Sunnylands – “Camp David of the West”

In 1966 the Annenbergs built a 25,000 square-foot home and transformed the desert landscape into 200 acres of beautifully lush, green landscaped property. This oasis in the desert included a golf course, 11 artificial lakes, and guest cottages in Rancho Mirage, California. Many US Presidents, international leaders, movie stars and other friends of the Annenbergs visited here for social relaxation time and/or diplomatic conferences so world challenges could be discussed in less formal ways, thus the “Camp David” reference. (You’ll see a replica of a bench one of our USA presidents gave the leader of China when they met here.)

A visitor needs no ticket to walk the couple of gardens near the visitor center which has an informative video about the Annenbergs, an art gallery, cafe and gift shop. This visitor center was built per an arrangement in the 2002 trust stating the property would be open to the public in 2012. With some planning, various tickets need to be purchased ahead of your visit if you are interested in any of the various tours of the grounds or the house. There are bird walks, historic walks and open air shuttle rides if you want to see more of the property and not go into the house, or tickets to visit the historic house. Be sure to check the Sunnylands website so you can plan your visit, especially if you wish to visit this historic house. I had not realized tickets are like hotcakes and gone within 10 minutes of their on-line availability!

My friends and I walked the area around the visitor center. This area of grounds was beautiful and no doubt when the wildflowers bloom will be most colorful. I was happy the guide at the entrance to the visitor center encouraged us to watch the 20 minute video about the Annenbergs. It was informative and I would encourage all visitors also to view the video. I realized I was only seeing a fraction of the property and as beautiful as it was, I could only imagine how amazing their home was and especially in the 60’s and 70’s in the middle of a desert! Someday I will return and see more of the property on an available tour. I’ll just have to remember to plan months ahead!

Get Vaccinated or Stay Home

Do you want to celebrate with family and friends? We are in the middle of various holidays with so many people wishing to celebrate with others too. With new variants of the virus now showing up in the USA, we do not want lock-downs or quarantining happening now or when the holiday season is over.

Please do your part; vaccinate or stay home and remain away from everyone! Let’s keep the viral numbers down and hospitals open for usual use, not over-loaded with Covid patients. Thanks … and medical staff will appreciate your help too.

Happy Holidays all!

Saw this message on a car’s back window in front of me.

Gardeners Created a Park in Green Valley, Arizona

I have no green thumb, but I do know when I see a good thing happening! I was talking with some birders who mentioned Desert Meadows Park was their next birding stop in the day. I had never heard of the place so I decided it was on my way home and time to visit. 

What a wonderful park! It was established in 2014, maintained by garden club volunteers and is a microcosm of the Sonoran ecosystem. I want to acknowledge all these people have done so please read their sign below:

I love the park; it is colorful, with such variety while also looking at native plants. I love the numerous cushioned chairs and swings in the place! I find myself writing this post and showing you everything but the plants, but know they are there! I love the garden plots … brought back memories of when I lived in upstate New York and had a community garden plot for my tomatoes to grow! Here ten tons of fresh produce are donated … fantastic … no doubt appreciated by local food banks!

I discover the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail is located here too. As you may recall from a past blog post, the 1,000 mile trail is from Sonora, Mexico to California.

Unique to this park: a self-serve nursery, bee hive, and labyrinth. I have provided some information about the labyrinth since one does not see one to often, and if you do, then you might want to walk within one. If you are in the Green Valley, Arizona area, stop by and visit Desert Meadows Park!

Why Westerners Want Snow Now!

There is a large reservoir, Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border where house-boaters would have vacationed in past years, but now one of the two boat ramps once available to launch the motorized vessels is closed. At this closed-to-motorized-vessels ramp, people carry their kayak or paddle board down a steep slope to the water surface. Many house-boaters no longer visit this lake and as a result this affects the local economy. 

Whether one believes in climate change or not, the reality at this lake is a 120 foot drop in the level of the water since the 1980’s and additional 30 foot drop this past year. That is a lot of water not available to us. The western states have forests with drying trees as a result of the mega-droughts experienced the last number of years, with wildfires scarring land so when it does rain the water flows elsewhere and never recovered.

