Road trip adventures 2022 – Nevada

The two youngest grandsons accompanied us from California back to Minnesota at the conclusion of the annual Sierra backpacking trip. Of course, it’s standard practice to stop at various geographic and geological wonders along the way to educate and entertain the youngsters (both teen-agers now). This sometimes results in ”misadventures” instead of just adventures, but there were no flat tires on this trip, unlike the previous summer’s trifecta of blown rubber.

Once again over the crest of the Sierras, we traveled on Hwy 50 (“the loneliest road in America”) across Nevada. Although most people avoid driving this road because of its supposedly monotonous features, we always find plenty to look at.

First stop was the hill we have always called “Wonderstone Mountain”, 10 miles southeast of Fallon. Although the location is just north of the highway, the myriad of roads that people drive through the desert makes it hard to find the right route. The boys quickly climbed the hill and began to look for the curiously marked “wonderstones”.
Colorful rocks and pebbles were probably formed as gaseous vents spewed minerals through the clay sediments of lake beds in this area millions of years ago.
The next stop was Ichthyosaur state park, where a 55 foot replica of the largest reptile of Mesozoic seas is mounted outside the museum. These creatures were the top marine predators of their time— air-breathing “whales” of the ancient oceans.
The museum houses the skeletons of at least six ichthyosaurs, still encased in stone. Scientists believe the huge animals may have beached themselves in shallow mud and died there, but their bones became separated and jumbled together when the area was buried in mudslides and subjected to uplift in several mountain building events.

The park is located near the once-booming, mining town of Berlin, 20 miles east of Gabbs, NV, in the foothills of the Shoshone Mountains. More than a ton of gold was mined here,- valued at $850,000 in 1890 prices ($20/ounce). The thriving town of about 300 miners, merchants, etc. was deserted when the ore vein ran out, but it never burned, so many of the original buildings and some of the equipment used still remain.

Nearby, Ione was an even more prosperous town in the mid 1800s when it attracted a population of 600. But failing mines caused people to drift away, so that by the 1890s, just a skeleton crew remained. However, unlike Berlin, the few that remained in Ione kept the town alive until the post office closed in the 1950s. Now, the town sees just a few tourists, fond of visiting the ghost towns of Nevada.

Sierra hike 2022 – the way down

Continued from the previous post: what a treat to spend a day hiking between lakes without a heavy backpack, and through gorgeous green meadows lined with red fir trees on a fairly level trail!

Off we go for a morning hike, with lunches to eat at Lake Lois…
I never get tired of these gorgeous meadows, and using the Merlin bird app, we were able to figure out which birds were doing all the singing.
Back at the Lake Doris campsite in late afternoon, it was time to pack up and head over Rockbound Pass down to Lake Maud. My granddaughters wanted to rename this set of lakes to something less old-fashioned sounding. We climbed up a little ways to the low part of the pass, only losing the trail a couple of times in the snowfields.
The other side of Rockbound Pass is well-named — you must hike a long ways down a jumble of rocks, often separated by big steps down. This was one of the few places there was a “nice” trail.
And sometimes the trail looked like this — and you ask yourself, ”where is the trail”?
Our destination is in the distance, but it’s already early evening, and we’re still 2 miles away!
Surprisingly, the lower part of this dry, rocky trail was flush with beautiful wildflowers in full bloom.
Two, tired grandparents rolled into camp, downed a quick bite of food, and collapsed in the tent at sunset.
The next morning everyone felt perky again, but sad to leave the mountains.
Grandpa led the three oldest grandsons down the trail showing them how to identify the various trees and flowers, and then launching into a longer history of early California.
Leaving the wilderness —it’s only another mile or two to our cars. And thats the end of Sierra hike 2022.

Sierra hike 2022 – the way up

Across the country again – this time for the annual Sierra Nevada backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe. It’s been 34 years since we made the first backpacking foray into the Sierras and we have rarely missed a year since then. This year all 12 family members participated, although not all from the same starting point, but we all met up at Lake Doris, had a welcome day off from packing gear to yet another destination, and celebrated with a day hike sans backpack! That was more or less the end of the way up…

The view from Echo peak of the mountains behind Lake Aloha —our first destination.
Looking the other direction toward Lake Tahoe and little Fallen Leaf lake —the starting point of this group’s hike.
Hiking the trail up from Echo Lake (my group’s starting point), we remembered how black the sky was during the Caldor fire last year when we hiked here.
We met up with the first group and arrived at a lovely campsite on the southern shore of Lake Aloha for the first night.
The next day we said farewell to Lake Aloha, hiked over Mosquito Pass and down to Clyde Lake — a typical example of the granite-surrounded high lakes in the Desolation Wilderness.

