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

Arizona’s Hassayampa River Preserve

Hassayampa River Preserve is a nature preserve four miles southeast of Wickenburg, Arizona and worth a hike. It is a 770-acre riparian nature preserve. In the 1860’s it was a stagecoach stop; in 1913 a guest ranch. More recently, after more than 25 years of the property being owned by The Nature Conservancy, a partnership was created seven years ago with the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. The Conservancy however retains most of the preserve. 

When you check-in at the visitor center and pay five dollars per person, collected by the Maricopa Parks and Recreation Department, you discover their ownership includes the visitor center, a portion of the river channel and Palm Lake. The trail to Palm Lake is currently closed due to construction of a wildlife viewing platform at the lake. The Conservancy put a conservation easement on the property to ensure the land’s natural values are forever protected.

The flowing river was wonderful to see as I visited the preserve specifically to birdwatch. The Hassayampa name comes from a Yavapai Indian word “hayesamo, meaning following the water as far as it goes”. It has also been referred to as the “upside down river” by Apache Indians because the river flows underground most the way. Water is important for wildlife. As a result of the existence of this river, the preserve is home to a variety of wildlife and approximately 300 bird species. I did see lizards and deer, smelled skunk and observed numerous birds! Actually I saw two new birds to add to my life list: golden-crowned kinglet and a varied thrush! I will make a point of visiting the preserve each season to observe more wildlife!

Things to know before you visit:

The preserve is closed each Monday and Tuesday. There are specific park hours per season, so check what they are before you head out. The trails are sandy, so if you have difficulty walking on pavement, please know this could be a challenge for you. Pets are not allowed at the preserve. The trail loops 2.2 miles. Lykes Lookout trail ends with a very steep 123 foot elevation gain. Remember, what you climb up, you need to come back down … plan what is best for yourself! At top, you do get a 360 degree view and possibly see and hear a train passing by! Enjoy your visit and be safe … remember the usual: hat, sunscreen and plenty of water! The Hassayampa River Trail can be downloaded at the AllTrails app.

Varied Thrush … poor quality photo, but I was a distance away from the bird!
Bridge across the stream
At Lykes Lookout, 360 degree view.
Overlooking the preserve from Lykes Lookout.

Southeast Utah’s Vast Area; Worth A Visit!

Southeast Utah has many national monuments. North and west of here are the five major national parks most people visit: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. I am here to visit the national monuments. 

Utah weather has been mild, my campground is quiet at night; wonderful sleeping! After breakfast, I drove to Bears Ears and Natural Bridges, both National Monuments. I contemplated driving a 6 mile dirt road to between the bears ears, but decided not. My van is not a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so I wanted to choose which dirt roads I’ll drive and that just seemed an extra.

You drive through Bears Ears National Monument with possible stops at various viewpoints, ruins, or washes. Eventually you arrive at Natural Bridges National Monument. It has a 9 mile, one-way, paved, scenic loop drive with overlooks/hikes to each of the natural bridges. This national monument is managed by the US Park Service whereas Bears Ears is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and I believe five American Indian tribes. All the natural bridges have Hopi names.

Three popular natural bridges, but there really are many more, at Natural Bridges National Monument:

Sipapu Bridge: means “place of emergence”.

Sipapu Natural Bridge

Kachina Bridge: named for symbols used on kachina dolls.

Kachina Natural Bridge

Owachomo Bridge: means “ rock mound” because it has a feature atop the bridge’s east side. I hiked the furthest on the trail near this bridge. I hiked down into Armstrong Canyon and there were some pools of water. Pleasant surprise … while talking with a woman at the Owachomo Bridge, I discover she is camped next to me at Devil’s Canyon campground! Small world!

Owachomo Natural Bridge

There is plenty of early human history and natural history to become aware of while you visit this area. One major reminder for me was the difference between natural bridges and arches. Natural bridges are formed by moving water eroding the rock. Arches form from other erosional forces, frost and seeping moisture, which also will enlarge natural bridges in time.

If you are in the area, visit national parks and national monuments! Lots of beautiful landscape to see in southeast Utah!

Relaxing in Montana … Yes, No and Yes!

Montana is a beautiful state! As I drove from Medora, North Dakota to Big Timber, Montana, I was looking forward to a couple of relaxing days. The rain while at Theodore Roosevelt National Park was tiresome as was driving through it to Montana. The upcoming days in Big Timber looked promising, sunshine for at least my last half day! I’ll look forward to it!

