Saturday, March 26, 2016

2 + 1 = 3 Happy Campers

Yes, our family of 2 has grown!  When we began our journey last year, the idea of a pet was always on our minds.  Yes, even with our tiny trailer!  And we anticipated a dog if we went this route.  Well, our dog turned out to be a cat and it's one of the best decisions we have made on our travels!

While in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about a month ago, we were "camping" at a Walmart, and a store called Pet's Barn was in the same plaza.  So in we went, all the while Michael is saying "we are NOT adopting a pet".  Well, you can guess how this ended up!  About 6 cats were there for adoption on behalf of a local adoption center.  There we found Nevelle!  Pronounced like Nev-Ull.  A male domestic short haired cat that the employees described as a "love" soon was ours!  He had been up for adoption since last March.  That made it even more special that we were finally giving him a forever home.

And, the staff had leash trained him inside the store.  Perfect!  Nevelle walks with us outdoors at least once a day.  He stops and starts, and sometimes has to be carried a bit, but he's adapted beautifully to the outdoors, always on a leash or long run-out.  He sleeps with us in the teardrop and is litter box trained.  He loves his corner, but now has taken to sleeping between us!

Outdoors, he's active, chasing crickets and butterflies, and sitting under a big mound of pine needles.  Nevelle has made us super happy!  

In his pine needle fort!

At night he feeds on a cubby hole door that folds down.

We love that he is mostly white with a tail that looks like it was dipped in brown paint!

Yes, he does climb trees.  But since he's on a run-out he doesn't get too far up!

And, he travels so well in the car with us.  We put his food/water bowls and litter box in the back and he rides with us like a champ!  The perfect traveling buddy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lone Star Trail

Michael and I decided to "hike" some of the Lone Star trail today, about two hours on the 100 mile trail.  It passes nearby, and we also walked on a right of way for a natural gas line.  

I put hike in quotes, because we stop every few minutes to look at nature around us, mushrooms, flowers, ant trails, butterflies, dragonflies, and more, plus listening to birdsong and tracking the birds down.  So it is more like a stroll than a hike!!  A naturalists' hike!

Black and white warbler, yellow warbler, pine warbler, scarlet tanager, downy woodpecker, American goldfinch, Carolina chickadee, and chipping sparrow are some of the birds we had today.  It tells us that spring migration is slowly starting!  A Northern harrier flew overhead once we returned to our campsite.

Butterflies seen include common buckeye, mourning cloak, dusky wings sp., angle wings sp., and a "blue" hairstreak-like butterfly.  Our jaws dropped when a moth, the palest shade of teal, came around us; we think it was a moth!  It was a beauty!

The most amazing thing we saw was an ant "highway", about 150 yards long! Leaf-cutter ants were coming from a mound, most carrying bits of leaves, and heading to a hole in the ground where apparently they store the leaf pieces.  Call us crazy, but we were really entertained by this!

Ant highway.

Ant hole and bits of leaves carried there by ants.

Typical ant mounds that we have been seeing.

Tiny balls of excavated dirt at an ant hole.

Lone Star trail.

Happy times!

Well camouflaged lizard.

Gas pipeline right of way.

Still enjoying our campsite!

Later, Michael decided to bake a coffee cake in the Dutch oven:

The final product:

And a bee has set up territory by the teardrop and all he/she does is fly back and forth, chasing all kinds of insects away!  Our guard bee!

Big yellow and black bee above the charcoals, right side of screen!

With bellies full of coffee cake, it's time to enjoy the sunset and starry sky!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Heaven in the National Forest

I write from Sam Houston again, but this time in a perfect spot for camping. We spoke to a ranger about free camping and upon his advice, we drove a couple of forest roads until we found this road with a pretty clearing among long needle pines and strawberry flowers (we think strawberry!).  Lots of butterflies here that we can't ID, so next Barnes & Noble bookstore we pass, I am purchasing a butterfly field guide!  Not very birdy so far,  but have heard pileated woodpeckers calling and drumming.  Other birdsong around, but not much to see other than vultures.

This spot is perfect for boondocking (free and dry camping) and so much nicer than most campsites you pay for.  Saturday night, the 12th of March, we sat under starry skies eating freshly baked bread that Michael made with the Dutch oven.  No photo, sorry!  We dove right into eating it warm with butter!

Before we came here we spent three nights at Escapees campground.  One morning, about one half hour after we awoke, I started with chest pains, radiating to my jaw and left shoulder, with nausea.  Michael rushed me to the local hospital ER, where tests and an EKG showed I did not have a heart attack, much to our thankfulness.  The doctor recommended a stress test, so I will be arranging for that.  Boy, was that scary.  I feel well since.

Just returned from a sunset walk and saw and heard black and white warblers, a pileated flying, Cardinal, blue-gray gnatcatcher, Carolina wren, and Carolina chickadee.  Our third night here and we're listening to coyotes in the distance.  We hear cattle or steer calling out too, kind of a spooky sound!  And, not a soul around!  Very peaceful and beautiful!  Because it is so lovely here, we might stay for a while!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sam Houston National Forest

The Sam Houston National Forest is quite sprawling, and there are established campsites as well as free camping sites.  We decided to go to an area near New Waverly, Texas, where we had options as to a camping spot.  We settled on an open area (this past Friday) where a few other campsites were already in place.  It isn't super clean here and there's only one vault toilet with no toilet paper!  But, it's a free spot so we aren't complaining.

