Austin, Big Birds and Big Trees

Meat sweats.  Perhaps that’s the technical term for what we’ve been experiencing after four days of Hill Country Brisket Pursuit.  Can’t look a cow in the eye anymore, and I’m craving salad, or things that crunch.  The BBQ Bus can pass right on by – I’m done!

We tried to make the most of our time in Austin, but honestly, Day 3 was a bust.  We were just bagged out, and wanted nothing more than to lay around with books.  Strolled around the three-mile campground loop with Jezzy, and waited for the BBQ hour to strike.  About 2pm, John announced that Vic’s BBQ would be out strike for the day.  We roused ourselves from a meat-induced stupor, dragged our bikes out from under the tarp which kept the intermittent rain from making the saddles wet and nasty, and headed off for a late lunch.  John enjoyed ribs/brisket, and I sampled sausage/chicken.  It was good, and the coleslaw was magnificent.  Vic’s is not a fancy location by any means – right on the corner where we pushed the pickup truck the previous day.  But, Vic really knows how to smoke meat.  In spite of our good intentions to just QUIT, we did get a few bones to take back for snacks later.  We may both need Twelve Step Programs when we get home.

Day 4 was our day of reckoning.  This was to be our last day in Austin, and we still hadn’t really seen much of the town yet.  Our agenda included the LBJ Presidential Library/Museum, the State Capitol building, and some kind of beer/BBQ joint for lunch.  Compared to our previous days, it was an ambitious agenda.

The LBJ Library, on the campus of the University of TX was an interesting way to spend a morning.20150312_124801 20150312_125214Until this past week, I probably haven’t given LBJ ten minutes of thought in the past 40 years.  Although I know he ‘inherited’ Vietnam, in my mind, it was HIS war.  So, it was so unexpected for me to see this sympathetic view of him – hearing him say, “I can’t get out (of Vietnam), and I can’t win it with what I’ve got.”   It’s been on my mind since we were there.  Hard to believe that his domestic legacy has to be trashed by a lousy, ill-advised war.  (just my opinion – we can argue all day about that).  Protests during his Administration were legendary.

What was interesting to learn that LBJ was a freshman congressman in the 1930s, and was an ardent FDR supporter.  His Great Society plan was intended to pick up and finish what the New Deal left undone.20150312_132135 He signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.  Check out this photo from a protest about that.20150312_131123 Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court by LBJ.  He created Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and signed the Immigration Act of 1965, which liberalized immigration policy for non-Europeans.  He signed more bills into law than any other President (other than FDR), in spite of being in office only five years.  It would be easy to spend hours at the Library – I can’t wait to visit other Presidential Libraries – this was my first one.

We left the Library with more information about LBJ as an individual than we had ever considered.  Isn’t that the point of a visit like this?  He apparently didn’t hesitate to go nose to nose with anyone to reinforce an opinion, or solicit a vote.  But, John decided to give ol’ LBJ a Crankshaw Cranium Crushing.  20150312_140202While cycling up a big hill to UT, we passed a cemetery which had several large and distinctive grave markers visible from the street.  We stopped to investigate.  This was the Texas State Cemetery, where all the Who’s Who of Texas seem to be buried.  20150312_121944 20150312_121909 20150312_12174820150312_121644 There are dozens of familiar names.  The most interesting marker, though is that of General Albert Sidney Johnston,of the Confederate Army, killed at Shiloh in April 1962.20150312_121158It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot in central Austin.

Next on our agenda was the State Capitol building.  From our vantage point on the hill at the cemetery, we could see the oddly colored dome.  The trick was to find a bicycle-friendly route to get there in midday traffic.  Yowza!  But, since I’m here to relate the story, you can surmise a happy ending to our ride.

