Sunday, September 03, 2017

An Unexpected Trip North

Our last blog was titled “The End of Summer”.  As it turns out, we’re just not done with summer adventures yet.  In early July, a lightning-caused fire began in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, in the coastal range east of Brookings.  Because it was in a designated wilderness area, no aircraft, vehicles, or power equipment is allowed.  In addition, the fire was located in inaccessible terrain, so it was left to burn itself out.  Except……that now it’s over 100,000 acres and threatening not only homes along the Chetco river, but the town of Brookings.  The fear is that the “Chetco Effect”, also known as the “Brookings Effect” will cause a blow up of the fire and it will jump the current fire lines.  After days of darkness, smoke, and ash fall, our US Fish & Wildlife volunteer coordinator called and told us to leave immediately and head north to Bandon.  Which we were happy to do.  Our view from the deck where we talked to visitors was getting a bit scary:Fire View2

Fire View3

Smoke over Brookings1

Smoke over Brookings4

In the park, the view was even worse:

Smoke over Park

View through trees

The smoke made staying outside uncomfortable, and then ashes from the fire began to fall.

Ash on Car Hood

Ash on Motorhome

We didn’t need our “Eclipse glasses” to look at the sun, even at midday:

Sun through Ash Cloud

On Monday the 21st, we all gathered to view the eclipse.  The rangers had been planning for months, with evening programs to educate park visitors, signs to remind folks, and even giving out “eclipse glasses”.  We were ready for the big event, with banners, music, and a live streaming video from under the eclipse path.  As it turned out, hardly anyone showed up, the video wouldn’t work, and worst of all, we never saw any change in the fog and smoke filled sky.  It didn’t even get dark!  Or more correctly “darker”.  So we salved our sorrow by going to the local bakery where they make a two-pound pecan-laden sticky bun to die for.  So the day wasn’t a total loss.

Keith & Brenda Eclipse Sign

Because of the fire and smoke, the normally crowded and busy beach was nearly deserted.  We hadn’t seen the beach this empty since we started here in early May:beach panorama

We’ve left Harris Beach State Park with a lot of great memories.  One visitor we’ll always remember was this beautiful lady who was escorted down to our deck by Jon, her driver.  Ruby and some other ladies had made the trip from a senior citizen home in Medford to escape the heat and visit the beach.  Sitting with us, she asked Jon where the rest of the ladies were.Brenda and Ruby  He replied that they didn’t want to get out of the car.  Turning to us, she said “those fuddy-duddys!  All they do is sit around and gossip; you can’t get them to do anything!.  I get out and walk at least one mile a day”.  Which may not be all that remarkable, until you know that Ruby recently celebrated her 98th birthday!  Ruby was a delight to talk to, telling us about her career as a teacher and a “teacher of teachers”.  She’s an inspiration to all of us seniors – after all, who wants to become a fuddy-duddy?

We’re getting ready to take a break and travel for a while visiting old friends and new places.  Check back with us and see what we’re up to!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The End of an Eventful Summer

We’re near the end of our tour here at beautiful Harris Beach State Park.  Soon we’ll say goodbye to our four-month home and do a little leisurely travel.  It’s been a memorable summer, both good and not-so-good.  But looking back at Brenda’s hospital stay, it seems like so long ago.  Aside from a few carryovers from the surgery, she’s feeling great and has been cleared to resume just about all of her activities. 

Day Use Deck ViewWe spend four days a week at a day use area deck, using spotting scopes to show people the various marine mammals and birds.  We’ve met so many great people and families, given away hundreds of “I Love Oregon State Parks” stickers, and watched people enjoy the cool coast and beach.  While the temperature inland has routinely been in the high 90s or more, here our average high is in the 60s.  And while we haven’t had any measurable rain since early May, everything is still green thanks to the late night and early morning fog. 

