Saturday, October 19, 2013


 Haley and I spent the last week in Portal, AZ at an Irish music camp. Portal is a huge metropolis of a store/restaurant/hotel and a couple homes with a backdrop of beautiful mountains. Portal is right on the border of NM and about 60 miles from Mexico.

We flew with Haley's fiddle teacher, Brian, from LaGuardia in NYC to Tucson, AZ on Thursday and arrived around 9pm in Portal, which was about a 3 hour drive from Tucson. We were greeted with a warm supper of chili and cornbread then Haley and Brian joined the Irish session already in progress before we headed off to bed.

Here's a photo of the lodge and cafe above...followed by a photo of the rooms where we stayed (below). Brian stayed about half a mile away in a cabin owned by the lodge and his fiddle classes were held on his porch with a beautiful view of the mountains.

Below is the first javelina we saw on our visit. This little guy was not really interested in us. He walked right past the porch where we were standing. Every morning during the fiddle class a javelina or two walked past. Some people saw a herd of javelinas with babies but we didn't.

Every morning Haley took a 2 hour fiddle class taught by Brian. He taught mostly tunes she already knew so she spent the week learning how to teach a class of people with mixed skill levels. Brian allowed Haley to teach them a jig one morning. She was so excited to have the opportunity and spent the day before picking through tunes she knew until she decided on one that would work well for the group. She ended up teaching a tune she recently learned from Dylan Foley, I think, Cathal McConnell's jig.

After lunch, Haley and I would spend a little more than two hours practicing. She'd practice for awhile then we'd walk to the store for an icecream break before heading back to finish her practicing. Around 4pm every day we joined a group hiking in the Coronado National Forest. The hikes were about 90 min. long. One day we went to a local ranch to look for the coatimundi that live and feed near that ranch. We didn't see any of the animals but Haley did enjoy walking on this jiggly bridge and seeing the many hummingbirds that fed on the feeders there. A few fellow campers staying at this ranch did see the coatimundi in the early mornings and showed us pictures.

Our evenings were spent with Haley playing sessions. The sessions started around 7pm and went on until bedtime. Some days the room was full with a couple layers of musicians and at other times there were just a few musicians in the room.

Saturday night was the staff concert. Haley was invited to perform toward the end of the concert. She played a solo (backed by Matt), she and Brian played a duet (a couple fancy hornpipes and the Mason's Apron), and she stayed on stage for the finale with the other staff members.

One afternoon, we went with the camp director and Nigel, the three year old son of two of the instructors, to the Chiricahua Desert Museum in New Mexico (only about 2-3 miles from camp). We saw many different types of venomous snakes, turtles, insects, and fossil and Indian artifacts.

Outside the museum was an enclosed area where we could walk among some tortoises and lizards including the inquisitive little guy below who obviously is used to human contact because he followed us around the enclosure staying just far enough away that we couldn't touch him.

Another of our afternoon adventures included a trip to see naked mole rats. The biologist who keeps the mole rats (naked and not so naked types) had an amazing life story that included work for movies and zoos. He gave us a great talk on mole rats and why each of the three types is the way it is. He also allowed us to hold a naked mole rat (not the other types because they are not as chill as the naked mole rats and "their bite is like a staple gun"). I'll take his word for it.

After the naked mole rats we took a drive to Paradise...LOL. It was a small town on a one lane only long dirt road. Only 3-4 homes and lots of beautiful scenery. I liked the rock formation below. It looked like the remains of a stone castle. We also had a night visit to an observatory. There is a subdivision in that area where every house has its own personal observatory (or two). The people who build there agree to use only red outdoor lighting and keep light blocking shades on their windows so it is very dark. The moon was nearly full so we really only got to see some great views of it and a few different stars on the other side of the sky but we also got to see some really cool photos (that take 4 hours to complete!!!) of the comet heading toward our solar system.  The amateur astronomer whose home we visited is an imager which means he enjoys taking these four hour long photos of things...the quality is good enough to be in print and magazines.

Our last day of camp, nearly everyone participated in a group photo. It was a truly relaxing camp and the experiences outside of the music were as wonderful as the musical ones!

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