Thursday, March 29, 2018

Saguaros and Birds

Post by Henry
Pics by Loretta

After several months in humid and rainy Texas, we've moved west to higher and drier (sunnier, too) New Mexico and Arizona.

We stayed at Rusty's RV Ranch in Rodeo, NM, which is one of the nicest RV parks we've stayed at, with gigantic campsites, spectacular mountain views and very reasonable rates. There's not even a whiff of a cell signal there, but Rusty's had great wifi.

Rusty's RV Ranch
Rodeo, NM

Biking Around Rusty's

We spent a week exploring the Chiricahua Mountains on the New Mexico and Arizona border - also close to the Mexican border. We had heard this was a big time birding area, but apparently, we were there a month or so early for peak birding. One benefit of arriving early was being there before the crowds of birders showed up, so there were times it seemed we had the Chiricahua Mountains all to ourselves.

Chiricahua Wilderness

Part of the Chiricahua Landscape

That doesn't mean we didn't see any birds, because we did! Including several new (to us) like the Yellow Eyed Junco, Arizona Woodpecker, Verdin, and Cassin's Finch.

Yellow Eyed Junco
See where it got its name?

Arizona Woodpecker


Cassin's Finch

The main area we explored is called Clear Creek Canyon and the gorgeous scenery was beyond what we were expecting.

Yes, this is a waterfall in the desert!

Before you enter the canyon, you pass through the small town of Portal, that consists of a small store/cafe, a Post Office, the library, and some residences. 

Portal Store, Cafe & Lodge
Portal, AZ

Portal, AZ Post Office
and Library

The people that live here all love birds and birders. We learned that many retired biologists retire to this quaint community. Most of the houses have many bird feeders set up and some even have sitting areas for anyone to spend some time enjoying the birds.

Birders Welcome

Lots of bird action at these feeders, and we saw a few new hummingbirds like the Blue Throated and the Magnificent.

Female Blue Throated Hummingbird

Male Blue Throated Hummingbird

The bird feeders attract more than just birds, too!

Collared Peccary

Even the Post Office has a resident Western Screech Owl that we were told has been nesting in the same Sycamore tree for the past few years.

Sleepy Western Screech Owl in Sycamore

One of the birds we were really hoping to see was the Elegant Trogan - but no luck spotting him - but we did see this Wild Turkey.

Colorful Wild Turkey

Next, we headed for a week in the Tucson mountains just outside of Tucson, Arizona. We stayed at extremely popular Gilbert Ray Campground. They don't take reservations, and they were filled up by noon most every day we were there. The views of the mountains and Saguaro cactus from the campground were outstanding, and there's lots to see and do nearby.

Saguaros as Far as You Can See

The western unit of Saguaro National Park was only five (5) miles away and we spent a day there on some of the trails and driving the scenic loop road.

Saguaro National Park
Western Section

Roadrunner at Visitor Center
Lunch, Anyone?

Petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park

Lots of trails here and one day we hiked the Brown Mountain Loop right from our campsite. The trail took us to the top of several summits with 360 degree views, one of which we enjoyed our lunch on a perfectly blue sky day.

Beginning of Brown Mountain Hike

Lunch on a Rock
on top of Brown Mountain

About forty (40) miles south is Madera Canyon and we had heard the Elegant Trogan had been spotted there several times recently, so we made a day trip there. Alas, we again didn't see it, but we had a great day birding and hiking in the beautiful location.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

We visited the Mission San Xavier Del Bac, which was built at it's current location between 1783 and 1787. For more info, click on:

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

Extravagant and Ornate

I Just Don't Know.....

We'd heard about the Mt. Lemmon scenic byway outside Tucson, so we decided to check it out. All I can say is WOW!


We started the byway at about 2,000 feet elevation, 70 degrees and Saguaro cactus pretty much everywhere. Less that 30 miles later, we were over 9,000 feet elevation surrounded by spruce and fir trees with ICE in them and patches of snow on the ground!

On Our Way to 9,000' Elevation

Frozen Mist in the Pines

Heavy Frost and/or Snow

Over the course of the drive, you pass through six (6) vegetative life zones. They say it's like driving from Mexico to Canada in 27 miles! The scenery along the way is incredible plus there's trails, picnic areas, campgrounds and scenic pulloffs the whole way. We spent a day here and we could easily spend a week next time.

We are now making our way further West and will be on the Left Coast most of the rest of 2018.
We have a special side trip planned in the very near future. Stay tuned!

An Arizona Sunset

Saguaro at Sunset

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Post by Henry

Well, howdy! Long time, no see!

Happy New Year!

We have now been on the road traveling fulltime in our motorhome for 3 years!

Zoooooooooooom! Time sure does fly when you're having fun.

Things have been mellow these past few months. We spent the holidays hanging out with family in San Antonio, Texas, which was nice. Right now, we're taking care of personal business (doctor appointments, taxes, etc.) before heading out on our adventures for 2018.

Earlier this month I (Henry) was able to go on a backpacking trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore with my hiking buddy, Harold.

Map of Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is the southernmost barrier island off the coast of Georgia. It is a combination of wilderness and remnants of human history, most notably the Carnegie family..
You can learn more about Cumberland Island here:

Our trip started with a ferry ride from the town of St. Mary's on a chilly 33 degree morning. The 45 minute trip brought us to Sea Camp Ranger Station on the island.

The Cumberland Lady

After a brief check with the park service volunteer to be sure we had the proper permits, we hoisted our packs and headed off for our campsite.

