Badlands National Park – Rugged Beauty on a South Dakota RV Trip

August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.

Landscape Badlands National Park South Dakota

Badlands (along with dot-sized cows) in South Dakota

The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.

South Dakota Badlands Scenery

Rugged “badlands” landscape

As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.

South Dakota Badlands scenery

Slightly hazy from smoke coming from Montana’s wildfires, the golden glow was still beautiful.

Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.

Photography Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Golden Hour Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.

Overlook at Badlands National Park South Dakota

There are badlands as far as the eye can see!

For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park Overlook South Dakota

Two bighorn sheep enjoy the awesome view.

Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.

Bighorn sheep walks past an RV wearing a radio collar

Have radio, will travel! If the rangers gave this sheep an iPhone X, he could make calls and post pics on Facebook!!

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.

But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!

Bighorn sheep at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.

Mama sheep and her lamb

Very sheepish, but a little different looking!

Bighorn sheep in the prairie grasses Badlands South Dakota

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Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!

Bighorn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

A family of bighorn sheep moves through the golden grasses.

Big horn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Herd of bighorn sheep Badlands South Dakota

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Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!

Pelican Badlands National Park South Dakota

Here’s a Badlands visitor we didn’t expect to see!

But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!

Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.

But we couldn’t resist them!

Prairie Dog Secrets Badlands National Park South Dakota

“I wanna let you in on a little secret…”

Two Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“No… are you serious?!”

Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“Hey! Guess what I just heard…!!”

We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.

Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park South Dakota

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As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

First there was one…

Then two of his buddies joined him.

Bighorn sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

…and then there were three!

So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!

Red ball at sunset Badlands National Park South Dakota

The sun sets in a fireball of red.

If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.

RV camping in the South Dakota Badlands at sunset

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Custer State Park Burros & Bison – Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

July 2017 – Custer State Park in South Dakota is a wonderful place to see wildlife up close, and we ended up driving the Wildlife Loop Road quite a few times during our stay.

Wild burros with RV Custer State Park South Dakota

The “wild” burros in Custer State Park are surprisingly tame!

The “wild” burros are actually feral burros that were “set free” many decades ago. Now they are known as the “begging burros,” and for good reason!

As we drove on the Wildlife Loop Road with pro wildlife photographer, Steve Perry, and his wife Rose, we were astonished when some very bold burros walked right up to our car.

Car with wild burro Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Wild burros approached our car.

Wild burro approaches car Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve reaches out to pet a “wild” burro in Custer State Park.
The burros here rightfully earned the nickname, “begging burros!”

The white burro pressed his nose against a closed car window and made funny faces at us…

Wild burro at the car window Custer State Park South Dakota

A burro presses his big nose against the car window.

The other poked his whole head right in!

Wild burro head in car Custer State Park South Dakota

Another burro sticks his nose right inside the car!

It turns out that these begging burros are the rather lazy descendants of a very hard working group of burros who began taking Custer State Park visitors on rides from Sylvan Lake up to Harney Peak back in 1927.

Little girl with wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The wild burros are very accustomed to people, but not all the people are accustomed to the wild burros!

After a few years of providing these fun sounding burro rides, Custer State Park officials decided to end the rides, and they simply let the burros go.

Petting a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

“Look what I found. Can I keep him?”

Nowadays, the burros are so accustomed to human visitors — and are so fond of the treats that many humans bring them — that they are quite fearless and are more than happy to mingle with tourists. They even let folks pet them.

Boy and wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The burros don’t mind being petted.

Custer State Park encourages people not to feed the burros, but while we were there loads of people got out of their cars with bags of food for them. Keeping the burros’ waistlines in mind, though, most folks showed up with something nutritious like a bag of carrots or romaine lettuce.

Feeding a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Although signs say not to, lots of visitors bring snacks for the burros.

On our first foray into Custer State Park, we had been amazed just to see the wild burros and their foals from a distance, period. But this time we found ourselves standing right next to them.

Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

We saw several moms and babies.

Wild burro mare stands watch over foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Standing watch.

Wild burros nuzzing Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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The burros were so darned laid back that one mom suddenly did a barrel roll in the dirt, letting a cloud of dust fly.

Wild burro dust bath Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Mom takes a dust bath!

I was smitten by the little foals. They had such sweet and innocent faces.

Portrait wild burro foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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One foal was particularly mellow. It must have been nap time, and when I knelt down next to her and stroked the soft fur on her head and neck, she leaned her whole weight against my leg and closed her eyes. Naturally, I was thrilled!

Burro foal resting Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

I could not believe this little foal was so trusting.

Wild burro foal on the Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

“Look what I found. Can I keep her?”

Custer State Park’s herd of bison is another big draw for tourists, and the opportunities to see them are plentiful. Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres are fully enclosed by fencing, and there are roughly 1,300 buffalo in the Park’s buffalo herd. The herd is carefully culled and maintained each year.

On the day that we were out photographing prairie dogs with Steve and Rose, we suddenly noticed there was a huge group of bison approaching us from the distance hills. As the leaders drew near, we turned our cameras away from the prairie dogs and focused on the approaching buffalo.

Group of buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

A huge herd of bison came down out of the hills towards us.

There were both buffalo cows and bulls in the herd and lots of buffalo calves as well. They came down from the hills in a long, steady stream.

Buffalo herd approaches Custer State Park South Dakota-2

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The herd fanned out and approached us like an approaching army. It was a little unsettling, even though they were walking slowly.

Bison herd approaches in Custer State Park South Dakota

The herd approaches.

Even the prairie dogs stood up on their hind legs to see what was rattling the roofs of their underground compound.

Prairie dog stands up when herd of buffalo approach Custer State Park South Dakota

“Who’s making all that noise?

As they approached us they stirred up the dust with their hooves.

Buffalo herd Custer State Park South Dakota

The dust flies as the herd approaches.

A few even stopped for a dust bath as their comrades marched on.

Buffalo dust bath Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo takes a bath.

The herd easily numbered a hundred, and they moved steadily towards us, getting closer and closer. We kept taking photos, but we all began to back up towards the car.

Bison herd Custer State Park South Dakota

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All of a sudden they were within just a few feet of us, and let me tell you, these animals a huge.

It felt like a gang was surrounding us as they walked towards the road and then circled around us and the car. We could hear them breathing, and we could hear the grass rustling as they moved pass. The gravel in the road crunched under their feet. Their huge heads swayed slowly back and forth as they came right towards us.

Photographing buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve takes photos of the approaching bison.

It was an incredible opportunity to take some portraits! Each buffalo was completely different. Some had tall horns, or widely spaced horns or sharply curving horns. Some had long faces and others had broad faces.

Approaching buffalo Custer State Park South Dakota

Every buffalo portrait revealed a totally different face.

Bison head Custer State Park South Dakota

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Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

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The bison were big and burly and a little frightening up close, but as we studied them, we could see they lead very hardscrabble lives.

Mark got photos of one that had a big open sore on its side that was bleeding. We weren’t sure if it had been gored by another buffalo or had scraped itself on a tree branch, but it was a surprise to see a bright red oozing wound. Another had a horn that had broken off.

Bison with broken horn Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo’s life can be rough and tumble.

As we clicked away with our cameras, all I could think of was the scary statistic from Yellowstone National Park: Each year more people are gored by bison there than are attacked by grisly bears! I backed up to the car and stood in front of the open door for a few last shots and then dove into the car in a panic.

