Prescott and Prescott Valley are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, complete with granite mountains. We tackled three hikes while here; Granite Mountain Trail #261, Granite Mountain Hotshots Trail and Woodchute Trail. Continue reading
NOTE: We’ve replaced our “Where We’ve Been” widget with an “Upcoming Planned Stops” widget (see it in the left column?). After several recent “near misses” and surprise meet-ups with other travelers, we decided to display a section of our reservation spreadsheet that shows upcoming planned stops. We hope this will help us meet up with more of y’all down the road!
From Fredericksburg to the western state border in El Paso is about 590 miles, and because we didn’t want to rush our way through Texas we selected five stops before leaving the state. On these layovers we explored a cavern, hiked a mountain at a National Park, had a total surprise meet up with new friends, and enjoyed an unplanned visit to El Paso that changed our initial impression of the city. Continue reading
My interest in birds started in January 2013, when we first camped at Patagonia Lake State Park. During that visit, I joined a guided bird walk and soon became a bird enthusiast. Now I search for new birds on my own, an activity I find very relaxing. It’s often a challenge to identify them, but I enjoy trying after photographing them in their environment.
The small town of Patagonia is home to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and just a few miles from Patagonia Lake State Park. The area is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, so I was full of anticipation when we decided to revisit the area.
Birding is a major draw for visitors at Patagonia Lake, which also attracts lovers of water sports, fishing, hiking and more. We had reserved a site for a week and a half, but we cut it short due to noise and dust coming from a construction project directly across the street from our site. Also, the place is just too crowded and noisy these days, nothing like we remember it being on our first visit.
But before we bailed out we explored the area, hiked at the Sonoita Creek National Preserve and of course I enjoyed some birding time. I was hoping to see the elusive Elegant Trogon, but was disappointed to learn that the last sighting of it was over a year ago. Seeing the bird would have been the highlight of our stay. I was initially bummed, but happy that I was fortunate enough to see it during our first visit (here is a photo).
During a stop at the visitor center I heard a twittering outside and hurried out to see two Rufous Hummingbirds chasing each other around. This tiny brilliant orange bird is extremely territorial, attacking any other hummingbirds approaching “his” feeder. He makes one of the longest migratory journeys known for a bird his size, from Alaska to Mexico!
After that excitement and getting our permit to hike at Sonoita Creek Preserve, we drove to the trailhead. The highlight of our hike was a 360º view of the surrounding mountains during a 2-mile trek along the permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream. It was a quiet and scenic hike interspersed with many chirping birds – our kind of outing!
Betsy’s site was near the park’s birding trail, and every day we saw dozens of birders with their binoculars and photographers with their long and huge cameras walking by. I had easy access to the trail and went during quiet times.
One of the things I love about birding is the surprise factor – I never know what’s around the next bend or hiding in nearby bushes. I always get excited and grab my camera when I hear a tweet, a chirp, a whistle or a song. And correctly identifying my “target” is an added bonus. Although I don’t keep a “bird list”, I do have a collection of photos from all of the states we’ve visited. This post contains just a few of the small birds I sighted in this area; my complete bird photo collection is here.
Another place in this area to enjoy a wonderland of birds is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds. A camera, binoculars and patience are all you need to experience many birds unique to southern Arizona, both locals and migrants. It was here that I sighted several new and beautiful hummers.
After a week of enjoying all of these beautiful little birds, we moved on to De Anza RV Park in Amado. That made it easy to revisit Madera Canyon and the artsy town of Tubac (here is my post on our previous visit).
Madera Canyon is another well-known birding spot, and the Elegant Trogon had been sighted here recently. Once again my hopes were high as we headed out early one morning for a good 6+ mile hike and the chance to see this beautiful birdie.
