Morocco, Oh What Memories!

I had a busy 2019 traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, then a few weeks in Canada, a month in Poland, and at the last minute I added a fall trip to Morocco. I thought, why not? My lifetime goal is to see the world, get on with it! Little did I know in March 2020 all my upcoming plans of international travel would be scuttled by the Covid virus affecting the entire globe!

While hearing recently about Morocco’s team playing at the World Cup, I realized I had fond memories of that trip. I traveled with a friend and the tour company Intrepid. It is a no-frills company. We carry our own luggage, why I always pack and use my backpack, use public transportation, and meet with local guides in each town. The tour company attracts younger people than us, but we held our own, especially as they tried to roll suitcases down escalators or to carry their heavy bags up stairs!

Morocco is beautiful! Here are some photos from that adventure. My goal is to return and spend more than one night in the Sahara Desert. While I loved our one desert night there it was not enough! I love dark skies as stars pop through and always seem to twinkle my way. Enjoy the photos!

Boots Are Made For Walking…

It was in the early 1970’s when Mike said to me, “Always take care of your feet”. We were talking about the hiking I was accomplishing in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Then, I carried my full backpack and slept out multiple nights during all seasons of a year. Yes, my 40 – 50 pound backpack pounded all the bones in my body … right down to my toes … Mike was right!

As years went by and I continued to hike, Mike’s words never left me. I have tried and worn many hiking boots. The REI store is my most helpful place to buy hiking boots. No hiking boot is worth buying till you know you can walk many miles in the boot and have your feet feel good at the end of the hike. Most times I get the right boot the first time I try one on; however, it was not the case in 2000. I was preparing for a trek in Nepal to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Good boots were a must. I trained in NYS and AZ. In New York State I was carrying my backpack up and down garage stairwells and notoriously steep roads in Ithaca, NY which happened to also be snow covered at times. In Arizona I was hiking up and down Chimney Rock in Sedona and changing pairs of boots as I tried them out. Fortunately REI allowed returns even after a bit of red dirt would be on the boots!

Recently I was at Grand Canyon National Park. I talk with people as they are standing at the start of the Bright Angel Trail contemplating their next move. Will they go to Phantom Ranch? Will they only hike to Havasupai Garden Campground? On this particular day a party of 3 talked of hiking to the Colorado River and back within the day. While quizzing them about the amount of water and food they had, and being sure they understood it is twice as long to return to the rim than going down, we helped as they struggled getting their Yaktrax’s on their shoes. It was noon and they were off. We worried about them for the rest of the day. I hope they were smart on the trail.

Then I saw a couple walk down the Bright Angel Trail. I could not help but notice their shoes. I watched them carefully walk down the snowy, icy trail to the tunnel. (If you have been on this trail, you know exactly what distance I am talking about.) It’s downhill and not far, but hiking boots are recommended!

I do not make a habit of this, but I really wanted to talk with them when they returned to the rim of the canyon. Fortunately, their walk was not the most fun so they were back before I froze. I asked if I could talk with them. I told them no friend of mine would ever believe me if I said I saw two people walk down the snowy, icy trail with those shoes! They graciously let me photograph their shoes. He had on suede loafers. The woman said her high-heeled chunky boots are so comfortable she wears them everywhere … including on this short hike! But they were glad to be back on the rim!

These shoes are meant for … hiking a snowy, icy trail? I guess …

I also talked with a group of college-aged foreign students visiting the USA. Within the conversation, I noticed all were wearing sneakers which led our discussion to how to pack lightly for a long-distance trip. The challenge really sets in when visiting areas with completely different temperatures. They started in the southeast USA, New Orleans, and driving to the Grand Canyon with snow, then Las Vegas, and off to the sunny Los Angeles. It is a challenge, plus who knew it would be snowing at the Grand Canyon? We all survive those moments of not being totally prepared, but if you’re planning to hike a distance, undoubtedly you will have the appropriate footwear. Mike was right, take care of your feet.

My photo of Mount Everest in 2000. What a trek to see it from Kala Patar!

My 4 Days of Winter!

