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

Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona!

Artist easel in the Sonoran desert

An artist creates his vision in the desert

March, 2014 – The Phoenix area is full of beautiful hiking trails, and the Windy Cave Trail at Usery Mountain is just one of many lovely places to experience the Sonoran desert.

We wandered out into the desert on marked trails and unmarked roads to go hiking — or at least to go for a walk — every day during our stay on the outer eastern edges of the city.  There was always something new to see.

One morning we came across an art class that had set up easels all through the desert.

Wildflower

Spring is springing!

The group of artists was huddled around the teacher as we hiked past, and we found Continue reading

To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!)

Our fifth wheel has a hummingbird window feeder

We love watching the hummingbirds come to our window feeder.

One of my favorite things to do when we set up camp is to put out our hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird window feeder with suction cup

It’s hung with a suction cup – easy!

Hummingbirds always seem to recognize a feeder when they see one, and within a few hours of putting it out, we invariably have a tiny customer sitting on the perch drinking his fill.

There are lots of different kinds of hummingbird feeders on the market, but the one I like most for an RV mounts on the window with a suction cup.

 

Humminbird at our window feeder at dawn

A hummer visits our feeder at dawn

Humminbird hover

“Hello!”

 

We first saw one of these feeders when we spent a happy afternoon with our friends Bob and Donna Lea in their trailer during our first year of full-timing ages ago.

The hummers came by their feeder all afternoon, and the best part was that we could see them up close and at eye level while sitting comfortably on the couch.

This kind of feeder can also be a great way to get hummingbird photos, and the other day, while out in the Arizona desert, we decided to try our hand at being wildlife photographers from inside the comfort of our fifth wheel.

 

Hummingbird lands at our feeder

Swooping down for a drink

 

A simple concoction of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (stirred up well to get the sugar to dissolve) is all it takes to lure the little guys to the feeder.

But the thing is, hummingbirds dart about erratically and move really fast.

Sometimes they hover for a while and look at you while they weave their wings back and forth in a figure eight pattern, as if they’re treading water.  But then, suddenly, they turn and disappear in a flash.

Catching one on camera is not such an easy task!

 

Flying hummingbird

He kindly hummed a little higher to give us a blue sky backdrop

Just as you get the bird in your viewfinder and have lined up the shot the way you want it and are ready to click the shutter — he’s gone.

Plus, the lighting can be tricky. Hummingbirds have irridescent feathers that light up like neon when the sun hits them in a certain way. But at other times their feathers look dull and dark.

Our feeder is often backlit by the sun, since we like to point our wall of windows to the south in the wintertime.  This makes the hummers look like silhouettes, and frequently the lighting is such that their feathers don’t glow. at all

 

Hummingbird's feathers are dark in this light

Hummingbird feathers appear dark when they aren’t lit up by the sun.

The way we have our trailer oriented right now, though, the hummer looked truly stunning at the feeder when we stood in one particular spot during the early afternoon.

The only hard part was that in this light the hummer had a pretty good view into the trailer from his perch, and our movements inside made him nervous.  So, he wouldn’t stick around, especially when we were aiming a big black thing at him through the window.

To circumvent this, we set up a tripod at that spot with a remote shutter trigger.

 

Hovering hummingbird

Hovering

Our thinking was that we’d preset the focus to the perch area and then stand away from the window and click the shutter whenever the hummer turned up. A foolproof method, for sure.

The hummer made his appearance on queue and put on a great performance.

He hovered on the other side of the window, peered in at us, decided it was safe, sipped daintily while hovering, settled on the perch to drink a little more deeply, and then took off.

We happily clicked away on the shutter.  How perfect!!  These would be awesome photos!

 

Hummingbird at our RV feeder

Getting his balance on the perch…

But when we ran through the pics on the back of the camera, it was a disaster!  Every single shot was hopelessly blurry.

Arghh! The 1/125 shutter speed was waaaay too slow.

So we set up at a faster speed, 1/2000, and waited. And waited and waited. We could see him flitting about in the trees, but he was being coy and wouldn’t come anywhere near the feeder.

Mark got bored and sat down to read a book. “That’s why I like landscape photography,” He said.

But I held out.  For a while.  I fidgeted.  I yawned.  And after a while I turned and opened the fridge, figuring I’d pass the time by munching on something.