Steve’s wife Rose was already in the car, and she cracked up as I fell all over myself getting in.

I sorted myself out, and then we both watched anxiously as Steve and Mark remained outside the back of the car, madly taking photos as these enormous animals closed in around us.

Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

Watch out for those sharp horns!

Finally the two crazed photographers threw their tripods in the trunk and then jumped inside with us, slamming the doors closed and rolling the windows up.

The bison surrounded us like a big black sea, walking slowly alongside the car within a few feet. Then, like water flowing around an island, they moved on down the road, more interested in finding greener pastures than in bothering with the silly photo crew in the little car.

In the distance, we could see other members of the herd running across the meadow. It was amazing to see the huge creatures nimbly galloping, the calves dutifully scampering right behind.

Buffalo on the run Custer State Park South Dakota

Buffalo on the move…

Buffalo cow and calf runnning in Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo cow runs at full speed with her calf following close behind.

And then, as quickly as it started, the show was over.

The entire herd had easily covered a few miles of ground in a very short time, moving from the hills on one horizon to the stream, trees and meadows on the other. What a fabulous experience that was.

Buffalo on dirt road Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park south Dakota

We’ll always treasure our memories of this unusual buffalo encounter.

Buffalo calf Custer State Park South Dakota

Not quite as sweet as a baby burro, perhaps, but the buffalo calves were still pretty cute!

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Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road – Where the Animals Are!

July 2017 – Not only is Custer, South Dakota, a charming place for RVers to enjoy a spirited, small town 4th of July celebration, it is situated next to enormous Custer State Park where beautiful scenery and unusual wildlife abound. While Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are famous for bison leisurely strolling down the road, Custer State Park offers the same thrill but in a much less visited setting.

Photographing a bison Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The animals were easy to spot in Custer State Park!

The Wildlife Loop Road is the place to see the animals in Custer State Park. When friends told us this drive was their favorite part of the Park because of all the animals they saw, I wondered how in the world the animals knew they were supposed to hang out there to greet all the tourists. I still don’t know, but it doesn’t take long on the Wildlife Loop Road to see them!

Buffalo at Custer State Park South Dakota

We had to share the road…with bison!

We arranged our 2017 travels to take us to Custer State Park because we knew a professional wildlife photographer that we have admired for a long time was headed there to test out some new camera gear for one of his video reviews. His name is Steve Perry, and he has a very popular YouTube channel as well as two excellent books about photography (links below).

Buffalo head through the grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Up close and personal in Custer State Park.

Ever since we purchased and devoured Steve’s first book on wildlife photography a while back, we have studied his tutorials closely and learned a lot from his many tips.

So, we were absolutely thrilled to meet Steve and his wife Rose in downtown Custer. We agreed to catch up with each other again out on the Wildlife Loop Road in the early dawn hours the next day.

Wildlife Photographers Custer South Dakota

Mark with pro wildlife photographer Steve Perry.

We were out on the road before sunrise, and in no time we spotted a little group of wild burros. Several mares were accompanied by their adorable foals. How fun!

Mother and baby wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

Mom and her foal.

Mare and foal wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

There were wild burro moms and babies everywhere.

Suddenly, the sun appeared above the trees, and cast its soft rays across the meadow. But we hardly noticed as we watched this herd of burros, utterly enchanted by the sweet little knobby kneed foals.

Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Adorable!

Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

The babies are all legs…!

We drove a little further on the Wildlife Loop Road and spotted a gorgeous young white tail deer with soft, fuzzy antlers.

Young buck Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

A young buck.

There were pronghorn antelope too.

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

Pronghorn in the grass.

All these animals live in the middle of a smorgasbord of their favorite foods. There are not only grasses to munch…

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

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…but there are wildflowers too. Yum!

Pronghorn eating flowers Custer State Park South Dakota

Flowers taste good!

All these animal sightings were great, but where were Steve and Rose? It hadn’t occurred to us that meeting “somewhere” on the Wildlife Loop Road was a little non-specific, and that we would probably all get totally sidetracked by watching the animals and possibly miss each other completely.

Fortunately, with split second timing, just as we passed a dirt road that intersected with the Wildlife Loop Road when we were leaving, we saw Steve’s car bumping down the lumpy road. What luck! Steve excitedly told us what fun they’d just had photographing the prairie dogs in a dog town commonunity just a ways back on that road.

Steve Perry Wildlife Photographer 00 601 Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve Perry showed us how it’s done!

He offered to lead us back there, and soon we were looking out on the open prairie where dozens of these adorable little creatures were busily popping in and out of their burrows.

Two prairie dogs in a burrow Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota-1

A pair of prairie dogs peeks out of their burrow.

Pair of prairie dogs Custer State Park South Dakota

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Prairie dogs tell secrets Custer State Park South Dakota

Psst! Can you keep a secret??

Steve crouched down with the new Nikon D7500 camera and a mammoth Nikon 600 mm lens to get photos for his review, but before he did, he lent me his Nikon 200-500 mm lens to see how I liked it. Wow!

Prairie Dog Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

“Watcha doin’?”

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

Pretty in pink.

Mark was using our Tamron 150-600 lens on a Nikon D500 camera, and all three of us hunkered down on the dry prairie grasses and aimed our cameras at these little bands of comedians. What a blast we had watching their capers and taking pics. After growing accustomed to our presence, they stopped barking warnings about us to each other and began going about their daily business and munching breakfast.

Prairie Dog Custer State Park South Dakota

A prairie dog sits in the middle of a breakfast buffet.

Prairie dog eating grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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The prairie dogs appeared and disappeared all across the meadow, like bubbles forming and popping in a fizzy drink, and we had to think and act fast to catch their antics before they vanished from sight. I realized, as I sat there, that one of the keys to wildlife photography is having a vast reserve of patience.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

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Prairie Dog munching grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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We had seen prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico just a few weeks prior, but we had been in a rush to see other things and had given them about five minutes to strut their stuff for us. No wonder our pics had been mediocre. We learned from Steve that if you’re going to shoot prairie dogs and capture their adorable cuteness, it takes time.

For RVers traveling to South Dakota, another great place to watch prairie dogs is in front of Devils Tower National Monument.

Prairie Dog trio Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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It also requires good equipment, and I couldn’t believe the quality of the photos that were coming from the lens I was borrowing from Steve! As I checked my images, it suddenly dawned on me that when we’d decided to come all this way to watch and learn from a pro wildlife photographer, we had inadvertently signed up to start lusting after some really nice camera gear!

After we filled our cameras’ memory cards with pics of prairie dogs and packed up to head out, we told Steve he might have cost us some big bucks if we couldn’t keep our lust in check. He laughed and told us how he had been in the exact same boat when he first got serious about wildlife photography years ago. He said photography buffs have a name for it: GAS or Gear Aquisition Syndrome. Oh dear!

Prairie Dogs standing Custer State Park South Dakota

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Driving a little further on in Steve’s car, we got another lesson on the patience it takes to get great photos of wildlife. Ever since we’d arrived in Custer a few days prior, we had been hearing the most beautiful birdsong. But we hadn’t been able to track down the bird that was responsible for it. The bird always seemed to be out of sight.

Suddenly, just as we heard the familiar birdsong, Steve stopped the car and backed up slowly, and we noticed that a little yellow bird was sitting on a fence post singing his heart out.

