This winter I headed west to AZ with a dear friend. We took a new-to-us route across a large part of LA and TX avoiding the major cities. What a good decision that was! My thanks to Jerry and Wanda for the new route!
Our first night in AZ was spent at a wonderful small campground near Portal that friends had stayed at and recommended. We were very glad we stopped for the night. It was quiet except for the sound of the creek that ran along side the campground. I went out at night hoping for a clear dark sky and was well rewarded. I took a few images looking to the north (in this one you can clearly see the Andromeda Galaxy to the left of the Milky Way) and then some to the south. As I was standing on the bridge over the creek marveling at the night sky I noticed that the motion sensor light on the side of my trailer came on….. since there were lots of signs about bear activity I took the camera off the tripod, turned on my flashlight and started making lots of noise as I headed back to the trailer. I was happy with the images I had taken and was content to call it a night. Never did see what made the light go on and I was just as happy not to, it could have been a skunk or a bear!
After a few days visiting friends at Quartzite I went to visit another friend in Buckeye. One of the day trips we sometimes take is to the Desert Botanical Gardens. They often have special displays around Christmas and this year was no different. It featured a variety of very large plastic animals that were lit up at night. There were small info boards next to the displays with very brief info trying to tie the critters to nature or the desert in some way. The signs also said the critters were made of recyclable plastic. Personally I would have been more impressed it the critters were made of recycled plastic. Plastic critters aside it is always an interesting place to explore, I always find something new to enjoy there.
After going back to Quartzite for a week a few of us ventured west to Blythe, CA for a couple of nights at a county campground next to the Colorado River. Can safely say been there done that now. Blythe isn’t far from Q and has a couple of good grocery stores. The country around it is largely farming with hay the major crop. We did see a few Sandhill Cranes in the fields.
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My trip from FL to UT this month was pretty uneventful and I stopped at Goosenecks SP to relax for a couple of days before continuing. As always the goosenecks created by the San Juan River are memorable.
Ever since traveling route 95 northwest from Blanding, UT, to Hanksville I’ve wanted to take that road again and stop along the way. This May I finally got to do that. Most of the road is included in the Bears Ears National Monument and goes through BLM land. I had studied various maps and had some idea where I might be able to stop for overnight. My first stop was just past a butte called Cheese Box Butte. There is a pullout that leads to a sort of circle and beyond that a pretty rough road that goes down to more open space. I decided to stay at the circle but did see a car head down the road and then a couple set up their tent in an open area much closer to the river than where I was.
I had an idea to camp at Fry Canyon, but the entrance of that road was posted so I kept on going a ways. I saw a turn off to the right and saw a pickup truck parked near a sign, but by then I had gone by the turn. Just ahead I saw a sign “Jacob’s Chair Viewpoint”. OK! I turned around there (doesn’t take much room to turn my truck & Casita around) and went back to the turnoff. It lead to another very large circle where I found a relatively level spot to park. The sign posted showed all sort of trails and from my viewpoint I could see tent campers below and across the river. This would be an ideal spot to explore with a 4WD vehicle and a nice place to just hang out for a bit. There was a nice breeze so it wasn’t too hot even with no shade.
I think if I’d been a week later the desert floor would have been covered with cactus blooms. I managed to get some images of most of the flowers in bloom, it’s amazing what a variety there is in that dry climate.
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The last few days of my visit to the great Southwest were spent at Gilbert Ray cg in Tucson Mountain County Park. That is just down the road from the Saguaro NP
and AZ Sonoran Desert Museum. I did a couple of the drives in Saguaro NP and visited the ASDM with a friend another day. Must say that Museum is so much more than the typical “museum” it is really made up of several areas featuring desert plants, a couple of aviaries and several settings in which native wildlife live. The Otter, Cougar and Bobcat were visible, some of
Bobcat in the shade
the other critters were not but I’d say all the abodes were about as nice as any I’ve seen in any zoo or wildlife place. One of the highlights of the museum is the raptor shows they do twice daily. While we were there they flew 4 Harris Hawks, the only raptors know to work as a “pack”. Getting good photos was hard because I was facing into the sun.
One evening after a day of intermittent rain there was a glorious sunset. I’d found a place earlier in the day that I thought would provide a good foreground and it did. As the sun was setting it
AZ sunset with rain pouring down west of where I was
was lighting up yet more rain headed towards the campground, so it added something unique to the images. The next morning I got up early with hopes of capturing a good sunrise but the high mountain to the east and lack of clouds made that a non issue. As I stood there in the desert with my camera settings for the sunrise I spotted a coyote trotting by. Naturally I swung the camera to follow it, all the time thinking do I dare try to change the settings? Will it keep moving or stop? It stopped and I did get a photo ( but I didn’t realize it until later in the day).
