Borrego Springs, CA

Monday, July 30, 2012

A back road journey

I needed to do a little grocery shopping today, but I decided to take the long round about way to get there just to see what I could see.  Sometimes those are the best journeys, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  I avoided the Outer Banks area, and drove down a couple of North Carolina Scenic Byways instead.  So far I haven’t found anything that rivals the scenic byways of Idaho, but I found a couple of things of interest on today’s drive.


I started out pretty much driving the perimeter of Alligator River NWR east and south of the RV pads.  The road eventually curved around to the west, and then I turned north on Hwy 94 that would take me to Columbia.  I saw this sign, and pulled in.  I had been hoping to find a rural stand selling tomatoes, but cantaloupe and watermelon would do just fine.  I would be attending a cook out honoring this year’s batch of interns at the refuge tonight, and I had planned to take a watermelon. 

Oh my goodness, what a deal I got.  The stand was on the honor system for paying, but the owner had just returned from picking the watermelons in the field along with his very large and friendly German shepherd.  I told him I wanted one of each kind of melon.  He picked out the biggest watermelon and carried it to the car for me.  I’m guessing that it weighed well over 30 pounds.  Then I chose a cantaloupe that was almost the size of a basketball.  My guess is it weighs 7-10 pounds!   I put my $5 in the jug, and started up the car to pull out.  That’s when he said, “Wait a minute, you forgot your free musk melon.”  He brought over another whopper, and put it in the trunk.  I love melons, but 50 lbs. worth?  I’ll be sharing my bounty with Peggy and George, the other volunteers.


A little further up the road I came upon Mattamuskeet NWR.  This is one of the refuges that the Gateway Visitors Center that I work at represents, so I thought it was a good idea to take a look at it so I would know what I was talking about.  Winking smile


Along the two mile entrance road, work is being done to restore a wetland area.  The road travels right along this area, and even though it was approaching high noon, I was able to find some wildlife.

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    It seems it was the mid day preening and bathing time for this flock of Canada geese. 


This doe found me about as interesting as I found her.  What a set of ears!  After stopping at the refuge headquarters to get my NWR Passport Book stamped, I headed back to Hwy 94 which bisects the refuge.


The refuge was established to protect Mattamuskeet Lake, which is the biggest natural lake in the state.  The overlook that I stopped at is part of the Charles Karault Trail system here.  There are Charles Karault Trails at both Alligator River and Pea Island as well.  Some of you may remember his “On the Road” reports from years back.  He was a native of North Carolina, and loved the National Wildlife Refuges here.

I eventually made it to Columbia and the grocery store and back to the rig after 120 miles.  So I guess you can think of this as my “On the Road” report from eastern North Carolina. 


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The other visitors center

Yesterday I showed you the brand new state of the art Gateway visitors center.  Today, my assignment was to run the other visitors center out an Pea Island NWR.  It can’t compare to Gateway, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.  Especially when you consider the ‘shack’ VC that I worked in at Anahuac NWR.


I’m not quite sure how long this building has been here along US 12 on the Outer Banks (OBX), but it hasn’t changed much in five years, and remained unscathed after last year’s hurricane.

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The building is half exhibits, and half nature store.  It is the busiest visitors center that I have ever worked at.  Today was a relatively slow day with only 131 visitors and $420 in sales.  It was change over day here on the OBX.  That means everyone that rented a beach house or campsite for last week was leaving, and the crowd for the next week was coming in.  Lots of folks stop here because they think they are lost.  I find that interesting since there is only one road (US 12) that goes from Nags Head to Hatteras. 

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That’s okay though, since I can tell them where the nearest gas station is.  Winking smile  People on vacation also tend to want a remembrance of their holiday, and are anxious to buy those items offered in the nature store.  Today’s high temps helped as a lot of bottled water and pop were purchased to slake their thirst. 

That’s not to say that there weren’t any glitches along the way.  The written directions for opening/closing/running the VC are really quite good, but it’s been five years since I’ve been here.  My biggest boo boo happened when I had my first charge card transaction.  This register is entirely different from the one at Gateway, and I punched the wrong button for the sale.  It went into history as a cash sale rather than a charge which creates a small issue when closing out for the day.  Luckily, Abbey is really laid back about the balancing business so it shouldn’t be a problem.  She is very easy to work for.