Steve and I kept our ears and eyes open as we hiked, but although we saw several birds we did not spot the Elegant Trogon. After the hike we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, another birding hotspot in the canyon. There were many birds entertaining the crowd there, but not the one we were hoping to see. Instead, another hummer zoomed up to me and stopped for a quick pose before zipping away.
Overall I was a happy photographer, with lots of treasured shots of native and migrating species of birds in Patagonia and Madera Canyon!
As we prepared to head back to Tucson, a brief winter storm dumped snow in the nearby mountains, and also some sleet and snow flurries at our campground. It was beautiful to see, but not no safe to drive in so we requested and got permission to stay a couple of extra hours until it moved on.
Driving along Hwy 19 we could see surrounding mountains covered in snow, what a beautiful morning it was!
Next up: Last days with the Saguaros
Note: Once again I’m slacking off on my blogging, but I have good reasons. We just got back from a wonderful trip to central Europe, and now we’re on our way to Tucson for Steve’s follow-up appointments. I have a lot of writing to catch up on, as well as reading the current status of fellow bloggers.
For now, let me take you back two months to our time in New Mexico where Steve continued his recovery. After a post-treatment follow-up with his oncologist, we were OK’d to finally get out of overheated Tucson. Steve wasn’t yet in top shape to drive Betsy, but we just had to move on. The city life with blaring sirens, traffic, train horns, dust, and impossible heat was getting old. We had to hit the road! Continue reading
So here we remain, at our “winter headquarters” for this year – Tucson. The population of over a half million seems to be spread out enough that it usually doesn’t feel too overcrowded, although we do try hard to avoid commute hour traffic when possible.
We love that this city is ringed by mountain ranges offering endless hiking opportunities, especially when combined with the many miles of desert trails in the immediate area. And we also happen to love the Sonoran Desert! We’ve stayed in three distinct areas during our visits here, and have always enjoyed the many nearby points of interest.
In January, 2013 we camped at Catalina State Park in northern Tucson (our tales of that stay are here and here). Returning in January of 2016, we hung out for a month at the Lazy Daze/KOA in southern Tucson (the activities we enjoyed during that stay are detailed here).
So far this year we’ve stayed on the western side of Tucson, one month at Western Way RV Resort and we’re currently residing for a second month at Desert Trails RV Park just up the road. The choice of these campgrounds was based mainly on their excellent access to the many great hiking trails in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park and Robles Park. We wasted no time getting started on those hikes to burn off the mega calories we packed on while partying in Puerto Peñasco.
We’ve been here for several weeks now, plenty of time to repeat trails we followed last year and to discover new ones. For the first time we’ll be staying long enough to catch the colors of spring in the Sonoran Desert, which we’ve missed previously in our haste to head north.
On the desert floor, area sidewalks and vacant lots was a profusion of dainty vibrant wildflowers. I can’t help but stop, take a picture and admire them:
The birds are also enjoying the blooms, sucking sweet nectar from the flowers and whistling at us as we stroll by:
Of course, mild winters here are the main draw for us and thousands of other “snowbirds”. It’s a place where we congregate to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I think of our meet-up here as a renewal of our friendships, and it’s always a joy to see those folks to exchange travel stories and the adventures we’ve had on the road during the past year.
At the big gathering below, we met Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver for the first time. Everyone else were folks we’ve forged relationships with over the years through our blog sites – Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go and Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventure.
We’re always excited to meet new friends, but we were sorry we missed out on meeting up with Jim and Barb of Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure. I was recovering from a flu bug and wasn’t about to risk infecting them.
Just before Hans and Lisa left we had an alcohol-free happy hour at their coach (well, it WAS in the morning), followed by a mini-tour of Desert Trails RV Park. They showed us around so we could note the best sites to request for our upcoming stay. Two weeks later we got one of the most-desired sites (M28), and we are enjoying the afternoon shade here. It’s nice to have friends to help us gather good intel!
As we remain here enjoying all the trails and spring blooms, our friends have all moved on. We hope to see them here again, at our favorite rendezvous spot in the desert!