Coyote in early morning light
Not the best ever but certainly the best/only one I can claim of a coyote at sunrise.
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Located near Phoenix is the Desert Botanical Garden. The friends I was visiting last week have annual passes so we went one day. A one day visit means you are covering a lot of ground at a good clip! The places is vast with various walks through different areas, displaying many varieties of desert plants including cactus, aloe and agave. Aloe 500 is a genus containing over 500 species of flowering succulent plants. Not sure
Another Agave, this one is over 2′ across
about the number of Agave species but I have a really good, prolific one in my front yard so I was attracted to those. Would love to find a couple of the ones I saw at the botanical garden to have at home.
We spent the day, which included a nice sandwich at the cafe on site then headed back to Buckeye.
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Never expected to still be camping in CA but here I am. When I left Death Valley I was hoping to get into Joshua Tree NP for a few days. Hah! I didn’t have reservations and the holiday weekend brought out hoards of people. No site for me. Since the weather prediction for the weekend was strong winds and heavy rain I decided to head to the Salton Sea SRA where I was due to meet friends on Sunday. Full hookups, a real splurge for me and good friends to share the time with. The Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in CA and has a higher salt content than the Pacific. Several kinds of shore birds, along with both brown and white pelicans are here. Not a lot different than at home in FL, really. I did find some Burrowing Owls though and it was fun to watch them for a while, but there wasn’t a lot of action. It was them watching me watch them, really.
I’ve heard about the amazing metal sculptures in the desert around Borrego Springs from a few Casita friends and thought it would be fun to see them, but also thought the chances of me being in the area were nil. Not so! Turns out Borrego Springs is about 90 minutes from here so my dear friend (and former Casita owner) Cindi and I headed over there today. What fun we had locating the sculptures.
From the Chamber of Commerce booklet ” The gifts of visionary town benefactor Dennis Avery and the craft of sculptor Ricardo Breceda, the sculptures began arriving in April 2008, taking up residence on Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate and easily visible from Borrego Springs Road, north and south.” There are well worn dirt roads weaving to and around the sculptures on the various parcels of land. Some of the critters are prehistoric, some more recognizable, some straight out of fantasy. The “Serpent” has 3 sections on one side of the road and the tail sections are on the other. It reminds me of ancient maps that depicted the earth as flat and the unknown was described as “There be dragons” with a drawing much like the serpent.
The sculptures in some cases are larger than life (scorpion and grasshopper for example) and in others I suspect very close to life size. The action captured by the sculptor is amazing. We found ourselves with more questions than answers on the way home. In some cases I guess he could base the piece on life experience or a photo (like the mare with foal) in others it looks like he must have done some research (saber tooth tiger) and in others it seems like his imagination took over. Each piece is a fine piece of art and shows marvelous skill. The number of pieces was surprising. For example there wasn’t just one prehistoric critter, or one example of a specific species. In some cases there was an adult and smaller ones.
We explored the parcels on the south side of town, had a fantastic lunch then went to the northern parcels to view the rest of the sculptures. I haven’t shown all of them here. It was a great day and a fine finish to a relaxing weekend with friends.
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View of Death Vally floor from along Badwater Drive
At Quartzite some friends mentioned they were headed to Death Valley next…..hmmm, never been there so I decided to go, too. I got a site at a rather barren campground, really a gravel lot with space numbers, but the cost is low. There is a decent breeze that makes up for the lack of shade, too. The valley floor is close to 200′ below seal level. I can’t imagine the hard life the miners and others had here when they came.
I had no idea what to expect and it has been interesting exploring a bit. It is surrounded by mountains, with a long drive slowly descending to the valley floor. So far I haven’t seen much if any cactus of any sort. The hills are different from most I’ve see out west because they seem softer or more crumbly, affected more easily by any rains or winds that come. The colors range from yellow and gold to dark brown with a tint of green in a few places.
I’ve gotten out a couple of nights and took advantage of the interesting
Moonlight and stars at Zabriskie Point
foregrounds and moonlight, Very different from what I’ve seen before.
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Different hours of the day (or night) at Quartzite give you very different views. Sunset is peaceful, colorful or bland depending on the clouds.
A very early morning (0545) can provide an opportunity to see the Milky Way.
A bit later when the sun rises the colors can be spectacular, changing constantly.
Late afternoon lights up the stately Saguaro cactus and highlights the bright green of the Ocotillos.
The last image is of a small percent of the RVs that come to Quartzite to spend the winter on the BLM land. It’s inexpensive and you get to pick your location, close to others, sort of close but not too, or way out in the desert.