Coati Gang

Cutie-pies.
Cutie-pies.

How could I forget to post these snapshots of the gang of coatis? I lost track of my files between two cameras is how. Burt and I are pointed towards Baja. The gNash is parked in a rest area on I-8 just outside of Yuma. Tomorrow we will shop for supplies and Christmas presents for our gang of girls. I have to spend that  money from the fundraiser concert we did at the end of last season. Ooooh the pressure. What should I get? What do they want? Ack ack ack.

Which way should we go? Which way did they go?
Which way should we go? Which way did they go?
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Northern Jaguar Project Reserve Work

Here’s my daily diary from our work trip into the Northern Jaguar Project reserve. I way ‘our’ work but mostly Burt worked with Randy. I helped here and there. My mind kind of started feeding on itself after 8 days without contact beyond the two very male companions and the dogs. At that point my journal stops. I’ll write a separate post soon on where my mind went.

Babisal
Babisal. Our base camp.

11/24/17: Black Friday: We arrived in Sahuaripa late Tuesday afternoon. It was a late start because the truck batteries were dead. No idea why. Our goal was to meet Randy the manager of the Northern Jaguar Project (NJP) Reserve on Tuesday and drive in on Wednesday to start our work. Despite an array of logistical difficulties from surveyors and cowboys and trucks and concerned staff and the 41 mile 6 hour drive we made it in the day after our original goal. One cowboy was too shy to ride with us. The surveyors hadn’t planned to take a whole day just to arrive at their surveying location. The original truck didn’t have room for the dogs. All problems were solved by the very able Randy while Burt and I explored Sahuaripa and read books. Sahuaripa takes twenty minutes to explore so we read a lot. Only one person yelled at us to go home. Twenty-four hours and a bunch of work related phone calls for Randy and into the wilds we headed.

Before of the water tank
Before of the water tank
Before of the water tank
Before of the water tank

Last night we arrived with a truck laden with tools, food, dogs, and humans. On the way we passed two raccoons, a bunch jack rabbits, and a black tail disappearing into the bush. The owner of the black tail to forever remain a mystery. Could it have been a cat? A smallish cat to be sure. Maybe it was a thinly furred skunk? Or a road runner on steroids. All six of us (Randy, Burt, Cholo, Elvis, Olive, and me) were road weary. We unloaded our bedding and headed straight to our cots.

Today is Black Friday. We celebrated by shopping for building supplies at an abandoned ranch house. Nobody drove a harder drive to get a better bargain than the six of us. An hour later the truck was full of lumber.

Recycled wood
Recycled wood
Black Friday shopping
Black Friday shopping

11/25/17: Rancho Babisal: It’s our second full day in the reserve. The three of us are sharing chores. There’s food to cook, water to heat for our showers, general tidying. I try not to fall into the traditional woman’s role but it’s impossible to avoid it. The men are both manly. They have a lot of hard labor and the best way I can help is to cook and clean. I have by no means done all the cooking just more than usual. Today I made homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Randy’s favorite. Ours, too.

Yesterday the boys collected lumber from the old ranch house while I hiked a side canyon. Just a short ways up the canyon I sat at a puddle of water and watched the butterflies with Elvis and Olive. Cholo, Randy’s dog, prefers to help the boys. He is obsessed with tools. Cholo grabs shovels and barks at wheelbarrows and throws his 6 pound around wherever he can meanwhile Olive and Elvis prefer to wander and find stuff to eat. So Cholo helped load lumber onto the truck and we gazed at a quiet pool. Later on it was a bunch of site work. Some tree limbs came down and the weeds around the tank were cut back. I made tunafish sandwiches.

