Raptors: Owls and Their Babies
After driving five hours through the 101 degree heat of the Mojave Desert, we didn’t expect much at our first overnight stop in Mayflower County Park.
As often happens, we were pleasantly surprised! One of the volunteers checking us into the park noticed my camera and asked if I was a bird watcher. When I said I wasn’t, he said “Okay then, never mind!” Remembering what had happened years ago… when I was asked whether I was a Yankee fan and replied that I preferred the Mets, the store clerk said, “Okay, never mind,” and I almost missed getting Ricky Henderson’s autograph for our son Jesse – (alright, so I found out later that the guy I trampled to get to Henderson was Yankee star Jesse Barfield… duh!)
I asked the park guy why he asked. He told me that baby owls had just hatched in one of the trees, and I might be able to get a picture if I was lucky and the mom and dad owls didn’t chase me off! It took until the next morning to spot the nest, but here’s what we found…
These owls look a lot meaner than the prison guards at Dannemora Penitentiary, but they are raptors after all!
And as Steven Spielberg has taught us, you don’t want to mess with raptors!
Rivers: The Mighty Colorado
Re-learning What a River Is
The Western United States is not at all like the East, especially when it comes to water. Back in New York, we once had a long drought in the early ‘70s, and you couldn’t get water in a restaurant unless you asked.
It was so bad that some streams and mountain springs actually dried up. When we began travelling extensively in the West, we learned that this was considered normal… “rivers” that resembled driveway runoff, and only flowed during the “rainy season” if they flowed at all –
something called a “wash” that flows several feet underground but only rarely appears on the surface; when it does, you can be “washed away” in a flash flood! – and many places where even ¼ inch of rain can cause mudslides and mayhem!
Now that the “California Drought” has become national news, it might surprise you to see what the Colorado River looks like as it forms the long border between California and Arizona.
The Hudson River of the West
The campground at Mayflower County Park was being watered as we pulled into our site (what?!?! – not to worry, the water drains right back where it came from!)
The Colorado looked a lot like the Hudson River to us, except that the Hudson isn’t quite as brown as it used to be (Thanks, Pete Seeger and Clearwater!)
The Colorado got its Spanish and English names because of its natural color, reddish-brown, but even though it appears to have plenty of water along this section as it heads to the sea, the Colorado is in danger of running dry!It pains me to say this, but the Colorado’s role in providing water to almost everyone out West, whether for farming, drinking, bathing, or anything else we use water for, is far more important, in relative terms to the people of the West,than the Hudson River is to the good people of the Hudson Valley and its Estuary.
Once you look at the map below of U.S. rivers from the Pacific Institute, the reason for the Colorado’s paramount importance in the West becomes clear.
As you can see, west of the Rockies and the “Continental Divide” (there are actually two Continental Divides, folks!) there are only three rivers that seem to have any significant water flow – the other two are the Columbia River in Washington State, and the much smaller San Joachin system near the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result, water – and the rights to use and consume that water – has been a serious concern since time immemorial, and the combination of drought and westward migration have only raised the stakes.
The Lost Empire of Henry Blythe
Mayflower County Park is located right along the Colorado River, a few miles north of the town of Blythe on the California side of the river. Founded by Henry Blythe – remember him from our last post? – Henry Blythe staked a claim to the water in the Colorado River – ALL the water! – in the hopes of establishing an “empire” in the desert.
No, he wasn’t a madman; he was just a bit inept, as he lost his claim, and his empire, almost as quickly as he established it. He was, however, one of the first settlers to realize how important water was, and would become, to all who followed him westward. All that’s left of “Blythe’s Empire” today is the name of the small town that now serves as a stopover for travelers between L.A. and Phoenix Arizona. There are several campgrounds in the area, and we think we found one that was well worth staying at, even for longer than one night if you have the time. And don’t forget, the Blythe Intaglios are only a straight ride north along US 95, 17 miles north of the campground!
Rainbows: The Monsoons of Arizona
Driving Through Bangladesh
When it comes to the weather this year, everything seems to be off kilter. Winter is usually the “rainy season” in Southern California, but this past winter, there was barely a drop… until we headed east this spring, and since then, they’ve had more rain than they’ve had in years.
From the Great Plains to the Northeast, and all the way to Georgia, the North Pole seemed to move in several times over the winter, with temperatures more than 30 degrees below their frigid normal. But come on, “monsoons?” in Arizona? You’ve gotta be kidding me! Don’t “monsoons” belong in Bangladesh? Surely not Arizona! Well, actually, they do belong here – monsoons, that is – just not in Spring! The “monsoon season” normally falls during Summer in Arizona, as we learned when we were conducting cave tours at Kartchner Caverns, a beautiful underground wonderland an hour south of Tucson. But there we were, as soon as we crossed the Colorado River from Needles, CA, weathering the monsoons of Arizona in the middle of Spring.
