Whitewater Draw-Sandhill Cranes as far as the eye can see:)

Sandhill Cranes-resting after a morning of feeding

Warning…this blog has a lot of bird pictures;)

I was not expecting this beautiful, raucous sight. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes descended from the sky in the mid afternoon, later than usual I was told as it was cloudy. Seemed they stayed out and nibbled a while longer with the cloud cover. Talking and quacking, calling as they fly in, descending, others are ducking as they make an awkward landing, it is a comical sight to sit and watch the grace and awkwardness of these huge flying creatures. Something akin to Mary Poppins floating down with her umbrella,or let’s just say, Mary Poppin’s less graceful sister;)

After a cloudy morning the sun came through in bits and finally cleared off to watch the show of the descending cranes. Layer upon layer slowly descended from up high. You could see clouds of them in the distance slowly approaching from far on the horizon. Wave after wave of these glorious birds came down to rest, drink from the pond (yuck;) hahahaha!) and talk, wow can they talk, like somebody who has been on a desert island for years, or occasionally one of the old folks at those RV parks that are chatting your ear off even before you have backed in and hooked up the power;) Some socialized, following each other in groups, other solitary birds closed their eyes and slept.

It is a spectacle not to be missed. A wonderful group of people were at the benches or had brought their own chairs to simply sit and watch. Some with years of knowledge about the cranes, helping answer the questions of newcomers. Many were dry camped near us, several friendly photographers, happy to give me pointers on cameras and tripods. A very genuine group. The Conservation area allows up to three days of dry camping in their lot. You can pull up along the small fence, or back in if room is getting scarce. There is a seperate parking lot for day visitors as well. By late in the day, the dry camping lot was pretty much full of all sized rigs.

As the light started to fade, the last stragglers were still arriving, some were just rearranging from one area to another as the crowds swelled. The fields beside the water were becoming extremely crowded, irritated cranes barked at each other as some ugly landings were happening as the space between them dwindled. At dusk a huge flock, hundreds, of Yellow Headed Blackbirds appeared from the East and landed in the cat tails. Was looking forward to seeing them in the morning with better light!

All night, the chatter of cranes, with a few coyote calls filled the horizon with sound, beautiful glorious natural sound. I couldn’t wait for sunrise, I was not dissapointed…a group had gathered to watch the sun arrive, and the cranes depart. Sandhill cranes have a long history in Arizona.  Petroglyphs of these birds, etched into stones by native people hundreds of years ago, can still be found along the lower Gila River. This important bird area, is dominated by a ephemeral lake, patchy marshlands, and semi-arid grasslands. Approximately 600 acres (1448 hectares) are the wetland. There are two small patches of riparian habitat. It was acquired by Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1997 according to the Audubon page.

Even Mike appeared to watch the spectacle. The sound was a roar of crane calls and happy gasps at the beautiful event happening before our eyes. Hot coffee in hand, sitting on my chair, I stopped shooting at one point and just watched. Several of us were hoping to photograph the Yellow Headed Blackbirds but to no avail, as the pinks turned to blue and gold the entire flock took off and headed east in a cloud of birds!

The morning light slowly overcame the dark and I headed back to the trailer for breakfast and more coffee:)

Did I mention there is a live Sandhill Crane Cam! Click here for a live view!

After breakfast I wandered out, I could hear a Cactus Wren walking about on the trailer roof. It was eating acorns left over from a previous stop under the oaks. Around the paths in the wildlife area that circle the ponds the bushes and trees were full of bird song. The mucky ponds are home to many species of ducks and other pokey birds:) A Wilson’s Snipe was foraging in the mud and a flock Dowitchers was preening in the morning sun. Dozens of Northern Shoveler Pairs foraged in the muck, shoveling. Green Winged Teals swam about, a bit too far for me to photograph but occasionally a bright patch of green would appear as they preened.

A Loggerhead Shrike had taken up lookout in a tree, it became very quiet save for a Woodpecker hammering away on a Willow. Black Phoebes sat by the waters edge waiting for flies. The birds that captured my heart were the elegant Pintail Ducks in their brown tuxedos:) Such beauties! The first overcast morning they were very close in, bustling about, posturing, posing, eating and just being ducks:) These beautiful dabbler ducks are found all over North America but head North to breed in Canada and Alaska.

Right across from the trailer was a large open shed, very tall, maybe 25′. Looked like an old round bale barn. In the rafters many people were stopping and pointing. At one end a female Great Horned Owl sat in her giant nest of twigs. On the other end of the shed, Mr. Great Horned Owl sat in the rafters peering about. He had a somewhat pissed off look to him so I kept my distance and shot from afar with the Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens.

I’ve read this same pair have been here for over 5 years so they don’t seem to have a problem with the many birders passing through. There was an abundance of gopher holes so I know what they live on:) They must be used to the traffic through this area and seemed unconcerned. I’d posted the shots here on a SW Birding Facebook page and some A-hole accused me of harassing them online, so many trolls out there, and ones with no sense of humour I discovered as well, did I mention owl tasted just like chicken?

What a spectacular 24 hours filled with beautiful birds….I would have loved to have stayed an extra two days but we’d paid a reservation in Rodeo, New Mexico and had to get on the road. Sigh…what a wonderful place and so many lovely people. A refreshing change from RV parks where no one goes outside except to walk the dog. These are my happy places but it was time to spend a week where Mike could take the telescope out and socialize a bit with other Astronomy geeks:) but that, is another tale. I’ll leave you with one last shot of these beautiful birds and implore anyone who has the chance to go see these amazing creatures before they head North!

