December 30, 2017 Tucson, Arizona

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

A Short Stay in Tucson

Slowly heading east to the Texas coast and then on to Grand Isle, Louisiana, I had originally planned to stay and explore the Tucson area for a week or so while waiting for the strange Texas winter weather to moderate before heading that way. I have never been a big fan of city life, I just have no idea how people put up with the congestion. There seems to be road construction everywhere I went and traffic was just too much for me, so I ended up staying only two days.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

I managed to find the Snyder Hill BLM area just off Highway 86 that I had read about on some blogs.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

Not a terribly attractive place, located next to the highway, there are decent gravel interior roads, though getting off the highway into the site proved pretty touchy because of the road construction. There are no facilities here, no dumpster, water, or dump station and the folks camped here proved to be a mixed bag. There are some tenters here ( loud music ), but mostly used by self contained RV’s. Common courtesy, at least during my stay, was a little lacking here. The 5th wheel pictured above ran a light show on the side of his rig and found it necessary to run his generator ALL night.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

These folks across the way from me were nice enough to shut their generator down around 11 PM.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

There are many level spots with a little vegetation around them, but all of the nicer ones were occupied so I ended up setting up along the wide main gravel road within the site, as did most others that arrived after me. The price is right ( free ) but I doubt I would stay here again.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I drove north to the west section of Saguaro National Park my first day here and did the East section the next day.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I had visited this area several years ago, but still enjoyed the seeing the dense saguaro forests here.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I managed to handle all the dusty gravel roads in the West section of the park with no problems, the East section has a very nice paved eight mile one way loop road. I was there around noon and though the drive is very interesting, the harsh noontime light made me forget about doing any shooting. Definitely would recommend doing the East section in the early AM or very late afternoon.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

Not much in the way of birds in either section of the park.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

I saw several Phainopeplas, but shooting a black bird under brilliant blue skies does not produce great results.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

Still, I had to take the opportunity since I really haven’t had that many chances at this particular bird.

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

The only other bird that showed itself was the Northern Mockingbird.

Pinal Air Park

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Driving east on I-10 just northwest of Tucson, you catch a glimpse of some brightly colored tails of some large aircraft, so I went online and found that what I saw was the Pinal Air Park.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Since it wasn’t that far from Saguaro N.P. ( west ), I drove up to investigate.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Unfortunately, you really can’t see all that much once you are there since the area is fenced and to really appreciate the scale of the place and the size of some of the aircraft there, you would need to be able to get inside. The part of the Air Park nearest the road seems to be a boneyard of older commercial aircraft.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Farther away, you can see some of the newer aircraft stored here.

Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

I drove up I-10 to visit the Sweetwater Wetlands, within the city of Tucson, to check out the birds there. This is a very nice city park where they treat waste water and have created several vegetation filled holding ponds that attract a great variety of birds. Apparently not that many in December it would seem.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

But after walking all the two plus miles of level gravel paths throughout the park and not taking a single bird shot, just saw a few sparrows and coots, with a couple ducks in the distance, I did come across the most cooperative wild bobcat I have ever encountered. This animal was obviously very habituated to humans.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

I almost walked right past it, no more than 15 feet away in the shadows on the side of the path. When I realized what it was, I figured as soon as I stopped and put the camera to my face, it would obviously bolt and disappear in the brush.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

Well, to my great surprise, that certainly didn’t happen … and I got to take as many shots as I wanted as it went about it’s business watching something on the edge of the water ( though it never did make any attempt to catch whatever it was watching ), then surprising  me by stretching out and relaxing, even doing some grooming, while I stood just 20 feet away.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

Finally it tired of playing wildlife model for me and slowly walked off …

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

… disappearing into the brush along the gravel path.

Sky Island Highway

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

I drove the 29 mile Mount Lemmon Scenic Highway ( Sky Island Highway ) on a warm early afternoon where the temperature at the base of the mountain, on the outskirts of the city, was a balmy 78 degrees.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

Arriving at the end of the road, at the appropriately named summit town of Summerhaven, located at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the temperature was a refreshing 55 degrees. As everywhere else I went around Tucson, this place was crammed with traffic, no place to park …. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the summer up here, when getting away from the scorching desert floor heat must bring a lot of the Tucson population up here.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

The highway is an interesting drive, with an elevation change of around 6,000 feet over it’s 29 mile distance. Lots of turnoffs with some spectacular vistas over the desert and the city of Tucson.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

I particularly enjoyed the hoodoos that tower over the road about two thirds of the way up the mountain. On this day, the distant vistas were a bit obscured by haze.

