Thursday, October 31, 2019

Viva Villa!

It is said that Francisco "Pancho" Villa had between 23 and 75 wives.  Some sources say he had at least 75 but only 23 have been documented with names and dates these days, but he was known for having children with 16 women.  He did not believe in divorce or annulment so upon his death in 1923, he could have had the most wives by any non-Mormon in North America since the Spanish arrived.  He was successful in convincing the priests and judges to burn many of the records, so proof wasn't always an easy thing and girls literally begged him in some towns to impregnate them.  It must have seemed odd after his death that three women showed up to act as the grieving widows. 
       So why am I suddenly interested in Pancho Villa?
       On March 9, 1916, the last time a foreign army invaded the United States, it happened in...Columbus, New Mexico, a question most will not answer correctly and today, we were there.  The Battle of Columbus led to much...probably none of it good.
12 Army and 8 civilians were killed on the US side, with over 100 Mexicans killed

Odd machines of war were in use

Much of the town was destroyed but the railroad and the depot were intact, within a month Columbus would be the center of 250,000 troops amassed on the border

A little history:
Within a day, a full scale military incursion was authorized by President Wilson and Columbus was made into a huge staging area for an entire division of the Army, then more.  Exactly a week later, General Pershing sent advance companies into Mexico in the plan of eliminating Villa at best or dispersing his military forces at worst.  It ended 11 months later.   During the course of the action, The US Forces killed many key Villa allies, including his chief lieutenant being one of three men shot personally by Lt George Patton.  The Villanistas counter-attacked Glenn Springs and Boquillas, Texas both now in Big Bend National park (Boquillas is Rio Grande Village and Glenn Springs is a Ghost Town on the west side where there is only a small sign now, and where I got my lesser nighthawk in my big year in 2016).  There a small US detachment was destroyed.  A month later four, US Troops were killed at San Ygnatio, another birding location. 

During the main incursion, the US Army encountered Mexican Regular Army and almost brought the two countries into a full scale war, but despite all of this...Pancho Villa escaped and the US needed to withdraw the troops so we could enter World War I as almost all of our regular troops were in Mexico.  The US and not the Mexican Army would put an end to the Villinistas actions on the border as a 1919 Raid on Juarez across from El Paso would cause over a dozen US casualties due to stray bullets that the commander of the US forces immediately retaliated by sending in 1200 troops into Mexico and dispersed Villa's Division of the North so thoroughly that he sued for peace and retired.  Many marriages and just three years later, he was assassinated.  He was 45.

To be descriptive, the entire deal was IMHO one large waste of money, lives, and time. 

We had just left from another famous place, the Chihuahua Mountains where Geronimo periodically hid between various previous incursions by the US Calvary into Mexico chasing him and his band.  This was 30 years earlier.  Silja and I hiked many of the trails and found hidden springs and saw the wildlife of the beautiful area.

Cave Creek from above

Silja at Chihuahua National Monument

We hiked the canyon trails to find birds and butterflies and went up in the pines to get the chickadee,  yes that chickadee and I saw Mexican chickadees three times but they would not come out of the trees to be photographed.  I found a couple of birders down on the bottom looking hopefully for a chickadee or two6 and thinking the titmice they had heard briefly were chickadees and I had to tell them, "you aere way too low" and gave them directions, but later on there was no evidence they had gone up the mountain, I think the road to Onion Saddle scared them, heck, it scares me, but if you want that bird, there is no short cut.   I did photograph yellow-eyed juncos.  I always like these guys, they look sinister.

Then I saw the four Arizonas... 
Arizona woodpecker

Arizona Giant-skipper

Arizona metalmark

Arizona Sister

I love these mountains and the twilight of our last day sort of described a lot for this country  Extreme Southern New Mexico and SE AZ is changing, and I'm not sure if it is a good thing.

A beautiful sunset before a truly black night.  Villa et al tried to destroy much of this area and leave people in fear, after Geronimo previously did and we ended up carting away the natives to captivity in Oklahoma.  Now the jobs have pretty much all dried up, much like the towns of Rodeo, Antelope Wells, Animas, and especially Hachita.  The railroad pulled out in 1961 as did much of the mining and even the Sky Gypsy scheme of John McAfee  a decade ago ended up pretty much yielding nothing short of a really strange story and some serious head scratching (by me).  The Sky Gypsy story is too bizarre to repeat here so look it up. 

Now we got the new perceived border issues, and it is true that a focus place of illegal crossing was between Hachita and both sides of Columbus (I have first hand visualization of that years ago).  I have read some recent musings out of the Big East Coast media saying that nothing has been built of Trump's wall and many people are all smiles and patting themselves on the back thinking what they read is true.  Sorry folks, there IS A WALL being built....

The wall being built hard and fast westward, east of Columbus, NM

 I can give you directions and you can probably drive right up to it.  I suspect that lazy reporters aren't driving out east of Columbus to see what is going on because NO ONE is ever out here driving on Hwy 9.  It is easier to sit in New York and act smart.  There are no direct flights to El Paso from DC or NYC. 

