Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot!

We spent a few hours hoo-hoo-ing with the owls at Zanjero Park in Gilbert, Arizona, the other day. What a great spot for a day trip! Our friend Rick had told us about it, and he showed us some amazing photos he’d taken there. So off we went to do a little owling.

A burrowing owl in Phoenix Arizona

A burrowing owl checks us out!!

Zanjero Park is is on the southern part of the 202 loop on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona. As we drove towards it, we wondered if we’d come to the right place, because it is as nondescript as can be. It’s in farm country and takes up just a few acres, and it is pressed right up against the highway berm! There’s a dirt parking lot and a small sign identifying the park and a larger sign explaining what this unique owl habitat is all about. And that’s about it!

A burrowing owl at Zanjero Park in Gilbert AZ

You rang?

Burrowing owls like to live in tunnels, so volunteers have erected tunnels for them using large diameter pipe. Each owl house has a front door and a back door, and the owls like to hang out by their doors and watch the wold go by. There are about 15 or so owl burrows scattered along the ground next to the paved walkway though the park.

An owl looks out of his burrow

Whatcha lookin’ at ??

What’s funny is that his is not a particularly scenic park. The highway traffic zooms by right next door, and it is definitely not a place that shows off Arizona’s gorgeous Sonoran Desert landscape that we love so much. However, despite being rather bleak and barren, it sits right next to a farm field full of yummy mice, and that’s why the owls like to live here and why the volunteers decided to help them out.

Burrowing owl Zanjero Park Gilbert AZ

Maybe I’m just a softy old bird lover, but these guys are darn cute!!

We went at high noon, and much to our surprise, the owls were wide awake and out and about. We saw at least six pairs of burrowing owls lounging around on their front stoops as we strolled down the short paved walkway. In hindsight, morning or evening might be an even better time to visit if you want to take pics, because the owl burrows are lined up along the south side of the walkway, so at noontime you are staring into the sun as you spy on these cute little guys.

If you are staying near Phoenix and are looking for something fun and different to do, go visit the burrowing owls of Zanjero Park, it’s a hoot!

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Wild Horses Running Free

We’ve been hearing the yelps of coyotes every night lately here in the Tonto National Forest.  How fun!  Even better, we’ve been woken several times by clip-clop of wild horses running past our rig.  In the mornings, the horses stick around a while, munching on the grass and chasing each other around. The other day, one came running towards me, his mane flying, and I was so excited to get a photo of this wonderful and free spirited animal.

Wild horse in the Sonoran desert Arizona

Wild and free!

The horses can be seen from viewpoints on the spectacularly scenic Bush Highway along the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona.  But they are easiest to find when you aren’t out looking for them!

The Travel Channel sent a crew out with helicopters, photographers and film people to get footage for a new show they are producing about treasured landscapes in America.  We caught up with them in a viewing area, and found out their helicopters had counted 70 horses. But the crew on the ground hadn’t seen any that day!!

Pair of wild horses drinking at the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona

A mirrored pair of horses at the water’s edge.

We got really lucky down by the river’s edge where we watched them getting their evening drink. Two of them strolled slowly side by side, stride for stride, nibbling the grass while the glassy water mirrored their reflection.

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Around the World in an RV

Launching an RV Circumnavigation

One of the best things about our full-time traveling lifestyle is meeting unusual people on the road that we never would have met in our former, conventional lives. The full-time RVing community is primarily American and Canadian retirees who are fulfilling a long held dream of seeing North America at leisure. We’ve met very few full-timers under the age of fifty, and although we’ve read about and heard about families RVing full-time, the first time we met a family living on the road in an RV was this past summer in Idaho when we were visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument.

While scrambling over the otherworldly and exotic rock formations that make up Craters of the Moon, we spotted an unusual RV driving through the park. We weren’t entirely sure it was an RV, because it looked like an armored truck! A few hours later, in the town of Arco, we found ourselves parked near this very unique vehicle. We just had to go over to meet the owners and learn more!

They were a French family on a five year tour of the world by RV. Mom and dad — Silvie and Jean-Herve — had purchased their Unicat RV in France, and they had shipped it to Nova Scotia where they jumped aboard with their 3 year old son, Luka, to begin their circumnavigation by touring Canada and the US. When we met them in Idaho in August, they had been traveling for 18 months.

Jean-Herve said their rough plan was to get down to Mexico for the winter of 2014-15 and spend about 5 months there before traveling southeast through Central America. Once they got to Panama, they planned to put the rig on a ship to cross from Panama to Columbia, and then begin two years or so of traveling around South America. After that they would board a ship once again to cross the Pacific from Chile to Russia, and from there they would travel through Central Asia to Europe, taking a year or two to get back to France.

