Borrego Springs, CA

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Taking stock

As has been my custom for the last five years or so, I like to spend New Year’s Eve reminiscing about the year that is about to come to a close.  Before I do that tonight, however, I just have to share two things that happened today.  It has been cold and windy for Arizona today, so I only left the rig once to run up to the VC to take care of some business.  As I was coming back a car pulled into the parking lot, and a woman asked if I was Judy.  I said yes, and it turned out to be Bob and Sue.  Some of you may remember the blog that Sue used to write called Just BS (or something like that).  It’s been a very long time since she posted, and I often wondered what happened to her and Bob.  As I remember, Bob had some health problems and most of the work of RVing fell on Sue’s shoulders.  I can report that they are doing well, although Sue is still the woman in charge.  What a surprise to meet them in Arizona.

Then, shortly before five this afternoon, Emma began giving me the stink eye in the rig.  (Her internal clock was telling her it was just about dinner time)  She was trying to annoy me anyway she could so I would feed her early.  I finally just grumped, “ Get off my back, and go look out the window or something!”  You know what?  She did just that.  She jumped on the couch to look out the window and started barking!  Then she ran to the front window and did the same thing.  More surround sound barking thanks to my hanging thunder gourd.  Emma is normally not much of a barker.  I was astounded and laughing out loud.  Do you really think they know what we’re saying??

Anyway, back to the first reason for this post… my travels and adventures with Emma in 2014.

75 Anahuac NWR 2013-201428

The beginning of the year found us back at Anahuac NWR.  I got to help with some duck banding using rocket nets this year.  Since Anahuac is close to I-10, there were also nice visits with other blogger friends who stopped in for a tour, and I made a February flying trip to Dyer, IN, for my grandgirl Avery’s birthday.  Chicago area in February with temps reaching –14*.  What was I thinking??

76 On the way to Tamarac 20145

By the middle of April, we were back on the road.  First stop was at Scott, LA, to have a new satellite DISH installed on top of the rig.  Sure wish I hadn’t waited eight years to have this improvement.  Of course I had to stop at Sueur's while there for a shrimp po-boy.  We took our time driving through Louisiana, but eventually put the pedal to the metal to get to Tamarac NWR in Minnesota by the middle of May.

77 Tamarac NWR 201412

We were there for the second time, and spent an enjoyable four months.  Finally found and ate my first morel mushrooms!  It was a grand time working with John and Bridget all summer, and all three of my kids and four of my grandkids made it up there for visits. 

77 Tamarac NWR 201413

Now Tamarac is somewhat off of the beaten track for travelers, so it was a real thrill to have three different blogging RV couples join us for fun times.  And of course I renewed my friendship with the unforgettable Mr. Smith who grows the tastiest vegetables in northern Minnesota!  Some day I’d like to see him wearing a shirt and clean pants.  In love  I also entered my first ever photo contest, and didn’t do too shabby on that account either. 

78 On the way to Imperial NWR2

Just before I left Tamarac, my brother Kurt flew up from Casa Grande, AZ, to be my traveling companion on the drive south.  What a good time we had visiting Theodore Roosevelt Nat’l Park, Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, Zion NP, and Bryce NP on our way to Arizona.  It sure was nice having someone to share the sights with.  Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we can do this.  (hint, hint?)

79 Imperial NWR 2014-154

Toward the end of October, Emma and I landed at our place for the winter at Imperial NWR.  This is my first time for an extended stay in the desert southwest.  With making a change to a more scenic volunteer site, I’m beginning to think about possibly returning next year.  Several blogger folks have stopped by so far with the possibility of more dropping in before I leave in April.  New and old friends and family visiting just adds icing to the cake of living in these beautifully wild places.

Well, that pretty much covers the highlights of this year.  For a number of years I have enjoyed posting an ending picture to many of my posts.  I most often catch the posterior view of wildlife, but occasionally there have been human subjects.  In honor of the dwindling of 2014 in mere hours, I leave you with my…

IMG_1010                                                                            THE END!!  Surprised smile

                                                           HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, December 29, 2014

Guess what this is

Things aren’t exactly what you would call exciting around here right now, so there hasn’t been much to blog about.  I had one lady show up for my bird tour on Sunday.  Her husband was also supposed to come, but the 33* temps kept him in bed instead.  We had a good time anyway, and as we got out of the vehicle to observe the beaver slide, I found this near the edge of pond #5.


The bony remains of something.  It looked like a jaw bone to us with back facing ‘teeth’.  Can you guess what it is?