It’s impressive. This shot looks up into the dome. 20150312_14342920150312_144601But, the outside is painted a very unappealing color.  We dubbed it Benjamin Moore Oil Sludge Tan.  It’s awful.20150312_150601On our way out, a large group had gathered just inside the entrance to protest the Governor’s stance on deporting parents of Dreamers (Dreamers are children, born in the US, to parents who who do not have legal immigration status)20150312_145121 The protest, although orderly, was loud.  It attracted little attention though, leading us to believe that this may be a fairly usual occurance in Austin.  Cops entered, we exited.20150312_145558We made a quick stop at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.  Loved his music, always.20150312_160925Black’s BBQ was our lunch stop.  Good, not the best (sausage ROCKED, though).  Long ride back to camp to cap a terrific four days.

On to Goose Island State Park, along the east coast of Texas.  We’re headed there on the recommendation of blogs we’ve read, and also on the advice of Glen and Caite, with whom we shared a beer and a campfire while in Austin.  With all the Spring Break camping traffic, we felt lucky to snag a site for three nights.

Not only is Goose Island home to the Texas Big Tree, a Live Oak estimated to be nearly 1100 years old.  It’s over 35′ in circumference, and is impressive in a sprawly, majestic manner.  I wished for something to be at the base to help with the scale of this massive tree.  The photos really don’t do it justice.20150315_08130720150315_081645The Live Oaks in this area are a real curiosity.  Along the Gulf Shore, there’s a spot where they are all severely bent over – away from the Gulf.  There’s speculation that it’s due to gravity or wind, but the cause is unknown.  It’s gorgeous, though.20150315_14433820150315_144429One of the real draws of this area though is that it’s near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where the 500 Whooping Cranes in existence winter.  We were fortunate to see maybe a dozen of them, in flight and on the ground.  They are the tallest birds in North America, and are a stunning white with black wingtips.  In flight, they are unmistakable.  Near the State Park, there’s a farm with a large field where several of the Whoopers congregate every day.  We cycled over at various times to see them.  With such a small number in existence (although this is a HUGE increase in the past years), we were thrilled to hear and see perhaps 20 different birds, on the ground, and in the air.  One of the other highly visible residents of this area is the Turkey Vulture.  They are everywhere!  Circling, and reminding me not to move too slowly.  20150315_080846There are also Ospreys, elegant and fierce hunters.  We were treated to a shouting contest between Great Horned Owls one night.  After about a half-hour, they both left.

On the waterfront, the pelicans rule.  20150314_17520520150314_175139In Texas State Parks with a river or water source, you can fish without getting a fishing license.  This is a huge attraction, and makes for many restful opportunities.20150314_12334020150314_10291220150314_124540Needless to say, we loved our stay at Goose Island.  We made a new T@B friend, Liz from Wyoming.  She’s a free spirited artist, and we loved sharing dinner and stories over a campfire with her one evening.

Just a few little Texas-y things though…….

We made a trip into Rockport, TX from Goose Island. This involves travleling over a long bridge which spans the Causeway.  The road is two-way traffic, with hardly any room on each side between the roadway and the guardrail.  We crossed behind a Sheriff’s car.  The suddenly braked, and the Deputy on the passenger side got out of the car and picked up a big piece of metal trash which was in the narrow space between road/rail.  We figured he would put it in the trunk of the cruise.  Hope!  He chucked it over the rail into the water!  Did he look to see if there was a boater or fisherman nearby?  Nope!  Could have been ugly!

I’ve got poison ivy, plus 300 mosquito bites (give or take a few).

Don’t know about this Texas drought thing.  We’re encountering rain wherever we go.  For example, how do you like this picnic area at Galveston Island SP, where we’re currently staying?wpid-20150316_154857.jpgHope your snow is melting wherever you are.  We are pushing toward home, but not too quickly!




Cranes, Cliffs, and the CCC

The highlight of our week?  Hands down, this is it.    I didn’t shoot this video – it was taken by our neighbor, and emailed to me.   Hers was much better than mine!

In a full-out windstorm (blowing 25-40mph, gusting 45-55mph), we headed to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, hoping to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that winter there.  It was a spectacular success.