The last time I drove this way, I met 67 border patrol cars and two sheriff's deputies, but no private vehicles....this year, that was down to 37 and 1 cop.  Last time I was stopped five times while birding by Border Patrol but this time in the RV, nothing, although I wasn't stopping and wasn't out taking pictures, every five miles.  There were cement trucks about every three miles, driving 100 miles from a cement plant near El Paso, which is owned by Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, a Mexican company....sigh.  How ironic is that? 

BTW, I did meet only three civilian cars east of Hachita in 140 miles, besides construction crews.
The last time I drove here I spotted 17 illegals sneaking across the road, this time nadda one.
I hear that illegal traffic has moved to west of Douglas, AZ.

Where are these large helicopters were going or coming from made me wonder.   I hope they weren't on border patrol, as they went north in Columbus they are heading away.
I don't care if you are for or against the wall, since it is being built, and what I think or you  think doesn't matter and it is probably needed here but not in the LRGV.  No one wants to solve the real problem in reality.  What is the next phase, build gun turrets on the wall?  It seems so East Germany in the Sixties but I guess that was to keep people in, not out.  There IS a problem and by and large we have all caused it.   We want cheap goods, cheap labor, really cheap food, we don't want to do the dirty jobs in America, and we turn a blind eye to the elites and large corporations that hire them on the QT.  How many domestics are truly legal?   

We drove through El Paso, I almost went into bronchospasm.  We also ignore Juarez (a city of 1.4 million).  Here we are, having a fit (rightfully so, to a degree) about global warming and all these fires in California, when one of the largest (yes) cities in America, El Paso has a terrible smog problem that you never hear about.  You rarely ever hear about El Paso.  It is a metro area larger than Detroit, Minneapolis, or well almost anywhere.  It is like it just doesn't exist.  Because of the lax rules on emissions right next door in Juarez, yet all of that 'stuff' they produce comes to us, smog included.   Ban is a better use of our time

Oh well, can't fix it anyhow and we always tend to forget history.  We are like fish biting at the shiny bait... 
So what did I learn...
1) Villa is still thought of fondly as a man for the the little person, yet in Villa's case, besides all of his brides, it is documented that he raped many ...many women hundreds to thousands, even shooting many that tried to shoot him after the fact.  So Villa was a bad man, a very bad man.
2) The Chihuahuas Mtns and valleys are gorgeous
3) Mexican chickadees can be really hard to photograph
4) They are really building the wall, at least near Columbus NM, they are

Drive the desert of southern New Mexico...


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Confused and bewildered in the American Southwest

The earth seems to be cracking around me.  I'm confused and bewildered.  I have never spent so much time looking things up on the internet or in the "Urban" dictionary.
          I haven't posted for a while and it isn't because we haven't had anything to report, in fact, maybe too much to report.  I've had a rash of lousy internet and well, some of the places we've went to....well...reporting from there would be covered under something akin to the CIA, and basically to mis-quote Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, "Only those that know where it is, know where it is."  but well, where we are staying now, deserves some mention, as vague as it may be.

Let us get you up to speed...

We stayed in Phoenix for a while, then went to extreme Southern California where I drive over to the Salton Sea and saw a strange "White headed" Ruddy Duck.  It is probably the rarest bird I'll ever see but in the end it is just a ruddy dick with a white head.

Then we went to San Diego to see Silja's Brother and sister-in-law Bill and Nina who are sailing their way from Portland OR to Cabo San Lucas Mexico standing next to the Gypsy.

After that there seemed to be a lot of confusion going on in my mind trying to figure things out.  We left De Anza and drove to another DeAnza, this one south of Green Valley, AZ near Tucson.  We visited a couple I knew from birding.  Thor and his wife, Joan live in Green Valley and we came to visit and hike in the Florida Canyon for something to do.  We couldn’t stay in Green Valley at the Green Valley RV Park because I am not 55.  No one can live here if they are under 55, they can't even stay at the RV park overnight.  I wonder how that is even legal, and it certainly isn’t right.  What really is wrong with kids and families?  Can they have segregated communities, too?  To be blunt, we just don't like it, but we like Thor and Joan.  
View from Thor and Joan's patio