It wasn’t very big as you can see by this ordinary paper clip next to it.  Being a weekend, no staff or biologists were around for us to ask for their opinion.  Fellow volunteer Linda started investigating on the internet, and was guessing it was the jaw of a reptile.  Another visitor to the VC in the afternoon thought it was the beak of a merganser.  I had no idea, but thought it was too small for a merganser, and I’m not sure that bird’s beaks are actually bones.

Nate, the refuge manager, came in today, took one look at the bones and said it was part of the skeleton of an Asian carp… part of its spine.  A fish bone?  (He’s managed a fish hatchery in his career.)  That was sure a surprise to me, and being a carp, rather disappointing.  I was hoping for something more exotic than a carp.Sad smile

Several people have asked for the recipe for raisin gravy.  It’s quite easy actually.  I score my ham before baking and coat the outside with cloves, ground mustard, and brown sugar.  I put some water in the bottom of the roasting pan, and just bake the ham.  About an hour before the ham is done, I put a couple of handfuls of raisins into the water and drippings in the bottom of the pan.  When the ham is taken out to rest before carving, I boil the drippings (with raisins), mix up some cornstarch with cold water, and whisk everything in the pan on top of the stove until it thickens a bit.  That’s it!  It’s not a thick gravy, but very tasty.

This afternoon as I was working the VC, a gentleman came in.  After other visitors had left, he asked me if I was Emma.  Ha!  I knew by that right away who he was.  He had to be a blog reader, and I just had a feeling that he was Bob of McQ Travels.  I said, “No, my name is Judy, but I have a dog named Emma, and I bet you have two little white dogs.”  He wanted to know how I knew that, and I told him I read his blog. Small world.

I talked him into going on next Sunday’s bird tour so he could try to get some more of his fabulous bird pictures.  I sure hope the weather and the birds cooperate for him next week.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, December 26, 2014

Busy days

Last Saturday a big box arrived at the refuge with my name on it.  I knew what it was, but its size and weight surprised me.  It took two of us ladies to manhandle into the back seat of my car.  I had ordered a new 4” memory foam topper for my bed.  What I’ve been using is just one of those cheap foam things for the last five years, and it was ready for the dumpster. 

Today was the day to try to get it out of the car and into the rig.  What a job that turned out to be.  I finally got the box to the patio, and then took the unwieldy topper out of the box.  At one point I got stuck on the stairs trying to get that long heavy thing into the rig while the high winds kept trying to slam the door shut on me.  It was folded in thirds and wrapped in plastic, but seemed like it was ten feet long.  The directions said I should allow up to 72 hours for it to expand to its optimal size.  Fat chance of that!  It’s not like I had an extra room to store it in to allow that to happen.  It went on the bed, and I did wait eight hours before I battled putting the sheets on.  When I finished, I noticed that when I stand next to my bed the top of it comes up to my waist.  Good thing I have one of those little steps to get into bed at night.  Makes me feel like the Princess and the Pea!  I sure hope it makes for a more comfortable sleep.

IMG_0997Earlier this week it was obvious that there was a fire burning over near the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitors Area (LTVA).  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) called in some of the refuge fire guys to help contain the fire.  Some people thought it was a prescribed burn, but it was not.  By Christmas, it had been contained.


We had our volunteer Christmas dinner on Thursday, and I offered to provide the ham so I could have my once a year treat of raisin gravy.  My mother always made raisin gravy for Christmas, and I’ve carried on the tradition.  That also means I get a chance to use one of my favorite inheritances.  This silver gravy spoon was my grandmother’s.

IMG_1002I have always loved this spoon with the thistle buds on the handle and in the spoon part.  I carry silver polish with me so I could shine it right up! IMG_1004

I’m sure no one else even noticed this spoon, but it was special for me to feel the connection to those loved ones that I can no longer share a holiday with.  This spoon will probably end up at Goodwill or somewhere when I’m gone, as the raisin gravy tradition has not caught on with any of my kids as far as I know.  Guess I’m feeling a little melancholy tonight…

IMG_9395 IMG_9390

On a cheerier note, I added a new bird to my life list (I really don’t have one, but you know what I mean) last night.  An Abert’s towhee came Cha-Cha-ing through my site.  Do you remember the Cha Cha dance?  Well that’s what towhees remind me of when they’re looking for something to eat.  Kind of bouncing back and forth to kick up insects.

I think I’ll leave you tonight with a little Emma vignette.  She is always on guard…


                                                                 I think I smell something!


                                                        Mom… There’s a varmint down there!


                                                      I can just taste it.  Let me go down there!