It’s now winter! We beat the closure of Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. We were already relaxed in a warm Maswik Lodge room at Grand Canyon National Park. Driving the interstate highway the previous day was a breeze. We were ahead of the snow storm that eventually caused the highway’s closure. 

Coming to this national park when fewer people visit is what is best about the winter season. Unfortunately Covid is still in the air so facial masks are required in every building. Due to less staff and various supplies, we did find some restaurants with limited menus. We were here for the beauty of the place, so we were okay with how things were at the moment.

It is easy to spend 4 winter days here. We walked many parts of the rim trail. We stopped in at the art exhibit at the Kolb Studio and the geology museum. I do not think we missed any shop on the rim either. At Desert View we climbed the watchtower to see the eastern end of the canyon. Then we drove all the way to the western end at Hermit’s Rest to walk the rim trail. Meals were eaten at the historic El Tovar, Bright Angel Restaurant and AZ Steakhouse.

The day of our arrival there was no snow, but overnight the winter snow came! Unfortunate for those on the highway, but we woke to at least 6 inches of snow! Mule deer and elk were walking about during our visit. We bundled plenty of clothing layers on our body … it was cold weather! This was our 4 days of winter before returning to southern Arizona where we rarely see snow at our doorstep. It was a wonderful winter!

Enjoy the photos from our Grand Canyon stay.

Grand Canyon before the snow arrived.
Grand Canyon is beautiful all seasons!

Part 2 of 2: Carrizo Canyon Trail, Palm Desert, California

The Carrizo Canyon Trail is an approximately 3 mile out and back trail. I would much prefer a loop trail; however, since there were supposedly bighorn sheep in the area I thought, okay this out and back trail would give me a better chance in seeing the wildlife! Spoiler alert: I did not see even one bighorn sheep! Maybe next visit.

Carrizo Canyon is part of an Ecological Reserve to protect bighorn sheep. This area is only open to the public for 3 months, October – December.  This allows the bighorn sheep safe time for breeding and raising their young during the other months.

Carrizo Canyon trail is a nice mixture of trail surfaces. The trail starts easy, sandy and only interesting in the fact you are searching the mountainside to hopefully see bighorn sheep. The next part of the trail is rocky; I too was hoping to see a bighorn sheep run up some rocky mountainside. The final part of the trail, we climbed over boulders, took a side trail to a waterfall that wasn’t, and then finally at our destination, an overlook. Down below we could see palm trees surviving because of the water they could reach through a large crack in the land’s surface. Our continued search for the bighorn sheep was disappointing because then and on our way to our starting point, we saw no bighorn sheep. Darn … but I understand if I get on the trail in the early morning hours I have a better chance in seeing bighorn sheep. Ok, maybe my next visit here.

A couple of photos from the overlook:

From the overlook, in another direction, to see the growing palm trees.

California’s San Jacinto Wildlife Area

Escape California’s Interstate- 10 traffic and drive to San Jacinto Wildlife Area. As you do, you pass huge dairy farms, dry land wheat farming and agricultural lands. The final mile is down a muddy road to the wildlife area managed by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nine hundred acres of restored wetlands within the 19,000 acres of wildlife area. It is a great place to look for birds along with other wildlife. We were here to see birds.

We spent more than 5 hours driving and walking the trails within the area. Hundreds and thousands of some waterfowl! Yet then there was also the lone mountain bluebird or a couple of loggerhead shrikes. Various hawks were flying around and while looking into the next pond, more birds. It was nice to see a packed-down dirt trail accessible for handicapped individuals and a couple of blinds for a wheelchair-bound person to have space to maneuver within.

My two new birds for my life list: mountain bluebird and a Nuttall’s woodpecker. Fortunately I able to get a photo of the Nuttall’s woodpecker, see below, which is only found in California.

Nuttall’s woodpecker

I thought I had never seen an American pipit so I was looking for it here. The bird was hopping around near water’s edge in some grasses so I was able to photograph it easily. Then I discovered later in the evening I have actually seen this bird a few years ago…. Oh well, this bird is cute!

