Victoria, B.C. – An Outing

“Island View Beach is listed as a good area to see birds.”

redbreastedmerganserIt appears there is a break in the rain, and after a few days in bed, I’m anxious to get my camera out and explore a bit.

“According the weather, this is the best day to go.”

So we head out towards Saanich along highway 17 and turn onto Island View Road.  We stop at the first parking lot, and get out.  The beach is long, and much like in La Push, Washington, is littered with logs and driftwood.  We see some waterfowl just off shore and take a few pictures.  There are Eared grebes and the Red Breasted merganser, both funny looking birds with their tufted hairdos.

teteateteGulls flock about as a few people are picnicking despite the chill, and a number of either crows or ravens make their presence known as well.  We walk for a bit, but the sand is too hard for both of us, so we decide to drive further along the beach.

At the end of the drive is another parking lot and what looks like trails leading away from the water.  We decide to follow one and can hear birds, but the brush is so thick, it’s hard to tell where the songs are coming from.  When we come to a bit of a clearing, we see a cluster of small birds foraging on the ground:  the Spotted towhee, which I was hoping to see, a couple of gold-crowned sparrows, and another bird which neither of us are able to identify.

heronflight.pngIn the field to our right, a Great Blue heron lands, and we are able to move quite close to him before he flies away.  Ric caught this amazing pic of the bird as he took off.

We wandered back down by the beach and Ric sat on a nearby bench while I contemplated the water.  My mother had lived in Saanich during the war times, and I wondered what life was like here then.

MeBCcoast“Just a handful of houses,” she told me on the phone before we came.  “Not much, but we made me do.”

From here we drive to Sydney, to check out the ferries, as we’ll be leaving from there on our journey home.  Sydney is touristy, but quaint.  I am ready to get back to bed, so we don’t linger, but I do manage to take a picture of the totem pole that sits atop the city’s sign, welcoming visitors to the area.

Sydneytotem.png

 

RV-Disabled

“The bus is ready to be picked up,” Ric announces as he gets off the phone.

It’s ten a.m., earlier then we’d expected the repairs to be completed, so we decide to forego the site we’d booked for tonight, just twenty minutes away, and start the journey north today.

rainonmtnAs it goes, 10:00 turns into 1:30, and by the time we hit L.A. traffic, we know we won’t reach our planned stop before dark, so I give the camp a call to say we’ll arrive late.

It is a rainy day, and as we climb up into the mountains the clouds move in around us.  It feels eerie, as if we are in an altered reality. We stop once for gas, but Ric wants to push on and get settled for the night. I agree. We have washing to do from the week in the hotel, and first thing tomorrow we will need to find a grocery store and stock up on food.

stormyroadA sign warns of a 6% grade up ahead, and trucks are cautioned to slow down to 35 mph, so Ric obeys and we move down the mountain accordingly. A beeping sound near the bottom is the first indicator that something might be amiss.

“What was that?” I ask.

“It says there is water in the gas tank”

“What does that mean? Should we pull over?”

“Yea probably.”

We are nearing an exit, but just before we turn off, the warning signal stops and everything is good again.

“Whatever it is righted itself, apparently.”

cloudsnrainSo we travel on, watching the day fade into darkness and counting the minutes till we arrive. It’s been a longer day than either of us anticipated and we’re starting to get hungry again.

“How much longer?” Ric asks. I am monitoring the GPS.

“Twenty-four minutes. Twenty-two on this road, then two miles to the RV park.”

The beeping starts again. First three quick beeps, then a loud squeal that reads:

Shut engine off immediately.

Ric pulls to the side of the road. We are nineteen minutes from our destination and otherwise in the middle of nowhere. It is 6:40 pm.

He calls Good Sam’s road side assistance.

“It’s Saturday night,” the young woman on the other end tells us. “I’m not sure how much help I can get you.” She puts us on hold.
IntothstormartTurns out we are in a weak area for cellular signals and our phone cuts out.

We connect again after several failed attempts.

“I’m still trying,” she says.

Ric calls and books us a hotel room up the road. When Good Sam’s calls back, we let her know. There are no repair shops open now; so she calls the hotel to see if we can have the RV towed there. They say we can.