Relaxing … yes…

I stopped at Spotted Eagle Recreation Area in Custer, Montana to complete my daily eBird checklist. No eagle, but did see an osprey and two Western grebes displaying some mating behavior. I wished I had a better photo, but it was a gray day and I never really observed their behavior till I was looking at my photos! The 2 birds were in the middle of hundreds of ruddy ducks, American coots and northern shovelers. This was wonderful! (My goal someday is a California photography workshop with an expert aware of grebe behavior. My photo was simply luck, whereas I know the expert has seen the grebes “dancing”.)

Grebes interacting with each other.

Relaxed? no…

I take driving breaks every couple of hours. Stretch my legs, use restrooms if at a rest area with facilities, eat a snack and/or simply rest my eyeballs. After one of my stops, I started the van and an “oil change required” note scrolled across where my odometer and speedometer are located. I thought, really!?! Wanting no incident of running out of oil in the middle of Montana, or Idaho, my next destination, I thought it best to take care of it at a city … preferring a RAM dealership. I called one 2 hours away and said I will be there for their “first come first serve” process.

Montana’s speed limit is 80 miles per hour. In the pouring rain I was hesitant to drive that speed unless it was a straightaway. Thankfully there were plenty of straight shots and I made it to the dealership in 1 hour and 50 minutes. I understood they were down an employee; therefore, the guy meeting me in the lot said there would be no oil changes, they were booked. Fortunately I had called so I went right in to the guy at the desk and said, “I’m the one who called and said I would be here in 2 hours”. He explained it would be a couple of hours and I thought fine. Two and a half hours later I was on the road again… feeling better knowing oil was in the van. So that was the not-so-relaxing moment. 

Relaxing again … yeah!

I arrived at my campground and truly did relax, ate dinner, took a walk and enjoyed my site near a creek with a turkey vulture nest overhead. The next morning I had no rush to be anywhere so breakfast was relaxing too. 

I drove to Big Timber, Montana, about 10 miles from my campsite. I like to visit the local area so I drove another 10 miles up that road. Along the way I stopped to photograph sandhill cranes! My daily eBird list on this day included the cranes along with red-winged blackbirds, rock pigeons, ring-billed gulls, mallards and a red-tailed hawk. Seems like everyone is migrating and stopping at agricultural lands to feed. 

Sandhill cranes
Sandhill cranes

Further down the road I saw a gravel road and decided to drive it. I know National Forest access would be somewhere. The road was in good shape considering all the recent rain. I drove 10 miles and still had not reached the access to the Crazy Mountains. Darn! I did see wild turkeys on the road and when I stopped there was absolutely no wind! It was amazing! Everywhere else I was holding onto my door to jump out and take photos. One time I could not even open my van door to jump out because the wind was blasting right at it and me!

One of 6 wild turkeys crossing the road!

Back at the campsite, dinner, shower, checking photos and writing. I met my campground neighbors. People next to me are from Montana and just out for the weekend. The other guy is from Spokane, Washington and visiting every national park before the snow comes. I love hearing travel plans. We all agreed we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to see what we wish. I know I absolutely love seeing the world … all of it … I cannot wait to return to international travel in 2024 too! My goal is to see the world, and I will do it as long as I can!

Crazy Mountains in Montana … 4 more miles to national forest access … not today!

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park … A New Park For Me!

Finally … arrived in North Dakota! Theodore Roosevelt National Park is my 35th national park seen in the USA! (There are 63 national parks, so more for me to visit!)

Theodore Roosevelt once commented he wanted to protect the land before it was logged, mined and with dirty water. Due to his eventual environmental action, the park becomes part of the national system. Thankfully the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve the natural and cultural resources to look the same 100 years from now. I can imagine this park looks similar to what others saw a hundred years ago, since the National Park designation prohibits mining, drilling or logging the area for it to remain unaltered for future generations to enjoy.

I visited the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park one day which is an hour plus north of the southern part of the park. The northern unit has a scenic road loop. I stopped numerous times at vista points and/or to see bison. Some of the bison were in the middle of the road and could not be missed! I camped a couple of nights at the south unit of the park. The second day I visited the south unit. It’s scenic road did not loop due to a washout of the road; therefore, we all drove to a turn-around point and back. It was still worth the drive, plus other roads went off this main road, such as to Buck Hill. Wow, I went up there and the wind was blowing! No one was wearing a baseball cap for long!

