Friday through Sunday, January 1-10, 2021—More of the Same?

Regrettably, the new year, 2021, began much the same as 2020 ended, maybe even worse! The pandemic is raging in the US and the world, vaccinations are being delivered ever so slowly, and our grand country is more divided than ever. The unprecedented debacle of the United States capitol building being overrun is perhaps one of the saddest and angriest occurrences in our lives. Conversations among family and friends are ever so delicate, with words being measured very carefully. Individual opinions and beliefs, particularly among the more silent folks, are no longer respected. God help us all.

With the pandemic accelerating to extraordinary levels, particularly in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and in the state of Arkansas, life is far from normal, though I suspect our historic normal will never return. It’s even too scary to consider making photographic trips to the greater Phoenix and Tucson areas. Our lives here at Palm Creek RV Resort in Casa Grande, AZ, now consist of pickleball, golf, and eating meager meals (we’re both trying to lose weight). One bright spot is that I was quickly elevated to level 3.0, and have asked to be observed for level 3.5. 

While Kay and I talk about traveling, we are acutely aware that trips will not happen soon—there are still deposits/funds “invested” in two international trips, and at least three round trip airline flights have been paid for. 

We did venture out on Saturday, January 9 to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; it was a spur-of-the-moment trip! The just over two hour drive through the desert was relaxing, with little traffic. Most roads on Indian reservations are closed due to the pandemic, so there are only a few ways in and out. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a US national monument and UNESCO biosphere reserve located in extreme southern Arizona that shares a border with the Mexican state of Sonora. The park is the only place in the US where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. Along with organ pipe, many other types of cacti and other desert flora native to theYuma Desert section of the Sonoran Desert region grow in the park. In 1976 the monument was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, and in 1977 95% of Organ Pipe Cactus was declared a wilderness area. Regrettably, little information was provided by the Visitors Center, other than traditional National Park Service handouts about the monument. We did the 21-mile Ago Mountain Drive, stopping afterwards back at the Visitors Center for a picnic lunch. Though the monument was not crowded, we opted not to hike any of the trails.

These birds were photographed near the Visitors Center.

Wednesday through Thursday, December 16-31—It’s Over

I spent pre-Christmas alone—social distancing and avoiding people and crowds—awaiting Kay’s arrival on December 28, 2020. Except for not being with Kay, I had a great time, and really enjoyed the absence of a lot of activities. Folks living on “our” street at the resort had a potluck Christmas Day,. The food was good, and it was great meeting neighbors, though the social distancing was quite lax. Until Kay arrived, life pretty much centered around cooking a meal or two each day, and playing pickleball for a few hours—that game is addictive.

“Fried” cabbage and smoked sausage
Beginning of a low cal “Denver” skillet breakfast

Kay arrived in the early evening on December 28, and we were “home” by 8 PM. Gifts were exchanged, and Christmas 2020 was behind us.

Selkirk Amped S-2 pickleball paddle, a gift from Santa

Thanks to Verizon, we were able to interact with family and friends via social networking; DISH internet was down for several days beginning Christmas Even. Kay and I were profoundly blessed during the “lost” year, 2020, and managed much better than most. Our major sacrifices were the lack of spending time with kids and grandkids, and a couple of international trips. We were glad to usher 2020 out, and went to bed early so it would go away quicker. The events of 2020 are not so subtle reminders that everyday life is not to be taken for granted.

Sunday through Tuesday, December 13-15—Memories Not Forgotten

Laundry had accumulated since leaving home over two weeks ago; I still had clothes, but had run out of comfortable shorts and tees, my go to wardrobe. Consequently, on Sunday, a load of laundry was washed and dried (all were darkish clothes), folded, and put away. Golf had been tentatively been scheduled for the afternoon, but it was too cold and windy for the fair-weather golfer. The solar briefcase system—a work in progress—reconfigured, the solar panels were deployed at the back of the RV facing the southern sun, and the 50 amp power was turned off. I wanted to see if I could use solar and propane for the basic necessities of RV life. That occupied the time until bedtime.

