The kennel our three dogs let us share with them is on the move. We are out of work while the electrician and insulators get down to business. If those subs finish before we head south fo rthe winter we’ll move back to Jardine to advance the project but we will not finish. Our clients had a case of mission creep and the job was too big for us to do in one season so they’ll be on their own to get it done over the winter. Day one a couple months back Burt said, “I can’t do it all. I’ll get you started or we can leave.” They opted for us to get them started. So it’s framed and we are on the road.
First up was three days on the Beartooth Plateau. We are all suitably worn out by our high elevation hiking, fishing, and bird seeking. Olive and her puny heart did very well. Elvis managed a 5 mile day. Chava was a poop finding, dead animal eating machine. Free on the range and all he did was eat whatever he found. It came out as fast as it went in. One day we observed 8 defecations. I have to wonder how many we missed. He also seems to have grown a few more inches over night. His teen rage is subsiding. He recalled on command and is dropping food is we catch him in time. Yesterday I got him to expel a maggot filled rodent the size of a NYC rat. Chava is even considering heeling. He thinks about it but after about ten steps he rejects the idea. Soon, Chava, soon.
Today we’ve landed in Columbus for the fiddler’s weekend. We’ll head over to Town Pump for showers soon and then settle in for five days of tunes. We’re on the banks of the Yellowstone, under the cottonwoods. Swing on in and join us if you’re in the area.
The gNash and Dodge are rolling uphill towards Montana and we’ve got a hanger-on. The usual Gypsy Carpenters crew minus Mimi (DEP, sweet kitty) plus foster puppy Chava are all festively packed in the king cab of our 18 year old Dodge and it’s got all the makings of a drunken party. There’s daily fights, spilled drinks, vomit, public scratching, and that’s just the dogs. Only Elvis and Burt are completely satisfied with their space. Nobody crowds them and gets away with it. Meanwhile Olive, Chava and I are jockeying all day, everyday to make do with what we can get. You’d think we’d swiftly work out a compact of who sits where when but noooo. Chava is growing faster than a kudzu in July so it’s a turf battle everyday. What worked before noon on Friday was no can do by Saturday night. Mood and climate also impact the degree of bodily contact allowed. Too hot? GTF off of me says Olive with a gap toothed crooked snarl. Too Cold? Climb up on my lap, there’s room for you both, says me. Just when everyone settles down somebody (me, Burt, or Chava) has to go to the bathroom and the proverbial pot is stirred again. And despite Chava knowing I am his boss he still treats me like a mom he can walk all over. Chava even tries to nurse on my forearms as he falls asleep. What a cutie-pie.
In the midst of the hourly land rush there have been countless bowls of spilled water and the aforementioned vomit and deafening barks in ears. Burt’s worried the floor boards are rusting from the constant moisture. I’m worried I’m growing mold on my perpetually wet bum. There are legs, teeth, and tongues everywhere and they have not figured out how to coordinate. Maybe that’s a good thing. Imagine them working together to thwart us. The mental and physical effort to keep two old dogs and one new puppy safe and satisfied is not 30% greater than the two dogs alone. I’d say the well trained but scarily growing puppy is a 100% increase in energy cost for Burt and me. He’s so fast and less solidly reliable to hold a stay or wait. By Monday morning he might weigh less than Olive but he will be stronger than Elvis and Olive combined. And he just eats and eats and eats. Which means he poops and poops and poops.
And it’s all been worth it. We’ve taken our time and let puppy stretch his legs in new places. When we first got Olive we did the same thing. We visited the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir just like we did eight years ago with Olive. A condor even flew over head on Chava’s first hike, the steep 4 KM climb to the Mirador (lookout) where you can see the Bahia de California from the top of the mountains. Human year equivalent 90 year old Elvis waited in the gNash. We told him it was boring. He only ate a little bit of a window shade in retaliation.
Today finds us at Burt’s Father’s unibomber home in California. We lovingly call it this because it’s a 50s era mail order log cabin with no potable water and a hot water heater only turned on once a week for Jack’s shower. It’s a dark place. If and when I take a shower in the cool rust waters, the dribble hits me in my bellybutton. I tweak my back wetting my hair and I come out smelling like a can of nails left under a drain spout. Not worth the effort. I’ll wallow in my dog water stink and vomit a few days more.
Galapagos February 2019 Naturalist Journeys, LLC trip with hosts Susan and Burt Mittelstadt. More photos daily as data limits allow.
Guests: Mariel, Roy, Jill, Maggie, Baird, Janis, Chuck, Mary, Peggy, Bobbie, Julia and Janet.
Before flying to the Galápagos our group of fourteen travelers took an excursion to Antisana National Park to see creatures of the high Andes. Rain was predicted for the afternoon so we got an early start despite some late night arrivals. Despite the predictions it was as clear a day as one could hope in the mountains. Manuel was our knowledgeable guide and Jonaton our expert driver. Our goal was the Andean Condor. At the first pullout it was clear we weren’t at sea level. Despite pounding hearts and fuzzy heads (the elevation all morning was near or over 13,000’) we were all thrilled with instant success. Andean condors were spotted by Maggie at rest on cliffs across the deep canyon. Manuel set up his spotting scope and showed us how to take great photos with our phones and the scope.
The day continued to amaze. Condors were spotted at a total of three locations with one very close flyby. Lunch was a delicious Andean feast. The rain started to come down just as we puled away to head for our hotel. Here’s what else we found that day:
Day One: Arrival in San Cristobal
We were met at the airport by the brother and sister team of guides, Ivan (I-love) and Karina and four more passengers of our ship the Eric. These two very experienced guides got us to the Eric for lunch and a safety drill and then we were back in out pangas for a visit to the Galapaguera, a tortoise breeding facility on the Island of San Cristobal. At the port we found our first creatures of the Galápagos. There were sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies and a green heron. In Galapaguera we saw our first of Darwin’s finches and learned about efforts to restore the archipelago’s land tortoise populations. The highlight bird was our first of two woodpecker finches. We also were introduced to the poison apple tree. The rainy season was well underway and the island was lush with greenery and the air heavy with humidity. Our winter escapees had found a warm refuge. That evening we met the crew and toasted to our great luck to all come together on the fantastic final voyage of the Eric. Our evening meal was the first of many tasty meals. Sleepyheads one and all we hit the racks and motored all night towards Genovesa.
Striated heron (Galápagos)
San Cristobal Mockingbird
Galápagos sea lion
Sally Lightfoot crab
Day Two: Genovesa, Darwin’s Cove and Prince Philip’s steps.
First activity of the day was a walk at Darwin Bay. Immediately we were met by the archipelago’s famously accessible wildlife. Birds and lizards and fish all seemed to welcome our observations and photographs. Our first marine iguanas were here. After our short walk and talk we donned our gear and hit the water. This group was a happy bunch of snorkelers. Ivan even had a Ring-of-Happiness and individual support for our less experienced participants. After the hour long swim we headed back on ship for snacks and lunch and sea kayaking and paddle boarding. Late that afternoon, after music and a siesta we did a deep water snorkel. Hammerhead sharks and many of their sea companions joined us, including a baleful purple octopus. Back on board to change and then back in the pangas. We climbed the Prince Philip steps to see the vast population of birds that make this remote isle famous. Target bird was the short-eared owl. Bobbies, gulls, frigates, doves, mockingbirds, there were a lot of birds, both species and numbers. As we walked we learned about the Nazca boobies practice of NAV (non-parental visitor aggression) and we watched a juvenile spar with an NAV. The short eared owl has developed a daylight hunting strategy to avoid the Galápagos hawk. It can take birds much bigger than itself and on Genovesa it frequently waits in cracks to ambush incoming storm petrels. We spotted four of these interesting birds on our afternoon walk. One gave quite a show looking as though he might have a pellet to expel. Nothing materialized despite a solid ten minutes of what appeared to be owl expectoration. Then it was back to the Eric for more food and libations. The very active day sent us to bed right after dinner.
Band-rumped storm petrel
Wedge-Rumped storm petrel
Large cactus finch
Spotted eagle ray
Blue chinned parrot fish
White sea urchin
Pencil spend sea urchin
Yellowtail surgeon fish
Gold rimmed surgeon fish
Manta ray (sp)
White-tipped reef shark
Giant damsel fish
Panama sergeant major
Large banded blenny
Calico lizard fish
Guinea fowl puffer
Baby jack (sp)
Day Three: Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove, Baltra, Dragon Hill
After a sound sleep and another long night crossing we headed out early into Black Turtle Cove on the pangas. Here we learned about the mangroves and saw an abundance of penguins, turtles, and nursery sharks. A pair of Pacific green turtles obliged us with their mating practices. The penguins swam by in formation. It seemed like they were seeking handouts. The next activity was another snorkel. The snorkels were so full of saline that further lists only contain notable animals. Midday was occupied by refueling at Baltra. The Gypsy Carpenters helped pass the time with a singalong
in the lounge. That afternoon we snorkeled (again :)) and took a hike up Dragon Hill in search of land iguanas and giant tortoises. Of course we saw both. This group had magic.
Great blue heron
Pacific green sea turtles
Chocolate chip seastar
Pencil sea urchin
Day Four: Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza, Bahia Urvina
By day four we are really into the rhythm of our daily activities. Getting in and out of our wetsuits, eating great food, napping, singing. every day is action packed. This day we arrived at the western most part of our trip. Fernandina is the youngest island in the archipelago. Our landing on the dock brought us nose to nose with marine iguanas and sea lions. Overhead we found three Galágos hawks. Underfoot there were lava lizards sunning onto of sea iguanas. We saw the rarely seen flower of the lava cactus and flightless cormorants. Our afternoon hike on the edge of Isabela Island was filled with enormous marine iguanas, giant tortoises and more cormorants.The day’s snorkels were excellent again but it was hard to imagine better, but more was waiting.That night we had a special concert by the Eric’s crew. I-Love led the group in high energy songs but Segundo moved us with his traditional ballads. Those guys could really jam. There were songs and dancing and Maria led is in the limbo. Then collapse into our beds with smiles again.
Striated heron (lava)
Darwin’s finch (sp)
Day Five: Isabela Island, Elizabeth Bay, Tagus Cove, Darwin’s Crater:
After another fortifying breakfast we took a panga ride along the coast of this marvelous island. The surprise was seeing the largely vegetarian Pacific green sea turtle with it’s jaws firmly locked on an half eaten fish. A large half eaten fish. Somebody was craving protein. A concentric pufferfish was dining on a moth. The damp season had brought a lot of insects and the birds and fish were taking advantage. Spiders (argiope sp) in beautiful webs were also seen everywhere. The morning snorkel was laden with sea life. Penguins, cormorants, turtles and iguanas in a parade amongst the permanent creatures of the deep. we learned that an animal is a land creature if it eats on land and a marine creature if it eats in the sea. One irritable flightless cormorant took a nip at Bobbie’s right calf leaving a small red dot. Another first for our group. Really, the visual wonders of the sea made it hard to end every snorkel. Our guides frequently had to chase some of us back into the boat. That afternoon we hiked to Darwin’s Crater for magnificent views of the mysterious salty water body and the vast lava field making up the north of the island. Mockingbirds and finches entertained us with their feather fanning mating displays. Heaps of Monarch butterflies raised questions of migration and food sources. They do not migrate and there is milkweed on the islands. How the Monarch got to the Galapagos is a mystery.
Golden eagle ray
spotted eagle ray
Sea (Tree) lion
Pacific green sea turtle
So many fish. We got tired of trying to sort them all out. Heads were exploding.
Day Six: Puerto Egas of Santiago, Rabida Island
At Puerto Egas we learned about a short lived era of human habitation that left behind a few ruins. It was the eternal story of corruption and exploitation that we hear all over the world. People were promised land that the promiser did not own. A change in government ended it all and everybody left. Today the island teems with wildlife. A group of fur seals were frolicking in the grottos near Darwin’s toilet. We could see the different facial features between the sea lion and fur seals, even thought this fur seal is not a true seal. The dominant male greeted our group with a large bellow. Along the edges of a tidal pool was an American Oystercatcher with its wee down covered hatchling no larger than an egg on legs. Sally Lightfoot crabs added dots of red and gold on the dark sculpted rocks. Zig zag spiders decorated trailside trees. On our morning snorkel we spotted a huge stone scorpionfish and a school of salema I would have said numbered over 100,000 individuals. The afternoon snorkel had a spotted tiger eel snake and toothy moray eel. Late in the day we hiked the red soil of Rabida. Before we even had our shoes changed Burt yelled, “Flamingo” and Karina ran to see if he was kidding. He was not. For the first time in years and only the second time ever in her 20+ year career there was a flamingo in the brackish water at Rabida. Oddly, it was the second time in 18 months for Burt and Susan to see a flamingo here. Their amazing good luck continued. We got an eyeful of that calm and showy bird. It was spectacular. We all watched as it swung its improbable bill back and forth in the water filtering out crustaceans and preened its bright pink feathers.
White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
Moray eel (sp)
Tiger eel snake
Day Seven: Highlands of Santa Cruz Island and the Darwin Center
Our tour was coming to an end and there was a kind of gentle sadness infecting us. Not only would we have to say good-bye to new friends but all of us, crew and passengers, had to bid farewell to the Eric. After nearly three decades of service the Eric was being replaced by a new ship. We all loved this hard working craft and nobody wants dot see it retired. Still we had fun and more things to see and more songs to sing. That morning we visited the Darwin Center and Karina delighted us with a passionate presentation of the land tortoise restoration program. She explained how island by island rats were being eradicated. It was a complex process but slowly they were notching up success. Land tortoises are breeding in the wild for the first time in 100 years in some locations. Then we took an hour to explore the town and stock up on gifts for home. After lunch we took a bus ride to the highlands and visited the Gemelos, twin sink holes. Green warbler-finches sang for us and a woodpecker finch sped on past. At the working ranch we observed the tortoises in mid-migration across a working farm. We also walked through a dark and damp lava tube. Karina explained how these tubes form when the lava cools at different rates. A cooler and harder exterior can contain a warmer flowing interior, like a straw and soda. That night we played music and gathered ourselves for the parting.
White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
Day Eight: Interpretive Center at San Cristobal, Departure
The final day was spent touring the exhibits at the San Cristobal Interpretive Center or hiking up Tijeretas Hill followed by a snack and wi-fi in town as we waited for our flight to Quito. The hill hike rewarded us with a breeze and expansive views of Puerto Ayora and the Pacific. Our group arrived in Quito and had one last dinner together and then it was off on ur own journeys. Some headed home, others to Mindo for more birds, and others for a more expansive tour through Ecuador. It was a privilege to be in your company. We were lucky to have a group of warm and interesting companions, guides that wanted to share their home with us, and a crew that saw to our every need.
Great blue heron
San Cristobal mockingbird
I am writing this pile of posts having finally arrived and departed Jack’s house. There was sparse internet on the way and, well, my back hurt and my eye irritated me. But you, dear reader, are still not to Jack’s house. The regulator repair slowed us down. So the day drew to a close and we found ourselves wondering where to stop just where I-40 comes into California. We opted for the Mohave National Preserve. But where in the vast undeveloped reserve. BLM rules allow for boondocking on any road but could we find a road? There was an awkward ten minutes turning around in a dead end vista site. Traffic is sparse out in the Mojave so we were able to back directly out into the highway. Eventually we accidentally found a free boondocking site just next to Kelso. It was sunset when we arrived so we took a quick walk and then headed into the gNash for some DVD watching. Kelso, has or had, a train station. It was hard to tell. I mean it has a train station but does the train stop? Hold on, I’ll google. No you cannot catch a train from Kelso. Passenger service stopped in 1964 and with it the town crumbled. Now it is restored as the National Park Service’s visitor center.
We got up and split early. Hot springs and Jack were still ahead.
Marfa, Texas is an arts community that has a side of Texas county seat and rancher culture. Donald Judd settled here in 1971. Judd was a titan of minimalistic art and made huge installations. Huge but minimal. Marfa was a place he could go big and he did. He owned several ranches and air hangers and the Chinati hot springs. He died over twenty years ago but two foundations and a pack of other people have built Marfa into and international arts destination. Part of me hates it and part of me loves it. I don’t know why the hate. Okay, I do. There’s an element of poser/hipster-ness that I find inauthentic. I like art. I like big art. I really like good food. The fame and destination-ness have resulted in some fantastic food options. And then there’s the people trying to slay us all with their efforts at cool and I think effort does not equal cool. You must be yourself. So I liked the broken down Marfa shoulder to shoulder with international destination Marfa. I did not like the Marfa is…insert your word…self-congratulatory hand bags, socks, t-shirts, and hats. Give me your film festivals, opera, and art shows, keep your chachkas of self-referential coolness.
The food at Cochineal was superb. Worth every penny.
Burt’s hot spring itch has taken us to some sketchy places in remote corners of the world. Moisture, decay, mold, mildew. Those are not my favorite words for a warm spring. Yet so many warm spring resorts are nothing but slippery pots of smelly water. I was less than enthusiastic about driving several hours into the desert to check what looked in the hot springs guide book little more than a preppers hidey hole. But Burt. This one was a big win for him. Chinati Hot Springs defies all previous personal experiences and sets the bar for a wilderness and comfort and fun. Chinati is hands down the nicest hot spring I have ever been. This oasis of warm water is remote but the current management has not used that as an excuse for ramshackle infrastructure or untidy accommodations. It’s spotless and still funky. A drive to the Chinati Hot Springs is worth your time and money. I say this and I don’t even enjoy soaking for more than ten minutes.
This place has been a resting stop for hundereds of years. Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans, world travelers all have found rejuvenation in its warm water. For a while it was owned by the artist Donald Judd and the public was barred from enjoying its riches. Judd died a couple of decades ago and the spring is back open for all. More on Donald Judd in the Marfa post. If you go, get a room or camp, and cook for yourself in the spacious, spotless and view-licious group kitchen. Say hi to the friendliest gray tabby cat I have ever met. I so wanted to steal him.
The Gypsy Carpenters summer work season is over. We haven’t landed in Mexico for the winter, yet. Our big plans to float the Aros river in Mexico were dashed when the roads washed out. It’s time to improvise. How shall we ever pass the time? The last few days we wandered like the good, old days but for the first ime we have all our boating gear. Nine years ago we hit the Big Bend area of Texas and could only enjoy it from the land. It was marvelous but the canyons called for a deeper plunge. Tomorrow two friends from Montana arrive and we’ll head off on a 100 mile float along la frontera. Literally we will be drifting down the international border on the river than splits the US and Mexico. We will be out for nine or so days.
The internet here in Terlingua is too slow for posting photos. You’ll just have to imagine the soft, white, gypsum sand dunes of White Sand National Monument and the oasis hot springs nestled in the Chianti Mountains and the odd juxtaposition of West Texas rural life and high art that is Marfa, Texas. And the invertebrates that have finally emerged after a dry summer. They seem to all be trying to live out a condensed life cycle with these late fall rains. Winter is upon them and the migrating birds.
We had big plans for the coming weeks. A superb adventure in a wild land. Then it rained and rained and rained. The roads around the Northern Jaguar Reserve washed out and with it our plan to raft the Aros River floated away. Instead we’re headed over to Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo in Mexico) is still remote and wild country but much more traveled and less mysterious. Also, no dogs allowed.
Olive and Elvis were going to join us on our Mexican adventure and now they are trapped in a kennel in Las Cruces. Hours spent searching for a kennel within 100 miles of our adventure were fruitless. At one point our friend Peg was going to care for them but then Elvis showed us he’s not safe in anybody’s hands and we had to find a kennel. Elvis has redeveloped some behavioral issues from his anxious childhood. I presume it’s doggie dementia. He pretty much cannot be left safely alone unless he’s in our truck or trailer. So I spent more time calling. Kenneling must be a tough business. Many numbers I called were disconnected. One place needed a day long play date for compatibility. Another was closed on Sunday. A third was full. Finally, we got into a place in Las Cruces. All we needed was a record of their vaccinations.
Inadvertently having to stop in Las Cruces worked in our favor. Two Portal Irish Music Week friends live in the area and we were able to see both. Cheryl owns the Mesilla bookstore. I’ve always wanted to see Mesilla and Cheryl’s store but when we’ve passed by towing the gNash Burt said we wouldn’t fit. This time we were sans gNash and we went in to old town Mesilla. Burt was right. The truck alone barely passes through the tight streets. Mesilla is a very old adobe town built in the Mexican style. There’s a church plaza with trees surrounded by charming stores and restaurants. Now. Cheryl’s store was a delight. I dropped a pile of money because it seemed every book was screaming for me. How did she do that? She didn’t even know we were coming. The store has been around for a very long time. Cheryl’s mother bought it in 1963. The town was all bars and no trees back then.
After the book binge we headed to our friend Trish’s house. Trish has just the hour before been playing music with Cheryl in a back room of the bookstore but we had just missed her. Trish put us up for the night and we went out to eat together. More above.
We’ve arrived safely in Arizona last week. It was a high strung drive for me with Portal Irish Music Week looming and internet going in and out. Despite the self generating worrying we stopped and explored some new areas. Burt wound the gNash and crew through Capitol Reef National Park. Like Yellowstone Capitol Reef was fully booked and had no space for us. We drove through and enjoyed it from the windshield. The night before we spent out on a high pass in cool air. Elvis again demonstrated his growing senility when he took off after some birds and could not find his way back to us. It was a fraught twenty minutes before Burt spotted him a half mile away on an opposing hillside heading in the wrong direction. Burt was able to catch up to nearly 13 years old Elvis and lead his tired bones back home. More leash time for the old doggo.
Our last night traveling we spent on the Coronado Highway at the edge of the Mogollon rim. We’ve spent many nights up there and really look forward to trips into this wild country. Eight years ago some fugitives were captured near us. Remember that? No? HERE’s the story. Now we can add this bit of discomfort to that story. That night, as usual, Burt fell right to sleep. I tossed and turned and played some Bridge on-line. On-line Bridge puts me right to sleep. Usually. Around 11:00 PM a vehicle pulled up next to out camper with its lights on. I listened for doors. Nothing. Then the vehicle pulled out. No big deal. We were parked in a circular pullout for a view right on the highway. There was cell reception. Three minutes later the same vehicle pulled in with its lights out. Now my spidey-senses were on full alert. I nudged Burt and he was instantly awake. He must have heard the car in his sleep. I said, “Car.” We sat in silence and listened. Burt got partially dressed. He had his machete. I had my stick. We had bear spray. We listened and listened. It was awful. The car rumbled. I kept saying to myself DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAILER. Over and over again. DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAILER. I thought about how I told a single female friend these words as she headed out on a long solo trip. Our only protection is in the trailer. Did you read the story above about the RVers being killed and their rig being stolen? That story was repeating in my head. Burt and I had a few hushed whispers. The dogs were dead quiet. I steadied my breathing. I cursed all the scary TV we watch. I considered how this route was a great place for drug passes.
After 20 minutes or so the car pulled away. Nothing happened. They probably were on a phone call. Burt and I finished dressing and waited another ten minutes and got the hell out of there. Burt drove us to the bright lights of the Morenci mine and we finished out rest there.