 

The Wave

He gives us a big wave!

Just as I got my hands on a snack, I heard Mark mutter, “Your little buddy’s back!”

Oh no!  I dropped everything and dove for the camera remote.

I clicked it just in time to get a shot of the tip of the bird’s tail and his feet as he took off — and totally missed the wonderful images of him hovering just outside of the field of view of the camera.

Darn!

Well, one thing was clear.  The tripod and the remote were awkward to maneuver and were too rigidly fixed to capture this speedy, darting bird.

 

Both wings going

The wings beat so very fast…

So I put the camera on a monopod with the idea that this time I’d be able to swing the camera around more freely and focus on him wherever he was rather than pre-focusing and hoping he hung out where the camera was focused.  And then I waited,  And waited and waited.

Mark chuckled at me over his book while I stood there.  “Looks like you’ve got it all set up…” He said.

“Yeah.  All I need is a bird!”

But the hummer was playing hard to get.  My feet got tired.  My knees got tired.  I rested my chin on the camera and groaned.  Where was that bird?

 

Darting hummingbird in a blue sky

Those little wings keep them suspended and stationary in the air

Then he suddenly appeared, and I flew into action.

I’d chosen 3D focus tracking to try to keep the little guy in focus as he moved around.  It was a mode someone had recommended online for bird photography.

As I pressed the shutter button partway down, little focus dots lit up all over the hummer while he was moving about.

It drove me crazy as it focused on his head, his feet, his tail, and his wings, constantly shifting from one part of his body to another.

It was totally distracting, and the result was random body parts being in focus. Ugh! This technique might work for some people, but it definitely wasn’t working for me!

 

The hummer pauses at the feeder

The colors on his head and neck changed with every move he made.

I’d read that the best animal shots have the eyes in perfect focus.  What good was it if the feathers on the bird’s round little belly were in focus but you couldn’t see his face clearly?

My little visitor disappeared again, and I was disappointed in my photos again.

Besides having great focus on everything but his face, in this group of pictures the dimming afternoon light mixed with the dimming afternoon light had made the ISO climb sky high, so the images were coming out rather grainy.

So it was back to the waiting game with a few more adjustments.  “It will be another 10 or 15 minutes,” Mark said.  “He got a really long drink that time!”

 

The hummer gives us a wave

Another wave… I like this guy!

Man! I don’t know how wildlife photographers do it.  Here I was in the comfort of my own home, yet I was impatient and bored and uncomfortable standing around waiting.

Imagine being holed up before dawn in some blind you’d built out in the wilds of Africa!  Could any animal shot be worth that kind of effort?

Well, at least I had nothing else really pressing going on.  We could hear the little hummber out in the branches of the trees making his funny little clicking noises.

 

.

A gambel's quail runs past

While waiting for the hummer, I spotted a Gambel’s quail sauntering by.

Suddenly a Gambel’s quail caught my eye.  He strutted past the window on a mission, his little top-knot feather bouncing up and down as he walked.

I love these little birds too, and I lifted the camera to my face, monopod and all, and stood on my tiptoes to get a shot of him running by.

Just then, the hummingbird was back at the feeder.  And I was out of position!

Mark laughed out loud as I tried to get lined up and refocused while muttering something unintelligible under my breath.

Hummer wings in focus high isd

Eating on the fly!

 

I jammed the shutter button down for a rapid-fire series of shots.

This time I’d nailed it.  I knew it!  And sure enough, when I looked at the photos a few minutes later the results were terrific and I was triumphant.

I gloated quite a bit as I showed a few of the images to Mark.

Now he was intrigued.  I sat down, my own little mission accomplished, and watched him set up shop.

Hummingbird close-up shot

Picture perfect!

A hummingbird peers in our trailer window

What a handsome little guy!

Ditching the monopod, he placed a tripod on the table and switched out the long 70-200 mm lens I had been using for a fixed length 85 mm.

He was bound and determined to make that remote shutter button work.  I shook my head and said there was no way… but then, after a few attempts, he got some really spectacular shots!

Lately, our little bird friend has been hanging out with a buddy, and they seem to be taking our presence in stride.

I want to take this whole operation outside to get some images of them in the trees, and I had hoped to end this post with an awesome photo from the palo verde tree that’s just outside our trailer.