            Well after a great dinner and a lazy morning, we pulled out on I-19 and drive into a worsening cross wind that progressively strengthened until we got to Tucson and then had a head wind until we got off at Benson.   Big Bird bounced along on washboards as we followed a rather curvy route out in the desert.  The road got a little narrow and loose until I decided to drop my tow car off the trailer about a mile from the destination.  We found the place early and had the pick of camping spaces.  We met the host, Dana, who was giving a tour to four older people from New Mexico that were dressed like it was January in South Dakota.  Apparently, they were just visiting to check out the place. 
            I found this place on a website as a destination.  I asked everyone who is anyone about it, and most hadn’t heard anything, but Bev Price had been here and thought we could get our RV in, and we did.  The owner is a man named Dana, he survived a wildfire in Southern California by having his dogs waking him up and being able to leave on a moment’s notice as the fires bore down on him.  His next door neighbors neighbors asphyxiated trying to survive the flames in their pool.  As they say,  they chose poorly.  He then spent some time in New York before coming to Arizona to take care of his grandmother.
The Desert Sanctuary, he now owns, was built as the Sri Ram Ashram and was co-founded by famous Harvard Professor and LSD advocate Timothy Leary.   In the early 1970s, Bill Sheatsley, Bill Haines and their spiritual brothers bought a tract of land in the desert outside of Benson, Arizona and founded Sri Ram Ashram naming it after their guru, Ramamurti S. Mishra. Bill Sheatsley designed and built almost singlehandedly the poured concrete structures that became its hallmark residences, classrooms and meditation hall.   A lot of what actually went on here and how much Timothy Leary had to do with it has apparently been lost to history.  Was this a place for LSD experimentation?  It is a bit scary.  Richard Nixon once called Leary the most dangerous man in America for his drug beliefs.   He did spend time in 38 different prisons, some sort of record that doesn't seem like a record that should be remembered.  
Certainly, the ashram had to become a center of drug experimentation and of baby boomers searching for what they perceived they lacked in their lives.   What else was it?  Did people find the peace, harmony, and enlightenment they craved?  I don't know.  I think enlightenment in life is what you make it.  Look around you....this may be all you get so enjoy it.  
Of all things, The Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries was held August 31–2 September 2, 1979, at the Sri Ram Ashram in Benson, the foundational event that began the Radical Faeries community.  This event was described as a four-day acid trip without the acid by participants (if that can be believed).  As it looks, Sheatsley’s interests moved on to other things, as did the baby Boomers who by the 1980s had moved back to Ronald Reagan and to making a living.   What happened in the early 80s to the Baby Boomers?  Maybe they just got tired of the drugs, the fast cars, the drinking, the wife swapping, and everything.....when I got 18 in 1984, it was basically over.  They even moved up the drinking age to 21, 9 days after got to be 18, but they ended the draft.
This places history was not over though....
In 1985, the World University purchased the former ashram and called it the Desert Sanctuary Campus, located at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Range near Benson, Arizona, and in 1987 completed the move of its operations from California to the latter location.  Dr. Zitko’s teaching was a combination of New Age theosophy philosophy and promoted world peace through world education.  He authored several books that embodied the alternative perspective on education and life represented by the university: New Age Tantra Yoga (1974) and The Cybernetics of Sex and Love (1985).  He was also an early lecturer on Lemuria, a theorized lost continent including a lost race of four-legged beings that died out due to various theories that range from a flood to finding sex (they were hermaphrodites that laid eggs) and interbreeding with humans after they found out they liked it and died out, but many of us have their genes in us.  In the Bible The sons of god bred with the daughters of man and giants were begotten.  Look up Lemuria if you've never heard of it.  It will open your eyes into how many believe....  
So, this property went from a drug induced hippie type ashram to a University based on Tantric sex and teaching odd metaphysical and occultist theories (Theosophy), including that the current human race is derived from insect like aliens, and we are searching for a lost enlightenment when the Lemurians died.   So the Ashram tried to get enlightenment through LSD....and this university through higher teachings, hidden knowledge and sex....both of which could be called a religion.
 After Dr. Zitko's death at the age of 92 in 2003, interest in the University waned and the property fell into disrepair over the years and all of the structures had caved in by the time the current owner Dana Dawson bought it twelve years later.  Where the money from the sale went is a question placed on the internet., it is supposedly in trust somewhere.  Dana spent five years rebuilding the historical structures and in general, it looks quite nice.  They have cabins and nice pool area.  They could use some leveling fill for the campsites, though.  So what is it now?  To be fair and honest, I’m not really sure.
It is hard to figure out what the goal Dana has for this place.  Is it a center of free-expression?  Is it just a cool place to visit?  What?  It is an open place although as I write this, we are the only people here so it is hard to get an idea of who visits the B&B or cabins, or what he wants.  The internet doesn't say too much of what visitors he is striving for.  Dana, though, has listed the place for sale for $1,500,000 with a realtor.  It is "adults only" but it is definitely not what that can mean in some places of the "Urban" dictionary.   The owner is just afraid of liability, he perceives kids (like Green Valley?) as a liability.  He hosted the annual meeting of the Bears of the Old Pueblo here last week.  For those of you that don’t know, in the gay community, bear is often a larger or obese hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity.  Not that there is anything wrong with this, or nor that I care, but I was just showing how this place still sort of attracts groups and people from the periphery of society.
I guess I'm from the periphery of society.  The sanctuary doesn’t even have its own internet and uses the odd little site called  In thinking about this place, we are looking for future locations to visit and spend large chunks of the winter.  Unfortunately, no matter how much we end up liking it, I find it hard to get too enthused about a place that may end up purchased by a Hollywood movie star in the not too distant future.  That may seem like an odd comment but John Travolta and Sandra Bullock own places that are within a few miles of here.
Our RV here

