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'Painted Desert' area of Imperial NWR

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Imperial NWR, here I come!

When I left the Casa Grande RV Resort on Tuesday morning, I expected to have an uneventful 200 mile drive to my next assignment at Imperial NWR.  It didn’t quite turn out that way, but it wasn’t too traumatic either.

I had a couple of firsts for me along the way.  First of all, after gassing up in Dateland, AZ, at the easiest in and out I’ve ever had with the rig, I hopped back on I-8.  A short time later, an alarm started going off.  I’m familiar with the dinging if the levelers don’t come all the way up, but this was a new sound.  I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  There was nothing flashing on the dashboard, so I was stumped.

As soon as I could, I exited the interstate and stopped.  By then, I had figured out that the warning sound was coming from my US Gear braking system.  Sure enough, after I put on the emergency blinkers I got out of the rig to check things out on the car and the break away line had become detached.  I reconnected it, but it took quite some time for the alarm to stop.  In the meantime, my mind was racing thinking about all the possible consequences. 

This particular exit didn’t have an easy back on to the interstate, so I had to drive down a skinny road another 15 miles before I could get back on I-8.  By this time, the temps had risen quite a bit, and as I mentioned before my cockpit AC is not working.  So for the first time ever, I revved up the generator so the ‘house’ AC would turn on to try to keep the temps below 90 in the rig as I drove down the road.  I know lots of other people use this method, but I was nervous about doing this.  As it turned out, it worked like a charm.

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The rest of the journey went smoothly until I reached the unpaved three mile entrance road to the refuge.  Holy Buckets!  I’ve never driven the rig on such an awful washboard road.  Top speed was 5 mph, and I thought I’d lose all my teeth in the process and I don’t wear dentures! Disappointed smile  I was more than thankful to finally arrive and have my friend Linda lead me to the RV sites.  I’m really liking my site with the mountains out my kitchen table window, but it sure has been hot.  Triple digit temps yesterday, and close to that today.

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With those high temps, it’s taken me a few days to set everything up for my extended stay here.  I don’t function well in triple or single digits.  Yeah, it’s a dry heat, but give me a break.  It’s still awfully hot.

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The best time to work of course is in the early morning, so it was almost noon before I could do any exploring today.  I decided to take Red Cloud Mine Road to see the four view points of the Colorado River.

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This road would have been a piece of cake for a jeep or truck, but it was slow going with my little Focus.

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The desert scenery is pretty stark here until you take one of the side roads to the view points.  What a difference the water makes.

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I ended up driving to three of the view points.  The last one had a big warning sign that said the road was not maintained, so I skipped that one for now.

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Not too many avian migrants have arrived yet for the winter, so all I saw were some distant ducks on the water and five white-faced ibis moving about the marshlands.

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Not sure if this is considered an arch or a bridge, but it will give you an idea of the terrain on the refuge away from the river.

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My favorite view of the day was as I approached the Painted Desert Trail on the refuge.  If it hadn’t been high noon, I’m sure the different colors would have been even more evident.  There is a hiking trail through this area that is a little less than 1.5 miles long.  By the time Emma and I got there, the temps were already in the mid 90’s, so we’ll do this trail when it’s a little cooler.

I’ve just about got everything set up for my stay here, and I’ve got another week or so to relax and get acquainted with the area before the orientation training begins.  The rest of the winter volunteers will be arriving next week.  Temps are forecasted to drop by about ten degrees next week, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The results are in

Back at the beginning of September, I entered five photos in the Tamarac NWR annual Photo Contest.  Some of you may remember my submissions.  The final vote was taken on Sunday, and today I found out the results.  I was very pleased.

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                                                                         “Where’s Mom?”

                    This was my entry in the Wildlife category, and it received an Honorable Mention.

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                                                                   “Pelicans in the Mist”

                                              In the Scenic category, I earned a Third Place ribbon.

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                                                                       “Damsels in Caress”

                    And, finally, in the Nature’s Abstract category, I garnered a Second Place finish.

Considering that photography is just a hobby for me, and this was the first contest I ever entered, I was thrilled to be recognized at all.

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                                                          “Meanwhile, back at the cabins”

To top it all off, my daughter Robyn submitted this photo of the two grandgirls that was shot during their visit at Tamarac in July.  Robyn earned a Second Place standing in the Recreation category!  Cool beans!

I didn’t know what she had titled the photo until today, and I had to chuckle.  You see, we visited those early settler’s cabins before the girls had their imaginary drive, and during that time four year old Phoebe asked what happened to the people living in the cabins.  We had to tell her that eventually they died.  She thought about that for a moment, and responded, “Meanwhile, some of them lived, and some of them died.”  It was the ‘meanwhile’ from a four year olds mouth that brought that memory back to me.

