Bang bang, they hate those road signs….Welcome to America

Are you really so bored the highway signs become your own personal targets? Seems so in Nevada. I don’t think we passed a single sign, other than the Extraterrestrial Highway signs that were not riddled with bullets. Do you pull over to shoot them or like a cowboy do you hang out your car window and take a shot as you whizz by at 75mph?

We left the Little A’le’inn after breakfast and headed North on only what could be described as a long and lonely road. Traffic was scarce on the Extraterrestrial Highway this morning. I think it always is, other than cows, there are lots of free range cows pretty much everywhere.

The Extraterrestrial Highway turns into State Road 6 at Warm Springs, it looks like it could have been inhabited at one point, just not now, an old pool, that may have been filled with hot water is surrounded by an old chain link fence and the windows are boarded up on the buildings, or just missing altogether. I missed a herd of Pronghorn Antelope trotting across the plains as they blended in so well to their surroundings as we made the turn to Tonopah to fuel up. After that, the 6 turns into the 95 North, headed to Mina, our destination for a few days. We were here three years ago and Socorros Hamburger stand makes the best chili relleños we’ve had outside of Mexico so we had to stop and order some, it takes a day or more for them:) You know when you are almost in Mina when you pass the Wild Cat Brothel, just on the outskirts of town. Couldn’t help but think about Father Ted’s Father Jack…Drink! Girls! Watch it, you’ll love it

It hasn’t changed much, maybe a few less inhabitants, last count was 155. The Sunrise Valley RV Park just re-opened for the year so we had a laundry stop as well as tamales. They call themselves an Offroad-ATV Park but luckily none were to be seen or heard, just the horrendous highway noise, makes you realize just how busy the #95 is, mostly heavy truck traffic, but friendly owners with nice smiles and a beautiful rock collection around the entire RV Park. Not a destination for us, or anybody else there at the time, just one night stoppers mostly.

After getting our tamales Sunday morning we made a break for it, further North along the #95 past Walker Lake headed North to Carson City and Washoe Lake State Park. Walker Lake had a herd of wild horses, or maybe not so wild grazing around the shoreline.

Washoe Lake had been dry three years ago when we were there, we kept looking and looking and the ranger was laughing, no water this year she said. A very different sight in 2019. Filled to the brim. We planned on one night here as it was going to be cold and this was dry camping. It is all first come first serve and luckily there were a few spots left. It was closing down in a few days to install power and sewer. Old Beezil loves his heated throw so we can’t freeze him out for too long without power.

The Magpies eluded me as I walked around the Lake. Over to the dunes, then further up to catch a glimpse of the few wild horses I’d seen on our way in. They are scraggly little bony ponies no more. Guess I’m spoiled by our horse flesh, this small group of bachelors was not a handsome lot at all but at least there was some grass coming up for them to eat.

As I scrambled back along the dunes, not sure if the path would actually connect for all the high water many of the paths were under it, a beautiful Bald Eagle flew right over my head, what a glorious site.

Bald Eagle flyby

It did turn out to be a cold night and we ready to move on in the morning. We’d refueled in Carson City, only a few miles to the South and made a stop at our favourite latin market, El Centro, ever. They have hands down, the best carniceria ever. The ranchera/arrachera meat was perfectly marbled, the smoked pork chops are the best we have ever eaten, wish the freezer was bigger and the young butcher gave us a piece of chorizo to try “for free” he said,”I want you to try it”, and it was outstanding as well! Great place to stock up on tortillas, tostadas and fresh vegetables as well:) Estamos Mexicanos cierto!