Saludos amigos, stay tuned:)

Sandhill Cranes that go on and on and on…

Bisbee and beyond…

After leaving Patagonia you pass through a high plain. Sonoita comes and goes, don’t blink or you will miss it;) The plains were covered with snow, at a higher altitude is was melting slowly. It was nice to wave goodbye to the white stuff in the rearview mirror. Mount Wrightson disappeared as we headed South on the 90 towards Huachuca City and Sierra Vista.

Goodbye snow!

After Sierra Vista 90 turns East and you enter into the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The old sycamore trees lining this riverbed are beautiful, somewhat stark without their Spring leaves but that should be coming soon. According to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, whew, that is a mouthful, people first arrived in this area 11,000 years ago. They belonged to what we now call the Clovis Culture and were the earliest known people to have inhabited North America. Named after the distinctive and beautifully crafted Clovis spear points they made, they were expert hunters of the large mammals of the last Ice Age, how cool is that! I made Mike promise to bring me back here as we drove by on our way to Bisbee…lots and lots of birds;)

Completed 60 years ago, Mule Pass Tunnel created a new gateway into Bisbee. It also cut 10 minutes off the drive over the 6,030-foot-high pass on US 80 into the southeastern Arizona mining town. Slipping into darkness, and then we were out and winding our way into Old Bisbee.

Bisbee was founded as a coppergold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine. That is where we parked for two days, at The Queen Mine RV Park. It was a tight fit getting in, I wouldn’t want to try it with anything larger than our 37′ but once up on the plateau that is the RV park there is plenty of space to maneuver. Read the reviews before you arrive and follow their advice;) We made sparks on our way out. Sites are in a semi circle overlooking the old mine and you can walk into town, or to the mine to take a tour. Cats were not impressed…a small dog walk..whaaaaa??? dog walk they said…suck it up we told them, lots of sniffing of bushes and kitty scowls;) Once up into the RV park there is no where to walk to but down to the mine or into town.

View from the Queen MIne RV Park

We walked into town and explored some of the old buildings and stores. Most of the restaurants were closed, Monday, too bad but we had our exercise finding the Mimosa Health Food Store along Brewery Avenue, how can you go wrong with a name like that?;) Fresh German sourdough bread and homemade bratwurst. Wonderful! Youngblood Hill Avenue was a challenge, for me, the hare left the tortoise behind and then we walked back along OK Street.

This is a town of stairs…everywhere you look, it is the only way to access anything. A welder could make a fortune here just in repairs. The only way to get up and down to many of the small houses are rickety sets, and not so rickety sets of stairs….The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a five-kilometer run through the city that traverses 1,034 stairs….whew…tired just thinking about it;) If you’re a lazy person someone in a golf cart will drive you around on a tour…ha!

It seems to be a liberal little town, made me smile, the united we stand-US-Arizona-Mexico graffiti as well as signs taped in windows welcoming all and placards in store windows in Spanish and English proclaiming” Humanitarian aid is NEVER a crime, Drop the charges”. The migra seems to hit a nerve here perhaps…I do like the idea of a bicycle Brothel as well;)

There are saloons, no swinging doors I could see, closed 🙁 and a few old hotels along OK Street. At the end it is so narrow I doubt our dually truck could make some of the narrow turns. Mike said it reminded him of Europe. We stopped to talk to a kind German fellow walking his two shepards that I’d met in Patagonia Lake, small world this corner of Arizona. It is a mix of rehabilitated and needing rehabilitation everywhere you look. It is quaint, mixed with fun, mixed with boarded up and falling down. A great looking small theater, “Greenbook, Dr. Strangelove and Oh Brother Where Art Thou” were playing, nice!

We did make a trip back to Sierra Vista to restock. Headed into the boonies of SE Arizona and New Mexico next where there is…nothing…really, well, not much fresh food anyway, you’ll see;) We read the bad reviews about the Bisbee Safeway and I still wanted to stop at the San Pedro Riparian area so off we went. We circled South on the 92 back up to Sierra Vista.

The sight of the migra trucks is pretty common here, not so many migra road blocks but these guys are everywhere you look. The view to the West is spectacular. In these canyons all kinds of bird watching B&B’s are located, wish there were Birding RV parks here;) We stopped for lunch in Sierra Vista, I’d read some good reviews for J’s Kitchen, a food truck specializing in Filipino Food. We were not disappointed! Spicy fried Pork Belly and lumpia…heaven!

After the trip to the grocery store and an amble through Walmart for a water filter and DEF fluid we headed back to Bisbee via the 90 again with a quick stop at the Riparian Area. Really delightful stop. Friendly volunteer, pointed out the sleeping screech owl to us and I sat and watched the woodpeckers and warblers for a while before we headed home.

Enough of the city for us. Nice to have laundry etc but time for the wilds once again! For a long time I’ve read about Whitewater Draw, a State Wildlife area famous for its Sandhill Cranes. They have dry camping limited to 3 days so I talked Mike into going for at least one before we headed off to Rodeo, New Mexico and astronomy happenings:)

So stay tuned for thousands, yes up to 20,000 Sandhill Cranes:) and photos…hahahaha! Don’t look up with your mouth open;)

Saludos amigos!


Lake Patagonia-birders paradise

Hello sunshine!

Hello Sunshine! The clouds parted late in the day and we had a few glimpses of sun on the the surrounding hills as the clouds were blown off the tips of the mountains. The wet heavy snow started to melt almost instantly and the roads were clear enough to maneuver about carefully. Forgot how cold this stuff is!

The office and visitor center has feeders to go watch the birds as well as a lovely path, the Sonoita Creek Trail where a group of Pyrrhuloxia were dominating the feeders, this fellow figured out how to keep his feet from getting cold! Cardinals came and went as well as Yellow Rumped Warblers. Along the path Ladderback woodpeckers were busy on tree trunks and flocks of Red Winged Blackbirds and Grackles occasionally descended to take over the feeders.