American pipit

I’ll include a few more photos from this day. It was a worthwhile visit and if you get a chance to visit here, do so. However, be sure to have a CDFW Land Pass, unless you already have a valid CA hunting or fishing license. We bought our land pass at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store while in Palm Springs. Also, check the wildlife area website for more information since the area is closed certain days for duck hunting.

Bald eagles
American kestrel
Long-billed curlew
White-faced ibis
Northern harrier

Volunteer Time: Brush With Kindness

Many people volunteer throughout the year with various organizations. Recently I helped “Brush With Kindness”, a program under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity. Within this program, homeowners apply for and can be selected. Work volunteers complete projects needing to be done outside an individual’s home. Installing gutters or fences or landscaping work are possible projects.

Work volunteers sign-up for shifts for days they wish to help. Mine was Saturday, 7:30am till 1:30pm. Our group of 20 volunteers were tasked with painting and installing rain gutters, and installing and staining a wooden fence. The previous day did have a volunteer group dig post holes for the future fence. They built many, approximately 6 foot, sections of fence for a total 147 feet of fence.

Our work time began. Four of us started painting rain gutters. The homeowner wanted them to match the color of the fascia board. We created a set-up to paint three sides of each gutter. When dry easily flip them and paint the other side … and put on a second coat where needed. Another group was on ladders painting fascia boards. The third group was installing fence sections.

Look at that sky!

And then it began to rain!

Within an hour and half of our start, it began to rain! In all my volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, there has never been rain. Actually monsoon season is when we really have rain here in Tucson, not now! Tarps with telescoping poles were quickly put up over our work areas. The gutters sticking out did get paint washed off and the paint we put on, certainly was not drying. 

Volunteers painting the fascia quit, as we did too, and we all helped with the fence installation. Some of us dug a trench for the fence. Others helped carry and hold fence sections in position as it was determined level and ready for screws. All of this happened while it rained. Fortunately the tarp with telescoping poles could be moved over those working on a section of fence. Everyone had muddy boots, wet clothing and were disappointed we could not accomplish the entire project. However, it was truly amazing all the work we had done!  

All kept working in the rain to get the fence up!

Volunteers will sign up for another time to finish the project. I know the homeowner will be thrilled when it is all done. Unfortunately, I will not see this project through to its finish due to other responsibilities. We all did appreciate the person who came by with hot coffee. I thought it was fantastic how we all worked together in miserable conditions and truly accomplished quite a bit!

If you are interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, check out the website and find you local group. In Tucson, besides the home buyer/home building program and “Brush With Kindness”, there is “Habitat for Humanity’s Repair Corps Program”.  Thanks to generous funding from Home Depot, this program focuses on repairs being done for veterans within their home. Finally, you may also donate items to your local Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. Reusable household items and building materials are for sale at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. It also keeps many items out of the local landfill. Selling those items allows Habitat to buy appliances and items needed in the newly built Habitat home. All homes have new products installed. And new homeowners are taught how to care for and fix things in their home. 

Check out Habitat for Humanity for how you can help. Know they will teach you, on-site, how to paint, use a drill or do whatever skill you need help with. Truly wonderful people work for and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity wherever I have been volunteering. Don’t hesitate to volunteer here if you enjoy working with your hands and meeting other people with like interests.

On the Road to Home!

The last couple of days on the road I decided to eat Mexican food in Texas and in New Mexico, pleasant switches from the food I had been cooking. I Yelped for suggestions of places to eat and planned accordingly. What I had not planned for was the rock flying from a sleeper commercial truck trailer east of El Paso, Texas into my windshield … bummer … and then to watch the crack lengthen in the next day! Not fun … a whole 8 inches!

A better time …. my late Mexican lunch at Mi Pueblo Nuevo in El Paso was fantastic. I ordered horchata and it was huge! The drink was so large that I left with 8 oz in a to-go cup. The chips were tasty. The salsa so hot I could only have a small amount on each chip. The tortilla soup came with my meal and was hot and delicious. The green chili chicken enchiladas, rice and pinto beans hit the spot. The staff were friendly and most spoke Spanish. As I left I was practicing with one young lady on how to say eighteen, nineteen, etc…. in English. Maybe I should try to learn Spanish despite my difficulty learning French.