This morning, I packed everything up and left Casa Grande RV Resort for Imperial NWR.  It was an interesting journey of 200 miles.  I’m too pooped to talk about it tonight, but suffice it to say that I made it here.  The minor trauma along the way paled to finding out the results of the contest.  I will leave you with tonight’s hot sunset taken from my site however.

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                                                                             THE END!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A trip down memory lane

Back in 1980, my parents sold their house in Chicago, and became RV fulltimers.  They towed a 30’ Avion trailer, and traveled for close to eight years.  When they ‘hung up the keys’, they lived in a park model in Apache Junction until the prices of the RV park became too much for their budget. 

At that time, houses came on the market in Ajo, AZ.  Ajo was a copper mining town, and when the mine shut down folks had to leave their company owned homes.  After about five years, those houses came on the market as the mine was destined to never reopen.  It was then that I bought a three bedroom house in Ajo so my parents would have a place to live, and as a possible retirement home for myself.

They cleaned the house up, I paid the taxes, and family members from the north had a place to visit in the warm south for a vacation during the cold winters.  My brother, sister, and I made yearly pilgrimages down there to visit and help them out.

Kurt and Jody were married in Ajo in 2011, and I went down to be ‘best man’ for my brother.  We all had lots of memories of our visits to 9th street.  Little did we know, that later that year all of us ‘kids’ would take weekly turns visiting to help out as my step-father slowly succumbed to esophageal cancer.  In late August of that year, all four of us returned for his memorial service and to move my mother up to Minnesota to live with me.  A year or so later, I sold the house.

So it was a bittersweet journey for Kurt, Jody, and me to return to Ajo yesterday to drive past that house, and revisit some old haunts.

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It was disappointing to see the condition of the house and yard.  Weeds everywhere, and the paint was peeling.  It appeared that no one lived there.  We couldn’t see the back yard where we spent so much time as it had been walled in.  I wondered if the orange and grapefruit trees were still there.  Not easy to see, so we didn’t linger.

On the bright side, we had two other destinations in mind.

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The first was Cabeza Prieta NWR.  We had all been here before, but I needed to get my passport book stamped.  Our plan was to drive part of the refuge on our return from out next destination.

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                                Thirty or forty miles south of Ajo is Organ Pipe Cactus Nat’l Monument.

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After a stop at the visitors center for the movie and museum, we headed out on the 21 mile auto tour loop.

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The gravel road was pretty much as lumpy and bumpy as I had remembered it from 20 years ago.  I was happy we were in Kurt’s truck rather than my little Focus.

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Regardless of the road, the scenery was outstanding and we even enjoyed finding a couple of arches.

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That 21 mile drive took us about four hours, and we didn’t even do any hiking.  We saw a couple of roadrunners and a red-tailed hawk along the way, but I really didn’t expect much wildlife in the afternoon desert heat.

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                                              The monument’s namesake – the organ pipe cactus.

We spent so much time marveling at the scenery of the monument, that we ran out of time to visit Cabeza Prieta NWR.  That will have to wait for another time. 

We did stop in Ajo at Pizza Hut for a very late lunch/early dinner as a tribute to my mother’s favorite place to eat in town.  I ended up with indigestion, but there really wasn’t any other place to get a bite to eat anymore.  Kind of sad.  Things change, and life moves on.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trading the mountains for the seashore

I received some exciting news today.  It’s something I’ve been working on for a couple of months, but now it’s official.  Instead of going to Arapaho NWR in Colorado next summer, I’ll be volunteering at Oregon Islands NWR.

In July when I was thinking about next summer, I thought I’d like to return to Oregon.  I applied for several positions that appealed to me, but all those gigs were either taken by returning volunteers or decisions wouldn’t be made until next spring.  I’m a person that likes planning and dreaming, but I’m not so good at waiting until the last minute.

Then about six weeks ago, I received an email that stated some volunteers had to cancel for next year, and asked if I would be interested in the position at Harris Beach.  Oh, YessireeBob!  To me, this was the plum location because it was one of the few that had good cell phone reception (which means my air card will work).

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That tiny picture is of Goat/Bird Island.  It’s the largest island off the Oregon coast that is protected by Oregon Islands NWR.  My duties will be to man an observation platform with binoculars, scope, and interpretive materials to help and teach people about the birds and ocean mammals that can be seen.