Patagonia is a small town, just over 900 residents and it has a quirky feel to it. Not far from the State Park, 6 miles more or less, it has its share of camera and binocular wielding visitors roaming the green patches of trees looking for something rare or new to the birding community. One gas station, Two old pumps not seen much anymore and California prices, neither Pat nor Daisie-Mae the pig were anywhere to be seen, self serve in this two pump town;) The Red Mountain Foods has a wonderful assortment of very fresh produce, home grown eggs and staples and health food finds in bulk. The Patagonia Market across the street has milk, canned goods and a selection of beer and wine. The best was The Ovens of Patagonia-freshly baked bread but the pastries, lemon and cherry cheese danish were to die for!

Also in Patagonia is the Tucson Audubon Society’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds…how could I resist that? I knew it was early for the hummingbirds but I always have wanted to see it. The Cottonwoods in the yard looked like they had a hard time with the heavy snow, broken branches everywhere but the air was full of sound. The Tucson Audubon runs the Patton’s house, where Marion and Wally Patton fed the birds for over 40 years until they passed away. Over 212 species have been seen here including the Violet Crowned Hummingbird. I did not get to see it but many other delightful birds in and around their yard and some very chubby squirrels:)

The snow was quickly melting. I had another chance to Walk the Sonoita Creek Path. The creek was overflowing and the bridge across had been pulled aside as the creek would have floated it away, so no exploring the other side until the waters recede! It gave me a chance to explore the shoreline. Great Blue Herons and Cormorants, Lesser Scaups, a new duck for me, as well as Mergansers and Northern Shovelers seemed to be the most abundant birds.

Back at the trailer our feeders had flocks of Red Winged Blackbirds and Goldfinches galore. Great Cat TV. Three different hummingbirds showed up, the gorgeous Broad Billed, a Costa’s and even a Rufous I think, it could have been an Allen’s.

Bewick’s Wrens foraged under the bare mesquite trees. A female Vermilion Flycatcher was busy swooping down on bugs, I couldn’t see any but she was catching them as well as a Black Phoebe. Lesser Goldfinches were bathing in the melting snow puddles running off the trailer top:) A female Bushtit was busy in a pine tree, such fast little birds and chipping sparrows came and went with the house finches. Wonderful to see so many feeders up at so many trailers as many parks discourage feeding any wildlife.

I think I could easily stay here for weeks! These parks you have to plan ahead to get reservations. I was thankful so many cancelled because of the snow or we wouldn’t have been able to stay as long as did! The pantry was starting to look empty and we needed to do a run for ourselves and chicken to grind up for the four pawed family so we decided to move on to Bisbee. We’d driven by a few years ago on our first voyage on Myrtle One and it had intrigued us, and I’d made a ghost town trip through here 35 years ago, damn time flies! So it was time for town!

Lake Patagonia-Let the sun shine!

So stay tuned amigos, a break from birds to old buildings…maybe;) hahahaha!

From warmth to snow in Arizona

We were not sure what to expect arriving at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. I’d read reviews and blogs, some good some not so good but we were looking for a one night stopover before we could arrive at Lake Pleasant Regional Park, and we were in Arizona finally! Diesel drops a dollar a gallon, yeah! We took the #111 North from the Salton Sea to the I 10 Eastbound, turned South at Blythe and followed State Road 78 South towards the refuge. #78 South bound turns into Neighbours Road on a bend. Oh dear, I keep saying the #78 or the I 10…very Californian of me;) Just watch SNL’s take on it;) hahahaha! Anyway, just before the Arizona border it gets a bit bumpy but once you cross the narrow bridge into Arizona it is fine. Passing huge cotton fields with bales lined up along the road gives you the confidence to cross the somewhat sketchy looking bridge. If fully loaded 18 wheelers can cross, so can we;)

Mike was looking at me skeptically as we crossed over a rickety cattle guard opposite the Wildlife Refuge Office and started to drive up a small hill. Several other RV’s were camped there. It was the “what are you getting me into look!” Ha! I’d read not to go beyond a small dip as you can get hung up so we backed into the last site on the left with a fire ring and set up. Quite the view, a stark dry desert view. It gave us an idea when we come back if it is somewhere we want to stay and explore, once it WARMS up!

Fog rolling in, Lake Pleasant Regional Park.

We left fairly early trying to beat the clouds and rain approaching from the West. Lake Pleasant Regional Park had been full except for two days so we took what we could get. It was a bit of a tight fit but we backed in and got the slides out in site 17 of the Roadrunner Campground. The way in was a bit convoluted and the directions at the front not the best but we found where we were going eventually! View was great over the lake. Sites 13. 15 and 16 are pull through and face the lake, they would be the ideal ones to have. We asked if they had any cancellations and no, it just seems all the regional and state parks are full, all the time in February and March. Plan ahead is all I can say! Cats loved walking down to lake on the paths.

