Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bosque del Apache

Sandhill cranes landing at sunset for the night
This place is a great as advertised.  Actually the stars of the show, the Sandhill Cranes are as great as advertised.

After driving north from Deming for a bout 4 hours through desert we arrived in the Rio Grande valley amidst chile and cotton fields.  We traveled back roads through instead of the interstate most of the time, except for about 40 miles.

Had lunch at visitor center then drove a few miles north to the "Birders Paradise" RV park to camp for the night.  Unhitched Ms. Toad and off we go to explore the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Known as a winterhaven for the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, we saw many other birds (I think Sraddha had 20+ on her daily list).  We drove around the farm loop looking for birds and found quite a few.
Rather than bore you with the details, I suggest you watch this 3 minute slideshow of photos I shot this afternoon at the reserve.  It speaks for itself. to view in full screen click on the little square in lower left corner of the video)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deming, New Mexico

Lined up at the propane refill spot
Fortunately the drive was only 5 hours drive to day from Tucson, because we didn't get going until very late morning.  good drive on interstate the whole way, with everyone passing me all the time.  I was driving in the right lane again around 62 mph which is fast for me.  We pulled into Deming New Mexico around 4:30 with sunset at 5:10 PM.  we drove slowly through this sleepy town to the east end where several RV parks are lined up.  We had selected one which had propane refill so we checked in, disconnected Ms. Toad, and pulled up to the propane refill spot and the park owner came out and filled it up.  I asked him what months are the busiest  for him and he said usually October thru May, however this year it was December-May.

Saw this interesting sign on the front desk when I was paying for the propane.  Thought it was pretty cool. The park wasn't very full and we were here just overnight.  We set up quickly and fixed dinner.

We are close to the interstate so can here the trucks but it is background noise and not too bad.  Spent another hour tonight troubleshooting the Verizon mifi hotspot device.  This after 2 hours yesterday followed by exchanging the device this morning for a new one since the firmware upgrade "bricked" it.  Sigh.

The sky is real big here.  pretty neat and inspiring.  we will go off the interstate tomorrow morning driving up to Socorro, NM with our final destination being Bosque del Apache national wildlife reserve, famous for its birding.  Photographers "flock" to this location for the incredible bird shots.   Many use high end gear (much more high end than I have), however, I hope to get a few cool shots.  We will see.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hummingbirds and Skyscrapers

Sunday evening after a full weekend.  Just completed a workshop this morning at Ananda Tucson covering "all things online with Ananda"  We began with the site, reviewed blogs and youtube and other of the main ananda websites, and concluded with watching last Sunday's video from Ananda Village.  Am always amazed and impressed with the depth of inspiration available online through these sites.

Lunch with Elizabeth and Stanley at a wonderful Indian restaurant then helped Elizabeth and their graphic designer get set up with the Ananda graphics package on their computers.  I use a Mac and they use Windows.  I marvel at how anyone can get things done on windows computers these days without some form of tech support.  We have excellent tech support and education at the village for all the employees, but someone on their own in the world has to find other resources.  Usually some family member perhaps. Anyway, I am grateful for our tech support department back home.
He is eying his  competitor (other Costas)

Costas Hummingbird
Yesterday Sraddha and I visited Tohono Chul park nearby which offered  wonderful examples of desert gardens and all kinds of flora and fauna, well, flora and birds anyway.  I am finding that patience pays off with bird photography when I found this one little Costas hummingbird flitting around one of the garden areas.

As I watched, he would sit on a shaded perch (not good for photos) then, every few minutes, dart out to plants around the garden to feed then back to his little shaded area.  I found a spot to sit on the ground near one of the plant clusters he frequented and waited with the sun at my back.  Finally he returned and I was able to get several photos of him as he worked over the blossoms.  Remember this little guy is only about 2 inches long and flies real fast! REAL FAST!

House front near Tucson Art Museum
Charro's - Great pumpkin tamales!
Cool reflection in downtown
After lunch in the outdoor cafe (keeping an eye out for my little freind), we ran a few errands then ended up looking for a place to photograph around sunset.  We tried San Xavier del Bac mission, but a festival was happening with loud music so we ventured back downtown finding an area near the art museum with colorful walls and interesting arrangements.

