Side Trip – Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Roswell, New Mexico (10/9/2019 – 10/11/2019)

Today Stretch and I spent 3 hours at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge https://www.fws.gov/refuge/bitter_lake/ outside of Roswell, New Mexico. It’s easy enough to find if you’re in the Roswell area. I’d say that if you’re into wildlife, habitat, ecological diversity, hiking, photography and just plain nature, I’d give this place at least half a day to explore.

There is no fee to enter the refuge and the volunteer staff at the visitor center is friendly and knowledgeable. The volunteer suggested coming in either earlier or later in the day which is when the wildlife is most active. I knew that, but I did the drive anyway.

In addition to walking and biking trails, the refuge has an eight mile driving trail (in excellent condition). The volunteer assured me that I wouldn’t feel rushed down the road by other drivers. So Stretch and I went off on our trek. There are several overlooks and trails (some easy and some longer) for observing the wildlife. I was amazed at the different habitat in such a small area. One minute you feel like you’re in the desert and then you’re in the Everglades National Park.

One of the reasons I love traveling with Stretch is he doesn’t care if I drive at 5 mph, stop, turn off the motor and listen or reverse back a few feet because I was sure I saw something move. We saw no other humans. I was the only one on the driving trail for the entire 3 hours. Heaven!!!

There were dragonflies everywhere. Each year the Refuge hosts their annual Dragonfly Festival in early September, on the first or second Saturday of this month.  I missed it by a month.
Dragonfly Trail that Stretch and I walked. If you look hard enough you’ll see the van at the top of the hill.
Common Checkered Whiptail Lizard
Common Checkered Whiptail Lizard in Stretch’s sight
As you can see, the water was so clear. I think it’s a carp. Not positive though.
Making our way back up to the campervan
Beautiful cactus.
I do believe that is a quail trying to hide from me.
Snowy Egret
Great Blue Heron

Being tourists today, Stretch and I walked down Main Street in Roswell, New Mexico. There is a beautiful memorial dedicated to the men and women from Chaves County, NM, who lost their lives in all wars and military actions. The memorial is at the entrance to the Chaves County Courthouse. We then drove over to the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary and Nature Center.

Chaves County Courthouse, Roswell, NM
A fine looking specimen. I’m guessing a red squirrel.
The best bird blind I’ve ever seen
Inside the bird feeding area
The inside of the bird blind

If I ever have an opportunity, I will set up a bird blind.

Amarillo, Texas to Logan, New Mexico (10/6/2019-10/8/2019)

Rant warning. Cody Jinx Radio on Pandora.  “Diamonds and Gasoline” playing, Turnpike Troubadours.  What a great day it’s been.  The weather has been perfect!   Today I’m at the Ute Lake State Park in New Mexico.  I don’t know why I have this desire, want, need to be in Texas and New Mexico.  I mean, I can enjoy the outdoors just as easily in Alabama, I know, I know.

I arrived at Ute Lake State Park in Logan, New Mexico, despite my aversion to cold weather.   I bought a “Little Buddy” in Amarillo, determined that I wasn’t going to give in (I was close).   I had heard about it on one of those many YouTube videos that I watched about van camping before starting this trek. What a great invention for a tent camper / van camper.  

Cool building in Logan, New Mexico
Logan, New Mexico.
I just sat and sat looking at this building. Oh, the possibilities!! Logan, New Mexico

The first camp site I picked had lots of great shade and I spent the first night there.  Shade (hello, what are you thinking, this is not summer), you need sun lady!!   I decided that I wanted to spend another night but changed spots to a totally open site. Yes, sun!!! Stretch and I walked around the entire loop (quite large).  Around 3, we did it again except we went exploring down by the lake.   I was being very cautious but had to slap myself (mentally) that there aren’t any ‘gators here.  Do have to keep my eyes open for snakes though.

Beautiful campground and campsite, well situated. This was my shady spot.
Ute Lake State Park, NM
Ute Lake State Park, NM
Ute Lake State Park, New Mexico, Sunrise

I want to stay here, but I pay close attention to the weather and there’s some sort of cold front arriving on Thursday. Going to get down to freezing. Now I need to move further south.

