Friday, February 7, 2014

Nomads Go West: Part III

Leaving California

Black-necked Stilt and Gull at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR
With Tucson less than 500 miles away, we decided to make our first stop one of our favorite places, Indio, California and Shield's Date Garden. Man, that place gets more and more popular every time we stop, but they have absolutely fabulous fresh dates in almost a dozen varieties plus fresh and dried fruits. David loves him a date shake when we stop there and I always pick up some super soft Medjools for super raw desserts (process a few pitted dates with some pecans or walnuts and serve over fresh raw fruit or mix the dates, an avocado and cocoa for a smooth, creamy chocolate pudding. OK, so I never actually got to make any of those great raw desserts since we ate them all in just a few days!) Somehow we always come away refreshed and ready to roll on.

Instead of heading back to the I-10 super highway, we headed south along State Route 111 to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR for a little late year birding. We stopped at four different stops along 111. The first three yielded only Eared Grebes as additions to the year list, but after a 1/4 mile walk at the fourth spot we hit birdy pay dirt: Snowy Plover, Bonaparte's Gull, and Least Sandpiper. These put me at 262 species for the year...just 3 shy of beating the 2007 record and still 3 days left in the year.

Sandpiper sp. Western? Least?
A typical multi-species pond scene at the Salton Sea
We had to cut off one final stop at the refuge because we were just running out of time. It was almost 4 p.m. until we hit I-8 and around 5 until we got to Yuma. We stopped off for gas, a potty break and a snack in Yuma. Apparently, there's a new In-N-Out there which, except for some really fresh french fries, holds nothing for me, but Kara loves it and was missing it, so we stopped one last time. While she and David were ordering, I stayed in the car with the Princess. I still had half of a banana left and, opening the back door to sit with her, I offered her some of it. She took one sniff, lifted her head to smell the In-N-Out burgers through the open door, and threw that banana the most disgusted look! There was no way she was eating that while there were burgers around! Lucky her, David shared his with her.


It seemed to take forever to get to Tucson. I-8 seemed like such a mistake. We didn't get into town until almost 9 p.m., but little did we know that it was actually a very fortunate choice as there was a huge accident on I-10 above Casa Grande that had traffic backed up for hours almost into Phoenix, so yay for us! We headed directly for Yoshimatsu for some veg curry noodles and house ramen. They almost didn't serve us, but let us stay and I was so thankful they did. That warm, soupy noodles was just the thing I needed.

In Tucson, we stayed at the Windmill Suites at the corner of Campbell and River. What a wonderful place! The rooms were big, bright and beautiful. It was great having just that little suggestion of a kitchen to make it more homey. We also had access to washers and dryers so we got to freshen up our clothes. I'm sure our Tucson friends and family were thankful for that!

The next day, Sunday, I walked Sabino Canyon with some of my friends who I miss terribly. There was water under the bridges and we walked up to the 2 mile mark and turned around mainly due to the fact that everyone's stomach was growling. Of course, we went to the Eclectic Cafe. Oh yes! Beans and tortillas for breakfast - how I miss Tucson! It always feels like going home. After over two weeks on the road, it was good just to be able to want to go somewhere and NOT have to set the danged GPS!
There was water in Sabino Creek!

Sabino Canyon is always even lovelier with friends!
Sandra and Shoko were waaaayyyy ahead of us!

Jonas and I made it 2 miles up

Sunday afternoon and evening David and I spent with his mom (while Kara nursed a sinus infection that she caught from her sister). She made us rice and beans and taught me her secret recipe for Adobe salad dressing (yummers!). We also had chocolates and a fabulous cream cake that David's brother made (non-vegan I'm sure, but delicious anyway). We were so stuffed we couldn't move. While David visited his brother, I showed David's mom all our pictures from Puerto Rico earlier this year and then when he came back, David had a ball taking pictures on my iPhone of all his baby pictures (haha! Here's my revenge for all the space he used):

Our lil' Jibaro
Gotta love that little denim bell bottom jumpsuit! 

Not much has changed!

Monday we left the hotel early to chase down some birds Tucson-style. We headed straight for Tubac to find the Sinaloa Wren which would have been not only a year bird, but a lifer as well. We hiked in and then suck around for about an hour or so, but the bird was a no-show. We did see some other good birds while we were there: Chihuahuan Raven; Bewick's Wren; Bridled Titmouse; and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Yes, those four put me over the top of my 2007 year bird list by 2 species. :) If only I had felt better to celebrate, but I thought I was starting to get Kat/Kara's sinus thing. I was sneezing like crazy and I felt like a well-wrung dishrag, so while David visiting more with his mom and brother, Kara and I took naps and ate some Ramen noodle soup that we made in the rice cooker. Wahhhhh! I didn't want to be sick :(


Cactus Wren
Gila woodpecker

Ladderback Woodpecker

Bewick's Wren (dang!) 
Hermit Thrush

Dark-eyed Juncos 

Our buddy, the Black Phoebe, waiting with us for the Sinoloa Wren
Amazing, on Tuesday, I woke up feeling like I was never sick which was a good thing because I had a long-anticipated run planned with my my friends. We had the walkingest run ever at Julington Creek trail with just one minor casualty. Our dear ever-competitive, Princess "I always have to be the leader" Whipple-Cheng pulled over to cut Todd off and get her leash wrapped around his legs tripping him to the ground resulting in a nasty case of road rash for Todd :( Still feeling bad about that one!

New Year's Eve Day "run" with a few friends
Todd had a run-in with Princess and end up falling for her. OUCH! 
Afterward, we headed over to Tania's Dos Mundos for some real tortillas!

New year's eve was quiet for us. we met our good friends Len and Carloyn at Guadalajara Grill at Mountain and Prince. I was really delighted to see their new vegan options! It was hard to choose, but I ended up having the Portobella Fiesta (Large portobello mushrooms stuffed with red bell peppers, zucchini, onions and diced tomatoes, served with black beans and white rice veracruzano). Len picked the serenade, the title of which escapes me know). We left early and headed back to the hotel before the roads got too crazy. Besides we had an early start the next day. Homeward bound...

Portobello Fiesta

Carolyn and Len enjoying the serenade

Monday, January 27, 2014

Nomads Go West: Part II

 The Southwest

The Big Chili

Las Cruces, NM

After our fiasco in Junction, Texas, luckily, we "only" had 500 miles or so on Tuesday to get to Las Cruces. In my mind, once we got to New Mexico, our vacation would "begin", so I was very happy to get to Las Cruces. We stayed at the "Big Chili" America's Best Value hotel. We were greeted by a very friendly Australian who owned the place and a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa. Now that's what I call hospitality! David and I took Princess for a walk at the nearby La Llarona park along the Rio Grande wash. Poor Princess! The place was so full of "picker berries" she could only take 2 or 3 steps off the macadam before she would hop on three legs. It does look like an awesome path for running or biking though.

Since we were all exhausted, we decided to make dinner in the room that night. We had some leftover rice and black beans in the cooler from the other night, so I added some broth and tomatoes to make a passable tortilla soup. We used some of the complimentary tortilla chips as a topping. I barely got the dishes washed before falling into bed that night.

Wednesday should have been an easy 200 miles to get from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, but we're are the Nomads, so it took the entire day. First stop was the White Sands National Monument. David and I had been here before, but it's awesome enough to do again. The sands are beautiful and since it was a weekday, we practically had the place to ourselves. We spent some time the gift shop where I found a funny red chili santa ornament that I couldn't help buying for Kathryn.

Kara's a little devil on my shoulder :)
Princess loved the sands!
Next stop was the Three Rivers Petroglyph site where we wandered up the mile long trail looking at over 1200 petroglyphs that are thousands of years old. These are just a few of the many shots we took of birds, lizards, people, and other stuff along the trail.

Then it was time to turn eastward to Bosque del Apache NWR near Soccoro. We arrived just in time to see hundreds of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes settled in for the night. They were literally falling out of the sky onto the marshes. What a sight (and sound)!

American Kestrel

Snow and Ross's Goose
Sandhill Cranes
Snow Goose in flight 
Snow Goose 


Finally, we headed northward to our hotel in ABQ, the Barcelona Suites. This is a somewhat aging hotel, but our room was clean and comfortable even though I had screwed up the reservation and only gotten a king sized bed so that Kara had to sleep on the sofa sleeper. The free breakfast included fresh made eggs, home fries, and bacon. So, yes, I ate some eggs one day - a change from my typical oatmeal cooked in the room microwave - and Princess got some bacon. Our little girl was getting quite spoiled with the bacon and sausage treats at breakfast! She also was getting spoiled sleeping on mommy and daddy's bed every night. She earned the nickname BP or bed pig around the this time.

Our little BP

Our full day in Albuquerque started with a trip up the mountain to Sandia Crest House for a look at the three Rosy Finch species that have been reliable there. Unlike typical mountainous birding excursions, this one involved a warm spot inside a small cafe and gift shop, sitting downing with some tea or coffee and watching the feeders for said birds to appear. At first, we had only Dark-eyed Juncos and Mountain Chickadees for company and then some Steller's Jays and a very big, fat, and hungry squirrel. David had to go outside and shoo him away. Finally, after about 45 minutes, we spotted the Rosy Finches in the trees below the shop and within a few minutes the feeder was buzzing with their activity. David was able to get some awesome pictures.

This is the front yard of the Sandia Crest House (10,678 feet and freaking cold)
Here's how the feeder looked when we got there. Empty!

A not-very-great picture of a Clark's Nutcracker

Stellar's Jay

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Dark-eyed Junco

Rosy Finches (finally!)

There's that darned squirrel again! 
And the Steller's jay, too!

Sandia Crest Tram

That afternoon we all drove over to the Sandia Crest Tram and took the tram to the top of the mountain over some scary looking crevices. Let's talk about the cold here for a minute. Brrrrr! And the wind just cut straight through us in our little Florida "winter coats." We stayed about 15 minutes, wondering at the skiers who managed to stay upright and giggling at the snowboarders who didn't. We ate dinner in Old Town that night - a place called, Hacienda del Rio. I had veggie fajitas which was the only vegan item on the menu. They were good as far as plain grilled veggies go, but I don't remember being that impressed with them although the presentation of the guac and salsa was unique.

View from the tram


Let's see... if today is Friday, we must be driving west to Flagstaff! We took a stop in between for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Monuments. What can I say, the pictures don't do it justice, but I'm going to include them anyway.

Princess enjoying the view.

The "Log Bridge" formed by a thousands-years-old fallen tree.
Petrified cross section
Cheesy pic of me doing what the sign says.

It had snowed on Thursday night into Friday morning, so by the time we got to Flag Friday evening, it was mostly cleared off the roads, but still hanging around the sideways, etc. If ABQ was cold, Flagstaff was freezing! If was hard to even run back and forth to the car because of the snow and ice on the ground. We wore our long underwear and were very glad for it.

We stayed at the Days Inn in Flagstaff which made me a little nervous because of our "Junction experience", but it was a very nice Days Inn with big clean rooms and no paint smell!

We ate dinner that night in downtown Flagstaff was at the Mountain Oasis International Restaurant. I had the tofu red curry which came with a side of black beans and rice and sesame green beans - very international dinner indeed!

View from the window of the Mountain Oasis International Restaurant in Flagstaff.

My very international dinner.

Our drive to the Grand Canyon on Friday was a little hairy. We hit a snow storm and wet roads from Flagstaff to north of Williams that slowed us dow a bit, but just north of Williams, the skies cleared, the sun came out, and it turned out to be a beautiful day. We spent a couple of hours at the canyon and in the gift shops to warm up. We also had lunch at Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim where I had a really tasty vegan chili in a sourdough bread bowl.

The Grand Canyon, what else?
Common Raven

Vegan Chili at Bright Angel Lodge
Hard as it is to believe after reading Over the Edge a few years ago, but there were people attempting to hike down into the canyon even though the trails were one complete sheet of ice. We watched a family of 6 slip and slide for about 50 yards before the mom wisely mused that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Do you think? Unfortunately, we dipped on the California Condor that day. :(

Mountain Chickadee
Western Scrub Jay
The next day was Sunday and we were all excited to go to California. After getting just a little bit turned around, we found the Starbucks and the Sam's Club for gas and we were on our way out of town. The temperature on I-40 headed west out of Flagstaff was 4 degrees. YIKES!


Oh SoCal! I love your mountains, your warm temperatures, your many vegan options and other progressive ways, but I absolutely hate your traffic! Why must everyone do 80 mph on every street and why oh why can't you all stay in one lane for more than 30 seconds? What has to happen before you get stopped for aggressive driving? I mean, my foot is as leaden as the next guy, but in California, their gas feet must be made of plutonium! But I digress...

It was wonderful to see my oldest daughter happy and healthy - to see her smile and hear her laugh. It was even a little weird to hear her be anxious about whether the house was clean enough for company (who are you and do you know who you're talking to?).

The face I couldn't wait to see. 
Her boyfriend's mother and aunt had also come to town, so we had a nice gathering of family. The first night, I believe in an effort to impress me, Gleb suggested a Vietnamese vegan place for dinner and I got to have the "chick'n" drumsticks (on dowels) that I love.

Sweet and Sour Vegan Drumsticks...oops! I ate them all!

Aren't they just the cutest?
Look at these girls!

We spent a week in California with tons of highlights, such as:
  • Christmas day dinner of eastern European veggie dishes, including some very memorable sauerkraut and mushroom dumplings and one tiny taste of those potatoes that didn't quite make it to the table. 
  • Our traditional white elephant gift exchange silliness. Who is going to get that itchy tree garland next?
  • Puerto Rican pigeon peas and rice that drew raves from the guests (thank you very much!) with a plate of too few tostones and fruity salad.
  • Veggie Grill Buffalo Chick'n sandwich and mac and cheeze. Native Foods Oklahoma burger with vegan cheese, bacon, onion rings and a ton of veg garnish. 
  • Getting Princess an In-N-Out burger "protein style" and watching her wolf it down in one huge mouthful.

  • Chasing California Condors with a 2-hour travel north of LA in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then DIPPING on them followed by a 2 hour -bumper-to-bumper traffic ride to Rancho Cucamonga so Kara could see her friends and we could spend time with Kat and Gleb. (You knew there had to be eating in there somewhere, right?)
  • Finding BOTH Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit along with the bonus Western Grebe and Eared Grebes at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and then having the good fortune to meet a gentleman who directed us to a Laguna Beach lookout for Surfbird, Black Oystercatcher, Brant's Cormorant, and Wandering Tattler - every one of them a year bird.
  • Princess scaring Tommy kitty so badly he looked more like a raccoon than a cat. 
Black Phoebe

Savannah Sparrow

Long-billed Curlew

Marbled Godwit

American Widgeon
Piping Plover
Western Grebe
Western Gull

Horned Grebe
Far too soon we had to say good-bye to Kat and Gleb so that we could start our trip eastward back to Jacksonville.
My three favorite girls - 2 human and 1 canine :)