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Tufted puffins, among other species, nest on the island.  (All photos tonight are from the web since I’ve never been there before.)  I’ll spend twenty hours a week doing this interpretation.  If you know me, you can appreciate how this assignment will be right up my alley.  Cool Beans!  Cool birds!  Cool whales!  Cool seals!  Cool tide pools!  Thumbs up

Once a week, I’ll also present an evening campground program on either sea birds or sea mammals.  Public speaking has never been a problem for me, and the power point program is provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Should be easy-peasy.

I’ll be provided with a full hook-up site in Harris Beach State Park where both the viewing platform and amphitheater are located.  It’s a partnership between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon State Park system.  I will be representing the refuge. 

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And in my time off?  I’ll just have to suffer trying to get a fantastic sunset photo like this one.  I’m pretty pumped about this new experience, and am really looking forward to it.

Yes, I did notify Arapaho NWR about my change in plans, and they were happy to have such early notice.  I felt a twinge of guilt about that, but I’m not sure how well I’d do at 8000’ for three months anyway.  So, it seems I’ve traded the mountains for the seashore…

I’m having a few difficulties with water pressure at the moment that are not the fault of the campground.  I’m hoping to resolve that before I head for Imperial NWR next week.  In the meantime, I’ll be taking a bit of a nostalgic trip tomorrow with Kurt and his wife Jody.  It will be a busy day.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Took a long road trip today

It’s been pretty boring around here since I visited Saguaro Nat’l Park last Thursday.  Friday I took care of several errands that included getting my yearly flu shot.  Normally, I only experience a slight soreness in the arm, but this time the shot for folks over 65 kind of put me under the weather all weekend.  It wasn’t horrid, and if it keeps me from getting the flu it was well worth it.

Yesterday involved a trip to the dentist.  I hate going to the dentist.  Since my hip replacement, I have to take a mega dose of antibiotics just before the appointment.  Last year, I got violently ill after the dentist appointment and didn’t know if it was a reaction to the meds or food poisoning from eating lunch out.  You can bet I was nervous about taking those antibiotics this time.  Happily, there was no adverse reaction, so I guess I’ll never eat in that restaurant in Kasson, MN, again.

By this morning I felt the need to get out and do something, so Emma and I went on a very long road trip to check out where we’ll be spending this winter.  I’ve been a little leery of just arriving at an unknown, to me, refuge since the debacle in Louisiana last year about this time.  It was a drive of a little over 200 miles one way to get there.

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Little did I know that I had to drive through the US Army Yuma Proving Ground to get to the refuge.  I’m not sure what they’re trying to ‘prove’ there, but I’ll have plenty of time to find out.  Winking smile  I did drive past one of those long Army convoys driving the opposite direction, and also came to an area where the speed limit dropped to 25 mph in the middle of nowhere.  There was an area there cleared of all vegetation that had a big bunch of Army guys running about in orange with packs on their backs and stomachs.  No stopping or parking was allowed in this section.  Made me wonder if maybe they were paratroopers that had been dropped in a landing zone?

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I also came upon an area with these unusual stacks on both sides of the road.  I’m thinking that all of that stuff is this year’s cotton harvest waiting to be loaded onto the train cars in the background.

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This area is still part of the Sonoran desert, but I was a little disappointed to see that the number of saguaro cacti had drastically decreased.  I was hoping I’d have views of beautiful desert sunsets with saguaros in the foreground while I’m here.

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Eventually the pavement ended, and we entered Imperial NWR.  The gravel roads aren’t bad though, so I’ll be comfortable driving the rig on them.

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My RV site will be here somewhere.  The sign said the VC was open, but it was locked up tighter than a drum.  I couldn’t find a living soul anywhere around.  My guess is the sites are behind those buildings.  I didn’t drive down any of the roads that said ‘authorized vehicles’ only, so I’ll just have to wait until next week to see where we’ll be. 

I feel better knowing my arrival will include an easy approach, so the 400+ road trip was worth it to me.  Perhaps I’ll have a gorgeous view of the mountains and the Colorado River valley.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Bird Lady gets suckered in

After an all day rain yesterday, I was ready to go somewhere this morning.  I packed a lunch and was on the road by 8:00.

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I headed towards Tucson to visit the western unit of Saguaro National Park.  What better place to view the iconic saguaro cactus?

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My first stop, of course, was the visitors center to get a map and watch the fifteen minute video.  I like comparing the different movies that are available at our national parks and refuges.  This one tied the saguaro to the beliefs of the native Americans that have lived here for centuries.  It professes their connection to the land, and how it must be taken care of.  I agree with that, but I had some difficulty equating that with the ‘Arizona Diamonds’ that line so many roads here.  Those diamonds are really broken pieces of glass from beer and liquor bottles.  How is that showing respect and reverence for the natural world?_MG_1169

I opted to take the auto tour loop.  I did do the nature trail hike that had scattered covered benches along the way.  I took advantage of those benches not so much to rest my back, but to get out of the rain storms that moved through. 