But, let’s back up a wee bit.  Facing a short travel day, we actually elected to take the long route to Whitewater Draw.  This would take us through Tombstone, AZ, home of the famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and also the location of the Shootout at the OK Corral.20150302_110440 This town has more kitschy western-y stuff going on than all the rest of Arizona put together.  Tombstone may have been the center of the Wild Wild West back in the 1880s.  To wander through the cemetery, it sure would reinforce that idea.  Many of the tombstones have a name, followed by the designation ‘murdered’, ‘hanged’, or ‘shot’.  20150302_110842My favorite is the grave marker of the famous Lester Moore.20150302_111308Howling wind made it uncomfortable to stay out too long, even though the temperatures were in the low 60s.  How windy was it?  Ask Jezzy.20150302_130908We sought shelter in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  BNK was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, one of the infamous participants in the Shootout.  John was persuaded to step behind the bar and pretend to draw a beer for me.  “Put your hand on the tap, but DON’T PULL!”, were his instructions.20150302_123910Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this, but the funniest thing was the stagecoach which could be hired for a brief tour.  The driver, in full stagecoach regalia, was pointing out places of interest to his four passengers.  But, it was a recorded presentation.  That didn’t stop this driver from giving it his all – he was waving his arms, and giving a full theatrical presentation, as if he was performing at the Met.  His passengers were most likely oblivious to this, being sheltered inside the stagecoach.  As he passed by, John and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  But, maybe you had to be there……20150302_123514The Courthouse Museum was our next stop, where we learned everything one could possibly want to know about the Shootout at the OK Corral, starring Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday against the bad guys, who were all killed.  Wyatt Earp was the only one not wounded or killed that day.  As I said, Tombstone was a tough place to live in the 1880s!

We rolled into Whitewater Draw around 2:30, and established our spot in the ‘campground’.  This is actually a small circular parking lot, with a vault toilet in the center, and about six parking spaces surrounding it.  Other cars can pull in and park for a few hours, but this is the only overnight spot.  Our neighbors were from Switzerland – halfway through a two year tour of the US.  Nice folks!20150302_144058We knew this was a Sandhill paradise, as we follow the excellent blog of Ingrid, who describes herself as a ‘non-birder’, but who takes the most fabulous bird photos.  Check out her post by clicking the link above.

We quickly set up, turning the Fireball around, so that our door would be downwind.  If not, we would not have been able to open it from the inside – that’s how violent the wind was.  But, where are the Sandhills?  We saw ZERO CRANES!  Ah, we remembered that Ingrid mentioned that they depart at first light in the morning to feed in area fields, and return to the water at dusk.  The flock here is estimated at times to be nearly 30,000 birds, although we didn’t expect to see that many.

Around 5:30, we wandered down to the water, binoculars and cell phone cameras at the ready.  We quickly met our Swiss neighbors, and our California neighbors in the huge RV directly across the parking lot.  Soon, we could hear the racket of Sandhill Cranes, coming in for a landing.  20150302_17522620150302_182138They were in packs of 100-200, flying directly into the fierce south wind. Wave after wave landed, taking spots in the water, where they stay for the night.  There must have been 10,000-12,000.  We speculated that they stay in the water as protection from predators – there were lots of coyotes hanging around, and we dreaded hearing any confrontations.20150302_175226 Unfortunately, the very dark clouds and late hour of the day precluded any decent photos.  But, we (and our new neighbors) kept murmuring ohmygawd as another batch landed.  The noise was incredible!!  I downloaded an app for my phone to record sound, which I did.  It’s magnificent.  BUT, it doesn’t allow me to share the sound files.  So, if you see me sometime, ask to listen.  It’s a wonderful raucous symphony.

We set our alarm for 5:30 am to be sure to be out at first light.  It was in the 40s and raining.  But, we stuck it out, and were rewarded with liftoffs of several hundred Cranes every minute or so, heading out to feed.  It poured all morning, finally clearing up around noon.  Jezzy and I headed out to explore.  Check out these feet – would you want them in YOUR camper?20150303_103725We decided to stay one more night to see if we could get a better view, hoping that the dark clouds of the storm would have passed.  We were rewarded, in spades!  The Cranes were all huddled along the far shore when apparently a sprinkler went on in the massive field, causing the uprising that you see in the opening video.  It was unbelievable.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhills.  wpid-wp-1425749304050.jpegAgain at 5:30 the next day, we stood on the water’s edge.  Cranes flew away in huge numbers, with the entire 10K (or so) leaving within a space of 10 minutes.20150303_183511 We could see the in the dim light through our binoculars, but there wasn’t enough light for photos.  I will never forget this sight.