To return to my campsite from the base of the mountain, I had to travel through about ten miles of congested road through the city to get to I-10. At 2:30 in the afternoon, this ten miles took over an hour to do, untold number of traffic lights, a little road construction, and bumper to bumper traffic made me lose my desire to further explore the Tucson area. Can’t begin to imagine what that traffic would be like in another hour or so when there would be commuter rush hour traffic joining the parade. I simply do not understand how people can handle this sort of stuff on a continual daily basis.

So I will depart Tucson and continue on my way to Texas tomorrow. Watching the unseasonable cold weather in Texas, I will be stopping in Deming, NM for a few days to wait for the cold weather to break, and to arrange a FedEx delivery of my Revlimid to the Deming Walgreens. It looks like the weather will warm up enough to continue east by Thursday, but if not, I will stay put until the danger of ice or snow has passed.

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November 22, 2017 Overton, Nevada

Poverty Flats Campsite
Poverty Flats Campsite

Finding Warmth

After a very long day of driving farther south, I arrived at my destination of Poverty Flats, just south of the small Nevada town of Overton. Poverty Flats is  located on a high desert mesa overlooking the town of Overton commanding  views of over 30 miles to the north and east. I managed to secure a spot on the “rim” of the mesa since the majority of the snowbirds don’t show up here until after the holidays. There are probably no more than thirty other campers here right now so the spacing is very nice, but that changes later in the season.

Yesterday’s drive was more than 400 miles and a lot of it was down through the megalopolis of Salt Lake City, a 60 mile stretch of horrible concrete road with unrelenting traffic. For me this was white knuckle driving for an hour and a half with heavy truck traffic and cars flying in and out of lanes. Even after getting south of Provo the volume of traffic was still unnerving. With I-15 reduced down to 2 lanes at that point, there was a never ending stream of traffic in both lanes pretty much right to Saint George and the Arizona line.

Bridger Campground Wildlife
Bridger Campground Wildlife

Wanting to avoid the rush hour traffic in Salt Lake City, I did another tour of Antelope Island very early Tuesday morning before departing. The image above was taken around 7 AM as I was having coffee. In just how many campgrounds do you suppose you would see this scene.

What the West Once Looked Like
What the West Once Looked Like

At the south end of the island, two of the females and young herds must have joined up overnight and were grazing off in the distance. There are roughly 150 bison in this composite of 6 individual images. I imagine this must be what the west looked like at one time long ago.

Porky Browsing
Porky Browsing

I noticed a dark object that looked totally out of place in a distant tree as I drove the road this morning. Curious, I walked out a distance and got this shot of a porcupine enjoying his breakfast.

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

Returning back to the campground, I was most fortunate to finally get some shots of one of the mulie bucks I had only been seeing at great distances during my stay here. Notice the one irregular antler, kind of odd that one would be normal and the other so different.

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

 

Love is in the Air
Love is in the Air

He was escorting a doe that was browsing amongst the phragmites.

Two Mulie Bucks
Sneaking Around

My vantage point was from the side of the road and a good distance away and above them. These shots were taken with a 600mm lens and a 1.4 teleconverter in very dim grey early morning light.

A second, younger, smaller buck was attracted to the scene and I got a kick out of watching him attempt to sneak around the larger buck and maybe get a shot at the ladies ( turns out there was a second Doe hidden in the reeds ).

Mulie Suitors
Standoff

I was hoping for a dramatic dual between the bucks but the size differential made the smaller guy just keep poking around the edges, turning tail and running any time the big guy took a couple steps toward him, never daring to challenge the older buck. I probably spent half an hour or more watching this little drama, and that is what I enjoy most about traveling about as I do, being a witness to these interesting wildlife interactions.

