Our final stop in Utah – Brigham City

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Each time I return from my hot and humid country of the Philippines, I bring souvenirs with me, in the form of coughing, a lost voice and jet lag.  Thankfully, Brigham City had just what was needed to mend my ailing body.  Wildflowers, birds and a historic site thrown in the mix were just what the doctor ordered for a quick recovery!

I smiled big when I saw that welcome sign 🙂

I knew exactly what I wanted to do when we arrived here.  There was a wild bird refuge nearby, and the Wellsville Mountains had trails waiting to be hiked.  Golden Spike National Monument was only a few miles away, and we were hoping to check out Antelope Island.  Unfortunately, we were told the mosquitoes were in full force on the island so we canceled that visit.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

At the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, I was hoping to see a few Tundra Swans, as they are known to pass through here on their journey north.

“Welcome to our home”, sang the Barn Swallow

This refuge has had a disastrous past.  First, it almost died due to irrigation diversion in the 1920’s, then it was hit with an avian botulism outbreak causing the death of 1-2 million birds.  Finally, in 1983 it was devastated again due to the Great Salt Lake flood that inundated the wetlands with salt water and decimated the refuge structures.  When the lake levels receded six years later the refuge was rebuilt and the vibrant ecosystem eventually came back to life.  And as many other cities do, Brigham City claimed it to be the best birding destination anywhere.

A lone Pelican on his breakfast hunt – Steve loves this guy!

In the morning we drove to the refuge and followed the auto tour through the 74,000 acres of pristine wetlands and marshes of the Bear River Delta.  The Tundra Swans were long gone, but a few locals were hanging out enjoying their breakfast in the swamp:

Hundreds of White-faced Ibis were on the move as we left

Golden Spike National Monument

After gawking at the birds and breathing some fresh air we drove west to Promontory Summit, Utah.  This is the site where the last spike was driven to join the transcontinental railroad that connected the western states to the rest of the nation on May 10, 1869.

We made it to Golden Spike National Monument just in time to see a re-enactment of the original ceremony, which completed the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.  This historic event linked America’s first transcontinental railroad, and ultimately opened the western frontier to settlement.  Steve and I had both learned about this event long ago, but it was very cool to actually be at the site where it happened.

Re-enactment of the “wedding of the rails” ceremony at the last spike site

Re-enactment of the dignitaries that attended the original ceremony

The last spike

I’m pointing to where the last tie and spike were laid to marry the two railroad companies

A gorgeous replica of Central Pacific Railroad’s Jupiter got Steve’s attention

A replica of Union Pacific Railroad’s No. 119 moving to meet the Central Pacific RR

While there, we drove the East Auto Tour route, stopping for lunch at Chinese Arch which was named to honor thousands of Chinese workers brought in to accomplish Central Pacific’s portion of the railroad.  Those 10,000 Chinese workers faced tremendous obstacles as they tunneled through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Along with Irish work crews, they were famously known for accomplishing a feat that would never be duplicated, including laying ten miles of track across the Utah desert in a 12-hour period.

We had Chinese Arch to ourselves, along with a great view as we enjoyed lunch

Back to hitting the trails!

Brigham City is near the northernmost point of the Wasatch Front, and the steep Wellsville Mountains branch off of it.  The tourism office touted these mountains as the steepest range in the world.  Why?  What makes the Wellsville Range special is that it’s only five miles wide at the base and rises almost straight from the valley floor, which is at about 4,500′ in elevation.  When we looked closely we noticed that indeed there were no foothills leading up to these mountains!

Wellsville Mountains –  no foothills, so from either side it appears to be a giant mountainous wall rising directly from the valley floor

We’re not sure if it’s really the steepest range in the world, but it did offer several moderate and strenuous trails, and we followed one of each to get my legs back into hiking mode.  And I was smiling ear-to-ear when we arrived at the trailhead for our first hike, which was carpeted with yellow wildflowers!