“That’s a Meadowlark,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to get a good shot of one while I’m here, and we spent hours trying yesterday!”

Well, this little guy had no problem with the car being parked right next to him, and as we all pointed our lenses out the car windows, he belted out verse after verse of his angelic song. Every time he opened his beak to sing, a rapid fire rat-a-tat-tat erupted from our camera shutters, providing a funny drumbeat accompaniment to his melody as we all shot as many pics as we could.

Meadowlark Custer State Park South Dakota

A meadowlark was singing his heart out.

We returned to our little camping spot in the woods absolutely elated. We’d each gotten some really cool wildlife photos, and we’d learned the key tip for how to do it: Patience, patience, patience!

If you see some prairie dogs, have a seat, relax, and let them get used to you. Eventually they’ll begin to do their thing at their own pace. And if you see a row of fence posts, don’t drive past too quickly, because there might be a little bird using one of them as center stage for performing his full repertoire!

Sure enough, the next day we were driving down a dirt road that ran alongside a fence line, and suddenly Mark spotted a Mountain Bluebird sitting on it. The bird was on my side of our truck, so I quickly grabbed Mark’s camera with the long lens attached. Following Steve’s tip we’d learned, I rested the lens on the partially lowered car window, and fired away with abandon.

When I paused for a second to check out my images, I was thrilled to see that the bluebird had a bug in its mouth!

Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

OMG – That bluebird has a bug in his mouth!

He hopped and turned to show me his other side. Perfect!

Mountain bluebird holding bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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Suddenly, Mark said, “Look, there’s another bird on the wire over there!”

I turned and fired away again, and then I noticed that it was the little bluebird’s girlfriend, and she too had a bug in her mouth! Thanks, Steve!

Female Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

His little girlfriend had found breakfast too!

Talk about getting some wonderful shutter therapy and having a satisfying feeling of success!

If South Dakota is in your sites for your RV adventures, the cute town of Custer and nearby Custer State Park make for a fantastic RV destination, and driving the Wildlife Loop Road a few times can easily end up being the highlight of the whole trip.

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RV Boondocking in Black Hills National Forest, SD – Camping with Cows!

July 2017 – The US Forest Service, which manages all the National Forests in America, dubs its land the “Land of Many Uses.” The uses we love most are camping with our RV, hiking, biking and photography. But when we are on public land, we share it with folks who hunt, fish, ride horses, graze cattle and extract various natural resources.

For urban and suburban folk who come out to America’s public lands to smell the pungent fresh air and see the stunning scenery, the omnipresence of cattle can be a bit of a surprise. In our many years of nightly boondocking, we have found ourselves sharing our back yard with cows quite a few times. It is, after all, open range.

Open Range Grazing Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

In the west, the public lands are Open Range. Literally!

Cattle ranching is very much alive today, and cowboys really do exist in the real world, far from the classic TV shows and western movies. The other day, as we were driving to town in Buffalo, Wyoming, we came across a cattle drive going right up the highway.

Cattle drive across highway

On the highway one day we came upon a cattle drive. How cool is that?!

We crept past and were amazed at the huge number of cows and calves. The cowboys herding them were on horseback.

Cattle drive on horseback

The cattle were being driven by cowboys on horseback.

Slow traffic for horseback cattle drive on highway

This is what a traffic jam in the big western states looks like!

As we went down the line of mooing cows and watched the calves trotting along to keep up with their moms, it was like stepping back in time. America has a rich history in cattle ranching, and in many ways it is a way of life that hasn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years.

But technology has definitely made deep inroads, and besides using ATVs to zip around the many square miles of a ranch, it helps simplify many other things too. Towards the end of the herd of cows we came across a cowboy riding his horse with a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other! How much easier it must be to coordinate the herding process when you can simply call your buddy cowboy at the other end of the herd!

Cowboy on cell phone during cattle drive

Modern day ranching: a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other!

In South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest we found a lovely spot to camp with our RV for a few days, and as we were first setting up, we couldn’t help but take a few photos of our idyllic little campsite.

RV boondocking and camping in the US National Forest

Finding a beautiful place to camp in the National Forest is one of the biggest highlights of our lifestyle.

Boondocking in the National Forest is always a treat for the senses. In the early mornings we spotted deer nearby.

White tail deer in Black Hills National Forest South Datkota

Hi Neighbor!

A wild turkey caught Mark’s eye on a solo hike he did at dawn another morning.

Wild Turkey Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

A wild turkey fluffs his feathers and shakes his tail.

He’s not a birder, but his camera managed to catch a woodpecker searching for bugs, a robin carrying a bug in his mouth, and a stunning Western Tanager.

Woodpecker in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Woodpecker.

Robin with bug in its mouth Black Hills National Forest

Robin.

Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Western Tanager.

Flying Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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The nights were glorious. The Milky Way marched across the sky all night every night for a few days.

Milky Way with RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Starry, starry night!

Beautifully mysterious trail of clouds crossed the sky one night, and we were astonished later when Mark lightened his photos on his computer later and saw how much orange and pink lingered in those clouds.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Wispy clouds cross the Milky Way.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Clouds whirl past the stars.

But the most humorous and heartwarming aspect of this particular South Dakota campsite wasn’t the stars or the natural wildlife.

We were both jolted out of bed one morning by the raucous braying of a huge animal standing right under our fifth wheel’s overhang. Right under our bed! Good grief, what was that?

I jumped out of bed and poked my head out the door and found myself face to face with an enormous brown bull with a white face and an expectant expression. It was the ideal photo op. Our trailer and awning framed this huge bull’s head as he stared at me.

But I was in my PJs and was still wiping my eyes with disbelief, while my camera was tucked away in some safe place out of reach. By the time I got my hands on my camera, the bull was walking away to greener grass.

Cow by an RV in the US National Forest Black Hills South Dakota

This big bull stood under our bedroom and bellowed loudly to wake us up!

It turned out that his noisy braying — he sounded suprisingly like a very loud donkey on steroids — was a call to the herd to come check out our trailer. Before I knew it, our little buggy was surrounded with USDA Choice Grade A Grass Fed Beef!

Cows around fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Cows and calves check out our trailer.

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking with cows in the National Forest

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Over the next few days these cows came by our campsite on a regular basis. They seemed to be fascinated by us. And we were fascinated by them. We’d be sitting quietly minding our own business in our trailer when suddenly we’d hear the sound of grass being ripped out by the roots and footsteps clomping around in the dirt. We’d look out the window, and sure enough, there they’d be.

Herd of cows surround RV boondocking in the National Forest

We’re surrounded!

On a few mornings we woke to the trailer rocking as the cows rubbed their shoulders and scratched their itches on its corners.

Cow outside RV window camping in Black Hills South Dakota boondocking

I look out the window to see a peeping Tom!

Cow outside fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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Moms and calves would gather together and stare at us whenever they heard us come out of the trailer. The calves were skittish and would run away if we got too close, but the moms would stand calmly facing us, slowly grinding grass in their mouths and staring.

Cattle herd with fifth wheel camper RV in Black Hills National Forest

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Fifth wheel camper with herd of cows in Black Hills National Forest

The herd moves in on us.

One morning we were both woken from a deep sleep when we heard another strange sound just outside the trailer. We ran outside to see what it was and saw a balloon floating past. The sound we’d heard was the balloonist firing up the gas flame. Every few seconds he’d do that and the flame would fill the balloon with hot air to make it rise.