Snow covered mountains

Sadly the campers next to us ran their frigging generator ALL night long, not exactly pleasant when you are in a quiet State Park-almost all parks have quiet time (if they allow generators at all) from 10pm usually until 7am, so much for effective camp hosts, many just don’t care, just a free spot to stay in exchange for as little work possible:( This park has it’s fair share of weirdos as well, as if we should talk! hahahaha! It’s just a vibe you get when you come in and no one meets your eyes, always feels a bit odd when people turn away:) There was a man camped in his car across from us that had security cameras and signs telling you so set up all around his car…Ok….There are still a ton of fire victims in this area as well as the Western side of the Sierra. The RV parks from Yuba City to Chico are filled with them, now living in trailers as best they can. Talked to a couple of RV spots looking for a space on our way North and all were full with mostly permanents. The Paradise Fire was so very hard on so many people. Not just those 85 people that lost their lives in that horrendous blaze, but the entire city that has been decimated. Many have left the area permanently, unable to find housing or work, or both…and they say climate change is not an issue? my oh my, you may want to ask these displaced folks:(

Enough gloom and doom for this girl, stay tuned for some serious snow as we cross the Sierras back into “Kalifornia”;)

Saludos amigos!

A wee bit of snow up here on the I 80

The Extraterrestrial Highway

The Extraterrestrial Highway

From the “X Files” to “Independance Day” to “Paul” you know you want to drive this Highway;) The truth is out there, in area 51 Tikaboo Valley. “You can drive up the Groom Lake Road, until they turn you around” the waitress said at the Little A’El’Inn.

Walk in… Drive in… Fly in… get to Little A’Le’Inn !!! ET’s & Earthlings Welcome Always

The men in black, who? They forever stand watch along with detection devices, listening devices and cameras mounted among the cactus. The signs read, “Top Secret Military Facility, Keep Out, Use of Deadly force Authorized”…

We left The Valley of Fire and headed North through Overton and the Moapa Valley with very stormy gloomy skies. We were spit on a few times but the showers in the distance were what was spectacular! North through Moapa itself and to Highway 93 a long straight corridor of barren but beautiful desert.

We passed the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, we’d considered boondocking here but not this trip. At Crystal Springs you make the turn left onto the 375-The Extraterrestrial Highway. You have to love places that embrace their inner aliens;)

Where else can your GPS tell you this;)

The desert scenery is astounding. The snow capped mountains and Joshua Trees came into view in the Tikaboo Valley. We pulled over to stop and admire the beauty, and gaze towards area 51. It appears that this may be the only place where two types of Joshua tree, namely the Eastern and Western varieties have come together, wish humans could;)

Tikaboo Valley

We drove past the black mailbox and on down the road into Rachel, Nevada. Population 54. Population humans, yes, Aliens..?

They have 4 or 5 RV spots with 30 amps alongside some of their rooms and the restaurant /bar/grill serves a mean saucer burger as well as breakfasts, and that is about it in Rachel:) At sunset we were treated to a beautiful rainbow after our burger and friendly conversation with the staff. The Alien blood cocktail was delicious;) One more bumper sticker for Myrtle left with us;)

We woke up to spectacular skies and clouds above the mountains that surround this valley. Surreal beauty at dawn as the moon was setting….and it was cold and windy, 34° flintstone scale!

Sunrise. Rachel, Nevada

I wandered about in the cold, trying to get away from the power lines, my arch nemesis they are! Out into the fields. Most of this is BLM land, free range, as a young couple in a pickup truck with a cab over camper found out, after colliding with one in the dark. The truck front end did not look very good to say the least, the bartender was just concerned about the cow “Did ya shoot it?” he was asking the young man, who shook his head and said the Highway Patrol did…life on the range, hard on trucks and cows at night.

Everyone is supposed to have a gun right? You need them to shoot the traffic and directional signs along the highway, what else would one do for sport? But we’ll save that for next time;) Hasta la Vista baby from Rachel Nevada-The truth is out there, we want to believe;)

Leaving Rachel, Nevada

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire-White Dome trail

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. Rachel Carson

I’ve had this beautiful park on a list of places to see for a very long time. There is lots of dispersed camping above Overton on the Mesa, “Poverty Ridge” a storekeeper remarked at the Ice Cream store but it was the campground among the red rocks I so badly wanted to enjoy.