One of the attractions of the Desolation Wilderness area is its glacially carved, clear lakes at the base of rugged granite peaks. Exceptionally clear water makes them excellent swimming holes, but at this time of year, it’s like swimming in melting ice water.

Here’s a 360 degree panorama of the scenery at Clyde Lake. Wind off the snowbanks and cold lake water made it somewhat chilly standing in the shade.
Flowering plants are dwarfed here — too cold and too dry.
We had two resident Yellow-bellied marmots in camp. The kids nick-named this one Buck and his friend, Chuck. It seems that marmots like to chew on the handles of hiking poles — especially the sweaty handholds. Mine got chewed on at this campsite, thanks to Buck or Chuck.
We squeezed the tent between a rock and a tree, which turned out to be helpful to keep it from blowing away without us in it.
Conference at breakfast the next morning over the next section of the hike that will take us down 1000 feet to China Flat and then back up 1000 feet to the north side of Rockbound Pass at Lake Doris.
And finally we met up with the third group of family members, as they made their way down from Rockbound Pass to our campsite at Lake Doris.

to be continued…

Chiracahua beauty

The Chiracahua mountains of southeastern Arizona offer a multitude of scenic vistas, as well as a bounty of incredible wildlife to see.

There are a lot of canyons formed by rivers running down from the peaks of these 6-8,000 foot mountains. This is the entrance to Cave Creek canyon, one of our favorite places to stay and explore.
Rock formations and cliff faces line the sides of the canyons. You can easily see the altitudinal changes in vegetation as you ascend to mountain peaks.

The Chiricahua Mountains rise more than 6,000 feet above the desert floor that surrounds them, making them “islands in a sea of desert”. A variety of life zones occur along a gradient from hot, dry desert to cool pine forest at peak elevation, which means these montane islands are a hot spot of biodiversity. 

We found a giant meadow of blue flag iris at Rustler Park, up at 8200 feet. Lots of butterflies and Anna hummingbirds flitted around these flowers sipping their nectar.
I think this might be the Western Pygmy Blue butterfly on the iris. These are one of the smallest of the southwestern butterflies, only 1/2 to 3/4 inch across. They can be found right out on the desert floor, as well as in the canyons and mountains. The caterpillars manage to survive on a diet of desert saltbush in the most arid desert conditions — amazing!
On the other end of the size spectrum were these gigantic Two-tailed Swallowtail butterflies, with a wingspan ranging from 3-6 inches, making it the largest Swallowtail in western North America. This species is the state butterfly of Arizona.
Adults only live 7-14 days and feed only on nectar, but the caterpillars prefer chokecherry or poplar leaves, and are a striking orange color with a big eyespot on their rear end to deter predators.
The Swallowtail I was photographing suddenly took off — and here’s the reason why. An aggressive little male Anna’s hummingbird, about the same size as the swallowtail just buzzed in for a drink of iris nectar.

After the rains on the plains in Spain …

the wildflowers bloom in great abundance, making the plains south of Trujillo a carpet of color!

Yellow daisy like flowers as far as one can see. Nearby one male Great Bustard (sort of like a turkey) strutted up and down showing off his feathers.
A White Stork grazing in the middle of the wildflower carpet, looking for frogs, snakes, mice, insects — really anything edible will do.
Iberian lavender is in bloom everywhere in the plains of Spain.
The shoreline of this small reservoir near Trujillo was a mass of small blossoms barely two inches tall.
Red poppies and a Red-legged Partridge!

The high plains of Portugal

In northernmost Portugal near the Spanish border is its largest national park—Peneda-Gerez. Forests of native Maritime Pine and plantations of eucalyptus introduced for paper manufacture give way to a low growing grassland interspersed with granite outcrops. This 270 square mile wilderness created in 1971 still has some inholdings of farms and small hillside towns, which only adds to the unique character of the area.

Looking for spring birds on a chilly spring day in the ”plano alto” rocky barrens of Peneda-Gerez NP.
The heather was blooming, along with a very few wildflowers, but spring still hasn’t really taken hold here yet.
You would think you were at high altitude seeing this diminutive flora clinging to the edges of bare rock.
Small towns filled with a couple dozen red tile-roofed stone houses nestle in flatter areas in this montane landscape.
It’s old fashioned, low tech, labor intensive farming here, but the cows and horses look exceptionally healthy grazing on the pasture grass.
And after much searching for any birds at all, we finally spied the nest of a pair of White Storks on the stump remains of a tree right next to a well-traveled farm road. (nest is on the far right)
This pair of storks had decorated their nest with a piece of white plastic wrapping, which unfortunately obscured the incubating female from our view. However the male flew in and brought her some food, so we got to observe a little of their interaction.
The geography here reminds me of the moorland of Scotland…and its nothing like what I pictured northern Portugal would be.

Colorful Cartagena

The last stop before sailing back to the U.S. — Cartagena, Colombia, a new country to add to my list. Cartagena, the destination of Kathleen Turner’s character in the movie “Romancing the Stone”! As a former Spanish colony dating from the 1500s, its coastal location on the Caribbean Sea made it attractive for traders from Europe en route to the West Indies. But people had been living in the area since about 4000 BC.

A gleaming white city skyline appeared suddenly on the horizon as we entered the port. The stark white contrast against the blue ocean and sky was really striking.
Cartagena remained under Spanish control for almost 300 years until gaining autonomy in 1821. The long colonial influence left beautiful buildings, central plazas, a long stone fortification along the coast, and narrow cobblestone streets in the Old City. A 20th century building surge produced the line of white skyscrapers that greet sea travelers.
You walk through the stone arch to gain entrance to the old, walled city of Cartagena. Even though is was a hot, sticky afternoon, we decided to take a walking tour of the Old City.
Fruit and juice stands line the narrow streets. Shops are down below and living spaces above with balconies to look down on the street activities.
Shopping seems to be a major pasttime on a weekend afternoon in the Old City. The ladies wear bright colored dresses, which might have been traditional in colonial times. The lady in the center of the photo wears the colors of the Colombian flag — yellow, blue, and red.
There is every kind of tourist shopping need along the sidewalk, which makes it easier to walk on the cobblestone pavement (sort of).
A street musician entertained people sitting on benches in the central Plaza.
I’m not sure how much business the lady on the left was doing — she looked as hot and uncomfortable as I was.
I think she wanted her photo taken (for money of course).
A “stone” wall of coral 10 feet high encircles the old city, with a levee on top that give you a view of the coastline and the interior city.
Old cannon placements facing north and west were preserved for tourist photos like this one.
Shady parks provide some relief from the intense solar radiation at this latitude (10 degrees N). The “new city” is just across this small bay.
Looking down from the “stone” wall into the old city at the narrow streets, colorful houses, and row of balconies off living areas.
One of the parks featured a canted concrete track with lanes for roller skating. Maybe they have competitive races here — these gals looked like they were pretty good at it.
The park also featured a beautiful fountain — which looked so inviting to get into. Did I mention that it was HOT in this city!

And the bird life in this city….nada. Pigeons rule here, nothing else. See the next post for some exotic animal life near the port.

Birds of the dry forest in Huatulco, Mexico

Way down on southern Mexico’s Pacific coast is a beautiful little port city of Huatulco (population about 50,000) with huge patches of dry forest on undeveloped hillsides where tropical resident birds and North American migrants congregate in the winter. I would definitely spend more time here too, but our hours off the ship were very limited on this trip (4.5 hours). Just enough time to find our bird guide, Cornelio Ramos Gabriel, and take a quick trip into the dry forest to his own acreage where he is growing plants to reforest a burned area and has a watering hole that attracts the local birds.

The White-throated Magpie-Jay forms a superspecies* with its very closely related congener, the Black-throated Jay, with whom it hybridizes in this part of coastal Mexico. These birds are found in coastal dry to humid forests along the Mexican and Central American coast, and are highly visible and very noisy — as Jays often are. (*Superspecies are two very closely related species that have only recently diverged from one another, but will still interbreed in areas where their ranges overlap. Birds like Western and Eastern Meadowlarks, Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees, and Plain and Tufted Titmouse are examples of superspecies.)
I wouldn’t have imagined we could see so many birds in this dry forest, but with the keen eyes and ears of our guide Cornelio, we got some good looks at several of the striking avian inhabitants of this area.
Pale-billed Woodpeckers are the size of our Pileated and very flashy, with their all red heads, yellow eyes, and striped breast and legs. A pair of them flew between trees right above us, probing for insects in the dead branches.
Boat-billed Flycatchers have (as their name implies) very large bills. This one caught a wasp, and squeezed extra hard on that poison-filled abdomen before swallowing.
Spot-breasted Orioles have a distinctive yellow shoulder stripe and spots next to their black throat feathers. Unusual for Orioles, the females are the same color as the males (instead of duller colored) and will also sing, although their song is not as rich as that of the males.
Cinnamon Hummingbirds are also found in the dry coastal forests of Mexico and Central America where they apparently can thrive on nectar and insects they find among the scattered blossoms of various trees and shrubs, even in the dry season.
Citreoline Trogons are endemic to the coastal forests of western Mexico (i.e., found no where else in the world). This bird was a tease — it would sit out in the middle of the trail 100 yards away, inviting us to photograph it from too far away, and then quickly disappearing into the shrubbery when we got closer. These birds are usually found in semi-arid scrub, thorny forests and brushlands, and occasionally in plantations, where they hunt for fruit and insects. They excavate nest sites in arboreal termite nests, which eventually create cavities for other hole-nesting birds.
This little Pacific Screech Owl was resting in its roost/nest hole, which Cornelio told us had been used for several years to bring off many broods of Screech Owl offspring. This race of Western (or Eastern) Screech Owl is found only in the Pacific coastal forests of Mexico and Central America, and its call differs from other Screech Owls.
Cornelio’s conservation management area features candelabra cactus, among many other dry forest plants. This site is the endpoint of his Candelabra trail and has running water, picnic table, shower, and restroom, as well as birdbath (center back of the photo) which brings in some interesting small birds.
Orange-breasted Buntings showed up at the birdbath within about 5 minutes of filing it. In the dry forest, this is a resource birds readily come to.
This male Blue Bunting was such a dark iridescent indigo color, it almost looked black until the sun hit those blue feathers. Interestingly, it is not closely related to Indigo Buntings although they are in the same (Cardinal) family. It inhabits dense, shrubby vegetation in both Pacific and Caribbean coastal forests.
Huatulco harbor with its assortment of hotels and condos — far less in number than in Puerto Vallarta. A lovely location for spending quality time in the tropics.

Scenes from Puerto Vallarta (part 2)

Since we couldn’t get into the estuary for a boat tour, we got on the hop-on-hop-off bus to see the sights of Puerto Vallarta. This is a city designed for tourists, with lots of high-rise condos and hotels overlooking premium beachfront. The Malecon (beach boardwalk) is just one of many sites in this city displaying beautiful artwork. This is the “welcome to Puerto Vallarta” sign along the Malecon beachfront.

Block letters spelling out Puerto Vallarta are decorated with cartoons of children (see below).
A typical scene in Puerto Vallarta — narrow streets, lots of traffic, moving very slowly.
There is beautiful artwork on many of the buildings of Puerto Vallarta. This is the Michael Tolleson Robles gallery. Senor Tolleson Robles is an autistic savant, self-taught artist, who started painting less than a decade ago and has already completed 1500 gallery-worthy artworks, many of which he has painted in less than two hours.
Another typical feature often found in Central American cities is the nexus of electrical wiring that feeds the neighborhoods. How they ever find where the power outage is in any part of this network is amazing.

It takes a while to get out of the city proper on a big bus, but eventually we made it out to the coast road, where there were still more condos and hilltop resorts overlooking beautiful beaches. This particular one featured a flock of Brown Pelicans doing a lot of diving for fish in the shallows. Actually “pelican plopping” would be a more accurate description of their “dives” for the fish.

I don’t know its name, so I called this one “Pelican fishing beach”
Lift off after a successful dive.
Another resort beach at the end of our long coastal bus ride. This one features a fancy restaurant and is a popular stop-over for the hop-on-hop-off bus tourists to visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for that.
Back on the ship, we left the port in early afternoon and got a good view of the harbor and its many tourists hotels and condos.
Someone spotted a few Humpback whales paralleling the course of our ship. One of the whales breached just enough for me to grab a photo — and this is all we saw of the pod.
Just before dinner I grabbed this photo of sunset at sea on the way to our next port in Huatulco, Mexico.

San Diego port

Leaving by ship out of San Diego port after the sunset looks like this:

Just as the ship has backed away from Pier B (green building) — an impressive view of downtown SD.
A fly-by of gulls from the top deck of the ship.
Passing the outer most lighthouse in the San Diego harbor. Great sunset color in SD tonight!