Desert Sanctuary ~ Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

This past weekend we made a quick trip to Yuma where we met up with our new travel buddy, an Arctic Fox truck camper. After much research we decided upon this mode of travel as we begin our tentative plans to tour Alaska next year. We are also planning to take this little guy out when we hit the road in a couple of months just to see how living in it¬†will feel for several months. This should be interesting. ūüėČ Actually, it does have one slide-out so it is roomier than one might think. Put some solar on top and we are good¬†to go!

Our cute little Fox!
Our cute little Fox!

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge was on my radar after reading the great post Nina had written on this desert sanctuary so we headed that way once our business in Yuma was complete.  With BLM land right across from the visitor center, it was the perfect place to enjoy our first night in the cozy confines of our little Fox.

Canada and snow geese still grace the ponds.
White pelicans, one of my favorites!

Cibola’s¬†16,600 acres sit in the lower Colorado River floodplain, a green swath of land tucked¬†into the desert between Arizona and California. ¬†This greenbelt is a major flyway for migrating birds, and many songbirds’ diets rely on the insects that are attracted to the flowering honey mesquite trees in the area. ¬†Thanks to an arrangement with some of the local farmers, harvested corn fields draw many species of birds and other wildlife as well‚Ķplant them and they will come. ūüôā ¬†The sandhill crane population, mid-December through mid-January, can often number 2,000 birds. ¬†They were rather elusive during our visit and reduced in number, off in a field not accessible to the public. We were content to be voyeurs and gaze from a distance, listening to their unusual vocal callings, since we had a close encounter with these beauties last winter near Fort Pierce, FL.

An adorable burrowing owl kept his eye on my every move.
A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.
A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.

It was fortuitous¬†that this¬†little adventure¬†came together when it did, as we had wanted to meet up with fellow RVers and bloggers¬†Rick and JoAnne, volunteers at Cibola through the end of February. ¬†They were just as lovely as we had been told by others, and we enjoyed some snacks and a nice bottle of wine while getting to know them better. ¬†The added bonus was meeting Joe and Murlene, also volunteers, who led us into the refuge as they found us sitting alongside the road planning our route. ¬†Joe very kindly took us on a private tour, pointing out many of the local waterfowl and other wildlife that make this their winter home. ¬†I learned through Nina’s post of Cibola and talking with Joe that he has an extensive background¬†as a photographer, one that he refers to as a hobby but looks to rival most professionals imho. ¬†Check out his website here and see for yourself the beauty he so artfully captures in nature.

The waterfowl are dwindling as they begin to¬†feel the call of cooler climes but there is still much to seduce your senses. ¬†Summer here in the desert can be harsh, when¬†temps can soar to 120¬į F. ¬†Soon the ponds will be quieted, where there was a cacophony of sounds just weeks ago, with¬†standing-room only.

Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.
Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.

When you tire of all the colorful wildlife, just down the road from the ponds is the historic Cibola Cabin and Hart Mine.  You might just find a few wild burros foraging in the desert if you are lucky.

Peak time for visiting is mid-December through mid-January but we still found this little desert oasis delightful. ¬†If you find yourself wandering in the desert between Blythe and Yuma, consider a visit to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a sparkling little desert gem. ūüôā

Last rays against a desert mountain backdrop.

Rubbing Elbows with the Mega-Wealthy and a “Darling” of an Island

We are settled into the lovely¬†Neopolitan Cove RV Resort in a city that has been called the “crown jewel” of southwest Florida, “well-known for its high-end shopping, world-class culture and sophisticated dining”. ¬†This city has the 6th highest per capita income in America, the second highest proportion of millionaires in the US, and showcases some of the most expensive real estate around. ¬†This is¬†Naples, Florida and no, not where you would normally find us, rubbing elbows with the mega-wealthy, out on the town for a night of elegant dining. ¬†My silk suits and fashionable pumps have gone the way of my stressful corporate job as have Terry’s suits. ¬†We much prefer hiking boots, walking shoes or bouncing about on our bikes these days.