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November 19, 2017 Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Antelope Island Bison
Antelope Island Bison

A Couple of Cold Days on Great Salt Lake

A cold front came whipping through and night time temperatures dropped into the low 20’s here Friday. I ran into Walmart and picked up some 1″ foam to cut up and use to try and insulate my basement storage compartment that houses my water pump since my motorhome is not really set up for winter camping. Thankfully, sealing up the compartment and then leaving the basement light on all night did get me through the night without freezing up. With no hookups here at the campground, I had to leave my seldom used gas furnace running all night to help make it through the night without freezing everything solid.

No question I need to continue south, but ironically, it is still way too warm for my tastes at my next destination, the long term visitor’s BLM area outside of Yuma, AZ. Temps there are still hovering around 90 degrees.

Bison and Highrises
Bison and Highrises

This has to be one of only two places I can think of where you could get a picture like this one, a free roaming wild bison herd grazing within view of downtown high-rise office buildings in a major metropolitan area.

Unsettled Weather
Unsettled Weather

Friday and Saturday had very unsettled weather blowing through, black threatening clouds alternating with sunny blue skies.

Stormy Skies
Stormy Skies
Sun and Clouds
Sun and Clouds

 

Stormy Skies
Stormy Skies

 

Mountain Reflections
Mountain Reflections

Antelope Island Wildlife

Perfectly Camouflaged Mulie
Perfectly Camouflaged Mulie

There are several great looking mule bucks wandering around the island looking for love at this time.

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

These shots were taken before the sun had come up Saturday Morning.

Mulie Bucks
Mulie Bucks

 

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

The same buck ( notice the identifying broken antler ) encountered later in the day.

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

 

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

Another wandering buck.

Mulie Buck
Mulie Buck

And another.

Mule Deer
Mule Deer

And yet another. This shot was taken at about a quarter mile away. I have seen this guy several times but always at a great distance away. Would love to get closer to this one.

Antelope Island Coyote
Antelope Island Coyote

The island must be a paradise for it’s hoofed creatures, since I believe there are no large predators here. The coyotes may well be the only predators around, at least they are the only ones I have encountered.

Antelope Island Coyote
Antelope Island Coyote

 

Antelope Island Coyote
Antelope Island Coyote

 

Antelope Island Coyote
Antelope Island Coyote

Finally, I Find the Pronghorns

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

Friday afternoon I finally saw some of the animals the island is named after, Pronghorn Antelope. A large herd of some 30 or 40 animals slowly came grazing over a hill not far from the road down at the southern end of the island. They were no more than a few hundred feet from the road and happened to show up when some sun was shining through the clouds and so I thought I finally was going to get a great opportunity to get some nice shots.

Pronghorns on the Run
Pronghorns on the Run

With the nasty weather today there were very few other people out and about this afternoon, so I slowly pulled off to the side of the road and rolled down the window,  got my piece of foam pipe insulation out and mounted to my window glass ( transforms my window glass to a makeshift tripod for my long lenses ) and prepared to shoot.

And then, of all things, considering there was almost no vehicle traffic on the road this afternoon, what pulls up but a #$@!*! TOUR BUS ! Hits it’s brakes, stops, releases a very loud hiss, and opens it’s door for it’s passengers to get out so they could scare off the pronghorns that the bus’s noise hasn’t already spooked…. and off goes the herd and my opportunity to get some nice pronghorn shots.

Pronghorns on the Run
Pronghorns on the Run

 

Pronghorns on the Run
Pronghorns on the Run

 

Pronghorns on the Run
Pronghorns on the Run

They all crossed the road and didn’t stop running until they put a lot of distance between themselves and the bus, and, of course, me.

37 Pronghorns
37 Pronghorns

The next morning I spotted them again about a mile from the road grazing on the side of the mountain, but never got close to them again.

Antelope Island Bison
Antelope Island Bison

 

Antelope Island Bison
Antelope Island Bison

 

Antelope Island Bison
Antelope Island Bison

 

Antelope Island Bison
Antelope Island Bison

You have to get this close to fully realize just how large these bulls really are. Sitting low in my Prius as one like this approaches  can be a little intimidating as he towers over the vehicle.

I tentatively plan to leave here Monday and head a little farther south, not sure exactly where yet since it still too warm for me down around Yuma.

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November 16, 2017 Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Finally, Back on the Road!

Horse and Sam Nose to Nose
Greetings!

