Sampling of the Southwest

I recently went on a trip to the desert southwest with my mom and sister.  They are from Maryland and I am in Florida, so we all flew to Las Vegas and met up there.  My plan was to show my mom as much of the southwest as I could in a week.  We spent a night in Las Vegas and lost some money in the slots before heading to Utah.

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View of Las Vegas at night from our room in the Palms Place Hotel and Spa.

While in Utah we visited Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  It was a whirlwind tour!

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The Vermillion Cliffs.
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All American Highway 12 running through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

The scenery is stunning.  This was my first time in the area in the fall and I loved the colors.  There were a lot of golds.  We also saw a lot of Mule Deer.  You must be careful driving anytime but they are more on the move in the early morning and late evening.

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Mule deer mom and her young one.
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Fall colors in Utah.
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Fall colors in Utah.
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Fall colors in Utah.

While in Zion National Park, I saw a large bird, much larger than an Eagle.  I learned that there are California Condors in the area.  We spoke with a Utah state employee who had a station set up to help hunters save condors.  He said the condors fly from Zion to the Grand Canyon and there was a nesting pair in Zion, although the chicks didn’t make it.  He provides non-lead ammunition to hunters. If they use lead shot, then he requests they bring the guts to him for proper disposal.  The condors get poisoned if they eat the remains of an animal killed with lead shot.

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A program to help prevent condors from getting poisoned by lead shot.

I  prefer to visit the area in a motor home and spend more time hiking or sitting still, but we were trying to get a sampling of the southwest and only had a week to do it.    It was a lot of driving but worth it.

We spent the last night in Las Vegas on the strip and it was a big contrast between the wide open, sparsely populated spaces in Utah with the congestion in Las Vegas.  We had a great hotel room and enjoyed the food.  My sister was the only one who came out ahead after visiting the casino.  At least one of us did okay!

Dart was my best friend when I got home.  Regis said he was happy that his “toy” came back.

Dolphins and a Tortoise

We are enjoying being back in Florida.  We are catching up with friends and enjoying the natural environment.  We went kayaking today and encountered some dolphins.  That’s not unusual around here, but these dolphins came close to Regis’ kayak to check him out.  It looks like one pair of dolphins was a mom with her young one.  Click here to see the video of our trip highlights.

We also found a gopher tortoise floating in the water.  At first, I thought it might have been a terrapin because I knew it wasn’t a sea turtle.  Regis figured out it was a gopher tortoise, so we rescued it and placed it back in the sand dunes.  We don’t know how this little tortoise wound up in the water, but we know that sometimes well-meaning people think they are sea turtles and put them in the water.  Gopher tortoises live in the dunes by the water (and other places in Florida) and they cannot survive IN the water.  Hopefully, this little tortoise will be okay.

On the way back, I noticed a large animal surface in the water and then drop back down but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Regis and I were headed that way, so we watched for it as we got in the area.  Suddenly, something large moved in the water beneath Regis’ kayak and stirred up a lot of silt.  We discussed this for about 5-10 minutes and decided that it was probably a manatee that I saw and Regis probably moved over top of it and startled it.  If that is the case, he is lucky to not have been upended.

We don’t see manatees in our area as we kayak, but we know they are around in the summer.  We’ll have to pay more attention!

When we got back to the boat ramp, Regis got a cute video of a hermit crab.  It’s on the end of the video mentioned above.

I’m also very excited to find that 3 Black Skimmer pairs have nested on the beach in Anastasia State Park.  These are the first Skimmers nesting on this beach since at least 2005.  Mostly, the Black Skimmers nest on rooftops because there is insufficient habitat for them on the beach.  That is not ideal since rooftops get too hot for the eggs and chicks and they can get washed off the roof in the many rainstorms that hit Florida in the summertime.  I was told by a Florida Wildlife Commission employee that these are the only Black Skimmers nesting on a beach in all of Florida that they know of.   Let’s hope this is the beginning of a recovery since Black Skimmers, among other shorebirds, are threatened.

Home

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Dart resting comfortably on the couch after our long trip. He slept well after this shot.

On our second day heading back to Florida from Pittsburgh, I woke up feeling like we had the day off from driving.  As I thought about, I realized that we did not travel two days in a row in the motor home except for the first two days of the trip.  It was nice always being able to spend the next day recovering from a long day of driving.

After Regis took a stroll through the last campground of the trip, he came back to tell me he saw Skeletor.  Does anyone remember Skeletor?

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This was in our campground in South Carolina. Regis says it’s Skeletor.