The solar panels receive direct sun most of the day, but need to be moved further right.

The Palm Creek Photography Club met Monday morning; there were only nine people there, and while they socially distanced, I felt uncomfortable. In combination with a somewhat boring program, it was cause to leave early for errands and golf. The grand experiment of living without “shore” power was successful, except that I ran out of propane in the auxiliary tank, and had to turn on the RV propane tank real early, in the dark and cold! The auxiliary tank was filled at U-Haul, just a short drive from Palm Creek, and cost less than $15 to fill. Golf was on the schedule again, but cold temperatures and winds proved too much for this fair weather golfer. The time was used to “finish” the solar project by reconfiguring some of the wiring and adding connectors and cable to make it more versatile. Now, I’m just about tinkered out, and ready for action.

Finally, after numerous emails and attempts to access the Palm Creek Pickleball Club website, I was successful yesterday afternoon, and scheduled “round robin” play for today, Tuesday. Because I didn’t have any history with the club, I was assigned to play in the 2.0-2.5 mixed group. I really had a great time, but was a bit more advanced than all the others in the group. The group captain suggested that I consider moving up to the 3.0 group—perhaps next week after I get my feet wet.

The 32 pickleball courts are heavily most of the day

Tuesday was also a big anniversary for me; ten years ago, I had life saving surgery for prostate cancer. I was diagnosed on September 20, 2010. We immediately made an appointment for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and over the course of the next three months, made three 1,400-mile round trips there and back, including one for a radical retropubic prostatectomy (RRP) on December 15. We arrived for surgery a couple of days after a record December snowfall of over 24 inches in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, and record low temperatures. We rarely saw temps above “0”.

Record snowfall in Rochester, MN

Thanks to God, the surgery was successful, and now, ten years later, I remain cancer free. Less than one year later, my big brother died of gastric cancer. Cancer definitely changes every aspect of one’s life. After the initial shock and realization that life is finite and somewhat fleeting, priorities change. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Kay, kids and grandkids, and travel and photography so much; it helps fill the soul.  

I have been told that hospital garb doesn’t look good on me!

Saturday, December 12, 2020—Tinkering with the Set-up

Such irregular sleeping hours—8 or 9 PM waking up at 3 AM, then napping after lunch—are not conducive to a productive outdoor lifestyle. This morning, after breakfast of heated overnight oatmeal, almond milk, and blueberries, was spent toying with the solar panels/system. After everything was connected, the power was turned off at the “post” as an experiment to live “partially” off the grid (except for water and internet), i.e. to see if the house battery bank would last all day and night charged by the solar panels during the day. Everything in the motorhome worked except the AC; the refrigerator, heater, and water heater worked off propane via the bottle hooked up with Extend-A-Stay. 

Solar panels connected to other electronics in bay by the door

The afternoon was spent installing a sunscreen to the awning end and over the patio to create something of a separate room, where we could enjoy outdoor time. This took longer than expected as it proved difficult sliding the screen into the awning slot, and then driving pegs into the hard ground to hold tie downs. Nevertheless, with the help of a ladder—carried for the first time this year—it is now in place. 

Sunscreen is in place

Clean-up of the tools and gadgets on the patio finally completed, though things are not exactly where they need to be. Dinner was early, about 3 PM. The pizza/grilling stone was placed on the gas grill, oiled, and then heated.

Pizza stone (needs curing)

A “low cal” pizza was created consisted of a low carb, high protein tortilla, pizza sauce, onions, peppers, turkey sausage crumbles, and mozzarella cheese.

Pizza ready to bake

It cooked for 15 minutes but needed to have cooked another 5-10 minutes.

Dinner, pizza and salad

A quiet evening was spent watching YouTube videos, mostly about RVing and photography.

Wednesday through Friday, December 9-11—Preparing for the Long Haul

I awoke to a beautiful desert sunrise Wednesday morning—sunrises and sunsets are always colorful in the desert!