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The other issue was the electronic visitor counter.  When someone comes in the door, a loud ding-dong sounds.  That’s good especially if you are in the back room working on stocking.  It lets you know when someone comes in.  However, it is located at the perfect height for two year old boys, and I had several of those today.  You can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to mess with the sensor.  The result?  A never ending barrage of ding-dongs that can drive you up the wall.  One father just watched as his little son made the thing ring and ring.  He only interceded when I finally made my way over toward the little stinker.  Everyone in the building was ready to throttle him. Disappointed smileIMG_9555

Here’s the hands on display on the deck of the building that explains what can be found on the beaches.  Sometimes things disappear (into little pockets?).  That’s why I’ve volunteered to go beachcombing to replenish the supply.  I know it’s a horrible assignment, but someone has to do it, right?

By the time I drive five miles to get a refuge vehicle, then drive out 30 miles to Pea Island, run the VC for seven hours, and repeat everything on the trip back, nine and a half hours go by.  I am pooped!  Guess I’ve gotten a little soft with my three month sabbatical from volunteering.  I do get quite the welcome home from Emma though since she’s been cooped up all that time.  Tomorrow I’ll be off to run the Gateway VC, and then we’ll have three days off.  Whoopee!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, July 27, 2012

Come be a visitor with me

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About three weeks ago, the Gateway Visitors Center opened in Manteo, NC.  This new “green” facility (notice the solar panels on the roofs) serves as the ‘gateway’ to eleven National Wildlife Refuges in the coastal North Carolina and southeastern Virginia area. 

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And what a spectacular visitors center it is!  You can take a virtual flight in an airplane to view aerial tours of each refuge, visit a red wolf den, learn about prescribed burns, visually see the effects of hurricanes on the Outer Banks, and enjoy four different videos including one of the town of Buffalo City before Alligator River NWR came into existence.  Buffalo City was a most interesting place with a lively history during prohibition. 

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I was here today to learn the ropes of running this place.  I’ll be on my own for a full day on Sunday.  Each visitors center I’ve worked at has their own special way of doing things, and the kinks are still being worked out of this one.  Abbey’s in charge, and she’s done a great job of making all the volunteers feel comfortable working here.  If you look closely above at the pic on the right, perhaps you can see two bears and a wild turkey.

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My favorite display for visitors is the area depicting the inland forest area of several of the refuges.  There are 37 critters that can be found if you have the desire and patience to seek them out.  I’ve only shown the blatantly obvious ones here.  It’s not easy to find all of them, and once I tell visitors about the challenge, they usually take up the gauntlet to find them all.   Young and old alike walk the length of the large display pointing, counting on their fingers, and getting excited about their discoveries.  Now that’s what I’m here for.  We may not have any roses to smell, but folks willingly take the time to look slowly and closely at this moist woodland habitat.  Perhaps when they visit the refuges, they will take the time to appreciate all that is before them.


The real highlight of this training day for me was to meet Suzanne Tate.  She is the author of all of the children’s books you see on the right of the photo.  These books are delightful, and five years ago I sent several of them to all of my grandchildren.  “Tammy Turtle” has turned out to be a favorite of grandgirls Avery and Phoebe in Indiana.  It’s the tale of how the Pea Island NWR refuge, its staff, and volunteers help by trying to save the endangered sea turtles.

Suzanne is a delightful woman, and I wished that I had been able to spend more time with her.  She lives on the Outer Banks, and her love of the shores and its inhabitants is obvious in her books.  “Tammy Turtle” is one of her best selling books.  I can understand that.  I hope I’m here when she stops in again so I can get her to autograph the books I’ll be picking out this time to send the grands.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wasn’t much help today :(

My assignment for this afternoon was to help with the Soundside children’s program on Pea Island NWR.  I was told to meet Cindy, a staff member, at the New Inlet pull out on the island.  The west side of the island borders the Pamlico Sound, and the east side greets the Atlantic Ocean. 


Pea Island is along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I guess it should now be called Pea Islands, as a result of the hurricane last August.  That red arrow and X that I drew in indicates where the surge from the sound broke through the island breaking it in two.  When I volunteered here five years ago, the RV pads were where that X is.  Now, it’s gone, and a bridge had to be built for traffic to get from one side to the other to proceed down to Rodanthe and the town of Cape Hatteras.  When I first saw it on Tuesday, I had a hard time taking that all in.