At long, long last, I departed Bend, Oregon after a six month stay, and drove Route 20 east to Idaho and picked up I-84 east. Normally I prefer taking secondary highways over driving the Interstates, but I knew I was heading into potentially hazardous winter weather conditions and wanted to make time heading east then south, hopefully avoiding the snow. Heavy rain hit around 4 PM, but the temperatures stayed around 40 degrees as I made it though Boise then Twin Falls. Nasty driving in the darkness with continued heavy rain and lots of big truck traffic causing near continual truck spray blackouts, but I didn’t dare pull off for the night until I could be reasonably sure I was far enough south of the approaching snow to safely spend the night.

Around nine and after over 400 miles travelled, I overnighted in one of the I-84 rest areas, getting a few hours of fitful sleep amidst the belching diesels. After not having moved in six months, this was a rough way to restart my travels and I have to admit to waking up the next morning a little worse for wear. But at least I did  beat the bad weather, for I was greeted with morning temps now around 50 degrees and the rain had tapered off to just light sprinkles and the highway was thankfully free of ice. I continued on east I-84 then picked up I-15 south to Antelope Island State Park located in the Great Salt Lake near Ogden, Utah, arriving around noon and checked in for four nights.

Antelope Island State Park, Bridger Campground
Antelope Island State Park, Bridger Campground

Antelope Island State Park

After last night among the trucks at the rest stop and six months on the busy hospital grounds in Bend, I was really looking forward to some peace and quiet without a lot of traffic and close neighbors, and that was my reasoning for picking Antelope Island for my first stop on the road south. But the absolutely deserted campground was kind of a pleasant, yet shocking surprise. Of course, with snow forecast for Friday with temperatures plummeting to the low twenties, I guess most intelligent people would be somewhere other than here.

Bridger Campground, Antelope Island S.P.
Bridger Campground, Antelope Island S.P.
Bridger Campground, Antelope Island S.P.
Bridger Campground, Antelope Island S.P.

The Bridger Campground in Antelope Island State Park is a favorite of mine and I have visited here twice before.

Bridger Campground
Bridger Campground

The 23 primitive campsites are nicely separated, most have a paved, level pull through long enough for almost any type of rig, and have a concrete patio with shelter, picnic table, fire pit, and grilling platform. There is a dump station located within the park but there is no fresh water available anywhere in the park. Included for all the sites is a great view out over the Great Salt Lake. For four nights, the charge was all of $51.

Approaching Cold Front Over Great Salt Lake
Approaching Cold Front Over Great Salt Lake

After getting set up ( and taking a short nap ), I loaded up the camera gear and headed out to look for wildlife under some very threatening skies.

Antelope Island Horses
Antelope Island Horses

Making Acquaintances

” Hey, Sam, look! I wonder if those guys could be wild horses. Not aware that the island has wild horses, but there aren’t any fences around here and it seems strange that anyone would just let their horses run wild out here. ”

Horse and Sam Nose to Nose
Greetings!

Oops, guess they aren’t wild horses after all.

Horse and Sam Nose to Nose

 

Horse and Sam Nose to Nose
Nosey

 

Horse and Sam Nose to Nose
Greetings!

Almost as soon as I stopped to take the first shot above, the two horses rather quickly approached the car, seeming very interested in the small white dog popping her head out the window and growling warnings. Sam was a little intimidated, can’t say the horse were, but still went nose to nose with both of these guys. The whole episode just cracked me up and after about five minutes of nose nuzzling, I had to all but push the horses’ noses out of the car before I could eventually take off.

Bison Bulls
Bison Bulls

Only Bison Today

I covered all the roads within the park today and only ran into bison, no deer, no pronghorns and very few birds other some crows and a few magpies.

Antelope Island Bison Herd
Antelope Island Bison Herd

This late in the year the bison have split up and are segregated by sex, the young and their mothers gathered in a couple of large herds …

Bison Bulls
Bison Bulls
Bison Bull
Bison Bull

… and the bulls scattered all about in small groups or off by themselves.

Bison Crossing Road
Road Hazard

These are just enormous beasts!

I have to say it sure does feel good to be back out doing a little photography after six months off. The animals may not have been out and about today and the lighting was terrible and the weather bleak, but it still was one of the best of days for me.

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