A couple in a smaller class-c motorhome passed us as we were going on a walk.  The rig had New Mexico plates.  They were parked at the other end of the camping area when we got back.  It was good to not be camping alone.  I was hoping maybe they would be nice people.  They were working on their motorhome, so I never went down to see them.  We would have lit a campfire but due to the wind, open fires were banned.  About a half-hour later they zipped past us and headed out. 
            I ran into Dana the owner, again, who said, the guy had to take his companion to Sierra Vista but was coming back afterwards.  I was thinking, no one is coming back.  One wasn’t driving up here after dark. I figured, so I hope he got paid.  This isn’t exactly the highest end campground in the world, but it was better than a National Forest campground.  Dana also said they were going to the Halloween party at Mira Vista in Tucson.  I was thinking about that.  So, the party is tomorrow.  Mira Vista is full, I know, I called them.  That party involves drinking and how exactly were they getting back, or where were they camping tomorrow night?   Oddly, the RV returned about 9:30 much to our surprise, but at first light it drove off again.  Understanding people is a difficult undertaking.
           So....The Desert be a fly on the wall in 1975 at the be a fly on the wall in 1990 at the Tantra workshops.....for us, we went walking in the mountains and saw butterflies and birds, and I put up our was a safer and more conservative, or so I thought.
we kept running into Nabakov's Satrys an insect named after the same Nabakov that wrote Lolita.  Have any of you ever read Lolita?   A much older man with sex with I think a twelve year old, as her step-father, yet considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.  Vladimir Nabakov--a famous Novelist, Professor, who was also a great entomologist, with four butterflies named for him....but a man promoting incest and pedophilia? 
Nabakov's Satyr

Oh was just a novel...or was it?  You know Nabakov would have stayed here if he had been a little younger...(Lolita was written 15 years before the Ashram was built) but maybe those were the times...I'm just so confused as to what actually are my times?  It seems like the cultural world ended in 2000, and maybe with 9-11 it did, but that was 18 years ago and we act like it was still yesterday.  Maybe the Baby Boomers just knew how to live. 


More butterflies and isn't that birdy down here.

Arizona Sister

Anna's Hummingbird at our feeder

Arizona metalmark

Dainty Sulphur  

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Eating our way across the Mother Road

It was like we were doing some crazy Route 66 tour these last two weeks.  We planned on following the old route as far as Flagstaff before heading south, it looked as though we caught the classic highway in Tulsa, but no...we actually started in Chicago, where Route 66 starts.
We flew up to Chicago to celebrate our son Tyko's (Seth) matriculation into medical school at Rush University in Chicago.  They call it a "white coat" ceremony where they issue the white coats to each first year medical student.  Each student stood and introduced themselves, said their major, where they went to school and where they were from.
One student claimed he majored at Arizona State in Partying, our son went to Ripon College and majored in Computer Sciences and Biology.  There is only one student from South Dakota at Rush, though, the few the proud, I guess.  
Our other twin, Allwin drove down from Madison and we had a nice visit, celebration and ate food at Greek Town and then he drove us back to O'hare and we flew back to Tulsa to continue our journey westward and catch back up to the fabled highway.  We had to miss a wedding of a friends' daughter in Massachusetts but our son was sort of a late addition to Rush and so we couldn't do it all in a very short period of time. 
            John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath Could not have said it better.  “Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66—the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from Mississippi to Bakersfield—over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys. 66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.”
            Now the road’s children, I-44 and I-40 are also still roads of flight, of retirees coming down from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and the Dakotas heading to points south and west to escape the coming winter.  The road through Oklahoma is now called the Will Rogers Memorial Highway and as he was from a town northeast of Tulsa, he undoubtedly traveled it many times.  Many have traveled the route to California before us trying to make it big in Hollywood, but few did.  Even Oklahoma’s most famous native actress Joan Crawford didn’t take it to find fame as she was discovered as a dancer in New York City and had already left NE Oklahoma.  Famous singers like Toby Keith (my favorite C & W singer) went the other way from Clinton OK to Nashville but in reality, he went both ways playing the bars, honky-tonks, and fairs before they were famous.

            The trip back from Chicago was delayed and our departure gate from O’Hare to Tulsa was changed four times.  It was 1 AM by the time we landed and walked to our hotel near the Tulsa Airport.  After we woke, we picked the dog back up from the kennel, and tracked down something for breakfast.  Near the dog kennel was a small manufacturing facility with the name Daylight Donuts on the trucks. 
         It turns out upon further research the Daylight Donut Flour Company has been around since 1960 even though the company started in 1954.  The founders, a couple with the last name of Day developed a light flour recipe for donuts.  59 years and three owners later, the company now has over a thousand outlets and seems to be expanding. 
            We tracked one down which looked like the 1980s were calling and the small shop out in the middle of nowhere on the edge of Tulsa reminded me of the bakery in Frederic which closed sometime during the Clinton administration.  It wasn’t much to took at and the interior was no better.  We bought two donuts and two cinnamon bearpaws.  The taste test…it was a clean and light donut, not too sticky, and best of all, no greasy aftertaste.  It was okay!
Crispy Cremes used to leave a funny aftertaste before I stopped buying them.  The donuts at most convenience stores in the upper Midwest also have this after taste.  Two coffees, a bottle of orange juice and the four donuts, the cost…just $8.50.  Quality at a good price, maybe it was 1984?  Maybe Oklahoma is okay after all?
           We drove on the famous old route through Sapulpa, home of the world’s largest gas pump, into Bristow, past DePew, and turned before we got to Stroud, where we picked our rig back up before continuing westward.  Stroud is famous for having, of all things, a UFO landing pad.  All of these towns feature cafes and old gas stations registered as National Historical Structures.