The front arrived and it rained for most of the next day before clearing. We tried to find a spot at Catalina State Park but they were fully booked, until the ranger suggested we go to the overflow camping area, he said it was really nice, no services, so that is where we decided to head for Saturday morning, after a night in Phoenix for a laundry stop. Battling a bit of slow Phoenix traffic, a few good God billboards, those 1-855-for-truth guys are everywhere, and a billboard for a $1000 complete cremation service, now pray tell me what would be an incomplete cremation service, they just toast your feet and hands? Who thinks of these ideas? I loved the adult bookstore billboard between the God ones;) and I don’t know any Hispanics with “Republican” values..(which are what?…care for the unborn child but not after?)…at least not our friends in Mexico;) Interstates are so interesting…if just for the advertising;) We spent the night at a Phoenix RV Park-Fiesta Grande-a needed laundry stop. It was very odd. Everyone had name tags on and they were extremely friendly, and very very talkative, not good listeners;)…a huge band of permanents here for the entire winter. Lot’s of lonely people it felt like. No walking paths just lots of concrete and neighbours. I was happy to leave the next morning after a thorough cleaning fest of truck and trailer;)

Catalina State Park is a bit off the freeway after the 17 turns to the 10 North of Tucson, the road meanders through planned communities with bike paths, past a large shopping center you cross over to the park, a bit weird, it’s like, where the hell is the park? We approached the gate and the park ranger had his hand up…whoa there…the road in and out of the campground was flooded, five feet of water in the arroyo he said, no one is coming or going today…what to do, what to do….Got on the phone, Kartchner State Park said we could camp for a night in their parking lot, they were full, I dreaded the thought of another sardine RV Park so called Colossal Cave Mountain Park and he said they had first come first serve camping spots! Excellent. He gave me detailed instructions on how to get there, where to stop and park and off we went.

Driving into Colossal Cave State Park

I understood the explicit directions he gave when we got there. He said to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the office, which I did, we could have made it up, but not back down the narrow one way road with a sharp left turn on exit. It was a good huff and puff half mile climb up. Went into the Gift Store/Office and a young lady took my $7 a night then showed me where the campground was on the map. I did explain we were 37′ long and she said no problem…I did mention again the ranger said there was overflow camping, yup, there she said…oh dear…we got in, Mike was giving me another one of those WTF looks, with good reason, it was a narrow road through a very narrow gate. The Campgrounds, tucked in the mesquites in Posta Quemada canyon, were built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, way too small for today’s larger trailers and RV’s. The ranger appeared behind us and was very kind, “So sorry, this is not where you are supposed to be, I saw you out the work shop window and tried to catch you!”…follow me. Mike managed to get Myrtle around a very small turn about, with a few new scratches from the mesquite tree on the corner but we were soon on our way to the overflow parking lot…whew…

This park could use some work, just the roads made us feel like we were back in Baja, pothole dodging is a fine art here! We turned into a large lot and pulled alongside a small creek and let out a sigh of relief…there is a hose over there, well water, the ranger said:) Wonderful! Super nice guy:)

We wandered about a few trails. Up to some metates, grinding holes in the granite for the mesquite beans used by the Hohokam Native Americans to make flour.There was a dude ranch and some sleepy horses tied up waiting for riders. We met a few polite bike riders on the paths but other than that very quiet, one other camper and some tenters showed up for night or two. We never did make it up to the cave for a tour but it was lovely to leave the door open during the day. There were a few birds, but overall not much chatter from the tree tops.

A small creek ran between us and the dude ranch. It looked like it has seen better days, in fact the whole park has an old feel to it. The dude ranch looks tired, as do the surrounding gardens and museum which were all closed. It’s a if the cave has all the income. I expected to see more traffic over the Presidents Day long weekend for the horse rental but the cars that came and went were few. Too bad. I’d come back here to spend a few days by the cowboy statue:)

Mike had found a RV park, La Siesta Campground, near the Buenos Aires Wildlife refuge. We wanted to scout this area for possible boondocking. Another patch of bad weather, this time with snow forecast was headed our way so a bit of power would be nice for the electric heaters and Beezil’s heated throw:) Have to keep the old cat happy! So off we headed for Arivaca, Arizona.

The owner Steve was very kind. He called us on the way in to remind us not to follow Mesquite Road, basically a dirt track that some peoples GPS’s take them on. We heeded his advice and arrived at this lovely spot overlooking 9000′ Mount Wrightson to the East in a field of mesquite. Cat heaven…until…Jack the donkey appeared and was braying about as loudly as a donkey can when it’s lonely. The cat’s tails became enormous and they hot footed it back to the trailer dragging us behind them on their leashes. After in the trailer they were getting wide eyed every time they heard poor Jack braying by the fence.

What kind of alien creature was that?? hahahaha! Poor lonely Jack..all he wanted was some ear scratches and a bit of company. We were happy to plug in for a few days and do some exploring. To the West is the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. We took an afternoon and scoped out boondocking sites. What a beautiful place! A herd of Coues deer crossed the road, we let them past quietly so they would not panic and run into the barbed wire fence.

Back at the campground I wandered about looking for birds. A lovely lady on the end of the sites had some feeders up and invited me to sit and watch the birds. The bare mesquite trees were alive with song, especially early in the morning. We had a dusting of snow the first morning, the temperatures dipped to -8°, 18 °Flintstone scale…that was chilly! Heaters ran for half the night!

After the quiet of Colossal Cave Mountain park this was a treat. Bird chatter everywhere. Perhaps it’s the elevation here, 3643′ or simply it’s geographic location and the Arivaca Creek, now dry, filled with huge old Sycamores. There is evidence of torrential flooding here in the washes. Downed trees and carved sides of the dry creeks bear witness to large volumes of water. Summer monsoons here bring flash flooding along the Arivaca Road in dozens of spots, the repaired road damage is evidence to the destruction water can do.

I’d kept checking the calendar of reservation spots for Patagonia Lake State Park, a renown birding destination. They were calling for significant snowfall for the weekend and cancellations kept popping up. I’d secured two days and finally 5 nights in a row in one spot! Wahoo! The park has 50 amp service which would allow us to run all the electric heaters. The power at La Fiesta was low amperage and we had it go out several times. With up to 7″ of snow coming we thought it might be best to have a reliable source of power to keep us warm!