Wild Parsnips blanketed the area

Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers were in full bloom as well

Arrow leaf Balsam root

A vast swaths of Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers were wishing me to get better soon

On another day we followed the Deep Canyon Trail, which eventually leads to Box Elder Summit at 9,372′.  I hiked most of it, but my lingering cough caused me to stop when Steve announced he just had to reach a nearby fog-covered summit.

 

 

Off he goes to the summit…

…I’ll just wait here for him – cough, cough!

As Steve headed off, I got busy with my camera as colorful spring wildflowers begged for my attention. With the whole mountainside to myself accompanied by chirping birds, I was in solitary bliss.

This guy, Green tailed towhee stopped singing as I entered his space

Steve returned with a smile after about an hour and said, “I’m going to feel this tomorrow!” (and he did).

Steve’s view from the top

This was a perfect stop for me to mend from my long trip.  What more can I ask for – an unforgettable display of wildflowers, singing birds and hiking are the stuff that gets me going!

And with that, we said goodbye to Utah!

 

Next up:  Hello, Idaho!



 

Healing and fun continue in New Mexico

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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

Winged Wonders Abound! – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

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Yellow-headed blackbird
Green Jay

The unmistakable Green Jays having a little discussion

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is reputedly one of the nation’s top spots for bird-watching. What the valley lacks in breathtaking views and warm winter weather, it makes up for in its array of bird species – some of which are seen only in this area.  RGV is nestled into the tip of South Texas, with the Rio Grande River running along its southern border and serving as the Mexico/U.S. border. The diverse habitats found in the area – which is a convergence of two major migratory flyways – is the primary reason for the remarkable number of birds seen here.  The nine valley communities partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service capitalized on that, and with birding a year-round event the tourism economy has been buoyed.

I was ecstatic  just to be here at the birding mecca.  With nine distinct World Birding Centers to choose from, plus additional nature hot spots, I was in heaven! A fledgeling birder like myself was super-happy when my friend – with the appropriate nickname “Birdie” – guided me in my favorite recreation.  She is an ardent and serious birder whom we first met in Alaska in 2012.  She and four other single women were caravanning through Alaska, and we bumped into her several times while there.  Finally, on her last day in Alaska, we introduced ourselves and exchanged email addresses.  We had not heard from her until her surprise email message arrived while we were here in RGV. She just happens to be wintering here too – how about that?

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Birdie and I meeting up to “hunt” for our feathered friends

And was our adventure together a success?  Judge for yourself!

Couch's Kingbird

Couch’s Kingbird

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Finding birds in this vast area can be a daunting task, but Birdie made it easy as she had been here before and was familiar with the valley.  We listened, we watched, we identified and we photographed many birds at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Frontera Audobon Society, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. As you may have guessed I took many, many pictures of the most popular Texas specialties that you only see here in the southern part of the Lone Star State.

Common Chachalaca

Common Chachalaca

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Tagging along with Birdie, I became more in tune to listening to a bird’s sound.  I learned that birds can be more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye.  And with the help of her high-powered Swarovski spotting scope, I manage to observe birds I would usually have ignored or missed.  With amazing clarity, the scope made the bird’s field marks much easier to identify.  Frankly, my new binoculars were put to shame after trying out her gear!

Green Parakeet

Green Parakeet

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque – a nocturnal bird.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Birding is big business here.  I oftentimes saw parking lots packed at the various birding centers, even on weekdays.  Families, couples and individuals could be seen lugging binoculars, cameras and field guides out to visit their feathered friends. Birds are not the only winged wonders that attract people here.  In October, butterflies are the main spectacle, as folks witness migrating butterflies resting during their long journey south.

Not only did I learn a lot after just a few days hanging out with Birdie, but I also had a great time interacting with nature!  Thank you, Birdie, for your time, knowledge and patience.  I hope we meet again somewhere down the road. To see more of my recent bird captures, click here to see my updated bird gallery page.