Around the world in a Unicat RV

Jean-Herve, Silvie and Luka are touring the world in their Unicat RV

I was blown away! What a fabulous adventure. Jean-Herve is 49 and Silvie is 45, and they are no strangers to exotic travel in foreign lands. Their rig is rugged enough to handle whatever bad roads they might encounter, and they speak not only French but English and some Spanish, which will help them immensely in many of the countries they will be visiting.

They keep a blog — in French, of course! If you don’t read French, you can enjoy their wonderful photos and run their blog posts through Google Translate to get a rough translation into English.

Traveling the World by RV

These French voyagers weren’t the only World Cruising RVers we met in our travels this past summer. In Kanab, Utah, while dumping our tanks at an RV dump station, we met Heinz & Ursula, a German couple who had spent the last 18 months traveling throughout the US in their Mercedes-Benz Silverdream van.

When I idly asked where they had gone RVing before they shipped their van to America, they ran down a list of continents and countries that made my jaw drop. Their little van had taken them on road trips to South America, Europe, North Africa, Mongolia, China and the Middle East. Wow!!

RV around the World

Intrepid travelers Heinz and Ursula have seen most of the world from their RV

While they did most of their RV travels solo, some of these road trips were done on guided RV caravan tours with European tour companies that arranged for German speaking local tour guides (however Ursula said the tour guide in Iran spoke only English, which was a challenge for a few of the folks on the tour!).

The tour to China lasted six months and required each rig on the tour to get a special Chinese license plate. There were 18 other rigs on that tour, hailing from Germany, Austria & Switzerland. Trying to imagine RVing in China, I asked her what it was like. “Fantastic,” she said, “But too many RVs!” No matter…what an incredible expedition!

International RV caravan adventure tours are hardly new. Over the years, Americans have ventured overseas with their rigs too. Back in 1951, Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, took 50 Airstream owners on a tour of Central America. This adventure was followed by Airstream caravan tours to Mexico in 1952, to Europe in 1956 and a truly wild 9,000 mile south-to-north trek along the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo in 1959. In 1963 the newly formed Wally Byam Caravan Club went all the way around the world, and in 1985 eleven rig from the club went on a tour of China.

How awesome is all of that? Happy Travels!!

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A Blizzard in Arizona! (really?)

Phoenix, Arizona, is known as a baking hot spot in the desert. But in the wintertime it just isn’t so. For the past week camping in the Tonto National Forest in our RV, we have had overnight temps in the low 20’s Fahrenheit, and we have woken up to see the delicate etchings by Jack Frost on everything, from the lace-like tree leaves to the truck window.

On New Year’s Eve we had grey drizzle and rain all day long, and that night it turned to snow. The next morning our dry desert world was transformed into a winter wonderland. We were huddled down and keeping toasty warm in our trailer all morning, but when we finally got out later for some pics of the Four Peaks mountains in the distance, with a few saguaro cactus in the foreground, Mark got a winner.

Himalayan Mountains in Arizona

A blizzard in the mountains near Phoenix Arizona!

Does this look a little too exotic to be true? Well, it is. Mark loves the post-processing part of photography, and he used Topaz Adjust to get this fabulous effect. The original photo was a lot more ordinary, and the snow on the mountains just didn’t look that dramatic.

Some folks feel that messing with your images is not being true to recording what you saw. But photography, is a way of conveying an emotion, a mood, a thought or a scene, and the images are an expression that gets filtered through the mind and personality of the person who takes it. So, whether the finished product is an attempt at documenting reality or a fanciful interpretation, the end result is an amalgam of what the photographer saw and what s/he wants you to see.

Four Peaks Mountains in Arizona with snow

Four Peaks with a dusting of snow – as shot!

It’s also a way of making it look like we experienced a really awesome blizzard when it was actually just a light dusting that melted too soon. Highs are supposed to climb into the 70’s for the next week, and overnight lows will be back in the more tolerable 30’s!

Other fun Quick Pics:

“Wedded Bliss” in the New Year
Saguaros dancing in the Moonlight
Rainbows Over Cactus at Sunset
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A Wedding Photo Shoot Among The Wild Horses!

One of the things we love most about living the full-time RV lifestyle is how we are immersed in the happenings of humanity and nature every day. We spend a lot of time in very magical places, and these kinds of spots attract intriguing people and interesting little vignettes of everyday life.