But our hummer and his friend have been keeping a low profile this afternoon.  So, we’ll just have to wait and see if we can catch them tomorrow!

 

Love birds and animals?  You might enjoy some of these other posts where we communed with animals during our travels:

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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Go Fish! – Some wild ways to catch dinner – It’s for the birds!!

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

One of the unexpected joys in cruising Mexico has been getting to know the wildlife around us. The birds, in particular, are fascinating to watch (as long as they don’t build nests in our boom or soil our decks too much!!).

Osprey in flight

Osprey

And one thing that has surprised me is how many different techniques they use to catch fish.

Osprey were familiar to us from north of Mexico, and we’ve heard their piercing cry up and down the west coast and in Maine. They like to fish feet-first, swooping down to the water and grabbing their prey with their fuzzy taloned feet (here’s a cool video).

 

Frigate bird on wire

Frigate bird

Frigate bird Flying

These guys have a bright red neck
pouch they puff up to impress
the girls!!

Less familiar to us were frigate birds, which we first saw when we started sailing south along the Baja coast. Several played all night long trying to land on our mast!

These prehistoric looking birds fish by skimming along the surface and dipping their long beaks in the water to pluck their prey from the surface. It looks slick (when it works), although it’s less dramatic than the ospreys. However, it doesn’t seem to be all that effective!

So frigates frequently steal fish from other smaller birds – mid-air!

Tern sitting on rock

Tern on a rock

Tern flying

A tern in flight

Terns are terrific fishermen and flyers. They dive beak first and then fly like mad to take their fish somewhere they can eat in peace.

But the frigate birds often gang up on them, hassling them to drop their fish.

The flying displays and dog-fights in these disputes is awe-inspiring. The terns are incredible aerialists, ducking, dodging and darting about, but the bigger and slower frigates usually win, forcing them to drop their catch.

Pelican flying

Pelican scopes out dinner.

Pelican in water

Post-dinner satisfaction.

Pelicans were familiar to us before we started cruising. They soar high above the water and then fold in their wings tight against their bodies as they start their dive. By the time they hit the water they are streamlined to the shape of a javelin.

When a flock of pelicans attacks a school of fish near us, the sky and water look like they’re filled with flying swords. The funny part is when they tip their heads back and gulp down the fish they have caught. Sometimes you can see the fish wriggling down their neck!!

Brown booby flying

Booby

 

Booby on turtle

A Booby rides a sea turtle
It’s a “turtle-bird” !!

Boobies were new to us. They are stout, ungainly birds, and they, too, dive headfirst. When they hit the surface it sounds like a huge boulder landing in the water.

When we first heard a flock of boobies fishing around our boat, we ran out on deck because we thought someone was throwing big rocks at us!

Oddly, these guys barely penetrate the water. They must be extremely buoyant because they seem to penetrate only up to their shoulders. Their tails splash and wag in the air as they right themselves.

Cormorant

Cormorant – free diver!

Cormorants, however, are not buoyant in the least. They are excellent free divers, going quite deep and far. As a small child growing up on the north coast of Boston, Massachuestts, I fondly remember a game I played with my great uncle. We’d count how long the cormorants stayed under water, and we’d guess where they’d pop up again. Some never seemed to resurface!!

Cormorants have much denser bones than all other birds, and their feathers aren’t water resistant. This weighs them down and helps them stay under water longer. A common sight we see is cormorants standing on rocks with their wings spread out to dry!!

Snowy Egret with fish

Snowy Egret
Doesn’t get one feather wet!

 

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret in the waves

Egrets are the opposite. Their long legs let them wade into the water and never get a feather wet. Snowy egrets have wonderful bright yellow feet and some very fluffy and decorative feathers that would look just terrible if they ever got wet.

They manage to fish from the shore with great success, tip-toeing in and out of the waves with ease.

It has struck me, watching all the leggy shore birds that scamper in and out of the waves for dinner, that they know as much about wave mechanics and wave sets as world class surfers do.

Fisherman

When you don’t have wings.

Of course, humans don’t fly, but we’ve developed our own fishing tactics over the years. Many modern human fishing techniques aren’t very green or planet-friendly, but one of our favorite sights on the Mexican coast is watching the fishermen ply the waters with their nets in an age-old technique that is used the world over.

 

 

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Huatulco’s Marina Chahué – Landlubbing with parrots!

