Sunday, November 22, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 7: The Gadsden Route

We spent the last two weeks birding, hiking, and camping in SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.  Birding a part of America that was the last part of America in the lower 48.  All of this was a part of Mexico and only because America needed a transcontinental railroad and Mexico needed money did we get it--The Gadsden Purchase, named after James Gadsden.

History does not look kindly on James Gadsden.  There is nothing politically correct about him in any sense.  Almost everything bad that was happening from 1830 to 1860, he was in the middle of.  In the US Army, he actively worked on the rounding up and the deporting Seminoles from Florida in the "Trail of Tears." He promoted succession by South Carolina after California was admitted as a free state in 1848-49.  He then connived the state of California with a project to split the state in two where he would settle a colony in the southern half with 1200 colonists and 2000 slaves.  When that didn't work, he ended up in Government of all things, as the appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the Pierce Administration, specifically, the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Mexico, what a title. 

As bad a man as he would be looked on later, but he did negotiate the last significant land acquisition to form the contiguous 48 states, the Gadsden Purchase added some 20 million acres at a purchase price of just over 33 cents/ an acre. Santa Ana, the ruler in Mexico at the time hated Gadsden, and as far as can be found, almost everyone hated him.

He tried to get more and he did get more, but the US Congress voted the original agreement down, but then agreed to by 2/3 of it at 2/3 of the price.  $7.1 Million dollars was sent to Mexico City but oddly, only $6.1 million reportedly arrived.  The final agreement was signed in June 1854, and the purchase basically added all the land in New Mexico south of I-10 and then a line north near the present New Mexico/ AZ border to Gila River, and all of Southern AZ south of the river.  

For us birders, this Purchase added nearly 50 birds to the US Birding list, as all of the Sky Islands are in this territory, and what was almost bought, would not have given the US a port on the Gulf of Baja, but would have dropped the border south of where it was now nearly 100 miles.  Many might not know that the Gila River in Arizona was the Southern boundary until Gadsden came around.

Then there was George Bascam, a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Calvary stationed at Ft Buchanan south of Tucson.  He graduated next to last of his class at West Point.  Bascam through idiocy and bad luck (the bad luck was that his major and captain were on leave, and indisposed), caused the decades long Apache War by trying to get the release of a local rancher boy from Cochise, but would not believe him when Cochise said he didn't do it (turned out he was correct, a northern tribe had), During the sit down, Bascam took many of Cochise's family prisoner, then Cochise escaped.  Then he took a Calvary patrol prisoner, and offered to exchange them with Bascam, but Bascam only wanted the boy which Cochise never had. and hung Cochise's brother and killed others.  Cochise killed the soldiers and then the war was on, with the Apaches changing their hatred of Mexicans to Americans, and taking no side in the Civil War attacking Confederate outposts as well as Union and then continuing to even 1933, when the last band was defeated in Mexico.  The death and misery caused by an inexperienced young officer in charge of "getting the boy back at all costs," was incalculable.  Would someone else caused the massacres later?  Bascam died in the mud in the Battle of Valverde Ford New Mexico the next year, being run over by Confederate Calvary, in an inglorious end to a man that deserved such a fate. 

Ruins of Fort Bowie built to protect the northern Chiricahua Mountains at Apache Pass, near location of the Bascam Incident of 1861.  Before this fort closed in 1894 it was surprisingly large, with many many buildings.

The Geronimo Surrender Memorial near Apache, Arizona, he surrendered in Skeleton Canyon in New Mexico east of here.  It was a sad end to a people who lived by marauding in a world that changed

South Fork of Cave Creek

view above the forks of Cave Creek

Chiricahua National Monument

View above Cave Creek

Some of the birds of the Gadsden purchase, we saw the eared quetzal on three days, but I was not able to get a decent photo, I had a photo in June so it wasn't a priority

Blue-throated Mountain Gem at Cave Creek Ranch

Female ladderbacked woodpecker

Red-naped sapsucker

A female Ruddy Ground Dove from Rodeo NM, a Mexican rarity seen most years north of the border, this year there seems to be lots of them

Gambel's Quail

Great Horned owl

Then there was this Bullsh%#t, literally.  we were at Willow Tank and this bull was snorting sand then I realized the fence was incomplete.  We got into the car quickly.

The camper next to us in Rodeo.  A different camper where one has a semi pulling a 5th wheel.  The smart car drives up between, apparently there are a whole convention of these types of campers  that meet.  The ramp folds up and is stowed below the car.