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What a pleasure to hang out with a real birding expert!

During my adventures, Steve was completing the last of Betsy’s little maintenance items, and she’s ready to head on down the road at the end of the month.  He was finally willing to join me for a little bird watching, since we probably won’t be back here for a long time (hey, he likes birds too – just not as much as I do!). We checked out the birding centers at Quinta Mazatlan, the National Butterfly Center, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, South Padre Island and at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. Of course, he found a way to include interesting lunch stops and some other tours along the way! While birding is very rewarding at the World Birding Centers, the two unaffiliated Wildlife Refuges that we visited, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also offered more to admire than just birds. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge The Santa Ana NWR is riparian forest, with Spanish Moss draping Cedar Elm, Texas Ebony and Mexican Ash trees.

Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Birders at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge The Laguna Atascosa NWR is described as a landscape of coastal prairie, thorn forest, sand and clay dunes, and tidal flats set within thousands of acres of wetlands.  It borders the lower Laguna Madre and was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks.

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Just a few of the 80% of North America’s Redhead Ducks that winter at Redhead Ridge

Laguna Atascosa NWR

We finally saw the elusive Nilgai that everyone talks about down here!

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Searching for the White-tailed Hawk

Reddish Egret

A parade of shorebirds with the Reddish Egret leading the Skimmers, Terns and a Cormorant

Finally, we made it to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where we enjoyed even more sightings of coastal birds…

South Padre Birding Center

Steve loves his maps!

…some American Wideon quack-quacks being monitored by a Great Blue Heron… Great Blue Heron …and the American Skimmers were busy fishing.

American Skimmer

The American Skimmer “skims” his lower bill along the top of the water, which acts as a lure for fish.  Amazing!

For the last time, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite coastal birds, the Roseate Spoonbill:

Roseate Spoonbill

A Spoonbill hanging out with some Northern Pintails

Well, that’s a lot of birds and just a few of the more than 500 documented species that live or migrate here.  Even if you are not a birder and you happen to be in Rio Grande Valley, you have to admire these creatures which are everywhere.  I can only imagine what it must be like here during the fall and spring migrations – it would be raining birds then!  I consider spending time with nature and watching birds in particular a healing energy for myself.

Next up:  Celebrating 3 years on the road!



Fun and fruit in Citrus County – Homosassa, FL

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Crystal River Preserve State Park Trail

With our 2nd anniversary celebration week out of the way (hey, we’re always looking for something to celebrate), we’re back to posting about “regular” stuff.  We have been fortunate to enjoy mostly gorgeous weather lately, and being outdoors and active beats sitting in front of the laptop anytime.  We’re continuing to slowly make our way up the Florida panhandle, seeing even more of the unspoiled and laid back nature here.  And the temperatures seem to drop a few degrees with each stop we make – maybe we’re moving too fast after all?

We exhaled a sigh of relief when we arrived at Chassahowitzka River Campground in Homosassa (Steve’s review here).  Why?  At our previous two stops we had dealt with terrible road noise and jetliners roaring overhead.  The reason is that the RV parks most frequented by snowbirds save their best sections for the regulars who come down for extended stays every year, while the transient folks like us get relegated to the noisiest sites right next to the roads.  Of course, that’s the way it should be, but it didn’t make our stay in those busy areas very pleasant.  Oh well, that’s behind us now and our new home base was a county-owned property that was rustic and near a river – a long way from the sounds of the hectic life.  Peaceful days and restful nights could be had once again!

Chassahowitzka River Campground

Back to the quiet life – this is more like it!