I was looking forward to 5 nights in one spot, too much hopping for me the last few weeks but so hard this time of year to find space at the state or regional parks…damn snowbirds;) hahaha! After Arivaca Road you join up the Interstate 19 in Amado, home to the Cow Palace and the Longhorn Grill, wonderful American Kitsch. We headed South towards Nogales before turning East on State Road 82 to Lake Patagonia State Park. The surrounding Mountains were dusted with snow, it was a beautiful sight! We pulled into site 67, great cat climbing trees, always a plus and settled in.

The rain soon started and by the morning, well, it was a white wonderland.

and I’ll sign off for now, but stay tuned for the lovely birds and more snow covered hills of Patagonia Lake State Park! Saludos amigos! Stay warm!

The Salton Sea

We wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before. I’d read conflicting reviews about the Salton Sea Recreational Area, it seemed to be a love, or hate it type of place. We drove through waves of wildflowers on the way down to the sea on State Road 22-Lupines and other flowers covered the sides of the road. I was not expecting the stark beauty that appeared before us. We drove past groves of Date Palms as we rounded the Northern end of the lake. The evidence of salt was everywhere. Arriving at the Mecca Campground we stopped and the camp host came out, lovely couple, and suggested we take spot 140, as there had been a cancellation. They are oddly shaped spots 20′ x 40′, more like blocks. We backed in sideways and just fit with our windows pointing out at the sea. Spectacular. The 4 sites along the center of the campground facing the sea have full hook-up as well! But we are sitting right on the San Andreas fault;)

We were surrounded by friendly campers, a Canadian couple, Sharon and Graham, a lovely Czechoslovakian woman, Merka, and her husband Mark and a man familiar with Baja, Mike with his two lovely older dogs-don’t let Groot hear I said that! Merka loved cats so the kids got some extra attention:) We also had some hints on where to go, and not. Mark said he wished he could “unsee” what he saw at Slab City and Bombay Beach. We can wait to witness the apocalypse on down the road, don’t wish to see that now:( He was shaking his head in dismay at the culture of anarchy there. There is no official electricity, running water, sewers, toilets or trash pickup service or any law enforcement. Most who are there have nowhere else to go, tweakers have overrun what at one time was an area people went to live off the grid and away from society, maybe misfits but now crime has taken over from the many accounts we read.

The first quarter moon was up so we unloaded the telescope and set it up, inviting all our neighbours for a look if they wanted to! The seeing was not the best but it was wonderful to share the views and drink mulled wine in front of a campfire. Everyone was complaining about the cold, what wusses are we but these folks had come from Minnesota and Ontario to escape it! We went online and decided to stay a few more nights and explore the area as the spot we were in had opened up with further cancellations.

The following days new visitors arrived from the campground near the park headquarters, the train whistle there had been driving them crazy as there is a road that crosses the tracks. At the Mecca campground you could hear the train but there was no whistle. Our new neighbours said it was not pleasant where they had been, that explains many of the bad reviews. Hopefully we cheered them up with a look at the universe!

It looks quite bleak this landscape, but there is so much beauty. All the small wildflowers spread about the beach and inland. It is amazing anything can grow. This is not sand but billions of tiny particles of shells, fish bones and accumulated salt. The natural rise and fall of the surface level over the years has resulted in a band of salt-encrusted land around the lake. In some places you can walk on it, in others, well, I learned after setting up my small three legged chair to photograph the Black Necked Stilts that is was not strong enough to support me, both chair, Pamela and camera fell over backwards, camera saved, never hit the ground, but I’m not sure I will ever get the stains, or wretched smell out of my clothes where I fell into the muck. Yuck! The boat ramps have long been abandoned with the falling level of the sea, even a kayak launching area at the headquarters keeps getting moved closer as the sea recedes.

According to Wikipedia: “Over millions of years, the Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley and deposited soil (creating fertile farmland), building up the terrain and constantly changing the course of the river. For thousands of years, the river has alternately flowed into and out of the valley, alternately creating a freshwater lake, an increasingly saline lake, and a dry desert basin, depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. The cycle of filling has been about every 400–500 years and has repeated many times. The latest natural cycle occurred around 1600–1700 as remembered by Native Americans who talked with the first European settlers. Fish traps still exist at many locations, and the Native Americans evidently moved the traps depending upon the cycle.

The most recent inflow of water from the now heavily controlled Colorado River was accidentally created by the engineers of the California Development Company in 1905. In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, irrigation canals were dug from the Colorado River into the valley. The canals suffered silt buildup, so a cut was made in the bank of the Colorado River to further increase the water flow. The resulting outflow overwhelmed the engineered canal, and the river flowed into the Salton Basin for two years, filling the historic dry lake bed and creating the modern sea, before repairs were completed.”

A town and reservation was swallowed as well as many miles of railroad track and a salt mine, time will only tell when they will resurface as the lake is shrinking yearly. Saltier than the Pacific Ocean and getting saltier every year as run off does replenish the lake, but more water is taken/evaporated than restored.

A small path links together the Mecca Campground to the Park Headquarters and visitor center. Hundreds of Western Painted ladies danced from wildflower to wildflower. I walked back along the beach after reaching the Northern Campground. Black Necked Stilts poked about in the water and flocks of Gulls landed and took off as I walked by. The park brochure needs to updated and have “swimming” removed from the Mecca Breach area. I can’t imagine wading into the muck and actually floating in it:( The only fish species that can survive in the water is Tilapia, and a fisherman would want to eat one after they catch it? I don’t think so. With agricultural wash off there have been huge algae blooms and just recently Avian cholera hit the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in the South where thousands of birds died and are being cleaned up trying to stop the spread of the disease.

