Seattle Area to Visit a Friend

I left the campground early in the morning and stopped a few places during my 3 hour drive to Seattle. I chose not to take a ferry so I could see the countryside …. more tall trees and the bay shoreline! Point Defiance Park was my first destination. It is a beautiful park with a 5 mile drive, a hiking trail through the park, a rhododendron garden, zoo, aquarium and Owen Beach.

Seeing various towns always makes me wonder, why do people live here? Some people love the crowded busy areas, others like the rural quieter placesI, and often there is someplace in-between! Some are water people and others are mountain people. This area is definitely for water lovers. I drove along the shoreline of Commencement Bay and stopped south of Point Ruston. And for us mountain lovers, here I got my first glimpse of Mount Rainier! No plan to visit it this adventure. Now I was arriving into more populous areas and traffic! The Port of Tacoma is an industrial-looking area as one looks at barges and cranes in the port.

Mount Rainier

It was wonderful to visit with a Seattle friend I had not seen in a few years. How could I not love relaxing, drinking wine, eating home-cooked meals, doing laundry, not driving, watching tennis on tv, and simply enjoying my friend’s positive energy. We visited Richmond Beach Saltwater Park and Carkeek Park; however, only the usual gulls and crows were around. And that was okay. Walking and talking, and not driving, had its value for me! My water-loving friend lives where she can sail her boat … perfect!

After a few days, I was back on the road driving across the state of Washington. From the cool temperatures of the Olympic Peninsula to 30 degree higher temperatures of Spokane Valley. The very tall trees were left behind to lots and lots of hay being grown in this state. Plenty of wind for the windmills I saw, and then more hay! I knew I was close to a large city when an Amazon distribution center was a short distance off the interstate. Welcome to Spokane! My campground was a few more miles down the road in Spokane Valley.

Time in Tillamook, Oregon

Two nights I camp south of Tillamook, actually in Waldport, and one “Harvest Host” night in Tillamook; I’ll explain. I chose the Waldport/Newport KOA to allow me to view the Oregon coast and bird watch. The next day I checked out the coast and bird watched north of the KOA. I drove about 45 minutes from the campground stopping at numerous locations. Oregon State Parks provide many waysides, recreational parks and viewpoints for viewing the coast and/or access to the beach. I stopped at many of them!

Three places I saw birds, I did record birds into eBird. At Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, I saw the 1870’s oldest Oregon lighthouse and a harlequin duck. Unfortunately it is not breeding season so sort of drab looking bird. At Yachats State Park I saw a surf scoter. I mention these birds because they were new ones for me. There were plenty of other birds on my list for eBird. Look closely as the birds in the photos below are 2 different birds… the challenge of bird watching!

Harlequin duck
A surf scoter bill helps identify this bird.
Oregon’s oldest lighthouse is in Newport, OR

I love cheese and ice cream!

The next day I drove just under 2 hours to take a self-guided tour at Tillamook’s Creamery, Tillamook, Oregon. All visitors received 3 sample cheeses before watching the cheese business from start to finish. You literally are watching the employees at the various stations completing the make the cheese to packaging to shipping process. There is also a video explaining the ice cream making process. This company is 80 farming families, thus a farmer-owned co-op. My research indicates the local happy cows are a small part of the milk production. The many cows Tillamook needs are at a mega-dairy factory farm in eastern Oregon …hmmm … interesting. I did enjoy my chocolate chip ice cream.

What’s Harvest Host?

My next stop was Bay Ocean Peninsula Park to bird watch. I did see 2 new birds: 3 California gulls and 2 Pacific wrens. Then I headed to Blue Heron Cheese Factory. I told you I love cheese so I bought cheese curds and a mini camembert cheese, plus other items. Blue Heron Cheese Factory is a Harvest Host.

I bought an annual Harvest host membership. This allows me to park my van on their farm field, or at any reserved Harvest Host location, and spend the recommended $20 per stay which may be only allow a night or two. Campers must be self-contained. There is no water, electricity, septic, and you need to collect your grey water and cannot cook outdoors. Basically it is a place to park for the night inexpensively. I spent more than $20 by the time I bought cheese, clam chowder soup and half a sandwich. Blue Heron’s property had farm animals, old tractors, and plenty of grass to accommodate 50 campers. It was quiet during the night. The rooster crowed at 5:30am. No problem. I had a long drive the next day to begin my exploration of Washington’s Olympic National Park. I was on my way by 6:00am.