I was not going to be quieted until I knew I would be within striking distance of a day-trip to the darling of an island I had heard so much about, and Naples offered us this springboard when other locations were already booked.  Florida is snow-bird haven so if you hesitate, you lose, when it comes to making winter RV reservations.

There is no denying the striking beauty found in Naples. ¬†We have oohed and aahed our way through the¬†charming historic district, both on foot and bikes while on our way to the Naples Fishing Pier, one of the city’s better-known landmarks, tucked away in a residential neighborhood. ¬†It is where we have spent much of our time, walking the white-sand beach and enjoying picnics, while waiting with the locals and tourists alike to take in the spectacular sunsets, and there have been a few of those.

Even in the lap of luxury, white-sand beaches and stunning sunsets to entice, there was nothing I wanted more than to head to Sanibel Island and breathe in the symbiotic essence of J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the most visited wildlife refuge and one of the hottest birding spots in the country, with ~ one million visitors yearly.

The story of how this sanctuary came to be is one built on passion and a reverence for the world’s natural resources. ¬†The man, Ding Darling, was best known for what paid his bills, a career as an esteemed editorial cartoonist, appearing in 150 newspapers nationwide, which earned him two Pulitzer Prizes. But it was his passion for nature and wildlife that breathed life into this most precious of refuges.

In the early 1940’s, Ding was distressed by news that the State of Florida was ready to strike an agreement with developers to sell off over 2200 acres of Sanibel Island’s virginal mangrove wetlands. ¬†He sprang into action and with the help of a few friends, convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lease the land, protecting this important wildlife habitat.

When Ding passed away in 1962, admirers and friends came together to form the J. N. “Ding” Darling Foundation. ¬†Their 5-year struggle to take these leased lands, acquire them, and place them under the Federal ownership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service secured these pristine wetlands for an abundance of wildlife, our enjoyment, and secured the profound legacy of this very special man – J. N. “Ding” Darling.

Land meets sea, saltwater melds into freshwater, and temperate climate kisses tropical warmth as you step inside this wildlife preserve.  The 4-mile drive takes you through sea grass meadows, tidal flats, and mangrove forests, with birders and photographers waiting around every curve to share their knowledge and love of this precious refuge.

We arrived as the gates opened at 7am.  The quiet beauty of this place greeted us and we knew we had come at the perfect time.   We meandered along the drive, stopping when yet another unique bird made her appearance.   We then walked four miles of trails in the hopes of finding a few other hidden treasures. Neither alligators nor the resident crocodile greeted us, although we are assured of seeing plenty of both during our stay later this month in the Everglades.

I could not entice some of the birds to get within my lens’ reach, particularly the roseate spoonbill, who is on the top of my “up-close and personal” to see list. ¬†For that treat, I urge you to check out Raven and Chickadee’s (better known as¬†Eric and Laurel) post on Sanibel Island, or Ingrid of Live, Laugh, RV, who didn’t have to trek to Sanibel to see this “pretty in pink” beauty.

Sanibel Island is best seen on bike, sporting 22 miles of paved trails and is the ultimate way to afford stress-free travel, as the roadways onto and off the island get pretty congested. ¬†Some of the best shelling beaches in the world can be found here at Sanibel, although we could not attest to the variety of shells we had seen in photos. ¬† That might be because I didn’t practice my “Sanibel Stoop”, digging with a net along the shoreline for these little treasures.

Artistry on Sanibel Beach
Artistry on Sanibel Beach

From Naples we head to Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, where we venture into the swamplands of the Everglades. ¬†I am told we may be without both cell phone and internet coverage so until we return to civilization once again, have a wonderful week! ūüôā

“Preposterously Beautiful” ~ Patagonia, AZ

This is the way part-time resident, novelist and screenwriter (Legends of the Fall) Jim Harrison describes Patagonia.  We just blew through this funky little town several years ago when we visited so we decided it was time to show her some respect.