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Marina Chahue at the golden hour

Mid-November, 2012 – The great thing about this beautiful little cruising ground among the Bays of Huatulco is that when it gets gnarly out in the bays, you can run for cover in the shelter of the marina.  We left Tangolunda Bay after two days of swinging back and forth like a church bell gone wild, and instantly relaxed as the boat steadied and then went into a wonderful, motionless torpor in the marina.

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

We were gifted with some pretty sunsets

We were treated to lovely afternoon sunsets that lit the sky in shades of gold and pink and orange, and we walked and walked and walked, thrilled to be back on terra firma.  We had been loving swimming off the back of the boat, but the newfound pleasure of stepping off the boat onto dry land was equally thrilling.

Unfortunately, Huatulco’s Marina Chahué (pronounce Cha-WAY) is a poorly appointed little marina that is hopelessly overpriced.  Run by the government, our jaws dropped when we were told the fee would $30 USD a night without hookups to electricity and water!! (those luxuries would have been $5 more).

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Cold water outdoor showers – without privacy!!

The one amenity on offer for visiting boaters is a cold water outdoor shower that doesn’t even have a curtain or door!  Needless to say, there is never a line for the shower!!

By comparison, for the same price, Paradise Village Marina, a resort marina in Puerto Vallarta, offers swimming pools, hot tubs (including a an indoor candle-lit hot tub for the gals), a spa, a beautifully appointed gym with all the latest equipment, a pretty and meticulously groomed beach that goes for miles, and walking access to all the restaurants and boutiques a tourist could ever hope for.  It is no wonder that Marina Chahué is nearly vacant while Paradise Village has lots of boats, especially given the hundreds of miles and several overnights at sea required to get here.

Legacy Westport 164 at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Our new neighbor “Legacy” arrives

What could be a fabulous cruising destination is just a brief stopover point for the handful of boats that pass through.

One such transient boat pulled in during our stay.  The neat thing about megayachts is that you can often look them up online and get a tantalizing peek at what lurks behind the tinted windows.  This one, “Legacy,” is 164′ long and is listed on Charter World as having been launched in December, 2011.  It’s basically brand new!

Cruising friends Colleen and Mark

Young cruisers Colleen and Mark from s/v Mer-Sea

The photos of the interior are lovely, but we had to satisfy ourselves with taking photos of the outside and dreaming.  Other than seeing the scurrying hands while the boat was docking, we never saw a soul on deck!

Even more fun than the exotic super yachts, though, are some of the unusual cruisers we meet along the way.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by Colleen and Marc of the Catalina 27 Mer-Sea.  They had recently sold their boat to our friend Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula to be used for daysailing tours around Puerto Chiapas.  We had known only that “a young couple sailed the boat down from California and then sold it to Arturo over the summer.”

Mer-Sea at Marina Chiapas Mexico

After an exciting cruise south, Colleen and Marc’s boat is ready to take visitors daysailing in Chiapas.

 

What fun it was to meet them and their dog Torch as they got ready to pile into their pickup-conversion-camper and drive home to Texas after an adventurous cruise down the Mexican coast.

Donzi at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A true chick-magnet

 

 

 

 

It is common for retirees to set sail on a boat after years of dreaming and planning.  Their boats are solid and decked out in the latest gear to make living aboard as comfortable and as safe as possible.  Their boats are ready for all that the sea might dish out.  Old folks have the money and the time to do these things, and 95% of cruisers in Pacific Mexico are over 50.

Pura Vida at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

All boats need regular scrub downs

How refreshing and inspiring it is, then, to meet a couple in their twenties who threw caution to the wind, bought a small 1970’s vintage boat, and took off down the scary coast, latest fancy gear be damned.  The boat sailed well, what more could you want?  Now, with one big cruise in their back pockets, they are off to make a little money in Texas and then do it all again — in the Caribbean.

anchor chain and Ultra anchor

The anchor chain is laid out on the dock. The more frequently used end near the anchor is rusted.

Old or new, big or small, if you want your boat to be a chick magnet — or at least to look its best — you gotta work at it.  When the 100 footer Pura Vida pulled in, within moments of tying up, the crew went to work cleaning, polishing and waxing.  At least a few hours of work on a boat each day is just part of the boating life, whether you are paid crew or a grubby cruiser living the Life of Riley.

