June 3, 2016 Questa, New Mexico

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Columbine Canyon Campground, Carson National Forest

After reluctantly packing up and leaving the Soda Pocket Campground at Sugarite Canyon State Park, I headed south on Route 25 and picked up Route 64 west to Eagle Nest, then Route 38 west, struggling up and over Bobcat Pass, at an elevation of 9820′, and down to Red River, then on towards Questa stopping at the Columbine Canyon National Forest Campground, just a few miles short of Questa.

Chevron's Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM
Chevron’s Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM

Arrived at the campground, that is located just past Chevron’s now closed molybdenum mine, between thunderstorms and hesitantly got myself set up in Site #10, that I had reserved online when planning the summer’s stops a couple months ago. I say hesitantly, because the site is severely sloped and has another site all but attached to it, as in, the fire pit for that site would be within 10 feet of my bedroom window, way too close for comfort when the site is occupied, and the reservation ticket on that site’s post says that it is reserved for a couple nights during my stay here.

After unhooking the tow dolly and backing it in by hand, then backing the motorhome in to the site, I blocked the wheels and put down the hydraulic jacks until the rear wheels were just about lifted off the ground, something I feel very uncomfortable doing. But when I checked with a level, I still wasn’t even close to being level. About that time, I noticed the campground host come driving in, so I went down and asked if it would be possible to move from my reserved site. The campground being all but empty, he told me to feel free to move down to Site #5, just down the hill from where I was now set up. So, even with rain falling and thunder in the distance, I decide to make the move and not risk losing my frig or being burned down by my neighbor on Site #11.

Columbine Canyon NF Campground
Columbine Canyon NF Campground

There are 9 sites laid out like the spokes of a wheel on a flat area by the highway right at the beginning of the campground loop road. This is where the campiest is stationed as well as two handicapped sites. All the sites here are level, paved bacon sites , but do not have any hookups. These sites are apparently newer additions to the campground and most will hold an RV of my length with a little room for a toad as well. The sites are fairly open and have decent spacing, though certainly not private. These are also the only spaces in this campground, or in the three other National Forest Campgrounds close by, that would accomodate a larger rig. Though in a woodland setting, surrounded by heavily forested mountainsides, there was enough sun here to allow my solar system to function fairly well, as well as no problem getting my DirecTv satellite dish aligned. Surprisingly, There is enough of a Verizon signal here that I could even do this blog post.

Río Grande Del Norte National Monument

Drove over to the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area just north and west of Questa to see what was there. A very isolated and quiet spot with several hiking trails that descend to the river valley below the park. To me, not the most interesting place I have seen, but a quiet out of the way spot to get away from it all. Most of the campgrounds were all but empty the day I drove through, and I think I only saw two other vehicles on the roads here while i made my way around the monument. The Montoso and Little Arsenic Campgrounds are the only two that may have a couple sites large enough to handle an Rv like mine, though even they would be a little tight. Each site has a shelter with picnic table and fire ring. The sites were definitely designed for tents and small RV’s.

Drive Around “The Enchanted Circle”

Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

Wanting to visit Taos for grocery shopping if nothing else, I backtracked on Route 38 east, again going over Bobcat Pass, a little easier in the Prius than the motorhome, and descend to the village of Eagle Nest where I stopped to check out Eagle Nest State Park. Certainly nothing fancy about the campground there, but it is one that will easily take any size RV on flat gravel sites, half backin and half pull through, with sheltered picnic tables but no hookups. All wide open with no trees and all have a view of the lake.

Prairie Dog Sentinel
Prairie Dog Sentinel

More prairie dogs here at Eagle Nest State Park than I have seen anywhere else on this trip through New Mexico.

Dog
Prairie Dog
Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

A neat roadside abandoned building not too much longer for this world, judging from the serious leaning of the log walls.

Abandoned Settler's Cabin

Then on to Taos and probably the worst Walmart I have ever encountered, walked out without buying anything and headed down the road to a nice Smith’s Grocery Store. There also is a large Albertson’s nearby. Taos seemed a little more run down and ragged than the last time I was here and the local newspaper was lamenting it’s fiscal problems and the loss of tourists’ dollars.

A Search for Wild Horses

New Mexico Wild Horses
New Mexico Wild Horses

Headed north out of Questa on Route 522 towards Fort Garland, Colorado, hoping to encounter some of Northern New Mexico’s wild mustang population.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Despite covering many miles in both northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, I was only able to locate one small band of four horses.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

Ruddy Duck Drake
Ruddy Duck Drake

I hadn’t planned a visit here, and it really isn’t the best time of year for this sort of place, but since my search for wild horses brought me right by here, I drove into the refuge and took the short drive around the refuge road.

Cinnamon Teal Pair
Cinnamon Teal Pair

There were several duck species present, though not in any kind of numbers. Seen were some Cinnamon Teal, some Blue-wing Teal, Mallards, Redheads, and some Ruddy Ducks with the male’s impossibly blue bill.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

Numerous unidentified LBJ’s flew by and a single Yellow-headed Blackbird was caught singing for a mate while hanging onto it’s favorite perch, a cattail.

There were many of the Yellow-headed’s cousins, the Red-winged Blackbird, present, but after my winter of fighting these repulsive birds, I certainly was not about to take any shots of them.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Again, since I was in the area, I decide to also drive the 16 miles into Great Sand Dunes National Park, a place I have visited before, though never during the summer season. There was a long double line of cars backed up at the entrance, but it didn’t take long to get through. I absolutely avoid the popular National Parks during the summer since I just can’t stand the crowds, but I thought this might still be considered a little early for peak numbers.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Guess I was wrong, since when I drove down to the main Dunes access parking lot, it was completely full. with folks driving round in the loop desperately hoping to find someone leaving so they could secure a parking space … and this was at 9 AM!