Our good friends Stan and Marilyn were hunkered down here for a few days while a winter storm passed by and we wanted to see them one last time before they began their journey back home. ¬†Even though the weather wasn’t perfect, what better place to enjoy nature for a few hours than in a world-class birding hot spot. ¬†Even if you are not a birder, once here we are told, you may discover your inner passion for these colorful, feathery creatures who far outnumber people. This little gem has been named in the publication¬†Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die: ¬†Birding Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations.

Bridge over Patagonia Lake
Bridge over Patagonia Lake

Nestled between the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains at a 4000-foot elevation, this town has a unique vibe, a quirkiness about it that suits its residents just fine. ¬†Preserving its history, its rich riparian area, and sustainability are some of Patagonia’s top priorities.

Just west of town lies the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, “home to one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing streams, endangered fish, butterflies, and birds”. ¬†Adjacent to town the Nature Conservancy has also staked its claim and the organization Native Seeds/SEARCH maintains a farm for preserving and growing seeds of endangered crops that grow in this area. ¬†Scratch below the surface, dig a little deeper, and you will find some hidden gems in small town America. ¬†We will definitely be back.

Patagonia Lake
Patagonia Lake

Although I have bemoaned the fact that I need a camera with better zoom ability to catch the beauty of these little feathered friends, we headed out to Patagonia Lake State Park & Sonoita Creek Natural Area with binoculars in hand (and camera just in case I got lucky).  Our first stop was to the visitor center to ask where the most birds can be seen.  Many agreed that if we stood in their side yard, where their feeders are, we would see a wide variety, but they also decided to share a couple of trails that might offer some enjoyment.  We opted for the birding trail, sans tour guide, where we could get a little exercise and hopefully see some birds.

A pair of cardinals hiding in the thicket
A pair of cardinals hiding in the thicket

For the record, I am not a birder, but I must admit to sending out a little prayer into the universe to have a chance meeting with the reclusive Elegant Trogon, the colorful, tropical bird that brings birders by the thousands to southeast Arizona each year. ¬†Patagonia and its surrounding ¬†mountain ranges are the farthest north this little beauty ventures so I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances.

Who are you lookin' at?
Who are you lookin’ at?

The first mile didn’t offer much to entice our sense of sight, other than some inquisitive cows, a burbling creek and the sound of many bird species that filled the air. ¬†We were relishing the fresh air after being cooped up inside waiting out the winter storm. ¬†Following the creek around a bend, our friend Marilyn whispered, “there he is”. ¬†The gods were smiling down on us as we watched this little beauty quietly perched on a branch. ¬†I kept snapping away in the hopes of having a few viable photos then traded off with Terry so I could see him in all his splendor up-close through the binoculars. ¬†Terry was able to creep even closer when the Elegant Trogon flew from his perch to the ground and back up again. Here is what he found to be much more interesting than us:

The big question from everyone we¬†met on the trail was “did you see it?”. ¬†We showed our photos many times before we got back to our vehicle. ¬†We were ready to take off when someone tapped on Stan’s window. ¬†Rolling it down, the group standing there asked to see the photos. ¬†Guess this colorful little fella is something of a rock star!

Our time with Stan and Marilyn was coming to an end, and what better way to find solace than to nourish our bodies and toast this heart connection with a glass of nice French wine.  We headed over to the Velvet Elvis Pizza Company, where the lovely Ecuadorian proprietor and executive chef, Cecilia, creates the most delectable dishes.  Her pizzas are gourmet and the remaining menu has a Latin American flair.  What a find in this funky little town and the perfect way to bid adieu to our friends, with the promise of a visit later this summer.

"Last supper" at the Velvet Elvis
“Last supper” at the Velvet Elvis

For a great gallery of Arizona birds, check out the Lowe’s RV Adventures, and while you’re there, spent some time reading about their many wonderful travel exploits.

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