We also captured this cool reflection on a modern skyscraper.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sweetwater Wetlands

Nestled behind some industrial buildings north of downtown Tucson near the interstate freeway is this little area called Sweetwater wetlands.  The Sweetwater Wetlands is a water treatment facility, an urban wildlife habitat, and an outdoor classroom.  Amazing place.

We drove over from the Ananda Tucson center as it is only about 5-10 minutes.  Well, actually took us 25 minutes because the normal route is torn up for some construction.  I mean, who has heard of freeway construction in the middle of winter?  Oh, yes, this is Tucson, where the temp reached 74 degrees today.  Ok, no more rubbing it in for you "northerners".

taking flight
With the din of the freeway in the background, we walked around this tranquil park looking for birds.  From a bird photographer viewpoint it was late in the day and most of the bird sightings were shadowed and dark but Sraddha saw quite a few species.  this little duck fella posed for me in a small spot of sunlight the took flight.  I was using a rented 300mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x extender and trying to figure out how to use it.  think the photo turned out okay but not quite as sharp as I would have preferred.

Bobcat new Sweetwater wetlands

We walked around the perimeter of this pond which was a good 3/4 mile and there were 2 ponds like it.  You will see below the sunset photos to get an idea of the wonderful foliage.  
On the south side of the pond are 3 other rainwater fairly empty holding overflow ponds  overflow.  Too far to get any bird photos but I spotted this bobcat looking for dinner.  Nice kitty! Think he walked away hungry.  

As dusk approached, I left the kitty and raced around to the north side of the pond to catch sunset.  think the 3 photos below turned out pretty nice. Couldn't decide which one to show you so posted them all.  These were done via HDR.  Please tell me which one you like in comments section.

Sweetwater Sunset 1

Sweetwater Sunset 2
Sweetwater Sunset 3

Giving Thanks

The Sentinals
Today is Thanksgiving here in USA, in Arizona and in Catalina State Park.  We will be with our good friends of Ananda Tucson in satsang, watching a football game and eating some good food.

Swami Kriyananda wrote back in 1994 a letter about thanksgiving.  Here is a paragraph.

"We,too, at Ananda, have so many blessings for which to thank Him: our communities and way of life, our friends in God, the opportunity to serve God, and to serve Him in others. I know that many of us, myself included, thank Him daily for the sheer abundance of these blessings."

Reflections in Canyon
Giving thanks doesn't need to be relegated to the dinner table or thanksgiving day.  It is best done daily, hourly, even minute by minute, a state of ongoing gratitude for the blessings we receive every moment, even when it doesn't look right then like a blessing.

In the afternoon,  we hiked in Catalina State Park.  Started out through in a mesquite bosque where I was thinking, "this is kind of just the same here, just a bunch of thorns."  About 1.5 miles into hike we rounded a corner and walked down a short steep hill into this incredible riparian canyon teaming with water, deciduous trees including maples and saquaro cactus.  the afternoon bright light turned into late afternoon sunset and the light shifted to really make the saguaro shine. On the way out of the canyon I happened onto these cactus standing as sentinals to the mountain.  I only had my iphone camera with which to take these photos. (Memo to Kent - Take your real camera on hikes).  Still the light was incredible.  It was a blessing.

Whenever we remember, give thanks for what is happening, no matter the circumstances.  It is a blessing that we are where we are in life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


View of catalina mountains out front of campsite
5 nights after departing Ananda Village we arrived in Tucson area.  Actually north of Tucson about 15 miles at the foot of the Catalina mountains in a place called Catalina State Park where we will reside for a week or so, exploring the area, hiking, etc and also spending time with our good freinds of Ananda Tucson!  More on that later.

Since we will be here for almost a week, before departing east to New Mexico, setting up camp was a little bit more detailed.  we stripped off the towing equipment from Ms. Toad, brought out the carpet (no, it's not red or green) and the lawn chairs and unloaded the bicycles.  Now the motorhome becomes our home on this campsite for a week while we explore and see friends in the area.