One interesting time while on the road: I was driving back and there were 10 cars stopped by a herd of bison in the road! On the other side of the herd were at least 10 more cars and all were at a standstill. I turned my van’s engine off since it looked like there would be no movement soon. After about 5-10 minutes a tow truck with a long flatbed came barreling past my van and the 10 cars in front of me. The bison heard that truck coming at them and did move! As a result we were also able to drive through the area. I appreciated that trucker coming through!

Besides bison, I also saw prairie dogs in their “towns”, white-tailed deer, and feral horses. The horse were literally in my campsite area! Park visitors were careful observing all wild animals, so I was happy about that and I learned buffalo are in Africa and Asia; bison are in Europe and North America. They are distinctly different animals.

Photos from the park …. And one never got tired of seeing the bison!

Bison can run 30mph and I saw them run!
From a viewpoint. Fall colors are on their way.
The horses that passed my campsite!
South slopes are dry and north slopes have vegetation.
Cannonball concretions: deposited minerals in gaps, forming these “cannonballs”.
And I waited for the bison to cross the road.

Cape Royal & Angel’s Window at Grand Canyon

You can look through Angel’s Window at Cape Royal Point to see the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Wow, the river and the scenery is spectacular!

If you drive from the Grand Canyon’s north rim main lodge directly to Cape Royal Point it will take about 45 minutes. But I believe you would stop at vistas along the way; the scenery is beautiful! Or, maybe you will drive to Cape Royal Point and stop at scenic spots on your return. Can do!

Once at the parking lot at Cape Royal Point, you will walk a short trail to Angel’s Window. At some points along the trail you can see the Colorado River framed by the rock window. Walk along the main trail further and you are at Cape Royal Point with views of the canyon. Quite honestly, you need to visit since no photo will really do it justice! What are your plans for next year? Add in a stop at the Grand Canyon’s north rim, but realize it is only open May to October if the weather cooperates.

Look closely at people walking the trail above the window.
From another point, photo was taken through the window to the Colorado River below.
Another view.
Colorado River in the distance.

Visit Point Imperial; A High Point!

Point Imperial has the highest elevation on the north rim of the Grand Canyon at 8803 feet. You’ll drive north from the north rim’s main lodge on the park road and turn east onto Cape Royal Road. After some miles of driving, you turn left and this road takes you to Point Imperial … lodge to point is 11 miles and about a 25 minute drive.

There is a huge parking area, a picnic area and a short trail with scenic vistas overlooking the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. Here are some photos from that trail:

Point Imperial vista point
Scenic view from Point Imperial

Some people were picnicking, volunteers were collecting native seeds, and I was time bird-watching. I saw 11 different species of birds. Here are a couple of bird photos:

Western bluebird
Pygmy nuthatch

Back on the road our next stop, and blog post, will be at and about the end of the road at Cape Royal and Angel’s Window … 17 miles from Point Imperial to Cape Royal Point, taking about 35 minutes to drive. However, you may also stop at other vistas along the way as we did and the drive then is longer, but all wonderful to explore and enjoy! Do so, since who knows when you’ll ever return!

Armchair Traveler, NOT Me!

Sometimes I feel like I am standing still. Other times I feel like time is running past me and I am not doing enough to get out and see the world … which is my goal, to see the world. Recently, I was organizing stuff and decided to compile my travel journals in a way I could find info more quickly, especially as I look for details from a trip. Once I had the box organized I realized I surely am not an armchair traveler!

A few adventures!

Time soon for another adventure and then to plan for international travel in 2024! Yippee! See you somewhere in the world … I will be happy to meet you!

Every Traveler Has A Story…

Talk with a traveler and each has a story to share, if you are willing to take the time to listen. I always find it fascinating to talk with people. Some come from beyond the USA. Others travel while in work-mode. Some are retirees seeing the world. Many are enjoying the outdoors with family and friends during their vacation or weekend.

I drive a Promaster, low roof, short van. Other van drivers are happy to show me their set-up and share the extensive travel they have accomplished or plan to do. One couple I met in Colorado were on their way to work on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. I see their luxurious van accommodations and hear the love they have for their vehicle. They are leaving their Colorado jobs for this new adventure of travel and work. They quizzed me about various aspects of my van since their van was totally new to them! Of course, I looked at their set-up, thought it luxurious, and helped them with a few questions they had for me since my set-up is very basic. No refrigerator or toilet issues to ever happen with my van since I have none of that. But I loved their story and appreciated their respect for my bed, bicycle and sliding shelves installation. Next morning, they were on their way north!