Before we got to New Mexico, we drove through Northwest Texas.  I had inferred in a previous post that I was very disappointed in that I was expecting cowboys, longhorn cows, cattle drives but instead I found giant, alien-like, noisy wind generators.  I found it!!!  The town of Wildorado, Texas, west of Amarillo.  I saw cowboys and cows, in a cattle feeding lot. I’ve never seen so many bovine in one spot. I was really hoping to see them being driven across the millions of acres that I’ve crossed since I started driving, but I’ll have to settle for the feedlot.

Cattle Feedlot in Wildorado, Texas

Vega, Texas. I’m in love with that little town.  The landscape changes quite significantly after this area, like something out of a Clint Eastwood western. Life must have been so hard but so rewarding. 

Vega, Texas. Cute, historical town on Old Route 66
Says it all
Justice of the Peace in Vega, Texas (too cool)
Hope you can read this. More history.
“Vega, the town you never want to leave.” How true.

Many, many (Jimmy Carter era, many) years ago, Ed, Patrick, Ashley, Kim and I visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial. I can see myself standing looking around and feel this terrible sadness overcome me. We then visited the nearby Crow Indian Reservation. I remember saying to my husband, Ed, “I’ve been here before, a long, long time ago.” Still always feel that way when I think about that visit. No, I’m not claiming to be Native American (a la Elizabeth Warren), but I’ve never felt such a strong feeling before. I’ve never been a follower or believer in the afterlife (perhaps I should be), but that’s as close as I’ve ever come.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I was born in the wrong century. (Sorry for the political innuendos).

Palo Duro Canyon State Park (9/29/2019 – 10/4/2019)

Driving from Abilene to Canyon, Texas is fairly flat and uninteresting until you get near to Canyon. When you make the turn east and are about a mile from the entrance, it’s like the earth fell out from under you. To your right there are large gashes in what must have once been just flat earth, except it has taken centuries. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is described as “Texas’ best kept secret.” Geologically spectacular with layer upon layer of colors. Ms. Richardson, my favorite teacher at Alpha Academy (my high school) would have been in her element here. It is also the second largest canyon in the United States.

View from the top of the canyon
View from the top of the canyon
View from the top of the canyon
View from my campsite, love it! Look at those geological layers.
The layers and colors are spectacular
I saw her and her sidekick early in the morning and in the evening
They haven’t gotten the Memo that Thanksgiving is next month.
These buggers are all over the place. I kept hoping one wouldn’t crawl into the van.
Grasses, wildflowers, cacti, everywhere
Wildflowers
One of the rivers in the canyon
Paseo Del Rio Trail (we’re ready – don’t get excited – we’re still in easy hiking mode)
The historic Cowboy Dugout along the Paseo Del Rio Trail.
Inside the Cowboy Dugout. I bet it’s cool in summer.

We spent 5 days in Palo Duro Canyon. The first couple of days the weather was beautiful. About mid-70s at night. With a fan, it’s quite comfortable; except when it rains. It rained and rained and rained. Stretch and I would get out between showers for walks. We did manage to get out by car to see the rest of the canyon and we also walked on the Paseo Del Rio Trail. Most of the walking we did; however, was around our camping loop at the Hackberry Campsite, because of the rain. On my last night there, the temperature dropped to the upper 40s. Although I have a sleeping bag, I still found it chilly. I did turn on the heater in the van just before going to bed and first thing in the morning. I am reassessing my heating issue and will amend while I’m in Amarillo.

I would visit Palo Duro Canyon again and try to walk more of the trails. We will be back one day.

Abilene State Park, Texas (9/27/2018 – 9/29/2019)

The drive from Houston, Texas was uninteresting until I found myself north of Austin and Leander, Texas. After that it was mostly farming land with some interesting looking small towns. The one that caught my eye was Santa Ana, Texas. Once you leave the Austin area you need to make sure you have a full tank of gas ’cause there’s nothing along those roads.

At some point I came across an area with hundreds wind generators for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see. It felt almost out of body (alien like), or just plain out of place. Here in Texas, oil, cowboys, horses, cattle drives, wind generators (?), it just felt strange, but they’re there, in their hugeness and noisiness.

Wind Generators, everywhere, for miles and miles, hundreds of them

I really enjoyed camping at Abilene State Park. The ranger was pleasant and helpful. Once I found my site, I sat and watched several campers roll in with their families for the weekend. It was quite humorous to watch one camper try to back her camper in at least 10 times (hey, she’s good, I can’t do that … yet) or the older gentleman who forgot to unhook his nice new Jeep from his trailer and watching the trailer grind and slide forward. Face plant! I walked several of the trails which are on my level (easy), comfortable and pleasant. There were no bugs (mosquitos) until just at dusk, but manageable.

Eagle Trail, Abilene State Park
Eagle Trail, Abilene State Park
Heading towards the Bird Blind
Bird Blind. Beautiful spot to sit inside to watch the birds in a sort of semi-natural state. I say semi-natural because behind the wooden fence there were feeders set up. I saw many hummers, a hawk and a red cardinal
Birdwatching – just a suggestion.
In addition to this blog, I am keeping a journal with more detail. Here is my standard breakfast of smushed banana and granola breakfast cereal. Stretch checking out the neighbors.

I took a side trip to Abilene and was somewhat disappointed. I think that I may have become dulled from having watched too many John Wayne movies or Gunsmoke, I don’t know. It just wasn’t what I expected. I wanted to see cowboys pushing herds of longhorn cattle down a dusty street. I did go through a little town that caught my interest. Buffalo Gap, Texas. Check it out and the small museum.

Next stop, Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas.

Sisters, Bend, Ashland, Crater Lake and back to Seattle

Here are a few photos and notes that I failed to include in my previous post but thought should be included.

Syncline Winery, Lyle, Washington. I had never visited a winery so I’m glad this was my first. What a peaceful, relaxing, gorgeous setting, the wines that we tasted were superb. It was $10 a flight and the fee was waived when we purchased 2 bottles or more. Kim and I settled on the ones we liked and our fees were waived. The rest is history and we enjoyed the wines the rest of our trip. If you are visiting the area, I recommend a visit.
Tumalo Falls, outside of Bend, Oregon
Tumalo Falls, outside of Bend, Oregon
Mountain Bluebird, Sisters, Oregon

The last vacation home we stayed in was the 3-bedroom Meadow House at the Willow-Witt Ranch outside of Ashland, Oregon. What a priceless gem this place is. Secluded and somewhat difficult to find (but so worth it). There was fresh goats milk in the refrigerator for us (yummy). The grands enjoyed going up to the farm to help milk the goats, collect eggs, play with the farm dogs and run free. They made friends and we all got together one night at the Meadow House for dinner after which we played Uno. We laughed a whole lot. The meadow house gets it’s name honestly. It sits facing a meadow at the base of a couple of hills. The deer would feed in the early morning and at dusk. I loved watching them from the wraparound porch. A very memorable vacation.

Small shed at the Willow-Witt Ranch, Ashland, Oregon
Willow-Witt Ranch, Ashland, Oregon
One of the working farm dogs hanging out on the porch at the Meadow House.
The garden at the Meadow House
View of the meadow from the porch at the Meadow House at Willow-Witt Ranch
Deer watching from the Meadow House
Self explanatory – Gamgam with the grands on our way into Crater Lake NP
Crater Lake – one of trails closed for snow.
Beautiful Crater Lake NP
Emigrant Lake Recreation Area, in Ashland, Oregon (we spent the day here so the kids could enjoy the slides and swim in the lake). They also offered Stand Up Paddleboarding and Kayaking. It was a beautiful day.
Enjoying a cup of tea on the front porch of the O’Callaghan’s home in Seattle, Washington. Time to pack up my bags and head back to sweltering Mobile, Alabama. A very memorable vacation with my beautiful daughter’s family.