Time ticks by slowly, in contrast to the traffic that whizzes past, and shakes, our rig.

A car pulls over just in front of us.

“What is this?” Ric asks.

A man approaches the door. He saw us at the shop where we had picked up our bus this afternoon, and wants to know if we need help. He and his family are on their way to San Fransisco and they recognized the rig, so he turned around and came back. Reassured that we were being looked after, he continues on his journey, and our hearts are warmed by the kindness of a stranger.

Good Sam calls back. There are no tow trucks available due to an accident. We’ll have to call 911. It is now ten o’clock.

stranded artThe police arrive forty-five minutes later. They also inform us that there are no  available tow trucks because of a pile up further along the highway. The truck will cost $1,0005 when it comes. Is that okay? Do we have a choice?

It’s now 11:11. I am cold, and tired. Traffic continues to rock our vehicle as it passes into the night, but at least now we have the security of police lights to protect us.

I can’t wait to get resettled into another hotel room. Wonder how long this adventure will last before we’re on the road again?

(All photos taken with my iPhone en route.  Some altered for entertainment value.  Stay tuned.)

Some Days Are Just That Good

We return to the hotel room only to find our keys no longer work, so while Ric goes off to the office, I sit and look up at the bright California sky and say:

FGBonellipark“Thank you for this f***ing amazing life,” and then immediately apologize for the expletive, but sometimes it is just called for.  Our life is that good right now.

We’ve spent the day at a park in San Dimas, California: Frank G Bonelli Regional Park.  For $5 we had access to water, parkland, and trails, and an abundance of birds.  Today was the day we were supposed pick up our newly repaired RV, but the shop needed extra time, so we came here instead.  So glad we did.

StaybackpleaseThe park includes a recreational area, an RV park, a beach, a Raging Waters ride, and a golf course, and covers quite a large area.  We first visit the RV park, as we are booked in here tomorrow.  It is set up on a hill overlooking the lake – an idyllic setting, although quite tight.  Ric thinks we’ll be fine getting our monster rig in here.  We’ll see.

In the main park, we head to one of the fishing areas, where we are the only people in sight.  The water is filled with fowl, and along the shore are a number of coots, as well as two sets of Muscovy ducks, a white duck and two elegant geese.   A little further out in the water I note a couple of ducks I don’t recognize.  As I step off the concrete path to have a better look, I hear a familiar warning – it’s a killdeer asking me to stay clear.  I step back and we have a momentary standoff before I alter my root and she goes back to sitting on her nest.

whitemuscovySatisfied with our pics, we decide to explore further and as I hop up into the truck and close the door, I realize that I’ve been followed.  A white and black Muscovy look up at me beseechingly.

“I’m sorry; I don’t have anything for you,” I tell them, and the white duck tilts her head and looks at me as if to say:  “Really?  Are you sure.”

I admit it’s hard to turn her down, and tell her how beautiful she is, which just makes her move closer, until father and daughter arrive and recognizing a better prospect the two waddle off in pursuit.

LovelywrenWe drive to the beach to find it closed, so we park and wander along the trail for a bit.  There is a small bridge over a gully, and as I step onto it I notice that the nearby trees are bristling with activity.  A small wren lands on the handrail right beside me, so intent on the nest he is building that he doesn’t seem to register my presence.

As I’m photographing the wren, I notice movement in my peripheral vision.  A lizard has appeared from the shadows and is sunning himself.  It is only when I got home and review the photos that I notice I’ve managed to capture not one, but three. Sneaky little critters.

3forthepriceof1I hear the sound of a woodpecker somewhere close by, but can’t find it, so eventually carry on down the path, alongside the water, where more ducks congregate and other birds forage happily at the water’s edge while turtles sun themselves on rocks.

Having lost sight of Ric, I decide I’d better head back, but he has found a picnic table and is watching the antics of several birds in a nearby tree.  Approaching where he sits, a streak of black and white flashes past me and lands on a nearby tree trunk:  the woodpecker!  Mission accomplished. (See Featured Image)

GrebeloveFrom here we drive down to the boat docks where a pair of grebes (quickly becoming my favourite birds) glide through the water.   They lean in towards each other, their long necks arching, beaks almost touching, as if expressing love for one another – so sweet.