Another beautiful desert sunrise

Allergies, head cold, or whatever it is is still hanging around. Consequently, I opted to take it easy and continue unpacking motorhome bays and boxes, install internet and wifi, and make arrangements for a motorhome wash and wax. As most of you know, I’ve been tinkering with solar power, and there are boxes of speciality tools, connectors, cables, and devices in almost every nook and cranny in the motorhome. These were all removed from their storage containers, and resorted. There are three incomplete sets of tool/boxes in the motorhome, with many duplications. An attempt was made to sort through these and consolidate where possible; that didn’t go so well (perhaps later in the week). With “stuff” scattered about the site, a late breakfast was prepared consisting of an onion, pepper, potato, and smoked sausage scramble and an English muffin, washed down with a Diet Dr. Pepper.

Sautéd onions, bell pepper, potato,, and sausage
Egg Beaters makes a good scramble

The internet provider here is DISH; they were called and authorized the service, I connected the cables, modem, and router—internet is alive and well. Sorting of tools, toys, and storage bays continued off and on throughout the afternoon. The last of the gin left in the motorhome from summer was used for a thin gin and tonic. Neither the old Apple TV nor the Amazon Firestick had the YouTube TV application, so it became time for their retirement!

A well deserved gin and tonic

Last night it stormed and rained, the first rain they’ve had in over 3 months. Rain continued into Thursday morning. Symptoms from the head cold disappeared. It was off to Walmart first thing to pick up a couple of ROKU devices, and cheese and pizza sauce for making low cal pizza on the grill. An order had been prepared on the internet for groceries from Fry’s, a western subsidiary of Kroger, and it was placed in the car at their pickup.The ROKUs were connected with some effort as a result of fat fingers in skinny places, and the connections were made for the various streaming services. Otherwise, it was an uneventful day.

Forgotten password found on bottom of modem/router
Fat fingers in tight places, and thanks to iPhone for photo

An RV wash and wax was scheduled for this morning (Friday) at about 9:15 AM. Consequently, I had an early breakfast and was finishing up when they showed up. After hustling outside to move things away from the motorhome, their generator and power washer were turned on and they began immediately. It was noisy, but none of the neighbors complained. Some of the crew were the same as last year, but the company ownership has changed. I was disappointed in both the quality and amount of cleaning done considering it was supposed to be a “detail” job. After they left, I supplemented the work with more partial detailing. Still, the inside of the bay doors need to be cleaned, and window seals, slide gaskets, and other similar products need to be cleaned and lubricated. I did sort of detail the car, but it needs a thorough vacuuming. Bicycles, golf clubs and carts, gas grill, and other things were put back in place. The afternoon offered a good opportunity for a nap since rising at 3 AM left a lot to be desired, and it was still early to bed.

Motorhome washed and waxed, car washed
Driver’s side view of wash and wax

Sunday through Tuesday, December 6-8—Moving Days

Original plans called for travel from Rodeo, NM, to Whitewater Draw near McNeal, AZ, to “boondock” for a few days to photograph Sandhills Cranes. However, the dust blowing across the desert, from traveling a lot of gravel roads, and in most of the parking lots has activated my allergies, with the consequential result of not feeling great, i.e. itchy eyes, runny/stuffy nose, and headache. Thus, this Sunday I opted to travel directly to Fort Huachuca, a less dusty environment. The short drive (112 miles) allowed setting up the motorhome just after lunch. With strong internet, a number of photos were posted as were several blog entries ( Still not feeling well, the rest of the afternoon and evening were used to recover from the allergies, now turning into a winter cold.

I awoke Monday with the intent of traveling to the nearby San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area for hiking and birding, and then to Ramsey Canyon to photograph hummingbirds. However, the wind was howling, with a forecast of continued heavy winds and warm temperatures. I opted to remain in the motorhome, continuing to recover.

Still not feeling well on Monday, I decided Tuesday morning to travel to our winter residence, Palm Creek in Casa Grande, AZ. It would position me to better take care of health issues should the virus progress. The 141-mile drive Tuesday morning was mostly via I-10, through Tucson, and without issues. After checking in and being escorted to the site, the motorhome was partially setup. The potable water was connected, via the water softener, and an external propane tank was connected to the Extend-a-Stay installed a few weeks ago (to save on the exorbitant cost of propane delivered to one’s site. Some of the bays were emptied, though I brought so many toys and so much junk that it’s hard to sort through all of it. The bicycles were unloaded and the bicycle carrier and front tow bar were removed from the toad (old Honda CRV). A quick wash and vacuum partially removed all the dust and grime, though enough remains that it will have to be done again, and again. Tonight, bedtime came early.

Our site for the winter; lot of vacancies

Saturday, December 5—One More Time

With lots of time only hands, I opted to go to the Rodriquez property one more time. I arrived about noon, and it was warmer (55°) than in previous days. The usual suspects were around, including lots of quail. A Broad-billed Hummingbird made its rounds to the feeder about every 15 minutes. A few Scrub Jays also dropped in and a not-often-seen Crissal Thrasher made an appearance.

Broad-banded Hummingbird
Pyrrhuloxia (Desert Cardinal)
Lesser Goldfinch
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay
Broad-banded Hummingbird

Mr. Rodriquez walked by to say hello and we conversed for several minutes; nice gentleman!

The evening was spent editing photos, and catching up on email and social media—to the extent that poor internet service allowed. Numerous attempts were made to load blog entries, but no success. Tomorrow is moving day, it was early to bed.

Friday, December 4—Finishing Up in Portal, AZ

Up very early, a few posts were made to FaceBook, and breakfast was prepared and eaten. Smoked turkey sausage was added to the frijoles and heated, and a tortilla was browned—that was breakfast, and it wasn’t very good! {NOTE: Farts were far and few between, maybe because of the hiking!) The dust in this area is unbelievable; despite an allergy pill each day, my eyes still itch and I sneeze constantly. Some had to have crept into the motorhome via wind, shoes, and clothes. Consequently, the interior of the coach was dusted and vacuumed, and a few windows were cleaned.

Frijoles and tortilla

Today, the plan was to complete the loop of Paradise Road, Turkey Creek Road, and Mountain Road, stopping at the George Walker House, and then hike the South Fork Trail. Again, it was cold and breezy, though not as windy as yesterday. After studying the birding map, a deviation to Willow Tank was made. I attempted several birds-in-flight photos of Flycatchers feeding.

Say’s Phoebe, Willow Tank
Say’s Phoebe, Willow Tank
Say’s Phoebe, Willow Tank

After a 5.5 mile drive on gravel to Paradise, AZ, the George Walker House birding area was found; it is in a couple’s yard. Ice was still surfacing the creeks in the area. A gentleman greeted me, and began supplementing the bird feed already in the feeders. He was a talker, and talked the entire time, mainly about birds and butterflies. He was interesting, but annulled the peace and quiet. I did pick up a LIFER: Arizona Woodpecker.

Arizona Woodpecker, George Walker House
Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay, George Walker House

The South Fork Trail was an unexpected pleasure. Though birds were few, the scenery was spectacular, and the hiking was on a slightly ascending trail. After the hike at Chiricahua National Monument, the South Fork Trail seemed effortless. And, I carried the small camera and lightweight lens, adding to the pleasurable hike.

Along the South Fork Trail, Cave Creek Canyon
Spotted Towhee, along the South Fork Trail, Cave Creek Canyon
Along the South Fork Trail, Cave Creek Canyon
Gould’s Turkey in Cave Creek Canyon

Dinner consisted of heated overnight oatmeal and blueberries, and pineapple and cottage cheese. And then, it was off to bed.

Thursday, December 3—Birding in Portal, Arizona

Tired from all the hiking and driving yesterday, I was late getting out this morning. Today’s intent was to photograph birds and scenery at the Herb Martyr Picnic Area, the John Hands Picnic Area, Cave Creek Ranch, and the Rodriquez house site. If time permitted, I would drive the Paradise Road to Paradise, bird at the George Walker House, and complete the driving loop to Turkey Creek and the Mountain Road bak to Portal. It was COLD (low 20s) and WINDY (15 mph), though the temperature did rise to the high 30s; the wind however, never ceased blowing!  The first stop was at the Cave Creek Nature Trail trailhead. Birds were observed at the beginning of the short hike, but the wind altered their feeding. It was the same story at the two picnic areas.

Along the Cave Creek Nature Trail
On the Cave Creek Nature Trail

Out of desperation, I visited the Cave Creek Ranch where there were scores of birds at the myriad of feeding stations. Regretfully, a Roadrunner kept scaring the birds and I left after an hour or so. From their I returned to the Rodriquez place, and the same species were there as were there on Tuesday afternoon. Nevertheless, a few good shots were made, including a LIFER, a Blue-throated-Mountain-gem Hummingbird.

Acorn Woodpecker
Cactus Wren
Greater Roadrunner
Blue-throated Mountain0-gem Hummingbird
Cous Deer

Back at the motorhome, I cooked a pot of frijoles (pinto beans) that had soaked all day, and downloaded and edited photographs while sipping on a gin and tonic, and was so disappointed in my ability to adequately capture the profound beauty and depth of the hoo doos; some things are not meant to be as I am not a good landscape photographer. Bedtime was at 8 PM

Wednesday, December 2—Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Though not a “bucket list” item, Chiricahua National Monument had been on my list of “want to see” places for a couple of years. After checking the gas gauge for the 2 hour drive over the Chiricahua Mountains, I drove to Rodeo, NM, for gasoline, but no stations were to be found. Oh well, I had just over half a tank and it was only 34 miles. The road was gravel, had countless switchbacks, and hardly traveled; and, it was in good condition. The views were breathtaking, but no pullouts were to be found. A 2-mile section of washboarded road ended the gravel part of the drive on the west side of the mountains. Though there were several paved state highways in the area, no gasoline stations were to be found; the nearest was in Wilcox, AZ, some 40 miles away.

View from the steep, curvy, and gravel mountain road over the Chiricahua Mountains

There was no fee for visiting the national monument. A stop at the Visitors Center provided maps and information on photo ops. The first place to visit was Massai Point, and a half mile nature trail where landscapes of hoo doos were in every direction. The hike proved to be more of a walk, though a few birds were flittering about.

Pine Siskin (?) seen at the beginning of the nature trail

Next, I drove to the Echo Canyon Trailhead where a family of Carti Mundi were scurrying around looking for food. I kept seeing a black screen in the camera’s viewfinder, and discovered that the lens cap had not been removed; not off to a good start. By then, the animals had left the area. Switching cameras and lenses, I began the 3.2 mile Echo Canyon Trail hike. Views were overwhelming, and difficult to photograph. The boulder-filled trail wound down though a myriad of switchbacks, small openings in the hoo doos, and then to the canyon floor—tough hike—and there were few people on the trail. I dreaded the hike back up the side of the canyon, especially the boulders and switchbacks. However, there were few switchbacks as the trail hug the canyon wall in a gently ascending route. Finally, back at the car, I wolfed down a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of water before beginning the drive back over the mountains.

There were many “balanced” rocks in Chiricahua NM
Part of the Echo Canyon Trail
Another balanced rock
It is difficult to capture the profound magnificence of the hoodoos at Chiricahua NM
More hoodoos at Chiricahua NM

Faraway Ranch was the home of Swedish immigrants, Emma and Neil Erickson. Emma Peterson bought a two-room cabin in December of 1886. Originally used as a ranch, it became a dude ranch and is now part of the national monument. It’s located at the entrance (or exit).

Faraway Ranch main living quarters