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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October 31, 2016 Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Sunrise Sandhill Flight
Sunrise Sandhill Flight

Lone Rock, Utah to Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

One week ago today, I awoke early at Lone Rock and hit the road just as the sun was coming up. Ended up being a long day on the road as I fought tire problems all day long and logged the 400+ miles to San Felipe, New Mexico. Back down Route 89 through Page, then picked up Route 98 east and before I had travelled more than 50 miles my tire monitoring system alerted me to a low pressure warning for my passenger side outside dually.

Found a place to pull off the highway and removed the valve extender for that tire, dragged out the compressor and reinflated the tire. That took care of that problem, but another 50 miles and the monitoring system alarm sounded again, this time for one of the tow dolly tires. Not wanting to take the Prius off the tow dolly so I could change the tire, I got the compressor out again and reinflated the tire, hoping that it was just a slow leak and I could get to my overnight destination without having to change the tire. I continued east on 98 then Route 160, then Route 64 into New Mexico, all fairly decent 2 lane roads with some rough sections and with very little traffic. Route 64 took me to Route 550 east ( actually goes south ) and that road took me down to I-25 at Bernalilo, where I headed a few miles north to the San Felipe Casino to overnight.

I had to stop and reinflate the tow dolly tire two more times, making a long day on the road seem even longer. Fortunately,  Route 550 is a 4 lane highway, with no hills and I was able to make up for lost time on this long stretch of road.

The San Felipe Casino camping area is a flat gravel lot with pull throughs and 50 amp electric hookups, no water at the campsite though there is water at the on site dump station. There were only two others camped there the two nights I spent there and there is a fair bit of noise from the Travel Center just across the road.

Hal Burns in Santa Fe for a Brake Job

I have needed to have the rear brakes on the motorhome looked at since late this summer in the Rockies and hoped to be able to make them last until I could get to Hal Burns in Santa Fe, where I have had major work done twice in the past. They were able to get me in on Wednesday and figured they would have me done the same day. I knew better than to think that would actually be the case and sure enough, it wasn’t, so I did spend one night at the luxurious Hal Burns RV Resort.

They do let you stay in your rig in their yard overnight and even will give you an electric hookup if one is available. It’s brightly lit, it’s noisy, and the atmosphere is lacking a little, but it’s free! Next day, they had me finished up around 3 PM and I was back on the road with fully functioning brakes again.

Only had to cover 150 miles to Bosque del Apache and made it to the Birdwatcher’s RV Park around 6 PM and got myself checked in and set up. This is a very basic campground with flat sites on gravel, essentially a large parking lot, with several pull throughs, with full hookups. The attraction here is the close proximity to the refuge and the price. I plan on staying a month or perhaps even more so I was charged the monthly rate of $350, or around $11 a day for a full hookup site, hard to beat.

First Trip Into Bosque

Pintails and Mallard
Pintails and Mallard

Since it was still light after getting set up, I zipped down the road a couple miles into Bosque del Apache NWR and instantly came across a rare sighting, for me at least. In a narrow stretch of water on the side of the road were about a hundred Pintail and Mallard ducks …

Stalking Bobcat
Stalking Bobcat

… and about 20 yards from them was this bobcat, crawling on it’s belly through the short field grasses cover towards the ducks! Even though I have been doing this wildlife thing for a long time, this was the first time I have ever had a close shot at a bobcat, and it looked like there was going to be some neat action as he continued slowly advancing on the ducks.

Bobcat
Scared Off

Unfortunately, a woman driving a pickup camper saw me parked on the shoulder of the road with a long camera lens showing out the window, so she came flying up in a cloud of dust to see what I was shooting. When she jumped out to get closer, of course, that was it for the bobcat and he bolted across the field to cover.

And Then Another Rarity!

Leucistic Sandhill Crane
Leucistic Sandhill Crane

It was getting dark when I spied something odd out on a burned section of the refuge. I could  make out a couple sandhill cranes working their way through the recently burned area, but, from a distance at least, I could have sworn that one of the cranes looked like a Whooping Crane, and I didn’t think they were ever found here. The shot above is a low quality image ( shot with my 600mm lens from a great distance in very low light ) of what turned out to be a leucistic Sandhill Crane, the first I have ever seen. The rangers here tell me this is his third year showing up here, so I hope I may encounter him again under better conditions during my stay here.

First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

A Bit Early for Many Birds Here at Bosque del Apache

First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

The last couple days I have been going into the refugee early each day to check on new arrivals. These snow geese are the first I have seen here this year, and while there are sandhills here, there certainly are not anything like the numbers that should show up in a few more weeks.

Sandhills Greeting the First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
Sandhills Greeting the First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

I knew I was going to be a little early arriving here before the start of November, but as a full timer, I am able to just sit back and relax and wait until the birds arrive in numbers, usually around the middle of the month. In the meantime, I have the place pretty much all to myself, nice not to battle crowds or traffic and driving the loop road through the refuge at sunrise each day, without traffic, is a wonderfully peaceful experience, whether you see any wildlife or not.

Pre-dawn Takeoff
Pre-dawn Takeoff

And each day, there are a few more birds arriving, and it’s kind of fun to see the numbers grow, and watch the fields being flooded and the refuge staff out cutting roadside vegetation to provide birders with views of the distant fields.

Pre-dawn Takeoff
Pre-dawn Takeoff

The first morning I went down the highway to the refuge there were absolutely no cranes on the ponds along the highway, the second day, I stopped and counted maybe 20, wading on the distant shore waiting for sunrise to takeoff and head out to feed. The two shots above were taken this morning just before sunrise, when some of the more than 100 cranes around the ponds were taking flight.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

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