Why do we need water in the lake, beyond our recreational use? It is part of a delivery system of drinking water that supplies Arizona, California and Nevada, along with Mexico. In the news you may have seen Las Vegas homeowners given rebates to convert their grassy lawns to xeriscapes, landscapes requiring no or less water. Also, Glen Canyon Dam, which currently holds the lake water, may no longer be able to generate electricity because the water level may be to low at the power generating stations.

As I stood at the closed boat launch, looking across the lake to the 100 foot high bathtub ring, I realized in past 1970’s visits to this lake there was plenty of water! Yet now we need to be smarter about our water use, hope for more rain and snow fall, and have a plan since climate scientists predict in ten years there may not be water in this lake.

I write this blog for my readers to see the lower waterline, closed boat launch, the bathtub ring where water once covered, and to encourage you to read up on the subject and think about water conservation in your own life. Westerners want snow and rain. There will be discussions about the future of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. We need to be aware of how any decision may affect our own lives. Water is a natural resource we need for living! 

Below are photos from the closed boat launch at Lake Powell:

The next photo shows the drop-off at the end of this ramp.
Notice the drop and the bathtub ring.
I stood here and realized at one time the water was up here … and now, no longer!
Non-motorized vessels on the lake.

Photographing a Hummingbird

When ducks and hawks are not flying overhead and I continue to work on my ability to photograph birds in flight, I find hummingbirds the next best challenge! I have no interest in photographing a hummingbird at a feeder. I love snapping a photo as a bird flies to a branch or feeder, beating its wings so fast, producing the humming noise, thus their name: hummingbird!

These are the smallest migrating birds, weighing less than a nickel, can fly backwards and keep me on my toes while trying to photograph them! With anticipation, patience and the ability to move as the bird moves around too, I have had the chance to photograph a couple of different hummingbirds. I have read about blinds set up, specifically to entice a bird to a spot, and then others can photograph it. I find it more fun to capture a photo while a hummingbird is in at the flower or tree of their choice. Native plants in a garden with tubular species of flowers, such as honeysuckle, are places to watch for and photograph these birds.

The next challenge is knowing what hummingbird it is! A good photograph helps me narrow down the possibilities, but there are times a photo is of little help. If I can capture their wings not beating and blurred in the photo, then it has been a successful photo attempt for me! If I can identify the bird, that may even be more amazing, but not as important!

Here are some hummingbirds I have photographed lately. Some are identified to the best of my ability. If you think I have identified it wrong, please let me know. Thanks for your help!

Violet-crowned hummingbird
Broad-billed hummingbird
Anna’s, or is it a Costa’s, hummingbird?
Could it be an Anna’s hummingbird?
I heard the bird and discovered it was overhead … took the photo anyway … all fun!

Twelve Days of Family & Friend Time

The State of New York state’s website, required anyone coming in to the state, not from a bordering state, to complete a “New York State Traveler Health Form” within 24 hours of arrival. So I did. People said to me, oh you do not need to do that. With a two thousand dollar fine for not doing so, again according to their website, I was not willing to take the chance! (By the way, I did have one check via phone on how I was feeling since my Covid vaccinations, yet I did not think it was related to the NYS check.)

Driving onto Long Island was horrendous; traffic from miles before the George Washington Bridge continuing on the Cross Bronx Expressway, Throgs Neck Bridge and Southern State Parkway — all a nightmare. I realized I did choose to put myself in the traffic so I could enjoy time with family members who live on Long Island. (If I wished to avoid all traffic, I could have traveled at 3:30AM, but that was not happening!) Borrowing my PA sister’s EZ-Pass allowed me to zip through toll booths and pay the tolls. If I was not successful in displaying the pass, the state takes photos of car licenses and will mail me my bill. (Something to look forward to when I get home!)

Enjoying time with my family is always fun. My mom enjoys her senior years with her friends and various activities, such as watercolor painting. I am so proud of the energy she puts forth and can only wish I too have it when I am 90 something! She lives independently with, as my sisters and I refer to, a “village” that helps my mom in so many wonderful ways, allowing her to live independently. I had time to help with shopping for food, clothing, and other odds and ends needed around the house, and helping my nephew put plants in my mom’s garden. I also had time to hang out and talk with another sister and my mom at home, the beach, or a local bar to enjoy German food and beer. We are grateful for our good health and ability to live the life we each wish to achieve. As different as we each are, our parents did raise four independent females who respect one another.

I checked local areas for birds and did watch monk parakeets build their huge nests just blocks from where my mom lives. My mom and I drove to and stopped at some beaches by Jones Beach State Park and Fire Island. With the heat and humidity we were thrilled to feel the blowing wind! Of course, we had to stop at a gelato place to enjoy a cold treat after hours in the sun.

Yellow warning car light is on! My PA brother-in-law had determined which tire was with a slow leak and sure enough it was low again while on the island. I got my car tire plugged since it was discovered to be a nail causing the slow leak. Fortunately the nail was in the center of the tire and I did not need a new tire. I wonder where I picked that nail up?

I returned to Pennsylvania where my sister and her husband have their alpaca farm. They have lots of daily work to maintain that operation. While photographing their place, I realized I loved capturing the faces of the alpacas! 

Spending time with friends was a special treat, especially when some have been decades-old friends. Now I live thousands of miles away from them and do not see them as often as I may have hoped, so getting together with them on this trip was truly fun! It is amazing to share memories and laugh about old times. I wished I could have stopped by to visit more friends in Lansing, Ithaca, Buffalo, and other towns in New York State, but my priorities for this trip were to share time with my mom and my very best friend which is to happen in upcoming days.

If you are interested in knowing more about alpacas, visiting the area and wish a tour of their farm, or to shop for alpaca products at their on-site and/or on-line store, where they are having a 15% off Christmas in July sale, possibly extended through August, click the link: Quality products for sure!

Bicycle Riding Day … 41 miles!

The sun came out and the wind did blow, but it was a good day for a bicycle ride. I headed south from Chula Vista, CA on Sweetwater Bikeway and eventually hooked up with the Bayshore Bikeway. As you ride the path, you will notice huge piles of salt. With some research, I learned this area has been salt works since the 1860’s. It is the second-longest running business in San Diego. Water evaporated from the salt ponds comes from the Pacific Ocean and there used to be 80,000 pounds of salt per harvest. In time though this salt works may be converted to an interpretative center for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The salt ponds are within the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Brine flies and brine shrimp breed in those salty waters and are a source of food for birds, especially in the winter for migratory birds.

I continued my ride through Coronado. Ferry walkers and bicyclists can ride to 2 different locations about 5 or 10 minutes across the bay. Instead of taking the ferry, I enjoyed my lunch at a sandy beach and returned the way I had come to complete a 41 mile ride today! 

I did see numerous birds, but I did not stop to take photos; I wanted  to observe the birds and cycle. Many people were out on their bicycle today also. Certain beach areas were closed or only allowed passive activities, walking, jogging and no laying around on the beach.

People often ask, what is a typical travel day for me. My best answer is as follows:

I am usually awake about 7:00AM but I like to read the headlines, and maybe an article from the digital NY Times, play Words With Friends, complete the mini crossword and Spelling Bee games in the NY Times, check on emails and text messages since the phone will probably be turned off for the remainder of the day. I roll out of my sleeping bag and tent soon there after, have breakfast and coffee, and prepare for the day. I am always looking for birding hotspots, places to bicycle ride, and/or places of interest to check out. In these days of Covid-19, I also am watchful of crowds.

At night, I enjoy having a shower and dinner before sundown so I aim to arrive by 3 – 4PM. During or after dinner, my goal is to list birds seen during the day in my bird journal, take a quick look at photos especially if I want to include any for eBird, report my sightings to eBird, and finally read emails and write some notes for future blog posts. With dinner and dishwashing done, it is a perfect time to take a walk around the campground before my 8 – 10 PM “office hours” in my car. There I am with my laptop to finish whatever I did not get to earlier. Campgrounds are typically not full during weekdays and therefore quiet, so I may be one of the few people still awake at 10PM. After a full day of outdoor activity in the sun and wind, I sleep well! Tonight for sure, after cycling 41 miles with the wind not always at my back!

Add Some Kindness Today

For weeks humankind has continued to suffer, whether we consider the effects of the Coronavirus, mass shootings, or any other hardship in one’s life. During this time of physical distancing, our hugs are too few. With facial masks being worn, our smiles are too few. We need to listen and comfort one another because tough times have continued for so many. No one has a crystal ball to know when we will emerge from the hardships each of us are facing, but staying positive and offering another person kindness can go a long way for the other person and yourself!

I love being outdoors. I like respecting and caring for the environment I am in. I also love seeing a sign from another human being. It may be a labyrinth where the path leads to a center. This kind person spent time putting rocks in place for others to walk the journey.

Or sometimes you see the touch of a person at a stream/creek where balancing rocks are shared and we can add to them. Each rock can signify an intention as one patiently creates the balance for one rock upon another. Rarely do I add a rock to another person’s work as I would feel awful if they fell!

I have walked along paths and seen small, colorful rocks with messages on them, but recently I noticed this in my neighborhood. The Sedona rocks, known for their energy, were provided to others here in Tucson.

I thought this latest addition of kindness in the world is reflective of the latest hardships and sadness that we as a world are continuing to endure. Here a kind person provided an opportunity for others to partake in a positive activity! Photography is my fun, and the positive spin I wanted to take away from this offering is here:

Thank you all for sharing your time and energy in creating something each of us can enjoy with no strings attached. I hope I do the same for you too!

Getting Vaccinated … It Is A Process!

Finally, vaccinated!

I was beginning to feel it takes a village for individuals to get vaccinated. Why, you may ask? First, when my mom called me, we live on opposite coasts in the USA, and asked how to fill out her vaccination consent form I knew this would be a challenge for many seniors. Software developers don’t think about arthritic fingers hitting specific spots, or wrong choices, on a computer or tablet screen, print-type needing to be a larger size to be seen by failing eyes, or understanding that not all people know how to scroll from place to place or page to page. But my mom had a stylus and I downloaded the form too; we went through it and all was completed. Thankfully it was her local legislative office staff that helped arrange and confirm the vaccine appointment and my sister who drove her to her appointments. 

I am now aware of “guardian angels” who are helping senior citizens with paperwork and getting to their two appointments, especially for seniors not living in nursing homes where most had the process facilitated by their staff. For myself, my help came from a tennis friend who knew of a “pop-up” location. Unfortunately I missed that opportunity. Then my friend texted me of the arrival of thousands of vaccine doses within the next days. I immediately searched the provided website, registered, and received my first dose of the vaccine 4 days later! This was a huge accomplishment because I had been registered in 3 other places and on one wait list for more than a month, but now in a matter of a few clicks I was on my way to being vaccinated.

Kudos to all who volunteered at the University of Arizona to direct vehicle drivers through a very organized maze: 1) personal identification and check of appointment registration, 2) info provided about the vaccine and asking about each person’s allergies or recent surgeries, etc, 3) car engine off, sleeve rolled up to receive the shot after again being asked again about our health, and 4) we moved our car to another location where a person was checking in on us all as we waited 15 minutes and, if need be, arranged second dose appointment before we could pull away from the area. They even had another person pulling a wagon of water and crackers from car to car for people needing some food or drink. For the volunteers working in this desert heat and recent winds, I hoped they were all staying hydrated too.

There were hundreds of volunteers working to get us all vaccinated at this site! I was pleasantly surprised while receiving my second dose that it was a local bicyclist I know providing me with my vaccination; it is a small world! 

So in the  past 3 weeks there have been almost 150,000 people vaccinated at the University of Arizona Tucson site and when they reach that goal, they will start their count again. Please get vaccinated soon so we as a country do not have another wave of the virus and that if you do get the virus you are protected enough not to die from it. There is plenty of scientific information about the vaccines and videos explaining it all, so check out what you need to get answers to any questions you may have. Knowledge is power so you make the best decision for yourself.