Green chili chicken enchiladas

At night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I needed my fall sleeping bag and a fleece blanket as the late night, early morning temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit. I had already selected where I would eat my Mexican breakfast the next morning. Yelp reviews forewarned me about the popularity of OMPC, The Shed in Las Cruces so I arrived before the place opened. Four other vehicles were there too. I had huevos ranchero with pinto beans and the best green chili cheddar toast! Yum!

Huevos ranchero with scrambled egg, pinto beans and delicious toast!

Now for my final hours on the road. My audiobooks had been listened to, the interstate driving was tiresome and I was ready to be home! Along the way I did stop to make my cup of tea … thankfully rest areas were open so I had easy places to pull off. Time to think about upcoming projects: Habitat for Humanity work, holiday prep, and getting back to routines. The Harlingen – Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was a wonderful experience! I was happy to have attended. Meeting new people, seeing 35 new birds, and for the most part we had very good weather … who could ask for more? Not me, it was all fun!

Road Led to San Antonio, Texas: Part 1 of 3: Mitchell Lake Audubon Center

It’s a long, very long, lonely road to drive from Arizona to San Antonio, so unlike northern Texas panhandle driving! Here the majority of the time I was looking at green trees and shrubs, windmills and an occasional small town. The panhandle was dry, flat and brown. The only disturbing moment on this day, seeing traffic on the the other side of the highway at a standstill. There was an overturned tractor trailer in the median! Yikes. A good reminder to always have plenty of gas in the tank and extra hours for your arrival. 

Texas is a huge state. For me to eventually arrive in Harlingen for a birding festival in another week, I drove this road with a stop in San Antonio. Past visits to this city, I saw the Alamo and the well-known downtown river walk. This time I looked for new things to see and do. Recently I read, “science shows that giving ourselves the opportunity to try new things improves our memory, mood and motivation, builds our confidence and best of all gives us a ‘rush’ of expanding our horizons.” The quote is from the Insider Weekly of Growing Bolder, and I agree with the science! When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I am traveling in my van. After a good sleep at a KOA, I headed to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Easy check-in and paid fee at the visitor center. I spent about a half hour looking at and photographing moths, bees and butterflies. At home I plant native pollinator plants to attract insects, yet these plants have me beat!

Here are some of the insects:

Texas Wasp Moth

Much of the center is a driving loop. With recent rains, roads are closed, but still can be walked. Some basins were bone dry. As I walked closer to Mitchell Lake, about one mile, a couple of basins were full of water. No new birds for me to discover, and I remain frustrated trying to identify the various sandpipers. I did not include any of them here and await eBird experts to verify my identifications.

Here are today’s bird photos:

Crested caracara

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! 

Endless Knot; Do You Live it?

Your knot may be the mathematical sign for infinity. A symbol for infinite time and space, giving shape to balance between giving and taking, and attention for yourself and others.

Or maybe it is the Celtic knot. A symbol of continuous movement and continuity of life keeping forces of darkness and chaos at bay.

Or the endless knot, one of the auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, representing infinite compassion and the interconnectedness of everything in our world.

Tibetan Buddhist Endless Knot

Each knot has no beginning or end. Whichever knot you chose, the intertwined lines show how phenomenon in the world join us together. A pull here causes something to happen over there; the fundamental rule of the universe of cause and effect.

Must we really need a reminder of our connectedness? I think so.

Global concerns of war, various inequalities, and climate change create gaps in these knots. Thus there is no balanced harmony in the world or work to solutions to unite us all. What does it take for us to care about each other, solve the causes, and close the knot with effects interlaced and helpful for us all?

That balance of connection will require infinite compassion. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama once said, “There isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion”. If we want continuity of life, it is time we act as one with a unified goal of wanting what is best for ourselves and our planet. Then in short time, take action with others to help close the gaps. We need infinitely intertwined lines to achieve representation of unity in the entire universe. Or else, what will our future be? I choose not to think about that at this time. Instead, it is up to each of us to do our part. Now…