Another note about Harvest Host: the host may be a winery, brewery, church, alpaca farm, lavender farm, many places. The membership includes a great website to book a reservation at the last minute or schedule ahead. This was my first experience and it was a good one.

Van Conversion with New Ideas

Each time I travel with my RAM Promaster 1500 low roof van, I seem to think of new ideas or projects. If you missed my earlier blogs about my converting this cargo van to a travel van, click here.

Two easy things to do…

One of my easiest ideas: purchasing 2 YETI Hopper Flip 8 Soft Coolers. I store what I plan to eat within the next day or so in one cooler. It sits on one of my sliding drawers in the back of the van. Remember the day of installing the sliding drawers? Here’s that van conversion work at this link. The other cooler holds food I plan to eat in a few days. It sits in the interior of the van. As a result, everything stays cold longer. The big plus is not needing to buy ice so often! With both coolers I have a foil piece on the inside cover of the cooler (those you receive perishables in from some companies). I like the foil also to separate some items I do not need on ice, but still to be kept cool.

Cooler with foil piece

The other ridiculously easy idea was to dry sweaty stuff. I do have a clothesline along my bed’s edge and I can string another line from one part of the interior roof to another. But the small items like bike gloves and socks were always falling off the clothesline, until I realized another idea! I flipped my small camp chair over and hung items there. Perfect!

Small stuff dry here!

Other ideas combine here….

My travel van has no additional heat, air conditioning or electrical outlet and all of that is okay. I refer to my van as a “glorified tent” because my sleeping area is above where my bicycle is mounted and no tent could accomplish that. You may remember my sleeping area is screened in. If not, check this link.

I began to think about charging my portable power station: a Goal Zero Yeti 150 while at a campground since electrical hookup is available and I like to plug my electronics into it while out in the field. Yet I did not want to be carrying the 12 pound power station around just to charge it at the campground. Could I find a place to keep it in my van and still plug in at the campground?

I realized some nights are very warm in the van and I may even have hotter nights to come. How could I charge my Goal Zero and run a small fan to move the air across my sleeping area? After some thought and purchase of a fan, an electrical extension cord, and some small hooks, I had an idea. I would run the electrical cord under my bed, on the side of the van where most campgrounds have their electrical post, and connect with my Goal Zero. My power station will sit on the bench I built inside the van. The fan is velcro-ed to the wall of the van and plugged into my Goal Zero. My needs have been met!

Electrical cord along the side of van and blue bag holds the bulk of the cord.
The fan blows over the bed and its cord goes down to Goal Zero.

Do I have a trip coming up? Yes … on the road to northwest USA! Follow my travels here at or maybe I will see you down the road! Safe travels all!

Identify Unknowns With An App

In my twenties I worked as a naturalist at three county parks in New York State. I would lead nature hikes for visitors on the park trails. All ages of visitors would join me. While NYS ferns were my forte, we could never overlook the colorful wildflowers, slowly creeping slugs and snails, various mushrooms and fungi after a rain, or any flying bird or insect. As a result I was always studying my field guides or asking another naturalist to identify something for me.

We have come a long way….

Fifty years later, we have technology to thank with helping us to identify critters and plants we may have no idea of what they are. An app, iNaturalist, provides me with a way to include my photo of a living plant or animal, location and date. Then it suggests what I am trying to identify. After reading through the choices, I choose what the plant or animal may be. Once I share my observation, other individuals provide input to help identify my finding. They may not always agree with me and that is okay. I see their choice and can agree if I do agree.

Could you identify this wildlife?

With the help of the iNaturalist app and others who agree to my identification of each, here are some for you to see if you already know what they are or would need an app to help:

You know it is a dragonfly…specifically it is a blue dasher.
You know it is a cicada….specifically it is a scrub cicada.
You know it is a toad…specifically a red-spotted toad.

There are other apps available to help identify animals and plants. Give them a try!