With fingers crossed we drove past the entrance gate and into the park. Past red rock spires with colours dancing off the surfaces. The morning light helped accent the colours as we passed area after area of amazing beauty. The campground is about halfway into the park so with bated breath we slowly made our way in, there were two other trailers behind us, past the petroglyphs on Atlatl rock and into the campground, we worked our way past the smaller sites (all are first come, first serve, no reservations) into the electric/water sites and lo and behold, as least three were available at 10:30 in the morning. We backed into the first one we came across with squeals of glee, yes, me, not Mike and settled in! This was meant to be a two day stop, I could tell already a third day was going to be added;) hahaha!

All this beauty from the windows of your moving home! We took a drive back to the park office for a map of trails after we’d settled in and paid our fees at the campground. As we rounded the bend by the campground I could see a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep grazing in the field beside the campground. Talk about leaping out of the truck as we got back and grabbing the big lens I was off to stalk sheep!

I followed them around for awhile as they grazed next to a trailer site where there was a large patch of grass, the eventually meandered off into the shrubbery eating as they went, the youngsters play fighting and locking horns. They seemed unconcerned with me as I sat down on a rock and watched them interact. I read that Southern desert bighorn sheep are adapted to a desert mountain environment with little or no permanent water. Some may go without visiting water for weeks or months, sustaining their body moisture from food and from rainwater collected in temporary rock pools. They may have the ability to lose up to 30% of their body weight and still survive, wow, I was wondering where they got water.. This is a bachelors group the camp host told me, 12 or 13 of them hang about here most of the time! I finally went back to the trailer excited about my encounter and eager to look at the shots I’d taken. We took the cats for a walk up in among the rocks and saw the sheep often sleep in the caves around the campground due to the copious quantities of sheep poo:) We know that smell of male sheep urine as well, the cats found it all very interesting;) Later in the afternoon I was amazed to see, as well as Gamora who was watching out the window, the entire herd gallop past the back of our trailer between the picnic table and us. Gamora’s eyes were huge!

Desert Bighorn sheep running

I had to grab the camera again and follow them as they were now posing on the incredible red rocks right in front of our eyes! They drew a gathering of eager photographers and phone videographers as we all watched them move about the rocks. We could not believe our luck and the magic of these beautiful sheep as they easily jumped from ledge to ledge, without a scramble, just easy strides…until…

…the asshole in the campsite facing us lost control of his dog who started to chase them off, you can not believe the comments and yells coming from the onlookers, mostly R rated for profanity, for once I had to say nothing as the idiot managed to get his large dog under control. He had a visit from the camp hosts ASAP. Later she stopped by and she sighed and said sadly this happens often. They had already warned the guy previously to keep his dog under control as it had lunged at several campers walking by. So one man ruins an amazing experience for everyone else and for the sheep, who didn’t come back for the remainder of our stay…leashes people, I don’t care how well your dog is trained…

Why it is called Valley of Fire

The next morning after Kitty walks, turns out they love to scramble among the rocks and explore small caves. I’m always careful to check for any reptiles or spiders before I let them in FYI:) I think this maybe there most favourite stop yet, I have to agree:) And yes, our cats are spoiled;)

We realized how lucky we were to get a spot when nothing opened up the following morning. The trailers, 5th wheels, A,B and C classes and El Monte RV’s circled from dawn to dusk like sharks around their prey to no avail…

We drove up to the White Dome Trail on the end of the road after the visitor Center, it seemed the least populated so we hiked down a narrow trail and past amazing rock formations and colours. The White Domes area was the location for the 1966 movie The Professionals. This western, starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale was typical of the 1960s western genre. It was also responsible for the development of the road and access to this remarkable area. The remains of the site include a small portion of the wall of the hacienda. Star Trek Generations was also filmed here for our Science fiction geek friends…goodbye Kirk;)…was that a bad thing?;)

After the short slot canyon you start to make your way back towards the North. A few wildflowers, Preus’s Milkvetch were blooming along the path as we walked.