Our time in the park winds down, and as Ric drives slowly, I keep the window rolled down in case there is something else worth capturing, and I am not disappointed.  A Great Egret stands proudly on a log offering me one last pic to cap off a perfect day.

GreatwhiteTomorrow is calling for rain, and we’ll need to do laundry and get groceries once we have the bus back, so this marks the end of our explorations in the Los Angeles area.

Day after tomorrow – we begin the journey north.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens

Santa Ana BotanicalIn Claremont, California, less than half an hour from where we are staying is a lovely, privately funded natural area with accessible walkways and well choreographed displays.  The Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens have over 55 acres of trails, with two short walks available just inside the entrance.  The cost for the two of us amounts to $15. Parking is plentiful and free.

With so much to see, and photograph, Ric and I agree to meet back up at the entrance and go our own ways.  There is no hurry today.

greenhummerHummingbirds greet our entry into the gardens, and the songs of birds fill the air. I follow a single, shrill chirping noise to the base of a large tree where an agitated squirrel is protesting.  I take his picture and apologize for the imposition.

After months spent in the desert, it is refreshing to be amongst tall trees:  sycamores, oaks, pines, and more that I am unfamiliar with.  Bright coloured flowers pop up along the walkways and I can’t resist taking photos every few steps or more.

peekingsquirrelThe ‘living museum’, as they describe themselves, is featuring an exhibit called “The Game of Thorns”.  In this area, art is interspersed with thorny foliage to create an idyllic setting to explore.  Donations from private individuals have provided a covered contemplation area and other beautiful spots to sit and observe.  The bushes and trees here are teeming with wildlife, and I stop as something darts into a bush at my feet.  I wait patiently for the critter to emerge and when it does it is another squirrel.  They are so laughable at times.

red&yellowNear the gift centre, there is a small pond and a memorial garden, beautifully arranged with rocks and plants and a small waterfall where goldfinches are bathing. (See Feature Image)

We spend hours puttering around the gardens, and when it’s time to leave, we decide to drive along the historic Route 66.

We stop for an early dinner at a Stonefire Grill and then back to the hotel to revisit our day through photographs.  It’s been a record day with more than 150 images to sort through.

Life is sweet.

 

California and I’m Out of Gas

1stviewCARic promises me I won’t have to do anything today, and that is a good thing because my legs have turned to plastic overnight and when I tried to take the few steps to the kitchen this morning the floor rose up to greet me and I had to hold onto the counter to keep my balance.  We did too much yesterday.  I feel like hell.

While he prepares the rig for travel, I take my tea back to bed and try to imagine what I can wear that will be comfortable enough for my bloated stomach and aching body.  I settle for a pair of wide-legged pj bottoms and an oversized shirt.  I’ll wrap myself in throws for the trip.  The wind has picked up and it feels unseasonably cold.

We follow #10 west out of Arizona and into the Californian desert.  Signs along the highway warn about the high wind gusts and we can feel it.  Ric takes the drive slow and I can tell it is taking every ounce of effort he has to fight the wind.  We are, as he says, one large sail in the wind.   A land yacht, he calls us.

Hwy62CAFinally, we turn off, and for a time the wind is at our backs.  The landscape is stereotypical desert – miles and miles of barren land, dotted with low bushes and the remnants of former life:  a succession of toppled down shacks, with an occasional residence still occupied.  I wonder aloud about what people here in the first place and what happened to them.

“We’re looking for 29 Palms Rd,” Ric says as we crest a hill and come upon an intersection.

“This is it.”

A group of motor cyclists congregate on the corner, the only other sign of life around.  We turn onto the highway and the view is surreal:  miles and miles of desert stretching out before us, buffeted by mountains on other side in the distance.  The road ahead of us looks like a dusty trail, not a highway.  We pass a sign that announces Joshua Tree National Park.

lifeindesert29 Palms is not only the name of the road, it is also the name of the first town we come to, which announces itself as “an oasis in the desert”.  It is a welcome sight, and also indicates we are getting close to our destination.  I check Ric’s phone – the RV park is forty-five minutes from here.  We decide to carry on, set up and then come back for lunch later.