Next up: More fun things to do around Tucson
We did it!
We had several reasons to be excited as we crossed the U.S border into Idaho, although the weather gods weren’t as enthusiastic. We hunkered down overnight at a small RV park 4 miles from the border until the heavy rain passed. The following day we ventured on to our next destination at Coeur d’Alene, where we took a break to do some chores and re-stock the cupboards.
First we shook the grit and grime we had carried from Canada off Betsy, giving her a good wash. We also had to replace the rice that had been confiscated at the border, as we were informed since it was no longer in its original packaging they could not determine if it had come from a prohibited country. I guess we should have known that after 25 border crossings!
Finally we were ready to celebrate a milestone. Idaho capped our goal of visiting all of the 49 states, and our USA map is finally covered! Yes, after over four and a half years of running around the country we have accomplished one of our main retirement goals. It was quite a ride, and in doing so we also visited 8 picturesque Canadian Provinces; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia), plus 1 Canadian Territory, the Yukon. An unexpected bonus was our foray into Sonora, Mexico when we joined a caravan to Puerto Penasco in February.
We’ll post highlights and statistics covering our entire adventure once we arrive back at our starting point in northern California. At that time we’ll consider our RV adventure completed and figure out what to do next. We’ll continue fulltime RV’ing, of course, but probably in a more “traditional” and spontaneous way without the need to visit particular states. We don’t know yet, and that’s the fun of it!
For now we’re elated, excited and happy that our main goal has been reached with no major problems.
Sparkling Coeur d’Alene Lake was the backdrop for another celebration, our 11th wedding anniversary. Living in Betsy’s close quarters 24/7 for the past several years was an accomplishment of its own, and we’re very happy that we’re still the best of friends, with only a few lover’s spats thrown in to make it interesting.
We had a beerlicious anniversary, as the city’s annual Oktoberfest happened to be scheduled for that very day. Along with hundreds of others, we partied and strolled the streets to sample several craft beers. Strangely, no streets were closed for the event, and most of the beers were dispensed from within local shops. It was definitely nothing like the major party that shut down Brekenridge for their celebration last year.
We strolled through town and stumbled onto what is called the “world’s longest floating boardwalk” by folks hereabouts. Completed in 1985, it’s 3,300′ long and 12′ wide. We thought it was pretty cool walking on the lake over the 16,000 cedar logs it took to build the thing.
We were aching for a hike, and just across from our campground (Steve’s review here) was access to the 23-mile long Centennial Trail that extends to the Idaho/Washington border. We walked a section of it and learned the difference between a hobo, a tramp and a bum – the last sentence on this plaque enlightened us:
We also took on the Tubbs Hill and Mineral Ridge trails, recommended by Andy who sent me a message thru RVillage. It was a nice surprise to get recommendations from strangers who know the area through this site.
The last celebration was Steve joining the smartphone crowd after holding off for several years. I just hope he won’t be playing Pokémon Go during our hikes!
Cheers to our milestones celebrations!
Next up: Steve hooks up our new propane fire pit
Our final stop in the Canadian Rockies was ever-popular and very crowded Lake Louise. Located in Banff National Park, it’s one of the best known lakes in the Rocky Mountains. Even a little girl we met in Montana gushed with excitement when she overheard me mentioning it to her parents.
If you’ve missed our previous Canadian Rockies tales, click on the posts below for a catch up:
We didn’t waste time once Betsy was set up at the campground. We hadn’t seen a single bear during our past few Canadian stops, and we hoped we might catch a glimpse of a grizzly while riding the Lake Louise Gondola. But no such luck during our 14-minute cruise up to 6,850′. Happily we were rewarded with some pretty spectacular scenery instead:
Grizzly bear sightings happen here, hence the area is known as the Home of the Grizzly Bear. Huge amounts of money have obviously been spent on fencing to keep the bears and humans separated:
After taking in the views and with no bear in sight, we rode back down on an open chairlift, breathing in fresh mountain air as we relaxed.