Parts West (Part 3)

Day 2 of our trip into Oregon we had to wake up early as we were scheduled to go river rafting trip down the Deschutes River. The half day trip was with the River Drifters out of Maupin, Oregon. This was my first ever river rafting trip and, as you can imagine, I was very excited. I didn’t bring my camera as I don’t have a waterproof one. The photo was taken by one of their photographers who set up alongside the river to catch us as we go by. The weather was perfect and although the water was cold (for a Floridian/Alabamian) it wasn’t too bad as the air temperature was in the 80s. I was quite comfortable. We all enjoyed our trip – I had a blast. They are very kid friendly and allowed the young ones to “ride the bull” by sitting on the bow as we rode through the rapids. Our guide, Jada, was quite knowledgeable.

That’s me in the bright green shirt on top.

We returned to Bingen and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. Day 3 we packed our gear and headed to our next stop. Sisters, Oregon. On the way, we stopped at a U-Pick cherry farm. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I love cherries and I loved picking my own. Here are some photos of that.

Bing Cherries
They also had apple trees
I know, I was being careful but I wanted to reach the best, ripest cherries
View of Mount Hood from the U-Pick Farm

On our way to our vacation home rental in Sisters, we stopped along the way. Trillium Lake in the Mount Hood National Forest and Smith Rock State Park.

View of Mount Hood on our way to Sisters
We stopped at Trillium Lake in the Mount Hood National Forest.
We live in such a beautiful country. Being able to see it and enjoy it makes me very happy and it makes me doubly happy to have spent it with my daughter, son in law and my beautiful grand children.
Next stop was Smith Rock State Park
We went for a hike. I’m bringing up the rear.
Smith Rock State Park. We hiked down one of the trails to get to the Crooked River. I think we ended up making our own path at some point.
Crawdad in the Crooked River
Thanks for the photo Kim. I love it.
Again, thanks for the photo Kim. Athena and I trying not to slip on one of the rocks.
Some of the beautiful wildflowers at Smith Rock State Park

The vacation home that my daughter and son in law chose for us to stay it was out of this world amazing. Sisters, Oregon is such a beautiful area.

Vacation rental in Sisters, Oregon
Amazing wildflowers in the back yard
Xeriscape in the back yard
Doe jumped the fence into the back yard
View of Black Butte from our vacation rental in Sisters. Sunsetting behind Black Butte. A 4 mile hike out and back, listed as a moderate hike. There is an elevation change of 1,550 feet (you start at 4,886 feet at the trailhead and you are at 6,436 feet at the summit). I never in my life thought I could do this, but I did. The most difficult for me was coming back down. My knees just wouldn’t cooperate.
The trail up to the summit of Black Butte. The wildflowers were magnificent.
I made it. My feet hurt but my knees were screaming in pain once I started going back down. If someone had offered me knee replacement surgery at that moment, I would have succumbed. The fire tower in the background is the one you can see in the sunset photo above.
As I reached the summit, it started to sprinkle. My poor shoes never lived another day. I bought another pair the next day in Bend, Oregon.
Enjoying the hot tub with the grands. A very welcome respite after climbing to the summit of Black Butte (yes, that is a glass of wine in my hand). I earned it!!

Points West (Part 2)

After leaving Portland we headed east on I-84 following the Columbia River Gorge. We were going to stop at Multnomah Falls but there were signs that the park was at full capacity. It was the 4th of July weekend. Our next stop was at the Bridge of the Gods. You get to walk across this fairly narrow bridge (you share the road with vehicles going in opposite directions) crossing from Oregon into Washington. You have to walk single file across the bridge facing traffic and then return doing the same thing. The bridge is very high (141 feet approximately above the river). There was a constant wind blowing through the gorge. If you’re afraid of heights it can be a bit jarring looking through the grates or over the edge as you walk across. The bridge is also a part of the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail). We met a couple who were walking the trail on their way through to the Canadian border.