                                                                     Aw shucks, it got away…

                                                                                 THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, December 22, 2014

Back to work

Well, tonight I’ve finished 2/3 of my weekly commitment working the VC.  The virtually longest day each week is coming up tomorrow.  It seems longer because I’ll be inside all day.  Sunday’s I start the day early with the bird tour.


This week I had the pleasure of taking Hazel on a tour.  She’s boondocking in Quartzsite right now.  Her two greyhound fur kids drove over with her, but weren’t allowed on the tour.  They did fine waiting in her car since it was a rather chilly desert morning.


Two other folks were on the tour as well, and we had a good time seeing all the waterfowl and quite a few raptors.  Amazingly, we saw six raccoons along the way as well.  We start shortly after dawn, so our chances of seeing wildlife are better.  No bobcats this Sunday, and the vermillion flycatcher didn’t even show up for the first time.  I’m going to have to give that little dude a dock in pay.  Winking smile


On Mondays, I get to check the four overlook sites along Red Cloud Mine Road so I can let everyone know what birds are about on the ponds and lakes to tell the visitors about.  It only takes about an hour and a half, but I appreciate the chance to get out.  Found this little guy along the way.  Can you guess its name?  It’s a Rock Wren right where it’s supposed to be… in the rocks!

IMG_9339 IMG_9337

                              The little verdin was doing its acrobatics among the mesquite as well.


This evening, back at the rig, the noisy Gila woodpecker stopped by to visit the twin saguaros just off the patio. 


As the sun began to set, I think both Emma and I have to agree that this particular site that we have is the most scenic and serene of any site we’ve ever had on the 14 National Wildlife Refuges we’ve been on.  It may only have 30 amps, but that has become a nonissue for me.  My biggest worry had been using the AC, but it turns out using the heat pump uses more amps that the AC.  I haven’t blown a breaker yet in almost three weeks, and I don’t think I will. 

Tomorrow will be a full day in the VC with no escape in the schedule except maybe a mail run.  That’s OK though since it’s my ‘Friday’, and then I can start thinking of making that baked ham and raisin gravy on Thursday for our Christmas dinner.  I handed out the bags of cheesy pretzels to the other volunteers today, and I’m happy to report that they were a real hit.


                                                                            THE END(S)!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Yes, We have no Bananas!

Did you ever have a song come to mind early in the morning, and then end up singing it all day?  It seems to get stuck in your brain.  That happened to me today, and here are the lyrics.  Sing along with me now…

♪ ♫ "Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today
We've string beans, and onions
Cabashes, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned tomato
A Long Island potato But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today!”  ♫ ♪

I’m hoping to pass it on to you so I can get past it.  Anybody else remember that song?  Perhaps you’re wondering why this song popped into my brain.  Well, I was thinking of going to the Tamale Festival in Somerton, AZ, today.  Then I got to thinking about it.  I did’t even know if I would like tamales, and it would be a 100+ mile round trip drive.  My frugality won out, and I didn’t go.  That’s when I started singing this song to Emma substituting Tamales for Bananas.  She just gave me the stink eye…


Instead, I stayed home and made a two egg omelet with fresh broccoli, mushrooms, and garlic with some melted Muenster cheese inside.  I have to admit it was delicious.  Never had broccoli in an omelet before.


As long as I’m talking about food, I’ll include the recipe for the cheesy pretzels that I’m making.  Several commenters requested it.  You can see the ingredients above.  Three pounds of pretzels… I use three different shapes just because.  One bottle of Orville Redenbacher’s buttery flavor popping oil, and one 2.7 oz. container of Kernel Season’s popcorn seasoning.  I prefer the Garlic Parmesan flavor, but there are lots of flavors to choose from. 


I think the biggest challenge is finding a bowl big enough to hold three pounds of pretzels.  Take the pretzels out of the bags by hand and put them in the bowl.  Don’t just dump the bags, because you don’t want all that extra salt that’s in the bottom of the bag.  Then I shake on all the seasoning.  Next, pour the oil over.  Get a big spatula and mix it all together.  It’s hard to keep all the pretzels in the bowl while you do this.  For the next three days, mix it up again three to four times a day.  In between stirrings, I keep the bowl in the microwave so nothing gets accidentally dropped into it.  Of course, it’s mandatory to taste one or two of the pretzels that fall out of the bowl during mixing times.  Winking smile  A good chef always tastes their work in progress.  It takes about three days for all the oil and seasonings to be absorbed.  Keep in an air tight container upon completion and enjoy!  If you like salty crunchy snacks, this one is a winner.