After the ride we swung by Lake Louise and did a quick “recon” just to see what was in store for us over the next few days:
Hordes of people congregated along the lakeshore taking all manner of selfies and posed shots:
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House Trail
Judging from the tour busses and overflowing parked cars throughout the area, we knew an early start for our hike the next morning was mandatory. Despite the 29º morning chill, we bundled up in layers (for the first time I wore two pair of pants) and followed the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. Several tourists were already strolling along the shore trail before 8:00am, but we left the majority of them behind as we started more serious climbing.
The 6.8-mile trail is a moderate hike, and we added an extra mile to Abbots Pass while gaining 1,215′. We traveled counter-clockwise via Mirror Lake in the shadow of Beehive Mountain.
We meandered along streams, waterfalls and forested areas until the landscape eventually became more rocky and barren. It revealed fully the valley below the mountains, long ago carved out by the glaciers that gave this trail its name.
For most hikers the tea house is the end of the trail. The original tea house was built in 1924 by Swiss guides employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It’s still in operation, and the staff rotates out each week, hiking back out as the new staff comes in to take their place. Food and supplies are replenished via helicopter.
We continued on an extra round-trip mile along a lateral moraine to the Abbots Pass viewpoint:
Abbots Hut, originally built in 1922 by Swiss guides working for the Canadian Alpine Association, is a staging point for serious climbers in the area. It was named after an American named Philip Abbot who fell to his death in 1896 on Mount Lefroy. Apparently he was North America’s first recorded climbing accident. Today supplies are flown in, and ambitious climbers can access it via British Columbia or from Lake Louise.
After being blown away by the enormity of the mountains (11,000′ and higher) and glaciers, we began our long slog back to Lake Louise. The return offered a different perspective of the impressive mountain features surrounding the lake.
Arriving back at our campground, Dave and Faye had settled in next to us and we were thrilled to see them again. They had just arrived from their 61-day Alaska Caravan, and we were excited to hear all about their adventures and activities. It seemed they had brought the sun with them, as it remained sunny during the whole time we hung out together.
During dinner we agreed that we had to be at Moraine Lake early the next morning to beat the crowds. This lake is as popular as its cousin just a few miles away, with tour busses a-plenty. And for the second day in a row the temps were in the high 20’s when we headed out.
The best way to appreciate the beauty of this famous alpine lake is to follow a flat, easy trail that weaves through its shoreline trees.
For another view of the lake we hiked up “the rock pile” just as a busload of tourists arrived.
The view from the top of that rock pile was one for the books! Gorgeous, fabulous, stunning. The iconic image of Moraine Lake and the Valley Of The Ten Peaks was used on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill between 1969 and 1979. The beautiful deep blue water with a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains is one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies, and possibly in all of Canada.
Our walk along the shoreline and on the rock pile was short, and we were pumped up for a few additional miles. So we decided to tackle another trail that lead to Consolation Lake.
This lake is a key area for grizzly bears in Banff National Park, and it’s where we saw a sign requiring hiking in groups. The area encompasses critical bear habitat where a concentration of female grizzlies live and raise their cubs, hence visitor access is managed to protect visitors and minimize disturbance to bears.
The 4-mile round-trip trail to Consolation Lake got a bit tedious at the lake, because we had to climb over large boulders and rubble fields to reach our destination. But our reward was yet another crystal clear lake.
Later on, the four of us had a wonderful time comparing stories of our Alaskan Adventures, and there were hints of returning there together. Dave and Faye shared smoked salmon and halibut they brought back, and I cooked Pancit and Lumpia. Between fun hiking, good food and great happy hours we had a ball at Lake Louise. For sure we’ll meet up again down the road.
Finally, it was time for our 26th border crossing as we re-entered the U.S. on a cold and rainy day. It’s great to be home!