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Despite the crowds, this is a unique spot and I get a kick out of the folks on the dunes looking like swarms of ants when viewed from the park road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Also drove through the two loops of the completely booked campground, what a mob scene! I could never imagine camping in a place this cramped and crowded, but won’t have to worry about it anyhow since there are no spaces that could handle a rig of my size, let alone a seriously large RV, yet another National Park campground designed exclusively for tenters and very small RV’s. There is a private campground that can accomodate any size rig just a few miles outside the park.

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April 22, 2014 Bridgeport Reservoir, California

Common Merganser drake
Common Merganser drake

Snow Squalls and a Wasted Chance at Some Bald Eagles

I awoke this morning to some pretty chilly weather and a little bit of snow. Wind was fierce last night, blowing in Spring snow squalls.

Snow squalls today
Snow squalls today

I drove down to the river below the dam once it stopped snowing, and got some shots of the common mergansers, cinnamon teal, and the mallard pair.

As always, just click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Mallard pair takeoff
Mallard pair
Common merganser pair
Common merganser pair
Common merganser pair
Common merganser pair
Cinnamon teal pair
Cinnamon teal pair

On the way back to the dam, I spotted 2 bald eagles harassing what I figured was a vulture in the top of a dead tree next to the road at eye level with the road.

Bald eagle in flight
Bald eagle in flight

Unfortunately I still had my 1.4 TC on and had too much lens, so I lost time getting that off, then the camera had trouble focusing on the eagle in flight with a solid background of trees on the far slope of the river below, plus it had begun snowing again. The pair of eagles swooped in a circle around the tree twice while I tried to get a decent shot, but then a truck pulled off the road and headed down the dirt road directly under the tree the eagles were circling and drove them off. I never did get a shot in focus. What a great opportunity wasted!

Immature bald eagle
Immature bald eagle

The truck quickly turned around and came back on the highway and went on his way. I then noticed that what I assumed was a vulture in the treetop was actually a subadult bald eagle, so I made my way down the dirt road to try and get a shot before it took off. Alas, the only clear shot angle was directly into the glare of the sun behind the snow squall blowing through, so, once again, no decent photo.

Feeder full of yellow headed blackbirds
Feeder full of yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbird eating midges
Yellow headed blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

InGrassVert

Back at the campsite, my feeder that was full of jays yesterday now was full of yellow headed blackbirds.

Yellow headed blackbird eating midges
Yellow headed blackbird

 

Yellow headed blackbird eating midges
Yellow headed blackbird

As the sun popped in and out of the swift moving clouds, I couldn’t resist adding just a few more shots of the blackbirds grabbing midges, if you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed catching this action.

April 20, 2014 Bridgeport Reservoir, California

California quail
California quail

Yet More Birds and a Trip Up the Mountain

The feeding platform I put out on the birch tree on my site was overrun with a flock of 30 or so Pinyon Jays this morning.

Pinyon jays crowding the feeder
Pinyon jays crowding the feeder

This was my first time encountering these guys as they crowded the platform and cleaned it out and were gone in about 5 minutes.

White pelicans
White pelicans

I drove down the reservoir to the dam and got a shot of a couple of white pelicans, one of whom had one of the brightest beaks I have ever seen on one of these huge birds.

Buffleheads
Buffleheads

Farther down the Clark River, I encountered a great variety of ducks, but was only able to get a shot of these buffleheads. I’m going to have to think some about how to get close enough to these river ducks to get some decent shots because there is an incredible amount of all kinds of different ducks on this short stretch of the river.

Today was the day I was going to do Mono Lake, but once there I really could find very little to shoot. I have seen so many images of the tufa mounds on Mono Lake that I assumed they were scattered all around the lake. Turns out, all the shots I have seen were apparently taken on just one very short portion of the shore, most of the lake shore is just flat, barren, and boring. Really was a little disappointed in Mono Lake.

So, I decided to drive the 12 miles of Route 120 that were open. This road is the “back” way into Yosemite National Park, and not recommended for large vehicles because of the long climb up and over the mountains. The drive was truly enjoyable in the Prius, but there is no way I would want to attempt it with the RV. The road was gated 8 miles short of Tuolumne Meadows and the snow banks were still 3 or 4 feet high on the side of the road at that point. Spectacular scenery all along the way! ( I downloaded and somehow lost my shots so no images, I don’t know how I did that but hope I don’t make a habit of it ) The lakes up there were still completely frozen over and the old lodge buildings were still covered with several feet of snow. Kind of nice to be able to make a short hour long trip into the beauty of winter and then quickly reverse direction and return to spring!

California quail
California quail

 

California quail
California quail

Back home I noticed a pair of California Quail feeding around the campground, and, using my car as a blind, was able to follow them along for a few hundred feet as they did their thing and got some nice shots. I had no idea when I decided to stop at this campground that I would have so many opportunities to shoot birds, I had thought this was just going to be a stopover for Bodie and Mono Lake, what a pleasant surprise!

Yellow headed blackbird eating midges
All you can eat Midge buffet
Buffleheads
Buffleheads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 19, 2014 Bridgeport, California

Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds

More Yellow Headed Blackbirds

As I warned in yesterday’s post, I was hoping the midges would return and bring the yellow headed blackbirds with them this morning so I would have another chance at them with some better light.

Yellow headed blackbird
Yellow headed blackbird

Remember, just click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbird
Yellow headed blackbird

And despite last night’s rain and low temperatures, the midges returned in force!

Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds

Got a kick out of this one, a good shot of two very different techniques for catching midges, one really working at it, the other content to let the meal come to him.

Yellow headed blackbird
Yellow headed blackbird
Yellow headed blackbird
Yellow headed blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds
Yellow headed blackbirds