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, we glanced out our RV window in the late afternoon to see a bride walking through the woods. What next?! Despite what I said about the naiveté of blushing brides in my New Year’s post about making dreams come true, I am a huge romantic and I LOVE weddings. I’m totally into the mushy stuff, and I get such a thrill whenever we catch a glimpse of a beautiful woman on her special day.

When I saw this pretty woman in her elegant white dress, I leaped out of the trailer with my camera in hand and dashed into the woods to see what was up. She and her groom were having their photos taken, and as I approached, the photographer was just spreading out the bride’s skirt on the grass while the groom took her in his arms for a kiss.

Romance in the Woods

What a lovely way to welcome in the new year!!

The soft light lit them beautifully. What a great shot!! My only problem was the professional photographer kept getting in my way!!

Just then, some wild horses strolled into the scene. Like everyone around here who catches sight of the wild horses, the photographer got completely distracted and started taking pictures of them instead. So much for the pretty bride! The horses got all the attention for a few minutes while the bride patiently waited.

Distracted by the wild horses

The photographer gets distracted by the wild horses…

Well, those wild horses are really special too. They are very mellow, and they milled around quietly. After a while, two of them laid down side by side facing in opposite directions. One was white and one was dark brown, and they stayed perfectly still while the wedding photo shoot continued next to them. I looked a little closer and noticed their eyes were closed.

Wild horses in wedded bliss

A little bit of “wedded bliss” ??

We just never know what we’ll see out our RV windows!!

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Merry Christmas from the Wild West of Arizona!!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…

Cowboy and cactus Christmas lights in Arizona

Happy holidays from around the campfire in Arizona!!

Christmas Tree Lights

Christmas lights in Fountain Hills, Arizona

3 wise men and star Christmas in Arizona

The three wise men head towards the big star on a desert hillside near Arizona State University.

Merry Christmas, everyone — cherish these special days!!


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How does Craigslist work when you travel in an RV full-time?

OMG, it works all too well!!

We decided to give ourselves a special Christmas present this year and replace our two recliners. These recliners are rocker-recliner-swivel chairs that came with our fifth wheel from the factory when we bought it.  Although they are very nice, after all these years of use they are starting to look quite worn.  Also, they’ve never been as comfortable as we would have liked. For one thing, when they recline, they have a terrible habit of wanting to fold back up on us!

Our original RV recliners in our fifth wheel trailer

Our recliners looked very spiffy back when they were brand new.

This past summer, we stopped in a furniture store in Baker City, Oregon, and found the perfect recliner. It fit both of us just right.  It rocked, reclined and swiveled, and it was super comfortable. But the store had only one. Sigh. They offered to order a matching one for us, but it wouldn’t be in for three months and we’d be long gone by then. Miraculously, in this town of only 10,000 people, another furniture store also had the exact same recliner — but in a different color! Unfortunately, they couldn’t order a matching one any faster.

So we decided to look for these chairs when we got to Mesa, Arizona, where RV-oriented stores, including furniture stores with small furniture, line the streets. Unfortunately, none of them had these recliners in stock at all, but one store could get a pair in within a month. Yay!!  We excitedly put in our order.

But what to do with the old recliners? With the holidays coming and us camping randomly in the National Forest, we figured it would be pretty tough to unload our old chairs. So, we put them on Craigslist right away, hoping against hope that someone might bite before the new recliners came in. To our complete shock, they sold in 24 hours!

No chairs in the fifth wheel

Oops!! Maybe we got rid of those chairs too soon!!

Now we have a gaping space where the chairs used to be — and the new chairs won’t be in for a few weeks!! The funny thing is that we’re starting to really like this new space.

We don't need chairs in the fifth wheel

Hey, this is pretty cool!

We’re calling it our “mosh pit” and we’ve got pillows and blankets on the floor and it’s really quite cozy!

On the laptop in the mosh pit

Hmm…I hope those chairs don’t get here too quick!

How ironic!! We’re feeling a lot like little kids now. You know how it goes with kids and gifts — Santa goes to a lot of trouble to get the Big Special Gift for the kids, but after they open it and say “wow” and play with it for a few minutes, they set it aside and start playing with the box it came in, and that turns out to be much more fun!

Merry Christmas!!

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Rainbows over Cactus at Sunset!

The other day we were poking around in Arizona‘s Sonoran Desert getting lovely late afternoon sunset photos, when all of a sudden the sky went black and a rainbow appeared. Our adrenaline shot up and we both started running all over the place looking for the “perfect” saguaro and the ideal setting to get a shot of this majestic spectacle. Then the single rainbow turned into a double one, and a frenzy erupted.