While Sraddha discussed the week's plans with Elizabeth, the Ananda Tucson leader, I stowed everything in the "basement" or below decks if you will.  Actually there are several compartments on both sides of our motorhome in which we store all kinds of things from cords, to hoses, to tools, to extra camera equipment, to surgical gloves and cleaning supplies.  Amazing how much space we have and how quickly we have filled it up with "stuff" (think George Carlin, etc)...sigh.

Watching birds from bicycle
Still an hour left in daylight so off we rode on our bicycles to explore the campgrounds.  We rode up to the equestrian area and, sure enough, I turned around and Sraddha was about 1/4 mile back gazing into the mesquite bushes.  Lark sparrows were abundant. Never a dull moment.  We continued the tour over to the trailhead at the base of the mountains and decided that might be the place for tomorrow morning's hike before we meet Elizabeth.
What a beautiful area. We are used to forested lands up north at Ananda Village so the desert vistas, and botany takes some adjustments.  The Sonoran desert here is truly a wondrous experience.  so filled with life if you know how to look.  En route earlier in the day we were traversing a rather monotonous desert section north of Quartzite in western Arizona.  same look mile after mile when we noticed a red tail hawk perched up on the top of the power pole.  another 1/4 mile we saw another hawk, then again another.  This went on fo a good ten miles or so with many, many hawks.  Hmm.  this many hawks means lots of food, like mice other little animals.  Yet the desert appeared so bleak on the surface.  Looks can be deceiving.  If you are still reading, all these photos today taken with Annie Leibowitz' favorite camera...The iPhone.

View across our campground looking eastward

Monday, November 21, 2011

Buckskin Mountain State Park on the Lower Colorado River, Arizona

Welcome to Arizona! Today's drive was short, about 70 miles. Nice to have a short drive day as tomorrow, Tuesday is a big one with 300 miles to Tucson.  We drove across then down the Colorado River from Needles through Lake Havasu City to Buckskin Mountain State Park on the Colorado River. This is below parker dam which created Havasu lake and the city for which it is named.  It is amazing how many homesites and developments have grown up in this area over past 50 years since the dam was built.  Mostly manufactured homes which indicates this area caters to the middle class america searching for an affordable place to live in the warmer climates near water.

Buckskin Mtn State Park
I had stopped at this park about 10 years ago during a little arizona adventure in the pickup/camper days and remembered it as a quiet oasis of cottonwood trees and peaceful repose.  Indeed it proved to be again.  Set on a river bend (oops, I forgot to take a photo of this), it offers many recreational opportunities for families during weekends, summers and holidays.  today, Monday, it was about 30% full with other people like us who seek quietude away from the crowds.  Across the river are a couple of developments of trailers and houses.  As I type this in the evening, I can hear people talking as they sit outside enjoying the evening.

Say's Phoebe
We had 2 adventures today once we arrived.  The first was to just walk around the park along the river bank watching the birds.  I got out my big 70-200 mm lens and added the 2x extender giving me 400mm with which to capture birds.  Divine mother did not disappoint. As we walked past the volleyball net, Sraddha spotted this "Say's Phoebe", a flycatcher who was sitting on the net and would dart out to catch an insect then dart back.  Since i didn't have a "really big lens" to sit back a long ways, I had to get close to it so, creeping up slowly, it allowed me within 30 feet and posed for me.  I took about 15-20 shots, experimenting with settings and finally got this one.  Thank you divine mother!


Later on I shot this Phainopepla up in a willow tree.  Both were shot in raw format and I zoomed in photoshop to crop out all but the bird so it looks closer than it was.  the other attempts were out of focus.  Patience pays off

Other adventure was discovering the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge nearby which is home to the largest riparian river valley in lower colorado area.  Driving up the dirt road 3.5 miles gave us a taste of what the colorado river must have been like 200 years ago.