Desert Towns: Yuma & El Centro on I-8

First, a television report caught my attention: “1500 18-wheeler trucks leave here per day with produce”. Which desert town? Was it Yuma, Arizona or El Centro, California? Second, I had plans to travel to the San Diego, California area in search of a seashore bird: the black oystercatcher. I had never stopped in Yuma or El Centro when driving Interstate 8 to the west coast, so I decided now was as good a time as any to do so.

Learning about desert town: Yuma, Arizona

Attention speeding drivers: lesson learned without getting a ticket, but I saw others be pulled over. Watch your driving speed; 75 mph on the interstate in Arizona, but when close to Yuma it is 65 mph with plenty of police to catch you if you are speeding. Amazing the number of them I saw.

Guinness World Records listed Yuma, Arizona as the “sunniest city on earth”. Sunshine and warm temperatures 91% of the year is where thousands of RVers visit in the winter months! More importantly, ninety percent of all leafy vegetables are grown November to March in this county. When we eat a salad in the winter, the greens were grown here, the “Winter Lettuce Capital of the World”, Yuma Arizona.

While driving the interstate, even in summer, I saw local feedlots with as many as 120,000 heads of beef cattle. Date trees, especially Medjool dates, grow here along with over 100 other crops. Researching info for this post I discover kosher wheat is cultivated here since kosher rules dictate the wheat is not to receive additional moisture immediately prior to harvesting. Interesting; I never knew!

My arrival to this city is late in the day since I knew it would be desert dry heat hot. West Wetlands Park is on the Colorado River. My hope is to know something about it for future bird watching and/or need to take a driving break. People/swimmers at the river’s edge, on Centennial Beach, told me the water was cold. Compared to the hot air temperature it was refreshing. River tubing looked like great fun too! There is a hiking/biking trail for my future use. On this day, I only walked a short distance because of the heat and time of day. I still needed to get to El Centro.

West Wetlands Park in Yuma, Arizona

Learning about desert town: El Centro, California

Back on the interstate, a Border patrol checkpoint is at the Arizona/California border. At various places look south to see the border wall in the distance. A half hour from the checkpoint about 15 people apprehended by Border Patrol. The people were sitting on the ground probably to wait for transport since no way all could fit in 2 patrol cars. One Border Patrol person using binoculars was checking the hills. I have mentioned this before, it is not difficult to climb over the border wall. The difficulty is surviving in 100 degree dry desert heat! Getting found probably saves their lives.

While driving to Bucklin Park, I notice food processing places for the thousands of acres of winter vegetables produced in this area. This is an arid region, less than 3 inches of rain per year, with summer temperatures around 107 degrees Fahrenheit. I am escaping to San Diego’s mid-70 temperatures! 

Most visitors to this desert area ride off-road vehicles at Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in the winter months (some dunes are over 300 feet) or visit the Salton Sea area further north from here. I took a quick walk in the heat of summer at Bucklin Park. Few others, people or birds, were here. I’ll note the park’s location in case any interesting birds are reported to fly through here this winter.

Bucklin Park in El Centro, California

Driving Beyond El Centro to the San Diego area

It would be interesting to understand the geology of this varied desert landscape – some below sea level, or once bubbling now solidified rock formations, or the sand dunes. Solar panels cover acres of land, as do gigantic windmills near mountain passes. Road signs let drivers know gusts of wind and sand are possible even in areas where there are no windmills. At another place signs tell us to turn off our vehicle’s air conditioning so the radiator does not overheat. For those who do not, water stations are along that 10 mile stretch of road. 

Sand dunes

Finally near the San Diego area, plants are green and the ocean water is welcoming. I arrive … and so did everyone else … hotels and campgrounds are busy and roads are full off traffic, but we are all here for the morning fog, cool daytime temperature and ocean water … at least I am! (This blog post is not meant to tell you everything about Yuma or El Centro; visit each when you can. Happy and safe travels to you.)

West coast of the USA!

Lizard in Our Home?

The outdoor air temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, I am indoors. I played pickleball in the morning hours when the air temperature was just 86 degrees. Now I am watching a twin-spotted spiny lizard through a glass window at my home because there have been times a lizard has found its way into our home. 