Mark had a long list of things to do on the boat and we jumped right in.  Most were mundane, like fixing a leak in the kayak (again! but darn, we love that little boat anyway…), and polishing away the various rust stains that had appeared on parts of the hull.  But most interesting was swapping the anchor chain end-for-end.

end for end anchor chain on the dock

Mark puts new tie-wraps at 30′ intervals

After 550 days of anchoring out, the link holding the anchor had been startlingly eaten away by rust, while the opposite end of the chain was still bright silver.

A few of the tie-wraps marking the distances had come off too, so Mark had a chance to put new ones on at 30′ intervals.  That way he has some idea of how much chain he has let out in the water — the deeper the water (or more stormy the situation), the more chain you want to let out.

Marinas are always lively places that are full of action, even little-used ones like Marina Chahué.  One afternoon a TV crew showed up at the mansion on the end of the point.  We discovered the Mexican TV mass media company “Televisa” was doing a segment on Huatulco for a show that highlights cool spots around Mexico.

Sailboat regatta Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A little sailboat race makes a perfect backdrop for the TV cameras

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Palm at sunset

Very conveniently, the local kids’ racing fleet had a small regatta that day, right out front.  They zig-zagged back and forth as the TV cameras rolled.  They were very cute.

During our brief stay, Marina Chahué was loaded with birdlife.  We were woken in the mornings with the calls of great kiskadees, which sound just like their name, “kis-ka-dee.”  Grackles made themselves at home in our cockpit at times, squeaking at each other and peering at us to see just how much intrusion they could get away with before we shooed them off.

A grackle sits on our outboard in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A cheeky grackle makes himself at home on our outboard

One morning Mark popped his head out the companionway and saw a row of birds sitting on the dock line of the boat next to us.  There is quite a bit of surge in this marina, and the boats move around a lot.  As the neighboring boat swung around in its slip, the dock line rose up and down.  The birds didn’t seem to mind one bit as their perch soared and then fell.

Swallows on the dock lines in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A flock of small birds rides the dock lines

Great egret Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A great egret stares us down in the kayak

 

Taking the kayak out to explore the estuary in the back of the marina, we came across a rather stern looking great egret.  He kept a close eye on us and our bright yellow boat as we drifted past him.  But other than annoying him enough for him to lower one foot for a moment, just in case, he seemed okay with us coming quite close.

The prize bird sighting came on land about a quarter mile from the marina, though.  Just outside the busy supermarket, we heard the unmistakeable squeals of a flock of parrots.  They were perched on every available branch of a tree, almost within arm’s reach.  Unfortunately, the wide angle lens I’d brought with me couldn’t quite capture them… And why hadn’t I brought my telephoto lens to the supermarket??  I’m beginning to learn:  take all the camera stuff everywhere!

 

half moon conures in Huatulco Mexico

Half moon conures flirt at sunset

half moon conures bahias de huatulco mexico

A little kiss

We hurried home, teased most of the way by this exuberant flock as it zoomed every which way in the sky, buzzing us repeatedly and landing in trees and chattering at us all along our route home.  Why, oh, why didn’t I have that long lens?  I looked them up online later and found out they were half-moon conures.

We had planned to leave the marina the next morning, but Mark gave me a smirk when I said something about staying one more day — we both knew why.  The next afternoon I ran over to the supermarket, this time with the long lens and fully charged battery, all ready to roll.  I could hear the parrots in the distance.  Suddenly, there they were, landing in the tree right above me at a hopelessly busy street corner.

Half moon conures La Crucecita Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Pssst — I think you’re really cute”

I snapped some shots.  Wrong settings — all dark.  I snapped some more — better, but blurry.  Oh gosh, Don’t fly away!!!  I kept thinking.  Then I remembered the settings Mark had recommended as I leapt off the boat a few minutes ago, and I punched the buttons as the buses and taxis whipped around the corner at rush hour speeds.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Aaaah — that feels so good!!”

Half moon conures Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Can we snuggle just a little closer?”

Camera finally set, the birds began to settle down too.  Little pairs sidled up to each other at the ends of each of the branches.  They all flirted with each other shamelessly, clucking, preening, smooching and all.

One pair just above me put on a wonderful show, nuzzling together like the happiest of lovers, all beneath a single heart shaped leaf.

When they finally finished snuggling with each other and got down to serious preening, two birds were back-to-back.  They craned their necks towards each other, forming a perfect heart shape.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Mmmm…”

What a beautiful few moments.  Eventually the parrot noises in the tree quieted down to a low murmur as the sun stole out of the sky.  I left the birds to their romantic starlit night and wandered home to my own love, totally happy inside.

The incredible charms of the Huatulco area continued to enchant us when we visited the tropical fruit and flower orchard of Hagia Sofia.

half moon conures Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loreto: Isla Coronado & Villa del Palmar – Taming the Sea of Cortez

Roads Less Traveled

Villa del Palmar resort in Ensenada Blanca (Bahía Candeleros, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Villa del Palmar resort in Ensenada Blanca (Bahía Candeleros).

Isla Carmen's

Isla Carmen's "Painted Cliffs."

Isla Carmen's Punta Perico anchorage, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Isla Carmen's Punta Perico.

Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Isla Coronado.

Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Isla Coronado.

Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

The turquoise water reflects off

the seagulls.

Turkey vulture, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

A turkey vulture looks for carion on the beach.

Cardon cactus and seagull, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

A seagull perches on a

desert cactus.

Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Mobula ray or manta ray, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico sv Groovy at anchor, Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Bus parking lot for Villa Del Palmar workers, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Buses wait in a dirt lot to take the resort

workers home.

Liguii village church, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Village church.

Fresh catch - cabrilla (bass) Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Jose holds up a cabrilla for us.

Panga fisherman fillets cabrilla, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Jose fillets the cabrilla in his panga.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

View from a Villa del Palmar 7th floor balcony.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

The resort pools are creatively laid out.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

A golf course is going in behind the resort.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

A spa and restaurant will grace one end of the resort.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

The pool bar overlooks the bay.

Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Dining in the desert by an open fire -- reminiscent of

the finest resorts in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Groovy anchored in front of Villa del Palmar Resort, Ensenada Blanca, Baja California Sur, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Groovy sits quietly at the resort's front door.

Isla Coronado & Ensenada Blanca, outside Loreto, Mexico

May, 2011 - At Agua Verde we really began to

relax.  All of a sudden the exertion of seven

months of cruising the Mexican coast had

caught up with us, and there in that little oasis

of tranquility we unwound until we became

blobs of jello.  We went to bed before sundown,

got up after sunrise, and stretched out for naps

in between.  For 17 days the Sea of Cortez

gave us a life without the distraction of the

internet.  The world beyond our immediate

surroundings on the sea seemed very far away.

As we sailed north and turned the corner to pass inside Isla Danzante

our eyes popped out of our heads when a massive resort suddenly

rose out of the mountains, overshadowing a cove and filling our view.

"Holy mackerel, what is that?"  Civilization.  Land of plush vacations.

We could almost hear the air conditioners throbbing, the fresh water

pumping, the workers scurrying.  We could almost see the elegant

meals being served by uniformed waiters on linen tablecloths while

patrons gazed at the expansive view of the Sea and its desert

islands.  Our guidebooks called the bay "Bahía Candeleros," and

mentioned only that a resort was under construction there.  Well, it's

open for business now!

We weren't ready for all that quite yet.  We pressed on, weaving between

the islands and taking a detour around the eastern side of Isla Carmen.

Here the colorful towering cliffs and crying gulls took over once again.  We

stopped at Punta Colorada, and again at a place the guidebook called

"Painted Cliffs" and finally at Punta Perico.  Besides one other sailboat and

the hum of cruisers talking on the radio, humanity disappeared once again.

A few days later we arrived at Isla

Coronado, an ideal little aquamarine

cove where the water is such a bright

turquoise that it reflects off the gulls'

wings as they fly overhead.  We relaxed

into jello once again.  Between swims

and kayak rides I began reading John

Steinbeck's Log of the Sea of Cortez while Mark played guitar.

Visiting the Sea in 1940 on a personal quest to study life in the

coastal tidepools, Steinbeck gives hilarious descriptions of life afloat

on a chartered California sardine boat.  Packed in with six other

guys, he took a six week voyage from California to Cabo, and then

along the inner coastline of the Sea of Cortez and back.  Endless

jars of pickled specimens that the crew collected from tidepools

filled every available space on the boat: crabs, worms, sea

cucumbers, and much more.

I laughed out loud at his wry tales.  They

were all the more poignant because

certain aspects of traveling the Mexican

coast by boat have not changed since

Steinbeck's time.  His skiff's cranky outboard engine, which he derisively nicknamed the "Sea-Cow,"

quickly became an eighth grumpy personality in the mix, running only when it wasn't needed and

leaving the men to row their dinghy in the most challenging conditions.  The crew bickered about

whose turn it was to wash dishes, harassing each other with practical jokes.  And they got caught by

surprise in the La Paz Coromuel winds which "sprang upon us" and "seemed to grow out of the

evening."  By the end of the trip they were all thickly encrusted in salt, as they had long since given up

using fresh water to wash their bodies or their clothes.  In fact, from the start they found the quality of

the fresh water they were able to get for their tanks so dubious for drinking that they endeavored to

consume as little water as possible and live on beer instead.

As I read Steinbeck's Log I found myself pondering the many changes, both

subtle and dramatic, that have taken place in the last 71 years in this remote

part of the world.  Cabo San Lucas, a raucous, pricey, resort-filled party

town today was, in Steinbeck's time, "a sad little town" whose road in from the

bay was "two wheel-ruts in the dust."  At La Paz he bemoaned a new

"expensive looking" hotel going up, as it spelled the end of the town's unique

character and isolation.  "Probably the airplanes will bring weekenders from

Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful bedraggled old town will bloom

with a Floridian ugliness."

In several different parts of the Sea he described seeing schools of leaping

swordfish.  Swarming the boat in thick schools, they "jumped clear out of the

water" and "seemed to play in pure joy."  In other places the schools were

tuna, and they too leaped around the boat with total abandon.  The tuna

would shimmer silver in the sun as they rocketed out of the blue depths and wriggled in the air.  On the Pacific side of Baja

between Magdalena Bay and Cabo San Lucas, he wrote: "We came upon hosts of...red rock-lobsters on the surface,

brilliant red and beautiful against the ultramarine of the water...The water seemed almost solid with the little red crustacea."

We haven't seen any of those things, and we haven't heard of anyone else seeing them either.  However, the leaping manta

rays Steinbeck describes are still here, doing somersaults and slapping the water in loud belly smacks.  We had first seen

them 500 miles south in Las Hadas in Manzanillo.  They cruised Isla Coronado's cove in huge schools, fooling us when we

first arrived into thinking we had accidentally anchored next to a rock.  Jumping in with masks and snorkels, we searched

everywhere for that rock only to realize it had been a school of rays floating past.

Steinbeck vividly describes

the Japanese shrimping factory ships that filled the Sea in 1940.

He and his crew spent time on one of these ships and watched in horror as the massive nets scraped

the bottom clean of all sea life.  Fish from every level of the sea came up in the nets: sharks, turtles,

pompano, sea horses, sea fans and more.  All were discarded overboard in a sea of death, except the

shrimp which were processed and packaged to be taken home to Japan.  He bitterly lamented the

waste of a massive food source that could feed the Mexican people indefinitely.  At the same time he

conceded that none of the dead fish were wasted, as the birds scooped up every morsel that had been

thrown over the side.

A Spanish speaking cruiser told us he had talked at length with some lobstermen on the Pacific side

of Baja as he sailed south from San Diego last January.  He learned that these men work in

cooperatives for Japanese ships that wait in Ensenada and sail once the holds are filled.  The

lobstermen have a quotas that the cooperative must meet -- some 20,000 tons of lobster

per month was a number he was given -- and all the lobstermen are paid equally if the

quota is met.

While Steinbeck and his crew got progressively grubbier, drinking warm beer and eating

spaghetti twice a week, they felt a stab of jealousy when a sleek black yacht sailed by.  The

passengers, dressed in white, relaxed in chairs on the shaded back deck sipping tall cool

drinks.  Today we see the enormous power megayachts and can only wonder what that life

is like.  The upper crust passengers are usually hidden behind large tinted windows, and

the sliding glass doors are usually closed to keep the air conditioning in.

Eventually our curiosity about the resort we had sailed by earlier overtook us and we

doubled back.  "Bahia Candeleros" seems to be the name that was assigned to this bay by

the earliest cruisers and nautical charts.  But we soon learned that everyone in the nearby

village -- and even Google Earth -- refers to this bay as "Ensenada Blanca."