We headed back to Myrtle after our walk to rest and get the telescope out. It was almost full moon but still so much to show to anyone who wanted a look. Mike had a good crowd with lots of ooh’s and ah’s but the seeing was not that good but still nice to be outside and looking at the moon, the crater Schickard and the Aristarchus regions, and the Orion nebula.

The next morning we awoke to stormy skies. We headed off to hike to Mouse’s Tank Trail as they said there were small water catchments that might be interesting. It is named ‘The Mouse’s Tank’ because an alleged Southern Paiute Indian renegade named ‘Little Mouse’ hid out there in the 1890’s. He was accused of gunning down two prospectors.

Along the path Side Blotched Lizards were warming themselves in the sun and Painted Lady Butterflies dances along the path. What really caught our eye was a lizard high up on a ledge a couple had pointed him out “A Gila Monster” they said. I wasn’t too sure but wandered up the small rocky area to get a closer look. It was a beautiful Chuckwalla-Sauromalus ater. The generic name, Sauromalus, is a combination of two Ancient Greek words:σαῦρος (sauros) meaning “lizard” and ομαλυς (omalus) meaning “flat”. The common name “chuckwalla” derives from the Shoshone word tcaxxwal or Cahuilla čaxwal, transcribed by Spaniards as chacahuala. These guys are herbivores. They browse on a wide variety of leaves, flowers, buds, and fruit. Insects are also eaten occasionally. They deflate themselves to get into crevices to escape predators and then inflate so they can’t be pulled out, how cool is that!

I sat on the rocks after he went into his crevice and watched as he slowly made his way back out to sunbathe. What a beautiful lizard! I loved his yellowish tail. He sat and watched us, looked like he had Bighorn Sheep neighbours up on the rocks as well, lots of droppings so he was used to company;)

Back at the campground the skies were clouding over and looking stormy late in the day. A short walk from our campsite is Atlatl Rock. An atlatl (at’-lat-l) is a device used for launching a spear; usually a short cord would around the spear so that when thrown into the air the weapon will rotate.  The ancient Indians used these weapons and they are depicted in the petroglyphs (rock carvings) located at Atlatl Rock.  Here along the path huge boulders have fallen off the cliffs covered with petroglyphs.

Valley of Fire State Park is home to the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Nevada. The petroglyphs located here, have been dated by archaeologists, and some have been found to be over 3,000 years old. The first known inhabitants of the Valley of Fire were the Gypsum People who visited the region 1800-4000 years ago. They were nomadic hunter-gatherer people and it’s believed that travelled here for ceremonial and religious purposes, but never resided permanently. Later groups that spent time in the Valley of Fire were the Basket Makers, the Anasazi Pueblo People who farmed the Moapa Valley, and later the Southern Paiute. The depictions of the sheep were especially beautiful!

The blooms and wildflowers along the trail were beautiful. Occasionally you would wander through a cloud of perfume. I think they are the Shieldpod flowers (Dithyrea californica). They smell heavenly!

The White Tailed Antelope Squirrels in the campground provided lots of entertainment for the cats and us. They dug in their holes and snorffled (is that a word?) about in the bushes as they scampered well ahead of them. There was the usual crew of birds, House Finches and White Crowned Sparrows as well as a lone Canyon Wren singing its heart out.

I had to admit I didn’t want to leave…sigh…so quiet and beautiful. Everything you want in a magical place. Astounding scenery, wildlife at your doorstep…Go. If you are ever passing by this majestic land of rock called Valley Of Fire. You won’t be disappointed. Saludos amigos and stay tuned….for the Extraterrestrial Highway….the truth is out there!

Leaving Arizona, Hello Nevada

Getting through Phoenix seems to be a hellish endeavor, the traffic, the stop and go for no apparent reason, the very slow drivers, Mike swearing in three different languages;)…therefore all the God billboards and the cremation one, really, a total cremation, makes you wonder what a partial is…ah, add men, sometimes the research maybe was not done;) We were headed North East, out of the Tucson/Phoenix area to Wickenburg. We’d read about a small campground, the Constellation RV Campground, dry camping, $8.00 a night across from a rodeo arena. Sounded nice, in the desert and away from the road and not a sardine like experience of the normal RV parks you encounter. Really not our favourite spots except for laundry breaks.