Lizard hot in the sun, so come to the shade.

I‘m watching this lizard. Is there a place where lizards sneak into our home? The few occasions a lizard has been in our home, was it walking in when we do? Or sliding in through the sliding door tracks? Or some other way? Can I discover anything while watching this one? Is it looking at me? I understand lizards can see as well or even better than humans. Wow!

This lizard looking at me?

Does the lizard know we have captured then released a few of their fellow lizards in our home this past year? My partner seems to have caught the most lizards … in a washcloth, a t-shirt, a napkin and a glue-board (oh that one sounds horrible!) I caught one with a bath towel. None of those captures were easy. Do you know they can run 5 feet a second for about 15 feet? When it is hot outdoors they can run fast, although in our home they seem to move faster; surely just my imagination!

Just looking around.

Who else has stopped by … another lizard and….

For 10 minutes of time, a black-throated sparrow is here in the shade too and another lizard for a couple of minutes, then runs to the rocks. Animals are smart enough to know where to go for cooler temperatures. Lizards can burrow into the sand or hide under rocks in our backyard to escape the intense heat, but they seem to also enjoy running across our shaded area.

Black-throated sparrow
This one was in and out quickly.

The other lizard ran off, but after 49 minutes of observing the first one, it now seems to pump itself up and down – no doubt showing off its strength – and then scoots off to the rocky area too. Today no lizard entered our home! The mystery remains though on how they are entering it. That’s the way it is when you live in a desert! Fun fact: lizards feed on ants, beetles, caterpillars and small lizards! No wonder the other one went running!

Final visiting moments.

Travel & Everest at Age 50? Why Not?

Recently I immediately saw a photo of Mount Everest on the wall behind the bar at the Dutton-Goldfield Winery in Sebastopol, California. It was a photo of Mount Everest from Kala Pattar! So many of us climb this 18,519 foot peak to see a spectacular view of Mount Everest and the nearby peaks. I love travel and the chance to share experiences with others who have been to a same place! I wanted to know more.

Who traveled to Nepal and took the Everest photo hanging behind the bar? Thankfully the man setting up our wine tasting knew. After finishing a business meeting at a nearby table, Dan Goldfield was introduced to me! (He’s the Goldfield in Dutton-Goldfield Winery!) Both of us, many years ago and at different times, turned 50 years old and trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp. On his trek he continued to a neighboring valley. When I turned 50 years old, I trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp, thanks to the support of my employer allowing me time in Nepal during the school calendar.

Was it easy to train and complete the trek?

Train for the trek: carry a fully – loaded backpack, climb up and down garage parking lot stairwells – often smell horrible – and icy northeast USA roads, plus time on hiking trails in Arizona and the Grand Canyon (my favorite place now that I moved to southwest USA) to determine best hiking boots! Many times I wished I was 20 years old because the months of training were hard work! In retrospect, I am thrilled to have accomplished what I did! Out on the trail, “climb the mountain” was my mantra. Burning through hundreds of calories, sleeping on the ground, hiking for hours at continued increasing elevation – hike high, sleep low – and enjoying the company of fellow trekkers and locals where we enjoyed delicious food all added to the experience! Of course, arriving at Kala Pattar and Everest Base Camp were the ultimate goals and then downhill to safely arrive home!

Yes, life is good with travel!

After the trek, I made presentations for my students and staff at my school, my community and at a local Eastern Mountain Sports – provider of my reasonably priced outdoor gear – some I eventually donated to our trekking porters. I cannot speak for Dan; however, if I was able to travel to Nepal to climb mountains when I was younger, I would have. From my point of view, when reaching 50 years of age it is time to travel and climb mountains or it will never happen. I love mountains! Thankfully my school’s faculty, board of education, student body and community allowed me the opportunity to trek in Nepal. Writing this post brought back wonderful memories!