Anyway, when I got to New Inlet, I found out that Cindy was not coming, but Cody, an intern, was there instead.  I let him know I was there to help.  He asked me if I was comfortable talking about sea creatures found along the sound and outer banks.  What?  I grew up in Chicago, haven’t been on this coast for five years, and was a math major in college, not biology.  Surprised smile  Being flexible is a prerequisite for volunteering on Nat’l Wildlife Refuges, but…really??  My answer to him was, “I’ll listen to your presentation today, and then be ready to go next time.”  Guess I’ll be boning up on the lifestyles of whelks, horseshoe crabs, clams, oysters, scallops, and skates, etc.  Cody knew a lot about these things, and I hope they are now part of my short term memory base.


The next surprise came when he asked if I could help him with the skein net.  What? (again)  As far as I’d been told the kids would be using dip nets to gather creatures from the sea.  I was not prepared to go wading above my knees in the sound.  (I’m a skittish Midwest girl, and don’t do the barefoot thing)


Cody was able to find a willing father with sandals on and some willing kids to help him do the net thing.  The kids on shore couldn’t wait to see what was in the net, and jumped in to pick through the seaweed immediately for treasures.


That’s Cody on the right bending down to help a youngster identify what they found in the net.  I could identify the shrimp and crabs, but I learned about lizard fish, and didn’t quite find out what a tiny eel-like thing was.  I’ll have to ask someone before I ever run this program on my own.  I surely wasn’t much help today.


The seine net was taken out several times, and each time both kids and parents swarmed in to see what the catch was.  There were also several young folks using the dip nets to search for wild treasures.  Now that I’ve been through this once, I think I could handle it on my own, but I’ll be sure to bring my water shoes with me!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

P.S.  I have to relearn something also.  Do you know what a starfish is?  Yah, well now it’s called a Sea Star.  I’m sure I’ll stumble over that one.  Old habits are hard to break!  Confused smile

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The case of the missing comments

When I first started writing this blog near the end of 2008, it was because of my oldest son’s prompting.  He knew that I kept a journal and thought others might be interested in my travels as well.  I doubted that, but took the plunge anyway.  I especially liked the fact that I could add pictures to my journal this way.

I think it was well over a year before I received comments from anyone other than the occasional remark by a relative.  In the meantime, I had started reading other RVers blogs, and would leave a comment now and then.  I guess that’s what got the ball rolling.  Now, receiving comments is an enjoyable part of my day, and gives me the incentive to continue posting. 

Lately, I’ve noticed the number of comments drifting downward.  I remember remarking out loud to Emma the other day that I guess my recent posts weren’t very interesting.  Traveling solo as I do, the blogging community out there allows me to have daily conversations with a variety of people.  I’m sure most of you understand what I’m saying.

Anyway, every time I change my header picture, I check my blog to be sure it posts.  That’s when I noticed the other night that the blog had received comments that I never got the email copy of.  That was a mystery to me, and I wondered how long that had been going on and what caused it.  So you know who I emailed to solve this mystery (Rick, of course).   His suggestion was to check my Gmail Spam box.  Viola!  There was a bucket full of comments that Gmail had decided were spam.  I don’t know why, but it seems any comment that Paul and Marti Dahl leave seemed to kick the spam thing into motion, and anything after gets deflected to spam on my email.  

So I spent the afternoon catching up on 57 spammed comments that I hadn’t read before.  Thanks to Rick, I believe the problem has been solved, but I’ll occasionally check that spam box to be sure.  I was certainly one happy camper to hear from all of my friends again.  Smile

Since I’ll be working the next four days, Emma and I just hung out at the rig today and didn’t do much of anything.  The temps stayed lower than 90 today, so it was quite pleasant for a change.  From what the weather guys are saying, it was a short respite.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Got the brains cells working today

My schedule for today was for a half day of getting the volunteer paperwork done, and an orientation to my duties while I’m here.  Ha!  That half day ended up taking eight and a half hours.  Didn’t surprise me.  Just about two weeks ago, a new National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center opened in Manteo that highlights nine refuges in the North Carolina/Virginia Coastal area.  What a spectacular center it is!  I’ll be doing a separate post on it in the near future. 

I went through most all of the exhibits today so I’ll know what I’m talking about when I’ll be the only person running it this coming Sunday.  That could be very interesting.


Most of the photos tonight are from the incoming storm that hit last evening.  Almost every night since I’ve been here, heavy rains have pelted us beginning around 7:00.  Yesterday’s storm had huge billowing clouds preceding it.