This post is getting a bit wordy, but (there’s always a but) I wanted to tell you about something I finally figured out.  For the last two weeks, I have heard a very loud chipping sound outside.  It had to be from some kind of wildlife, but I just couldn’t figure it out.  It was kind of like the alarm call of a yellow-bellied marmot.

I knew there weren’t any of those around here, but gosh it sure was loud.  There was a buzzing sound before the loud chip, and that buzz seemed to always be on my right while the chip came from the left of me.  Very confusing.  I tried to think of an animal that could ‘throw’ it’s voice, but I was stumped. 


The sound also seemed to occur whenever the little female Anna’s hummingbird was at the feeder.  At first I thought maybe she was making the noise, but it was just too loud for a hummingbird.  I even resorted to crawling around under the feeder when I heard the sound looking for some kind of animal or something in the openings of the cement blocks.  That’s where the sound seemed to be coming from.  Ha Ha!  Turns out I was right and wrong.

Today I happened to be gazing up into the sky while sitting outside when I again heard the sound.  There was a male Anna’s zooming straight upwards.  Then he swooped down like a falcon, and at the bottom of his dive the loud noise almost knocked me out of the rocker!  It was a mating display.  The male goes up to 130 feet in the air, and then swoops down.  As it curves back up into the sky, its two outer tail feathers produce a ‘sonic boom’.  The tail feathers produce a sound much louder than a hummer’s voice ever could.  Cool beans!  And a mystery solved!


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Holy Sauerkraut, Batman!”

Tonight’s post is going to be another mixture of several unrelated subjects.  Sometimes, that’s how life its.


Just before sunset last night, I had a new visitor to the hummingbird feeder.  A diminutive Verdin came to dine.  This little dude is about the size of a chickadee and eats small insects, fruit, and nectar found in the desert.  I really like that yellow face and splash of red at the top of its wing.


They’re quite acrobatic and don’t sit still for long.  Kind of reminded me of an Olympic athlete on a bar or ring routine.  Can’t imagine how they have the strength to do this.  I’m thinking I may hang a half of an orange out tomorrow to enjoy more views of this little dynamite. 


I couldn’t believe I slept in until almost 8:00 this morning, but it wasn’t very bright outside.  On Emma’s first outs, I was shocked at the view.  What happened to the pond?  It was lost in the dense fog.  I just never really expected fog in the desert.


I had to bring a towel out to cover my rocker before I could sit down without getting a wet deck.  By 9:30 some of it had lifted and I could see the pond once again, but it took some time for that fog to lift off of the mountains.

79 Imperial NWR 2014-153Later in the morning, it was time to head into town to do my weekly grocery shopping.  Before hitting Fry’s, I like to stop at one of the two farm stands along US 95.  Only sweet onions, navel oranges, and tangelos for me today, but I’m just loving all the fresh vegies that are available here.  I’ve always liked iceberg lettuce, but never had it as fresh as it is here where it is grown.  Yuma is known as the lettuce capitol, and I can see why.


Both farm stands are surrounded by farmer’s fields.  Can’t imagine how many pounds of sauerkraut could be made from this one field of cabbage.  I’ve heard that farmers here have seven crops per year.  Cotton in the summer, and then cabbage, onions, broccoli, kale, several varieties of lettuce, cauliflower, and who knows what else in fall winter and spring.  It’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around it if you’re from the north where farmers are lucky to get one or two crops a year. 

The rows of crops are also different than I’m used to seeing.  Instead of a single row of a crop, hills are built up with irrigation ditches in between.  Each row is then planted with at least three plants of each vegetable next to each other.  So there’s three heads of cabbage or cauliflower or broccoli, etc., across the hill in each row.  Not sure I explained that well, but I hope you can figure out what I mean.  I find all of this very interesting.  I’ve also heard that it can take up to two weeks for a head of lettuce, for instance, to make it to a northern store after it has been picked.  I just never thought about that before. You folks in the north will just have to drool over the difference in taste with fresh vegetables that I have compared to what you are getting in the stores in winter.  Thinking smile

Several of the ladies here in the volunteer village have been busy baking away and providing sweet treats to everyone to help celebrate the holiday season.  I don’t do much baking of cookies and breads and such, so it has really been a tasty treat for me.  If I baked two dozen cookies, they’d probably be hard as a rock before I ever finished them.  I’m more of a salty crunchy snack person.


So, today while in town I gathered the ingredients for Cheesy Pretzels.  It takes three days before these pretzels are ready, but they are delicious.  I haven’t made them in quite a few years as three pounds of pretzels is more than even I can consume before they get punkie.  I’m kind of wishing there was an HEB in Arizona as they have more interestingly shaped pretzels.  You need three different kinds, and at HEB I’ve found pretzels with Texas shapes such as cowboy boots, the Texas state outline, and even Christmas shapes.