Joshua Tree RV Park is located five miles off the main road and the main turn in is narrow, barely able to accommodate our motor home.  When we check in our hostess tells us there is a wind advisory in effect until 9 pm and that there is no sewer hook up at the site.  She is not sure that our vehicle (41 feet long) will be able to make the turn into the row where we are to set up.

Some days are just like this.  Ric manages to maneuver into the spot, and we decide to hook up later.  I’m hungry and want to go to bed.

We decide to drive into the town of Joshua Tree to look for a restaurant.  Trendy shops and cafes line the road, but nothing that catches our fancy.  We drive on to the next town where we find a BBQ place.  Forty dollars later we are full and back on the road.

“Do you mind if we drive on ahead for a bit?” Ric asks me.  “I want to get the lay of the land.”

“Sure,” I say, thinking I’ll sleep in the car.

windmillfarmThe drive into the valley is straight down – two steep miles – before plateauing for a bit and then descending again in twisty roads.   As we approach highway 10, at the bottom, the mountains loom closer as do windmills, visible in all directions, and like nothing we’ve seen before.  At home, the placement of sporadic wind generators is causing great controversy.  Here, it looks like windmills are farmed.

We turn onto #10 and head west to Palm Springs where we turn around and head back.

PalmSpringssignI go to bed.

“We don’t have to do anything tomorrow if you don’t want to,” Ric offers.

I am so close to tears, I don’t reply.  We are in Joshua Tree National Park and I may not have the energy to explore.  How disappointing is that?

(Note:  all photos were taken from the passenger seat and bear the marks of a dirty windshield.  My apologies, but isn’t the sky grand?)

Bill Williams River

Flycatcher BWriverJust outside the visitor centre for Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge is a well manicured and paved walkway that leads down to the water with several covered stops along the way.  The day we decided to visit was quite warm, and as I still haven’t quite recovered from Sedona’s excursions, I was happy to take it easy.

We arrived mid-day and were immediately welcomed by a flash of yellow under wings.  I followed the bird for a bit until he landed in a bush and happily posed for this picture.  (I’m assuming he’s a flycatcher, and would be pleased if someone could let me know.)

Anna'shummA hummingbird sat in a nearby bush and was equally undisturbed by my presence.  As the sun was behind me, this made for an excellent look at the bright, gem-like iridescence of the bird, whom I believe to be an Anna’s Hummingbird.

Where we stopped is just a small portion of this large refuge, better seen by kayak or canoe as there is a large marshy area accessible only by watercraft.  Docks were set up along the walkway for fishing, so this is not just a birding sanctuary.

2grebesA large party of waterfowl were gathered across the river from us, among them this pair of Clark’s grebes.  Even from a distance, these lovely birds have a distinct appearance.

Several lizards scrambled about our feet, and warning signs were up to watch for snakes, but we didn’t have any untoward encounters.  We did, however, see a rather large, rectangular, beetle which was interesting.

birdsanctuary.pngIf I hadn’t been so tired – with so much more we wanted to see – I might have done nothing more than sit and ponder the water, the mountains, the sky and the lulling contrasting colours of this Arizona paradise.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

coloradoblueAlong the Colorado, an hour or so north of Quartzsite, is the city of Lake Havasu, home to the London Bridge (yes, the British one).

“I seem to remember a story about this bridge,” I tell Ric.  “Something about how when they bought it they thought they were getting the Tower Bridge.”

The London bridge is a long expanse of bridge that we drove over twice before realizing it.  It’s that unremarkable, and yet, Lake Havasu has made the most of it, with signs announcing its presence and a whole resort built up around it.  Good for them.

ParkerDamnviewThe city, however, does not need a claim to fame:  it has water, and mountains, and screams:  I want to live here!  In fact, Ric asked me to look up the cost of real estate.

The first night we arrived, it was just before sunset and we were tired, but the drive up was spectacular so we decided to return.