Today the door was cut and beaten through the old water tank we are converting into a casita. The pile is a reinforced concrete frame filled with concrete block and coated in mortar. It’s a tough SOB. Randy took a grinder and impact drill to the outline on both sides of the wall and then each of us took turns with the sledge hammer. I rotated in for five swings for every thirty taken by Randy and Burt. Poco a poco. When we cleared out enough concrete we cut the rebar with a battery-powered SawzAll. Next we cleaned up the escombro (debris). I found a desiccated lizard and a desiccated frog and scores of dried grasshoppers in the detritus accumulated in the bottom of the tank over the years. Yesterday we rescued a six-legged tarantula from the inside. No telling how long he’d been in there or who he was fighting with. Maybe he fell in with tree limb. You might imagine he was sporting three and three legs per side but he was four and two. His missing legs will grow back if he lives long enough to molt again. While Randy was grinding Burt built some shelves for our casita. The ranch has two bedroom-style casitas with three cots each. There are no hooks or shelves in either place. It’s a nuisance to be here for an extended stay with no place to store personal items. Burt, of course, set about solving that problem as soon as we arrived.

Window opening
Window opening
Door
Door

When there’s no room for me to help with the building I’ve been practicing my fiddle, taking short walks, and keeping up on writing this account. The Galapagos got away from me. It took over a week to relay our European trip and I simply had no time to do an accounting of the Galapagos to my satisfaction. Besides, I’m heading back there in February. As part of my host duties I’ll have to write a trip report. I think the laptop will be with me to make it easier to get the job done. Yesterday I saw to trogons in the late afternoon just a quarter mile from here. They flew right in and gave me a lookey-loo.

The days have been warm and cloudless. Night cool rapidly and drive us to our bunks early.

11/26/17: Trogons: It’s day three. Last night I was reflecting on the news that a long time acquaintance had recently taken her life. I started counting up the number of suicides I knew. Too many. Then I started thinking of the dead from all causes. I recently finished reading The Hunger Games. I imagined dead people’s faces lit up in the sky as I though of them just like in the book. It wasn’t sad. I was just thinking of people. I figured they would be glad I was taking stock of them and keeping track.

Vivid dreams seep in every night. My mother’s birthday was a couple of days ago and last night I dreamt of her for the first time since her death nearly a year ago. She came to me in a Cat In The Hat scenario. When I was a child the Cat in The Hat story filled me with angst. Misbehaving children and a mother off running errands. If you read this you know the cat was instigator and also cleaned everything up in the nick of time. It was all too familiar to reality. Mom would leave me with my brothers and go to work. All she wanted was a clean house when she returned. It was not possible. Mom was always irritated by our mess. So in last night’s dream I was somewhere and it was a mess. I felt anxiety. Dread filled me as I thought, she’s coming, she’s coming. The disarray was so overwhelming I didn’t even try to clean. I also remember thinking clearly, not my mess anyway, why should I clean it? Then boom mom showed up. She sparkled with joy like Glinda the Good Witch. She didn’t see the mess, she only saw me. Mom radiated maternal love and said, I’m so happy to see you. I woke up.

Mom really liked cats and nature. Think she came by for a visit? I’m optimistic. Maybe it’s just the extended removal from the distractions of everyday life that allows these thing stop happen. There’s no phone, no texting, no Facebook, no Instagram, no socializing. I work, I clean, I cook, I write, I draw, I sleep. The nights are long and quiet. I wonder who else will come in my Dreams as the nights lengthen.

Burt and I are developing a routine. I cook dinner early and we go for an evening walk knowing that dinner is ready whenever we return. We leave the dogs in our cabaña so we have a better chance of seeing wildlife. They get enough time roaming all day. The sun sets early in the canyon walls at Babisal but darkness takes a long time to arrive. Last night we heard a pair of trogons calling from a grove of mesquite trees about a mile from camp. I used my phone to try and lure them in but had no luck. Trogons are large birds with long tails and bright red bellies. Males are sparkling green and females are gray with a white tear drop on their faces. They sound like frogs when they call. Darkness finally came and we headed home by the light of the half moon along the stream bed that passes for a road out here.

Lunch
Lunch
Six-legged tarantula.
Six-legged tarantula.