Cloudy Rainbows and Sunny Kiwis
We stopped at a campground just as the rain was letting up, and as the sun was beginning to set, we saw a full rainbow, stretching from south to north, over the campers and RVs in the park. Almost everyone in the park came out to see them, and waited to watch the sun going down behind the clouds that had so recently brought so much dreariness. We also noticed that almost half the campers in the park were the same model of the same brand – El Monte RV, a brand almost always used as rentals, and whose customers almost always come from other countries! We know this from our days camphosting in Carpinteria State Beach, checking in campers from Germany, Australia, Japan… and almost always, they were in a rented El Monte RV!
So this was our chance… was this a “tour group” from elsewhere on the planet? And if so, where were they from? As it turned out, BINGO! – they were driving across America all the way from – New Zealand! A word of advice here… according to our visiting fellow campers, it’s okay to refer to a New Zealander as a “Kiwi” – just don’t call them “Australians!” I know, I don’t get it either, but there it is… just don’t do it, that’s all.
We’re Number One! (Aren’t We?)
We love to talk to other campers as we travel around the country; you can learn so much, not just about them and wherever they come from, but also about ourselves, and the country we live in. When the other campers are from another country, things can get even more interesting…
The folks traveling in the El Monte caravan were taking four weeks to drive across the US, stopping at KOAs along the way, from Los Angeles to Chicago, approximately following what used to be known famously as Route 66, then traveling on to New York City before catching their flights back to the land of the Kiwis!
By the way, the country that ranked Number 1 in overall livability in a 2014 survey was – ta-da! New Zealand! Those folks in the El Montes weren’t boasting about it, but they still had two weeks’ vacation left to recuperate after their month-long vacations here! Where did the USA come out in this survey? You can find out here…
Route 66: “The Mother Road”
The Route Is Born
When we left our winter home in Ventura California this time, our first “destination” was supposed to be Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We got to Santa Fe as planned and on time, but we found that we had already reached a “destination” we hadn’t even planned on, and we were there for three days!
It has often been said that “the journey IS the destination,” and we have found that to be true of most things in life. In this case however, the journey really was a destination, and recognized as such for nearly 90 years. We’ll have more to say about Santa Fe later, but we realized soon after we left Blythe that every road, and every campground, was named after a road that was supposed to have become obsolete 30 years ago – the famous – infamous, really – Route 66, “The Mother Road.”
Also known as the “Will Rogers Memorial Highway” (okay kids, look it up, who was Will Rogers?) as well as “Main Street of America,” US Highway 66 became one of the very first highways in the new national highway system signed into law in 1925. Built over pre-Civil War army trails, privately owned state roads and local streets in small towns across America, US Route 66 connected all these formerly isolated places, bringing trucks, automobiles, their drivers and passengers, and – most importantly – their spending money. As a result, scores of motels, gas stations, and diners sprang up almost overnight, along with kitschy roadside attractions and oddball amusements, more than happy to collect that spending money, and bringing prosperity and jobs all along its pathway. Decades later, as the Interstate Highway system began to replace some of the older US Highway system, Route 66 became the most famous “victim” of that change.
The Route Reborn
The towns and businesses along the way quickly began to decay, but those that survived began an effort – a movement really – to save the “historic” highway and its offbeat character. Our first stop along “Historic Route 66” in Arizona was in Seligman Arizona, where – you guessed it – we camped at the “Route 66 KOA!” Seligman (pronounced ‘suh-LIG-muhn’) lays claim to the title “Birthplace of Historic Route 66,” and indeed much of Seligman seems to be a string of kitschy souvenir stores along a single main street.
The KOA is just outside of town, and was actually pretty nice… especially the Kiwis mentioned above. Our next night was spent at – you’re right again! – the “Route 66 USA RV Park” in Gallup, New Mexico. Gallup calls itself “The Most Patriotic Small Town In America,” and maybe it is; it’s a pretty town in a pretty state, where you can see the Rocky Mountains, but you don’t have to ride over them… they come to a stop just north of Interstate 40, the road that bears most of the “blame” for replacing Route 66,
but makes up for it by constantly directing drivers to see “Historic Route 66” at almost every exit! Our last drive along the path of Route 66 led us to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we finally got to spend a few nights… and take in a few sights… at a more leisurely pace than our three overnight stays. But that’s a story for another day.
Along the way to Santa Fe, our drive through New Mexico offered the same monsoon-driven clouds and showers as our drive through Arizona did, and every once in a while, another hint of the flavor of “The Mother Road.”
Happy Trails to You!