The view from our Campsite at Rusty's RV Ranch north of Rodeo, NM

Our last night in the Gadsden Purchase, before we zoomed across to El Paso and left eastward to continue our journey.

As COVID goes, Hidalgo County NM has few cases, we bought a rug from an old lady that last Monday, New Mexico told her she had to close and this was her source of income.  Her shop was the only touristy place open in New Mexico.  The restaurant next to the Museum on the Portal road was supposed to close access for inside, it was a quarter mile from AZ border, yet....the Portal Lodge could be open in Portal just up the road.  

In El Paso despite reports on TV of the dire overflowing morgue.  Of the two ERs we drove by yesterday one was dead, the other looked like they had a couple of patients, but no lines.  The restaurants were crowded.  Juarez had people all over the streets you could see from I-10 and the traffic in El Paso was nuts, and on a Saturday.  The shopping also looked busy, so maybe things were bad, but people were ignoring it, or they just said screw it and were doing what they wanted, or the TV was into sensationalism.  El Paso is the largest US city no one ever hears about and the most Democratic in, it isn't a red/blue don't hear news from El Paso unless it is very bad.  We are heading to Jeff Davis County in Texas which has had just a few cases.  



Thursday, November 12, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 6: Our day in Tucson

COVID hits home again, my younger sister sent out a text that she had been feeling achy and had some chills and tested positive for COVID, oh boy, two young daughters, expecting a third...and now...the plague. Not much I can do but send her a birthday card, pray a little, and hope for the best.  Sort of a terrible wait in this pandemic, a very slow moving virus, but moving everywhere.

So we are in Tucson, on our way to Florida, very slowly, today with uber birder Thor Manson.  He is an Uber birder because like Uber, he is taking us around. Some people come here for the gem and mineral expo (been there) but that is cancelled, some come for the University, no students seen at U of A, others for well, I don't know, why do you come to Tucson?  When I get to a town, it is usually for the sewage treatment ponds and/or the dump, today, it wasn't the dump but where I was was near to a water treatment effluent and of course there were birds.

So we went and saw this rather persistent Northern Jacana, a Mexican and Central American wader, rarely seen north of the border.  Both Silja and I had not only seen them a few times in South Texas, we saw them in January in Costa Rica, This one is a lot easier to see than one in the grass at Santa Ana NWR in Alamo TX for my lifer in North America.  They are like Snowy owls, though, they suck out the exposure of cameras and are hard to get a perfect photo unless the light is perfect, and it wasn't, but it was a good bird, and we saw it fly, they have cool looking wings.

Green heron was a bird I've never seen in Arizona

So we went off to Columbus Park to see Midwestern warblers not usually seen in Arizona.  We found a half dozen birders and a ....
Blackburnian warbler, a bird I have in Alaska, but not here

nothing says quality photos more than having a fishing pole in the way of a rare bird

a northern parula, another rare bird here, but one I seen in five states this year

for me, a local "trash" bird, this Vermillion flycatcher was a better find, and a year bird, the others seen in Minnesota and South Dakota in May were not.

So out of the park we went to find something I needed, a picture of a "real" Mexican duck which I have never photographed, so off we went to the zoo, well this wasn't A "zoo bird" (I had my doubts), the park near the zoo and in a pond surrounded by a construction fence we spotted out quarry, 

Nice yellow bill, no curled tail feathers, nice brown back, and nice face, this is a Mexican duck and no hybrid.  They added this species to the checklist this year from a mallard subspecies, I'd seen ones before, but in the mud and what looked like a construction site, today I got the bird on film.

In the park I spotted something else...
a cute little girl feeding a hoard of ducks with her dad

below a sign saying not to....but at least they were wearing masks, 

So not your typical sightseeing in Tucson but I saw some sites, some birds, and well, we are stayed as safe as we could.  

So an update, and yes, birding is going on

Stay safe

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 5: Goings on down at the border

Another state, another state lifer bird, which is just something to do in these COVID days, but even a pine sisken (yellow) can keep me amused for a little while, trying to get a photo of the local "rarity," it even got me to put out my feeder. 

Our RV keeps moving, and we leave no stone un-turned or so to speak, to keep ourselves entertained and figuring the safest place is out in the desert, we just spent the last week in the California chaparral in the mountains of San Diego County near Jacumba Hot Springs.  It was a week of updates and catching up.  I have been up here almost every year since coming in November of 2012.