“Let’s cruise along the California side,” Ric suggested.  “We can cross back over at Parker Damn, and then head up.”

So we took the long route, through a lot of very barren and desolate desert areas, until just before the damn, where we rejoined the Colorado river and the spectacular views.

greetingpartySigns all along warned us about burros on the roadway and requested that we not feed them.  As promised, there they were, clearly begging for forbidden snacks.  Apparently people can’t read because these cute critters set up a greeting party in anticipation.

The colour of the Colorado river is shockingly blue.   Ric says it is because the source of the water is glacial.  I’ll have to trust him on that one.

BuffleheadLake Havasu has a natural area, but it was further north, so we decided not to do it.  Instead we found a lovely rotary park and sat there with the ducks and the sounds of children playing around us and watched the sunset.

What a glorious day.

Oh, and we might have visited a Riparian bird sanctuary on the way too, but more about that tomorrow.

(Featured picture is a Lake Havasu City sunset.  First photo is the lake by day, followed by the view of the Colorado from Parker Damn.  The burros are self-explanatory, and the Buffleheads are swimming at the rotary park as the sun went down.)

RV-Able: Feathered Friends

“Birding won’t be the same in Arizona,” Ric warned me as we pulled away from Texas.

CroonerHe’s right in the sense that we don’t have experts to turn to, but there just as many interesting and diverse species to be seen.  Our first morning here, I awoke to what sounded like someone swinging on a squeaky gate.

“What the heck is that?” I asked glancing out the window.  There on an antenna, two rigs over, sat an oversized wren singing its heart out, the black of its throat expanding with each release of sound.  I discovered it to be the Cactus wren, the state bird of Arizona.  He has become our concierge here, showing up every morning to announce the start of the day.

finchfightEvery evening around supper time, a pair of House finches replace the wren on the antenna outside my window.  They have a sweet song, and I love the splash of colour on the male’s face and neck, so I decided to try to capture a photo of the two of them, but as you can see, he was not impressed.  Or, maybe I happened by right in the midst of a domestic dispute?

Phainopepla.pngDriving through the mountains, there are numerous areas to pull over and take a picture.  Naturally, these are picturesque areas, where the mountains or valleys play a starring role, but I kept seeing this black bird with its funny little tufted hairdo and bright red eyes.  Apparently found anywhere there are mistletoe bushes, the Phainopepla is a tropical bird and part of the group known as the Silky Flycatchers.

Black-throatedSparrowAlso spotted in a bush, just off the paved look out trail, was a pair of songbirds, with distinctive head markings.  These were Black-throated sparrows.  Is this not an elegant look for a sparrow.  Very impressive, I’d say.

In one outing, we came upon a lake, where three or four photographers were obviously onto something.  Approaching carefully, we found the objects of their attention:  two pairs of cardinals.  When I think of cardinals, I think of bright red blotches against white snow on deep green cedar bushes.  As our cardinals don’t migrate, I was surprised to find this bird having a spa day in Arizona.

spabird

 

Well, that’s it for the birds today; I’m sure there will be more to follow.  In the meantime,  we are headed to Sedona soon, and have booked our own spa treatments (no mud).  I’m excited for that!

(Featured image is a cormorant at the spa.Birds are sweet to me, so I’ve included this post in The Daily Post photo challenge.)

RV-Able: Desert Botanical Gardens

Art“Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix have mobility scooters on a first come first serve basis!” I told Ric excitedly.  I’d been itching to get out again and see more countryside, but my body and his knees have been protesting.

The gardens open at 8:00 a.m. and we are forty-five minutes away, so we set an alarm,  grabbed some breakfast bars and travel mugs of hot coffee and tea and headed out.  Early morning, it turns out, is the best time of day to go – the temperatures are still cool, and the birds are out in full force.  Just stepping out of the truck in the parking lot we were greeted by a Gila woodpecker and a Black-chinned hummingbird.

gardenartIt would not be a cheap outing – $24.95 each plus scooter rentals – but the returns are worth it.  The gardens are arranged in several different looping trails representing different topographies.  We followed the advice of one of the volunteers and took the Desert Wildflower Loop to start out.  Here the birds were plentiful, and we managed to catch up with a tour whose focus was on birds.