Balloon over RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The sound of a balloonist filling his balloon with hot air woke us up at dawn.

But it was those darn cows that kept the smirks on our faces and gave our days a special funkiness. I began to imitate their mooing, and that would make them turn around and look at me. I had to laugh when Mark commented, “That’s pretty good. You sound just like them!”

Grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest

All ears perked up when I mooed.

Mark took out his guitar one day and sat on our steps and played for them. They seemed to like the music and began mooing. Just like howling dogs, they seemed to want to add their own melody to his tunes.

Playing guitar for cows in US National Forest

The cows responded to Mark’s guitar playing by adding their voices in a moo-along!

A few calves got bold and ventured close to our truck. They were very intrigued by it.

A calf visits our truck in the National Forest

A brave calf approaches our truck.

Baby calf sniffs our pickup truck US National Forest

Another calf sniffs our bumper.

One day I came out of the trailer to find myself facing a lineup of cows. If I hadn’t knowd better, they would have seemed a little intimidating. They looked a lot like a gang of thugs in the hood.

Herd of cows and grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The gang’s all here — in the hood!

Mark got busy taking portrait shots of a calf one day, and it was hilarious to see the little guy’s mind turning as he approached the camera.

Cow checks out Nikon camera

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Photography cow inspects Nikon camera

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Closeup of calf face

By placing the camera so low, Mark got a neat angle on this calf’s face.

Suddenly Mark saw his big wet nose and thick black tongue going for his camera. Uh oh!!

cow inspects Nikon camera Photography_

What does that thing taste like?

He pulled his camera away just in time, but when we started to pack up to leave the campsite a few days later, he discovered that one of the cows had gotten into our barbecue and had damaged the latch on the cover. He did a quickie repair job on the fly before we hitched up to leave.

Mother cow and calf in US National Forest

Camping in the National Forest sometimes gives us close encounters with cows.
It’s most fun with moms and their calves in Spring!

After we arrived at our next campsite, we found gooey prints from cow lips in a few places on our truck and trailer. Oh well! That’s all just part of the unusual experience of RV boondocking in the National Forest.

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Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Big Horn Sheep!

May 2016 – We wanted the theme for our RV travels this spring to be “Snowcapped Mountains” and, if possible, “Cool Wild Animals.” So far we had seen a little of both in northern Utah, southeastern Idaho, the Bitterroot Valley and in Glacier National Park in Montana. But we knew some of the most impressive mountains and close-up wildlife sightings were probably to be found even further north, so we drove over the border into Canada.

RV travel in the Canadian Rockies Columbia Lake

Snowcapped mountains were on our agenda this spring… and cool wild animals too, if we were lucky!

Our first stop was in Fernie, British Columbia, a mountain town in the Canadian Rockies that is home to a popular ski resort.

Church in Fernie British Columbia Canada

Fernie, British Columbia, is a picturesque ski town in the Canadian Rockies

We asked for snowcapped mountains and we got ’em!!

Church steeple Fernie British Columbia Canada

The mountains soar above the edges of town.

Even though we had rather threatening skies, the mountains framed every view beautifully.

Fernie British Columbia Canada

What a backdrop for a cute little town!

The town of Fernie has a hip and youthful vibe. Lots of kids come here to take advantage of the outdoor sports, and they live on the cheap in shared apartments so they can spend their days on the ski slopes or on the mountain bike trails. We saw almost no gray hair around us as we walked the streets!

Up by the ski resort there were elegant Swiss style lodges.

Ski lodge Fernie British Columbia Canada

Classic ski lodges at the Fernie Alpine Resort

Fernie is tucked into a bend in the Elk River, and a lovely path skirts the edge of town on the river banks.

River trail Fernie British Columbia Canada

There was a pretty walking path that went along the Elk River around the edge of town.

We wanted to walk the whole path, but just a little ways into our walk it began to rain. The mountains began to fade away in the mist!

Peaks of Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

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Fernie is a great town, but we had Canada’s national parks on our minds, so we pressed on into the mountains. It was early May, and a heat wave had just passed through the area, but our arrival was heralded with cold. We stopped in one visitors center and as we were told about various wonderful things to go see, the gal joked, “Well, we’ve already had summer and now we’re back to winter again.”

Freezing cold in British Columbia Rock Mountains in May

A few months ago I was in shorts!

Fortunately, the sun came out and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains filled our view as we drove.

Rocky Mountains peek through in British Columbia Canada

The Rocky Mountains lured us onward up the road.

Cool view.

Cool view.

Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

Good morning Rocky Mountains!!

As we drove north we saw road signs for big horn sheep. We were hopeful for a sighting or two, but didn’t get lucky. “Hah, there aren’t any big horn sheep around here!” We joked with each other.

Rocky Mountain Big horn sheep sign British Columbia Canada

The only big horn sheep we saw were on the road signs… argh!

We stopped at an overlook at Columbia Lake which is the headwaters for the Columbia River that flows down into the US, between Oregon and Washington and out into the Pacific ocean.

RV travel and camping in British Columbia Canada

The overlook at Columbia Lake

In the town of Invermere we got a glimpse of Windermere Lake. This is probably wonderful in the summertime, but it was a bit forbidding when the skies clouded over and more rain fell.

Columbia Lake British Columbia Canada

Windermere Lake

Just before we reached the first park in the cluster of national parks that make up the heart of the Canadian Rockies, we saw another sign for big horn sheep, but this one had flashing lights on it!

Flashing street sign Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep

Hey look, this big horn sheep sign has flashing lights!

There were cars pulled over ahead of us, so Mark pulled the rig over along wtih everyone else. Then I looked out my window and found myself staring right at a big horn sheep!

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep head British Columbia Canada

Well, hello there!!

Wow!!

There were a few other sheep near him on our side of the road, but suddenly he marched out into the middle of the highway.

Big Horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

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Then he stopped.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep in the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

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Crazy sheep. Why was he hanging around in the middle of the highway?!

Big Horn Sheep Canadian Rockies Invermere British Columbia

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Then we noticed that there were a few sheep on the far side of the road waiting to cross. He stood in the middle of the road while the other sheep began to cross the highway in front of him.

Big horn sheep crossing a road in British Columbia

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He was like a crossing guard for them! When they’d all passed him, he joined the last one and came across with it.

Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

The crossing guard accompanies the last sheep across.

Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

Safe and sound.

We looked back across the highway and there was one more sheep. This was a beautiful big ram with a huge pair of horns.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep crosses the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

Oh wait, there’s one more sheep to come, the big granddaddy of them all!

What a fantastic big horn sheep sighting.

Ram big horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

And there it was — our Cool Wild Animal Sighting.
Welcome to the Canadian Rockies!!

Back in Arizona we’d been excited to see a pair of big horn sheep lying around sunning themselves at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Seeing them here with their shaggy, shedding coats in the wild of the Rockies — or close to it on the highway — was a total thrill.

It turns out that wild animals are actually a lot more street smart and highway wise than you might think. When we got to Banff National Park, we discovered that a bunch of overpass bridges have been built for the animals so they can cross the Trans-Canada Highway that traverses the national park. And they use it!! (Who wouldn’t — it looks pretty nice up there with trees and bushes — and a view of the traffic from above!!).

Wild animal overpass Banff National Park Canada

How the wild animals cross the road in Banff National Park!!