            We took off and headed west down the Turnpike after driving through Stroud, avoiding a repeat visit to the UFO landing area.  We made our first mistake of the day continuing on the Turnpike instead of following I-35 into OKC and then turning on I-40 west.  The second toll booth on the Kirkpatrick Turnpike was exact change only, we caused a back up and then finally throwing $3 into the change hopper it never gave us a green light but we drove on.  It was impossible to do this from the window at my rig.  I had to send my wife outside.  The woman in the other lane parked her car and walked out into our lane to use the change machine.  Cars were four deep when I drove off and I could see her first dollar got caught up in the wind and she was chasing it.  Why not have a manned toll booth here when the first one is manned?  Why not warn trucks and tourists to stay off this toll way, at least give a credit card option for trucks.  My okay verdict was being negated.
After bailing out at the first road, old highway 66 again and looking in my rear view mirror for troopers, we finally found a way to get on I-40 and continue the journey.  I suppose I’ll get a fine from the mail.
I pulled off the interstate in Sayre, heading for our next stop, a very late lunch at a second Punjabi truck-stop, the Highway 40 Truck Stop.  When you think of Oklahoma I'm sure you think of donuts and Indian Cuisine...right?
The line of old wheels dividing the truck stop from the restaurant.

I also needed diesel and turned in towards the pumps.  It seemed easy enough but before I could do anything about it, I either went over the edge of a curb or a speed bump.  Afterwards, I couldn’t figure what it was doing there.  I wasn’t moving that fast but when the bump hit the rear tire on my side the interior compartment of the rig was tossed violently and I heard  a huge crash.  A cupboard full of dishes lay scattered on the floor.  Potato salad in the fridge was ejected from the fridge as was a bottle spaghetti sauce didn’t bounce.  It was a disaster of broken glass, china, food, and non-broken stuff.  After making sure all the pets had avoided the carnage we started to clean up.  One of our cats was lucky he was in a kennel.  The worst was the freezer door wouldn’t now close properly.
After cleanup and fuel, we decided at least to give the food a try.  We went in what looked like the restaurant and tried to order, but the guy took one look at us and said, “no for you, other place.”  He headed out the door and then led us around to back.  I wondered where we were being led to.  I guess goat meat is only available outback.  Apparently, we were pegged as meat eaters and as such, we were offered the Goat Meat shack in back. 

               It was good third world curry, bones and all.  When we wanted a diet coke, he walked over to the trucks stop to get it.  I must say though, all in all, the food in Nebraska was better, and I’m not sure I’d stop here again, mostly due too many painful memories over the speed bump.  These truck stops still made me wonder…
               Twenty-four miles later we left Oklahoma and entered the Texas panhandle where it decided to rain, and I guess that is all I have to say about that.

There is the “Leaning Tower of Texas” in Groom, but, well, that is a story for another bit of prose.

            You see a lot of odd things on the road when you drive, odd signs, odd people, and odd weather, and sometimes you see odd things on RVs, this picture says it all
We got all the way to Sun Valley Arizona, a town that had seen better days
and camped literally a few feet off the old Mother Highway where so many came 70 years ago

Sun Valley not to be undone by the counterpart with its same name in another state also has a "gated community"  This is Arizona's idea of a gated community

So Route 66, Donuts, Goat meat, leaning towers of Texas, gated villages, and open spaces and lots and lots of species of butterflies, next stop Phoenix just a short turn south off old 66

Butterflies: 15 lifers, here are a few pretty ones, I'd seen the buckeye before
common buckeye

Red-banded skipper

Swarthy Skipper

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Oklahoma is Okay

...or is it?
We are hanging out on old Route 66 between Tulsa and Oklahoma City enjoying the warmth of the early fall as it is about 30 degrees warmer here than it is at home.
Bucket List item #149 see Spiro Mounds and the Oklahoma Runestones (yes they have at least 4), so being a bit of a rainy day, we decided to take the drive to almost Arkansas to knock off this item.
Spiro Mounds is a rather odd mound, reportedly built over a rock cairn just like those in most of the European countries and it is also weird in that there are reports that a full armored man was found buried there, reports are the key word.  Nobody really knows for sure

In one of the saddest deals ever, just about as bad as the breaking into the museum a decade ago in Kentucky, between 1933 and 1935, Craig Mound was excavated by a mining enterprise that had bought the rights from local landowners to excavate and to keep or sell the artifacts they recovered. Tunneling into the mound and breaking through the Great Mortuary's log wall, they found many human burials, together with their associated grave goods. They discarded the human remains and the fragile artifacts—made of textile, basketry, and even feathers—that were preserved in these extremely unusual conditions. Most of these rare and historically priceless objects disintegrated before scholars could reach the site, although some were sold to collectors. When the commercial excavators finished, they dynamited the burial chamber and sold the commercially valuable artifacts, made of stone, pottery, copper, and conch shell, to collectors in the United States and overseas. Most of these valuable objects are probably lost, but some have been returned through donation and documented by scholars.  The ones returned are reportedly beyond amazing.

I had to see the place.