Just after sunset tonight, Emma went berserk in the rig.  I guess she saw something out the front window.  Probably a coyote by the way she was carrying on.  I had to chuckle out loud as her barking resonated in the Thunder Gourd I have hanging down from the driver’s side sun visor.  It was like surround sound barking!  The coyotes sure got the message, and took up howling and yipping away not too far from the rig.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra never sounded like this!  It wasn’t Ferde Grofe’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite’, but it may have been ‘Emma’s Imperial Desert Suite’.  Winking smile


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Learned a few new things this week

For quite a long time now, I’ve had a personal goal of trying to learn something new each day.  Most days I’m successful.  Sometimes those things I learn are rather mundane, like learning to install a new latch on one of the rig’s drawers or to turn my outside chairs over if rain is predicted so a puddle doesn’t appear in the seat.

Other times, I learn something that I think is very interesting.  I’m going to share a few of the discoveries I made this week.


While I was working the VC this week, fellow volunteer Greg brought in one of the scopes from the overlook nearby.  I’m sure most of you have seen these scopes at various places.  They’re mounted on a post, and sometimes you have to put in a quarter to get a close-up view of say, Niagara Falls.  Well, I had mentioned that the two scopes that I had the school kids looking through were awfully foggy.  Kids have good imaginations and still swore they saw all kinds of things through them, but I sure couldn’t figure out how.  I’m sure others noticed the same thing as I had.


I’ve often wondered what these scopes look like inside.  When I found out Greg was going to clean them up, I was very interested.


There are all kinds of long screws and special locks on these things that have to be removed first.  Then Greg took a cloth wrapped screwdriver to carefully pry the top and bottom sections apart.


It was quite a surprise to all of us to see that these big heavy scopes just have an ordinary pair of binoculars inside of them!


I would have suspected some super-duper lenses were inside.  What about you?  This particular scope was assembled in Sept. of 2009.  So that means it’s probably been out in the weather and dust storms for going on five years.


I wetted my finger and made that X so you could see how much dust has accumulated inside even though it is screwed tightly together and there are rubber gaskets.  The glass in front was just as dirty, so it’s no wonder I couldn’t see much through these scopes.


                  Greg got them all cleaned up, so I guess they’ll be good for another five years or so.

Emma and I were sitting outside again this afternoon after the rain had moved on, and I noticed that the water level in the pond had once again risen.  I don’t think it had much to do with the rain since I’d guess we only had about a quarter of an inch at best.  The pond seems to rise and fall almost every other day.  Sometimes there are mud flats that the shorebirds like, and sometimes there aren’t.  I’m not sure what causes such a fluctuation in its level.  I think it’s kind of a backwash of the Colorado River, and the river is really low at this time of year.  Why it goes up and down is a mystery so far to me.

Anyway, there are lots of coots and gadwalls on the pond each day.  Generally each species hangs out with its own kind.  (birds of a feather flock together, etc.)  Well, today that was not the case.  The water was quite high, and each coot was closely accompanied by an individual gadwall.  That seemed odd, but I think I figured it out.  As I watched through my scope, the story unfolded.  Gadwalls are dabbler ducks, not diving ducks.  Coots can dive.  With the deeper water, the gadwalls perhaps couldn’t reach the vegetation.  The diving coots could, and the gadwalls helped them eat the vegetation they brought up.  Interesting relationship, eh?


Here’s the latest inhabitant of the VC.  It’s a Desert Blonde Tarantula.  We think it’s a female because of its size and coloration.  It’s big!  She has made herself at home in a ten gallon terrarium, and even started weaving a web on Monday.  It took her most of the day.  It was fascinating to watch.  She’s so big you can see the spinnerets on her rear end.  We put crickets in there for her to hunt and eat.  We’ll also release her back to the desert at the end of March when all the volunteers leave.  Did you know that this female can live to the age of 25 years?  I sure didn’t.  Males only live to about ten or fifteen years.  It takes almost ten years before they are mature enough to mate and reproduce.  Once the male gets ‘the urge’, he searches far and wide for a female.  It’s a short lived pleasure, however, as once he mates with her she kills him.  Disappointed smile

One of the other volunteers calls her Whiskers, but I think we should have a contest to name the tarantula.  I’m leaning towards something like ‘Waltzing Matilda’ since she’s quite active, or ‘Marilyn Monroe’ since she’s a blonde.  Got any other name ideas?

How’s that for some trivia from the desert?

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy