Snowbirders Descend Upon SE Arizona!

As I was hiking the trail between Proctor Road and Madera Picnic Area in Madera Canyon,, I realized “snowbirders, the people”, are coming and here in SE Arizona! It’s that time of year when many people escape their anticipated cold, long winters where they live and descend upon SE Arizona. Others choose this area because the birding possibilities are numerous. Whatever the reason … welcome!

But also know … I live here year-round and have observed when snowbirds arrive there are more vehicular accidents and traffic on the roads. (We have pedestrian walkways with lights where you must stop with traffic lights to be observed and followed.) The Rillito farmer’s market, our largest one, becomes unbelievably crowded with people, no dogs please, and recently I almost found no parking space. The market only opened 15 minutes earlier! Next time I will bike/walk to the market which is right off the Chuck Huckleberry Bike Loop. You know about that bike loop, right? (If not, check it out, http://tucson it is a gem in Tucson and beyond.)

I am not complaining … or maybe a bit … but please know it is a wonderful area to visit in the winter and I wish to see it remain safe on the roads and pleasant in the canyon. Some of you may want to observe the elegant trogon and others may wish to hike a trail with other pleasant people. I saw 8 people walk on a trail and totally miss the elegant trogon in the tree. Stop being distracted on the road or trail and take time to LOOK! I know snowbirders are here and we can co-exist, but take time to look on the road and trail!

Elegant trogon was there for all to see

Hearing Sad News While in Iowa

My sadness had nothing to do with Iowa. It just happened to be the state I was in when I received a phone call; my best friend of 40 years died shortly after midnight. I knew my friend’s death was a matter of time. I spent many days, the month prior, with my friend as she lived as best she could after more than a year of cancer treatments and recent major surgery. 

I sobbed while I listened to my friend’s daughter tell me the sad news. Moments like this are horribly sad. But it is a time to pause and realize how fortunate we are to be alive and to ask ourself if we are living our best life. My friend had a very full life … and one which she and I had opportunities to share either together or to talk about with each other during our 40 year friendship. I was always proud of her accomplishments, some of which were: starting law school at age 50, learning to play the piano, helping local organizations, improving upon her ice skating and golfing skills, and being a public school Board of Education member. We both loved books, people, the outdoors, hiking, jogging, travel, Broadway shows in NYC, drinking tea and wine. We always seemed to make things work. And we talked, as we jockeyed around work and family responsibilities which demanded much attention at times.

And here I was in Iowa receiving this sad news. There was nothing I could do to soften the sadness, except to let my tears flow as I drove. I got on with my day, and eventually arrived in DesMoines, set up camp, and connected via zoom with my partner and a friend. Talking with others helped me.

The next day I arrived at my starting point for a bicycle ride on the High Trestle Trail. This rail-trail is 31 miles long; however, I wanted to ride the portion where the trestle is high over the DesMoines River. As I stood at the middle of the trestle bridge, which is 130-foot-tall, I had a flashback of a previous year’s trip with my best friend. My goal was for her to have an adventure away from her home and a break during her monthly chemo treatments. Months ahead, I asked her to choose a place for us to escape to for a few nights and I would arrive from the west coast to take her on an adventure. She chose New York State’s Hudson River Valley. In the scenic Hudson River Valley, we drove by historic homes, walked at Poets’ Walk Park, had dinner at fine dining establishments, and walked the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River. She wanted to walk the entire mile long bridge. To accomplish that, we started at one side of the bridge and walked to the middle and back; the next day, we started on the other side of the river and walked the bridge to the middle and back. While exhausting for her to accomplish over the 2 days, she did walk the entire bridge!

Now 14 months later … memories of my friend, such as this memory, are sure to happen often … I know this for sure! How can one ever forget 40 years with a wonderful friend, our shared adventures and varied happenings during all those years? I will remember!

My friend at Poets’ Walk Park!
My friend walked the entire bridge’s length!

More to Explore in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a state I wish I could spend more time in, but I usually am only passing through as I head from the east coast home to Arizona. My last trip I spent time in the Milwaukee area, this time in the Madison area. Here was my 2.5 day itinerary:

I arrived in the afternoon at Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha to do some birding. The previous day in Illinois I added a bobolink to my “new bird list”, but I wanted to get a photo of the bird. I spent a couple of hours here and did get a photo.


I camped at a campground I had already visited in the last couple of years.

Next day:

I hoped to bicycle ride a section of the Glacial Drumlin State Trail; however, I woke to wildfire smoke. I did not know how bad the air would be at the trail so I ate breakfast at a restaurant close to my starting point and decided on plan B.

I drove to Aztalan State Park in Jefferson. It looked to be an interesting park but it required an $11 park entrance fee. I decided it would be worth it on a visit when I might spend 4 hours or more. This day was not going to be it.

I drove to Goose Pond Sanctuary in Arlington, a place I had been to in past visits. I wanted to walk alone and observe what I knew would be few birds, but I simply wanted quiet. My brain and heart were with craziness; I needed time to think, feel and process all that was going on within me. Time in nature allows me to grapple with emotional hardships … and I was having one of those moments. Days earlier I left my best friend of 40 years and knew she would die soon. My heart ached. I needed time to think and understand what was best for her. It was no time for me to be selfish, yet why do such friendships ever have to end?

Time to understand life and death.

I left the sanctuary needing to discover a new place. I visited Olbrich Botanical Garden and Bolz Conservatory in Madison. Wow, was it all amazing! For $6 the conservatory had a rainforest from Peru. It got me wondering if these little birds were one of the 100 birds I had seen when I was in Peru’s Amazon. A Madison man has a protected place in Peru and is linked with the conservatory.

Peru’s orange-cheeked waxbill

The outdoor gardens are free and so magnificent that I would think local people would walk here often. Each garden was representative of a different area of the world. The Thai pavilion and garden was beautiful too:

Thai Garden

I discovered a bicycle trail not far from the Olbrich Botanical Garden which had ebikes for rent. I was almost tempted to rent one, but with the smoky air I returned to my campground about an hour south with less wildfire smoke.

My second night at this campsite. A van as small and basic as mine prompts people to ask me about it. Tonight a woman asked about travel itself; she is new to RVing. I met her at her camper after I cooked my dinner and she walked her dog. Over a glass of Malbec wine, I offered some things I learned while on the road. It was nice to chat about outdoor life and how to be safe as a single woman on the road. She was contemplating Harvest Hosts for possible nights to save some dollars. The main thing I learned is to definitely read the reviews written by others who stayed at a particular Harvest Host location. She had seen the movie Nomadland and I encouraged her to read the book to understand the whole story. I could not suggest dispersed camping or boondocking. I believe it is important for at least a campground staff or Harvest Host to know I am on property. I had no problem being off by myself backpacking in the middle of nowhere in a forest, but these days on the road it is quite different. Safety is the priority!

Next day:

Relaxed morning start. Bird-watched while I ate breakfast at my picnic table. Organized and cleaned the van. Took a shower. Washed and dried clothing at the campground’s laundry room.  Charged my Apple Watch and Goal Zero. Spent time writing before leaving for LaCrosse, Wisconsin to meet a friend for dinner and to stay at Pearl Street Brewery, my Harvest Host location for the night.

No wildfire smoke has been in this area of Wisconsin so I had 2 good nights while sleeping. I hope my luck continues. Once again I cannot head north to northern Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota. The winds from the 400 wildfires from British Columbia to Nova Scotia are blowing into the USA. It’s a good reminder of how we are all connected!

Iowa, here I come … another new day … another new beginning!

My Travel Adventure to the East Coast Begins!

My eastward van travel from Arizona to New York will be unlike last year’s trip. No freezing Colorado or Nebraska nights for me! Although seeing the sandhill cranes come to roost at night and take off in the morning in Nebraska was spectacular! Part one during this travel: discover what birds I can along the coastal waters of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. I also decided to stay at Harvest Host locations … since I spent money for that annual membership … and really wanted to determine if it was a good option beyond KOA campgrounds.

Well the cold weather began my first night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but with my winter sleeping bag I was fine! My favorite breakfast place is The Shed Restaurant in town. It was wonderful talking with the waitress I met on past visits. There is something to be said when we can connect with people time and time again across the USA as one travels. I again visited South Llano River Park in Junction, Texas while on my way to San Antonio. Besides viewing birds I saw my first live armadillo!

I loved the warm weather in San Antonio, Texas and a return visit to birdwatch at Mitchell Lake. While at this location a woman told me about Crescent Bend Nature Center just about a half hour away. Of course, I went there too. Next time I will make time to bicycle the gravel paths at this place.

A big surprise was meeting a family I had met at the San Antonio KOA last November. With a glass of wine and good conversation, we caught up with each other and how life has been treating us. It truly is a not small world, but simply amazing when your path crosses with another when hundreds of miles from each ones home! Rain always threatened, but I decided I brought my bicycle to ride so I hopped on it for a quick ride before rain and leaving San Antonio. One new bird: cave swallow, yet no good photo. They flew too fast for me to even take a photo.

South Llano River Park photos:

Black-chinned hummingbird
Armadillo… quite an interesting look!

Mitchell Lake, San Antonio, Texas bird photo:

Black-necked stilt

At Crescent Bend Nature Center, this northern cardinal spent many minutes looking at the window and the side mirror of the car belonging to a couple of woman who were relaxing at the park. We were amazed at the amount of time it spent there.

Northern cardinal

Finally, 2 black vultures preening each other:

Thoughts While Mountain Biking

Actually it would be safer for me to have no or few thoughts while mountain biking! It is one of the best activities for me to totally focus on what is happening in the moment and not fret about the worries of the world. Yet I was thinking about the home construction happening around one of our favorite places to mountain bike ride here, Fantasy Island. Some trails have been changed and others have been lost to the new homes and water treatment plant. Hopefully we will not lose the trails that remain.

We love stopping at this one huge Saguaro cactus! May it live another 100 years!

Saguaro cactus … is holding up!

But I want to mention something more specific to the bike trails. We mountain biked 14 miles and most of the trails were in good shape. Of course, we are on the easy trail … affectionately called the Bunny Trail, then Snake Dance and Bunny’s Revenge before we return to our starting point. Each of those trails are fun, nothing too dangerous with easy dips and climbs on hard-packed dirt for the most part! I know people love to ride, but it is important to give a trail time to dry out after a rainstorm. Here as shown in the photo below, some people had ridden while the ground was muddy. Creating ruts aren’t helpful to the next riders and only aids in the soil erosion as water flows through this area again. I want to be riding as much as the other people, but take a day off after a rainstorm to allow the bike trail to dry out.

Mud … now creating another trail nearby to avoid this …

Most trails were in good shape, such as this:

So…my point is … as excited as I might be to mountain bike ride, I think twice before doing so when I see we have had rain recently. And then I get out to see the cute bunnies along the trail and maybe even a real one!

Birding While Bicycling, Forget It!

Bicycling is fun and so is birding. Combine the two activities and there is a challenge at least while I ride my Trek bicycle. I can cycle along and hear the cactus wren at the cholla cactus, the curve-billed thrasher by the cactus or under a creosote bush, or a common raven cawing overhead. But as soon as I coast, stop pedaling, on my bicycle there is a buzzing sound flushing birds from the area! Very frustrating if I want a closer look at the bird or even a photograph!

Well my reality is I am not going to stop birding while bicycling. Instead I have realized I should just keep pedaling, even if it is slowly, when I want to take a closer look. Or pass by the area where a bird is or stop before where I think I am hearing the bird!

We have a wonderful bike loop here in Tucson, Arizona so many bicyclists are out cycling and maybe not as observant of some things that I may notice. At times I stop to observe, listen, and take in a moment. I’ll continue to bicycle and bird …

By the way, the clicking sound is like that of a ratchet wrench, if you know what that is. On a bicycle, the sub-component of a bike’s rear wheel is the free hub that allows the wheel to keep spinning even when I have stopped pedaling. The drivetrain is instantly disengaged until there is a transfer of power from me to the wheel when I pedal. There is more to this in the world of “pawls” to understand the creation of the clicking sound; I will not get into here. I just want to get outdoors to cycle and bird! Hope you are having a great day!

San Antonio Bicycling & Botanical Garden: Part 2 of 3

My campsite is near a bicycling trail, the Salado Creek Trail. It finally stopped raining so I hopped on my bicycle. This trail section is only 7 miles long through a wooded area paralleling a creek. There are some tricky intersections so having my app to check my location a couple of times did help. Anyway to my surprise, I caught up with 2 bicyclists, one from Minnesota and the other a city-employed “trail steward”. She works 3 – 4 days a week, 4 hours per day, and bicycles the path so people feel comfortable knowing where to go. I also suspect the city had a homeless problem in areas under bridges and with much of the wooded areas of the trail. I had a good ride and talk with them and cycled around the nearby lake before heading back. I extended my ride for about 1.5 miles beyond the campground. I noticed they are working on more bike path extensions. Yippee!

Here are a couple of photos from that ride:

Black vulture
Salado Creek Bike Trail

San Antonio Botanical Garden

After my bicycle ride and a much-needed shower, I drove to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, I decided to eat lunch at their restaurant, Jardin, before walking the beautiful gardens. First let me say, my lunch of edamame falafel in a pita bread with mixed salad was absolutely delicious! (And I am very much appreciative of another camper having mentioned the restaurant to me.) While walking the garden I discover this place has rose gardens, a fern grotto, buildings for specific plants: palms and cycads, desert plants, tropical plants and very good signage at each location. There is a Family Adventure area where children can walk a maze, climb on rocks and are encouraged to touch things. A young bride was having her photo taken in various locations in the garden and others were setting up for an upcoming light show  here. I have included some photos, but they’ll never do the place justice. If you love plants be sure to visit here …. and plan for lunch or dinner too.

Photos from the garden:

Children Can Learn in Many Environments

I want to take a moment and share an observation I made at a neighborhood park: John Jay Park in San Antonio. I thought this was a brilliant idea in helping parents and care givers of children enjoy time together at a park. This series of signs in English and Spanish lined the park pathway; I did not include them all. An adult encouraging a child to do these activities is wonderful. Check out the signs as I think there is nothing more for me to say.

Texas Birding Time is Soon; Time to Prep!

Time to hit the road again; I am off to Texas!

The van is packed for bicycling and birding fun in southern Texas. Do you know how large Texas is? I am not going to bore you with the details, but let’s just say it will take me days to drive 1200 miles to South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, also not many miles to the Mexican border. (Before I arrive there, I will spend time visiting and bicycling in San Antonio.)

The birding festival in Texas at this time of year is in Harlingen Texas so I will be there the next week. Thankfully I have a good routine packing my van, so for this trip more time has been preparing for the birding opportunities. I like having an idea of what some birds look like before I actually see the bird. It is impossible to do if there are a hundred new birds for me in an area; however, I like to zero in on a few birds. 

Texas is east of the Rocky Mountains, therefore bird species are listed in the eastern bird field guide of North America. It’s sort of funny because I rarely think of Texas as eastern. Maybe the cowboy films, oil wells, beef lots, and whatever else make me think western … oh well, Eastern North America it is!

You may recall I drew a poorly-sketched, black oystercatcher that helped me locate the bird in California. Well, my sketching is back with an attempt at a few other birds. I would love to see a Great Kiskadee:

Great Kiskadee

When I first researched what birds may be in the area, I thought it great to see a green jay. But then I thought it would be cool to see the grooves on the beak of the ani. I also wondered how plain the plain chachalaca could be. After seeing it in the field guide and drawing one, it is as plain as plain can be!

Colorful green jay and a groove- billed ani.
Plain chachalaca

Whatever birds I observe in Texas will be of interest to me. Other festival attendees will be helpful in sighting some of these birds too. Many eyes on an area, especially those trained to know silhouettes of birds will be most helpful to me. I am off to Texas! Wish me luck! 

A Road Less Traveled

How often do we watch a television program where the adventurer takes a road less traveled? There are benefits away from people, especially when taking landscape photos. We want few to no people in the photo and to view wildlife in their natural habitat, so I can relate to that idea in traveling a road few will be on. 

Recently I ventured down a road I had never driven before. It was a winding, paved road with no center line or shoulder. No consultation with Google maps was possible so I decided to drive at least 10 miles, assess the situation, and turn around if nothing caught my eye. In the first 5 miles, I only saw one other vehicle and then a bicyclist on the side of the road!

I pulled along side the bicyclist and asked if all was well. The guy smiled and said, “Are you checking on me?” Of course I thought; “Yes, you are in the middle of nowhere, stopped on the side of this road, and I wanted to be sure all was well.” Actually I was miles into my drive and not sure if the exploration was worth it. Then suddenly surprised to see another human being out here … and on a bicycle … or more specifically off his bicycle! Why not check on the cyclist!

While talking with him, one vehicle pulling a trailer passed us by … no other traffic … which is the reason this guy bicycles the road. He was simply having a snack break, one he takes every 45 minutes. When he heard me say I was exploring, he had a suggestion. Another mile down the paved road, the road splits and becomes dirt roads. Take the road to the left, drive about 4 – 5 miles and when finally up a hill the land opens to San Rafael Valley … what he suggested I should see since I am already this far down the road. He also mentioned to go straight, no turns, and remember how to come back out, back track, so I do not end up in Mexico. Easy enough. I drive on after we discuss the importance of bicyclists hydrating and eating food for fuel. I wish him a good ride.

Montezuma quail are in this area from research I had done last year. Despite no chance seeing them now, I did want to know where the San Rafael State Natural Area was. I continue down the road. 

I enter and leave national forest land, drive over cattle guards, pass signs informing me “illegal smuggling can occur” in this area (okay, I am less than 10 miles from the Mexican-USA border) and a “primitive road” sign indicating use at my own risk as surface is not regularly maintained. Of course, when you are driving a dirt road, through arroyos/washes, on rocky and winding roads it is a good time to check where clouds and the sun are in the sky. All was good. I continue on since the point of my drive was to discover a new place.

Do you know how long 5 miles is on a dirt road? It can seem like forever! Finally, up… up… an uphill and I thought this must be it! Yes! 

I pull over at this 4-way dirt intersection and within 2 minutes of my arrival, a truck pulling a trailer with hay turns off on the side dirt road, a regular pick-up truck and a Fed- Ex vehicle drive down the road I just came up! Then I have the place to myself! Wow!

I really need to plan these adventures earlier in a day! Of course, I probably would not have met the bicyclist to learn of this road to then drive and explore. Such is life; such is adventure! I will need to return another time … maybe Montezuma quail time! I loved seeing this beautiful expanse of land in the middle of nowhere! So glad we still have these places on earth!

Looking one direction
Another direction
Wonder where he was going?
The road I just came up.
The reason for the cattle guards.

Part 2 of 3: A CO Canyon, Meditation Center & Bike Ride

After a delicious breakfast at may favorite cafe in LaPorte, I spent a couple of hours bird watching at Watson Lake. At first, it was so quiet I wondered where are the birds! Then squawking Canada geese, about 50, flew in. A couple of mallards and two common mergansers were on the lake. I checked the eagle nests, as I always do when here, and no eagles around. 

Common merganser
American robin staring me down
Watson Lake

A visit to Poudre Canyon was recommended by a friend, so it was my next place to visit. Since I always like to see more the countryside, I drove a road to the north … Red Feather Lake area to circle down to the canyon area. I guess if you look very closely to your Google map you’ll see the approximately 15 mile dirt road, but I figured if there is a Boy Scout camp on the road, it cannot be bad. The road was perfect until 2 miles after the camp. It was drivable and the van had no problem. All of a sudden I see a stupa, hidden and off in the distance. I back-up the van and drive into Drala Mountain Center. Okay, their roads were rutty and I wondered if this was a good idea, but I wanted to see the stupa.

All I saw of the stupa from the dirt road

Did I mention it is raining now? Also, I see signs thanking firefighters. From this area and to my eventual Poudre Canyon, there definitely was a wildfire. I work my way up to the stupa … it is huge! So huge you can go in and meditate along with what looks like it could hold 50 seated people. No one ever stopped me while I was on the property and others were meditating in the stupa with me. One woman did say hello, otherwise some were returning from a hike. This place is at 8,000 foot elevation and 600 acres. 

My research indicates Drala Mountain Center offers Buddhist meditation and yoga retreats. The center did survive the Cameron Peaks wildfire which lasted 62 days and burned over 200,000 acres, encompassing Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in 2 counties and Rocky Mountain National Park. Finally contained December 2, 2020. It became the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado’s history, surpassing the Pine Gulch Fire that burned near Grand Junction in 2020.

Stupa at Drala Mountain Center

The Buddhist statue within the stupa is the “Teaching Buddha”, appropriate for those who are either studying or are interested in learning more about spirituality at this center.

Teaching Buddha

Wildfire scars and burned areas are still evident in the Poudre Canyon area. It is a beautiful area to visit, many campgrounds in the national forests and places to fish. It is almost impossible to capture the huge rock formations in a photo, but here are a few:

Stream in Poudre Canyon
Profile Rock
Huge rocks … see Profile Rock?

The next day was a non-driving day. It looked like rain, and did rain, but then I hopped on my bicycle and enjoyed a ride on the Poudre River Trail. I veered off when close to downtown Fort Collins and went exploring. That was fun!