The weather continues unchanged. It feels like we are in suspended animation. Every day warm and cloudless. Every night clear and cool. Only the perceptible change of the moon tells us time is passing. Today I did laundry in a bucket and made a lunch of chicken salad wraps dressed with jalapeño/apricot jam and pecans. The house wifey chores are chapping my hands. I always tell Burt this is why I hate washing dishes and it’s true. The boys continued beating out the concrete for windows in the casita under construction. I made time-lapse videos of the sledge hammering. The boys move really fast in time-lapse.

11/27/17: Coatimundi: Yesterday afternoon we celebrated the victory over reinforced concrete with a quick trip to the Aros River. Aros means hoop in Spanish and the river is named for it’s looping bends. There is a small intermittent stream near camp. I presume its called Babisal Creek or something similar. This creek has substantially diminished since we were here a month ago . Despite its small size it still attracts a lot of birds and insects but we wanted to see the NJP reserve’s main artery. The Aros is a permanent river that grows to a formidable size with winter rains and the summer monsoons. There are fish and freshwater otters among the jaguars and puma. Of course, most all the area’s wildlife prefer the shady banks of the free flowing river. It’s only ten miles away from our camp but those ten miles take an hour and a half to drive. An neck straining, head banging hour and a half. An hour and a half of Olive and Elvis walking all over me while I try to avoid head injury and vomiting in the sorry excuse for a back seat of the extended cab.

All five of us arrived intact to find a generator at the government gaging station running. Ambiance was lacking. We can’t complain since we run a generator to provide power for our tools but it was a disappointing moment in our brief visit to the river. We all walked upstream and away from the noise. Randy fished. Burt swam. I scanned the opposite bank for life with my binoculars. Soon German from the gaging station saw us and turned off his generator and came down for a visit. The station is fully digital now but there is still a full time employee. The staff work three week stretches away from home. I guess German was ready for some company. He invited us for coffee. We didn’t go but it was because of confusion about who did or did not leave gates to the reserve open. On our drive to the river we found cattle on the reserve because one of the station operators left open gates. I didn’t want to get in between Randy and his work so we decided to decline coffee. Oops. It wasn’t German. It was the other guy. Oh well. German’s used to his solitude.

Not much else happened. We returned to camp and ate dinner.

This morning Randy taught us how to use the emergency communication device and then headed back to town. Burt and I can send an SMS message to Randy (or anyone’s) cell phone if we we need help. Or carrots. Or coffee. The messages are pretty pricey so I think we’ll try to focus on emergencies. Like chocolate. Randy is organizing his workers and gathering more materials for the casita. Our load was too heavy to bring it all in the first trip.

Burt and I took a four hour, four mile walk down our creek. The birding was markedly better. There’s been a slightly perceptible cooling and an increase in humidity. Maybe more birds are out enjoying the refreshing air. Maybe it was a coincidence. It could also be we are getting more familiar with the terrain and can see more things in the thorny canopy. While we were fussing over flycatchers and vireos I heard a crunching from a long way off. There was a loud thing heading our way. Who would dare be so loud. A cow? A human? A pig? It came closer and closer. I was almost scared. Burt and I whispered back and forth. Did you hear that? What is it? It’s so loud! This thing had no caution. It was breaking branches and rustling palm leaves and headed right for us. Burt figured it out before we saw it. He said, “I’ll bet it’s a coatimundi.” He was right it was a pack, flock, pile of coatimundi. We saw them before they say us. Then we made eye contact and they scurried up a tree or four across the creek bed from us. We got in as close as we could and watched the show.

Coati appear to be a cross between monkeys and raccoons. They climb up and down trees and use their tails to gain further purchase as they maneuver from tree top to tree top. I had only seen one in the wild and it was a human-habituated old loner that let me hand feed it a fig newton. This group was a tribe of females and juveniles. I counted seven at one time but suspect half as many more were hidden from view as they scurried up and down trees trying to get a bead on us. I snapped a lot of photos. Eventually one stood guard and the rest came down and ran in the opposite direction of us. There was much chitter chatter as they planned the escape. I did not know coatimundi climb up and down trees facing the direction of motion. They look funny headed face first down a palm trunk. Not the way a cat would do it. Or me.