We have to move on.  Leaving Arizona in our rearview mirror, we head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.  This area’s most famous inhabitant was probably Geronimo.20150304_13105020150304_161306It’s my day to drive.  Unfortunately (for John), this involved one of the most hair-raising 40 miles of road we hope to ever travel.  Twisty, turny, up and down… took us two hours to climb and descend into the Park area.  They sure didn’t build these cliff dwellings downtown!    Had to pry my sweaty, cramped hands off the steering wheel.  What we didn’t realize was that the ‘campground’ was (again) a parking lot with some walk-in tent sites.  There was only one other camper here, so we hogged an entire corner of the parking lot and set up camp.20150304_172403The Cliff Dwellings here are accessible on foot from a pathway about 1/2 mile from our campsite.  After spending a very chilly night (the temperature was 14), we set off to explore. 20150305_102603 The natural caves in this area had been inhabited over several thousand years, but were only built up inside the caves and inhabited for a very short period – perhaps as little as one generation.  The mystery of why the Puebloan people of the Mogollon era left this area is unresolved.  The site is spectacular, and we were fortunate to have a volunteer docent walk us through the area.20150305_110804 He explored lots of questions, persuading us to think about scenarios that may have affected the inhabitants.  Although this is a difficult area to reach, and one with limited facilities once you finally DO get there, it’s a worthwhile trip.  Here are several different views from the dwellings.20150305_10325520150305_10510920150305_10552720150305_10564420150305_11043420150305_11061020150305_110834 It’s interesting to note that the remnants of several thousand years of habitation in this area were destroyed by the building of the current road that leads to the cliff dwellings.  Knowingly.  Only in America….

Cold again at night.  Minus 14.  John is wishing that I would relax my prohibition on running the heater at night.  It’s only 35 inside the Fireball in the morning.  Fine, until our feet hit the floor!

The week is beginning to blur on me.  Our “3 Night Minimum Stay” policy is in the toilet after our first week.  We’ve had three locations of two nights each so far, and it’s getting worse.  We press on to Fort Davis State Park, in the middle of West Texas.  For those who haven’t visited this area, West Texas is the largest area of nothing one might ever hope not to visit.  Mile after mile of……nothing.  Our site is unremarkable enough, that (perhaps for the first time), we neglect to take even one photograph of our campsite.  The park is very clean, but very old.  Sites are small.  It’s packed!  Why does everyone DRIVE to the bathroom?  We’ve never been in a park with so much truck traffic!  omg!

This early Texas State Park has many CCC buildings and features.  We decide to explore the Trail that leads to a lookout over Fort Davis.  It’s an uneven, uphill trek.20150307_105914 At the peak is a stone lookout shelter, with a great 360 degree view.  There’s also an old CCC era stone water storage tank.20150307_132134 Instead of taking the 4.5 mile (long-way) return, we decide to hike out to the Fort Davis overlook.  What a smart decision that turned out to be!  The trail led through a lava field, with enormous black boulders squeezing a narrow trail.  After 3/4 mile, we came to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the historic Fort, a frontier post during the Indian Wars. 20150307_121905 From our high vantage point, we can see the entire complex, and learn one very interesting fact.  The officer’s quarters (red brick buildings in the lower right corner) were built pointing to magnetic north, while the enlisted men’s barracks (the foundations to the right of them) were lined up to true north.20150307_122056 We loved this big view.  The Fort was also briefly occupied by the Confederate Army, an was decommissioned shortly after that.