More info about these area in the links below…

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Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Wild Animals in Tucson AZ

February 2016 – During our RV travels in Tucson, we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which is located in Saguaro National Park. This really fun “museum” is really more of an outdoor nature walk and zoo that lets you see all the creatures native to the Sonoran Desert up close in their natural environment.

Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

The great thing at this “museum” is that the animals don’t run away!

The Sonoran Desert spans the states of Arizona on the US side of the border and Sonora on the Mexican side of the border, and it is an ecosystem and habitat that we just love. But the most exotic birds and animals are a bit reclusive, and the iconic creatures aren’t so easy to find while out hiking in the desert.

So it was just fabulous to see a big horn sheep sitting up on a rocky hill and to be able to admire him will he slowly turned his head this way and that in the morning sun.

Big horn sheep Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Within moments of entering the park, we saw a big horn sheep sunning himself.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has several habitats for the animals of the different regions of the desert, with a mountain habitat for the animals that like the cooler climes amid big rocks and trees, and open grasslands for the creatures that prefer those areas.

Fox Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A cute little fox walks by

We haven’t ever seen a fox or a wolf while out hiking, but we got see both here at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A beautiful wolf who was pacing in his enclosure, no doubt looking for Little Red Riding Hood.

Wolf Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A wolf on the prowl — looking for Little Red Riding Hood!

Little did he know that Little Red Riding Hood was actually over at the mountain lion enclosure!

Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert museum

A little girl checks out a mountain lion… or vice versa!

You can watch the mountain lion on two sides of her enclosure. There is a plexiglass window in one corner where the little girl was, or you can stand on a slightly elevated viewing area on the opposite side of the enclosure for another view down into her mini canyon.

Mountain Lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

What a beautiful cat.

This lioness kept everyone guessing and on the run. First she’d hang out by the window, but when the crowd got thick, she’d move around the corner out of sight. Then the crowd would trot around on the path to try and see her from the open viewing area on the other side.

What a hoot! As this enormous cat leaped effortlessly between the rocks by the window and the big open gully around the corner, all of us tourists ran back and forth on the path outside her enclosure, cameras and cell phones at the ready!

Mountain lion Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum Saguaro National Park Tucson

This mountain lion kept all the tourists on the run!

The trick to getting the most out of this museum is to arrive a little before the place opens at 8:30 a.m. When we arrived at 8:32, the parking lot was quickly filling and there was a line for tickets at the door already. The thing is, the animals are fed at opening time, so if you hustle down the path to the ones you want to see, you’ll catch them as they eat their breakfast.

Within an hour, most of the animals were settling in for a nap, and many of them were hard to spot!

We caught a fleeting glimpse of an absolutely gorgeous ocelot. What a fur coat!!

Ocelot Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The ocelot ran past so fast she was just a blur.

But after that out-of-the-corner-of-our-eyes peek at her, she was gone for the day in a quiet corner where we could just see her head moving as she licked her paws…

But we did see the bobcats. They were snoozing under a rock!

Bobcats Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Bobcats catnap under a rock

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is artfully laid out, with paved and dirt walking paths that intersect and wind through the property. In some higher areas there are lookouts, and we loved the gnarly shade shelter that protected one of them.

Lookout Area Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A fun and crazy awning over a viewing platform.

There are lots of more common animals too, and we got a kick out of the javelina, an animal we have spotted many times in the desert.

Javelina Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Arizona’s desert “pig” – a javelina (pronounced “havaleena”

A little squirrel was busy scratching…

Squirrel Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

I’m not sure if this guy was on display or just stopped by for the free food.

And a coyote posed for several minutes while a crowd of camera shutters clicked away.

Coyote Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A coyote strikes a classic pose.

We even spotted a deer back in the brush.

Deer Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

We saw deer through the trees.

One of the big highlights of a trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the Raptor Free Flight presentation which happens twice a day at 10:00 and 2:00 all winter long. Again, even though we were there on a mid-week school day, the crowds were thick. Everyone stands along the walking path in one area and then a presenter begins to talk about the various birds that will be flying by.

Raptor Free Flight demonstration_

The highlight of a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the raptor free flight show.

There are two trainers who have yummy dead animal pieces in their pockets, and they go into the various bird enclosures and ask the birds if anyone wants come out and fly around and get a snack.

They bring out only those birds that are in the mood, so there is no guarantee who will be flying on the day you are there!

The first bird we saw was a raven. These guys love the western National Parks, and we’ve seen them many times, but it was still a thrill to see one swoop over our heads and land on the trainer’s hand.

Ravens and crows are extraordinarily smart birds, and I’ve read of a study of a flock of crows where one member of the flock was taken away for seven years and then brought back. The flock went wild upon his return, obviously recognizing their long lost buddy.

Free Flying Raptor Exhibit Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A raven flies to the trainer for a snack.

Perhaps most thrilling was the great horned owl. I have a super sweet spot for owls (we had a wonderful encounter with some adorable wild burrowing owls just a little southeast of Phoenix last year and watched a wild great horned owl at the sandhill crane roosting area in southeastern Arizona too).

Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A great horned owl came out to see the crowd.

To keep all these free flying birds within reasonable range, the trainers pulled bloody bits of thawed quail out of their pockets every so often and lure the birds over. (These weren’t pieces of the southwest’s sweet Gambel’s quail, thank goodness, but were commercially grown to feed raptors). Mark got an awesome shot of the great horned owl downing a bite!

Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Mmmm, mmm, good!!

What a beautiful bird!!

Great horned owl Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

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Last up was a peregrine falcon, and it was really wonderful to see a falcon flying without the leather hood that falconers usually put on them. This guy zipped around and did some fabulous dives.

Peregrine Falcon Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A peregrine falcon comes in for a landing.

Arizona was once home to a parrot species too. The Thick Billed Parrot lived all over the American southwest and was last seen in the Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains in the 1930’s. They were reintroduced to the wild in Arizona in the 1980’s, but the effort was a tragic failure, in part because of predators, like hawks, and also due to releasing adults that had lived in cages for too long and had lost their street smarts.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum had two thick billed parros on display, and they were making a wonderful racket!

Thick Billed Parrot Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

A pair of thick billed parrots squawked happily

There are two big walk-through aviaries in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — one for bigger birds and one for hummingbirds.

What we’ve discovered in our RV travels around the southwest is that hummingbirds of all varieties are super easy to attract with a hummingbird feeder hung outside the rig, or mounted an RV window, and filled with a concoction of four parts water and one part table sugar.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are easy to attract and fun to photograph from an RV if you’ve got a feeder.

Hummingbird hand-feeding kit

A hand-feeding kit!

Even better — and a reader just alerted us to this — get a hummingbird hand-feeding kit. Doesn’t that look like fun?! We’ve just ordered one ourselves!

Another great way to attract both birds and other small animals is to put out a dish of water a little ways from the rig. We’ve used a big upside down frisbee with great results. Several birds at a time, including cardinals, will stand in and around the frisbee, taking baths and drinking.

The Sonoran Desert spans the Sea of Cortez too. This is an unusual eco-region because the creatures that live in or near the water have to contend with the very cold Pacific Ocean temps and climate that sweep up from the open ocean and the very hot desert climate and water temps that develop each summer.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a tropical fish display that shows some of the fish of the area.

Fish Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

The Sonoran Desert includes Baja California and the Sea of Cortez where tropical fish abound.

A trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a really fun excursion, especially for RV snowbirds looking for a neat daytrip during their stay in Tucson. Be sure to get there early so you can catch the animals as they chow down their breakfast!!

There’s more info at the links below…

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Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix

Horseback riders on the dusty trail

Horseback riders on the dusty trail.

April, 2014 – The phrase “wild west” evokes images of horses and cowboys and wide open spaces.

While we were visiting Phoenix Arizona these past few months, we ran into lots of different horses and riders out on the desert trails.

Some suddenly appeared in a cloud of dust, materializing on the trail as if in a mirage, or as if walking right out of a movie.

Their cowboy hats and boots and spurs completed the picture to perfection.

Others rode a fine line between the modern digital age and the wild west of yore, holding the horse’s reins in one hand while chatting away on a cell phone with the other. Continue reading

On San Diego’s Shores – Dolphins and more!

Fishing on Shelter Island

Not a bad spot to go fishing!

Fall, 2013 – I was standing on Shelter Island one morning, gazing out at the water and the San Diego skyline and watching the fishermen casting their lines while boats breezed by.

Suddenly, a fellow standing next to me said, “You know, I’ve lived in San Diego for 56 years, and I watched that skyline develop.”

He went on: “There used to be just one tall building there, and now you can’t even see it because there are so many others all around it. But I have to say, I think San Diego has the pretties skyline of any city.”

 

Shelter Island Tree

San Diego Bay

I had to agree. There is something about the shapes and colors of the buildings and the way they catch the light in the afternoons that is so apealing.

And the great thing about this city is that you can play outdoors in fairly warm temps all year long.

Kid in a sailboat sculpture

Lots of kids get an early start learning
to sail in San Diego

As summer melted into fall, we did have to wear an extra layer of clothing, but the fishermen continued to fish at the water’s edge and the sailors continued to play with the wind in the bay.

Lots of sailors get an early start at a young age here, and down at the San Diego Yacht Club there is a wonderful statue of a little kid in a sailboat.

Out on the water in Mission Bay, we saw a sailing class, or maybe a race, cruising past us one morning.

Optimas at Mission Bay

Learning to sail on Mission Bay

Some lucky little kids get to take their first steps on a boat, and so it was with our very young neighbor.

His parents Eric and Christi had done a two year cruise around the world on a Nordhavn 43 power yacht a few years back.

After returning to San Diego to restock their cruising kitty, they had a baby, and they now have plans to cruise to the South Pacific in a few years, once their baby’s sea legs have grown a little sturdier.

born to cruise

Born to cruise!

They had never sailed overnight or offshore before that journey, and their first offshore voyage took them straight from San Diego to the Marquesas, a 3000 mile, three week long trip!

One of the advantages of cruising in a power boat is that you don’t have to worry about which way the wind blows.

So, unlike sailboats that cross the Pacific by dropping down south into Mexico first before they leave the North American coast, these guys just motored out of San Diego Bay and kept right on going!

 

Rocket Science leaves San Diego 601

s/v Rocket Science heads south

We loved meeting all the sailors on the docks that had cruised to distant shores.

Our next door neighbor Brian had cruised to New Zealand ten years ago, and friends of ours, TJ and Jenny, had cruised the Caribbean extensively.

They had done that cruise on a solid, older boat, but after a while grew frustrated at its slow pace.

Why plod when you can soar, they wondered. So they upgraded to a true racer-cruiser — s/v Rocket Science — that can sail at blistering speeds, and they plan to take her on new adventures in Europe.

Sailboat and carrier

Friends on both boats!

During their maiden voyage aboard Rocket Science, first mate Jenny had watched in astonishment as the knot meter climbed from 10 knots to the high 12’s in a matter of minutes while she was alone in the cockpit.

When the boat hit the mid-13’s knots, she yelled down into the cabin at her husband, the captain, “TJ, you’d better get up here!”.

He came running up, totally thrilled at the speed, and they continued their sleigh ride into the mid-17’s.

That’s like going 150 mph in a car!

 

USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan is greeted by helicopters

We watched them slip out of San Diego harbor en route to Norway via Central America. What a voyage!

As they disappeared into the distance at the mouth of San Diego bay, an aircraft carrier appeared on the horizon returning from exercises at sea.

We watched the two boats approaching each other, and suddenly realized we had friends on both boats, because a young friend of ours in the Navy is stationed on that carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.

Of course, our cruising friends left the bay without too much fanfare, other than us standing on the shore snapping photos and waving.

But the aircraft carrier was greeted by a trio of Navy helicopters flying in formation!

Dolphin leaping in San Diego bay

A dolphin suddenly leaps by our boat

We got out on the bay in our own boat Groovy early one morning, and were astonished by the greeting we received when a dolphin leapt high out of the water nearby.

Dolphin jumping out of the water

The dolphin paused for treats between leaps!

We discovered that this dolphin was an enlisted Navy sailor too.

Working with civilian trainers in an inflatable dinghy, he was leaping on command and getting yummy fish treats in return for his efforts.

What a beautiful creature.

I hope he gets a nice pension for his years of service.

 

San Diego dolphin jumping

Dolphin leaps in the air

 

Dolphin leaps clear out of the water

Such a thrill to see!

Fort Rosecrans Cemetery

Fort Rosecrans Cemetery

San Diego’s close relationship with the Navy goes way back, and high up on Point Loma there is a Navy cemetery with hundreds of tombstones lined up on rolling, green, grassy lawns.

The cemetery has views of both the bay and the ocean, and the endless rows of white stones seem to reach right out to the horizon.

This would be a wonderful place to watch a beautiful sunset, and Mark traipsed up there, camera in hand, on quite a few occasions, hoping for glorious red skies.

 

 

This cemetery overlooks the sea and the bay

This cemetery overlooks the sea and the bay

But Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and each time he made the trek, he came home disappointed with just a handful of shots that, while lovely, didn’t have the magic he’d hoped for.

The “out of this world” sunsets seemed to be reserved for the days when we weren’t paying attention and weren’t ready.

We’d be busy on the boat, deeply engrossed in some project, when we’d peak out the windows and our jaws would suddenly drop when we caught sight of the colors in the sky.

 

Sunset at Harbor Island

A beautiful sunset catches us by surprise

To add to the drama, our sunset views from inside the boat are fantastically enhanced because the windows in the hull are tinted pink!

We’d leap up out of our seats, throw everything aside, and dive for the cameras — which were never where they should be, always had the wrong lenses attached, and had been left in some weird mode that produced blown out or black images for the first few photos.

Oh well! We’d still click away, happy as clams, hunting for ways to get a unique perspective on whatever was happening in the sky.

Sculptures on Shelter Island at dusk

Shelter Island sculpture structures at dusk…

Mark enjoyed getting out for night shots too, and Shelter Island’s unusual sculptures offered lots of interesting opportunities.

There is a big grassy lawn with two large structures on it that represent the undulations and curves of waves on the sea.

During the daytime these are a little bit funny looking, but at night, when spotlights shine on them, they come to life.

Sculptures on Shelter Island at night

…and at night.

The magic hour is just after sunset when the sky makes a brilliant blue backdrop, but I also really liked the silky, inky black of night.

This is a fun time to play with lighting, and he got a wonderful photo of a trio of bird of paradise flowers too.

Trio of bird of paradise flowers

A lovely bird of paradise trio

These were happy days for us on the shores of San Diego Bay.

