of Arizona Press, 2001) by Roseann Hanson
Editorial & Advertising Photography 
Arizona Highways
Sports Afield
Tucson Citizen
Biological Diversity of the Peloncillo Mountains - science report, 300 pp., for World Wildlife Fund
Extensive experience editing and writing in the non-profit and small business environment: annual reports, grant writing, appeal letters, brochures, and logos. 

Maasai shield book completed

We have finalized the print and digital versions of a 112-page book detailing the work of the October 2012 shield-building workshop in southern Kenya. This book is the final visual product we have created for the Maasai community that initiated the cultural conservation program. We are printing 125 copies and are delivering them to the Maasai in November 2013. Please see our notification on the ConserVentures website for more images and ordering information. ConserVentures.org/done

Production finished on new Overland Expo video

Overland Expo 2014 — What do you dream? from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We're really pleased with the results of our new promotional video for Overland Expo. We developed the storyline idea over a wonderful dinner at Bluefin in Tucson. Roseann did the production on Final Cut Pro on our new iMac, and the music is from a talented composer, Dan Phillipson.

Much of the film footage was shot by Jonathan, including the aerials in Arizona. The drone and GoPro combination worked beautifully to capture the storyline at Grand Canyon. You can follow some of our practice footage below.

We'll be taking the drone and a new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition to East Africa in November to get some footage of wildlife and landscape for a new video project. Stay tuned.

Ravenrock fly-by from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We've been wanting to do some aerial footage to augment our video capabilities, and decided to buy a Phantom quadcopter, which carries a GoPro HD video camera. Given my total lack of video-game experience, I had to start from scratch with the remote-control console, and accomplished several spectacular upside-down landings. But I'm improving, and got a nice fly-by clip of our place.

A lesson in making Sonoran flan, from a master

After working in Sonora, Mexico's remote Sierra Aconchi for four days on a biological survey, we decided to spend a night at La Posada del Río in Banámichi, a picturesque colonial town along the Río Sonora. Lovingly restored but decorated in bright modern colors, with a tropical plant-filled courtyard  and antiques from around the world, it is truly a treasure. But the real treasure is the staff: friendly and helpful, everyone we met made us feel like we were guests in a home rather than a hotel. Chuyita Ruiz is the cook, and she prepared delicious Sonoran specialties such as tortilla soup, carne asada, machaca and eggs, and flan chiltepín. The latter, a classic Spanish custard but spiced with locally grown wild chiles, was out of this world, and we expressed our opinion vociferously. The next morning, Chuyita invited us to the kitchen for an impromptu lesson. Experiences like this are why we love to travel.

To make the caramel, add 1 cup sugar to heavy pan and stir constantly over medium-high heat.

The sugar starts to melt and caramelize. Keep stirring so it does not burn.

Continue stirring until rich, dark caramel-brown.

Carefully pour the hot caramel into the tin mould, swirling to coat the whole inside. Careful, the molten sugar sticks and burns skin very badly (notice how Chuyita is holding the tin as she swirls it, keeping her hands well away from any drips). The mould is a Christmas cookie tin with a lid.

Prepared mould, set to cool while the batter is made.

Mix the batter in a blender: 1 can evaporated milk, 1 small can sweetened condensed milk, 8 oz. cream, 4 eggs, 1 t. vanilla. Add flavoring or not. Chuyita made one with chiltepines (very hot wild chiles, a specialty of the Río Sonora region) about 10 crushed finely; or a tablespoon of instant coffee. (If you prefer not to used canned milks, you can use whole milk and eggs: Add 2 cups milk and salt to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring milk to a brief simmer. Do not let the milk come to a boil. Remove from heat. In a mixing bowl combine 6 eggs, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and beat well, until light and foamy. Add milk to the egg mixture, whisk continually.)

Pour the batter on top of the caramel.

Place the lidded tin in a simmering water bath.

Cook in the water bath for 45 minutes.

Fresh from the water bath. Let cool a bit before inverting.

Place a pie plate over the tin and invert.

Voilá—the inverted flan with the caramel coating on top. A flan chiltepín "muy rica," courtesy Chuyita Ruiz and La Posada del Río Hotel, Banámichi, Sonora, Mexico.