Whatever the name, it is a fascinating convergence of the old Sea and the new.  At one end

of the cove stands a small fish camp where drying clothes hang out on clotheslines and

cisterns hold water on the roofs of rickety shacks that look like they would collapse in a

storm.  A tiny village half a mile inland has a small church and store, reminiscent of Agua

Verde a few miles south.  Pangas on the beach bring in small boatloads of fish.

A friendly fellow at this end of the beach named Jose sold us a

"cabrilla" (bass) that had been caught and laid on ice that morning.  He

filleted it expertly on the seat of his panga and rinsed the flesh in the

seawater at his feet.  The gulls and pelicans gathered in a noisy crowd

nearby and fought each other over scraps.

Jose explained to us

that the well built

fiberglass pangas we

have seen on every

part of the Mexican

coast are built in

Mexico using molds

made in the US.  These

rugged boats have replaced the common

fishing boats that Steinbeck described as "double-ended canoes carved out of a single log of

light wood, braced inside with struts...seaworthy and fast."  Today's pangas are driven by

powerful outboards whereas the canoes were "paddled by two men, one at either end."

The eldest Baja citizens, whom Steinbeck called "Indians," would have been small children

when he was here.  He wrote: "When we think of La Paz it is always of the small boys that we

think first."  They swarmed his boat, curious and eager to help him collect sea creatures when

he offered a few centavos per specimen.  Those boys would be old men now, and they may

still be telling tales to their grandkids of gathering clams and worms and crabs for some crazy

gringos in exchange for a few centavos each.  Not even a full lifetime has passed.

Wandering down to the other

end of the cove it seems like

centuries must have gone by.

The gargantuan resort is called

Villa del Palmar, and the guards

were happy to arrange a tour for

us.  What a place.  Only the

finest materials have been used,

the highest end appliances fill

each suite, and the layout of the pools and gardens, as viewed

from a seventh floor balcony, is an artful pattern in the shape of

a sea turtle.  It is Scottsdale, Arizona on the Sea.

We learned that this resort is just the first of three similar hotels

planned for this small bay.  "Villa de la Estancia" and "Villa del Arco"

will follow.  A golf course will line the base of the mountains and

condos will be built in all of the nooks and crannies in between.

We looked out over the construction in awe.  Backhoes clawed

the dirt while cement trucks flowed to and fro.  Uniformed men

with clipboards checked the progress while workers nodded

confidently at them, wiping their sweaty brows with dusty

hands.  The air was filled with purpose and excitement.

Our tour guide, Gabriel, lives in Loreto and he couldn't stop

smiling throughout the entire tour.  He is thrilled to have this

job, working in a beautiful place in handsome clothes and with

what he believes is a fine future ahead.  He told us the resort

employs 250 people.  About 50 guests were there during its

second month of operation.  We had seen the buses that the

company uses to bring the employees in from town.  The road

to the resort is not yet paved and the buses park behind the

fish camp in a large dirt lot.

In the afternoon Mauricio, the music electronics whiz who sets up

the karaoke machines at the pool bar, told us he transferred in

from Mexico city.  He is being housed in one of the beautiful

condos set back in the hillsides while he looks for a home so he

can transfer his family from the mainland.  He likes the school

system in Loreto and is pleased there is a university there.  His

wife, a bank manager, may find work at the hotel too, and he hopes

his kids will be able to continue the after-school activities they now

enjoy in Mexico City: horseback riding, swimming and soccer.

The entire resort pulsed with the feelings of opportunity, promise

and the future.  This is the new Sea of Cortez that Steinbeck

knew was coming, tamed and gentrified for well-heeled tourists.

Along with the classy resort came an internet signal, and what a

surprise it was after so long adrift from world news to find out that

Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed.  This mirrored

Steinbeck's experience too.  He discovered that while he was in

the Sea, "Hitler marched into Denmark and into Norway, France

had fallen, the Maginot line was lost -- we didn't know it but we

knew the daily catch of every boat within 400 miles."

We stayed for several days, enjoying

placid, clear water and lovely views as

Groovy slowly swung at anchor.  Finally a

need for provisions pushed us into the

busy ports of Puerto Escondido and

Loreto.

Find Isla Coronado, Ensenada Blance and Loreto on Mexico Maps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary & Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Utah

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.