We hadn’t counted on the endless lazy people roaring about in their 4 wheelers when they could walk to their friends trailer, or the incessant roar of the razors coming from the road the campground was set back on, seems the louder the better. Don’t get me wrong, I love hot rods, and nice sounding V8’s but these noisy little carts people seem to use to rush up and down the roads with their silly little flags belong…OFFROAD…not on the highways, there said my piece, between that and the gunshots from a nearby range had us up early, on a Sunday, ah the sound of freedom someone once said, did he ever get the look…really you asshole? Wake me up at 6am so you can target shoot your toys…there…done…can’t wait some days to get the hell out of this area, on our way! Did I mention Gamora hates traffic noise and could you at least slow down driving past animals and other peoples trailers, if you even notice…guess I wasn’t done;) Ha!

There was a lovely path opposite our site, hoof and foot traffic only, and there in front of us two assholes on 4 wheelers drive around the gate, nearly tipping over, I was hoping, running over all the wildflowers…what is wrong with these entitled a#@holes…wait, must have gone to a bad school and can’t read…these people are not here to enjoy nature, but to trample it under their wheels:( bummer.

…at least Groot tread carefully among the poppies, visions of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz came to mind;)

Walking carefully among the poppies

We left after the first night, enough noise and headed North. We’d read about a free boondocking spot South of Hoover Dam in a large lot, thought that would make a good stop for the 2nd night but as we came around the bend we saw it had been closed off so we kept driving, past the ginormous dam and North into Henderson, Nevada before taking a smaller secoundary road up into the Lake Mead Recreational Area on the 167. We’d called ahead to Valley of Fire and they said their campgrounds were full so we started to look for something along the road. Be warned as you head North on 167 the Lake Mead folks will collect $25 for a week, even if you are just driving through…the brochure the Lake Mead folks gave us listed a few places to camp so getting tired, having driven a lot longer than we had expected we wandered down the Callville Bay Road and into a small primitive (No services, but bathrooms) campground and called it a day. The spots are small but we squeezed into the last and longest one and called it a day.

The cats were quite happy with the quiet and we chatted with a lovely couple walking their wee dog. They had been to most of the campgrounds around Lake Mead and said this was their favourite, lined with oleanders it had good spacing among the sites and shrubbery;)

I hiked up the hill, then the next hill, there is always another hill it seems to get a nice view of Lake Mead along several nicely tread paths. Something magic about quiet and wind…the cactus were just about to burst into bloom.

View from the top of a hill overlooking Callville Bay and Lake Mead

We’d planned on leaving early to snag a campsite at Atlatl Rock in the Valley of Fire so it was early to bed and early to rise. It was nice to back in the quiet again! Stay tuned my friends and remember…

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive”.

Eleonora Duse

Repairs in Tucson…and the Desert Museum!

Where your home rolls all kinds of things can happen. Back in January we hit some road debris causing some damage to the back of the trailer, and it seems it may have knocked our axles out of alignment as well. We dropped our trusty Myrtle off at “Arizona Spring” and waited for the verdict from the mechanic, as well as the verdict from the Progressive Insurance writer. Good thing there was a fish taco stand across the street;) After a few hours of waiting in the truck keeping the cats amused we had our answer. Yes, the axle was out, both were, and yes the insurance would cover it, and four new tires. I was speechless, and pleased, not expecting that generous outcome, but with the axles out, all 4 tires and odd and uneven wear marks. It would take a few days…OK…now to find a cat friendly hotel:)