In hot pursuit of a knock-your-socks-off image, we soon lost track of each other, and then the skies opened and it began to rain. We yelled to each other to no avail (why had we left our two-way radios in the trailer…again!?!). I stumbled out of the desert onto the highway and began trudging in who knows which direction. Where the heck was our truck?

I couldn’t believe my incredible good fortune when our photographer friend (and full-time RVer) Rick Henely suddenly pulled up next to me in his pickup.

“Need a ride?” He asked as he rolled down the window.

Did I ever! I hadn’t even known he was out here shooting the sunset and rainbows too! And how lucky for me that he had seen our truck by the side of the road and knew where it was. In just a few moments I was reunited with Mark and we were on our way home — and the deluge started in earnest!!

Here are a few of the images we all saw out there:

Desert Rainbow over saguaro cactus

Woa, buddy, you’re just about knocking me over!
What a great image — Mark took this one!

Rainbow over saguaro cacti in Arizona

A truly magical moment – from my camera!

Arizona Sunset

Opposite the rainbow, I whipped around to see a bright orange sky!

Rainbow Red Mountain Arizona Rick Henely Photographer

Rick found a gorgeous spot for his pics overlooking Red Mountain and the Verde River – WOW!

Thank you, Rick, for being there at just the right moment and for giving me that much needed lift!!

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A Glimpse of the Navajo (or “Diné” as they call themselves)

One of the biggest highlights of attending the photo workshop put on by Photography Life in Colorado this past fall was meeting pro photographer John “Verm” Sherman and, a few weeks later, his pro photographer girlfriend Dawn Kish.

Navajo Indian Dreamcatcher in Arizona

An Navajo dreamcatcher twists and turns in the wind

Dawn is a contributing photographer for Arizona Highways and she shoots for National Geographic as well. Her photography is so unique that one of her photos was selected by National Geographic Traveler as being among the Top 30 photos of the Last 30 Years.

Wow!!! Better yet, she is a vivacious and fun-loving woman who spends her leisure time rock climbing and mountain biking.

We were lucky enough to camp alongside her and Verm recently. When I told her we had just done some exploring in the Navajo Nation, she told me she had just finished an assignment making a video of the Navajo Nation Fair.

Suddenly, she plopped her laptop on our table, set up our two chairs to face it so we could watch, and brought up this incredible video.

I was spellbound.

I don’t know much about the Navajo (whose name for themselves is not Navajo but Diné). They are a very private people, and like indigenous people on every continent, they have been continually challenged to try and integrate into the society that enveloped them while hanging onto their traditions.

Dawn’s client asked her to make a video that honored the Navajo, and the result is both evocative and moving. She has captured their spirit and essence beautifully, and I had tears in my eyes as I watched a young Navajo girl dressed in full ceremonial splendor singing the American National Anthem — in Navajo.

Enjoy this beautiful glimpse into the lives of a special people whose roots in Arizona go back hundreds of years. It is ten minutes long and the link is below. Putting it in full screen is best!

If you are prompted for a password, it is Dine.

A few years ago, we watched a fabulous PBS “Independent Lens” documentary of a young Navajo girl who participated in the Miss Navajo Pageant, a competition that tests teenage Navajo girls’ mastery of women’s Navajo traditions, including slaughtering a sheep and speaking the language.

After seeing this PBS documentary, we traveled through Window Rock, Arizona, and saw their unique memorial to the Navajo Code Talkers. I picked up a fantastic book that gives a little insight into the Navajo, their patriotism to America and the unique (and arguably tide-turning) role they played in the Pacific theater of WWII: Search for the Navajo Code Talkers.

Just prior to that, while traveling in Mexico, we also had a special encounter with the little known indigenous Lacandon people of Chiapas who were “discovered” in 1948, a scant 66 years ago.  Like the the Navajo in America, they are working to find ways to integrate with mainstream Mexican society. You may enjoy this post about our trip there:

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Humming in the Rain

We woke up to the cozy sound of rain on our roof this morning. I love that sound, especially in our trailer where our bedroom is so tiny and the roof is so close overhead. “I’m glad we’re not in a tent!” Mark said as he burrowed down under the covers.

Hummingbird at our feeder in the rain

Is he singing in the rain??

It looks like we’re in for a long day of soggy wetness here in Phoenix, Arizona, as a big storm from California sweeps through. But that isn’t stopping the hummingbirds from visiting our window feeder. They just hang out in the trees and wait between downpours. Then they swoop down to our window and grab a quick drink!

The rain is so good and so welcome here in the desert, but I do love the sunny days, and probably the hummers do too.  For now, we’ll relish the pitter-pat on the rooftop and enjoy watching the little hummers humming in the rain!

Hummingbird on a sunny day
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