Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Just Northwest of Santa Barbara, CA is this little triangle of small towns, Solvang, Buellton, and Los Olivos, that are full of charm, character, and scenic opportunities. Solvang offers Danish charm where one can feel like they were transported to Copenhagen and gorge themselves on butter cookies and ebelskivers. The city was founded in 1911 by Danish settlers and includes a Hans Christian Anderson museum and park. Buellton is considered the Home of Pea Soup, where Pea Soup Andersen’s has been serving scratch made fresh pea soup since 1924. Los Olivos has multiple wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and eclectic shops.

The Central Coast of California is well situated North of the Los Angeles / San Fernando Valley and South of San Francisco / Paso Robles area. The area is littered with agriculture and small farm stands selling local produce. The landscape is dotted with craggy oak trees that can reach up to 600 years old, and are native to the area.

We wandered around, ate & drank, visited wineries, and poked around the numerous shops. It’s the stuff vacations are made of, relaxing and indulging in the local culture. We drove some of the back roads around Foxen Canyon. We wanted to drive through Figueroa Mountain, but the historic snow and winds in the area closed the areas to traffic.

Further Northwest is Cambria, another charming town worth exploring along the coast. Just outside of San Luis Obispo, Cambria is a popular destination spot for locals and tourists alike.

Cambria is a convenient location close to Paso Robles, 30 miles North, Hearst Castle (San Simeon), and Elephant Seal Vista Point.

While in Cambria we enjoyed a gorgeous hike along Fisculini Ranch Bluff trail (at the end of Windsor Rd) with great trails along the oceanside. We indulged in our own picnic at one of the many ‘twig’ benches along the well kept paths.

Next time we are in the area, Cambria is well worth a stay. Another hike we would have loved to do was the Moonstone Beach Drive at Leffingwell Landing.

You can see my photos of Morro Bay, further North, here ..

Cibola Wildlife Refuge

Cibola Wildlife Refuge was established in 1964 to channel the Colorado River to prevent flooding. This 18,000+ acre refuge created marshes and backwaters that have become wintering grounds for migratory waterfowl. It lies in the southwestern part of Arizona, just North of Yuma.

When we were there they had ‘drained the swamp’, if you will, or the marshes to be more specific for maintenance. As a result, there were very few sandhill cranes. The stunning number of red winged and yellow headed blackbirds more than made up for it though. It seems where the cranes weren’t the blackbirds had the corn field to themselves and were there is hoards.

They were mesmerizing to watch as they swarmed between corn fields, filling the air with red, black, and gold.

It truly was a sight to see. Besides blackbirds we watched teals, hawk, and a few sandhill crane.

If we were to go back, it would be worth dragging a boat to see what might lurk in the grasses along Cibola Lake, which opens March 15. We had thought we could launch from the Oxbow Campground, but with all the maintenance taking place, the ramps were steep and difficult to use. Next time.

Chiricahua National Monument

We recently checked out Whitewater Draw south of Tucson and just outside of Willcox, AZ to see the massive sandhill crane migration. You can see my post here… We figured while we were in the area we could check out Chiricahua National Monument as it is not far from Whitewater Draw.

Chiricahua was established as a National Monument in 1924 to protect the over 12,000 acres of ‘pinnacles’ that jut from the ground. It’s said that these pinnacles were formed by a volcanic eruption from Turkey Creek Volcano over 27 million years ago. The volcano spewed ash over 1200 square miles cascading into fields of tall spires forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite.

This isolated mountain range rises above the surrounding grassland sea as if you are climbing into a sky island. Meadows dot the landscape with scattered cactus, mesquite, sycamore, juniper, and oak trees. The remarkable spires signify the unmistakable guardians looming from the forest floor that is Chiricahua National Monument.

The area is rich with hawks, deer, and even bobcat.

The park itself rises up to 9,763 feet and when we were there we found the trails to be solid ice and snow. The pinnacles still wore patches of snow from a snowstorm earlier in the week. The cold temperatures (24F when we were there) ensured the snow lingered for our morning sunrise.

Haigler Creek

When fall has fallen… see my post here it’s time to head south to lower elevation. Mogollon Rim is about 7600′, so we headed outside of Payson to Haigler Creek at about 5500′ to see if fall colors were starting there.

We were pleased to find some dappled color along the shores of Haigler Creek surrounding the cascading stream.

This has become a new favorite spot with its gorgeous scenery and peaceful babbling brook. While it is difficult to get to, certainly not for the 2×2 car, it is worth the effort.

I love the water gushing through the rocks and spilling downstream through twists and turns over fallen trees, branches, rocks, and brush that divert it’s flow. It is so free and unencumbered. It reminds me of a quote I am fond of, “Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of your life”. It’s peaceful machinations are a good reminder of what’s important.

Oregon Coast

Coming from Arizona, Oregon is a whole new experience. While we are used to canyons and ridges, cactus and creeks, deer and elk, scenery loaded with oceans, pelicans, otters, and redwoods is foreign land.

We drove north to Astoria, then slowly worked our way down the coast, camping along the way. We stopped and picked up fresh caught fish from the docks caught that morning, fresh veg at local farmers markets, and bread, cheese, and condiments from charming artisan stores and bakeries.

The scenery was stunning throughout, though we got our fair share of fog and overcast days. Walking on the quiet beaches in the mornings was peaceful and relaxing. Though, I must confess the damp weather was something we weren’t used to from our dry-heat of Arizona. Everything we owned was damp, wet, and difficult to dry.

We stopped at a number of Oregon State Parks, each having its own allure. Some had beach access, while others had tons of trails. Several had campgrounds, many were day use only. It was stunning to see how many State Parks there were. There had to be almost 50 parks just along the coast.

The coastline was gorgeous as we traversed our way down coast. Around every corner was a new sight to see; a new place to stop; a new picture to take. We planned to go 50 – 60 miles / day. Normally that would take an hour, under city highway (no traffic) standards. Every once in awhile we would push to 140 miles give or take / day. We ‘d leave early in the morning to catch sunrise, and wouldn’t get to our next stop until late in the day. We never stayed any place just one day – always at least 2, up to 4 days.

We stopped for lighthouses, beaches, and markets. We stopped for overlooks, pull-outs, and food stuff. We’d relax in our camp at night and enjoy preparing great meals with our fresh goodies.

Our last stop along the coast was Bandon. We found Bandon to be particularly charming with its many rock formations and spectacular coastline. Fish & chips (and a tasty selection of grilled fish options, oysters, shrimp, clams, and chowder) could be had right on the water overlooking the boats, or fresh fish and shellfish picked up from several local choices. There were several restaurant choices in town, and even a fromager (cheesemaker), Face Rock Creamery. There is even a distillery, a cider mill, and nearby wineries (though not in Bandon).

It was an extremely pleasant trip along the coast full of tasty treats and sights. Maybe next time we will venture inland… or maybe not.

Check out my pix South along the CA coast…

Mogollon Rain

With our monsoons brewing, this is a great time of the year to capture awesome clouds and weather.

So we headed out to the Rim to see if we could capture some interesting photos. While we were actually thinking we would get fog after the previous day’s rain. We were just greeted with more rain, and a few elk.

We always consider it a gift whatever we might get. No matter what, it’s always a good day out and beautiful trek through the forest.

Dog Town

Dog town Lake is one of the many little lakes that litter our desert state of Arizona.

We knew we were in for a good time when we saw an osprey on the tree just outside our camp.

We had a great time watching the osprey fish, and were even gifted with a bald eagle.

Dogtown Lake is situated just outside of Williams, AZ, and has a great view of the Bill Williams Mountain.

It’s definitely a place worthy of another visit, if only for the osprey watching.

Osprey hunts for fish

Everything Changes

With everything going on in the world, I guess it goes without saying that everything changes. I’m not talking about the prices, lack of workers, or social upheaval. If you go someplace or do something long enough you are bound to see change, whether it’s at a restaurant, a golf course, or a favorite outing.

Considering this a blog for my photos, I’m not talking about restaurants or golf. We have heard of Black River for decades. We were told it had unsurpassed beauty and wildlife. So, finally, after so very many years of hearing about it, we decided to bite the bullet, buy the White Mountain Indian Reservation permits and check it out.

We began our drive from Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ in a cool 70F day and began to decent the long road to the river. Once we got to the ‘border bridge’ of the San Carlos Indian Reservation we stopped to check out the river at the only viewpoint from the road. We found ourselves in 98F heat and considering the hot and sandy environment, lack of scenery, and animals, we made the decision to turn around and head to the ‘U.S.’ side outside of Big Lake.

Once there we were greeted with cooler temps, including 39F overnight. Not having ever been to Black River, we were surprised to see the lack of views of the river. I suppose if we were to hike down the river with waders the scenery would improve. The Alpine / Big Lake side still wore the scars of the 2011 fire that rolled through Hannigan Meadow and Greer. The Black River had remnants of burned trees and heavy overgrowth along the river way.

Wildcat bridge across Black River

We were further surprised to see the lack of open dispersed camping. Signs everywhere advised no camping in non-designated areas, only in the Pay-Park here spots. The campsites were dusty and trash ridden with no trash receptacles.

Everything changes. We have camped for years, pulling up in any stretch of earth and calling it home for the night. Over the years we have never paid for camping in the forest land we pay taxes on. We have found very little trash early on, but when we did, we always took home more trash than we came with and picked up anything we found. These days we travel for hours to a beautiful spot only to find heaps of trash littered everywhere. Heck, we find it on our road to our subdivision. Now, we have to pay for the pleasure of picking up others trash with no place to put it, other than take it home with us, and pay for it to be picked up.

More and more there are an increasing number of closed forest roads, gated areas we are no longer able to visit, other than designated spots where we have to listen to someone else’s generator. Sorry for the gripe. Everything changes. I’m glad we camped throughout AZ and saw all that nature has to offer. We will continue to do so, but with limited access from what we have become accustomed to.

See more photos from our outing..

Tucson to Greens Peak in 45 degrees

We got a tip that we might be able to find coatimundi at Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, a locale they had been seen many times before. Having never seen a coatimundi, we were anxious to follow up on the lead and hopeful to get a great shot.

We stopped at Tucson Mountain Park along the way. It was sunny blue sky the entire time, but we weren’t there for sunsets, we were there for the animals.

At Tucson Mountain Park we were delighted and entertained as we watched these little ground squirrel brave the ocotillo thorns just for a taste of it’s ‘candy corn’ fruit.

When we got to Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, we hiked in to the spot we thought we might see coatimundi, parked ourselves and hid for several hours, waiting in silence hoping for an encounter. Unfortunately, not all animal outings are productive. They work to their own schedule and don’t tend to appear on command.

The heat was intense at 97F, particularly for us mountain dwellers, so we made our way back through Hannigan’s meadow toward Greens Peak in hopes of catching some osprey fishing.

We were rewarded with a 53F day, nearly 45 degrees from the previous day in Southern AZ, and fortunate to see some osprey, yet unable to catch that illusive shot of them fishing… but I’ll keep trying.

Best Laid Plans

We planned well in advance for our trip to Toroweap Overlook, part of the North Rim Grand Canyon.

Toroweap (Tu-weep to the Paiute Indian) refers to ‘the earth’, and translates appropriately to ‘dry & barren’. It’s hard to imagine this long rough rocky 61-mile dirt road through sagebrush and salt bush can open up to something so enormous, vast, and beautiful.

As the Colorado River winds through the bottom of the canyon, the steep walls stretch out to the sky with abundant rock formations.

We got the camping permits 6 months in advance, as required, estimating that the end of March would be less crowded and have best potential for rainy weather and clouds, and not be too hot.

Truth be known, we hit the mark. We hoped for clouds and clouds we got. In fact, we got so many clouds that over the course of 3 nights and 3 days (that’s 6 sunset / sunrise shoots), we only saw the sun once.

Outside of that one time, the sun was behind a dense cloud bank and never made an appearance. And unfortunately, it never even lit up the sky.

While I was disappointed, it was a gorgeous spot to watch the sun rise over coffee, and end the evening watching it set (hoping the light would come).