We ate leftover chicken salad for lunch in the shade of a mesquite. I sat on a rock far from vegetation and kind of sunny. Burt sat on a comfy stone in deep shade and picked up a bunch of stickers. I told him my previous solo hikes had taught me to avoid all vegetation. Stickers and bugs like the shade, too.

Spaghetti tonight.

11/28/17: Great Horned Owl Eats Bat: The day almost slipped away without writing. After a breakfast of fried spaghetti Burt carried two chairs down to the creek crossing about a ¼ mile from camp. We left the dogs in our casita. I sat for an hour and a half and counted birds. Burt went back to work after a half an hour. It was pretty good birding from about 10:00 to 11:00. The clear skies are gone. Mare’s in the morning were followed by mackerel skies in the afternoon. We can only wonder if a cold front or rain might be on the way.

After lunch I helped clean demolition debris. Burt and I set the first rafter yesterday afternoon. Now Burt was working on window frames and cleaning up the rough openings. We also practiced cutting glass. Neither of us had ever cut glass. It proved pretty easy with a glass cutter. Now we know. Burt will be building windows from scratch for the new casita.

After three days of concentrated effort on some Irish fiddle tunes I learned at this year’s Portal Irish Music Week I was finally ready to invite Burt to play along with me. It’s always difficult to incorporate new material. There’s a number of factors in play. I have to like it and play it well enough. Burt has to like it. It has to hold our interest for more than a few days. Our of the three tunes I played Burt was keen on two. That’s a pretty good ratio. I’ll keep working them over and see how they develop. It’s been years since I added three tune sin one week. Lots of free time is bearing results.

This evening we returned to the chairs on the creek. Dinner was made and ready when we were. We sat at dusk watching bats and listening to birds. I thought I saw a pipit land in the sand a few yards away. I’ve never had a confirmed a pipit sighting so I played the pipit call. Just then a great horned owl landed on the leafless palm trunk thirty feet away. We watched the owl as it scanned up and down the creek from its perch. Bats flew back and forth. The pipit recording was quietly peep peep peeping. Just as I wondered if great horned owls eat bats the owl launched off its perch and flew straight at us. Immediately over our heads, not four feet away, the owl intercepted a bat. We heard the impact. In one instant there were two things flying over us and in the next just one figure flying away. A few minutes later another bat resumed hunting insects. Gobsmacked we walked back to camp to wear our Thai peanut veggies on brown rice.

11/29/17 Just another day in the wilderness: I sat by the creek and counted more birds today. Burt and I were by ourselves again except for a brief visit by a pair of the NJP reserve cowboys. The cowboys came by for water for their horses. They and some surveyors are working a couple of hours from here. We played music and worked. Not much else happened.

11/30/17: Last Day of November: November was full of a disorienting array of destinations. I’ve awoken up in 15 different places this month. Burt and I are at over fifty spots for 2017. This year will be our most mobile in all eight years of calling ourselves the Gypsy Carpenters. The travel was both work and pleasure related. In some ways it was the perfect representation of what we imagined our lives as gypsies would be. Our more normal year of a work destination in summer and Mexico in winter is far more sedantary.

The stay in the reserve has been a goal of Burt’s for four years. Now that it is happening I asked him if he had a new five year or ten year plan. It’s annual appraisal time in camp. At first there was no clear next but then he said, “We could drive to Ecuador.” I’m all for a drive of South America. It’s ambitious and requires a complete reconfiguration of our traveling outfit. We’d need a stout camper van. We’d also need to wait for Mimi and Elvis to graduate to the next level. Olive alone is a manageable traveling companion. She fits nearly anywhere. So no rush. Lots of time to make plans.

12/1/17: Randy Back: The night before last Randy returned. I thought I heard his truck through my earplugs but the Olivis and the Burt didn’t wake up so I figured it was my imagination or not worth worrying about. Morning came and there was Cholo de la Cholla and Randy in camp and ready to go. Burt whipped up a breakfast of sweet potato fries and eggs and they set to work. I sat by the creek and sketched.

The weather is ,such the same. Warm days, cool nights. For several days there have been wispy clouds in the upper atmosphere. Rarely a breeze. Word came in over the emergency texting device that the surveyors were lost. Not lost lost. Lost in the sense that they couldn’t find the place they were hired to survey. This gave us all a good and slightly bitter laugh. If the surveyors didn’t know where they were supposed to be how could anyone? Maybe it’s the Bermuda Triangle of the NJP Reserve? In classic wilderness style Randy decided to ignore the text and hope the problem went away.

After lunch Burt and I took a hike up to the Babisal box canyon. Last month when we came in to scope out the job Turtle and Randy took our group up to a waterfall and hidden spot of lush vegetation. They call this spot the spiritual heart of the reserve. It’s possible to climb up the waterfall and further explore the canyon but last time I chose to stay dry and not see the rumored banana tree above. This time the water was much lower and I was ready to be wet. Burt and I took off our shoes. I rolled up my cuffs to over my knees and Burt want naked below. We waded into the sandy bottomed pool to the base of the waterfall. Last time we were here I saw leeches in the water. Once upon a time the thought of leeches would have made me nauseous. Yesterday I laughed. Burt’s parts must have looked more desirable than my lower legs. We reached the other side and sat down to put our shoes back on. My pants were not rolled high enough. Burt said he and Howard had discussed this phenomenon in the Galapagos. It seems whenever you roll up your pants they just get wet anyway, so why bother?

I climbed up the dry face of the waterfall to the next level. From here I could see the banana tree. This tree had become a minor obsession for me since I had heard about its nearly ripe bananas a month ago. Those wild bananas must be the best bananas in the world. To get to the tree required a stemming move across a slimy dihedral with running water in the crack. Stymied again I watched as Burt made the move. I couldn’t risk it with my slow moving brain and body. It was a twenty foot fall if I slipped. So Burt disappeared over the edge and I got comfortable. The move taunted me. I almost went for but I kept remembering I was now a mile and a half from camp, halfway up a slot canyon, and a further six hour drive from help. It was not the place to do something silly.

Burt returned with the news that the reserve’s cowboys must have gotten to the tree first. The bananas of last month were gone and all that remained was a very small bunch of unripe fruit. The routinely cowboys climb up the canyon to maintain the water supply for Babisal Camp. Or so they say. I think it’s because they want the world’s best bananas.

With my heavy cotton pants soaked to the thigh we headed back to the abandoned upper Babisal ranch and made our way up the next drainage. This is a large creek bed immediately adjacent to the one we just hiked. Where the main creek still had water and large leafy plants this one was completely dry. The plant life was different and there was no sign of recent animal activity. In the span of a few hundred yards we had entered a different world. We hiked until we reached a stretch of massive boulders. My pants were dry within twenty minutes. Like Burt and Howard said, “Why bother?” In two spots over the course of a half mile we found small, fetid puddles under gigantic rocks. Burt and I threaded our way over the boulder choke until we grew weary. It was a lot of rock climbing moves to find only more rocks and late in the day. Randy was on dinner duty. It was time to head home and hope dinner was ready when we arrived.

Dinner was ready and tasty. We rewarded Randy with some songs and headed to bed at 6:45. A word about our beds. Burt and I are sleeping on twin burlap cots. The cots are standard ranch beds in rural Mexico. A length of burlap is suspended between two lengths of lumber. Moveable X-braces at each end serve as legs. The cots are foldable and sturdy. They are easy to move out of the way if you have only one room. There is no room for two in these beds, if you get what I mean. Conjugal visits have certain limitations. There’s not much room. They there’s the burlap. Add to the ambiance a rickety feel when a kind of ‘motion’ occurs. Yesterday there were audible creaks. And I don’t mean creaks from me or Burt. I thought the whole bed sought to collapse. I was not on top. Funny but not rewarding. Again, I presume you get what I mean. Laughing your way through the act of love can fuel your lover’s fire or diminish their enthusiasm. I thought my man would never wrap up even as he joined the giggling. Some might suggest we take the party to nature. I say, “Have you seen the thorns and stickers out there? Or the ants?” Not inviting.

Roof
Roof

 

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Up in the Wild

Old Ranch near Babisal
Old Ranch near Babisal

Babisal Ranch is at the heart of the Norther Jaguar Project’s reserve. The cows are long gone but the original structure is used as a kitchen and two new adobe and stone guest rooms have been added. Burt and I will turn an old water tank into a third guest room. Year round these facilities are used by cowboys and biologists and other visitors. Overflow people stay in tents or hammocks. On this trip Burt and I scored a cabin of our own. The beds are traditional rancho cots made from burlap suspended between two Xs. With a Thermarest pad the bed is pretty comfortable but it moves a lot and the motion made me a little queasy. More Galapagos training I told myself.

Our group consisted of two donors, Mark and Monica, a photographer, Charles, us, and Randy and Turtle, NJP’s staff/guides. After the 12 hours of driving Burt and I headed straight to bed after dinner and didn’t really get a good look at our companions. We were grateful for the warm food and welcome gifts of NJP hats and personal napkins. In the morning we had some more filling and tasty vegan food and then piled in a pickup for a nearby hike.

All seven humans and three dogs rode up the steep mile or so to another defunct ranch. We would hike up the a tight, wet canyon and pass some camera traps and see what some people consider the spiritual heart of the reserve. In fifteen bumpy minutes we reached our starting point. The abandoned ranch buildings were full of wood perfect for our project. It will be fun to deconstruct and reconstruct out in the wilderness. The old wood will look beautiful in a new situation.

Pretty quickly we reached a camera trap. Randy and Turtle removed the data chip and tried to find a camera that could reveal its secrets. There are a few different models of cameras in use at the reserve and they all have their own way of formatting chips. Luckily our third and last try at reading the chip was successful. The chips and batteries are changed out every one to three months. Since this particular trap’s chip had been changed four mountain lions, a few bobcats, and an ocelot had passed by the trap. The ocelot passed just the day before we did. Smiles all around thinking the ocelot was nearby watching us. As Randy says, I haven’t seen a jaguar but I know they’ve seen me. I like that feeling.

Our walk to the canyon wasn’t more than half an hour. We could have gone further but we didn’t feel like swimming and mud crawling so we sat around and enjoyed the scene. I visited the spiders. Snacks and water and getting to know you conversations were had by all. After people were satisfied with the hanging around we had a choice, return home by the trail we had taken in or canyoneer our way down canyon. We chose the adventure route. It was pretty rough going but Randy was a competent guide and very able assistant. Burt and I did fine on our own. We mostly traveled ahead of the group. It took us much longer to reach the truck going down the boulder filled stream bed but it was also more fun. The dogs have a different version. One ran home on the trail. Another was lifted through the worst spot. The third either jumped or fell twenty feet into a pool. She was not happy. Eventually it was just a stream bed and we all dispersed. Burt and Randy went to inventory wood and I wandered downstream alone.

At the truck point we all reunited. Burt and I opted to avoid the truck bed for the downhill jostle and walked back to camp along the stream. It was a tussocky and watery route back. It was noticeable that there were not a lot of birds. When we finally reached camp it was time for lunch and a siesta.

That evening we took a silent sunset walk. We heard an elf owl. Or was it pygmy? I’ve forgotten. Tracks were seen in the creek bed sand. Quail flew up. We thought they were scaled quail but they were Elegant Quail. Similar but not the same. Dinner and bed.

The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
The trap camera showed us an ocelot had passed by the day before.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Boulder crawl down the canyon.
Our room.
Our room.
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Getting There

Farmer is a bonny companion.
Farmer is a bonny companion.

Sunday last Burt and I slipped away from Portal at 5 AM. Mimi. Elvis, and Olive were all at their respective captor’s homes. We’d stayed in Portal to play music for friends getting married. Without the wedding we would have headed to Mexico on Saturday and attended the 10th anniversary of the Northern Jaguar Project reserve celebration in Sahuaripa. Instead we made a mad dash to the border and where we entered the weird Sunday morning amateur hour of la frontera. All the border staff were in their twenties and female and serious about their jobs.

First problem was Burt ad stuffed a tissue over the VIN number on the dash and the the guard couldn’t verify our vehicle registration against the VIN. Except the VIN is also on the door. The youngster didn’t want to look at the door she wanted the tissue covered number plate. I admit it looked kind of odd. I tried to dig out the tissue with a rusty scalpel I’ve been keeping on the dash for just such an occasion. The sun decayed tissue did not budge but produced a lot of dust. While I wheezed and dug, Burt kept trying to get the guard to look at the door. She refused. I decided it was because his grammar was slightly off. She could pretend not to understand him and watch me dig. Exasperated, I politely rephrased Burt’s statement and she suddenly looked at the door, took down the number, and let us pass.

Next we got our 6 month visitor’s visa. This time I had to rouse people from hidden chambers. Nobody crosses at 6 AM on Sunday. Tired eyed youngsters materialized at the windows. Our visa forms filled out we took them across the way to pay the fee. This second window was where we needed to get our TIP, too. Mainland Mexico requires a Temporary Import Permit for all vehicles. Baja does not have this requirement so the step was new for me.  Sadly, I accidentally threw away our original 2017 registration in a fit of organizing a month ago. Luckily, Burt discovered it missing so we had a copy the Jefferson County tax assessor had emailed last week.  More sadly, the Mexican government’s representative would not accept a copy. I showed her last year’s original. I explained sweetly and repeatedly that I lost the original and the US government gave me the copy. I wondered if an older more hardened representative would have let me pay the TIP. I wondered if speaking Spanish was working against me. I wondered what to do. Burt and I decided if they didn’t want our money we didn’t need a TIP. We shrugged our shoulders and hoped one arm of big brother didn’t talk to the other arm of big brother and we headed on our way in violation of the law. Most luckily, nobody ever stopped us and there were no checkpoints between the border and our destination.

At noon we arrived in Sahuaripa. We ran into Randy, the ranch manager, leaving for lunch. We ate, did some errands, shifted gear from our truck to his and finally, around 2 PM, started the trip into the mountains. It was 100 degrees. Cholo rode up front with the menfolk. I held my own with Farmer in the backseat. Six hours of single track gravel road later we arrived well after dark at the camp called Babisal. Rancho Babisal is the heart of the reserve. Fresh vegan food and our companions greeted us. We ate and went to bed.

Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Cholo de la Cholla, also a fine companion.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Burt and Randy stretch their legs.
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Our Lady is blessing us all they way. Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
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Other Critters at the Reserve

Red-Spotted Toad, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Red-Spotted Toad, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tree frog, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tree frog, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Velvet Ant, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Velvet Ant, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Ring necked snake, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Ring necked snake, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tiny cat prints, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tiny cat prints, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Grasshoppers getting down, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Grasshoppers getting down, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Frogs, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Frogs, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Northern Jaguar Project Reserve, beetle and bugs
Northern Jaguar Project Reserve, beetle and bugs
Tarantula, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Tarantula, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Neotropical otter or nutria,Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Neotropical otter or nutria, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Wolf spider, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Wolf spider, Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
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Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
Jaguar at the Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

I was very surprised to see a jaguar on our trip to Mexico but the proof is indisputable. There it is.

That’s the last fake news for this post. Jaguars live among us in southern Arizona and New Mexico. They are few but they are genetically important. The males in the US have come from just south of the border. They disperse and roam away from the wild lands of Mexico and remain available to spread their DNA when the time arrives. Lucky for them a federal judge just deemed these few individuals worthy of consideration when we (our society) makes land use decisions.

I personally consider these US individuals important whether they get a chance to reproduce or not. Here we have an apex predator the likes of which we hardly compare on a human scale. The claws, the jaws, the speed. My cat Mimi times fifty. Taller than me and so much stronger. So seldom are jaguars seen that we need tight networks of cameras surreptitiously taking photos just to prove their existence.  A several hundred pound cat is walking around near major population areas and we can’t see it. Think about it. Habit, camouflage, and rugged terrain make it invisible. In this era of over-exposed everything this mystery gives me joy.

The jaguar species requires vast tracts of land to survive. Aside from room to wander, Jaguars obviously need game to eat and water for fun and nourishment. The land needs to be healthy and full of other animals. Jaguars like to swim.  Protecting the jaguar protects everything in the web of life it shares. The Northern Jaguar Project has been working to provide jaguars sufficient habitat for their survival. They have a 40 something square mile reserve of land in Mexico they own that is managed for the jaguar. The NJP buys land but also works directly with surrounding land owners to provide critical breeding habitat for the northernmost population in the Americas. Nearby cattle ranchers are educated on the jaguar needs and habits and given trail cameras to document individual animals on their land. Through an incentive program that includes damage loss reimbursement, rewards for photos, rent for access to trail cameras, and other things the NJP are expanding their influence and the area of acreage available to the jaguars. In the last ten years fifty individual jaguars have been captured on the NJP’s cameras. One camera even caught a pair copulating. Scores of mountain lions, ocelots, and bobcats have also been seen on the project’s network or cameras.

All this land and cameras requires a team of people to manage. Land costs money but so do staff. There is a ranch manager (Randy, bilingual/bicultural Jack-of-all-Trades) and Turtle (US money wrangler) and a team of cowboys and biologists. There are roads to maintain, fences to mend, and cameras to check. In the backcountry there are simple accommodations that staff and donors use when visiting the area.

For several years Burt has been trying to coordinate a trip in to the reserve to provide some needed carpentry. The main camp cabins are 41 miles and a 6 hour drive from town.  Seven miles an hour and the drive is bone rattling. This year our schedules all had room for a scoping trip. Turtle, Randy, and some donors were headed in and we were available to join them. Working in the wilderness requires a lot of from a team of people. You have to trust each other and you have to be really good with logistics. We all decided to meet and give the job a looksee and decide if we were willing to commit more time. Could we get along with them and could they get along with us?

After our 5 day scoping trip it all looks good from here. More to come. Enjoy these landscape photos of the protected habitat.

The general vicinity of the reserve.
The general vicinity of the reserve.
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve - Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve – Aros River
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve
The Northern Jaguar Project Reserve

 

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Hitting the Road

Burt and I are headed south of here.
Burt and I are headed south of here.

We will soon be out of touch for lengthy stretches of time. Starting Sunday we will be in Mexico for about a week. This jaunt is a scoping trip for some work we might do on the Northern Jaguar Project’s preserve outside of Sahuaripa, Mexico. It’s a very remote place. No phones, no help, nobody for about 20 miles and 6 hours of driving. Yes, 6ish hours to cover 20ish miles. I’ll be able to be more specific after our first time up the wilderness. The trip’s goal is to see if we can build some things for them. Challenges abound. We’ll try and answer logistical questions about food, lumber, hardware, roofing, power. No actual work is planned for this first trip. Olive, Elvis, Mimi, and the gNash will all be left behind.

After the scoping trip we return to Portal and then a few days later we catch a flight to Ecuador. Our first trip to the Galapagos! I have no idea what internet will be like in Ecuador. I expect none in the Galapagos. That’s another two weeks without reporting. I’ll be prepared to fill you in when I get back. Like our European trip, I plan to take handwritten notes. Again the rest of the family and our camper will be left behind.

Presuming all went well on the scoping trip we will then head back to the jaguar preserve in Mexico and work for a few weeks. It’s possible the pets and camper will come to Mexico with us for the second trip. Those decisions depend on what we discover during the first trip.

I’ll check in when I can. Wish us luck.

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