Monday, January 11, 2021

1/11 Willow Beach Campground Critters

When I was here in late October, I was able to take a lot of photos of bighorn sheep.  I am here for a week, and no sheep, but lots of desert cottontails and Gambel's quail.  In the past, I have had trouble photographing the quail specifically, but now I come prepared.  

It has been cool or even cold, but sunny every day, and I have been relaxing because the new semester has just started with no papers to grade until tomorrow.  Willow Beach is part of the Lake Mead Recreation Area and is located 13 miles downriver, along what is known as the Black Canyon of the Colorado.  It is accessible by road only here and at one place about a half-mile down from the dam.  Otherwise, you have to hike in, but you can get someone to drop you off at the launch area near the dam and kayak here.  You can also rent a boat at the Willow Beach Marina and motor up to the launch area near the dam. 

I love this campground because it has cement pads with asphalt drives, making it clean and no dust, as you get in many campgrounds in the desert.  Anyway, here are some photos of this lovely campground.  Note that it is mostly empty because the weekenders have left:

If you look past my motorhome up onto the hill in the distance, you can see the ranger's homes.  Everything here is relatively new because this area had a huge flash flood way back in 1974 where 9 people died.  The area, including a huge national park campground, flooded because the campground and facilities at that time were built in a canyon which was prone to flooding. Here is an article about that flood and the new facilities that opened in 2009.
And actually, it was rebuilt in 2009 in a similar canyon, so it still prone to flooding.  The campground is a lot smaller, however, but there is a new fisheries building, new marina and visitor center, and a new campground.  In fact, it still floods and shuts down the road into here about every couple of years, in spite of some impressive flood controls.  Here is one from 2017, but it also flooded last May.  Since the campground and ranger's homes are up on a hill, generally all it does it shut the road down for a few days.  They keep a bulldozer and front-end loader here just in case. 

This is a very dry area, getting at most 5" of rain per year, but do you notice the white rings around all of the bushes?  This is because they have all been planted and each one has a drip irrigation tube keeping it alive.  Over time, the minerals in the water leach out onto the ground.  Also, the round bushes are actually grasses that have been cut back for the winter.  They will be tall and lush soon.  
The watering is mostly done in the morning, and you can see the amount of water theses grasses at the edge of my campsite get.  

The important thing is that each one of these irrigated bushes provides shelter and food for desert cottontails.  Mostly, they come out at dusk, but will come out earlier if you toss out a few pieces of carrot and apple.  Here is one of the cute little guys.  He had better eat fast because his relatives will be out soon. 


Yup, here they are.  I gave them only small pieces of carrots and apples, but it did not take long to get over a dozen bunnies hopping around.   They are smaller than the bunnies we get in yards in more northern areas. 

The other animals that are common in this campground are the Gambel's quail.  They can fly, but mostly, they run around on the ground in groups of from 10-30 or so.  And the funniest thing is how they constantly cheep to one another and run around always making sure they are with the group.  They look like their legs are on wheels.  The males have slightly taller topknots, but they all are very fast and hard to photograph.  

Mostly, they live on seeds that fall from desert plants.

However, I confess to using my secret weapon this morning before I knew they would come scurrying around--birdseed!  It slows them down mostly.  Otherwise, all I get are blurry birds. I spread it around several empty campsites!  The little birds also enjoying the seed are some sort of sparrows. 

When they cross the road, you can tell they are nervous, so they stand up tall and run even faster, if that is possible.  The bird in front is a female and the one in the back is a male with more coloring and a taller topknot.
 All the birds and bunnies are gone because the food is gone, but I keep an eye on this hill in front of me because if the bighorn sheep come, that is where they often hang out.  None this week, however.

Will get more campers in the next couple of days.  I am only here for two more days, so am enjoying the scenery. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

1/4 Valley of Fire Bighorn Sheep

Valley of Fire is a state park in the desert about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas.  It was named for the deep red rock mountains the cover this area and is another one of my favorite places.  I was here last October, but had a campground I was planning on staying at in California cancelled on me, so decided this was a good place to come back to for a few days as an alternate. 

Just driving through the park is a treat.

Gorgeous!  Why go to Las Vegas when you can come here??

Anyway, I slept in this morning and was just getting ready to eat the breakfast I fixed, when I saw several bighorn sheep at the end of the campground roadway, so I jumped up, threw on my sweatshirt, and walked down the road.  However, by then, they had disappeared.  So, I went back to my breakfast, and in a few minutes, one of the ladies I had asked about where they had gone, came knocking on my door.  