Bridge of the Gods looking towards Oregon from the Washington State side
Looking west through the Columbia River Gorge (sternwheeler boat heading east) and the Cascade Mountain backdrop
Looking east from the bridge
Sternwheeler heading up the Columbia River
This couple were hiking the PCT (her name, she said, is Train Wreck). I didn’t get his name)
a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Bridge of the Gods.

Next stop was Viento State Park to stretch our legs. We saw lots of windsurfers fighting the wind coming through the Gorge.

Viento State Park, Oregon
She was a little thing, I can’t believe who strong she was as I watched her fight the wind and then hauling the board and sail back on to shore.
Impressive athlete

We continued on to Hood River, which is a very vibrant, modern, touristy town. We walked around for a bit and then headed across the Hood River Bridge, back into Washington State to our next stop. We were scheduled to spend a couple of nights at The Society Hotel in Bingen, Washington.

The Society Hotel had only been open for a few weeks before we arrived. It is a newly converted schoolhouse with a brand new spa. It’s off the beaten path and a nice change from the overcrowded, commercial Hood River. Very relaxing and comfortable. This would be the first of several beautiful places Kim and Aaron chose for us to stay that were outstanding.

Tomorrow we would need to wake up early and travel back over into Oregon to Maupin to go white river rafting on the Deschute River. It would be a long but adventurous day.

Points West (July, 2019) (Part 1)

In July I travelled (without my sidekick and companion Stretch) to visit Kim, Aaron, Athena and Leander. The kids were on summer vacation. I got in on the 3rd of July. Kim and Aaron invited me to come along on their jam-packed, carefully planned vacation. Road trip!

My welcome.

July 5th, spent the afternoon searching the marine life in the tide pools around Alki in West Seattle. Saw some interesting creatures. Here are some:

No longer called Starfish (as they are not fish), this is a Purple Sea Star (I tell you, I learn new things everyday). I was impressed with my granddaughter Athena holding it and giving a lesson about this creature.
Sea Cucumber (I also held it, um…squeeshy)
Again, I cannot remember the name but it would blow water out of the tube
Water Penny larva
I cannot remember the name of this marine creature. I’ll correct this once I find out. Looks like floppy pottery.
Kelp (seaweed) everywhere. Lots of marine life hiding underneath.
Great Blue Heron feasting on smorgasbord.
Family working their way through the kelp on their way to shore. A bit shallow. Beautiful wooden boat.
I met a Basenji at the park and I had to stop and talk. Ruby, I was thinking about you. This basenji is a Grand Champion. Absolutely stunning guy.

July 6th, left for Oregon for the start of an exciting and fun-filled vacation. Stopped in Portland for lunch.

Playing hackey sack in front of Powell’s Bookstore (headquarters) in Portland, Oregon. I could have spent a whole day at Powell’s, known as the World’s Largest Independent Bookstore. Powell’s has a whole section set up to buy back used books. I was mesmerized by the clerk handling a long line of people selling their books. You could easily get lost. The bookstore takes up a whole city block or 68,000 square feet or 1.6 acres of retail floor space.
BrewCycle. They sure were having a great time. Loud music and drinking brews as they cycled down a main street in Portland.

Next update will be along the Columbia River, Hood River and Bingen, Washington.

Traveling through Louisiana

After leaving Sea Rim State Park in Texas, I took Patrick’s suggestion to drive along the Louisiana coastline. I took the bridge across the Sabine Lake and into Louisiana through Johnson Bayou. Lots of beef cattle farming in the Bayou. The drive along the coast is desolate and homes are few and far between. The only way to get to Cameron, Louisiana is on the ferry over the Calcasieu Ship Channel. I was heading to New Iberia and on to Lake Fausse State Park to camp for the next couple of nights.

New Iberia, Louisiana. What a nice little town with a lot of character.

Next I headed to my campsite at Lake Fausse State Park, Louisiana. Oh boy, talk about swampy water everywhere, right up to the campsites and mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes. The park rents kayaks and canoes, for those brave enough. After spending a couple of hours walking and driving around the park, I decided that it just wasn’t going to work for us. We would have to move on. The sites backed right up to the swamp which were teaming not just with the biting buzzers but also with unseen critters (read, snakes and gators here). We packed up and headed out (got my money back, no questions). My next stop along the way would be Morgan City and then on to Houma to spend the night.