So we drove three hours and then to the front gate and we were confronted by this...
The sign says closed due to flooding and should reopen by the end of September, but upon further investigation,
the duct tape that said September was over tape that said august over tape that said July over tape that said something..."hopefully" had been added at a later date.  It was a sign made from two colors of duct tape, a cooler cover, four woodworking clamps, and metal that looked found on the side of the road.  The state spares no expense, apparently.
We walked the dog.
I thought about sneaking in, but well, we just left.
I had a back up spot...
So we drove down to Heavener to see the runestone.  Found in a gully on a huge rock over a century ago, this runestone has caused controversy.  Was it real?  It seems like an odd hoax.
The place was a state park, but Oklahoma gave up on it for some reason, and the city bought the property, and this is a city that has seen better days...why did Oklahoma abandon this treasure?
It means "The Valley of Glome" a marker rune for property.  This is from a much older Futhark than the Kensington Stone from Minnesota and I could go on about how Europeans could have got here hundreds of years before Columbus, but I won't.
I would have liked to stop at the gift shop and the interpretive center, but they are closed on Thursday, and it was...Thursday.
They have found other runestones...these are listed as housed at the Kerr Museum nearby, they just have a replica of the Poteau Stone here, found three mountains north.
So after hiking back from the stone, I needed to clean off my muddy feet
My wife caught me in my redneck moment of how a country boy cleans his feet

So we drove down some back roads to the Robert S. Kerr Museum to see the Shawnee and Poteau stones...
Located at the former Kerr Mansion and Conference Center (Kerr was Oklahoma's 12th Governor, a Senator for 14 years and founder of Kerr McGee Oil Company).  It was closed and looked in disrepair.  We did a Google search standing on the driveway.  The property was declared surplus property by the state (It was donated to the State and a local college by the Family in 1978) and auctioned off for a song and a dance last year, it had been closed since 2013.  Even the wall by the gate was falling over.  So in a building that looked to have a leaking roof, paint falling off rotting walls reportedly has the best remaining Spiro artifacts and three runestones...maybe this state will auction that off too?
I guess the only thing of educational value here is football?  How can a state with so much oil, tons of oil, have saved none of it for anything like this.  Why abandon this mansion?  
You look at the cities around.....Heavener, Spiro, in fact every city and village we drove through, are filled with more abandoned gas stations, store fronts, houses, to be honest, it is quite shocking.  The only thing that looks to be expanding is medical marijuana
  Here is the "Stress Releaf" Dispensary.  These things are everywhere.  We even drove past one on a nearly abandoned road near the Kerr Museum housed in a double-wide, so this is the state's growth industry....maybe if everyone is smoking nobody cares that the state seems to be falling apart...

Well I saw my year scissor-tailed flycatcher, the state bird, I saw three lifer butterflies yesterday, but today was a 350 mile Oklahoma okay?  I don't think so.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Nuthatch Story

(Excerpt from Wearing that beach plaid wherever you go)
THE FIRST DAY of the hunt for the endemic nuthatch (Sitta Whiteheadi) of Corsica began on the 13th of September.  It was Friday the 13th.  I should have noticed. Nuthatches can be a bit troublesome but every time I needed one, if I found myself in the right habitat, the little buggers would show up.  If not, a little call could induce them out of hiding.  Like big year plans, the plan to find this life bird would not go as a simple walk up into the trees and was full of many twists and turns and most of them, were on the Corsican road system.
            The highest point on Corsica is just a bit over 8,000 feet.  This is higher than Donner Pass.  This is higher than the entire state of South Dakota.  Being just around fifty miles across, and with the whole eastern side of the island being basically one big alluvial plain, when you get to the mountains, they are steep.  Steeper than I ever imagined.
            We chose to head south towards L’ Alta Rocca to look for the bird as the road seemed simple enough and since this bird lived in pines between 2000 and 6000 feet high, and this area had a national forest, finding one should prove to be pretty easy.  The Google map function told us that it would take just short of two hours to get to Levie, just under 100 KM away.  We would not see Levie until after 3 PM, and we would drive into the mountain village minus one very elusive bird.
            Our search started when we reached the pine forest near a closed ropes course.  It was very birdy.  A spotted flycatcher fallout was there, and we saw the other endemic bird, the Corsican finch.  These flighty things buzzed around the tree tops and only a lone one stood out to be photographed as best as I could.
Corsican Finch

            I thought I heard a nuthatch but after a while I started to doubt even my own existence.  It seems all things named beginning with Corsican were interesting and unique.

Corsican Heath, a very small orange and brown butterfly, only one we saw

Corsican Wall Brown.  Common up on the mountains.

We saw the species that were around, two species of butterflies only fly early in the year, so we had no chance for them.  We saw pretty much everything, and a surprising total of butterflies which were as numerous up on the hiking trails as anywhere I’ve ever been.  One can tell that insecticide is not used here to the degree it is elsewhere.
The views from on top of the mountains were stunning.  It was almost too much intensity for my camera, but we got the last parking spot at this trailhead and by the next village, even the cattle had to stand in the road as there was no place for them to even stand.

            The roads got narrow, my tire warning light came on for a low tire, but it looked okay, and so not ever seeing a place to do anything about it, I cautiously continued up the scary road.  the traffic heavy and the climb, steep and slow.  We had a nice picnic down on a stream near the road and then continued our search for the elusive nuthatch.  It was a bird that didn’t seem to exist at least not where we were.  We drove on and eventually focused on seeing some of the megalithic ruins, hoping that a nuthatch would just find us. 