She said they were down near Site #7 butting horns over a broken water faucet!  She said you could hear the thumps.  So, put on my sweatshirt and grabbed my camera, and walked as fast as I could to that site to see the action. 

However, by the time I got there, the action was over with.  There was a herd of nine male bighorns--females were hiding in the distance rocks having their lambs, I was told, so the males were hanging out together.

The cause of the fighting was a campsite faucet that had a crack in it, thus spraying precious water around.  There has not been rain in this area for almost a year, so the sheep are very thirsty, although the ranger did tell me that the park service has three large water tanks in the park.  They fill with rainwater, but also the park service brings in water via helicopters when there is no rain.  In any case, the sheep still want water, much as the elk did in Grand Canyon.

Bighorn sheep have horns that grow all their lives.  They do not shed them and grow new ones each year and deer and elk do, so you can tell the ages of sheep by their horns.  The one on the upper left, has small, skinny horns, so is younger than the other two.  The one on the upper right is older, indicated by the thicker and longer horns.  

But the guy on the bottom has very thick horns that are curled in a complete circle.  They also have had the tips either worn off or broken off from fighting.  And he has a lot of scars on him, so he is probably a really old sheep.

Check out the closeup of this guy's horns. He also has a cut above his eye, no doubt from the earlier head-butting over the water.  

Found this interesting article on how to age bighorn sheep:

This guy is also not afraid of anyone and does not hesitate to try to stare you down.

The ranger has brought a bucket and filled it with water for the sheep.  You can see the small spray of water from the faucet.  While this old sheep is approaching the water, the ranger is working to turn the water off at the source so he can work on the faucet.

Note that while the old guy is drinking, the rest of the herd is just watching.  He was the only one getting close to the faucet and bucket.  They certainly knew their place. 

Now the ranger has a problem.  The old sheep is standing about five feet from him and staring at him.  Even when the ranger moved the bucket about 10' away, the sheep still focused on him and the faucet.  Even waving his arms, yelling, and banging his wrench on the metal pipe did not make the old sheep flinch.  Obviously, the owner of the faucet was the sheep, not the ranger.

And of course, the rest of the herd was still just watching. 

Once the faucet was replaced and no longer spraying water, even the old guy got bored and went back to grazing and resting.  Excitement over. 

1/2 Tehachapi, CA, & a Snowy Day

 Tehachapi, CA, is one of my favorite places for several reasons.  

First, it is on a 4,000' high pass that crosses the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California.  Highway 58 goes across the pass and connects the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, and is a main route from most of California and Las Vegas.  Because it is on a pass, it also has different weather from most of Southern California--mainly a lot of wind!  And that wind is the main reason it has a busy glider airport and an RV park along the runway with a terrific view of the gliders taking off.  

Second, the town of Tehachapi has a terrific German bakery and just enough big box stores to keep people happy--Home Depot, Albertson's grocery store, Walmart, CVS and Walgreen pharmacies, Tractor Supply, and several gas stations.  It also has several fast food places, small shops, and whatever else a person could need.  I'm also told it has a great barbecue place, but I have not tried that yet.  There is also a small railroad museum and the famous Tehachapi Loop, which is a railroad loop where a long train can go around itself.  

The drive up to Tehachapi is very pleasant:

Anyway, it is a handy place to stay on the way to Las Vegas and Arizona, so I planned on spending just one night here.  Unfortunately, I could feel the shaking of strong winds during the night, and I woke up to this in the morning. 

Motorhomes that weigh 14,500 lbs and snow do not mix, especially when combined with strong winds.  I am used to driving a car in snow, but not my motorhome, which could slide off the road with not only me in it, but most of my worldly belongings.  And I will NOT put chains on any vehicle I drive.  If the state requires chains, I will stay put. 

Yup, definitely staying put weather.  Called the office and arranged to stay another night.  I knew no more snow or rain was expected and the temps would be warmer tomorrow.  Besides, I had not gotten my winter coat out from where it is stored in a suitcase in an underneath storage bin.  Too cold to do that now, so I layered in two sweatshirts and a windbreaker to take the trash out! 

These photos are taken from the windows.  You don't think I actually went outdoors, do you?

View of my covered bike from the back window.  I had been worried the cover might have blown off, but it looked OK. 

Much better the next day! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

1/1/2021 Annual Summary of My Travels

Well, as you all know, last year was quite the year.  For me, it started by returning to Florida after doing a round trip of the U.S. via airplane, visiting my sons and their families in both Ohio and California.  I spent most of January in two of my favorite Florida campgrounds--Gamble Rogers State Park near Flagler Beach and Midway Campground on Tamiami Trail in the Big Cypress National Preserve.  During January and February, my uncle, for whom I was Power of Attorney, was in a memory care facility but started going downhill fast, both physically and mentally, and spent most of those months in and out of the hospital.  As he got worse, I ended up cancelling campgrounds and finding a place to stay nearer where he was.  This was not easy in very busy Florida.

He passed away in March, which is when COVID-19 started to affect us.  Due to rising numbers, Florida cancelled all state park reservations and the Corps of Engineers cancelled the rest of my reservations from March through May.  The states' travel bans and lockdowns were intended to make people stay at home, but my home is always in the parking lot, so to speak.  I ended up ditching a LOT of plans in 2020, including my plans to drive the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah Drive. 

I did a lot of scrambling last spring to find safe places that were still open to stay during the pandemic.  I chose to spend part of March and April in northern Florida, which is very rural and was almost free of the virus then.  There were a lot of RVers in commercial parks doing exactly what I was doing--waiting for the weather to get warmer so we could head back north. 

In May, I slowly worked my way north, trying to get into Ohio, but they also had cancelled my reservations and closed most campgrounds, so I ended up hanging around Georgia and Tennessee until early June when the Ohio parks started to open.  I had intended to spend more time in Ohio and Michigan last summer, but that was cut short.  By the end of June, I was headed north through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and west across the most northern tier of states, visiting Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana, before meeting up with my California son and his family in Idaho for a week of co-camping.

I had plans to travel around Washington and Oregon, but by August, they were cancelling campgrounds in those states, as well, but I did manage to spend a few weeks near the eastern end of the Columbia River in Washington.  It seemed as though as soon as I scheduled some place, they closed the campground, so I had to find something else that was open and had spaces available.  In early September in Washington, I spent several days in heavy smoke, which messed with my allergies and kicked off my old asthma!

Late September and October were better because I headed south and farther away from teh smoke.  I was able to spend time in Dead Horse Point state park near Moab, Utah, plus visit Bryce Canyon, Zion, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, and finally two places near Las Vegas that I really like--Willow Beach and Valley of Fire.  In November I headed west to southern California and finally to Napa in early December.  I arrived just in time to experience California new policy on more stringent shutdowns.  This was based on available ICU beds in an area.  Once the percentage for an area dropped below 15% available ICU beds, the area had more rules, including closing all campgrounds. 

I had planned to drive down to Borego Springs in mid-December, but Anzo-Borego Springs state park shut down because almost all of southern California was below the 15%.  I decided I had better stay where I was for the rest of December at the EXPO Fairgrounds in Napa.  But eventually, the Bay Area, where Napa is located dropped below 15% and ended up being part of the more stringent shutdown! All state and county campgrounds in the Bay Area were supposed to shut down in early December, but the fairgrounds people argued with the state that the EXPO was an RV park, not a "campground," and that people who stayed there were from out of state and spent money in Napa!!  Apparently, it worked because they never shut us down at all, although it was a constant worry.  Whew! 

Frankly, California had me and the rest of the full-timing RVers in a Catch 22 bind. We were supposed to stay in our homes somehow, and not use campgrounds, but we were also not supposed to travel!  The problem is that we have to "camp" in order to live in our homes, or we have to travel to get out of the state!  Gotch-ya!  If they had shut the EXPO RV park down, I would have had to drive to Nevada and spend Christmas there all alone.  

So, now I am in Nevada near Las Vegas and planning on spending the rest of winter here and in Arizona and New Mexico, assuming New Mexico lets me in for my February reservations.  New Mexico has a strict quarantine policy for people coming into their state and have closed their state parks to "foreigners" or non-residents until at least February 1.  State, federal, and county campgrounds in Nevada and Arizona are still open, luckily. 

Anyway, here is a summary of my adventures in 2020:

  • I drove a total of 14,937 miles through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.  Whew!!
  • I spent $4,312 on 1,814 gallons of gas. (Yes, I know this is only 8 MPG, but I use only about 15 gallons of water per day, and also use very little propane, as shown in the next bullet.)
  • I also spent $265 on propane for cooking, heating, and hot water.  (About 100 gallons per year.)
  • I spent $4,019 on RV repairs and service.  (I spent $5,619 in 2019 and a whopping $11,094 in 2018, so 2020 was not too bad. Motorhomes are not cheap to maintain. Tires cost about $225 each, and I have six of them, for example.)
  • I averaged about $900 per month on campgrounds.
  • I ate in only one restaurant last year, although I did get takeout several times. 
  • I bought a new, light-blue electric bike last summer, put 110 miles on it, and then fell two weeks ago in Napa, messing up one leg and foot.  Almost healed, but no bike riding until it does. 
  • I stayed healthy this year, which is admirable! 
  • I also taught seven online college classes (two per semester, except for only one class in the summer) while I traveled in 2020, for a total of about 170 students.  Some were even happy with their grades.  (A few who did not pass have already signed up for my winter class.)  

And, some things I didn't do:

  • I didn't get COVID-19 or have a kidney stone attack.
  • I didn't get lost too many times.
  • I didn't run into much of anything with my motorhome.  No backing up into trees or poles this year, at least.  Scraped a few branches, however.  And no tire blowouts!  Yea!  

All in all, I visited a lot of my favorite places this past year.  Saw a lot of birds in Florida, met up with a lot of alligators, had a gopher tortoise hiss at me while I was taking a close-up, and watched some river otters munch on fish.  In Grand Canyon National park, I rode my bike all the way to the west end of the park and then to the east end.  I also had a very thirsty female elk try to sneak a drink as I was filling my fresh water tank.  I could easily have touched her nose, she was so close.   (I used the hose to give her water when I was done. The drought has been very hard on animals. Did you know Grand Canyon elk can turn on campground water faucets on their own?  True, but they aren't very good about turning off the water when they are done, and when a faucet has a hose attached, it does not do them much good to turn on the water for a drink.)  

So, I am looking forward to 2021 being a much better year with fewer campground cancellations and everyone staying healthy. 


Thursday, December 31, 2020

12/31 An Article on John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley"

I'm going to write an annual summary of my travels tomorrow, but while it is still 2020 here on the West Coast, I wanted to post this:    (Please ignore the lack of italics in the blog title above, but this system is not allowing italics.)  I read Steinbeck's Travels With Charley when I was in high school, and it helped hook me on travel.  (Steinbeck was dying, so he bought a truck camper and spent most of a year traveling in it.  Charley was his wife's standard poodle that he borrowed as a companion.  There is some evidence that he made up some of his travel adventures, but that really did not matter to most of his readers, then or now.)  Travels With Charley was the last book he wrote. 

Just for the record, I am on my way from Napa, CA, to the Las Vegas area to spend some time in two of my favorite campgrounds:  Valley of Fire State Park and Willow Beach Marina, which is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  

I arrived here in Tehachapi yesterday, planning to just spend one night at this campground along the glider airport.  I got my grocery shopping done and filled up my propane tank, plus got a full tank of gas for the next morning's trip.  However, in the middle of last night, the wind picked up and started rocking my motorhome.  In addition, there was an inch of snow on the ground!!

This may be Southern California, but the very pleasant town of Tehachapi is located at the top of the Tehachapi Pass, which is 4,000' above sea level, so it is really cold up here in winter.  On both sides of the pass is flat desert, but this town is not only on the top of the pass, but it is surrounded by higher mountains.  This means heading either direction is steeply downhill on a major freeway, and high winds and slippery roads are not good when you are driving a 32' long motorhome that weighs almost 15,000 pounds and is 12' tall.  Much too easy to slide off the roadway, with me and most of what I own in it.  

So, I made the wise decision to stay another night and leave tomorrow morning instead.  It is very cold here, with a high of 38 today and 28 tonight, but with two electric heaters and two small furnaces, I am toasty warm, at least if I do not go outside!!  

Tomorrow is Las Vegas and Boulder Beach Campground for an overnight.  The next day, I will get to Valley of Fire early so I can get a spot there. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

12/29 More Rambling - Driving Style

After three weeks visiting my son and his family, I am back on the road, headed for the Las Vegas area.  As I was driving today, I was reminded of trips with my family when I was growing up.  Frankly, we did not take many driving trips because we spent most summers and weekends at a cottage we owned, but we did take a couple of long trips when I was a child. 

My dad's style was to get wherever we were going as fast as possible.  Grand Canyon?  Whoosh!  No time because we have to get to California on time.  Interesting museum?  Whoosh again!  No stops for anything other than a couple of quick pictures and some sandwiches to eat in the car.  

I have learned lessons from my dad's style and tend to do a lot of stopping along the way.  Typically, I plan my travels in my motorhome needing to drive only 150-200 miles per day.  And I seldom drive more than one day at a time.  While I am one of these people who likes to have reservations made months in advance, I also take the time to see things that were not planned for.  I know of people who plan to drive 300+ miles a day, but I cannot understand that kind of hurry.

However, I have to admit that today was a 300 mile day.  I have been over this route from Napa, California to Nevada several times and am in a hurry to get to one of my favorite campgrounds as soon as I can, so I drove longer today than I really like to drive.  In addition, there are two big things which are pushing me--the first is that the days are very short right now and it gets dark early.  The second is that while I have brake lights, head lights, backup lights, and flashers, I have no tail lights or running lights, so I cannot drive after dark, or even near dark.  (Running lights are those required small yellow lights on the side and tops of big trucks.)  I like summer better when I can drive until much later if I need to.  The problem right now is that the campground I am heading to in Nevada is first-come, first-served, so it might be harder to get into on Friday. 

It is a long story why I have not been able to get these fixed, but suffice it to say that Ford dealers will not deal with stuff that Fleetwood added, and RV dealers are booked up weeks and months in advance.  I had one appointment at a Camping World in late November, but after unhooking and driving there early in the morning, the could not find my appointment and would not fix them because they were too busy that day.  (Last time I will visit that dealer!)  I really need to make an appointment somewhere in Las Vegas to get them fixed, if I can find someone to fit me into their schedule.

One thing I missed in my long day of driving today, was the ability to take long stops at rest areas.  I often stop at least two or three times during the day to check my email, fix a meal or a snack and eat it, or stop at grocery stores.  I did take one long stop today to eat, but I really needed to stop somewhere to get a new memory card for my camera, get a propane fill, and pick up some groceries, but I kept pushing myself to get where I am tonight before dark.  

What I might end up doing is making tomorrow a short day so I can stop in Tehachapi to get a few things done.  It will mean fewer days in my favorite campground, but it will be less stressful.  

My rambling point, I guess, is that I do not like to hurry, but I like to get somewhere, so I am pushing my driving past where I really feel comfortable.  I much prefer a slower and more relaxed trip.   


Monday, December 14, 2020

12/14 Just Some Ramblings

 Have not posted in a while because I have not really had much of anything to post about.  About the most exciting time I had last month was spending a few days at Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area, west of Bakersfield.  I had stayed there before, but it was a couple of years ago and it was almost empty and fine.  I needed a place to stay for a few days before heading to Napa, so I chose that place.

The first night I was there, it was Saturday, and the place was packed.  A group of neighbors not too far from me had a big no-mask party, with maybe 20-25 people.  I was happy when they left the next morning.  However, by then I had discovered the nasty truth about this campground--flies, and lots of them!!  Apparently, it is near several commercial dairy operations and summer and fall is horrible until the first freeze or at least almost freeze.  There were flies all over the outside of my motorhome, all trying to sneak in somehow. And the ones that DID get in were the friendly kind--you know, the ones who like to land on your face or hands while you are typing.  I was also having to keep wiping off counters and keeping food covered, also.  I killed at least 80-100 the first day and then maybe 20 each morning and another 20 each night.  Was driving me crazy.

Anyway, I was spending hours each day trying to use my electronic bug zapper wand to kill flies that made it in, I assume through cracks in the slides.  I keep a pretty good supply of big and critter control stuff, so I sprayed outside along the slides and around windows.  It helped, by even after I left there, I was still killing remnants of the fly population the first night or two in Napa. 

I am now in Napa, enjoying my fly-less time.  I intended to spend a few days here and then to to Borego Springs in southern California, than come back and spend 10 days just before and after Christmas.  However, during this time of COVID-19, California's numbers have been shooting up like crazy, so the governor has proclaimed that if any of the areas that have been defined in the state have less than 15% available ICU beds gets even more shut down than already shut down.  For me, that means that state park and county campgrounds are also shut down.   

Southern California is already shut down, so that eliminated Borego Springs, so I made a reservation to just stay here until Dec 28.  The only problem is that this park of the Bay Area is currently at 17.8, which means I could be given 4 hours to get out of here any day.  Thought i might get the news today, but so far, not yet. If I  get kicked out because they close this RV Park, I will have to head to Nevada, and miss spending Christmas with my son and his family.

Highs here in Napa have been from 55-69 degrees, with lows at night in the 30s and sometimes up to 50s.  Overall, it has been sunny, but had a couple of days of rain, which they really need.