Our cats are not keen hotel guests. There is usually too much noise and nowhere to walk on their leashes without traffic and other odd humans, theirs are OK, everyone else’s is suspect;) We bring all their toys and beds but it’s just not home;) There are bathtubs to explore, and under the bed is always fun, and the room we found at the Quinta (pet friendly no extra charges) was a studio, so with a sofa (something to cover in hair) a chair (looked like their scratching post they said) and chest of drawers to explore along with all the nice amenities like a fridge and microwave. They made it through the two nights, terrified of the cleaning cart lady and her rolling monster that came by to clean the rooms, she never came in, but they heard the monster roll by. At least our Good Sam Club got us a corporate rate which made it all much more affordable:)

When we got the good news the trailer was done we couldn’t get out of the hotel fast enough! Big thanks to Sandy and all at Arizona Spring. We took advantage of having everything apart, that is the expensive work, thanks to Progressive Insurance and their great adjuster as well, and replaced the bearings and shocks and a few worn bits and pieces. Home sweet home! Not that the free breakfast buffets were not interesting, do many Americans go down in their pyjamas to eat the buffet breakfast there? That was different. Groot said the sausage patties we brought back weren’t that good and Mike wrinkled his nose at most of the fare as well but hey, it was a form of nourishment, sort of;)

We couldn’t get back into Desert Trails but the lovely park next door, Justin Diamond J RV Park (thanks for the amazing fresh grapefruit off your trees!) had an opening for a few days, we wanted to stock up on people and cat food as we were headed to the boonies of Nevada, where shopping is, well, not always actually anything more than small convenience stores selling bags of chips. And…it gave me free day to go to the Sonora-Arizona Desert Museum!

Their Raptor Free Flight is always a treat. I’d forgotten it was Spring break, yikes, very busy, we didn’t get anywhere near to the free flight demo but in the very back we did manage to watch and see some new birds! The Gray Hawk was gorgeous! Gray Hawks hunt from tall cottonwoods and willows along streams. They perch in the mid to upper canopy and wait for lizards or other reptiles on the ground or on tree trunks before launching a quick descending attack.

The Harris Hawks always amaze me. These birds hunt in family units. We had a family in Baja on the road down to the coast we would watch hanging about in the eucalyptus trees, stunning birds of prey…and then there is the Great Horned Owl, her name is “Lil’ Bit” I’ve been told from one of my favourite Facebook SW Birding groups. She stole my heart:) The sound of a Great Horned Owl makes me feel at home wherever I go:)

Did I mention the Hummingbirds….sigh…Mike went back to the truck while I sat and watched:) I so miss these little flying jewels as we head North and East. They were such a huge part of my life in Baja. Sat and talked with several other lovely photographers and family and we shared some stories and places to go. What a lovely crowd!

Did I mention the curled up Gato montes pair;) or the little screech owl the docent had, or the singing Cactus Wrens…sigh…I could spend days here…

But it’s time to head North, so next, our last stop in Arizona before we head North to the Valley of Fire and the Extraterrestrial Highway…the truth is out there! Stay Tuned!

Sunset in the desert

Between Arizona and New Mexico-Portal and Rodeo-The Chiricahuas

Wildflower covered fields on Highway 80

Leaving Bisbee you stay on Highway 80 all the way to Rodeo, New Mexico a bit more than 76 miles, which lies right along the state line. To the North the Arizona Chiricahuas loom and to the East,New Mexico’s Peloncillo’s, which means little baldy in Spanish and to the South, hermosa Mexico. Historical battles, and Indian Wars caused retreats into these mountain regions, it was also access and escape routes into the safe haven ranges of northern Mexico.

These are both volcanic ranges. They are part of an “archipelago” of mountain ranges known as the sky islands that connect the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico with the Rocky Mountains. Bits of lava rock lay spewn about, a testament to the eruptive past here and cinder cones dot the landscape. It is a dry and somewhat barren landscape in the valleys between the two ranges. Rusty’s RV Park touts the dark skies which fall into the dark grey zone on the light pollution map, one step away from black which is the darkest.