            We drove around to Levie and then tried to find the museum to get some direction to find Cucuruzzu, one of the hill-top forts that are here.  The signs here are hard to figure out.  Nine times out of ten, the distance is blacked out, and half the time both the French and the Corsican word for the are blacked out, the French name is almost always blacked out.  No one here understands anything remotely in English so asking directions, not a chance.  I finally parked at a church in Levie and we walked to where I thought the museum was.  It was below that without much of a sign.
           We paid 4 euro to see the museum and get direction to the ruins.  We communicated in hand gestures and by the woman working at the museum in holding tickets.  We clearly understood that our ticket to the museum got in free to the ruins.
            We drove to the ruins and got slowed down by a flock of sheep on the road and then found the parking lot being careful not to hit this rock.  
Maybe they should have just moved it?  We then learned that after we showed the woman at the ticket place here, that we got in free at the museum in Levie, not the other way around.  It was only another 2.50 Euros, so it wasn’t that bad.
            We were hot and tired but survived another two kilometer walk up and down the hills and saw the ruins.

Olaf at Cucuruzzu.

I got a nice photo of a silver-washed fritillary as we were stumbling around.  It was my seventh lifer butterfly for the day.
Silver-washed fritillary.

            It was half past six and we had two hours of sunlight left and tow hours of hard windy driving to get home, minimum.  I took off thinking of lifer beer.  I drove, Chris played odd music for a while until something more fitting to driving, Lady Gaga came on, and the ladies in the back got tossed around the back.  The tire held and best of all, I beat the computer estimate of arrival by ten minutes.  I was drinking my beer by 8 PM.  
It was a long twelve hour day, everyone was exhausted, and we dipped on the elusive nuthatch.  I spent the next day buying internet and looking for better options of where to go to get this bird.  I also needed a day off from the narrow roads.  Only one person on Ebird had reported the nuthatch in the past two months, just one.  This one was quite far away and on the downhill side of the mountains.  I looked around and the closest looking hit, and one I thought I could find was in a village named Ghisoni.  It was about 40 kilometers away.  This tick was from April and he had seen four, but…had walked four kilometers.  So did he just start in Ghisoni or what?  I looked at other spots and some were about 2000 feet above Ghisoni in elevation so I figured if we struck out there, we’d keep going up, the road, however looked like it was a lot less of a road after that.
I spent the rest of the day sans clothing, it was just too dang hot outside and drank about a gallon of water and almost four glasses of wine.  I even drank a couple of beers, make up beers from previous lifers.  I watched French volleyball after everyone went to bed.
The next day started early as warning light and all, we headed up the hill again in the search of the little bastard nuthatch.  I had thought the roads were scary from before but this road quickly narrowed and then on the other side of the tunnel is got even narrower.  I crossed a bridge that was only eight feet wide but still had the lines painted down the middle.  I needed a break and we were in the pines so we got out and started looking.  A brownish bird flew up.  I took a quick picture.
Cirl Bunting

            A lifer Cirl bunting greeted me, the nice yellower male flew away from my side, but one takes what one can get.  I walked up a small road and we called and called.  We did find a pair of lifer goldcrest for both of us but the only bird that came out well were coal tits, yet another tit on the island of Corse of course.
Coal tit, resembling a couple of our species of chickadee

            I had wasted enough of the day down low, and we needed to get up to Ghisoni.  We parked the car on the outside of town and I looked up as I got out of the car and saw small birds working right away in the pines.  One certainly looked like the ass-end of a nuthatch and I called it out.  Chris never saw it and I lost it without a picture.  Would that be our only chance?  I sure hoped not, but sometimes…it can be.  If you are a birder, you understand that.
We walked around the road into Ghisoni without seeing another bird.  Dejection and desperation began to well up inside me.  “Oh, the futility of it all.”  I muttered as again Chris fell behind me and started to photograph passing motorcycles making the first corner into the village.  I kept looking for something, anything that would take us up into the pine trees.  I got to a very narrow bridge, probably the narrowest one of the whole day, so narrow, no one had even bothered to put a line down the middle, just in case two motorcycles would dare cross going in opposite directions.
I spotted a sign, not unlike ones I’d seen in the alps giving hourly directions to major cities, it was six hours to somewhere, 9 to another, 12 to somewhere else.  It was just across the bridge and so finally getting Chris going, we crossed and turned right up the trail.  We noticed a lack of traffic.  Chris stopped and started to snap pictures.  A dog was chewing on something leisurely lying in the middle of the road.  Traffic had stopped and the dog, didn’t care.

I walked up the trail leading my dog photographer buddy, Chris behind as I walked up the trail.  It soon split and I remained following the river for about a hundred meters before the trail became either a cement driveway into someone’s house or a narrow bridge that appeared to end in a garden, a really small garden.  There was also a gate,  I was apparently at a dead end.  I turned around and met Chris 50 meters behind me and passed him and led him up what looked like a set of switchbacks up the mountain above town.  Two hairpins later, the trail straightened out above town following the back of some three-story buildings.  I followed a retaining wall when I heard a man on top of the retaining wall shout at me something in the local version of French or is Corsican a version of Italian?
            “Pardon?”  I asked, trying to process.  He repeated himself with even more gestures and stood, domineering over me about six feet above me.
            “Je’n comprend pas.”  I said honestly, I had no clue what he was saying. 
            He uttered what was clearly a frustrated obscenity.  Smacked himself on the head.  Yes, I am dumb.  I thought.  He motioned for me to go back using both hands. I lifted up my camera.
            “Si, si.” He said forming his hands into a square which I took as being a picture.  He then said something else and now as I was still standing used both arms his hips and his head to get me to go the other way.  Confused I obliged.  He mumbled what could only be another expletive as I met Chris at the corner.  The man was still watching us and Chris could see him now as well.  I stopped and as we caught his eyes. 
He motioned up the hill again.  He said something that Chris described later fully.  “He is speaking Cussican to us.”  He said laughing going up the hill.  From then on, we called the local language Cussican.
What this man was trying to direct us to, wasn’t clear.  In the back of my mind I remember similar episodes always from non-birders that without exception led to finding the target bird but I looked up where we were going, very scattered old pines next to clearcut areas.  I walked up, passed an old narrow trail to a cemetery, and then the trail nothing more than a cow trail which eventually petered out.
“He must have thought we were looking for the cemetery.” I said turning around and feeling hot.  The coolness of the morning was gone.  The dry Corsican heat was replacing it.  I had given up, it was time to head down the hill.  The nuthatch would remain unseen.  Chris agreed and led me down the hill.  I played the nuthatch song some, but as of yet I hadn’t heard anything concrete and it seemed the only thing I had called in was tits.  I saw a bird come in and figuring it was a coal tit, decided I wanted a picture.  I put the camera on and noticed something…IT WAS A NUTHATCH!

“Nuthatch!”  I said loudly trying not to scream.  We were in ear shot of the local guy.  I wasn’t sure if Chris heard me, so I repeated more slowly, but loudly.  “Nut…hatch!”  I kept taking pictures.  Chris was right behind me and got the bird.  It flew off.
“Bingo!”  I said.  “I’m not doubting any local again.  “Chris though wanted better pictures so deciding seeing a bird straight over our head was not a good plan, we got up higher in the ancient cemetery.  For all I knew, Napoleon was from this village and his parents are here. 

Corsican Nuthatch the lifer bird of this trip.

            We did get better photos from the cemetery and while we were there Chris got a lifer bonus bird, a long-tail tit, yet another tit.
Long-tailed Tit, a much different looking subspecies than the one I previously saw in Sweden

            We saw a cow walking up the path and I told Chris to get my picture petting it and then something odd happened.  It stood its ground, snorted and feigned a charge.  It didn’t have a great tit, a blue tit, a coal tit, nor a long-tailed tit, it only had one tit because it was a bull!  I could see the headline.  American Tourist Birder killed by bull, the Corsican Nuthatch was his last bird.  Maybe the old man was warning me about the bull?  There was a bit of a stand off with this creature before it gave way a little and then took a quick step toward us, and then gave way again.  It was time to go, bird gotten, bull avoided, and it was getting hot, and I had a long trip back to Riva Bella.
            The road was more scary going down and when I got two cars behind me I let them pass and when we got to the one lane road where we met some cars, two of the women in the lead car we hanging out the window cell phones in hand, trying to get video from the chasm below.  Then, they just stopped, for no reason, finally I got back around them, avoided cars, vans, and many, many motorcycles and got to the bottom.   Then I pulled over to look at a red kite overhead.
            “Look at that pipe.”  Chris said pointing to a massively leaking water pipe feeding water to the towns below. 

            It made for entertainment, if nothing more as the water was just falling into the chasm below where a smaller creek had been sucked almost dry by the water diversion plan.  The leak was just giving the channel more of its water back.
            Later, we saw a nice red kite perched on a power pole.  This was our best look at this bird the entire trip.  Many are seen soaring overhead but we weren’t in a place to see them like this at Riva Bella.
            We were back by one, we had seen the nuthatch as one of three lifers for me on this little outing and had been safe.  Safety when driving in Corsica is a big issue as people here drive aggressively and many of the (mostly German) RV owners go up roads I’d never try to even my pickup truck.
            They say Corsica is a place where the locals believe in omens and the supernatural.  Napoleon never trusted the Corsicans despite being from here.  He thought it was better to have someone other than a Corsican govern them.  I had met an old man who ordered me to do something.  It was either, get your ass up that hill and see that nuthatch or get the hell off my island before you hurt yourself.  I’m not sure which but I hope he gave me the bird, like I said this has happened to me before, and it seemed a rather strange coincidence, but for me, coincidence and birding seems to be commonplace, maybe too commonplace for just my own dumb luck.
            The Corsican nuthatch was off my lifer board, I don’t think I will ever see the rarer Algerian nuthatch which lives in an isolated mountain range in northern Algeria.  I’d probably have to convert to another religion to do that and I already have a couple of religions.  The bird I found in Corsica numbers are declining as well and I suspect might be threatened soon as woodpeckers and logging of all things have taken their toll.  See them while you can, I guess, and at least I have this one.  

Viva Villa!

It is said that Francisco "Pancho" Villa had between 23 and 75 wives.  Some sources say he had at least 75 but only 23 have been...