While sitting here on a park bench in the dark typing this blogpost i am hearing lots of fish jumping in the water.  Amazing what happens around us when we just listen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Amboy to Needles

Sunrise at Amboy Crater
Ya know, boondocking isn't so bad!  Camping overnight in the Amboy parking lot was fun, except for the other RV running its generator all evening and then again in the morning. Not that bad though and waking up to sunrise at Amboy Crater was pretty incredible.  After meditation and coffee, we hiked up to the top of Amboy crater.  Having hiked the Lassen cinder cone last July we found this to be a cake walk and a lot of fun to get some exercise.

 Eastbound BNSF waiting for crew at Needles
We were ready to head east by mid morning after a tasty breakfast with Sraddha at the helm.  Old route 66 was not very busy so we ambled east for about an hour then rejoined I-40 for another hour into Needles.  Our first view of the Colorado River.  Needles is an old town which thrived during the heyday of route 66 but mostly is a winter vacation spot now for snow birds.  The downtown is pretty empty but a few places left as reminders of bygone days. It also serves as the crew change spot for BNSF railroad crews, with over 100 trains passing through per day! No wonder we heard trains all night at Amboy.

Western Grebe at Havasu NWR
Our main reason for stopping here, other than not wanting to stay on the road too long, was the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona side of the Colorado River.  After setting up camp at the Needles Marina RV park, we headed out over the old Route 66 bridge to Arizona to explore the refuge.  We found a marshy area with many different birds such as ths Western Grieb, coots, ducks, even a flock of snow geese flew overhead. Check out the Greib's red eye!   While Sraddha looked for birds i kept asking within as to what do want me to see?  The birds were mostly far away and the vegetation not too interesting at the moment plus it was grey light, hard for photos.  We returned to Ms. Toad and resumed exploration.

Sunset with coots
A bit further south we passed this dirt road but didn't stop.  Actually, i didn't see the turn so after about 3 more miles, Sraddha mentioned the turn we missed.  Back we went as dusk approached.  the location was called "Catfish Paradise". this a prime fishing location?  Didn't see any cats or any fish, and certainly no catfish.  In fact the place looked not too busy at all.  Perhaps it is just the slow season.  We parked Ms. Toad, and headed to the shore where we were greeted by suddenly beautiful sunset.  This is the answer to my the question: "What do You want me to see?"

Sunset over Havasu NWR

Back to the jeep for camera!  and here are the results. You can see larger versions on my Picasa web album site.  Back to RV for home cooked dinner and shower, then writing this blog.  What a day, and it is only the 4th day

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trains Trains Trains!

BNSF Eastbound near Daggett, CA 
Hadn't realized how busy the train tracks are in Barstow area.

Saturday morning we were set to meet the UP steam train where the UP and BNSF tracks split at Daggett, Ca. W

UP eastbound near Daggett, CA
We thought we would get there early, find a good spot and wait.

Old Garage in Daggett, CA
However, the steam train was 2 hrs late and the biting cold wind was blowing hard. Over those two hours we saw almost 15 trains! Patience paid off

UP Steam near Dagget, CA
UP steam train finally showed up with our friends which we chauffeured over to their hotel and off to Peggy sue's diner for a late lunch. Also ran into another friend from Los Angeles area who joined us. Fun time visiting, however we were way late departing Daggett around 3 PM with sunset at 4:45.

This was one of those decision times: Do we head 100 miles out to Mojave reserve to camp at a high altitude (4,00 ft) as originally planned or do we head over to Amboy crater (700 ft) and boondock for the night? Being the ever prudent (ha ha) souls we are, Amboy crater was the decision.

As we drove along I-40, I couldn't help wondering if we made the right decision. Arriving near dusk, we were greeted by a cute little dog and a very big sky.

Very quiet! A couple other motor homes and no one else. Plus the price was right! (free).  oh yes, here is a pic of the sunset I snapped with iphone. Turns out not so quiet some of the time when a BNSF train rolls nearby.

Sunset from Amboy Crater, California

one LONG day!