We took an afternoon and drove down there. It was somewhat depressing with Geothermal Power plants spewing clouds of..(?) into the air as you drive to the refuge. The office was closed and we couldn’t find any maps so wandered down a few paths. I don’t think I’d go back. In the distance snow geese were feeding but most of the paths were closed, perhaps because of the avian flu. A few White Pelicans did a lovely fly over and the resident burrowing owl barely poked his head out of the pipe buried into the ground that was his home:) A cottontail graced us with his presence but it felt, well, sad.

Did I mention there was an awesome cat climbing tree right beside the trailer? Groot and Gamora went out twice a day just to climb the many branches of the Salt Pine and poke about in the bushes looking for lizards warming up in the sun. I have never seen two happier cats! They also had a beautiful female Anna’s hummingbird to watch as well:) and those sunrises….

and sunsets….

We didn’t run into the fly problem so many reviews talked about, or stench coming from the sea. We were far enough away even though the wind blew from all directions while we were there. The cool, no, cold nights most likely kept the bugs at bay. A sandstorm appeared on the Western shore of the Sea one afternoon and eventually blew over us but without the ferocity I was expecting, the next day the mountains looming over Palm Desert were covered in snow.

Sandstorms on the Western Shore

North of the Salton Sea Recreation area is the small town of Mecca. There are several small grocery stores, El Super Toro Loco has a bakery attached, delicious bolillos, great tortillas and meat department as well as fresh produce, felt like home, back into Spanish we slip so easily. Taco Time is not to be missed. Delicious nopal tacos as well as carne asada and al pastor:) Lot’s of Mexican beer and a few bottles of wine, girl at the counter shyly asked me what the chardonnay tasted like:) You can also visit the Banana Museum if you feel so inclined and stop at the liquor/market next door for a walk back to the late 50’s.

The flowers, lupines and brittle brush, blooming alongside State Road 111 were beautiful. The colour stretched for miles and miles along the winding road that follows the shore of the Salton Sea. The cats were very sad to leave their tree but we wanted to push East, thinking it might be warmer…only time will tell:)

Saludos amigos! Stay tuned to see if we warm up, or don our toques and mits;)

Down to the desert-Anza-Borrego

Desert Sunrise

Colours, enchanting colours of the desert mornings. The sound of doves and early a lone coyote cry in the distance. We are always approached and warned by the plethora of paranoid campers about being”careful”, those coyotes, they’ll come and snatch your cats, right off the leash…sigh, yes, thanks for the warning. We have lived in the wilds before:) Maybe they mean well, and no, we don’t let our cats out loose and yes, we are perceptive about wildlife:) The camp host at first came over and said”Hey, dogs need to keep to the paths” then looked, cats? Never mind nothing in the rules about cats;) Funny world:)

The Palm Canyon trail is a beautiful hike up to a grove of, yes, palms:) 3.5 mile loop trail, up about 400′ in elevation. It starts at a small parking lot at the end of the road where the dry camping is located. The creek was running well, so much water! The trail criss-crosses the creek several times as you wind your way up. The path ranges from smooth sand to rocky bits and even a bit of scrambling at the end. I think it is remade each year after the rains wash it out:) It was quiet, a few other hikers but not crowded at all and that blue blue sky to marvel at!

…and the wildflowers are just starting. Mostly small bunches here and there, Western Painted Lady Butterflies are flitting about, landing briefly and moving on in waves. At one point in the path Mike’s eagle astronomer eyes spied a hummingbird on her nest, right next to the path. We sat on a rock and watched her come and go, fascinating, some hikers stopped, others just walked by…

One of nature’s marvels these tiny cuplike nests, made of plant fibers and spider webs, lined with plant down and sometimes feathers. I’m not sure if she is an Anna’s or a Costa’s Hummingbird, I thought I saw a flash of pink as she courted a male so most likely Anna’s:) They associate with males only long enough to copulate. The female constructs the nest, incubates the eggs, and cares for nestlings, lots of work for a single mother! Incubation is 14-19 days, that is quick! I could have stayed for hours…and I did come back the next day and sat for an hour before we had to vacate our campsite.

This was the first chance I had the opportunity to put my new camera strap to work, a BlackRapid Breathe Sport Strap that attaches to the Tamron Lens. It made it much easier crawling over rocks and through boulders, which is all part of the trail carrying the rather heavy lens:) The strap crosses your shoulder and has an additional under arm band to keep things from moving around, yet it is easy to raise the camera for any shot. Impressed:)

We went back the alternative way as that is usually where we see Borregos but none this trip, there is so much to eat right now they don’t need to come down into the canyon to forage. The hummingbird nest made my day!

I ventured out after dark to see if I could image the Winter Milky Way to the West but it was mostly faded from the light pollution coming from the West, LA and Desert Palm Springs I believe. It was still a gorgeous night to watch the stars and listen to the coyotes .

The next day we hopped across the lake, or the Salton Sea, I just want to call it a lake…a short drive from Anza-Borrego to the Western shore. I’d read up on a few of the campgrounds and we wanted to go someplace completely new to us, which it was. Didn’t know what to expect but so glad we did!

Our view to the Salton Sea

Stay tuned for the Salton Sea…coming soon! Saludos amigos!

Closing a chapter…

♫♪♫ I wish they all could be California girls♫♪♪♫ I hear the Beach boys singing!