New video: Maasai shield project

Blood & Leather: Re-creating the Maasai war shield in 2012 from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

This video documents the first making of authentic Maasai war shields in 50 years (there is also a Maa language voiceover version here, vimeo.com/70596349). In October 2012 Jonathan and I volunteered as photographers and videographers, producing the video for the community; funding was provided by the generous donors of our charity, ConserVentures

The project sprang from within the Okiramatian community of southern Kenya, and is a global collaboration. The Maasai people of the region, through SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners), are building a natural and cultural heritage conservation program with funding and assistance from individuals, businesses, and non-governmental organizations in Kenya, North America, and Europe. The shield workshop featured in this video is one of several cultural preservation projects in this Maasai renaissance. By recording the knowledge of the elders, the goal is to inspire the next generations to retain and rekindle pride through cultural knowledge.
We are also producing a 115-page book and posters to return to the community for their November 2013 Maasai Cultural Heritage Festival. Just now finalizing the materials, after having to re-do the videos when we had trouble securing use rights for the original music we had wanted to use. But we love the new version—a big "thank you" goes out to Steve Amis and Marc Johnston, who donated the use of their gorgeous music from the documentary "Through Maasailand,"and to the Environmental Club and Maasai Music Project, of Cincinnati's Westlake Schools, a kid-to-kid collaboration featuring youth from the Olkiramatian community where the shield project took place.

Sierra Aconchi Expedition, Sonora, Mex., July 2013

Spent the last three days in Sonora, Mex., backcountry. Nine miles up 2500 feet--low and slow. Working on a biological survey with Sky Island Alliance.Our camp in a small meadow next to a sycamore-lines creek. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar camp setup. John Palting's JK working hard. John is an entomologist and spends all night with lights collecting species-- a number of them new to science. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar off-highway trailer.A few of the species collected on this trip. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliancePhotographing a tiger rattlesnake. Beautiful.
Tiger rattlesnake discovered on the first evening next to our dining area. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceJonathan staking out a Sinaloan Wren nest to get some awesome video of nest construction and beautiful song. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceHow to put a lizard to sleep: tummy rubs. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceWe really like our new #Frontrunner aluminum and stainless table, which mounts under the overhang of the Four Wheel Camper. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceThe Frontrunner table slides mounted under the Four Wheel Camper overhang.Mud turtle. Could be undescribed subspecies. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliance
Tiger beetle. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceOut of the backcountry, spending July 4 at La Posada del Rio in Banamichi before heading back tomorrow. Lovely restored colonial style hotel.Courtyard detail, Hotel Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiDoor detail at La Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiLooking at the Sierra Aconchi from Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoBanamichi, Sonora, Mexico.
Old door, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoOld colonial hacienda "zaguan" entrance, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoLa Posada del Rio courtyard at night.Truck art. Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoChuyita, the cook, gave us a lesson in making flan; open photos to read directions in the photo descriptions.Lesson in making flan
We spent four days in the Sonoran backcountry with Sky Island Alliance's MABA Expedition team (Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment) cataloguing insects, mammals, herpetofauna, birds, and plants. After four days in the field we headed to the colonial town of Banamichi along the Rio Sonora and stayed a night at La Posada del Rio, a restored hacienda along the plaza. It was a great combination of rugged backcountry exploration, camping, work, and then fantastic cultural experiences before heading home.

Easter 2013 exploration - Willow Springs Ranch, AZ

Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltoppingpoppiesDesert ChicoryWillow Springs Tortolita Mts campWillow Springs Ranch Catalina MtsSpring emerging tortoise
A group of friends gathered in the Sonoran Desert over Easter weekend 2013 to celebrate a 40th birthday. The company, food, and chocolate cake were outstanding. The weather was perfect, and to our delight we also were surrounded by beautiful desert wildflowers, found a desert tortoise just emerging from its burrow, and climbed a hill to find a furious flurry of hundreds of spring butterflies "hilltopping."

Hilltopping is mate-locating behavior. Males compete for the best location on the highest hills, patrolling furiously, trying to find the few females amidst a sea of males. Theory is that the "top" males that can ascend the hill and hold the best territory make the best mates.

We observed black swallowtails, desert orange-tips, Sara orange-tips, possible Texas crescents, and perhaps 4 other species.

The experience was pure magic—our blood pressure plummeted and we sat, entranced, surrounded by an aerial dance, exclaiming with delight like children at a circus.

Enjoy a short video here:

Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltopping from ConserVentures on Vimeo.