After a while, though, we finally tore ourselves away from the action nearby to go looking for adventure a little further afield.

We didn’t have to go too far — Sunset Clilffs and Balboa Park were just a stone’s throw away.

 

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Our beloved sailboat Groovy is For Sale

PV: Chamela to La Cruz – Dances with Whales at Cabo Corrientes

Map of Cabo Corrientes Chamela Banderas Bay Puerto Vallarta

100 miles from Chamela to La Cruz…

Late March, 2013 – Cabo Corrientes (“Cape of Currents”) is a notorious point, known for dishing out excitement, thrills and sometimes terror to sailors that are voyaging between the Costalegre (Chamela to Manzanillo) to the south and Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta) to the north.

However, much like the bad tempered Gulf of Tehuantepec down near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, this cape’s mood swings are predictable. It isn’t hard to find a window of opportunity when the cape will let your boat pass without demanding much of a toll.

We saw a weather window coming up on our favorite weather prediction website. To time it optimally, doing as little night sailing as possible, we needed to leave Bahia Chamela and its pretty islands around midnight to arrive in Banderas Bay 100 miles north the next afternoon.

So we hopped 10 miles from colorful Careyes to Chamela Bay where we anchored for an afternoon and evening, watching the immense waves crashing on the beach.

Chamela Bay Mexico surf XZQK3RSSYWQF

The surf was up when we got to Chamela.

Bahia Chamela Mexico surf XZQK3RSSYWQF

Cruisers were stuck on their boats in the anchorage watching these crazy waves.

Chamela Playa Perula Mexico surf XZQK3RSSYWQF

Yikes!

Wow. What a show!! The surf was so high that none of the cruisers were going ashore in their dinghies. Well, one pair of guys tried. In the end, though, they anchored their dink outside the surf zone and then swam in. That must have been quite a body surfing ride!!

Cabo Corrientes Mexico XZQK3RSSYWQF

The notorious Cabo Corrientes is calm as we pass.

 

We took note of the locations of all the fishing pens and other cruising boats around us in the anchorage while it was still light.

Then, at the appointed hour, we crept between them all, in total blackness, and snuck out of the anchorage in the dark.

Cabo Corrientes Mexico XZQK3RSSYWQF

Another boat joins us on the way into Banderas Bay.

 

 

 

We had an uneventful voyage north, and hours later, at dawn, the infamous Cabo Corrientes treated us to a hazy sunrise. All was calm and serene as we passed the point.

Whale breach XZQK3RSSYWQF

Welcome to Banderas Bay!!!

Humpback Whale breach

Over we go…

 

 

 

That is, all was tranquil until a huge humpback whale breached right by us.

Holy cow!! All heck broke loose aboard Groovy as we slowed the engine and jumped for the camera.

Humpback Whale breaching XZQK3RSSYWQF

Bam!!

 

Photographing breaching whales is a little tricky, though, because they don’t tell you when and where they are going to pop up.

Whale breach Puerto Vallarta

Let’s do it again!

 

 

 

Humpback Whale breaching Puerto Vallarta

Over we go…

Only after the show ended did I remember to think about important things like the camera’s shutter speed and orientation of the polarizing filter.

Oops!! Oh well, the drama was fantastic.

Whale watchers see humpback whale breach

Wham!! Right in front of a tour boat!!

One thing that intrigued us was that this guy always breached with his left fin up and then fell over on his left side. Another thing that amazed us was that the whale watching boats were always right there — and so close!!

Whale watchers see humpback whale breach

Left fin first! Kinda like springboard divers that lead their rotating dives with one arm.

Whale watchers humpback whale show

The whale watchers got such a great show — and so did we!!

Whale watchers get splashed

A little spray action for the tourists!

It really seemed to us that the whale was performing for the whale watching boat, because it breached so close to them every time. I’m not sure what kind of performance contracts these whales work out with the tour operators, but both the whale and the boat seemed to know exactly when showtime was over. The boat left, and the whale never appeared again.

Tuna catch La Cruz Marina Nayarit

Catch of the day.
Actually, they had lots more carts of fish!

We anchored outside of Marina Riviera Nayarit, the pretty new marina at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and quickly went ashore.

La Cruz Mexico fish market

Little fish on display at the La Cruz fish market.

La Cruz Marina Riviera Nayarit Mexico

La Cruz is a mix of high end yachts, cruising boats
and fishing pangas.

There is a wonderful fish market next to the marina, and we watched the fishermen unloading their sizable catch from their pangas. Those fish were easily 4 to 5 feet long.

La Cruz Mexico fisherman

Those are some big fish!

Just as we were arriving, our friends Mel and Elaine were leaving Mexico on their sailboat Mazu to cross the Pacific Ocean to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Yikes. That’s a three week long journey without ever seeing land, never mind stepping on it.

Mazu Before Crossing

Our friends Mel and Elaine get ready to cross the Pacific.

We tossed them their dock lines and waved them goodbye as they left on their adventure. For us, our eyes were turning towards shore, and we were looking forward to discovering some new things in and around La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.

Mazu Before Crossing

Land-Ho will be on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas in 3 weeks. Buen viaje!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Utah Animal Sanctuaries – Best Friends & Southwest Wildlife

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Reception Building

Avian greeters

Joey, Hyacinth Macaw

South America

Honey, Major Mitchell Cocaktoo

Australia

Seppi, Mollucan Cockatoo

native to Indonesia

Writes a column in the monthly magazine

Quetzl, Congo African Grey

Age 54 - the same as Mark!

Tika, Umbrella Cockatoo, native to Indonesia

"Angel Canyon"

The sanctuary sits on 5 stunning square miles

Rescued horses live in Horse Haven

Angel's Rest Cemetery

Cemetery plots for all the animals. No animals are

killed; most are fostered out to new homes; a lucky

few live out their days at the sanctuary.

The cat house at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

The cat house

Siesta time at the Cat House Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

Siesta time

The Bunny House Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah At the Bunny House Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

Bunny companionship

At the Bunny House Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

All the bunnies, dogs and cats

have indoor/outdoor living

quarters, and they come and go

at will.

The Bunny House at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah

Nothing like some soft green grass for your

campsite.

Dogtown Heights at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah Southwest Wildlife Foundation

Martin Tyner & Thumper, a Harris Hawk

22 years old, reaches speeds of 100 mph

Igor, a Prairie Falcon Southwest Wildlife Foundation

Igor, a Prairie Falcon

Dives for prey at 200 mph

Scout, a Golden Eagle Southwest Wildlife Foundation

Scout, a Golden Eagle

Can spot a yummy rabbit from 5 miles away.

Golden Eagle: 7 lbs and 7,000 feathers Southwest Wildlife Foundation

Golden Eagle: 7 lbs and 7,000 feathers

Can reach altitudes of 35,000 feet

and hurtle towards earth at 145 mph

Raptors - Southwest Wildlife Foundation

Each raptor got many hugs during the seminar.

A different golden eagle was released later that day

from an overlook in Cedar City, UT.

Utah Sanctuaries: Best Friends & Southwest Wildlife Foundation

July 15-19, 2008 - Kanab, Utah sits squarely between three of

the greatest national parks in the US, and we stopped there,

along with everyone else, for supplies, water and haircuts.  We

didn't intend to stay, but as we were leaving town we saw a cute

sign that said "Best Friends Animal Sanctuary" with an arrow

pointing down a winding road that seemed to go deep into a

canyon.  We couldn't resist the temptation and took that turn.

