Thursday, November 26, 2020

RVing in the Time of COVID 8: Kitsch, UFOs and Shopping

We spent a few days in West Texas beating the Black Friday shopping, going to the World's smallest Target outside of Marathon.  The produce section was a bit picked over, all they had was a pumpkin.

The Prada shop near Valentine, proved interesting but the selection was sparse and they didn't have shoes in my size.

Which is reported to me 3rd hand from the Prada corporate lawyer as being officially "Sanctioned" by the Company.  

Then we tried to shop in Sanderson at Kerr Mercantile, but it has been closed for Twenty years and now it is owned by some sort of shop, but what does one do with any of these?  Where do you pack such things?  Wrapping?

It turns out the Kerr Mercantile building is something special, it is a "lost" Trost building.  A work from a noted and special Southwest Architect.  Being Thanksgiving it was not open to look around.  The famous Gage Hotel in Marathon is a Trost building.  It is cool.    

Many of the hotels in Marfa and the Gage were full of people, and with COVID one wonders...why?  We had a private jet fly over us leaving Marfa, 

So why REALLY did we go to Ft Davis area, it wasn't to shop, nope, it wasn't.  We came to find to UFOs mystery fliers, and so we came for two stakeouts.
Sadly both were unsuccessful.

We came to find the Montezuma quail which I saw here in 2016, but alas, we staked out the bird blind at the State Park which was difficult because the State park had reached quota the first day, it was full, and we had to call and beg to get a pass from the state agency which had a just under two hour hold time.  The Conservation Society visitor center up the road twenty miles was closed for the duration of the virus, so we had to go to the State Park, but the birds don't seem to be coming to the feeders any more.  At least not when we were there.

We saw some birds.
Oddly the best bird we saw and the only state lifer was this Brown Thrasher, strangely I saw two at one of the feeders

Loggerhead shrikes were everywhere

sage thrasher

Woodhouse's Scrub-jay

Bewick's wren

Pine siskin were everywhere

A Townsend's solitaire came to the feeder.

Some of the terrain in the Davis Mountains, we hiked quite a few miles, but it was dry, dust storms came in from the north and the south on us, and with that significant wind.

I took Silja to the rather strange and depressing Slaughtered horse memorial
go here if you want to learn more...

Some interesting roadside art, if nothing else.  

Enough of horse overpopulation, then we went after the second UFO, the Marfa Lights.

We staked out the place on two nights, the second of which involved quite a significant party atmosphere, maybe 150 people, including a person painting the lights

He was busily painting the background waiting for the lights, it will probably be at a gift shop in Marfa shortly

Setting up tent for the night vigil

the rater substantial viewing platform, the toilets left a bit to be desired, the lights were red and it had seats.  It was quite a place and parking for maybe thirty cars.  Oddly, most seemed there for the first time

So, we saw some strange lights, Silja saw this light which after a while became two lights, but sure looked like two groups of illegal aliens coming across the desert, not actual aliens or real Marfa lights.  They don't appear every night, and one wonders if they are real or the best marketing scam ever although they were first seen here in the 1850s.

We staked out the area for a while until some five year old showed up with light sin her shoes, which hurt the eyes in the darkness, so I had enough and packed up Silja and we drove back to the RV.

The strangest things we saw were elk while driving down the mountains toward Alpine.
I'd never seen elk in the state of Texas, this was a first.

We looked at some historical things, and I will start saving photos of county courthouses, many in Texas are really cool.

Jeff Davis County Courthouse, Ft Davis (TX-1)

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa  (TX-2)

We looked about Ft. Davis, the real historic Ft. Davis
It was based in a box canyon guarding the San Antonio to El Paso road, but closed in 1891 when the Apache problem was taken care of, much like Ft. Bowie

So we had an interesting visit, no UFOs, a little too much dust, a few birds, a little history, and some strange shopping choices.....

So we continue on East.  I like the Texas Mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and I have been around here many times, and we will be back...

Be thankful



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

Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...