Harris Beach RV ViewWe’ve enjoyed the great site that the park has furnished us.  Although we’re volunteering for the US Fish & Wildlife Services, the park furnishes us with a full-hookup site.  In return, each week we teach a Junior Ranger class (6-12 year olds) and alternate between an evening program on Seals & Sea Lions or a nature walk to “pay our rent”.  It’s something we enjoy doing, especially the nature hike along the park trails that are filled with flowers and have great views:Flower Trail

Harris Beach Seastacks

If you enjoy the history of lighthouses, you’ll love the story of the St. Georges Reef lighthouse.  Six miles off the coast of California, it’s about 14 miles from us and can be viewed on a clear day.  You can see it sitting by itself out on the horizon:

St Georges distant view

St Georges Lighthouse

Another lighthouse nearby is the Crescent City Harbor lighthouse; but even it can only be reached at low tide:Crescent City Lighthouse

Some images of the area, starting with a foggy day on the beach:McVey Rocks View

Brookings has a nice harbor, complete with places to buy fish and Dungeness crab:Brookings Harbor

A short drive down the road leads to a large Harbor Seal “haul out”, where the seals come to rest:Harbor Seal Haul Out

Harbor Seals

Just inland, the Winchuck River winds through green forest:Winchuck River

One of our favorite birds is the Steller’s Jay.  Here is one sunning himself – a way to get rid of nasty mites.Steller's Jay Sunbathing

And finally, our spot on the day use deck is overrun by California Ground Squirrel that beg food from folks having a picnic.  This little guy scored a carrot, but would probably prefer a potato chip:California Ground Squirrel

We haven’t written much about our stay here since we’ve been here before, but we’ll soon be traveling to new places, so check back!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Very Special Birthday

Brenda’s birthday was a few days ago (being married a long time, I know better than to tell her age).  It was special to us in a very unusual but meaningful way.  You see, Brenda had a triple bypass, open heart surgery after suffering a series of “cardiac events”.  It started with what she believed was acid reflux, a condition  she’s dealt with in the past.  But after a sleepless night of the acid stomach and chest and arms pain, it was time to take her to the local urgent care.  That’s when our long day started.  They told me to get her to the Gold Beach emergency room immediately, a 30-mile drive up the coast.  After a short while there, she was taken by ambulance to the North Bend Medical Center near Coos Bay, 70 miles further up the coast for a cardiac evaluation.  The following morning, after a heart catheterization, it was determined that one artery was 95% blocked, two others 80%.  She was immediately bundled up, loaded up, and on her way by Life Flight aircraft to the Eugene area, where she was taken to the Medical Center at Riverbend, home of the Oregon Heart and Vascular Institute (OHVI).  The next morning was Sunday, but at 7AM she underwent the triple-bypass surgery.  If you don’t know how extensive this surgery is, you can read about it here.  She came through it well, and after a day in the Intensive Care Unit, was moved to a room in OHVI.  She was sitting up and walking on the first day, and six days later was released.  Considering the extent of the surgery and the toll on her body, it’s amazing to me that she is recovering so quickly.  We’re still faced with a long recovery, but she’s taking a short walk four times a day, eating well, and slowly regaining her strength.  We’re looking at this experience as a good thing rather than bad; after all, the prompt identification and treatment saved her life and she’ll not only recover but be stronger.  The lesson here, for all that read this, is please don’t ignore the warning signs!  Heartburn, indigestion, chest or arm pain can all be symptoms of heart damage.  We were very fortunate to have caught it in time and to have had extraordinary doctors, nurses, and aides take care of Brenda.  Our thanks to them and to all of you who sent prayers and thoughts to her.

We’re back in Brookings at Harris Beach State Park and slowly getting back into volunteer duties, spending an hour or so each day.  Both Dawn, our US Fish & Wildlife volunteer coordinator and Jeff, our park interpretive ranger, have been so very kind and considerate in letting us set our own pace.  Thanks to both of them.

There have been some beautiful days here; the blue water and sea stacks, no matter how many times we look at them, mesmerize us with their beauty.  Day Use View

Treasure Island

This is a time when wildflowers are everywhere – Cala Lilly, Iris, Fuchsia, and Foxglove are everywhere:Flowers

We hope to be getting back to our normal routine soon – thanks for sharing time with us.

Friday, May 05, 2017

You Can’t Buy Eggs at the Chicken Ranch

We’re finishing up a month’s stay in Pahrump, Nevada, about 50 miles west of Las Vegas.  It’s a fast-growing town of over 35,000 with casinos, a Wal-Mart, and even a Home Depot, but its roots are in the history of its ranches - the Chicken Chicken Ranch1Ranch, Sheri’s Ranch, and the Cherry Ranch.  Pahrump is in Nye County where prostitution is legal, but the majority of visitors to the “ranches” are Las Vegas tourists (there’s a free limo service).  Sheri's Ranch2These are not tawdry, back-alley businesses; they’re out in the open, advertise with billboards throughout town, and even have their own web sites where you can peruse the…ah….merchandise.  They have a helpful “Frequently Asked Questions” section (Do you have midgets?  Not at this time.  Yikes!)  The Chicken Ranch even invites tourists to take a tour, meet the “staff”, and shop for souvenirs.  Best Brothel SignAlthough we didn’t take the tour, we drove past the ranches to see what they looked like.  Surprisingly, they look like a combination upscale sports bar/motel, everything clean and spiffy!  The Chicken Ranch even had a banner proclaiming “Voted #1 Nevada Brothel of the Year”.  I’m going to assume the voting was by secret ballot.

Ash Meadows NWR3Back to the normal……we never pass up a chance to visit a National Wildlife Refuge, and so off we went through the desert to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s an amazing place – after driving through what looks like the surface of the moon for an hour, you suddenly come Ash Meadows NWR1upon an area of trees, marsh, and incredibly clear ponds.  This is a place where a large underground aquifer fuels a number of springs that make this the largest oasis in the Mojave Desert.  Ash Meadows NWR2Endangered Desert Pupfish inhabit a pond called Devil’s Hole, a water-filled cavern over 500 feet deep (the bottom has never been reached).  Our first stop was the visitor center, an impressive facility with interesting and informative exhibits and staffed by (what else?) friendly volunteers.  longstreet-cabinFrom there we headed out on the refuge roads with our first stop at Longstreet Spring and Cabin.  Built in 1895 by rancher and miner Jack Longstreet, the restored cabin is next to a vibrant spring.  How anyone managed to trek across the barren wasteland of the Ash Meadows NWR5valley to find this place is a miracle – and why they would live here is beyond comprehension.  But they did, and in the 60s and 70s much of the area was used for farming which almost destroyed the original springs.  Ash Meadows NWR6Fortunately, US Fish & Wildlife Service was able to acquire the land and restore it to a more natural state.  Today there are literally miles of boardwalk that protect the fragile desert and that take you to springs, caverns, and marshlands.  The amount of work that went into completing the facilities on this refuge is staggering – one of the best we’ve seen.

Being this close to Death Valley, we decided to take a day trip via a different route than we’ve traveled before.  We have to say up front that we’re not particularly enamored with the area.  While some areas are visually interesting, it’s a long dusty drive through desolate desert to get to someplace interesting.  And after a while we get overwhelmingly bored by the different shades of tan, brown, and beige.  We came into the park from the east, through Shoshone, traveled over Jubilee Pass, then followed the road north through the Armargosa Valley to Badwater Basin.   BadwaterHere, you can park and walk a mile in searing heat and sun through salt-encrusted desert to have a picture taken at the lowest point in the U.S. – 282’ below sea level.  What fun!  Even on this mid-April day with temperatures in the mid 90s, the parking lot was full and the trail was crowded with people.  We decided that photoshopping ourselves into the sea level sign was less painful. 

Aritist's DriveWe detoured on the Artist’s Drive, a meandering road into the foothills that had some colorful and interesting rock formations. Artist's PalateArtist's Drive2Then it was back to the main road for a quick stop for a snack at Furnace Creek before heading for the Dante’s View, and overlook over a mile above the valley.  On the way to the viewpoint, we passed a large mine and in the distance could see a number of large buildings.  Curious, I did some online research and found that it was the Ryan Mine, a long-closed mine with a fascinating history.  You can read its story here and hereBadwater from Dante's PointThe 14-mile road into the mountains ends at the parking lot for Dante’s View, a beautiful overlook of the valley.  We were right above the Badwater Basin parking lot and could clearly see the line of people stretching into the distance.  It was late afternoon and and the sky was hazy, but even looking into the sun the view was majestic.  But the sun was setting and it was a long trip back to the park, so we called it a day.  Everyone should visit Death Valley, but be aware that it’s a long drive from anywhere, it will be hot even in early spring, and there will be crowds no matter what time of year.  For us, this was the final visit.Dante's Point

We’re headed back to Oregon for a summer of volunteering for US Fish & Wildlife, so stop back and visit!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why We Volunteer

We’re sometimes asked “why do you volunteer?”  After all, we’re in our golden years of retirement, and could park in a resort, sit around the pool, and play Bingo each night.  So here’s our story:

When we decided to retire to a motor home, we knew we wanted to do something other than just travel, spend time in RV parks, and visit attractions.  Both Brenda and I were always interested in learning more about wildlife, birds, and history, but work, family, and life in general never gave us the time.  And so we decided to give volunteering at try.

We started by searching, where every federal and some state volunteer positions are advertised.  We settled on searching for openings with US Fish & Wildlife, and sent off applications to the few that interested us. Refuge Sign One day, while out shopping, we received a call from the volunteer coordinator at Lee Metcalf NWR in Stevensville, Montana asking us if we were interested in spending the summer there.  We’d be the first “resident” volunteers to stay on their new RV pads, so it was a first for both of us.  We accepted, and that April 2006 was the beginning of a journey that has far exceeded our hopes and dreams of full-time RVing. 

Volunteer Photo2We look back now and are so grateful that we were lucky enough to fall into Lee Metcalf NWR as our first experience.  The staff was welcoming, the area was incredibly beautiful, the wildlife was spectacular, and most of all we were encouraged to explore and learn.  We laugh now looking back – we were given a set of keys to the visitor center and told “You guys are it on the weekends”, and knowing we’d be asked questions about the many birds and waterfowl on the refuge, spent hours poring through Sibley Birding Guides and quizzing each other.  It wasn’t long before we realized that we were having fun learning – and enjoying being able to share our newfound knowledge.  Within a month, we were comfortable in explaining wildlife to visitors, helping teach children’s environmental education, and leading tours. 

Spending a summer in the Bitterroot Valley gave us an opportunity to explore some of the country that is billed as “the last best place”.  Brenda saw her first moose, I caught cutthroat trout in remote mountain streams, and we made lifetime friends that we still visit every year. 

Yaquina Head 2016Since that experience we’ve volunteered at other US Fish & Wildlife locations, Oregon and Washington State Parks, The Nature Conservancy, and the Bureau of Land Management.  With very few exceptions, we’ve been welcomed, appreciated, and best of all, educated in a new facet of nature.  We’ve become proficient “birders”, versed in the history of the fisheries of the Western US, and amateur naturalists.  We’ve led wildlife and nature walks, given evening programs on Seals and Sea Lions, and guided people at Pacific tide pools.  Kids w pond waterBut most of all, we’ve had the opportunity to teach children about the wonders of nature as “Junior Ranger” program hosts.  We look back to our first volunteer job, where Bob, our boss and mentor once said “we’re raising a generation of flat screen children, and if we don’t get them involved in nature, we’ll loose our parks and refuges”.  New Junior RangersWe’ve taken those words to heart, and whenever possible concentrate on getting children engaged and interested.  We’ve found that even disinterested young teens will drop the attitude of “what-ever”, and become interested if you present nature in an interesting way. 

Interp Host (small)After a few years, we decided that we’d focus on “interpretive” hosting only, although we’ve done a bit of maintenance here and there.  In the volunteer world, “interpretive hosting” is understood as the means to explain nature and wildlife in terms that are interesting, easy to understand, and relevant to the audience.  It’s often confusing to campers, like the lady that knocked on our door with a letter written in Spanish and wanted us to translate it for her.  We explained that we couldn’t do that, and she pointed to our sign; “but it says you’re interpretive hosts”.

Lake Como ProgramTeaching children has given us so many great memories.  Like the French children whose mother was frustrated because they wouldn’t remove their beaded , salamander necklaces that they made at a Junior Ranger class – even to sleep or shower.  Crafting the SalamanerOr the little boy, who after being issued his Junior Ranger badge and taught the “secret” sign, ran to his grandfather yelling, “grandpa, grandpa!” “I learned the secret sign!”…..”I’ll show it to you for five bucks!”  But most of all, the mother of a learning-disabled child who broke down in tears telling us that he had recited everything we’d taught him about hummingbirds – something he’d never done before. 

Humbug Mtn SiteBesides the enjoyment we get from sharing our knowledge, there are other advantages to volunteering.  As part of the volunteer agreement, we’re given a free site with full hookups, and sometimes other perks such as a phone line or washer/dryer access.  Most of the sites are superior to the camping sites, and some, like at refuges, are spacious and away from the crowd.

Visitor Center 1 MaySpending three months or so in an area also gives us a chance to explore.  We choose volunteer sites based on the location; places we’re interested in spending time exploring and learning about.  The Bitterroot Valley of Montana, surrounded by the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains was like nothing we’d ever seen, and our stay gave us the Rushmore through Treeschance to visit the Big Hole valley and battlefield, Glacier National Park, and follow the route of Lewis and Clark.  Our time in Spearfish, SD gave us the chance to follow Custer’s route through the black hills, travel the Needles Highway, see Mount Rushmore, DFerry with Cascadesevil’s Tower, and get in some great trout fishing.  The northern Washington coast was amazing for its view of the Olympic Mountains and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  We rode the ferry to Seattle and Whidbey Island, toured Forks and Twilight’s land of Vampires and Werewolves, and visited snow-covered Yaquina Lighthouse2Mount Hood.  But of all the great places we’ve been, we keep coming back to the Oregon Coast.  The beauty of sea stacks and pounding surf, the amazing wildlife and the abundance of berries and seafood, and the temperate climate keep drawing us back.  We still haven’t found the perfect place to settle down some day, but the Oregon Coast edges out Montana by just a bit so far.  But there are more places to see….

An important part of our life that we hadn’t really considered was the joy of learning and understating the world around us.  We’ve taught people about birds, raptors, and waterfowl, led wildlife and nature walks, explained the history of fisheries in the west, coastal defense of the Northwest, and lighthouse history; developed programs about seals and sea lions, and guided visitors at tide pools.  All of this was new to us, and the challenge of learning new subjects at each location has been invigorating and we think, keeps us young at heart.  This from a couple, who at retirement only knew birds as Robins and all others, ducks as Mallards and all others, and who thought all Seals and Sea Lions were the same.

And finally, we’ve made so many good friends – fellow volunteers, refuge and park staff, and visitors.  We’ve found that we’re a part of a community wherever we go, and visit friends we made wherever we travel.  We all have the same thing in common, we’re not competing with each other, and we all truly love what we do.  What could be better than that?

We don’t have any plans to stop what we’re doing, and look forward to many more adventures. If you’re interested in joining us on the volunteer road, let us know, we'd be glad to help in any way.