Rental cabin at Lake Fausse State Park
A warning. I would probably have enjoyed it in the winter months.

Morgan City, Louisiana. Another cute town.

Bridge over Berwick Bay on the Atchafalaya River, Morgan City, Louisiana
Lots of boat traffic visible from the waterfront walkway above the river
City Hall and Courthouse, Morgan City, Louisiana
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Roman Catholic Church, Morgan City, Louisiana
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Roman Catholic Church, Morgan City, Louisiana

Next stop, Houma, Louisiana. I spent one night, enjoyed the hot shower after having spent 3 nights at Sea Rim. Tomorrow I head back to Mobile but will continue on US 90.

Stopped along the way to walk and stretch my legs at the Destrehan Plantation along the Mississippi River. Walked along the top of the levee which runs along River Road.

Per Wikipedia, Destrehan Plantation is the oldest documented antebellum plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley and the closest to New Orleans.
Taken from the top of the levee running along the Mississippi
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (many of them)

US Highway 90 from Bay St. Louis to Mobile.

Our Lady of the Gulf, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Marina, Gulfport, Mississippi
Marina in Gulfport, Mississippi
Gulfport Marina, Mississippi
Fishing in Gulfport, Mississippi
Wedding on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi
Pascagoula River, Mississippi
Nice shrimp boat
Great idea. A hand pump to use for cleaning fish along the river.
Pascagoula River Bridge
Shrimp boats on the Pascagoula River, Mississippi

Sea Rim State Park, Texas (April, 2019)

After visiting with Patrick, Kara and Duncan in Houston in late April, I made my way down to Port Arthur heading to Sabine Pass and then Sea Rim State Park. Everything I had read about Sea Rim was that it was a small park but most importantly, I should expect mosquitos. I felt prepared as I had bought some screening along with some magnets and just in case, I brought along some duct tape, for good measure. I was not terribly impressed with Port Arthur, in fact if I never go back there it would be too soon, but I had been warned. I drove through to Sabine Pass, which was kind of cute, reminded me of Belize a bit. I made a right turn at the only traffic light and headed down to Sea Rim. By the way, whenever I saw historical markers I would stop and read. More on that later.

I loved Sea Rim instantly. There are only 15 campsites and you can dry camp on the beach. There were only a few campers in the camping area. There was a nice breeze blowing off the Gulf and I got a really great eyebrow camping spot next to the marsh with a clear view to the Gulf.

I was only going to stay a couple of nights. I checked in and Stretch and I began to set up for the night. I cut my screening, but them set up in case I was barraged with mosquitos early. The only comfort station is a vault toilet (sort of like an outhouse). I had never encountered a vault toilet before so this was new to me. There are no inside showers with hot or cold running water. My site had electricity and water. There is a shower on the dune boardwalk which takes you to the beach, so if you want a cold shower, that will do.

The view from my campsite #12
This big boy was hanging out pretty close. I had to keep an eye on Stretch.
Not a fan of Texas beaches, but it sure was relaxing.
Willet Watching
Mrs. Kildeer trying to protect her eggs.
Her eggs
This boy would sit next to the van and just be so noisy. Loved watching them.
So beautiful when they all lift off together.
Black-necked Stilts

As it turned out, there was a great gulf breeze and I never had to worry about mosquitos. I kept my screens on at night, cracked my windows about 8 inches and slept like a baby. I even spent one more night and would have stayed longer except they were all full for the rest of the weekend.

On the way out I took a drive through Sabine Pass I discovered the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site which honors the Civil War battlefield where Confederate soldiers stopped Union forces from entering Texas in 1863. It is a beautiful setting along the Sabine River and they have quite a large site to explore and lots of information. As I was walking through and reading all the information I kept thinking, I wonder if school children are brought here on field trips. What a great spot to learn some history.