We’re trying to figure out how to push on to Texas Hill Country, where John wants to search for BBQ nirvana.  Brisket!  Bummer for us, we badly need to find a laundromat.  One of the pitfalls of having a tiny camper is the equally small amount of clothes we can pack.  We’re good for about a week between laundry stops.  Out here in West Texas, there are few towns large enough to support a laundromat, so we find ourselves camped for the night in Fort Stockton at the RV Park.  Yikes!  A couple hundred large rigs and us.  The RV three slots away has painted on the side, “Private Coach Not For Hire”.  We think we’re going to hand-letter a candy wrapper with this, and tape it to our door.  Ha!

Headed toward Austin for a couple of days.  We’re in the middle of an endless TX Spring Break.  There isn’t a State Park campsite available for the next two weeks (and we purchased a TX State Park pass for $70!)  We can get one night here, and one night there, but we’re exhausted with the effort of driving and moving.  Hope we can figure this out!




Around and About

I can practically hear Juliette Gordon Low rolling in her grave.  What the hell is going on here?  Relax, Juliette…’s just a party in Tucson at the Tap & Bottle to explore pairings of Girl Scout Cookies and beer.  Sounds odd, and it was.  We sampled four different GS cookies, which were matched with distinctively different beers – hopefully to complement flavors.  20150208_151347Not so sure about the success of the pairings, but it was a terrific afternoon with camping pals Vern & Ilene.  Tap & Bottle is a superfun spot to spend a few hours, and they did the Girl Scouts proud – there must have been 200 people jammed inside, and everyone bought a box or two of cookies in addition to the samples that came with the beer.  The table next to us (of guys, naturally) brought their own cookies in – we saw two different bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies and potato chips that they were pairing with their own beer choices.  This was a good-hearted event that had support from all parties – marketing folks from the Girl Scouts, beer drinkers, local college students, and a full complement of tiny little Girl Scouts earnestly hawking their wares (safely outside the bar on the sidewalk, with their parents).

We decided to take the newly christened Tucson Streetcar for a full-circuit ride.  What a gem this is!  Running through the entertainment/club district to the University, to the downtown business area and out to the Expressway edges of town, it serves a diverse population.  Our $4 daily pass gave us unlimited on/off privileges.

20150208_163320We hopped off to get John a nitro coffee at Ilene’s favorite coffee stop.  Those of you who are fans of the nitro taps in a brewpub can perhaps relate to this.  The coffee wasn’t great, but we (perhaps, generously) attributed this to the fact that it was late on a Sunday afternoon, and it might not have been at its freshest.20150208_165817

Tucson has many great sights, and so much history.  We decided that we need to spend a few days just cycling around town and enjoying some of the oddities that make this such a cool spot to visit. 20150208_162622

Having running commentary from Vern as to what we were seeing from our streetcar seats made this a most enjoyable tour.

We’ve fallen into our regular Green Valley routine.  We hike a bit, bike a bit, and do nothing A LOT!  The weather here has been spectacular!  Well above normal temps, which puts it into the mid-70s (and sometimes into the low 80s) nearly every day.  Bright sunshine.  We hiked up to Rogers Rock in Madera Canyon one day this week.  Perfect weather made the eight mile round trip pretty easy.  This is one of our favorite hikes every year.20150209_10124520150209_10293620150209_111618Seven of us + two dogs made the trek to a spectacular spot for lunch.  The light spots in the background are the enormous piles of mine tailings in Green Valley – the copper mines are running full force, and the tailing piles significant.  Mining is a huge industry in this area, and it has some benefits, I’m sure.  But, the downside is that it sucks an enormous amount of the precious water resources of the area, the environmental (and visual) effects are a significant downside.

Of course, we’re cycling often.  Thursday was a first for us – while John and I were cycling to the meetpoint for our regular Thursday ride, a coyote darted out from the roadside, and nearly had his snout in my front wheel before I shouted STOP! or HEY!  (not sure what happened here).  He and I both braked severely!  Never have I seen a coyote so close up.  It was unnerving.  Twenty minutes later, our group was rolling through Quail Creek, an upscale golf course/housing development when three coyotes appeared on the narrow strip of ground between the pavement and the walled back yard of the nearby house.  Our 10 bikes couldn’t have been more than eight feet away from these guys!  It was breathtaking.