Campers walk by my van at a campground and quickly notice how simple my set-up is on arrival. I back my van onto a site, make sure my bed is level, set a step stool on a mat outside my side sliding door and I am done. At meal time, I pull out a milk crate containing my backpacking stove, dishes, and food. People stop by my campsite and ask what’s inside the van since I am cooking outside it! They are surprised to see its simplicity and then I hear their story. Some people have huge recreational vehicles and may even be pulling an additional vehicle behind it. While looking at my set-up, many people realize they could not do what I do … and that is okay … we each need to travel as we wish!

One Canadian couple converted a used ambulance to a camper with toilet, sink, stove, refrigerator and bed. They were walking the campground at the moment because they were waiting for a transmission repair. Bummer…. but we talked about their travel from Ontario, Canada to New Mexico with many miles completed. They shared information about Harvest Hosts; the joy they had in meeting other people on the road and supporting local businesses. I too have now had Harvest Host experiences, such as at Blue Heron Cheese in Tillamook, Oregon. It was great and I will continue to visit Harvest Host sites. Next morning I left the campground and hoped the Canadians would soon be back on the road.

At another campground a man looked at my van’s set-up and asked if he could call his daughter over for her to look at it. I said sure, thinking she was twenty years old or older. A teenager arrives and her father says, isn’t this what you are thinking about for your travel? That was so cool to think this young person was thinking about her future travel!

So… take time to talk with others … they may have an interesting story to share with you! To me, it is another advantage of travel!

Read … or talk with another about their travels!

Would She Quit Her Adventure?

An adventure has challenges. And there may be additional challenges for solo female travelers. Whether I was backpacking weeks at a time high in mountains, road bicycling hundreds of miles across parts of the USA, or driving thousands of miles in my van to visit new places, I know my adventures some days left me thinking, isn’t there an easier way to accomplish what I am trying to do?

My desire to travel solo has always been for a sense of accomplishment and discovery. The joy in solving challenges, meeting unknowns, and discovering all that may be new. They have allowed me to be more patient, hopeful, aware of the small things in life, and accepting of the kindness of others.

The books to read; adventures ahead: 

But this post is not about me. I had been motivated to solo travel since the 1970’s because while having my own adventures I read a book of a woman who trekked across the Australian desert at the same time I was backpacking in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. There she was with 4 camels and her dog in an area of the world I would someday hope to see. She treks from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Would either of us quit our solo adventure? No. The book I encourage you to read is:

Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

Another book about a woman hiking the Appalachian Trail in the 1950’s is a must read too. I have hiked sections of the two thousand fifty mile Appalachian Trail. But in this woman’s day, the trail was not so well-established as it is now and she hikes it in entirety. She really had her work cut out for her. Sections were not cleared or even connecting to other sections. Recently I had also seen Ohio’s Buckeye Trail which was established with her help. Did she quit her solo adventure? No, plus she had accomplished that hike more than once! The book I encourage you to read is:

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery

Recently I read of another woman’s adventure in the 1950’s!! She was riding her horse from Maine to California while her dog ran along side for many of the miles. During this decade our current highway system was being constructed. She needed smaller, quiet roads for safe travel, but had to maneuver highway and bridge challenges. Did she quit her solo adventure? No. While today I can be happy for the highways and bridges as I drive across this country, I cannot imagine traveling only 15 – 25 miles on horse per day. The book I encourage you to read is:

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

What struck me about two of the three solo female adventurers, I mentioned here, was they were older women, living at times when women were expected to be in the home caring for family, not working in the world, let alone out on their own! All the more reason for me to admire them and their accomplished solo adventures!

Why would she not quit her adventure? I suspect it is for the same reason many women take on solo travel adventures … a goal is to be accomplished! Of course, one needs to have hope, confidence, a positive state of mind, courage, a willingness to learn, know her own capabilities and that of her equipment, and the ability to live with oneself no matter what happens during the adventure. Fortunately, solo travelers often discover so many new experiences thus providing interest in seeing what is next around the bend … kindness of people, an awesome sight, or a realization and appreciation of what one has accomplished … as a solo female traveler. For all those reasons I too will continue solo travel for as long as I can. Please consider reading those books, especially if you are an adventurer or even an armchair traveler. You will be impressed with their accomplishments!