We needed a change of pace, wandering about looking at ducks had me wondering if I’d be sprouting feathers soon;)….A walk on the beach sounded the perfect thing to do when our friends Regan and Sheila arrived from Canada, one day after their vacation, they hopped on a plane after agreeing to drive a 20′ U-haul back to upstate NY with the remains of what we own and not stuffed on the trailer. It was time to close the California chapter and get those last few belongs, books and picture albums, worn bits of family furniture, heirlooms or not, it is the few things we still feel we have a history to and we have a place to put them so out of the 20′ shipping container on my brother and sister-in-law’s property and off to Ontario they eventually will go! After the checking the price of moving companies and choking, this was our option, Regan stepped up and coerced Sheila I’m sure to a 6 day cross the USA adventure driving a truck…ha! They are amazing people! And yes, I still found birds;)

We walked down the beach…”all those fit Californians” Sheila remarked:) Indeed, one less trip to “Habit Burger” the little angel said sitting on my shoulder;) We toured Ocean Beach the next day after having breakfast at Gillespie Field, the devil made me order the eggs benedict, honestly… watching the planes take off and land. Ran into some people with bengal cats on leashes, NEED! and Obi Wan’s church (I could have sworn it said that) as well as a peace hostel and a tour through “The Black” finished by margaritas on the boardwalk people watching:)

It is such an odd place California. After the God billboards of the South, California has its own Gods, the Cannabis ones…American marketing at it’s best, there is someone out there waiting to sell you something;) And the Trump flags…sigh…do you really need to fly your flag at a campground, God forbid some sane thinking person might approach you, warn them off right away!!! Maybe I can get an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez one, billionaires beware!

We live in such divided times don’t we, it seems the middle ground has sunk into a swamp and we are clinging to either side…but at least the West coast is well medicated from what I can see, eases the pain…;)

We bade farewell to Sheila and Regan and our truck full of memories headed North, pleaded with the weather Gods to be kind for their travels and started to pack up as we had a three or four day hotel stay ahead of us as our trusty trailer Myrtle had some body work to be done after an encounter with road debris, maybe it was a road nargle…sigh..it put a bump in the left rear quarter and pulled the trim away. I called a body shop a mobile RV guy suggested, first it wouldn’t be until the middle of February, then he called back and said bring it in right away!…now, to find a cat friendly hotel, and dog friendly ones are not interchangeable…rooms that smell of wet dog will not be accepted Groot exclaimed!

We searched online as the insurance company gave us a budget of what we could spend, the Ritz Carlton was right out;) I was craving countryside and dirt, we looked at the beach but it was concrete wall to wall so headed inland and checked out a small motel near Julian. Huge live oaks behind, places to walk the cat, kitchenettes with fridge and freezer…bingo! Even a bakery across the road with lovely home made biscuits! It was Groot, Gamora and Puffy approved once they had the chance to explore and settle in. They amaze me these creatures of habit that can adapt to sudden change! Kitty Vacation!!!! Nooks and crannies to explore as well as high cabinets to perch on!

The forecast was for rain so we took a morning drive before the front came through and checked out a few local state/county parks for future RV reference, William Heise and then off towards Mount Laguna before the clouds rolled in and the rain started. I do love this terrain. Perhaps it reminds me of the Baja Sierra mountains and live oaks, I feel at home here at this elevation more than anywhere. I didn’t get Mike to visit the Camel/dromedary dairy though;) Will save that for next trip! The trailer was actually done a day early (imagine that) but our reservation to return to Santee was not so we stayed put an extra day before heading back to Santee to retrieve Myrtle, cats in tow and heading back to the lakeshore loop at Santee Lakes for a few days to make sure all was in order, shopping done and a few more walks around the lake and bid farewell to my troup of birds:)

It keeps me out of trouble;) All these birds. The morning we were scheduled for departure the clouds had parted and the sun was glorious! It has seemed to be an oddly wet time of the year and spoiled as we are, what is this mud thing??? Ha! It brings mushrooms and glossy berries and cats hidden in trees!

We headed North on the 67, Mike and I chuckle now when we start to give highway directions, SNL “the Californians”, thanks Regan and Sheila, ha! Yes we do sound like that sometimes…so, like we took uh the 67 North to hmm, the 78 at Santa Isobel you like turn left onto the 79 North to like the State road 22 East….to get to Anza-Borrego State Park. Past snow covered hills and then the LA mountains to the North. The road going down to the Salton Sea had been sanded, wicked weather here a few days back, the road signs were covered with ice. Just wild! Nothing like Ontario my friends but weather nonetheless, I think it was my great Grandfather that said Southern California has climate, not weather;)

So with our escape from the city complete it was with a bit of a heavy heart as it felt indeed like a chapter coming to an end, things that tied us here, things, not the wonderful people, family and friends, are now gone. We place so much stock in these things at times. Sometimes I think the longer we stay away from the them, the less important they become, until we open that favourite dog eared book, and gaze at the photos, the old chinese chest and the old ass sucking (yes, you really can not get your ass out of this sofa once you sit down) rattan sofa…our things…not new, not fancy but just wonderful comforting old things. They will await us for another few months as our journey continues, seeking a few warmer spots before it is time to head North and East once again. Stay tuned for the desert and the Salton Sea my friends!

Good night Anza-Borrego

Saludos amigos…love this desert air!

“I’m stoked”

Though Merriam-Webster defines “stoke” as “to stir or add fuel to (something that is burning)” this expression has absolutely nothing to do with building a fire, at least in a literal sense. Californians are stoked when they’re totally, completely exhilarated about something, whether it’s a trip to the mountains or a huge swell coming just in time for the weekend.

Or even a good cup of coffee…welcome to California:) Sort of, the laid back beach vibe doesn’t inhabit all the state, at least nowhere on the freeways, but we’re sticking with our pay it forward, be nice to people merging and to those who seem not able to drive at all and take a deep breath;) ha! Easier said than done! Occasionally someone throws a thank you wave your way, a small gesture, just meaning you have acknowledged each others humanity:) Isn’t that nice!