Rest stop north of Bakersfield
Our goal when we travel in the RV is to relax, enjoy the ride, and be open to the adventure of a new day wherever it takes us. Sometimes when you travel, you need to make a push to get across a stretch which will make the other days a bit easier.  Friday was one of the "push" days.  We drove about 400 miles today, stopping only a couple times for lunch and short stretch. From Lodi, through Stockton to Hwy 99 then down the valley, turning left at Bakersfield up to the Mojave desert.  Calm day really and driving in low clouds through Tehachapi, then pushed had by a strong tailwind across the dry mojave. As a result, we drove thru Barstow, CA at dusk with a strong tailwind

Our destination is Calico Ghost Town east of Barstow up in the hills.  Once is was home to the largest silver mine in the west!  Now a county park and quite nice.  We arrived without reservation and found a campsite with our headlights.  Setting up basic camp takes only 15 minutes then we were off exploring in the dark.  Location provided shelter from the driving desert winds. We needed to find a gas station capable of handling Allegra and and Mr. Toad at the same time but we found one nearby where we will gas up both vehicles Saturday then park Allegra nearby while we wait for Union Pacific 844 to arrive in Yermo around 10:30 with some friends on it.  but that is the next story.

Betty Boop at Peggy Sue's Diner in Yermo, CA
After we reconned the area, we found this 50's diner near the gas station called "Peggy  Sue's"  wow.  she likes all the golden oldies.  the food was fun and tasty. garden burgers, curly fries, and the highlight of the evening: a real CHOCOLATE MALT made with real ice cream!!  doesn't get much better.  the place was upbeat and freindly.  Lots of people of our generation.  Autographed pictures of famous Hollywood actors all over the walls as this was on the direct Freeway route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.  We thought this character was pretty cute here!!

Now we spend a couple days exploring Mojave preserve and photographing UP 844 both in Yermo and also tomorrow at Kelso Depot in Mojave preserve.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Incoming! First day on the road

Note - this didn't get published on Thursday November 19 for some accidental reason as is it was scheduled, so posting now a week later.

Today our first day on the road)we spent all day going...not very far.  Well, actually we did travel a fair amount.  From Ananda Village we drove the motorhome to Rocklin for a checkup on the dashboard emission light which turned out to be a confused computer chip.  5 hours later, by the time we departed Rocklin it was afternoon so we drove ata leisurely pace (afterall this is life in the right lane) to Lodi and encamped in a KOA near the delta.

Not much daylight left and we wanted to see the cranes so we unhooked the "toad" and headed back north a few miles to the Isenberg Crane reserve west of I-5.  A group of birders from Oakland was there and I also ran into a model railroad friend, Niles, from Granite Bay. Small world.

Sandhill Cranes landing
What was really amazing were the featured attraction.  Around sunset, hundreds of Sandhill cranes return from a day of feeding in the San Joaquin valley to roost in the shallow waters of the delta, safe from predators.  Truly wondrous as they used their sounds to hone in on a landing spot.  Due to low clouds, I couldn't get  good photos of them at the landing points but did get a couple nice silhouettes against the sunset.  Here is one.  due to low light, the photo is a little grainy.

The reserve is shared with coots, ducks and black necked stilts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What do you mean by life in the right lane?

Camping in Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington
We spent the month of September up in northwest and clear up to Powell River, BC.  What I learned is the motorhome drives best slowly in the right lane of the freeway not the left lanes where I tend to dwell in an automobile.  What used to take 10 hours to drive to Portland now takes beter part of 2 days!  not so bad though as we see a lot more, notice a lot more.  Life slows down a bit and I slow down a bit. Ok, true confession time here, at the moment there seems to be a lot to do to get ready to go so it is not slow, however, once we get on the road it is a more leisurely pace.

Tomorrow we head south to warmer climes. First stop?  Sacramento to visit the Ford service center about the motorhomes emission light. Hopefully it is not serious, and we will be on our merry way but we don't know how long or where we will stop tomorrow night.  that is part of the fun of travel, to see the next adventure.

Hopefully this blog can record some of our adventures, along with the inspiration we find along the way.  Who knows?  we might even meet you somewhere down the line.