Circling Phoenix

Phoenix  052As much as we’ve traveled, we hadn’t realized how enormous the city of Phoenix is.  It’s the fifth largest city in the U.S. and per the Phoenix Business Journal “the Phoenix metro area’s population surpassed 4.3 million in 2011”.  More than one person we met compared it to Los Angeles minus the ocean.

Phoenix  001So the campground that we chose to stay in, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, although quite pretty turned out not to have been the best choice in terms of getting around this huge and extremely spread out metropolitan area.  On the plus side, it was located in a large county park with lots of trails.Phoenix  002

But our priority was to visit family and friends, so first things first.  Our first visit was to Jon, Hector’s cousin son, who lives in Scottsdale.  And Scottsdale just happened to be the closest town to Fountain Hills where we stayed.

We met in the very trendy Old Scottsdale for some food and drinks.  This area has lots of great restaurants and nightclubs.  And Jon took us to one of those “secret” bars that is not recognizable from the front, this one was accessed through an unmarked door in an alley.  The place had a great mix of people and cool music.  But I cannot divulge its location.

1553243_10201980928497611_358732582_oPhoenix  051The next day there was a Denver Broncos game, and Jon invited us over to his place to watch the game.  So we spent a nice afternoon watching the game in good company.  And, as an added bonus, the Broncos won!

Once again, we really enjoyed spending quality time with one of our family’s younger generation and are really impressed, though not surprised.

In between visits, we hiked and biked a little around the campground.  While with Hector, Angel got a thorn from a cholla cactus in her paw.  Those thorns can be extremely hard to remove, but Hector was able to get it out incurring only slight pain himself. But it served as a reminder to carry a comb and tweezers in the desert.

Phoenix  007Next we visited Hector’s ex-boss and friend, Simon and his wife Janet at their lovely home in Litchfield, a suburb west Phoenix,  very, very far from our campground.  They moved back to the Phoenix area recently from New Jersey and are enjoying the weather tremendously as evidenced by their fabulous yard complete with pool, outdoor barbecue and wood-fired pizza oven.Phoenix  013Phoenix  008

We took Angel who got to run around the house with their two pups.  Dinner included a couple of different pizzas from the wood-fired oven, delicious!Phoenix  011

Phoenix  044Phoenix  017We’d reserved one day for a drive around the area and chose the Apache Trail for our journey.   The trail was originally used by Apache Indians and was later built up as a road to get building materials through the Superstition Mountains to the Roosevelt Dam, which was completed in 1911.Phoenix  039

Phoenix  021The Apache Trail begins on the east side of Phoenix and continues to the town of Globe, covering 48 miles of road, mostly unpaved.  It crosses through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest through mountains covered by desert plants.   The beautiful drive also passes by three man-made lakes.  We stopped at Canyon Lake, a beautiful little spot.Phoenix  022Phoenix  040

Phoenix  023We also stopped at the small town of Tortilla Flat, described as “an authentic remnant of an Old West town”, with a population of six.  It was a stagecoach stop starting in 1904 and still serves as a stop for many of those traveling across the Apache Trail.

And we were happy to become one of those travelers, stopping for a late lunch at the Superstition Saloon and Rest Area.  The place had lots of character, with dollar bills lining the walls, real saddles as bar stools …

and the cutest bathrooms ever!

The unpaved part of the road becomes quite steep and narrow at points, but the views of the cliffs and rocks are well worth it.  Not recommended for RV’s though.Phoenix  041Phoenix  045

Towards the end of the drive we reached Theodore Roosevelt Dam, built of bricks, and still the world’s largest masonry dam at almost 300 feet tall.  An impressive sight.Phoenix  046

Once we passed the dam, the sun started to set and the moon was rising, a pretty sight just a couple of days before the full moon.  But since it was getting dark, we decided to head back on the highway, which was a looong drive.

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We passed through Miami, Arizona. A faded copper boomtown.

The Apache Trail was truly a stunning place though, and very much worth the long drive.
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Phoenix  049On our last afternoon in the Phoenix area, I visited my friend Marisol.  We met in Tempe and had a wonderful Lebanese dinner together, catching up on many events that have taken place since we last got together.  So much so, that the restaurant started to turn off the lights while we were there 🙂

Phoenix  053All too soon, it was time to move on, as we were on a bit of a schedule headed to the big RV show in Quartzsite, Arizona.  And as our visit to Phoenix ended, we realized that we never actually set foot inside the actual city limits of Phoenix.  But we really enjoyed circling the town.

~ BrendaPhoenix  050


The Birds of Bosque del Apache

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Bosque del Apache is Spanish for Forest of the Apache or Apache’s Forest.  Hector and I had never heard of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge until I read an article about the refuge in Escapees Magazine.  With such an intriguing name we couldn’t pass this place up.

Church, San Antonio, N. M.

Church, San Antonio, N. M.

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The wildlife refuge is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.  But the biggest draw for us was the fact that tens of thousands of birds including ducks, geese and Sandhill Cranes winter there.  We were especially interested in seeing the cranes.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Bosque  069Bosque  061This used to be the land of the Apaches, and it’s hard to erase their tragic story from our minds as we travel around this area.  But the wildlife refuge is one success story:  the refuge has restored much of the previously depleted habitat, succeeded in attracting wildlife back to the area, and continues to protect the habitat and wildlife.

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Ross Geese

Ross Geese

As we’ve traveled around the country and discovered wildlife refuges, we’ve really grown to appreciate birds more than ever before.

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Ferruginous Hawk

During our visit we camped at the Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, in San Antonio, New Mexico, which I also read about in Escapees magazine.  Bosque  003

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The campground is basically a plain gravel parking lot with hookups, but we had a corner to ourselves, a great view of the mountains and the owner was extremely nice to us.  And the best part is that it’s only ten minutes away from the entrance to the wildlife refuge.

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Northern Harrier

The wildlife refuge straddles the Rio Grande, which was once a powerful river.  The river overflowed during heavy rains and sometimes changed its path as the waters rose.  This produced lush vegetation and food sources for wildlife and birds.

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When people inhabited the area they eventually decided that they needed to control the river to protect their livelihood.  So they built dams and irrigation ditches to manage the flow of water and divert it for crops and livestock and to protect their properties.Bosque  052

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Eventually, the river became just a stream and much of the plant life was unable to survive the drier environment.  This in turn caused much of the wildlife to leave the area in search of food elsewhere.

Bosque  008Bosque  065Then, in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps began work to restore the floodplains and in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge as part of a national system of lands dedicated to wildlife protection.Bosque  068Bosque  071

Bosque  064Staff at the refuge manages water to create wetlands, using gates and ditches to move the water from the river through fields, marshes and ponds, emulating the time when the Rio Grande flooded.  This creates habitats that support both year-round and migratory wildlife once again.Bosque  097

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

They also grow crops like corn and even mow the cornfields to create a more open area for the birds.  This makes the birds feel safer as they are feeding as it allows them to see if predators such as coyotes are approaching.  All of these efforts have paid off with many birds returning to the area.

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Ross Geese at dawn fly out

Ross Geese at dawn fly out

We witnessed the “shows” that occur each dawn and dusk.  In the morning, the birds are in the water, having spent the night there to protect themselves from predators. When the sun comes up, Snow and Ross’s Geese geese all fly out in unison out to the fields to feed. Shortly thereafter the Sandhill Cranes fly off in smaller groups.

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It’s incredible to see and hear thousands of birds taking flight and flying over your head.  In fact, I had an “incident” of bird poop falling on my head one day, fortunately I was wearing a hat (see photo of hat with bird poop above).   And I wore my bird poop hat religiously after that.

Bosque  011Bosque  094In the evening, the reverse occurs.  As the sun goes down, large groups of geese fly towards the water.  You see long strings of them in the sky, and slowly the water fills with birds.  The birds spend the night in the water, then, the next morning, the show begins again as they fly back out to the fields.

Curve Biller thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

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Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

There is a loop drive in the refuge that allowed us to get a different  perspective of the geese and cranes.  They were all busily feeding throughout the fields of the refuge. And we saw lots of   other birds, especially raptors.

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Sandhill Cranes after all the geese flow off

Sandhill Cranes after all the geese flew off

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We got up before sunrise every day to witness the bird “flyover”.  Although those early mornings meant braving some colder temperatures, it was well worth it.  Even without the birds, this place was just beautiful, especially in the morning and evening light!  And we were fortunate to be there until the day before the full moon.  The moon was spectacular.Bosque  098Bosque  034

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Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

We also joined in one of the ranger programs – a raptor tour.  A ranger and some volunteers, all experienced birders, amazed us with their knowledge and skill at spotting raptors.  Our sightings included Northern Harrier, Red-Tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Kestrels.

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American Kestrel

Bosque  029Bosque  063Once back on our own, we spotted more raptors plus Blue Heron, more ducks and mule deer.  It’s great to see that the work the refuge is doing has been so successful.

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

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Bosque  032I will never forget this place and the incredible birds.  If you love birds, wildlife, and/or nature, you should plan on visiting this wildlife refuge.  But do wear a hat!

~ BrendaBosque  010