Our rental house is in a development where the abundance of birds has been such a pleasure.  Every morning we hear cactus wrens, and curved-billed thrashers call.  It’s amazing to hear them sing out.  Areas covered by low-lying prickly pear cactus are havens for the Gambel’s Quail.  As I stroll with Jezzy in the early morning, I can hear them grumbling, although I usually can’t spot them.  All of the sudden, one will dart out, and a whole stream will follow.  They are amazing to see.

The daily sights and sounds of the Arizona desert never fail to delight.  Although the cactus aren’t yet flowering, the prickly pear are loaded with fruit.  Around here, it’s common to find jams, jellies, and salsa made with prickly pear.  A gorgeous napolito (thornless) prickly pear is right around the corner from us.  20150213_093733This particular plant is also a coveted snack for one of the meandering javalinas who patrol the neighborhood at night.  If I were a javalina, I would also chose spineless!20150213_093804The Gila woodpecker makes it home in the Sagauro cactus.  The Saguaro survives this invasion by totally isolating the hole in an oblong capsule.20150213_092934 We observed a pod collected from a dead Saguaro in the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Park – it’s an amazing adaption.

Cactus shapes never cease to amaze me.20150209_085726The colors in morning and evening are especially lush.20150213_090513We noticed a chiminea (a free-standing, clay fireplace) in the patio area of our rental house.  We asked our landlords if they would mind if we actually used it (looked as though it was new, although it had a crack).  With their blessing, we have thoroughly enjoyed our evenings on the patio, watching the sun set on the nearby Santa Rita Mountains.  20150210_182331We even rescued the hotdog forks from the Fireball and roasted hot dogs one evening.

Our new refrigerator has arrived, been installed, and appears to work just fine.  Yay!  We’ve received the new regulator for our Camp Chef stove, so we’re back in business on that front.  We’ll be ready to hit the road again on March 1.

To top it all of, I noticed this seasonal greeting on my morning stroll today.20150213_090212All is well here – hope the same is true for each of you.

For the Birds

20150112_160310Did anyone out there read the book, or see the movie The Big Year?  (book only, for me).  It records the quest of three birders vying for the title Birder of the Year, awarded to the individual who sights the most different species of birds in a single calendar year.  It’s a wonderful, informative, and entertaining book.

Why do I mention this?  Because all three of the contenders in the book traveled to Patagonia to advance their bird counts.  It is Bird Central here – I nearly felt guilty for taking up a spot in Patagonia Lake State Park – but – what the hell?  Maybe John and I can learn something.

Our first day in camp, we decided to take the Senoita Creek birding trail which extends from the east end of the campground.20150113_115907 Shortly after heading down the trail, we came across four birders, speaking in hushed tones and pointing.  We take a silent position behind them, and strain to see what it is that they are so focused on.  After one glance at us, one of the women whispers, “Gray Flycatcher”.  Perhaps she noticed our Boy-Scout issue binoculars or our cellphone cameras, and took pity on us (we stand out in this crowd, who carry thousands of dollars of gear strapped on their bodies). We stare, trying madly to see motion. One of the gents in the group sees our clueless head-snapping motions.  He whips out a green laser pointer, and immediately locates a small bird, flitting up/down, 40 yards away from us.  Ahhhhh… that’s it!  The woman asks “you saw the Ladderback?”  We nod.  (actually, we did, but didn’t know precisely what it was).  We hang back for a few moments, then slink off down the trail.  Figured we would prey on the next unsuspecting group for more help.

