I’ve been quite enjoying some unassuming little Yamaha jaunts to unexplored corners of oft traveled territories lately. So often, I ride right on by those tantalizing brown signs that direct my attention to roads less traveled. There is never enough time, and, frankly, I’ve not been equipped with the wheels or the inclination to travel off asphalt until recently. So, while I’ve ridden around and about Sonoita, AZ countless times, today was my first foray into Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and Empire Ranch.
Wrap some high desert grasslands over rolling hills and you have my favorite landscape ever. It reminds me of the Tuscan countryside, and while it may not be Chianti, there's wine growing in them there hills. Surely with some judicious spitting it could (and should!) be safely explored in depth via motorbike. I'm adding "tastevin" to my list of essential tank bag items.
Thoughts of wine aside, where there’s water, there’s a “cottonwood gallery”…
… and -kerplunk! – a flash of outstretched gangly legs in mid-flight confirmed it – frogs. And turtles. “Las Cienegas” means "marshland” and this spot fits the bill. Frogs and turtles are always a delight, but the experience in a desert setting is elevated to miraculous. And bizarre. The Frog Conservation Project appears to be taking advantage of the habitat by raising a breeding population of the native Chiricahua Leopard Frog in special enclosures seen along the Heritage Trail. I’m not sure if the free-ranging frogs I saw were Leopard Frogs, but knowing they might be, and that they’re a designated threatened species, I felt just a teeny bit guilty when my mind turned to childhood meals of cuisse de grenouilles meuniere* enjoyed long ago in rural France.
“Empire Gulch” also sports greens so tender and delicate, they rival those of my CSA farm share. So many temptations in this little spot!
The Empire Ranch House (under restoration) was cool and comfortable despite outdoor temps in the 90’s. It has been a working ranch (over one million acres!) since the 1860’s. A tense moment with cows on the road proved the point that the ranch is still very much in operation.
And in a culinary version of “how fast can I go before I crash?”, last night I learned just how far can I take candied orange peels before they solidify into one single orange misshapen sugar cube. My original intent was to cover them in bittersweet chocolate, but unadorned, they are rugged enough to withstand the rigors of motorcycle travel. Zingy-sweet in the mouth!
* Yes. Frogs legs. Dusted in flour and fried up. I loved them as a kid, and I bet I’d love them now. I admit, I’m smacking my lips at the thought of it.