From there, we decided to do the central loop, which touched on all the other trails, and offered information kiosks.  One enthusiastic volunteer told us all about the cacti and another about the agave plants.

gardenbenchWe decided to stop and catch a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant.  Gertrude’s offerings included a burger for Ric and a gluten-free, vegan risotto for me, which was delicious.  Also not inexpensive, but the ambience was good, and we lingered after lunch with a hot drink, before heading out into the sun again.  (Unfortunately, I’d forgotten my hat.)

After lunch we carried on, visiting the trails we’d missed and enjoying the varied gardens.  Interspersed with the greenery are art displays and zen-like gardens for quiet contemplation.  It really is a delightful and well thought out place.  If we were staying longer in the area, I would be tempted to by a yearly pass.

nesting.jpgNaturally, we captured several images of birds, which will be the topic of tomorrow’s post, but for now I’ll leave you with this little teaser.  Can you see the bird sitting in the nest, perched in the crook of a saguaro, high above the path?  I almost missed it, except for the twitch of a tail that caught my eye.

Do you know which bird species is more prevalent in Arizona than any other part of North America?  Stay tuned…

More Misadventures On The Road

imagesTravelling with a malfunctioning brain is sure to cause mishaps.  We already know from the fiasco in New Mexico trying to find Silver City that I am not be trusted with directions.  Well, turns out I am not to be trusted with other things either.

The day after we arrived in Arizona, I decided to catch up on some washing.  Ric added some pants he had been wearing on the road, and I threw them in as is.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

I washed his passport.  I tried to make some joke about laundering, but…it wasn’t funny.  We might have both blown our tops over this one – he at the inconvenience and me with the frustration that inevitably comes with losing one’s faculties.

Anyway, the passport is being replaced, and so we got on with things.  Besides the weather here is too nice to be mad for long, and we hadn’t yet started venturing out.

Jump ahead a week, and we decide to spend an afternoon at the pool.

Bathing suit on. Check.  Coverup on. Check. Pool towels.  Check.  I glanced at my little purse and phone.

“No need,”  I told myself, and we closed the door behind us, leaving it unlocked as usual.

The pool temperature was perfect and we followed it up with a hot tub and then we wandered back and sat on the patio to dry off until nature called and I tried to open the door to the RV.

Locked.

Ric jumped up and tried it (can’t trust me remember).  Still locked.

We had no keys and no phone.

Ric remembered a man two rows over who had a rig like ours.  He borrowed a key from him, but no luck.  He went to the office to borrow a phone and returned with the park manager, who just happened to have a ladder.  By now, we’d drawn a crowd.  (Not much happens in RV parks, apparently.)

“Someone has to crawl through the garbage chute,”  Ric said.

Now Ric is a self-confessed short, fat Viking, so he was out.  Dave, who owns the other Alfa, stands a head taller than Ric and also has a sizeable girth.  I am tall, and big-boned (wink, wink) and lack the muscle power to pull myself up.

maningarbagechute.jpgWe all looked at the manager.  Tall and lanky, as the proverbial string bean, he won the silent vote.

“Really?”  Thomas asked.  “Are you sure?”

“You got a better idea?”

“Right.  Up I go.”

Head, arms and shoulders disappeared.

“Anyone need any pepper?”  Thomas called out.  The garbage chute opens onto the back of the kitchen counter beside the stove.  “Oh, and knives.  Nobody warned me about the knives.”

“Watch out for the knives,”  I offered.

Then he stopped, legs still protruding from the chute.

“I need to rest for a moment,” he said letting out a sigh.

I looked at his big boots but thought likely it’s too late to ask him to remove them.

Then he was gone, up onto the counter and through to the door.

“Give me your number Thomas,” I told him; “and I’ll send you these pics.”

“Well,” he smiled.  “If I had known it was this easy to get girl’s numbers, I would have broken into people’s RV’s earlier.”

moonovermntsWe thanked him profusely.

“No thank you!” he insisted.  “It’s been a rough week; this just made my day.”

We all blamed it on the full moon.