The campground in Virginia had a bowling alley, batting cages, a miniature golf course, and they delivered pizzas.  You never know what you’re going to find!

It’s a bit warm in Florida, but it is good to be back home.  I think Dart is very happy to be back.

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Someone told me that my last picture of the giraffe did not make it clear how big it is. Therefore, I am including this picture of Dart with the GIraffe.

Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dart was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Specifically, he was on Mount Washington (formerly known as Coal Hill).

We had a great time visiting family for a couple days.

We have been feeling like yo’s yo’s since we left New York.  We’ve been traveling through the Appalachian Mountain Range as we drove through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and now Virginia.  Up and down, up and down, up and down.  There aren’t too many flat spots to be seen.  The scenery has been beautiful.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Heat and Guns

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View from campsite in Pennsylvania.

While in New York, our campsite was not far from the Susquehanna River.  We went to see it.  Having lived in Maryland most of my life, I am familiar with the Susquehanna emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.  It contributes 50% of the freshwater into the Bay.  It was interesting to see how it looks much further north.

On our way to and through Pennsylvania, we drove alongside and crossed the Susquehanna River several times.  I never realized how much territory the river covers.  It meanders all over Pennsylvania.

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Susquehanna River near Harpursville, New York.

Not long before we arrived at our campsite, we heard something rolling around in the back of the RV.  I was in the passenger seat and too lazy to get up and climb over the dog to figure out what it was.  I told Regis it sounded like pretzels to me.  We keep our pretzel nuggets in a sealed canister.  No problem there.  As we heard them again, I said I was sure they were pretzels.  We were almost to the campground, so why get up?

Later, while making dinner, Regis opened the cabinet to get ingredients.  He was deluged with coffee beans.  Apparently, the reusable tape to reseal the coffee bean bag is inadequate to survive the rigors of the ups and downs of the Pennsylvania country side.   We have coffee beans everywhere.  We will be finding them for years to come.  But, the cabinet does smell nice.

Also after setting up the site which is located at the top of a mountain, we relaxed to enjoy the view.  Two things we noticed immediately which told us for sure we were back in the US.  First, we heard the air conditioners running.  It is hot here.  Second, we heard gunshots.  Lots of them.  Since we figured there is no battle going on, Regis surmised that there is a trap and skeet range nearby.

Just this morning, I mentioned to Regis that I brought too many shorts.  One of my Canadian friends told me it also gets hot in Canada, so I packed for the heat.  I did wear shorts, but it was not always my primary attire.  We rarely had the air conditioning on.  More often, we had the heat on.  Sometimes, the motor home would heat up in the sun.  After the sun set, we would turn the air conditioner on to cool it off to better match the outdoor temperature.  And, sometimes we would have the heat on by the wee hours of the morning because it was so cold.  We have been very fortunate to have dodged the summer heat.

Not so anymore.  I will be wearing those shorts all the way back to Florida.  It is August 1 and we are just now beginning to experience the summer we grew up with.  Hmmm.  It’s not too late to turn around and head back north for another month!

Animal Adventure Park

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Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park.

I visited the Animal Adventure Park today and saw April the Giraffe, Oliver (dad), and their baby Tajiri.

The Park is nicely done.  The animals look healthy, the environment is well maintained, and the animals have enrichment programs.  There is also nice landscaping around many enclosures.  I was impressed.

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Animal Adventure Park

The highlight, of course, was seeing April and Taj.  I was one of the millions who watched April give birth to the calf.  Therefore, it was very special to see the giraffes live.  There is an interesting set up that allows the park visitors to feed carrots to April and Taj.  This allows for some intimate contact which was thrilling to the visitors young, old, and everyone in between.  I was able to touch April and it was incredible to be so close to such a beautiful animal.

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April and Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park.
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A woman feeding April a carrot from her mouth. Animal Adventure Park
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Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park. Look at those eyelashes.

My favorite animals turned out to be three young bears.  I got a short video of one of the bears licking peanut butter off a tire.  Click here.  The park keepers brought some apple tree branches into the enclosure and two of the bears had a blast playing with them.  Who knew how much fun branches could be?  The bears were just too cute.

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Mom and baby at the Animal Adventure Park.

The park runs a live cam of the giraffes on Sunday through Friday 4-8pm.  See it here.

I brought home a giraffe and Dart has been wary, but curious about it.  It’s a lot bigger than he is!  Regis almost broke a rib he laughed so hard when he saw me bring the giraffe out of the car.

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My new giraffe.