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A view of Silver City from Boston Hill

At last! For those of you who have been asking, “When are you guys going to post again?!” — thank you for your interest and patience, and here it is . . .

We’re in sunny, southwestern New Mexico, in the small town of Silver City, settled in for a period of immobility after many months of travel. We headed to the Southwest this fall to find someplace mild to spend the winter and were just passing through, on our way from the Gila National Forest to some spot in Arizona possibly, when we came upon Silver City. What we were looking for was a place to settle in the lower desert where our small, 1 plus 2 half-seasons (summer, 1/2 spring, 1/2 fall) Rialta could easily maintain a toasty interior, but there was something about this small town of roughly 11,000. It seemed quiet, yet vibrant; relaxed and comfortable. The town sits on the high desert at about 6,000 ft, however, and the coming winter spelled cold nights so we weren’t thinking of staying for long — just for a little while  . . . a little while longer. Then we signed up for a month at our RV site and now we have moved out of our RV and into a small cabin for another month or so.

Clock in the Historic District

We chose a central location in town so we can walk most places we need to go like to the Co-op for groceries, the library, post office and bank. Putting miles only on our shoes, not on the RV. There are trail heads within walking distance too. One of our greatest enjoyments has nothing to do with the town, however, and everything to do with our immobility: high speed Internet. We have set aside our 3G and MiFi with their slow and, depending upon our location these months, often non-existent speed and their severely limited usage plans for high speed cable Internet and we are updating, uploading, downloading, and reveling in essentially limitless megabyte consumption, insatiable after our lengthy stringent diet.

Autumn color

We do come up for air, taking long walks daily as the seasons change from summer into fall, fall into winter under a usually brilliant blue sky.  The tall, deciduous trees here in town flamed and went out, scattering leaves the wind has scooped into bright yellow piles glowing against the soft brown of our cabin while, outside of town, the desertscape changes are more subtle.  Juniper and Piñon hold fast while the tall grasses, heads heavy with seed, have bled out their summer green, becoming frail, pale gold, russet and sienna skeletons, rustling when we brush by.

So, here we sit, temporarily tethered.  Tied by our craving for Internet connectivity which is in such opposition to both our love of travel and our love of nature which take us so often into places where we are cut off from our digital pursuits.  Given our propensity for moving though, it’s unlikely that this spells the end for our travels.  We’ve kept a travel journal and will be uploading excerpts and photos to fill in the territory covered over the spring and summer.  Stay tuned and it’s good to be back!

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Prickly Pear, defeated

We left Florida in early March, ahead of the heat, humidity and increasing number of bugs, but we had lingered in our leaving, hopping west along the Panhandle, touching down in a few state parks and in towns for supplies.  The bright white sand beaches continued along the gulf, but there was otherwise little resemblance to the natural, wild coast we’d so enjoyed in St Joseph State Park.  We’d spent only a week immersed in the peace, beauty and relative isolation of that state park, yet the drive along the coastal highway seemed a bombardment of bustle, smell, sound, clutter and litter of civilization.  To our left, the expansive blue ocean glistened, framed above by soft blue sky, below by white sand or scrubby dune, and then the sight would be wiped out by stretches of towering hotels beneath whose shadows small shops elbowed each other, toes to the highway berm, anxiously jostling for the tourist trade.  Clearly popular vacation destinations, these towns, so we drove on.

Brian and Annie, St Andrews State Park

St. Andrews State Park was our first stop.  Out on a point, with the gulf to one side, Grand Lagoon to the other, and Panama City looming from across St Andrews Bay, this was a busy park.  We rolled in, got the last available site that night and settled in amidst the thumping of music, laughter and yelling of other campers cooking dinner and telling fish tales.  We enjoyed the following day spent exploring the marshes and pine flatwoods, leaving the beaches, piers and waterways to the majority of the park’s human visitors.  These coastal state parks are little pockets of semi-natural environment tucked in amongst such a network of waterways, roads and development so that they seem like zoos, or museum dioramas — encapsulated examples of how life once was.  Wallowing gators were a common sight and we would come upon egrets, dozens at a time, many in showy breeding plumage, preening and nodding.  The place was film set pretty with palm trees and blue-green water, but long lines for the showers are not something we look for in an RV park, so we only stayed a couple of nights.

St Andrews State Park

Close to Pensacola, closer still to a busy naval air station, Big Lagoon State Park was nonetheless a much more relaxing and interesting place to visit and, at that time of the year at least, we had trails mostly to ourselves.  After stocking up on food in Pensacola at the Everman Co-op we stayed mostly within the state park’s boundaries during our week and a half stay.  Our’s was a grassy, back-in RV site stopping just short of a freshwater marsh.  Tall scrub to either side, generous space between sites and no one behind or directly across, created a private and quiet retreat, perfect for observing the wildlife that visited, unaware or uncaring of our presence within the RV.  The large rear window gave us a fine, close-up view of the marsh where we watched all sorts of birds feeding on seeds and insects.  One afternoon, a cracking of twigs and rustling of leaves drew ever closer.  Our dog, Annie, listened, head tilted while seated tall, frozen.  The noise grew louder, closer and the three of us crowded into the open doorway, two of us hoping we weren’t about to get a visit from a skunk.  Shrubs and grasses began quivering at the edge of our clearing and there it was, snuffling across the grass, an armadillo.  Sighs of relief from us, astonished expression on Annie’s face.  She’d never seen one.

A pine cone is an acceptable substitute for a tennis ball

We followed trails from sandy beach, to boardwalks over tidal salt marshes, through pine flats and beside freshwater marshes.  One stretch of trail ran several feet higher than the marsh to either side and we came to a spot where the path was muddied and etched with the dragging of a heavy body — an alligator crossing.  We picked up our pace.

A sandy trail beneath Slash Pines took us out to a pond where we watched Water Moccasins in a courting ritual.  A stroll in the pink light of evening took us out to the Big Lagoon where egrets were perched high in trees, their beautiful breeding plummage streaming out from their bodies in the breeze.  Ospreys swooped and dove in display near a nest-building in progress.

Boardwalk in Big Lagoon

Boardwalk over marsh, Big Lagoon State Park

Jets often roared overhead, heading to and from nearby NAS Forrest Sherman Field, home base of the US Navy’s Blue Angels and a training base for Navy, Coast Guard and Marine pilots.  Nights were quiet except for the night we heard scrabbling at the back of our RV.  A raccoon, reminding us that we’d forgotten to close the gate on the rear cargo area.

Purple pin marks Big Lagoon State Park



One more stop before leaving the state: a day trip to Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park where kilns once processed tar from southern Yellow Pines for maritime and other uses.  No sign of industry now as we walked a paved trail and boardwalk that took us through quiet pine woods, wet prairie where last season’s pitcher plants were harmless husks, above marsh and then out over the bayou.  We had the place to ourselves the entire time.  We ate a picnic lunch, watching birds, the fish and crabs in the bayou, the wind in the reeds and grasses.

Tarkiln Bayou



Beside the bayou

Spending part of winter in Florida is something we’d like to do again some year, but now we headed for Highway 10 and Alabama, sorry to be leaving, yet excited to be on to something new . . .
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St. Joseph Bay in the morning

Updating this blog is on our list of ToDos, but being down in the south has seeped into our bones and slooooowed us way down. A combination of warm sun, the relaxed pace and the drawl in Southerners’ speech — our motto is now “What’s the hurry”.

We spent a week on a narrow strip of land off of the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico. St Joseph Peninsula State Park is about 6 miles, as the crow flies across sheltered St Joseph Bay, from the small town of Port St. Joe. It is a 20 mile drive from that nearest heavily populated area. There are lots of residential, waterfront properties on the peninsula, an incredible number of them for sale, but there is none of the boardwalk, hotels, restaurants, etc., sort of commercialization, congestion, noise and bustle as with so many beaches. And once you pass the State Park’s gates, you leave even that behind.

Click to enlarge image

February is a wonderful time to visit northern Florida. Few bugs, no crowds of tourists and comfortable temperatures. When we picked up our Florida State Parks guide and said, “let’s try this place,” we had no idea how lucky we were in our selection.
St Joseph Peninsula State Park preserves the natural landscapes of gulf and bay, sea grasses, beaches, dunes and inland coastal woods and marsh. With the bay to one side, the gulf to the other, the peninsula is so narrow that we felt that we could stretch out our arms and just about touch the water to each side. Camping in the park enabled us to live within a wild, natural coastal environment; to live beside the abundant beauty — scenic, plant and animal alike — 24 hours a day.

Wading in the Gulf in February

A wooden walkway channels human traffic from the campground across and, more importantly, above the sand, to protect the large, but fragile dunes. As we crest the dunes, the wind suddenly picks up. The fresh salty breeze plasters our clothes to our sides as we come down off of the boardwalk, kick off our flip-flops and sink our toes into cool sand so snowy white that it hurts the eyes in the full bright sun.  We make our way to the shore, dodging bits of broken shell that never seem to hurt our feet even when we do step on them, and begin wading in the gentle, light, clear green waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The colors — white sand, pale green water, deep blue sky — are so unusual in our day to day experience. Those colors soothe, the light warms and the combination of it all has finally brought us the bone-deep relaxation we’ve craved.

Young ghost crab

Looking over the dunes

White-tailed deer

Dunes

Marsh at dawn

We’d awake in the morning to the sound of waves crashing on the nearby gulf shore while, closer in, the air was filled with myriad birdsong and the drip-drip of heavy morning dew on the roof of the RV. The air was still cool, but not for long once the sun cleared the horizon. We’d get up, grab our Camelbacs, binocs and cameras; snap Annie’s leash on and make sure she had her ball; and head out the door. Mist usually hung lightly just above the marshes and birds called everywhere from shrubs and treetops. Mating season is in full swing here. Since arriving down south, we’ve watched all sorts of courting behaviors from the preening of Great Egrets in full breeding plumage, to Osprey showily diving and swooping or carrying large sticks to their nests, to (very large!) Water Moccasins slithering in a slow dance over and around each other.

Morning dew

Morning dew is so heavy it drips like a light rain and we have to wrap a protective hand over cameras and binocs as we walk under tall palms and pines.

Bayside

Brian & Annie (w/ her ball)

We’d like to see more of Florida, but February’s heat is the most we feel we can take. Daytime highs of 60s in the sun with humidity — that’s our limit. We hope to come back soon, another winter, to explore more of this state.

Low tide

Peninsula woods

The effort to reestablish Longleaf Pine forests requires fire. Throughout our travels in the south, we’ve seen large tracts of land and foliage turned orange and black by fire. The peninsula is no different. Fire destroys in order to restore, clearing out overgrowth and invasives and creating habitat for native animals and plants to re-inhabit. We came upon a controlled burn on one of our walks. Volunteer fire crews worked with “prescribed burn” specialists to create and monitor this blaze. They moved along with deliberation and no haste, settlng fire to the undergrowth, monitoring and moving steadily on down the peninsula. They burned hundreds of acres that day. Orange flames leapt from one plant to the next, devouring the lowest plants and clawing 15 feet up the trunks of Longleaf Pines. The heat was tremendous, as we stood some 20 feet from the blaze.

Controlled burn

The air has just cleared, embers are still lightly smoking here, but already birds have returned to the high branches of the pines.

After the burn

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We’re on the road again, having left cold, snowy Maryland behind last week in search of sun and warmer temperatures to the south. It is great to be mobile again, but it was hard leaving family behind.

We lost our Millie just over a month ago. Annie feels the loss of her buddy keenly and we all have found it hard to readjust to life on the road without her.

Brian, Annie & Millie

Brian, Annie & Millie on a picnic in Maryland, Oct. 2010

We had originally intended to stop in the Carolinas for a month or so, but the temps were still too cool so we continued down to Georgia, to do some exploring of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Nights have been cold, but the days warmer than further north, with highs in the 50s to low 60s. There has been lots of rain, but brilliant sun, too.
Okefenokee was a great place to visit. We spent just a couple of days there and saw only a smidge of it. It was a good time to visit. Too early and cold for the hordes of mosquitos and tourists. We strolled along the most popular trails — easy access routes — rarely passing another visitor.
We walked trails that wandered through forests of towering Longleaf Pines which rose from a dense ground covering of Saw Palmettos. These forests, once covering vast areas of the southeast, are carefully managed now in an effort to re-establish their dominance in at least some areas. Undergrowth is periodically burned away to allow young Longleafs a chance to grow.

Longleaf Pine Forest

Lisa beside Saw Palmettos

On the second day, we took a guided boat tour. We bought tickets for the earliest tour, 9:30 a.m., and found ourselves the only customers for that ride. It was crisply cold with a bright sun doing it’s best to melt the light frost. We wore windproof clothes, but felt the sting of icy wind on our faces and on fingertips not protected by fingerless gloves as we were born along on a large tour boat — just the two of us and our own private guide.

Brian on the tour boat

Our guide was knowledgeable about the Okefenokee and told us he was a 7th generation “swamper”, his family having lived in and around the Okefenokee for all of that time. He stopped when we wanted to take photos, answered all of our questions and turned off the motor for an extended period of time to let us absorb the absolute peace of the Okefenokee in the still of the winter’s day.

Great Egret

One of many alligators seen that morning

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Interested in seeing more of the Klamath Basin’s refuge system, we went to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge in California, just 25 miles from Klamath Falls. Here’s Brian in Oregon. A step over the double yellow line and he’s in California.

The issue of water rights is a touchy subject with such a strong conflict of interest between agricultural usage and nature. For thousands of years, Klamath tribes lived in harmony with the marshes, but European settlers came, saw agricultural opportunities and drained.  They “reclaimed” 80% of the marshlands over a period of a half dozen decades, causing a drastic reduction in waterfowl populations and water quality. Reclamation?!  What an excellent example of the term euphemism.

Objectively speaking, the Klamath Project is impressive engineering, construction and management. Irrigation is a major part of the landscape in the Basin. Roads, railways and irrigation canals crisscross each other over the patchwork of farm fields.

Klamath Project map -- from usbr.gov site

Tule Lake is much smaller than it used to be and farmland marches right up to its edges as can be seen in the following photo. There is a dam on the Lost River in Oregon built to divert water to the Klamath River in order to prevent flooding of farmland surrounding Tule Lake in California during rainy periods.

Tule Lake & farm fields

At one corner of the lake is Discovery Marsh.  We visited the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center across the street and learned about the program of rotation that has been implemented since people realized that marshes need change, not stability.  Some of the leased land beside the lake that was being farmed exclusively is now in rotation — sometimes farmland, sometimes marsh.  Restoring the “reclaimed” marsh takes a lot of effort and management, but the idea is to simulate the periodic creation and destruction that occurs in natural marshlands.  So much effort for so little marsh, but it is a start.

Discovery Marsh, in lower half of image. Tule Lake is the pale blue water.

White-faced Ibis

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We headed out of Skagit County, Washington this morning, excited to be finally on the road and on with our adventure, but sorry to leave. . . again. It’s just 3 months since we moved back down from Alaska, with the intention of moving on as quickly as possible, but we soon remembered why we liked the area so well and stayed so many years. Skagit county is a beautiful — no, make that stunning — county, from the shores of the Salish Sea and the farmland panorama of The Valley, to the county’s eastern border well into the Cascade Mountains. Nine months of relentless cloudy skies and rain-drenched, lush landscapes give way this time of year to sunny skies, drought conditions and vast dust clouds blowing across fields from the wheels of farm vehicles in the Valley. Unless you’ve lived here, you can’t understand that this area has a wonderful climate — year-round.

"Hay For Sale", Sedro Woolley, WA

We saw these two men playing cards beside their “store” in the Thrifty Foods Store parking lot just before we left today and we asked to take their picture since, to us, they represent Skagit County at it’s best – timeless, relaxed and real.

Transplants from the East coast (Maryland), we have, over the course of about a decade and a half, explored the county and much of the state, as well as a lot of the Northwest region and, sometime/where along the way, we truly became Washingtonians. And now we sit in a campground just the other side of the Columbia River in Oregon, taking a moment to say good-bye. Good-bye to the Valley’s fresh, local produce; the beautiful walks; the salty air by the bays; the awesome power of the Skagit River; the old growth forest in Rockport upriver; and the creatures, human and otherwise, whom we’ve encountered. It’s also a lifestyle that we’re leaving.

We will also miss our favorite place for lunch: the Rachawadee Thai Cafe in Mount Vernon. Open the door to see a narrow aisle between the brick wall to the right and, to the left, just ten red-topped, low stools before a long stainless steel counter that divides the cafe lengthwise.

We’ve often enjoyed the excellent food in addition to the performance art, during the lunchtime rush hour, of 4 people working in coordinated, efficient and good-natured concert to slice, stock, clean, cook and serve delicious food, all the while providing excellent customer service. We will think fondly of the times we’ve left the cafe with our mouths pleasantly afire, having ordered 3 out of 4 stars heat per entree. We made sure to go there for lunch yesterday where we ordered enough food for leftovers for tonight’s dinner.

This evening, with the sun going down after what seemed a sweltering drive in the sunny low 70s, the air is freshening with a breeze over the grassy RV sites surrounded by trees as we sit on our lawn chairs, the dogs lying contentedly near our feet. Here we are today — where will we be tomorrow? We have no definite answer to that question and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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