The owners of just about everything in the town for the last 20 years have largely sold out, selling their Jacumba Hot Springs Spa last month and announcing the sale of the RV park we stayed at a few days before we showed up, but I guess the trails in the state park adjoining are still there but as the two places shared a cook, the place we stayed at did not have food, this was despite COVID, no one to make it.  The bar, well, it never looked open to me.  So the future? It may be different as I guess if I had wanted kit to stay the same, I should have bought it, but I did not want it.  We went looking for a reported KOA an exit west, scouting, but it led us down the road that then announced "sets" longer than 40 feet would not be allowed, too dangerous, too curvy....which is quite short for RVs, not a good place to have a KOA....and then the KOA sign pointed right, and then a mile later we saw a sign pointing back where we came, we never found the KOA after driving in circles, so a back up spot might not exist here, if this RV spot closes.  What would some young guys want with a quirky 480 acre RV park in the desert?  Then again what did the wealthy Hamann family want with a dude ranch west of here (more on that in a moment).

Our home for the week, Temple Mountain center

 Strange Goings on along McCain Road

We were out mindlessly exploring for new campsites sites, when we spotted a sign showing a campsite up McCain Valley Road near Boulevard seven miles west of Jacumba off on Old Hwy 80.  I drove up and saw a flock of blackbirds, mostly tricolored which then flew away as I was trying to roll down my car window, so we kept going.  It was hunting season up on the high country, and people were out driving anywhere, even here.  

First we stumbled upon a rather inconsequential sign, so inconsequential I never took a picture. McCain Valley Conservation Corps, which is not some YMCA camp for the outside.  But then I noticed the property was marked with Department of Corrections signage.  I laughed saying they misspelled McCain Valley Concentration Camp, not realizing how close I was to the truth.  It turns out this is a nice way to describe a huge prison which is just over the hill and out of view.  2500 inmates, stashed out here, in the desert.

So we drove down the road, saw something called the Rough Acres Ranch, surrounded by rather new fence that looked more to keep people in, than the prisoners out.  I sort of struck us as a front for some nefarious or secret activity.  Either a front for criminal activity, a place to extract information from CIA type spies captured covertly, or maybe a high end brothel for sex slaves.  I looked up the ranch.  The place  has a little history, back in 1963, after a really bad season, the coach of the San Diego Chargers brought the team up to the ranch to toughen them up for training camp for the season, they lifted weights were injected steroids three times a day, and then went back to San Diego and had the best season in the history of the franchise, winning the AFL Championship, the only Championship in franchise history, but that was the past.

In 2020?  Since 2014 The Hamann companies, a big family owned San Diego Construction company now owns the ranch has been trying to make the place a men's retreat and conference center.  A men's retreat....?  Hum.....I still am suspicious.  Up the road they have built a wind farm operation, that also has quite a bit of CIA looking buildings, and these guys seem to have not made any friends locally, so the Hamanns have tried to become the kings of Boulevard by just building things, maybe like the railroad that goes nowhere (we'll get to that) getting friendly government money to do so.....I guess by the couple in Jacumba, being the local king up here isn't everything.  But I learned a good football story, 57 years ago.   Now I'm scared to go up a road for fear I'll be detained by the CIA or something.

The Border wall

11/2020 construction

2018 border, same area

There is more to this wall than meets the eye, besides the obvious question of who and why there is this half a mile hole right here just east of Jacumba.  This wall here was just sort of approved without any hearings and huge water and cement trucks began scaring a Wilderness protected by a 1994 Wilderness Protection Act....but being "national security" it wasn't reviewed.

I like wilderness, you all probably like wilderness, and wilderness aside, there is more to this story.  First, there are federally protected Peninsular bighorn sheep a species that has dwindled in recent years that need to migrate on both sides of the border, this wall might eliminate this species in years with very sporadic water (which might be every year).

Hate Trump, okay, blame him too, fine, BUT, don't have your hate for him blind you of any common sense, because here, in this issue we are all at fault.  We haven't pushed either party to solve this, either, a wing of one party apparently wants "open" borders (because all we ever here from is hard left or hard right on any issue as that makes ratings) with I suppose full benefits and access to jobs without restrictions, Medicaid, idk, If you are thinking that is bunk, I could give you citations, companies like Tyson Foods, almost all agricultural interests, smaller farmers, bigger farmers, Sanderson Foods, etc which are probably on the other side of the spectrum can pay less for employees or even get employees, and they aren't employees either, just subcontracted companies that contract labor, down the food chain of companies, cash gets handed to these people.....because here in America we want cheap food, low quality goods.  Now I fully understand, cheap food allows many to live off of poverty.  So the poor do get something back.  The average Romans benefitted from slave labor as did the South.  Well I guess underpaid Guatemalans and El Salvadorans are not slaves in the sense, they came willingly,  just people who are taken advantage from the Coyotes and the gangs that convince them to go and overcharge them for the one-way trip.   They get paid well.....  

How many wealthy people have illegal gardeners and housekeepers, and they might not even know because they hire a "service."  Rich political donors with good reasons for the status quo, be it cheaper landscaping, construction, or any trade, undocumented people who get paid cash are rampant....but it is easier to look the other way.  These people hire a service, pay the "service" a fee, those running the service, pay cash, sneak by in the shadows.

a huge environmental disaster project, the Border Wall 2020

I don't know the answer, doing nothing doesn't seem like that is working, letting in everyone isn't either, but I don't need a job, and I am as cheap as the next guy, so anything that keeps prices down....good?  No one wants to be a plumber, electrician, or a landscaper so might as well pay cash for a Honduran to get the job done....?  Who does odd jobs on your houses?

I'd just like to know how many migrants perish en route it is a harsh desert and legal immigration is harsh and know, It is terrible in El Salvador, but it is also terrible in Compton and Watts, should we not try to fix that first?  Should we grant refugee status for residents of these bad Los Angeles districts?  I'm sure thousands feel threatened.  Oh well, no political party had straightening out Compton in their platforms, because how would you even start?  The Red party didn't even have a platform.  I see TV commercials about donating to helping elderly elderly Russian Jews, winter is coming, it is the same woman's voice about saving abused animals.....I guess this is all well and good but can't we have the same woman try to convince us to help Compton?  It would beat seeing the wet half dead dogs or the old Russians with three fingers and no teeth.....I guess no one really cares about our own people enough to solve anything. 

Pacific Imperial Railroad

Nature never intended for man to build a railroad through the Carriso Gorge, but yet in the early 19th Century, they did.  The 146 mile railroad was built from San Diego into Tijuana and on to Telcate, Campo, Jacumba, and dozen to Ocotillo and El Centro.  This route has some of the coolest trestles, drops off the tracks of 900 feet, and 20 tunnels.  Old fallen box cars sit where they fell.   Now, the railroad is owned by the state and has been continually "operated" so that nothing has actually operated.  Railcars, engines, equipment sit abandoned all over the line, which would have value at least for scrap.  The whole deal in 2020 (which looks like the first time I was here (in 2012)  three leasees later, a couple of frauds, and at least two bankruptcies as well, (the line is owned by San Diego MTS) not a car has gone down it and all looks the same except the weeds are growing up around the tracks and despite the railroad telling the government they fixed a tunnel collapse a jack rabbit would have difficulty getting through the supposedly fixed tunnel.  So in 15 years of all of this, not a single railcar has moved past here.  But despite a lot of governmental waste, the line is very photogenic.

"The Impossible Route" Leaves Jacumba and circles Round Mountain, the magma center of an extinct volcano, before turning into the Carriso Gorge.

There is still abandoned railcars passenger and freight all over this rail line, chairs and windows thrown out, and just a junky place

Here is the same cars in November 2012, free of graffiti, the cars looked almost usable cars three and four have disconnected in 8 years....

The railroad in the Gorge is pretty scenic, a scary looking route even just looking at it

this tunnel wasn't that scary to walk through in 2012, now it is, and I couldn't even get down to there

We hiked around everyday, this is the local scenery...

The Birds
I didn't take a lot of photos, looking at it, but here are a couple...
Brewer's sparrow

California Thrasher

I had a goal of seeing and photographing Mountain quail but all I got a lens on were California quail, which became easier to photograph when the storm came in

The Rain
Don't let that pretty rainbow fool you, on the weekend, it began to rain here for the first time in over half a year, the wind blew, the temperature dropped, the RV shuttered, everyone holed up, and well, we watched football...."you should be here when it gets windy."  Someone told us.

Monday is a new day and we left and are heading towards Tucson
Now we turn east, Florida by the end of the month.....

Wearing our masks, avoiding restaurants, gatherings, and setting a good everyone should

So another year, another visit to California and like every year I leave scratching my head


Monday, November 2, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 4: Moving on

Well, for me, after a while of hanging out for a while, I tend to get itchy feet that want to roam.  So after a month north of Phoenix in New River, some great hikes, some bad pentaque games, so nice meals with friends, we slid out of town this morning heading to "no man's land," otherwise known as California.  I like California but I'm also afraid of California.

First, the Diesel is 1.40 a gallon more than in Phoenix, but I guess the residents like paying more, no one complains, but I do.  I had to make sure we filled up in Arizona.  COVID, would we even be welcome.  Where we went an RV resort located in Jacumba Hot Springs, just got sold last week, would it be a housing development next year?  Would this be our last trip here?  Some yuppy place?  Who knows, I'm glad we don't go here for the whole winter.

Would the trails be open, even anything open to buy food?  Would there be butterflies.....

The road in is the worst access road for any RV campground we've ever driven in, but no one seems to care and the former owner has always been considered the town hero, but alas...the hero has sold out.  

 There are even a couple of birds down here, I'd maybe try to go see, but this is California, is anything open, so we are going to just sit up in the mountains, find some trails, I'll work on my elusive futile quest to photo mountain quail and well, hopefully a butterfly or five, maybe see something rare...

On the drive over....The Campgrounds in Yuma seems a lot less full than last year, where we were in AZ was down a little, and as there were not Canadians, I suspect that largely, the decrease is Canadians. There are a lot of campers on the roads, many out in BLM land, few who don't do this realize how many thousands and thousands live like this.  Gila Bend Arizona looks like it needs a fire, the grocer closed, many other stores, closed, sad really, a town based to service I-8 traffic.  A helicopter was at the clinic, which in my history as an ER doctor was never a very good sign.  Helicopters at clinics were some of the worst.

We met many in Arizona, one couple was moving on to Texas, another was looking to move out of California, as the state is not their kind of people any more, and others off like us to other spots, sort of moving on

There are three types during COVID, those paranoid and afraid, still locked down, hidden, using the age old strategy of hibernation which has worked for many creatures, those who just don't give a f&&k, had enough of it or deny it.....met many of those camping, some had good ideas and good observations

LIKE WHERE ARE THEY GETTING IT FROM THIS CURRENT SURGE, dakotas, Michigan, even Europe?  ARE WE NOT BEING TOLD....IS IT THE AC or central heat FROM APARTMENTS?  idk....questions I don't know

then there are the ones in between, careful but not overly so and trying to enjoy their lives.  Eating outside, but not afraid of pools, I don't know which is living in isolation and not doing anything any way to live?  I'm a not a big risk taker in a good day, but living has risks, heck, Silja ended up in the ER down here eating tainted salad......

I say, get outside, get vitamin D, fresh air...

So we poked around Phoenix, got warranty work done on my Volvo before it turned over 36,000 miles which it just did.  We would have shopped and enjoyed some more restaurants but we ate at the campground some and my wife had to make a trip to Michael's for yarn for weaving projects.  

In Phoenix, we stayed outside, got vitamin D, and fresh air.... we did our now annual climb of Daisy Mountain, it is a scramble up 1100 feet from the bottom, pretty steep through the cacti and cholla ...some year we'll have to take the trail on the other side

We found the White Tank Mountains, this year and as a bit of a surprise (in Surprise) we found some cool petroglyphs

always a neat find anywhere

a Rufous crowned sparrow in a hidden waterhole

we had whiter throated swifts, a Crissal thrasher, lots of cactus wrens and even more cacti, lots of saguaros, many saguaros, wow..... 

Elsewhere, we saw birds, phainopepla 
went hiking with friends, like Robin and Steve from San Luis Obispo 
and after a shriek I had to go back and photo desert tarantulas

Gilded flickers, which never seem to get photogenic

a verdin

all of this, and I got inspired and wrote a book
but that is another story

There was a COVID case at the campground, the first I've heard at about 30 affiliated campgrounds we either stay at our get into the politics of.  The only case?  Luck or large vitamin D levels by the campers, or all campgrounds....I don't know.  He is doing fine apparently, not sure if anyone we had contact with had contact with him but as such, we sort of laid low at the Halloween party and stayed home.  It was just 50 feet outside our RV, it sounded like everyone had fun, and lasted until 1:30 there, it was a slow month in Arizona, stumbled upon a non-fiction book to write, hiked, birdwatched, met some friends, and got irritated watching political commercials, tomorrow, it is over, thank GOD for at least 2 years....can we finally do something everyone likes....?  

Doubt it, but where we are now, the only riots here will be the if the rabbits organize.....or if the cacti can walk.
Stay safe


RVing in the time of COVID 7: The Gadsden Route

We spent the last two weeks birding, hiking, and camping in SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.  Birding a part of America that was the last part ...