Little did we know that the nearby trail, which is a multi-use trail, would attract a large grouping of dirt bikers over the weekend.  Although we listened to revving motors most of Saturday and Sunday, it was kind of interesting to watch!

Our neighbors, Cindy and Raylene, were wonderful and joined us around our campfire for a couple of hours!  Their dog, Honey, was the sweetest!

Cindy is backpacking the 100 mile Lone Star trail and this was a weekend to rest and cache.  She is doing this to raise funds for the trail.  Cindy sleeps in the coolest bridge hammock, handmade by Brad of Warbonnet.  She let me try it and it was super comfy!  It has a bunch of great features.  It is always the best to meet awesome people along the way!

Sunday night we met James, who is also on the road full time and he joined us at our fire for good conversation.

Red-cockaded woodpecker are in the forest, but no luck spotting any.  We will probably return to the forest for more searching and camping.  

Thursday night we camped at a really nice state park, Llano River SP.  Friday morning we walked a trail to bird, and sat in a bird blind overlooking a water feature.  Very active area: Northern Cardinal, black-crested titmouse, orange-crowned warbler, house finch, field sparrow, black-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and pine  siskins with bright yellow on the wings.  While we walked, we met a naturalist, Holly, who got us on the song of the olive sparrow. Also saw ladder-backed woodpecker.
A real highlight was seeing an indigo bunting as we arrived at the park Friday.  Holly told us that was quite early for this bird!  

Monday, the 7th, we arrived in Livingston to camp and run some errands and make some more appointments.  Rain and thunderstorms predicted for the week.  At least the car and teardrop are getting a much needed bath!  The pollen is suddenly everywhere.

Will be planning some trips here in Texas for some early spring migration birding.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

New Mexico and Texas Camping and a Roadrunner

On February 25th and 26th, we camped at a cool place called Rock Hound State Park, near Deming, New Mexico.  It is popular for rock and geode collectors. When we arrived, it was after 6pm, and all spots were taken with the exception of an overflow area.  We were squeezed in between two large campers that dwarfed our little teardrop!

View from the teardrop.

Sunset at Rock Hound.

Squeezed into our "campsite" at Rock Hound State Park, Deming, NM.

On the 27th, we headed back into Texas.  A friend, Ernest, had posted a photo of himself on Facebook recently, with mountains in the background.  I asked him where this was, and he told me it was the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, Texas. It was enticing, so we headed to this area.  Well, it is breathtaking and now one of our favorite spots to visit.

Here are views from the campsite of the Franklin Mountains:

What is nice about the loop we are in is there are only 5 spaces for RV campers.  And we are all in small rigs so it is very pleasant and quiet.  By our third day, we had the place to ourselves.

We are in the Chihuahuan Desert, with cacti, tumbleweeds, jack rabbits, and rattlesnakes.  This is west Texas, and the Chihuahuan Desert is better known as the Trans-Pecos of Texas.  There are over ten different habitats here.  This desert extends north into southern New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona, the major portion is located in Mexico!  In Texas, the desert covers 50,000 square miles, or 1/5 of Texas' landmass.  Overall, the desert covers 243,000 square miles.

Bird-wise, 505 species have been observed in this region, which is 81% of the species known to occur in Texas.  Upon awakening today, we heard only cactus wren.  Otherwise, it is very quiet at this campsite.  We saw cactus wren, and a Crissal thrasher.

View from within our "living room", our REI "In Camp" tent.  Solar panels to the left.  Water Bricks carry 3.5 gallons each and we carry 4 plus a Reliance brand water container.

On March 1st, we arrived after dark at Balmorhea State Park, as we headed further east.

Eating breakfast, March 2nd, a usually running roadrunner, always elusive, joined us for breakfast at Balmorhea.  Obviously he's been fed by people as he came right up to us!  One of the coolest bird experiences we've ever had:

Wild experience!

Scenery along interstate 10:

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes

On our last day in Arizona, Harriet, Michael, and I, drove almost two hours southeast of Tucson, to Whitewater Draw, a roosting spot for many thousands of beautiful Sandhill Cranes!  We arrived around 10:15am and our timing couldn't have been better!  Constant clouds of birds kept appearing and they would land in groups around the wetlands.  Around five groupings formed around the main body of water.  

This area is preserved for the cranes and waterfowl, and features a loop trail.  It is an expansive area and just a terrific place to watch the birds.  It's a former cattle ranch within the Chihuahuan Desert grassland habitat.  There are extensive open water areas, marshlands and mudflats.  Not only does this area attract the cranes and waterfowl, it also attracts migratory birds.

Other birds seen include white-faced ibis, blue and green-winged teal, cinnamon teal, great blue heron, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, greater yellowlegs, long-billed dowitcher, killdeer, western sandpiper, black-throated sparrow, white-throated, mourning and white-winged doves, red-winged blackbird, and a probable prairie falcon in flight.  Michael found a bat house, and the bats inside were "chirping"!

Photos follow, but most likely won't do justice! The spots you see in the sky are cranes!

Northern shovelers

Harriet scoping the birds.

We've seen this spectacle before, in New Mexico at Bosque del Apache, and will visit there again. Another spot is along the Platte River in Nebraska, on our bucket list!