This is not our first visit here, back in 2016 we came out this way but Mike was hampered by the wind, and this time the clouds and the wind. It may be dark but you need clear skies to do this astronomy thing and sometimes walls to protect you from the wind;) Dozens of daytime jet contrails also seem to seed high clouds that linger into the night. This must be a major flight path from LA-Dallas. Mike was a bit disappointed to say the least, the neighbouring astronomers were not into visual but astro photography and it was not what you would call a social group. They kept to themselves mostly. It was one of those times I longed to have a smaller trailer. The campsites in the Chiricahua Mountains are all fairly short, and the tree branches on the road in are VERY low. Losing an AC unit or hatch was not what we wanted to do so we made a few forays in Hagrid into the park to hike and drive about to get away from the barren valley landscape.

Cave Creek Trail is always a wonderful adventure. Something magical about water! Part of it once was a road but when Hurricane Odile dropped 6″ of rain in 2014 took out most of that and many of the park roads and campsites as well, some still remain closed. It has seen it’s fair share of dramatic events. The town of Portal and any homes and B&B’s close to the Creek suffered damage still visible today, how well we know that after living in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir!

Following the creek you criss-cross it multiple times, dipping into the creek or leaping from rock to rock eventually ending up in some meadow areas. It was very quiet bird wise, a bit too early for the locals to be back from Mexico;) The colourful rhyolite cliffs of Cave Creek Canyon smile down on you through the branches of the barren trees. The colours, yellow, red and gold are outstanding!

Don’t blink or you will miss Portal. “It’s actually called a town?!” a lady birdwatching at Cave Creek Ranch B&B exclaimed as she sat down…yup;) but then so is Paradise, a hamlet tucked further up into the hills. A new store/restaurant, The Sky Islands Grill and Grocery on the road into the park is a welcome surprise! With everything from Indian curry pastes and canned hummus and babaganoush to toilet paper and a few fresh items it is a delight. The restaurant serves up pizza and burger fare and their Gyro sandwich was a big hit! The Portal Store has beer and wine and a few bits of comida chatarra (chips, cheesies etc.) but not much else…it is not a place to come ill prepared food or gas wise. The closest pumps are in Animas, New Mexico 20 miles away.

Highway 80

We had to move spots to stay a week, not a problem, one is much like the other. They are very long, some have tables and fire pits, some don’t, just luck of the draw. Good room to set up the scope but we took it down after a few days with an incoming bad weather forcast. We took the 20 mile drive out to Animas for gas and some beer, but were informed someone had driven “into” the liquor storefront, and it was closed…hmmm….drunk maybe?

We did drive out to the Cave Creek Ranch B&B and donate a sum into their bird food fund to sit and watch the amazing Arizona and Acorn Woodpeckers. The very large (for a hummingbird) Blue Throated eluded me in the shade most of the time but put in an appearance as well as a male Broadbill. They are like little flying jewels! The Woodpeckers are my favourites, dressed in clown suits the Acorns steal the show, a whole family came and went.

A week was enough for us. The lack of any good seeing, clouds, wind and the social context for the astronomy made us ready to move on. Mike’s Canadian friends must be the most social astro geeks we know, compared to this bunch, it almost felt like we were not quite their type. We are still looking for our mobile astronomy tribe. In the meantime, we need to look for places to stay where people are interested in nature and the world above. Usually at the State and National Parks everyone is curious, here, no one even asked to look through the scope as they walked by. Sad indeed!

One last New Mexico sunset from Rusty’s RV Park

We headed back West towards Tucson, snagged a one night stop at Kartchner Caverns then back to the Desert Trails RV Park in Tucson. By the time we had arrived in Rodeo we’d noticed some very odd tire wear on the back two tires and had contacted a suspension shop-Arizona Spring- in Tucson as well as the insurance company, Progressive that had covered our bump with debris on the road back in January to get it looked at as we thought it may have somehow changed the axle alignment, but that, is another story…stay tuned my friends as we have leave our home for the dreaded “looking for a cat friendly hotel” escapade!

Saludos amigos:)

Back to the Saguaros

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:)