That wraps up our magical time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Our almost 5-week stay gave us experiences far beyond our expectations. The jaw-dropping landscape and postcard-perfect scenery kept my cameras humming. We think we came at the right time to avoid the worst crowds, the penalty being some chillier than expected weather. But we’ll never forget this part of our adventure!
Next up: We’ve done it!
This post details stop #4, at Jasper National Park. It’s loaded with pictures of stunning scenery and awe-inspiring natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains.
Although the weather was not always picture perfect, I managed to capture a lot of the surrounding beauty. The cameras stayed warm on this stop!
We didn’t waste any time upon our arrival in Jasper, immediately hitting the visitor center to get the scoop on the must-do’s in the park. With only a few days here (Sept 6-10) we would be challenged to see as much of Canada’s largest National Park as possible.
Founded in 1907, it is one of only 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We could see why, as everywhere we looked there was no shortage of crystal-clear lakes, glacial rivers, amazing glaciers, cascading waterfalls, deep canyons, alpine forests and wildlife – all surrounded by towering mountains.
Our home base was in the heart of Jasper NP. Whistler’s Campground (Steve’s review here) was next to the town of Jasper, which is nestled in the wide Athabasca Valley.
We wanted to experience the beauty of Jasper NP on foot, as there are more than 615 miles of hiking trails of various difficulty to choose from. But we were here during berry season, and the lady at the VC marked several trails as closed due to heavy bear activity.
On most days the sun was hiding behind the clouds and morning temps were in the 30’s. We had to push ourselves hard to get out and hike in those chilly conditions, but we did fairly well.
Maligne Lake is surrounded by several towering mountain peaks, and is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a very popular spot, and bus loads of tourists were enjoying the lake view with us. But we left them behind as we followed a trail named after Mary Schaffer, who along with friends was one of the first tourists at the lake in 1908.
There are six bridges that criss-cross Maligne Canyon, and we followed the steep trail up to the fifth bridge. The canyon’s karst system is cut incredibly deep through limestone, and water tumbles through a series of falls and drops. Some geologists speculate that parts of the canyon were originally deep caves that have since been uncovered by glacial scraping and water erosion.
Along the Maligne Scenic Drive we stopped at Medicine Lake, considered a unique body of water. It’s described as such because its water vanishes and re-appears each year. In the springtime runoff fills the lake, but by September (when we were here) the continuously-dropping water level exposes the bottom.
The disappearance of the lake was a mystery until the discovery of a massive underground river system under it, which is where the water all drains.
Pyramid Lake Island
Just a few minutes out of Jasper is a lake-dotted terrace named Pyramid Bench. The island and lake around it get their names from Pyramid Mountain, which stands nearby at 9,064′.
Mount Edith Cavell
From Pyramid Lake we drove further south to see Mount Edith Cavell, also recommended at the VC. The mountain is named after a British nurse executed during World War I for her part in helping Allied prisoners escape occupied Brussels. Getting there involved following a twisty road built in the 1930’s.
Since we had just completed a 6-mile hike at Pyramid Lake, we followed the Path of the Glacier Trail here. It’s an easy walk that took us across rocky landscape to the great north face of the mountain.
This impressive 10,826′ peak receives heavy snowfall even during the summer months. My photos can’t capture the enormity of the mountain and the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Whistler’s Campground was only 2 miles from the Jasper Skytram, so we just had to take a ride. It whisked us up Whistler’s Mountain to an elevation of 7,472′ in 7 minutes. The payoff when we arrived was panoramic views of Jasper NP, and green valleys and mountains that stretched for miles. The town of Jasper lay below, and we caught a glimpse of our campground tucked under heavy forest nearby.
On the way back down we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow developing over Jasper and the whole valley. It was awesome!
The rainbow signaled our departure back to lower elevations, but it was just the beginning of more spectacular moments to come.
Next Up: Icefield Parkway