Abbey, the volunteer coordinator, and I made a trip out to the Pea Island NWR visitors center after I had viewed all of the exhibits in what is called the ‘Gateway Visitors Center’.  I’ll be running the Pea Island visitors center on Saturday.  We got there around noon, and there had already been 142 visitors.  That’s such a far cry from the visitation that is experienced at Anahuac NWR or Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, that I have to get pumped up again for non-stop action on Saturday.  There is a book that lists everything you have to do to open up and close down, so it should go pretty smoothly for me on Saturday. Fingers crossed

IMG_9499I just had to take a break tonight from writing this post to pull in the slides, and batten down the hatches.  Tonight’s storm is a doozy with high winds and such heavy rain that it is almost pitch dark at 6:30.  I sure don’t want the slide toppers or window awnings ripped to pieces.  Better safe than sorry in my estimation.  Emma is shaking away between my legs under the table.  Storm cloudSad smile

Okay, that little minor crisis is over.  Temps are supposed to be more pleasant tomorrow after this front moves through.  I sure hope so.


Because of the ocean, the marshes, and the wet areas on this refuge, dragonflies are everywhere.  This blue-eyed example landed on my extended stay hose.  Dragonflies don’t bite, and are reported to eat many mosquitoes, so I like them!  I just wish they ate chiggers! 

One of the new things that is at the Pea Island Visitors Center since my last time here is a hands on display for kids that includes sand, shells, and other things found along the beaches of the Outer Banks.  Abbey said it gets a lot of use, and it looked like it needed some more items to beef up the display.  You can be sure that I jumped on this opportunity to volunteer to walk the beaches to find more items for the display.  I’ll probably be doing that next week.  Sweet!


I wanted to be sure to show you my navigator for a portion of today as I drove around for various tasks.  I think he’s telling me to step on the brakes, and make a left turn.  Surprised smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, July 23, 2012

It’s back to the grindstone tomorrow

After just about three months of bumming around the southeast, I’ll be back in the salt mines come morning.  Of course, if I’m honest, I’d have to say that I’m rather looking forward to it.  It gives me a reason for getting up in the morning, and generally what I’m asked to do is more fun than work.  As a volunteer, I always have the option of saying I’m not comfortable doing certain tasks.  I’ve only done that once in the last six years, and it involved scrubbing a men’s urinal with a toothbrush.  I think I’ve mentioned that before.  Anyway, I’m excited to get back to helping the public enjoy our National Wildlife Refuges.

So, what did I do on my last day of ‘vacation’?  Chores of course.  I had several phone calls to make to set up my mail delivery, and check on my dental insurance.  There was also the matter of clearing up the bill from my visit to a clinic in Mississippi in April.  Next, I changed my Netflix delivery address so I’ll be getting movies again. 


Then it was time to go to the post office in Manns Harbor so I could return two movie DVDs to Netflix.  On the way there, I took the back roads to the refuge maintenance area so I could drop off my trash in the closest dumpster.  Yep, it’s a drive of about five miles to get rid of my garbage.  I spotted a black bear along the way.  Can you find him?


As long as I was in Manns Harbor, I decided to stop at a small area that had a pier leading out into the bay.  This nice boardwalk and pier was built in honor of a local woman that was afflicted with MS.  It is totally handicapped accessible, and is located at the beginning of one of the long bridges between Manns Harbor and Manteo. 

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For an hour or so each sunrise and sunset, the speed limit on the bridge is reduced from 55 mph to 20 mph.  That’s because up to 100,000 purple martins use this bridge as a roosting site each night during the summer and early fall. 


Emma and I were there at high noon, so the only martins around were those that were nesting in a martin house next to the pier.


The lighting in the middle of the day is awful for pictures, but I wanted to show one of the reasons that purple martins like this bay area.  There are a gazillion insects available for them, and this mama was bringing a big red dragonfly home to feed her youngsters.


Purple martins are colonial nesters, which means they nest in colonies.  It does not mean they came over on the Mayflower.  Who me?  I love to listen to their chatter as they ply the skies.  I think it’s a kind of  bubbling liquid sound.


Here’s the long bridge heading to Manteo that they roost under.  As it gets closer to September, I plan to return near sunset to observe the masses of martins coming in to roost.  By that time many birds from the north will be stopping here to refuel and build up fat supplies on the abundant insect population for their arduous journey down to Brazil for the winter.  Being here for a couple of months allows me to discover these little special places that aren’t found in any tourist pamphlet.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy