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Another Summer On Lopez Island

Another Summer On Lopez Island

Posted by on Nov 2, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, San Juan Islands, Travel, Washington | 37 comments

As of mid-October, we’re back in Ashland, Oregon, taking care of a myriad of things that need to be completed before we can again resume our travels. This is a challenging part of fulltime RV life—there’s always a mountain of stuff to deal with when we return to our hometown each year. It’s no different than what any other grown-up person has to deal with in life—traveling or not. But it feels a bit daunting when we’re compressing a year’s worth of necessary evils into a few weeks. (The wonderful part is that we’ve also rejoined the tribe of our dear Ashland friends.)

We’re in the midst of trailer repairs, medical and dental appointments, taxes, maintenance tasks on our Ashland home, rooting out our storage unit, trailer home-improvement projects, and more. Last but not least, I have a blog to catch up on. So without further ado, I’m going to whisk you back to mid-June and our summer on Lopez Island.

As the ferry churned through the cold waters of the Pacific and chugged past the maze of islands that make up the San Juan archipelago, we leaned over the railing, anticipating our first glimpse of the small island that would once again be our summer home.

This year, we spent two-and-a-half months on Lopez Island—our longest stretch yet. From mid-June until early September, we were once again temporary Lopezians, immersing ourselves fully in the unique culture of Pacific Northwest island life.

We fell in love with Lopez the first time we visited, almost a dozen years ago.

Six of the past seven years, we’ve spent part of every summer hosting at beautiful Spencer Spit State Park. We contemplate spending time other places, but each summer finds us once again on the ferry to the islands.

I don’t think life gets any better than summer in the San Juan’s. The weather is near perfect, with plenty of sunshine, low humidity, and temperatures in the 70’s. (This makes up for long, long winters of gray and chill and rain—one of the primary reasons we don’t seriously consider living in the islands year-round.)

The scenery is idyllic—pastoral farmland, deep green mossy forests, secluded coves, and rocky cliffs plunging to sapphire seas. Small wonder that the first European settlers to the island described Lopez as a paradise.

Perfect weather and idyllic scenery aside, the strongest draw for us now is our community of friends on Lopez. In our six summers on the island, we’ve developed enduring friendships that transcend time and distance. We gather often with friends for delicious meals, evenings of music, and a variety of island adventures, from biking and hiking to art openings, concerts, and wine tastings. Each summer, we also delight in sharing Lopez with friends visiting from Ashland and fellow full-time RVing friends we’ve met in our travels. To add to this year’s fun, our grandson Findlay sailed to “Camp Lopez” to stay with us for a week.

We’re fortunate to have a hosting position that fits perfectly with our interests. This was our fourth year teaching Interpretive Programs for kids and adults, including the Junior Ranger programs. We teach about native plants, birds found on Lopez, and the traditions of the Salish tribes who first inhabited the islands. Making hundreds of copies of the Jr. Ranger’s booklets gets tedious, but teaching never does. We often come away from a morning of teaching feeling uplifted and inspired by the brilliance, inquisitiveness, and hilarity of the kids we teach (a lot of the adults are just as much fun).

We’re lucky, too, in that the staff at Spencer Spit is terrific. Each summer when we return to the park, we feel like we’re returning home. Our relationship with Lopez and the community of wonderful people on the island continues to deepen—for this, we are deeply grateful. Thanks, Lopez and friends, for another delightful summer. We’ll be back!

I’ve written in detail about our Lopez adventures over the past several years. If you’re interested in reading more, type “Lopez” in the search box and you’ll find lots of posts and photos. Here’s a post with some basic information, should you be interested:

Living Local On Lopez Island

Next Up: Adventures On Orcas And San Juan Island

Another Summer On Lopez

Arriving On Lopez

Rustic Cabin On Spencer Spit

Peaceful View Across The Marsh

Fledgling Rough Winged Swallows On The Beach

Early Morning At Spencer Spit

Art On The Beach

Findlay And My Hat

A Map Of The Island

Peaceful Island Biking

Biking To Town

It's All Picturesque

The Beautiful Herb Labyrinth

Watching Peregrines At Watmough Bay

Magical Mossy Trails Above Watmough Bay

A View Of Mt. Baker

Shark Reef In Late Afternoon

San Juan Island From Shark Reef

Baby Harbor Seal

Barred Owl On The Trail

On The Trail To Iceberg Point

Endless Views From Iceberg Point

Biking To Fisherman's Bay

Overlooking Fisherman's Bay

A Beach Walk With Findlay

Kayaking One Of Many Bays On Lopez

We Have Company

Delightful Purple Sea Stars

In The Fields At Horse Drawn Farm

Our Favorite Farmstand

The Wonderful Lopez Library

It's Cozy Inside And Has Internet!

Peace Train At The Fourth Of July Parade

Saturday Farmer's Market

A Friendly Farmer At The Market

Our Home On Lopez

Our Outdoor Classroom

Teaching About Native Traditions

They Chose Wolf Totems

Birding For Kids

Findlay Earned His Jr. Ranger Badge

Coffee With The Birds Program

Visitor To Our Campsite (Pacific Wren)

Fledgling Pileated Woodpecker

Violet Green Swallows

Our Cohosts Stan And Georgia

Ranger Tina And Findlay

Meghan At The End Of A Long Summer

Dinner With Lopez Friends At Our Site

An Evening Of Music Around The Fire

Bruce And Sheila At Home

Music Evening With Nick And Susie

Michael And Ann In Her Studio

Del And Cindy At Vita's

Ashland Friends (Linda, Steve, & Family)

Traveling Friends Henry, Loretta & Jessica

Traveling Friends Perry And Beth

Ashland Friends Dick And Viki

Last Glimpse Of Spencer Spit

Until Next Time

Another Summer On Lopez
Arriving On Lopez
Rustic Cabin On Spencer Spit
Peaceful View Across The Marsh
Fledgling Rough Winged Swallows On The Beach
Early Morning At Spencer Spit
Art On The Beach
Findlay And My Hat
A Map Of The Island
Peaceful Island Biking
Biking To Town
It's All Picturesque
The Beautiful Herb Labyrinth
Watching Peregrines At Watmough Bay
Magical Mossy Trails Above Watmough Bay
A View Of Mt. Baker
Shark Reef In Late Afternoon
San Juan Island From Shark Reef
Baby Harbor Seal
Barred Owl On The Trail
On The Trail To Iceberg Point
Endless Views From Iceberg Point
Biking To Fisherman's Bay
Overlooking Fisherman's Bay
A Beach Walk With Findlay
Kayaking One Of Many Bays On Lopez
We Have Company
Delightful Purple Sea Stars
In The Fields At Horse Drawn Farm
Our Favorite Farmstand
The Wonderful Lopez Library
It's Cozy Inside And Has Internet!
Peace Train At The Fourth Of July Parade
Saturday Farmer's Market
A Friendly Farmer At The Market
Our Home On Lopez
Our Outdoor Classroom
Teaching About Native Traditions
They Chose Wolf Totems
Birding For Kids
Findlay Earned His Jr. Ranger Badge
Coffee With The Birds Program
Visitor To Our Campsite (Pacific Wren)
Fledgling Pileated Woodpecker
Violet Green Swallows
Our Cohosts Stan And Georgia
Ranger Tina And Findlay
Meghan At The End Of A Long Summer
Dinner With Lopez Friends At Our Site
An Evening Of Music Around The Fire
Bruce And Sheila At Home
Music Evening With Nick And Susie
Michael And Ann In Her Studio
Del And Cindy At Vita's
Ashland Friends (Linda, Steve, & Family)
Traveling Friends Henry, Loretta & Jessica
Traveling Friends Perry And Beth
Ashland Friends Dick And Viki
Last Glimpse Of Spencer Spit
Until Next Time
Another Summer On Lopez thumbnail
Arriving On Lopez thumbnail
Rustic Cabin On Spencer Spit thumbnail
Peaceful View Across The Marsh thumbnail
Fledgling Rough Winged Swallows On The Beach thumbnail
Early Morning At Spencer Spit thumbnail
Art On The Beach thumbnail
Findlay And My Hat thumbnail
A Map Of The Island thumbnail
Peaceful Island Biking thumbnail
Biking To Town thumbnail
It's All Picturesque thumbnail
The Beautiful Herb Labyrinth thumbnail
Watching Peregrines At Watmough Bay thumbnail
Magical Mossy Trails Above Watmough Bay thumbnail
A View Of Mt. Baker thumbnail
Shark Reef In Late Afternoon thumbnail
San Juan Island From Shark Reef thumbnail
Baby Harbor Seal thumbnail
Barred Owl On The Trail thumbnail
On The Trail To Iceberg Point thumbnail
Endless Views From Iceberg Point thumbnail
Biking To Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
Overlooking Fisherman's Bay thumbnail
A Beach Walk With Findlay thumbnail
Kayaking One Of Many Bays On Lopez thumbnail
We Have Company thumbnail
Delightful Purple Sea Stars thumbnail
In The Fields At Horse Drawn Farm thumbnail
Our Favorite Farmstand thumbnail
The Wonderful Lopez Library thumbnail
It's Cozy Inside And Has Internet! thumbnail
Peace Train At The Fourth Of July Parade thumbnail
Saturday Farmer's Market thumbnail
A Friendly Farmer At The Market thumbnail
Our Home On Lopez thumbnail
Our Outdoor Classroom thumbnail
Teaching About Native Traditions thumbnail
They Chose Wolf Totems thumbnail
Birding For Kids thumbnail
Findlay Earned His Jr. Ranger Badge thumbnail
Coffee With The Birds Program thumbnail
Visitor To Our Campsite (Pacific Wren) thumbnail
Fledgling Pileated Woodpecker thumbnail
Violet Green Swallows thumbnail
Our Cohosts Stan And Georgia thumbnail
Ranger Tina And Findlay thumbnail
Meghan At The End Of A Long Summer thumbnail
Dinner With Lopez Friends At Our Site thumbnail
An Evening Of Music Around The Fire thumbnail
Bruce And Sheila At Home thumbnail
Music Evening With Nick And Susie thumbnail
Michael And Ann In Her Studio thumbnail
Del And Cindy At Vita's thumbnail
Ashland Friends (Linda, Steve, & Family) thumbnail
Traveling Friends Henry, Loretta & Jessica thumbnail
Traveling Friends Perry And Beth thumbnail
Ashland Friends Dick And Viki thumbnail
Last Glimpse Of Spencer Spit thumbnail
Until Next Time thumbnail

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Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, Nevada

Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, Nevada

Posted by on Aug 19, 2016 in Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Nevada, Travel | 24 comments

Angel Creek is one of the places that made us realize that Nevada is much more than barren desert and glitzy casinos. We stumbled across this little jewel several years ago on a cross-country journey, and were more than surprised by the beauty we discovered.

Mountains? High alpine lakes? Aspen groves? This was not the Nevada we were accustomed to. We spent three peaceful nights at Angel Creek campground, hiked to high alpine lakes from Angel Lake, and put it on our “must return to” list. In late May, we finally made our way back.

Heading north from our last stop at Great Basin National Park, it’s an easy 200-mile drive through Nevada on some of the loneliest roads in America, through less than inspiring scenery. But pass through the dusty little town of Wells, take a left, and you’re suddenly on a scenic highway, traveling into a wilderness of snow-capped peaks, meadows of wildflowers, and alpine lakes.

We settled into our favorite site at Angel Creek campground, tucked into a grove of spring-green aspen and overlooking the valley below. In our travels—and life in general—we’ve learned that it’s the smallest things that make us happiest. Beautiful scenery, interesting hikes, abundant birdlife, wildflowers. Peace. Quiet. Dark night skies. (Good Verizon coverage is a bonus.) Angel Lake and Angel Creek has all of this, and more.

Our first visit several years ago was in the fall, and the hiking was superb. At least two trails lead to alpine lakes, one a 10-mile round trip hike; the other about 5 miles. We were looking forward to revisiting our hiking adventures—but failed to consider that in late May at this altitude, the trails would be covered in deep snow. Oops.

Had we known the trails were closed, we might have chosen a different travel route. But had we not been there in late spring, when the mountains and lake were still dressed in their winter finery, we would have missed the spectacular mirror image of the snow-capped mountains reflected in Angel Lake. Storm clouds billowed above us, and we hiked as far as we could before deep snow turned us around.

Just four miles below, snug in our campsite at Angel Creek, we were treated to abundant, colorful birdlife, including neon bright Western Tanagers, turquoise Lazuli Buntings, and Lewis’s Woodpeckers with their emerald green backs and rosy breasts. This is where we first saw Short-eared Owls several years ago, and we were delighted to again catch a glimpse of one as it flew across the road and landed in the sagebrush, staring at us with huge, unblinking eyes. The birding is fantastic in late spring—we saw 36 species in only a couple of days. To add to the delight of a spring visit, the meadows were thick with clutches of purple and yellow lupine.

Should you find yourself on this lonely road through Nevada, we highly recommend a couple of days at lovely Angel Creek and Angel Lake. It’s once again on our return-to list.

About the campground:

Angel Creek (a forest service campground) is a few miles off of Interstate 80 in the foothills of the East Humboldt Mountain Range, and eight miles southwest of Wells, Nevada. At 6200 feet, the campground is filled with mature aspens, and many of the sites are nicely shaded. Most of the sites are on the smaller side—our rig is 27-feet, and with our truck, we can only fit into a few sites. However, there’s one long, spacious site (number 16) that will accommodate any size rig.

No hookups, but there’s potable water and clean bathrooms. We also had blazing fast Verizon coverage in the campground. The sites are $15 per night (half-price with the Senior Pass).

Angel Lake—another four miles up a narrow, twisting road—also has campsites, but although there are a few 30-foot length sites, it seems better suited to small rigs and tents (I can’t imagine hauling a trailer longer than about 21-feet up that steep and winding road—especially with the sheer drop-offs). In late spring, the campground (at 8400 feet) was still buried under snow.

Next Up: Having A Blast In Boise, ID

Wildflowers And Snow

Tucked Into Our Favorite Site

It's A Little Tight

Mountain Views From The Campground

Lewis's Woodpecker

Western Tanager

Short-eared Owl

Blooming Lupine

Reflections In Angel Lake

Hiking In The Snow

Winter In Late May

On The Trail To Smith Lake

Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake

This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig

Wildflowers And Snow
Tucked Into Our Favorite Site
It's A Little Tight
Mountain Views From The Campground
Lewis's Woodpecker
Western Tanager
Short-eared Owl
Blooming Lupine
Reflections In Angel Lake
Hiking In The Snow
Winter In Late May
On The Trail To Smith Lake
Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake
This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig
Wildflowers And Snow thumbnail
Tucked Into Our Favorite Site thumbnail
It's A Little Tight thumbnail
Mountain Views From The Campground thumbnail
Lewis's Woodpecker thumbnail
Western Tanager thumbnail
Short-eared Owl thumbnail
Blooming Lupine thumbnail
Reflections In Angel Lake thumbnail
Hiking In The Snow thumbnail
Winter In Late May thumbnail
On The Trail To Smith Lake thumbnail
Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake thumbnail
This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig thumbnail

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Wonderfully Remote Great Basin Nat’l Park

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin Nat’l Park

Posted by on Aug 8, 2016 in Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Nevada, Travel | 34 comments

Considering that it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it’s kind of surprising that we’ve made our way to Great Basin National Park three times now. I resisted going there for years, thinking that a national park in Nevada couldn’t possibly amount to much. But this remote, little visited national park has become one of our favorites.

Why, you ask? For starters, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the craziness that has overtaken other better-known national parks. You will find no crowded parking lots, no tour buses, and no crush of humanity on the trails. You’ll also find no charming gateway town, or any amenities to speak of. But if you’re after peace, quiet, and spectacular natural beauty, this is a place you’ll like.

The hiking is superb, with a variety of trails for everyone. Some paths meander along streams and wildflower covered hillsides. Other trails start at 9,000 feet, heading steeply up into the mountains through groves of aspen and along the shores of alpine lakes. The park even boasts an ancient bristlecone pine forest, a limestone cave with beautiful formations, and some of the darkest night skies in the country.

An easy 200-mile drive from Snow Canyon, the long highway eased us into the remoteness of the park. Located in the vast high desert of eastern Nevada, far from major population centers, there’s not much for miles around. The tiny town of Baker, population 68, sits at the crossroads outside of the park. The main street is wide and dusty; two cafes with peeling signs, a combination motel/campground/bar, and a self-serve gas station with a strange Twilight Zone vibe make up the “downtown” area.

Talking to the locals and the friendly park rangers leaves no doubt that this is definitely the road less taken for the 68 people who live here—there’s even a sign along the road to the park that expresses this sentiment. It’s a 70-mile drive for the most basic of groceries, further for more amenities. But that seems to be a small tradeoff for the peace and quiet and beauty of this place. (Would we live here? No. But we certainly enjoy visiting—we’ve even considered hosting at the park.)

We were here early this year, in late May, just before the roads opened to access Wheeler Peak and the high altitude trails. We contented ourselves with hiking the lower altitude trails along the creek surging with snowmelt, through meadows lush with bright yellow balsamroot and splashes of crimson Indian paintbrush. We even discovered a gorgeous, pristine natural spring where we harvested fresh watercress and mint.

Lucky for us, we happened to be in the park the weekend of a bioblitz. (A bioblitz is a biological census that focuses on an overall count of the plants, animals, and other organisms that inhabit a place.) The focus of this bioblitz was on birds. How perfect is that? We signed up for a couple of workshops and hikes (all free), and had a great time helping find and count birds. As a relatively new national park, the rangers use citizen science to help document species in the park.

If you visit the park, June is a lovely time, when all of the trails are open and there are still wildflowers in the meadows. Late September or early October, before the snows begin and the aspen are turning to gold, is also gorgeous. We’ve been in both seasons and found it spectacular. (You can read about those visits here and here.)

About the campground:

On our previous two visits, we stayed in the park in Upper Lehman Campground and loved it. However, the roads are tight, and the sites are small and ridiculously unlevel. The campground was closed for renovations while we were there—we’ll see on our next visit if improvements were made to make the sites more accessible and level.

This time, we stayed in town at Whispering Elms Campground, just six miles from the entrance to the national park. Although initially I wasn’t too enthusiastic (we always prefer national park campgrounds) it turned out to be a fine option. The sites are gravel and large, with many pull-throughs, and we appreciated having full hookups in the freezing temperatures of early spring. There’s a decrepit bathhouse and laundry, which we didn’t use. Surprisingly, we had unexpectedly good Internet, courtesy of the campground (that’s because our site was close to the front of the park). We spent three peaceful nights and would happily return. $30 per night.

Next Up: Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, NV

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP

On The Road To Great Basin

Downtown Baker

Check In At The Bar

Whispering Elms Campground

Still Life With Oil Drum

One Of Our Magpie Neighbors

A Chilly Day On The Trail

Creek Crossing

Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot

Marmot Crossing

Mama And Baby Marmot

Three Babies In All

Spring Aspen Leaves

A Beautiful Natural Spring

Gathering Mint And Watercress

Bullocks Oriole

Wheeler Peak Sculpture

Gateway To...

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP
On The Road To Great Basin
Downtown Baker
Check In At The Bar
Whispering Elms Campground
Still Life With Oil Drum
One Of Our Magpie Neighbors
A Chilly Day On The Trail
Creek Crossing
Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot
Marmot Crossing
Mama And Baby Marmot
Three Babies In All
Spring Aspen Leaves
A Beautiful Natural Spring
Gathering Mint And Watercress
Bullocks Oriole
Wheeler Peak Sculpture
Gateway To...
Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP thumbnail
On The Road To Great Basin thumbnail
Downtown Baker thumbnail
Check In At The Bar thumbnail
Whispering Elms Campground thumbnail
Still Life With Oil Drum thumbnail
One Of Our Magpie Neighbors thumbnail
A Chilly Day On The Trail thumbnail
Creek Crossing thumbnail
Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot thumbnail
Marmot Crossing thumbnail
Mama And Baby Marmot thumbnail
Three Babies In All thumbnail
Spring Aspen Leaves thumbnail
A Beautiful Natural Spring thumbnail
Gathering Mint And Watercress thumbnail
Bullocks Oriole thumbnail
Wheeler Peak Sculpture thumbnail
Gateway To... thumbnail

 

 

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A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 38 comments

A visit to High Island is on every birder’s dream list. People flock to this tiny town from all over the world in the springtime to witness one of the great wonders of bird migration—the return of our feathered friends from their winter homes in Central and South America to their spring nesting grounds in North America. What makes High Island so unique is the location—it’s one of the first and highest landfalls that the birds encounter after their arduous flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, this is an enthralling place. We knew this was a great location to see colorful spring migrants, such as orioles, tanagers, and warblers. But we had no idea that High Island also shelters an enormous rookery for egrets and spoonbills. Any other views we’ve had of spoonbills or egrets in our travels were totally blown away by our close encounters with these magnificently beautiful creatures nesting on High Island.

We spent hours at the rookery—appropriately named Sanctuary Ponds—watching Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills performing their elaborate courtship rituals, building nests, and raising their young. It is nothing short of mesmerizing.

When we weren’t in the rookery, we were walking the trails in Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods in search of colorful migrants. Any time in April is a good time to catch the migration on High Island, although there’s no guaranteed “best” time. The birds come and go with the winds and the storms, and there’s no telling what you’ll find on the trails. But April is also the best time to visit the rookery, and there’s no question that you’ll see lots of egrets and spoonbills.

High Island is miniscule, with a population of about 500. Stock up on groceries before you arrive, and don’t plan on eating out unless you’re up for a long drive. We were happy to ensconce ourselves at the conveniently located little RV Park, where we barely moved our truck for three days. All of the birding locations are within a mile or so of the park, and we spent our time biking and birding all day, every day.

We had a delightful time, except for a brief moment in Boy Scout Woods. I’d bought an adorable shortbread cookie decorated like a Blackburnian Warbler from the local Audubon Society folks. It was really cute, and I had plans to keep it (for what reason, I’m not certain). But when I turned around, I discovered that Eric had taken a big bite out of the cookie. Me: “I can’t believe you ate the bird! You bit the head right off!” Eric: “It was a cookie, what did you expect?” (In his defense, he wasn’t aware of my long-term plans for the cookie.)

About the RV Park:

High Island RV Park is a delightful, peaceful little park, with 20 paved sites offering full-hookups, showers, laundry, and good Wi-Fi, $30/night. Best of all, the park is within walking distance of Boy Scout Woods, and only a mile from Smith Oaks and Sanctuary Ponds. Reservations are taken six months in advance; if you want to go mid-March through mid-May, you probably need reservations because it fills up with—you guessed it—birders.

Next Up: It’s Always A Good Time: Austin, TX

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX

Ready To Go Find The Birdies

At Sanctuary Ponds

Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds

Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies

Tending The Nest

Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color

Great Egret Courtship Dance

Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret

Just Hatched

Mama, Mama, Mama!

Feed Me!

These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest

Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill

Courtship Display

Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual

Nesting Roseate Spoonbills

Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage

Snowy Egret Courtship Display

Purple Gallinule In The Reeds

A Happy Birder In Smith Oaks

At Boy Scout Woods

Birdwatching In The Swamp

On The Boardwalk

An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk

On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods

Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries

Scarlet Tanager

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male

Baltimore Oriole

Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge

Right Before He Bit The Head Off

High Island RV Park

Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park

A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX
Ready To Go Find The Birdies
At Sanctuary Ponds
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies
Tending The Nest
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color
Great Egret Courtship Dance
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret
Just Hatched
Mama, Mama, Mama!
Feed Me!
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill
Courtship Display
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage
Snowy Egret Courtship Display
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks
At Boy Scout  Woods
Birdwatching In The Swamp
On The Boardwalk
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male
Baltimore Oriole
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge
Right Before He Bit The Head Off
High Island RV Park
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park
A Birder's Paradise: High Island, TX thumbnail
Ready To Go Find The Birdies thumbnail
At Sanctuary Ponds thumbnail
Lots Of Big Lenses At The Ponds thumbnail
Close Quarters In The Nesting Colonies thumbnail
Tending The Nest thumbnail
Great Egret Eggs Are A Pale Blue-Green Color thumbnail
Great Egret Courtship Dance thumbnail
Elaborate Courtship Display Of Great Egret thumbnail
Just Hatched thumbnail
Mama, Mama, Mama! thumbnail
Feed Me! thumbnail
These Babies Are Almost Ready To Leave The Nest thumbnail
Beautiful Roseate Spoonbill thumbnail
Courtship Display thumbnail
Crossing Bills During Courtship Ritual thumbnail
Nesting Roseate Spoonbills thumbnail
Snowy Egrets In Breeding Plumage thumbnail
Snowy Egret Courtship Display thumbnail
Purple Gallinule In The Reeds thumbnail
A Happy Birder  In Smith Oaks thumbnail
At Boy Scout  Woods thumbnail
Birdwatching In The Swamp thumbnail
On The Boardwalk thumbnail
An Unexpected Visitor On The Boardwalk thumbnail
On The Trails In Boy Scout Woods thumbnail
Summer Tanager Eating Mulberries thumbnail
Scarlet Tanager thumbnail
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak thumbnail
Indigo Bunting, First-Year Male thumbnail
Baltimore Oriole thumbnail
Artistic Bird Cookies To Benefit The Refuge thumbnail
Right Before He Bit The Head Off thumbnail
High Island RV Park thumbnail
Tucked Into Our Site At High Island RV Park thumbnail

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In The Heart Of Cajun Country

In The Heart Of Cajun Country

Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Birding, Food, Gallery, Louisiana, Travel | 32 comments

Just west of New Orleans, I-10 travels across the vast Atchafalaya Swamp and into Acadiana—also known as Cajun Country. Life is different here. The language is a lilting French/English patois. The music is a vibrant and plaintive mélange of accordion and fiddle. And the food is a delicious melding of locally available ingredients, most notably crawfish, smoked meats, and rice.

Underlying everything is a sense of “joie de vivre” that infuses daily life—a joyful exuberance that is readily extended to visitors. This was our third visit to Cajun Country—and it won’t be our last.

We booked four nights in the heart of Cajun Country at Poche’s Fish’N’Camp—our favorite spot in Breaux Bridge. And quickly realized that once again, we didn’t give ourselves enough time here. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, just missing the weekend gatherings where people of all ages convene in cafés, bars, and dance halls to make music and dance. (We experienced a Cajun Saturday morning music jam on our last visit a couple of years ago. You can see a short video here.) From now on, we’ll make sure that we arrive prior to the weekend. Even better, we’ll stay a full week.

If nothing else, the Cajun culture is a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of community. In the mid-1700’s, the Acadians were driven out of their chosen homeland of Acadia (present day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), where they had happily and peacefully lived for 150 years. Their villages were burned, families split up, and thousands perished as a result of the inhumane conditions they endured during the deportation.

Along the coast, bayous, and upland prairies of south Louisiana, a few thousand Acadians found refuge. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to start all over again in hot and humid Louisiana, replete with alligators and other swamp terrors. The Cajuns are a resourceful lot, though—they fished, hunted, farmed, and set about recreating their Acadia (“idyllic place”). And alligator ended up on the menu.

Despite missing the weekend community gatherings, we found plenty to occupy ourselves. We visited the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a small National Historical Park. The displays are lovingly crafted from heirlooms donated by the families who settled here. There’s also a rather morose half-hour film that focuses on the tragic history of the exiled Acadians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much attention given to their resilient spirit and the exuberant culture and close community they’ve created après exile.

Louisiana Regions MapDespite the attempts of the government in the early 20th century to “mainstream” the Cajuns (including forbidding French to be spoken in schools), the culture thrives today. In 1971, one-third of the state was recognized as “Acadiana” by the Louisiana State Legislature.

A visit to Vermilionville—next door to the cultural center—is a delight. We spent half a day wandering through the living history museum on the banks of the bayou, where costumed staff, craftspeople, and musicians go about the activities of 18th-19th century daily life of south Louisiana with great authenticity. And we also spent part of a day walking the trails at nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island, where we were happy to see thousands of nesting egrets and herons (albeit far-off views).

We were there mid-April, at the height of crawfish season when the crustaceans are at their largest and fattest. Once considered a poor-people’s food (the term “mudbug” is still commonly used), the Cajuns took to them with relish, and crawfish are now celebrated as a delicacy. We set out to buy crawfish for dinner. “Y’all want tree or five pounds?” inquired the young man with a warm smile and a delightful Cajun accent. “Want dem medium or spicy? Spicy are hot hot,” he warned. Actually, I’d been thinking one pound, since it was only the two of us. But three pounds turned out to be just the right amount.

Mudbugs look like miniature lobsters, and the tails (which contain the sweet, tender meat) make up only one-third of the creatures. We peeled the meat out of the tails and made crawfish étouffée for dinner that night, a classic Cajun dish. It begins, like all Cajun cuisine, with sautéing the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and is seasoned with a healthy pinch of cayenne. It was delicious.

About the RV Park:

Poche’s Fish-N-Camp is a very nice RV park with level concrete sites situated around fishing ponds. The park offers full hook-ups, good Verizon, a nice laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. It’s in the boonies, but only about 5 miles from the town of Breaux Bridge, and 10 miles from Lafayette. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country here. With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.

Next Up: A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX

Altar In A Cajun Home

At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village

A Typical Cajun Home

Docent Spinning Wool

Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing

In The Herbalist's Cottage

Schoolhouse In Vermilionville

Trying To Eradicate The French Language

It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion

Lovely Little Church

Inside The Church

In The Garden Of The Church

At The Acadian Cultural Center

Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments

Overlooking Lake Martin

Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin

Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp

Nesting Great Egrets

Turning The Eggs

Poche's Fish-N-Camp

Our Site At Poche's

Peaceful Spot At Poche's

Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish

That's A Lot Of Crawfish

Crawfish Etouffee

Louisiana Regions Map

Altar In A Cajun Home
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village
A Typical Cajun Home
Docent Spinning Wool
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing
In The Herbalist's Cottage
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville
Trying To Eradicate The French Language
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion
Lovely Little Church
Inside The Church
In The Garden Of The Church
At The Acadian Cultural Center
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments
Overlooking Lake Martin
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp
Nesting Great Egrets
Turning The Eggs
Poche's Fish-N-Camp
Our Site At Poche's
Peaceful Spot At Poche's
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish
That's A Lot Of Crawfish
Crawfish Etouffee
Louisiana Regions Map
Altar In A Cajun Home thumbnail
At Vermilionville, An Acadian Village thumbnail
A Typical Cajun Home thumbnail
Docent Spinning Wool thumbnail
Handmade Quilt And Homespun Clothing thumbnail
In The Herbalist's Cottage thumbnail
Schoolhouse In Vermilionville thumbnail
Trying To Eradicate The French Language thumbnail
It's Not Cajun Music Without An Accordion thumbnail
Lovely Little Church thumbnail
Inside The Church thumbnail
In The Garden Of The Church thumbnail
At The Acadian Cultural Center thumbnail
Display Of Cajun Musical Instruments thumbnail
Overlooking Lake Martin thumbnail
Some Of The Wildlife Found At Lake Martin thumbnail
Iris Blooming In The Cypress Swamp thumbnail
Nesting Great Egrets thumbnail
Turning The Eggs thumbnail
Poche's Fish-N-Camp thumbnail
Our Site At Poche's thumbnail
Peaceful Spot At Poche's thumbnail
Happy Hour Includes Cleaning Crawfish thumbnail
That's A Lot Of Crawfish thumbnail
Crawfish Etouffee thumbnail
Louisiana Regions Map thumbnail

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Slowing Down On Dauphin Island

Slowing Down On Dauphin Island

Posted by on Apr 16, 2016 in Alabama, Biking, Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Musings, Travel | 34 comments

We’ve been talking for a long time about slowing down our travels. In a couple of months, we’ll have been on the road fulltime for three years. Since we pulled out of our hometown of Ashland, Oregon in June of 2013, we’ve put 52,000 miles on our truck. At least half of that has been towing our home-on-wheels behind us.

We love our traveling life, but we’ve also realized that we want and need to make some changes if we’re going to be happy long-term in this lifestyle. (And yes, we want to continue.) But it’s a bit of a challenge, for a variety of reasons.

Here’s what we can’t change: We have family in Florida, but we also have family on the West Coast, as well as our home and many dear friends in the Pacific Northwest. That means cross-country trips, both directions, every year, boomeranging between Florida and the West Coast. Flying isn’t really a viable option because of the length of time we want and need to spend with family. Plus, we want to have our home with us—it’s really hard to go back to any other kind of travel after RVing. We also love our summer camp host gig on Lopez Island, and we’re not yet ready to give it up.

Here’s what we can change: The pace at which we travel, and the rhythm of our daily lives. Each time we’ve journeyed cross-country, we’ve extended the amount of time we’ve taken to get from the Pacific Northwest to Florida. First it was a month, then five weeks, then six—last fall, we took seven weeks. This time, as we make our way back to Lopez Island for our camp hosting gig mid-June, we’ve given ourselves just over two months. My crystal ball predicts we’ll be slowing the pace even more.

We’re also staying places longer—we’ve agreed that we’re not going to stay anywhere for less than two nights, unless there’s really nothing of interest and it’s an easy overnight stop. Most places, we’ll stay a minimum of three nights—many places, we’re planning to stay five to seven nights. We’ve always kept our travels to about 200 miles for each move—but now we’re keeping at least half of our travel days to under 150 miles.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re doing our best to stop behaving as though we’re on a two-week vacation. It might sound strange, but one of the primary drawbacks to full-time RVing is that it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of wanting to see and do everything. At least, that’s been true for us. Eric and I both love hiking, biking, kayaking, birding, exploring new places, museums, music, art, architecture, festivals of all types, hanging out with long-time friends, meeting new friends, cooking, discovering new restaurants, farmer’s markets, and photographing everything.

New places—and familiar favorite places—offer a never-ending array of things to do. But constantly being on the go is wearing on us—apparently too much of a good thing really can be too much. Unlike our pre-full-time-traveling life, we don’t have time to naturally integrate our travels with “normal life” by returning to a stationary home. Therefore, we need to rein ourselves in.

We need some down time—time to hang out at our site in the morning with a cup of coffee, enjoying an easy start to the day. We’re both avid readers, and would like leisurely time to read a good book (not just a couple of pages at night before falling asleep, book in hand). I want time to practice my guitar and learn new songs; Eric wants time to update his birding photos and bird lists. We want time to enjoy sunset with a leisurely happy hour, instead of skidding into our site just in time to make dinner after a long day of adventures. (I’m not even talking about work/blogging/trip planning/daily life stuff—all of which adds to the hours that are spoken for in a day.)

We’re off to a promising new beginning. We spent the first week of April on Dauphin Island, a narrow barrier island just off the coast of Alabama. It’s a good place for not doing much of anything. With easy biking, lots of trails for hiking, and a good portion of the island devoted to bird sanctuaries (it’s one of the top locations in the U.S. for spring bird migration), it’s a paradise for slowing down. We first visited the island a couple of years ago on an all-day birding extravaganza with our friend Mona Liza (Lowe’s Travels) and had such a good time that we vowed to return.

We spent the entire week doing nothing other than biking the island, visiting various bird sanctuaries, walking miles of trails, and leisurely looking for birds. Other than a ferocious rain and windstorm that lasted most of an entire day and night, we enjoyed a peaceful stay. We even met new friends on the trails—Diana, Ed, and their sweet kitty Eze—who decided on the spur of the moment to meet up with us at our next stop, New Orleans.

If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, Dauphin Island is a lovely choice. Bring everything you need, especially food. There is no viable grocery store on the island, and Mobile is 30 miles away. However, there is a fantastic fresh seafood market with local offerings (they’ll even steam your shrimp/crab/fish for you) and a surprisingly good lending library located in the nice little Visitor Center.

About the campground:

Dauphin Island Campground is a unique and wonderful place, located directly adjacent to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, with miles of walking trails through beautiful forests, marshlands, and access to miles of beaches (with unfortunate views of offshore drilling platforms). The bathrooms are beyond funky and the washers in the laundry are rusted—the whole bath complex is scheduled for a major overhaul this summer. We stayed in a partial hook-up site for $28 per night; the seventh night is free. (The campground also has full-hookup sites, both 50 amp and 30 amp.) Verizon coverage is good.

Choose your site carefully. The considerable rainstorm we had left much of the campground with enormous pools of standing water for several days. Our site (and the other sites at the east end of the campground) was fine after 24 hours, but others weren’t so lucky. We loved our time there, and will happily return.

Next Up: A Fabulous Few Days In New Orleans

Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach

The Bridge To Dauphin Island

Snowy Egret On The Jetty

Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage

Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map

Late Afternoon In The Marsh

On The Coastal Trails

Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail

Great Blue Heron

One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge

Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond

On The Trails In The Refuge

Beautiful Hooded Warbler

Summer Tanager First-Year Male

Blue Grosbeak

Biking And Birding Dauphin Island

A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound

Black-And-White Warbler

Summer Tanager, Adult Male

Trails Through Deep Thickets

Scarlet Tanager

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush

Northern Parula In Bottlebrush

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Eastern Bluebird

Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground

After The Storm

Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week

Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach
The Bridge To Dauphin Island
Snowy Egret On The Jetty
Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage
Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map
Late Afternoon In The Marsh
On The Coastal Trails
Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail
Great Blue Heron
One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge
Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond
On The Trails In The Refuge
Beautiful Hooded Warbler
Summer Tanager First-Year Male
Blue Grosbeak
Biking And Birding Dauphin Island
A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound
Black-And-White Warbler
Summer Tanager, Adult Male
Trails Through Deep Thickets
Scarlet Tanager
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush
Northern Parula In Bottlebrush
Eastern Fox Squirrel
Eastern Bluebird
Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground
After The Storm
Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week
Red-Breasted Mergansers On The Beach thumbnail
The Bridge To Dauphin Island thumbnail
Snowy Egret On The Jetty thumbnail
Reddish Egret In Breeding Plumage thumbnail
Campground, Beach And Bird Sanctuary Map thumbnail
Late Afternoon In The Marsh thumbnail
On The Coastal Trails thumbnail
Osprey Nest Along The Beach Trail thumbnail
Great Blue Heron thumbnail
One Of Many Ponds In The Refuge thumbnail
Blue-Winged Teal On The Pond thumbnail
On The Trails In The Refuge thumbnail
Beautiful Hooded Warbler thumbnail
Summer Tanager First-Year Male thumbnail
Blue Grosbeak thumbnail
Biking And Birding Dauphin Island thumbnail
A Quiet Moment Birding At Shell Mound thumbnail
Black-And-White Warbler thumbnail
Summer Tanager, Adult Male thumbnail
Trails Through Deep Thickets thumbnail
Scarlet Tanager thumbnail
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo thumbnail
Prothonotary Warbler In Bottlebrush thumbnail
Northern Parula In Bottlebrush thumbnail
Eastern Fox Squirrel thumbnail
Eastern Bluebird thumbnail
Nice Site At Dauphin Island Campground thumbnail
After The Storm thumbnail
Some Spots Were Lakefront For A Week thumbnail

Read More