There are five (5) camping areas on Cumberland Island. Sea Camp is the closest being only 1/4 mile from the ferry dock and also the most popular. This is more of a 'car-camping' type campground where you can haul in everything but the kitchen sink. The Ranger Station provides wagon type carts you can borrow to roll  your supplies to your campsite.

The rest of the campgrounds are reached by backpacking. Stafford Beach is the next closest at 3.5 miles from the ferry dock. It and Sea Camp are located outside the designated wilderness area and have amenities like restrooms, cold showers, potable water and campfires are allowed in the provided fire ring.

The other 3 campgrounds are further north on the island and located in the designated wilderness. No restrooms. No showers. No campfires. There is a pump provided with non-potable water that must be treated.

Welcome to the Island

Harold and I were heading 10.5 miles north to the Brickhill Bluff campsite. We stayed here for our first 3 nights using it as a basecamp while we did dayhikes to explore the north end of the island.

During our stay, the weather, while mostly beautiful, was unseasonably cold especially for somewhere located just a few miles north of Florida. The good part of the cold was: No Bugs. The noseeums here can be horrendous. I speak from experience.

The first day was mostly just getting to Brickhill Bluff and setting up camp. Then we kicked back at a spot overlooking the water, watching dolphins and various sea birds and then taking in a nice sunset.

Home Sweet Home

Not Too Shabby Sunset

Day 2 started out sunny and 40 degrees. This day we headed up to the northern end of Cumberland Island. Along the way, we saw armadillos and some feral horses. We actually saw both armadillos and horses every day we were on the island.

Island Horse

At the very north end is an area known as the Settlement, consisting of the First African Baptist Church, a cemetery and a scattering of buildings in various states of disrepair.

Probably the most famous thing the church is known for is it's where John F. Kennedy, Jr. was secretly married.

First African Baptist Church

Simple Church

Unique Grave Site

Back at camp that evening, we enjoyed another fabulous sunset and a delicious homemade dehydrated dinner.

Perfect End to the Day

Day 3 started at 40 degrees again, but cloudy with a pretty good wind coming in from the Northwest. We knew a cold front was going to pass through today and looking at the radar, we could see a line of snow/sleet/rain in the middle of Georgia, extending south to the Gulf headed our way.
The forecast only called for a slight chance of precipitation and thankfully, it fizzled out before it got to us. (Yes, there's a very good cell signal on Cumberland Island.)

We headed out for another long dayhike south to Table Point, then to Plum Orchard.

The main trail on the island runs north/south and is actually a sandy road. Getting off on the side trails can be an obstacle course as Hurricane Irma passed through here in September, leaving quite a few downed trees. The trail out to Table Point was like this, but we managed as there was visible trails around the obstacles that hadn't been cleared yet. Out this way and really most of the island is covered in old majestic Live Oak trees that are beautiful. For the most part, the Live Oaks survived the hurricane. The tall Long Leaf Pines though, took a pretty good hit.

Beautiful Live Oaks

Plum Orchard is a huge, old mansion though the Carnegie family considered it a cottage, used mainly in the winter for social events.

They Call THIS a Cottage?

As we approached a park volunteer stepped out and invited us in for a tour.

Plum Orcchard

Fancy Place

On the hike back to camp, the skies cleared and at our campsite, the wind coming off the water was now blowing harder and colder. We maneuvered our tents behind some palmettos to get out of the wind. As the sun went down, so did the temperatures. Since campfires weren't allowed here in the wilderness area of the island, it meant we were retiring to our tents early.

The forecast called for day 4 to start around 26 degrees, but our thermometer showed 30 degrees and the wind had slacked  up some. The skies were clear though, and it wasn't long before sunbeams were warming us up. Well, that and the coffee.

Dork Enjoying Morning Coffee

This Ain't Starbucks

Today we were packing up and going to our next campsite at Stafford Beach 7 miles away. We didn't need to be in a hurry and we didn't really get hiking until almost 11 a.m.

On the hike to Stafford Beach, we spotted a momma wild boar and her 4 piglets.

You Can Kinda Sorta Make Out a Wild Boar

At Stafford Beach, we were now out of the designated wilderness and we could have a campfire. Before we did anything else, we spent most of an hour scrounging up firewood.

Nice Campsite

This campsite is on the eastern side of the island and we could hear the ocean surf. A quarter mile hike brought us out to the beach which at low tide was huge. It was also chilly and empty. No babes in bikinis out here today.

Where is Everyone?

Tonight was our last night on Cumberland Island and with a nice campfire going, it was quite enjoyable as we stayed up longer than any previous evening soaking up the warmth.

Ready for a Campfire

Day 5 started out at 30 Degrees again, but it didn't take much to stoke up the campfire. We had a pretty leisurely morning as we slowly packed up and then hiked the 3.5 miles back to the Sea Camp dock. We had several hours to kill before catching the 4:45 pm ferry back to St. Mary's, so we stashed our backpacks at the Ranger Station and went off on a dayhike to explore a little of the south end of the island.

Sea Camp Ranger Station

The main attraction here is the Dungeness mansion ruins. This was another huge home of the Carnegie's that they abandoned and years later, it mysteriously burned down.

On the Way to Dungeness

Dungeness Mansion Ruins

We worked our way back to Sea Camp and caught the ferry, which arrived in St. Mary's right at sunset. Perfect ending to our 44 mile hike!

Approaching St Mary's

Well, actually, the perfect ending happened at the nearby restaurant, were we enjoyed a non-freeze dried seafood dinner, along with refreshing beverages!