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I sat, looked, and listened as the video had suggested to truly appreciate this Sonoran desert to the fullest.  The sheer number of saguaro cactus that I saw along my tour today was enthralling.

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The drive was on unpaved roads, but even after yesterday’s rain it was passable in second gear in the Focus.  The five mile loop took me close to three hours to do.  I just crept along at a slow pace.

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The volunteer at the VC had suggested I have my lunch with a wonderful view at the Ez-Kim-In-Zin Picnic Area.  I was all for that.

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I made my way up to the best spot with my lunch bucket, camera, and walking stick.  My balance just isn’t what it used to be, so I was glad I had my stick with me.

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What a fantastic location for lunch!  After the blistering temps of the last week, it was a bit of a shock to have rather chilly winds blowing through the windows.  I was able to truly enjoy this spot without the hoards of people that are everywhere at Yellowstone, Zion, and Bryce.

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As I sat down to write this post tonight, it was just about sunset.  I glanced out the window towards my neighbors, and saw a great horned owl perched on the back air conditioner unit of their motorhome.  Cool beans!

Picture this… it was too dark for me to get a picture, but the silhouette was unmistakable with those ‘ears’ standing erect on the bird’s head.  I stealthily snuck out of the rig, and in a crouched stance slowly made my way over to Ralph and Sandy's rig.  The owl didn’t fly off.  Yes!  I lightly tapped on their door, and in a whisper told Ralph that he had a great horned owl on top of his rig.  He chuckled and said, “Yep, I put that fake owl up late this afternoon to keep the grackles from dancing on the roof.  They drive the cats crazy!”

OMG!  Talk about feeling like a fool!  He got me for sure.  Suckered me right in.  I’m guessing the grackles are smarter than me… Embarrassed smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Okay, so after getting things set up last Friday, I spent the weekend relaxing and taking care of chores like laundry and grocery shopping.  Then yesterday, Kurt took me to his dentist so I could set up an appointment to take care of a few minor things.  I went in style to the dentists office.  Kurt has a 1995 dark green Corvette.  I’ll get a picture of it for you car fans one of these days.

I’ve never ridden in a Corvette before.  Never even knew anyone that owned one.  Kurt has always been a car guy, and I guess my neighbors at the park are too.  The wife stopped by last night to let me know how much they admired my Corvette.  Ha!  I did let her know that I’m just a lowly Ford Focus owner…

By this morning I was tired of ‘relaxing’, and decided to go out touring.  My first choice was Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

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I visited here probably 30 years ago while visiting my parents in Apache Junction in the 1980’s.  I didn’t remember much about that visit, and I didn’t have a National Parks Passport Book at that time.

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No time like the present to get my book stamped, and appreciate these ruins.  Not many folks were visiting today, so I almost had the whole place to myself.  I started out reading everything in the visitors center, and watching the 20 minute movie about its history.  It’s hard to comprehend that the Casa Grande was built in the 1300’s and most of it still remains to be viewed.  Even the steel and concrete canopy has been protecting the Great House since 1932.

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Built of caliche that was found underfoot, it had to have been a massive undertaking to build this structure.  There were no metal tools like shovels or anything.  What an accomplishment this was.  I certainly appreciated this monument much more than I did 30 some years ago.

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The original entrance sign now stands outside the visitors center with a view of the Great House in the background.

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As I made my way back to the rig, some storm clouds were moving through.  It appeared the rain was poring down, but my guess is it evaporated before hitting the ground.

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It’s been seven years since I’ve been in Arizona and the drive let me drink in the essence of this desert land.  To me, the saguaro cactus epitomizes the grandeur of the Sonoran desert.

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They are like military sentinels standing watch over the landscape.  I never tire of seeing them.  You may tire of seeing my pictures of them though over the next months.  I don't know smile

There’s some possible rain in the forecast for tomorrow, but I’ve persuaded Kurt to join me on an excursion to see another one of those Roadside America type things.  He hasn’t stopped there, but has the opinion that it’s a rip off.  I don’t care.  It beats just sitting here in the rig.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

P.S.  Some people think there are no mosquitoes in Arizona.  I’m here to say that isn’t so.  I’ve already had three mosquito bites.  I’ve always said that if there’s a mosquito in the county, it will find me; and they have. Sad smile