Four days later we finally emerged!!

Best Friends is a unique,

extraordinarily well-funded and

beautiful no-kill animal shelter.

It sits on 5 square miles of

exotic red rock canyon and

houses 2,000 animals.  Their

mission is to find homes for all

the animals that are adoptable, while the rest are allowed to live out their days in the loving care

of an enormous staff.  The grounds and landscaping alone are worth seeing, but it was the

many tours of the various animal areas that kept us in that canyon so long.

I am a bird lover, and the parrot garden is a treat.  On

summer days, all the parrots are kept in outdoor enclosures under a canopy of huge shade

trees near a pretty waterfall feature.  Visitors are invited to interact with the parrots, and we

spent many happy hours entertaining and being entertained by these squawking, talking,

feathered comedians.  The parrots' nighttime quarters

are indoors, so twice a day during the summer months

the bird caretakers do the Parrot Parade, carrying each

bird between its indoor enclosure and its outdoor

enclosure.  On the hottest summer afternoons the

caretakers walk around misting the birds with water

sprayers to help them stay cool.  What a life!

An important

theme at the

sanctuary is

positive

interactions

between the

animals and

people.  All the tours are free, and you can

volunteer to stick around and work with your

favorite animals for as little as a few hours or

for as long as you want to stay.  There are

cabins and a tiny RV park in the canyon to

accommodate volunteers, and many return

for a week or two every year.

Seppi, a Mollucan cockatoo, likes to walk

along the underside of the

roof of his cage, hanging

upside down and talking to

you.  Quetzl, a quiet

African Grey, was hatched

in 1954 but doesn't look a

day over five.  Tika, an

Umbrella cockatoo, was

summering at the sanctuary

while his owner took care of

some personal challenges.

He was accustomed to a lot

of attention, so he was happy

to climb into my arms and get

some free cuddles for a while.

The canyon, officially "Kanab Canyon" but affectionately called "Angel Canyon," is a

dramatic gorge lined with towering red rock cliffs.  Most sanctuary tours require a

shuttlebus ride of a few miles from the reception building out into the rest of the

property: Dogtown Heights, the Cat House, Feathered Friends and the Bunny House.

The drive along the cliff's edges is stunning, and we passed some

of the sanctuary horses who live a charmed life, grazing in peace

while gazing at multi-million dollar views.

Angel's Rest cemetery is along this road as well.  Every animal that dies at the

shelter is buried here with a headstone.  There are tiny plots for the little birds and

big plots for the large farm animals.  Even horses, goats and cows are adopted out

to new homes, whenever possible, and the video shown hourly at the reception

building included snapshots of many happy people who had become loving owners

of goats, sheep and other farm animals.

Most of the animal

buildings are built with

wings that provide an

indoor shelter with a

doorway the animals can

pass through to reach an

outdoor shelter.  At the

cat house, the outdoor areas include ladders, pillowed perches, and a

lattice-work of planks and shelving near the ceiling.  Litter boxes, food

and water dishes are discreetly placed in these out-of-reach alcoves.

Looking up, all we could see was the

odd paw or tail hanging down from

the lofty hideaways.  It was siesta

time, and all the cats were happily

dozing.

The bunnies have indoor/outdoor

housing as well, and since bunnies

like to cuddle, many had a stuffed

bunny to snuggle up to.  Outside, one bunny

was working very hard digging a hole, while a

few others were taking a load off under little

tent-like canopies that offered cool shade in a

lush bed of soft green grass.

Dogtown was a busy barking array of buildings.  Most of the

dogs from Michael Vicks' dog-fighting operation had just been

rescued, and many dogs from Katrina were still in transition

here.  We heard amazing stories of animal rescues.  One lady

had 200 guinea pigs living in her 10' x 10' kitchen, and another

wacko had 1,600 rabbits in her back yard.  1,000 cats were

taken from a crazy lady's home in Pahrump, Nevada, and as I

heard the tale from a caretaker I remembered reading about it in

the Pahrump newspaper when we visited eight months earlier.

All those cats, rabbits and guinea pigs had passed through Best

Friends to new owners or were still at the sanctuary hoping for

new homes.

Before an animal is adopted out, it must go on an overnight stay to ensure that it is a well-behaved

propsective pet.  Visitors can volunteer for these overnight stays, without obligation, at Parry Lodge in

Kanab.  If the animal flunks the test, it simply gets a little more loving at the sanctuary, as the caretakers

work to improve its manners.

August 30, 2008 - In Parowan, Utah, at the Iron

County State Fair, we attended a fantastic

demonstration and talk by Martin Tyner, founder

of Southwest Wildlife Foundation.  His

sanctuary focuses on rehabilitating native

creatures and returning them to the wild.  It was

my understanding that Rocky Mountain Power

Company has recently donated a huge, multi-million dollar parcel of land

to this sanctuary.  Eventually, once money is raised for land

improvements and building construction, this foundation could become

for native wildlife what Best Friends already is for more domesticated

animals.

He had three raptors with him:  a Harris Hawk, a Prairie Falcon and a

Golden Eagle.  He is a Master Falconer, and although he uses each of these

particular birds for education purposes, he takes them all out hunting on a

regular basis to keep their natural instincts sharp.  His job is to flush out rabbits

and other prey from the desert brush so the raptors can catch their meals.  They

fly free, and they fly high, happy to have a trained human to take the guesswork

out of finding dinner.

He told us of the highly aggressive nature of the Prairie Falcon, a slim bird that

screamed periodically throughout his talk.  A few years back he had rescued and

rehabilitated a particularly aggressive female that had deserved her nickname

"Horrible."  He released her into the desert near Cedar City, and she became a

great mom and has raised several clutches of young since then.  But she's oh-

so-smart.  She recognizes his truck from their many hunting outings together

when she was in his care.  Now, when he brings other raptors into the desert to

hunt, she goes out of her way to tease and harrass him.  One time, as he stood

with his arm outstretched waiting for his raptor to return to him, she dived

at him from the other direction, knocking him to the ground six feet away!

At the moment of impact, he suddenly understood exactly the kind of

blood-draining terror that rabbits feel when a Prairie Falcon singles them

out for a lunch date.

He invited everyone at the talk to come out to the highest ridge in Cedar

City later that afternoon to witness his release of a Golden Eagle back

into the wild.  We didn't attend, but he said that whenever he releases a

bird he welcomes spectators, so hopefully we will watch a release

another time.  He told us that the local Paiute Indians have a special

relationship with Golden Eagles.  They believe that if you say a prayer

over an eagle feather, the prayer will

be carried directly to God.  The Golden

Eagle being released that afternoon

was going to carry prayers for more

than 4,000 local cancer victims, the "down winders" in southern Utah who contracted cancer as a

direct result of the Cold War era nuclear testing carried out next door in Nevada.

Unrelated to these two wonderful animal sanctuaries in Utah, I recently discovered that Bird

Lovers Only Rescue in Dyer, Indiana has a very funny movie clip of a lesser sulphur crested

cockatoo dancing to the beat of the Backstreet Boys here.  It puts a smile on my face every time I

watch it.

We spent the summer of 2008 bee-bopping around souther Utah, and one of the most eye-

popping stops was at the majestic Bryce Canyon National Park.