We’ve stayed on the coast before, down in Pacific Beach there are two RV “resorts”, having a pool classifies you as such I think;) but at $90 a night and lined up cheek to jowl with your neighbour is not my idea of a good time, also, concrete as far as the eye can see, I need dirt to walk on. That is why we come back to Santee Lakes, we do have to shuffle about every week or so to a new spot but if we plan we get good separation and trees for cats to climb, and birds to perch in:)

The sites near the pool in the center of the campground are in groves of sycamore and pine trees, the Willow Loop, yup, go figure;) Here the small songbirds and finches flock to the fruiting bushes. The Red Tailed and Red Shouldered Hawks use the upper branches as cover as they hunt their meals. A family of crows will tell you when they are there. I first thought they were barking at the cats on their leashes but then I looked up, and a hawk was looking down at me:)

Other than the incessant helicopter and military aircraft noise it can be quiet surprisingly enough, they do rest occasionally the military:) The wildlife isn’t just humans walking their dogs, the coyotes yip and snarl at night after they have caught a rabbit or a bird too close to shore, Coot control one might think. Mike pointed out the coyote yips to a woman one day while he was taking the trash to the dumpster…”Is that what that is! How incredibly creepy!” she exclaimed…what??? Are we that far removed from nature that the glorious yips from a coyote sound creepy? Very sad…Mike said he was left without words and walked away.

At least one small tied up dog has been snatched by the coyotes but then they do say, don’t tie your dog outside the trailer…sad way to learn a lesson. We must share these areas. As further construction above the lakes increases, 450 new homes I was told, it squeezes these creatures out of their natural environment and into the campgrounds and neighbourhoods. It is very sadly called “Weston”….”one road in, one road out” a woman walking her dog exclaimed, “450 houses, not exactly good fire planning”.

Depending on where you are in the campground defines what is around you. The first spots, oldest in the park from the 1960’s, are the lakeshore loop, my favourite. Spot #44 backs onto the lake where the Wood Ducks spend the night, any of the spots in here are quite lovely, though you can be very close-side by side in some spots, it pays to pick and choose. You can drink your coffee in the morning looking at the ducks and various other water birds, a nice way to start the day:) This is a large campground with many choices.

During the week the shorter lakeside sites are generally empty, they fill up for the weekend but so nice and quiet the rest of the time. The cats can wander along the lakes/reservoir and watch the coots:) Groot got very excited watching a man fishing, no doubt thinking of Otty Lake and what those fishing rods catch! The fisherman declared they don’t eat anything out of the lake, it all tastes like pond bottom green moss he said. Not a surprise as they are farm raised and released here to eat, pond bottom green moss;)

The Egrets and Herons fly from bank to bank looking for small fish. They are quite used to humans and let you walk right on by. The Black Crowned Night Heron either looks like a Mafia henchman sitting on the edge of the water to an occasional perch in a tree. I missed catching the Green Heron down at lake one but will endeavour to get his photograph, he is a beauty. The American White Pelicans often follow the Double Crested Cormorants about as they heard schools of fish too and fro, waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of their work. They are impressive when they fly right over your head. Even get to visit with some Canadians, geese that is, and even a few fellow human Northerners in the campground as well;)

When the water is flat calm, the reflections are astounding. Mother Nature’s artwork at is’t best:) Sometimes it is simply the reflections of the surrounding shrubbery that amaze me, the birds are gravy:) I sometimes wonder why all my birds seem to swim left to right…hmmmmm…..;)

So here we are, about to embark on a new month in a New Year. We are having some repairs taken care of, the shore power went out, turned out to be the surge protector and electric reel, those are now replaced we have our lights back, no more extension cords leading out the trailer door, thank you so much Offshore Outfitters and Good Sam Extended Warranty! We found some road debris as well had done some damage to the driver quarter panel so Myrtle is at the body shop now, getting that replaced, the rear cap bracket must have come loose when something hit us, the bottom of the cap swayed from side to side at the bottom way more than it should as we went over a bit of pavement at the campground backing in…0_0…. tithery things these trailers. Great body shop in Santee said it will be ready by the morning, we will be happy to get back on board tomorrow hopefully, to home. It really is home:) and the only DRV I’ve seen with bumper stickers…hahahahaha!

…and not the only adventure this week, but we’ll explain that soon:)

Saludos amigos and stay tuned! We’ll let the duck have the last quack;)

Estero Estuary Life

Sunset at the estuary

It is always bittersweet leaving Estero behind. Hardly seems like a month has gone by but here we are at the end of January, seems so far away. I can still smell the tacos and am missing the smiles of the water refill store boys who wave as we drive by and Mariscos cart on the corner, those shrimp cocktails and the latest gossip about people we do not know, his family trials and tribulations and his weird porn, yup, he’s a sharer, on his phone…0_0 hahahaha, what some people want to pass on eh? 😉 The air in Ensenada was starting to affect me, and Beezil the old cat. With no garbage disposal (on strike, no money) people resorted to burning everything, plastic, styrofoam, everything….It created a noxious odour and those nasty little particulates, not good to breathe in:(…doesn’t seem to bother the birds…

The bird life in the estuary is a constant source of beauty and affirmation of life here, almost in the city but not. As the tides go in and out the wildlife change spots and reorganize with every passing hour. Crabs scramble as the Willets chase them, the Mergansers can be seen herding fish underwater, working in pairs as the herd of Egrets greedily follow them hoping to catch a tasty morsel unaware.