Interestingly, this area of the Park is shared with some kind of cow pasture.  We come upon a few disinterested steer.20150113_120954 Waving and stepping past their huge environmental droppings, we wander along the creek.  It’s really muddy.  Like a moron, I’ve worn only my sandals (heavy-duty type), instead of my hiking boots.  I’m desperately trying not to get my socks wet, while John smartly marches ahead, splashing with abandon.  We hear a few birds, but get the feeling that we’ve wandered into NoBirdLand.  But then, I spot a few small active, birds moving quickly from tree to tree.  I take the time to note definite physical characteristics, as I dearly want to be able to ID these guys.  Pointy head (like a cardinal), black and white rings around the eye.  White breast, gray back.  Yippee!  I find that it’s a Bridled Titmouse!  (Thanks to whoever left their Sibley’s on the bench for me to peruse.  Hope you got it back!)This is the way our entire day went – we positively identified the following birds that I know I’ve never seen before:  Great Egret, American Coot, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher, Bridled Titmouse, and Pyrrhuloxia.  For us, it was A Good Day – maybe the start of our own Big Year.  I have no photos – my cellphone camera is the wrong tool for the job.  Enjoyable just to see, though.

OK, so what else?  The campground at Patagonia Lake SP is cramped, but exceedingly quiet.20150112_161953 All of us Big Chillers are respectfully silent campers, apparently.  There are lots of quiet nooks in this Park, outfitted with benches for resting or viewing.20150113_10001420150112_16130820150112_16053120150112_155829What was amazing to us was the number of small campers (like us) there.  Casitas were everywhere!  We spent more time chatting with other campers, and giving/getting tours of camping rigs than we have done before.  It was totally enjoyable to share camping stories.  John renewed his lust for an Airstream, and I reaffirmed my love for our Fireball (can you sense a conflict here??)

We cycled into the nearby town of Patagonia, about a 25 mile round trip, up and down.  Delightful, once we actually got out on the main highway.  The 4.5 mile climb from the campground to the highway was lung-busting.  We wandered around, had a taco and a chile relleno with a shared beer at Mercedes, and enjoyed this laidback town.20150114_14210320150114_142152 We’ve cycled through here many times, but this was our first leisurely stroll.  I still don’t understand what this road sign means.  Hobbits live beneath hill?  What?20150114_134755Although we enjoyed our stay here, we’re eager to move on.  The crowded campground is not really our preferred site, and it’s cold, which contributes to the quiet at night.  There are few campfires (except for our own), nobody but us seems to be cooking outside.

Thursday morning, we head off to Roper Lake State Park in East Central AZ.  Hot springs!  Hiking!  Looking forward to another new spot.  (as I post this, we’re here at our new spot).  We were greeted this morning with a Great Blue Heron hanging out right next to our picnic table.  Big Year is ON!wpid-20150116_090324.jpg

Quietsolopursuits and Me

Quietsolopursuits is one of my favorite blogs.  Jerry is a superb photographer, and his blog reflects his love of nature, specifically birding, but all things outdoors. 20140713_130721 His Photo Life List is to document all of the bird species found regularly in Michigan, and he’s about halfway through that project.  Every day, he goes walking with some of his amazing camera gear and documents what he sees, narrating animal behavior in an always-entertaining style.  It’s a great blog.

After following the blog for a while, it was obvious that Quietsolopursuits actually lives somewhere in the Grand Rapids area.  Eventually we struck up a conversation of sorts, and I asked him if he would mind if I tagged along on one of his walks – volunteering to carry The Beast, as he calls his 4-pound Sigma lens, or any of his other gear.  We finally got together for a stroll at Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve last Sunday.  What a treat.20140713_11374720140713_12053120140713_12304720140713_115224

Jerry has a keen eye for movement, and was snapping away at birds I couldn’t see.  Little bits of wildflowers, flying insects, birds…..everything catches his eye.  We walked mostly in silence, me trying to stay out of the way, and not be too annoying with inane chatter.  I did carry the tripod, which went unusued, except as a backdrop for a few photos.  It was interesting to stroll in this manner – slowly, searching the ground and skies, looking for something to photograph.  Birds are out of the question for my cellphone camera and slow reflexes.  I spent most of my time watching Jerry, and looking for interesting fungi.  So, here’s a collection of my shots for the day.

Thanks for letting me tag along, Jerry.  Hope we can do Quietduopursuits again sometime.

These tiny fungi (all together) were no larger than my pinky fingernail.

These tiny fungi (all together) were no larger than my pinky fingernail.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe