Arizona. Is this West enough?

July 8 – 14

Thank you so much for joining us on our travels! It’s fun to write with the idea that you’re listening.

From San Angelo we took 87 to Big Spring and 176 to Eunice. It was lunchtime so Buck Vandermeer and his buddy Robert Eustace met us at the Outlaw Grill. They drove down from Hobbs. We had a great visit, learned about Robert’s business and listened to Buck’s stories. Buck was Barb’s high school English teacher, now a good friend.

Buck explained that most of what happens in his next book actually happened to him. It was sure fun hearing about it. We’re going to do some editing for him before he publishes the book. From what I’ve read of it, it’s characters are engaging and the situations imaginable.

BTW, The Outlaw Grill is a real gem of a place to sit for a meal. The staff take immense pride in the food they serve. My lemonade was hand squeezed, with unsweet tea, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Barb and I split the Green Chili Chicken – chicken breast with a crispy crust of tortilla chips, draped with green chilis, sautéd veggies and two slices of bacon. This was all smothered with white Queso and sitting on top of a pile of mashed potato. It was delish and I plan to try to copy it (without the bacon). It is a dish that needed to be shared!

Eunice is really small. Set right on top of the Permian Basin Oil Field, there were miles and miles of Nodding Donkeys or Rocking Horses, as the piston pumpers are so referred, as we drove there and away. We saw lots of the equipment and well heads used in Fracking. I had to read about that process. It’s a way to extract blood from a turnip, really. It is pretty scary that the process blasts apart chalk of shale deep underground with huge amounts of water mixed with sand or aluminum oxide. Once the oil’s gone, the ground is left pretty unstable.

Here at Brantley Lake State Park, north of Carlsbad, there are short shrubby trees and bushes that are covered with little purple flowers. It’s really hot so we’re using the grill and eating mostly cold stuff.



Barb, official blog photog, got up on the rig’s roof and got this photo of the sunset tonight.


July 10

We beat the heat and left early for Rattlesnake Springs, south of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. What an interesting spot! It was set up with a complex irrigation system over an underground spring. It’s really an oasis. The birding was just superb and the photos we share here all came from there. I got to stalk a bunch of wild hen turkeys as they fed. Did you know that some hens have a “beard” – all of these did. These birds were big, tall, American Bronzes. Their legs completely dwarfed anything you’ve ever put in the oven! I really loved their colors and one hen opened out her wings for me – a real treat.

Barb did her own patient stalking of a Summer Tanager. This photo is, I think, exquisite.



Then, we went up to Carlsbad Caverns NP. On the way in, I spotted this handsome fellow and a couple a’ ewes, y’all, on the canyon walls. Shot from with the iPhone from a rolling car!


We checked out the visitor’s center (nothing special really) and then walked out to the Bat Amphitheater


and down into one enormous, deep, dark hole.


Taking the “Natural Entrance Self-guided Tour,” we walked down for about a mile. There was lots to see on the way down in terms of Speleothems (formations). Down steep zig zagging paths, not something my hamstring (pulled during leg cramps the night before) appreciated.


When we made it to the bottom, we embarked on the “Big Room” self-guided tour. That was 1.5 miles of winding in and around, under and over, looking down and looking at the upper walls and ceiling. There were little lights along the way and the most amazing Speleothems were lighted. I appreciated the lighting, it wasn’t flashy or colored or moving, just the perfect amount of light to give the eyes direction.

The cave was a lovely 57 degrees and a light shirt was all it took to stay warm enough as most of the strenuous walking was out of the way. The elevators beckoned me – I didn’t think the muscle in my calf would handle the mile hike up. Barb was kind enough to agree that she didn’t want to go up those ramps either! One elevator bank was out of order which left two elevators. Each elevator holds 8 people. You have to realize that this Cavern is a world wide attraction on the bucket list of millions… it seemed more than a few of them choose today to show up. The elevator ride on July 4th had a 4 hour wait, according to some, today’s wait was 1 hr. 15 min – doing a standing shuffle. We were glad to get up top and sit in the car.

Neither of us was quite ready to go get groceries and beat feet back to the park so we took (an unguided) 10 mile trip on a gravel road way down into a canyon. Our effort was graced by seeing a couple of Indigo Buntings along the way. Highly recommend picking up the little brochure at the Visitors Center – the trail has markers all the way.

We stopped for a minute at the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead to puzzle over and feel sad about the father and son who recently perished on that trail when temps were in the 104* range. The desert is no place to underestimate; it is harsh and unforgiving.

July 10

I didn’t feel great today, maybe I wore myself out yesterday, so I took it easy (4 hour nap). Barb graciously took the laundry into Carlsbad to the (highly rated) Carlsbad Laundry. I include a photo she took there – it’s the one of the dryer with the sign. You just never know what people are thinking, right?

Our next stop is the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. I was dismayed today to learn that Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary & his appointer have the whole place on the chopping block. With 8 hours public comment left, I wrote, called my AL representatives and posted on FB. Sure hope enough people made comments that the dogs are called off.

Thank you, again, for being my muse and our inspiration.

July 11 – 14


I had the flu! Sorry. I can say only a few things about the last few days… 1. Ugh. 2. It’s been really hot and with a fever it was just so much fun. 3. The Organ Mountains were so beautiful, but we didn’t go to the Visitor’s Center in Dripping Springs (see #2).

I know we had a little rain last night here in our campsite at Roper Lake State Park just outside of Safford, AZ – it was wet in low spots. Barb tried to clean some of the Caliche off the car and got busted by the range. In our defense, nothing was said about washing anything in the extensive list of rules we were given upon entry. Yikes.

Today, I felt a bit better so we hopped in the Toad (Car in Tow = Toad) and headed for the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. Close to Safford, AZ where we’re Glamped near Roper Lake.

The Gila Box is a preserved area administered by the BLM (bang up job y’all).

…’23,000 acres that contains 4 perennial waterways which are he lifeline to an extensive riparian ecosystem.” The canyon, Gila Box, has cliffs and walls that go 1000’ above the Gila River. The river is surrounded by cottonwoods, sycamores and willow trees and an incredible array of cacti.

So, here we are cruising along midst the mesquite, creosote bushes and forests of lush green and blooming Ocotillo. Suddenly, the road drops down and bam! there’s this oasis – a miles long oasis actually! The Gila River is a floatable river and in late spring I bet it would be a ton of fun. This late in the year its shallow – if one didn’t mind frequent portages over rills, it would be a relaxing day’s float.


We stopped at the Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Area for a walk on the cliffs over the river. Right in front of us when we got out of the car was a Black Hawk! Great long watch of this pretty bird soaring on the wind currents. They have a couple of really nice shelters and some interpretive panels and the place is accessible – nice even sidewalk.

IMG_2692We also went to the Dry Canyon Picnic and Boat Take Out Area, the Spring Canyon Picnic Area. and the Riverview Campground. We saw a 4’ snake slither from the river to the brush at Spring Canyon – real pretty pale green snake with dark green stripes. Cliff Swallows had nests in or on (?) the cliffs – they build these mud nests and fill them with desert grasses – surely a warm dry little home for the family.

The Riverview Campground would be good for tenters or high-clearance trailers – a teardrop would do nicely. Pit Toilets were nearby and the fee $5 a day seemed like a good deal to us. Each site was set just over the river and had a shelter with a picnic table. There are a couple of vados peligrosos (flood dips in the road) that a motorhome wouldn’t make it through.


There’s a lot of country back there to cover and many trails. It’s a place I would love to visit and explore in the Spring.




Back at the ranch… Boom! Thunder & lightening crackle-banging all around us! It came on so fast, I barely got Rudy into the RV and Barb barely got back from birding.  IMG_2708 The air changed, the smell of the desert changed. Maybe because we’re near the lake, there is a smell that reminded me of Pluff – that rich, South Carolina mud; a bit rotty and fecund. We went out after the storm birding (it was 64*) and waddled along in deep mud – soft and smooth as baby powder (brown, baby powder) globe so thick on our shoes that we slid on our own mud. The storm was sure a treat.

The air is clear and we can see the Graham mountains that surround this valley so clearly that with binoculars we picked out the trees up on the highest ridge line. Now, if you grew up on Cowboy Movies, you’ll understand this mental image. I saw these trees, all lined up on top of the ridge and what did I think? It’s the (Hollywood) Indians watching us waddle around with mud thick shoes! I know, seriously? I grew up on too much TV.