Kathmandu – city time
The monkeys were everywhere!
On our way as we enter the park.
Loved the food.
Bridges – not for the weak of heart! I loved their sway!
On top to see Everest still in the distance.
What a sight …Mount Everest!
Avalanche while we were there at base camp.
I could not step on the Khumbu Icefall as Chinese liaison stop you. Look closely, in center of photo, of people crossing a crevasse. The icefall is huge.
I visited a local school as I do on all my travels. Eventually we send additional supplies to the school.
I love seeing children be educated!
Our group leap-frogged up the trail with Erik’s group. He is with his brother and father who I meet. Years later his father is involved with a Tibetan project I had; small world!
Wally – wonderful person and guide. I follow him to my next big mountain the next year!
I admired Rob Hall and was saddened by his death so left prayer flags at his memorial.

A few decades later, I am so glad I kept these photos! While having great memories is wonderful, especially since I am still of an age with a good memory, it is fun to see the good times and other people in the photos. Don’t wait till you are 50 years of age if you can make some of your dreams happen now! There’s a big world out there with many fantastic adventures to be had, so enjoy!

Turtles and 104 degrees!

I needed to stretch my legs even if it meant walking a mile in a very hot temperature … 104 degrees! I am not sure where the day went, so I headed to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson Arizona for the walk and wondered if any wildlife were moving around? Ten different bird species were flitting around, deep in the tree leaves … they were smart to be in any shade! The turtles however were hanging around on land, in the water, and on a rock … a real balancing act!

Turtles can tolerate warm conditions, but there are concerns as to whether they can handle climate change especially if temperatures rise too quickly. We need to be sure not to destroy their habitat as they need water, land, light and air with rainfall helping to moderate temperatures, provide water and maintain a wetland. People who have red-eared sliders as a common pet turtle know to keep a constant 85 – 92 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, along with a rock in watering area for it to sit on sand. They can live up to 75 years if cared for correctly.

The semi-aquatic pond sliders I saw on this walk, called red-eared sliders, were in different locations at the park. Enjoy the photos of them:

Turtle comfortable on a log
This turtle enjoying a swim
These two heading somewhere on land. I did not hang around to watch them … too hot!
Ready for a swim or not?

Common Gallinule … A “Common” Bird?

When you say that’s a common bird, I think common raven, common grackle, common loon, or common yellowthroat. Or simply a common bird in my neighborhood: Greater roadrunner, lesser goldfinch or house finch. So it is interesting to me when the name of a bird includes the word “common”. I am sure not to think of a common gallinule! 

In some areas the more common rail species is the American coot with its white frontal shield … they are common here. However, recently I could not miss seeing a Common gallinule with its bright red frontal shield. Look at this bird pictured in the photo below!

Common gallinule

A common gallinule loves the well-vegetated wetland, such as in our Sweetwater Wetland area in Tucson, Arizona. I love seeing this bird which is truly not common for me to see. I have to catch sight of this bird on land and look for its yellow legs! Some day … and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what birds I do see! I hope you are outdoors, enjoying the air and water with birds too!

The food this bird loves from a wetland.

How Herons Cool Off, Really?!

Birds have no sweat glands, but need to regulate their body temperature like you and I on a hot day. The other day I saw a great blue heron in a wooded area by a pond’s edge, yet could not get a photo so I walked the trail and looped back 50 minutes later to see if the bird emerged. It did!

The great blue heron had its wings open to catch a breeze. I could understand the need to cool off in the almost 100 degree air temperature, but I actually had never seen a bird doing this behavior. The bird held his wings open for 8 minutes.

A cooling technique.

Then the heron closed its wings and opened its mouth as shown in this photo:

Heron trying to cool itself this way.

Birds open their wings to circulate air to their hot skin and lower body temperature. Passerines or perching birds will pant to lose heat through their respiratory system, but a great blue heron is not a passerine. It will lose heat through a rapid vibration of their upper throat and thin floor of their mouth. I was across the pond from the bird; however, I could see the bird’s throat vibrating. Eleven minutes later the bird had its wings and mouth open.

Bird really wants to cool down, wings and mouth open, throat vibrating.

This bird was working hard to cool off. It had been a half hour observing this bird, so this was the last photo I took … I needed to cool down my own body too. Fun fact I learned while researching birds cooling themselves: turkey vultures urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling … what? really?, wow! Isn’t it fun to learn something new everyday?

Still cooling down… it’s been a hot day!