We were in the midst of Citrus County, with its four main towns within an easy drive of each other.  While registering for our site, the office staff gave us a list of 41 points of interest in the towns of Crystal River, Homosassa, Inverness and Floral City.  We couldn’t see them all in just a week, so we selected and timed our “must-do’s”, taking into account some forecasted rain.  But first I inquired, “If this is Citrus County, then where are all the citrus trees”?  The reply was that the county was originally named for its abundant citrus trees, but citrus production declined dramatically after the “Big Freeze” of 1894-1895. Today, citrus is grown at only one large grove, Bellamy Grove, within the county.  We did see many roadside stands selling fruits, mostly the very yummy Honeybell oranges which we had heard weren’t in season any longer.  Well, we got some!

Of the two nationally protected areas in Citrus county, we chose to explore a section of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge itself is over 31,000 acres that were set aside by the federal government in 1931 to protect the rich waterfowl habitat there.  It also happened to be located only about three miles down the Chassahowitzka River (called “The Chass” by locals) from our campground.  And our site was only a short walk from a boat ramp, which was the ideal starting point for exploring the river and it’s surrounding springs, creeks, water trails and wildlife.  After forking over $30 to rent a kayak for the day, we paddled off early in the morning to avoid the crowds and we were richly rewarded.  The river was very clear, shallow and calm.  

Chassahowitzka River Campground

We paddled leisurely along as we viewed bald eagles and an abundance of egrets, great herons, little blue herons, ospreys, ducks, manatees, turtles and more.  We can’t remember a place with such a variety of wildlife packed into such a small area!  It was a very relaxing day of paddling, experiencing nature and just being in a quiet place surrounded by all of that unspoiled beauty.  Awesome!

We drove to the county’s smallest town, Floral City.  It is known in the area for its Avenue of Oaks, which are at least 125 years old.  We came here to refresh ourselves with what Floral City is really known for, fresh-squeezed orange juice from Ferris Groves.  The business began in 1930 as a roadside fruit stand and has grown to include a retail store with a gift fruit business.  The juice was excellent, and we ended up hauling a gallon of it and a bag of oranges home with us.  Yum!  Did you know that Florida provides 80% of the orange juice sold in the country?

Our next outing was to take on the claim to fame for the city of Inverness – Withlacoochee State Trail.  It is Florida’s longest paved multi-use path, and a recognized National Rercreation Trail.  At 46 miles long, it stretches from Inverness all the way to Trilby in Pasco County.  This trail made it into our top seven biking trails, for it is shaded in many parts and has ample comfort stops along the way.  Since it also passes right through Floral City, it’s a great trip to include a break for lunch (which we did) and pick up some fresh orange juice at Ferris Groves.  We began our ride at the Inverness trailhead and quickly discovered how popular this trail is, as we had lots of company from other cyclists, walkers and runners.

On another day, Steve and I decided to hit the walking trails at the Crystal River Preserve State Park.  There were several trails to choose from and we decided on the longest one, a 7-mile loop.  This trail was characterized by marshes, swamps, hammocks, flat woods and tidal creeks.  We didn’t really have any wildlife to entertain us, so with my camera on standby we got some good exercise.  Although there was a mosquito warning, we were in luck as the skeeters apparently decided to take that day off.  Yay!

The RV park manager mentioned there was a restaurant nearby that the locals raved about, called The Freezer.  We decided to give it a try for lunch and were very pleasantly surprised.  The place was packed, and we ended up getting the last two seats at the bar. Very informal and with a simple menu, we heard their boiled peel-and-eat shrimp were to die for.  And they were!  I got a pound of them, while Steve tried the Talapia and was extremely happy with it.  We really struck gold when we discovered this out-of-the-way place, and we’d recommend it to anyone coming within 50 miles of it – it’s that good!

Lastly, the final outing was an “alone time” for me, as Steve decided to stay home and do some little maintenance chores on Betsy.  Like most folks, we need to be away from each other once in a while and this was a perfect way to do just that.  Being alone, no one can whisper in my ear, “How many pictures do you have to take of that bird?”

So off I went on my merry way to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park…to be continued!

Homosassa Springs

Next Up:  Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

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