Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Friday, February 22, 2019
Places that have never been snow covered now resemble the Rockies. Here at the refuge the view of Gass Peak, right on the edge of Las Vegas, is remarkable:
If we have one regret it’s that we didn’t have more time to explore the back roads extending through the refuge. The government shutdown kept us from checking out a refuge truck with 4-wheel drive, a vehicle needed on the remote roads. As we tell people at the visitor center who are interested in hiking into the mountains and camping, “there is no cell service, the back country is not patrolled, and you should bring supplies for extra days if the weather turns”. But surprisingly, for most people this is an attraction.
This area is home to many fossil beds, one of which is right alongside one of the refuge roads. Here the rock is studded with hundreds of prehistoric marine mollusks (ammonites):
Looking across the Yucca Forest, you can see what looks like the head of a crocodile:
One of our most common birds inhabiting the riparian area behind the visitor center is the Phainopepla; a pretty bird that I’ve come to think of as the “Mistletoe Marauder”.
The Phainopepla feed primarily on the berries found on the Desert Mistletoe. The seeds don’t get digested and pass through the bird, which seems to enjoy pooping on branches. The undigested seed is sticky, forms roots, and grows into the tree, usually the Honey Mesquite, our most common tree. This parasitic bush is found everywhere among the refuge Mesquite trees, in some cases it is difficult to tell what type of tree it is covering.
Our time here has been everything that we look for in a volunteer position – new places to explore, new things to learn, and new friends to keep in touch with. And with the Spring Mountains covered in snow, who could ask for a better backyard view?
We’ll be traveling back to the Oregon Coast for a a month or so and are looking forward to seeing friends and visiting some of our favorite places, so check back for updates!
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Nine states, 7000 miles, three months on the Oregon Coast, five in the Northern Idaho forest, two in the Nevada desert, and a couple more just traveling…..another great year!
We began the year in Bandon OR, or favorite coastal town, spent most of the summer in Northern Idaho, made a mad dash to Iowa for motor home repairs, returned to Bandon for annual medical visits, then traveled to Las Vegas for the winter. Whew….I’m getting tired just thinking about it!
January found us at the Bandon National Wildlife Refuge. We spent time during good weather overlooking Simpson Reef and with spotting scopes, helping people learn about the various seals and sea lions that visit the reef. We were treated to the sight of massive Elephant Seals giving birth, and watched as the pups struggled to survive in the harsh environment. We saw Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Gray Whales almost daily – a truly magical place. In Bandon, we watched winter storms pound the strangely shaped sea stacks and later, the beauty of evening sunsets.
Oregon continues to surprise us with incredible beauty. We spent a week east of the Cascades in Prineville, a picture-perfect little town and our base to explore the Painted Hills, the John Day Fossil Beds, and Smith Rock State Park:
Then it was time to check in at Farragut State Park for our summer as “program hosts”. What an amazing place – we’ve never been to a park with better facilities, a more professional staff or more comfortable host RV spaces. We spent the summer developing and implementing evening programs, teaching the “Junior Rangers”, and hosting school visits. We made many new friends among the staff and almost 50 other volunteers and had the chance to explore the area around Coeur d’Alene and Lake Pend Oreille. It was a memorable summer and we’re looking forward to returning.
After the Labor Day holiday, we headed to Iowa with a stop in Missoula for a quick visit with our friends from our days at Lee Metcalf NWR. Our trip to Iowa was driven by a need to inspect/repair our slide systems. Although they worked fine, after ten years of operation it was time to have them checked. In April, I took the motor home to Winnebago’s new factory in Coberg OR and asked them to take a look. They gave me an estimate of over 5000 dollars! I called the slide system’s manufacturers (HWH Technologies) in Moscow IA, explained in the same terms what I needed, and was told it would cost less than $1000…..and in the end, the cost to inspect, replace parts, check the hydraulic slides AND jacks, and realign the automatic levers was…….$163. Well worth the drive to Iowa, although on the way back, it wasn’t until passing through Montana that I started to cool down…..When I complained to Winnebago I was contacted and asked to reply with the details. And when I did the emails bounced back because the email address furnished wasn’t valid. I’ve always had good service from Winnebago in Forest City, IA but will avoid Coburg from now on.
So it was back to Bandon for six weeks of relaxing and finishing annual medical visits. We visited many of our favorite areas, ate too much Dungeness crab, and stocked up on frozen berries for the winter:
Soon it was time to head for Las Vegas and our winter position at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. On the way we took a bit of a jog to revisit Lone Pine CA and the Alabama Hills. This is such an interesting place if you’re a fan of old movies and TV shows. Exploring shooting locations under the immense shadow of Mt. Whitney is great fun and revealing – like this location from 1939’s Gunga Din, where we parked in the movie’s “chasm”:
We pulled into our home for the winter at the end of November, and started our jobs as visitor center hosts. It’s a great place – new, beautiful visitor center, great trails through the cottonwoods and desert willow, and a comfortable site with mountain views:
We’re grateful for our lifestyle and the ability to explore this great country. 2019 holds a lot of promise, and we’re looking forward to new adventures, new friends, and new memories. Thanks for following us, we truly appreciate it!
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
Happy New Year to everyone from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, our home for the past month. We’ll be here until the end of February and are enjoying this, our sixth US Fish & Wildlife Service volunteer location. The refuge is surprisingly the largest in the lower 48, yet just a few miles outside the growing (now 3 million) city of Las Vegas. It became a refuge in 1936 with the mission to shelter and protect Desert Bighorn Sheep which number between 600-800. And it’s not just desert – the Sheep Range which runs north-south has peaks over 9000’ with areas of Bristlecone, Ponderosa, and White Pine. At the lower elevations, the country’s 2nd largest Yucca forest (after Mojave) can be seen, and there are fossil beds, deep canyons, and remnants of the pioneer past. And all of it is open to the public for sightseeing, hiking, and camping…and it’s free!
We’re the visitor center hosts, augmenting the many local residents that volunteer here. The folks here are what we’ve come to expect at F&W locations – friendly, welcoming, and appreciative of our efforts. We have a great site with full hookups and a view of the Spring Mountains in the distance. Although it’s quiet and dark at night, we’re only 15 miles from the outskirts of town and great shopping.
The visitor center is beautiful; only four years old and well designed with great interpretive displays, interactive children’s activities, and a theater. Behind the center are well maintained trails that wander through the spring-fed Cottonwood, Desert Willow and Mesquite trees. This is a birder’s paradise due to the riparian environment – various sparrows, Northern Shrike, Phainopepla, Bluebirds, and others are seen daily. We maintain a bird feeder on one of the trail’s curves, and on most days you can find this Cooper’s Hawk in a nearby tree, waiting for the sparrows to grab a meal before he swoops down to get his. The trail also passes a cabin, built by the original ranchers son, constructed of railroad ties left by a bankrupt railroad. A bit further is the “refugium”, a large aquarium that houses a number of the very few surviving Pahrump Poolfish. Even now, with the trees mostly bare, the scenery is well worth a walk along the trail.
I had the chance to accompany a couple of the maintenance volunteers on a trip into the back country on one of the two roads (I use the term loosely) that traverses the refuge. Leaving the visitor center, the road slowly climbed into the mountain valley and gave us a great view of the mountains to the South.
After 21 miles we arrived at Desert Pass campground, the only campground on the refuge with six sites and two pit toilets. At 6600’, there was snow on the ground and a definite chill in the air. It’s a pretty place, with Ponderosa and Pinion pine providing shade. After disinfecting the toilets and emptying the fire pits, we were on our way, another 25 or so miles to the eastern edge of the refuge and paved highway.
One of the reasons we chose to stay here was that our daughter and her husband, who live in the L.A. area, could visit. We were fortunate to spend most of the Christmas holiday with them and about a million other visitors. We made a Christmas Eve visit to the heart of the strip to see the decorations at the Bellagio Conservatory. It was pandemonium – literally thousands of people crammed together, most with phones held high to take pictures or fixated on texting others about the great time they were having as they stumbled into one another. After the chaos we slowly made our way through the crowds to Caesar’s Palace and Joe’s Prime Steak, Seafood, and Stone Crab restaurant where we watched Kim’s husband Bill devour a 22-ounce Lobster tail while we worked our way through scallops, shrimp, and much smaller lobster tails. While we’ll never visit the “strip” again on Christmas, we’re glad we did it once.
So that’s it for now. Brenda and I want to wish you all the happiest, healthiest, and most rewarding New Year possible! And if your travel plans include Las Vegas over the next two months, let us know, we’d love to get together!