RV Travels: Where the Wild Things Are

~ a post in honor of World Wildlife Day, March 3 ~

Although we’ve encountered lots of creatures while RV’ing around the country in The Toad, the only Bighorn we’ve seen in the wild is the one we live in. Notoriously shy, those sheep!

Look! A Bighorn in the wild!

Most animals were outside the RV, living unperturbed in the environments where they belong — at least until I showed up and became the Annoying Human Taking A Selfie.

There was one notable exception. I don’t like talking about it, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t a domesticated critter, and it was living inside our RV. I’ve got to work myself up to that one, so I’m saving it for last.

The others, in alphabetical order:

Armadillo – I’ve spent enough time driving in the Lone Star State to know exactly why these armored gray diggers are called Texas Speed Bumps. Yeah. Ewwwww. But I found a live one in Shreveport, LA, during an overnight stay at the Barksdale Air Force Base RV Park, so of course I positioned myself for a discreet selfie. The armadillo did not say no.

April 2016

Bison – This guy was blocking our path to Frary Peak, the highest point on Antelope Island, in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “Bison encounter” was one of those bucket list items I didn’t even know I had until I experienced it, and I wrote about it here. We’d been warned by multiple signs not to approach or feed the bison, but the signs didn’t say anything about begging them repeatedly to get out of the way, so that’s what we did. I think the poor bugger eventually got tired of listening to us, and trotted down the hill toward the females.

July 2016

July 2016

Burros – Wild burros are a common sight in rural western Nevada, and this group took their own sweet time crossing the road to the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty.

January 2017

Cat & Deer – Yes, together, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There’s a posse of feral cats at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Texas, and we watched them interact with the deer on several occasions. Most of the time, each regarded the other in some bizarre form of woodland creature détente, but we once witnessed one of the kitties deliberately baiting one of the deer by sneaking up behind it and pouncing. The deer was not amused.

February 2017

Elk – There we were, walking along a paved path on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when I was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity: sELKfie for the win!

October 2016

Fox – We were driving to a trailhead in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon with fellow Heartland Owners, Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty, when we saw this fox trotting across a parking lot. What does the fox say? I can’t tell you. What I said was, “A fox a fox a fox!” It’s very difficult to remain eloquent when faced with such a rarity.

December 2016

Llama – On one of our first trips in The Toad, we went to Blanco State Park in Texas for a weekend escape. I was supposed to be guiding Tim as he backed the rig into our spot, but it took more than one try because — and I am not making this up — I was distracted by a llama. It kept grinning at me, I swear. See?

November 2014

Whale – While visiting family in western Washington, we drove our whale of a rig onto the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry to get from one side of Puget Sound to the other, and were rewarded with a visit from a pod of orcas, right off the bow. So majestic!

December 2015

Wild Ponies – The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers. To get to it, we hiked through Grayson Highlands State Park, which is home to a herd of wild ponies. I tried for a selfie with one of them too (it’s what I do) — and became a victim of what can best be described as “pony shenanigans.” While I posed with Pony A, Pony B took advantage of my distraction and tried to eat my backpack. Emily = stupid human.

October 2015

 

And now…

The Thing That Ate My Pastry Brush – We had a critter in the RV last fall.

Based on the droppings we found, we were pretty sure that cockroaches were afoot (although it could have been a mouse), but whatever it was, it nibbled. the bristles. off. my silicone. pastry brush. Ack!

Nothing like spending an evening researching various types of vermin poop to make a girl feel sexy. I seriously though I was going to throw up, and contemplated bathing in boiling Purell, but instead set about cleaning and disinfecting every reachable surface in our kitchen.

And then I set out dishes of a vermin-eradicating cocktail composed of equal parts powdered sugar and Borax. Success! Emily = smart human.

October 2016
See the middle finger? Unintentional, but oh so hilarious!

To learn more about the real World Wildlife Day, visit http://wildlifeday.org

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Arizona canyons: size matters. And what the hell kind of squirrel was that???

You know the name of the biggest canyon. It’s 277 miles long by up to 18 miles wide, and about a mile deep. All we could see from our walk along the south rim ten days ago was rock — that is, when our view was not impeded by other tourists, cars, campers, shuttle buses, information centers, restaurants, and guest lodges.fullsizerender-14

Sigh. I know. I’m having no small amount of trouble with our overcrowded national parks. Remember Yosemite in July? Shudder.

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I found my place on the Trail of Time. Each meter signifies a million years of history, so um, it didn't take long.

I found my place on the Trail of Time.
Each meter of distance signifies a million years of history, so um, it didn’t take long.

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After countless cross-country military moves and other travels within striking distance over two+ decades, we finally made it to the Grand Canyon. Yippee!

By significant contrast, we decided about a week later to check out Arizona’s second largest canyon, which is Sycamore Canyon, at 21 miles long by about 7 miles wide, and about 1500 feet deep, with lots of trees and vegetation in the part we saw. For you geology types, it’s desert riparian. For those of us who simply enjoy the sound and smell of the wind rushing through branches, the place is full of fragrant ponderosa pines.

You probably haven’t heard of Sycamore Canyon because it offers more of a wilderness experience than it’s larger sibling to the north.

You probably haven’t heard of Sycamore Canyon because it offers more of a wilderness experience than its larger sibling to the north.

There are no paved roads, no visitors’ centers, no developed campgrounds, and on the Sunday afternoon when we went — traveling over 15 miles of dirt and gravel forest roads to get there — almost no people.

There are no paved roads, no visitors’ centers, no developed campgrounds, and on the Sunday afternoon we visited — traveling over 15 miles of dirt and gravel forest roads to get there — almost no people.

We explored the southwest section of the rim trail for nearly three hours and encountered only two men, who were rock climbing on this cliffside.

We explored the southwest section of the rim trail for nearly three hours and encountered only two other humans, a couple of guys who were rock climbing on this cliffside.

Our hike took us a little over 3 miles, from Vista Point to Sycamore Falls and back. Don't let the map's orientation fool you. North is down, so we in fact hiked along the southwest rim.

Our hike took us a little over 3 miles, from Vista Point to Sycamore Falls and back.
Don’t let the map’s orientation fool you. North is down, so we in fact hiked along the southwest rim.

That black wedge is where the falls are when there is actual water running. Do we still call it a water fall if it's dry?

That black wedge is where the falls are when there is actual water running.
Do we still call it a water fall if it’s dry?

It was the day before Halloween. The creepy trees were catching my eye...

It was the day before Halloween. The creepy trees were catching my eye…

... as were the skeletal remains of this poor critter. It took everything I had not to start singing, "I ain't got no body..." so I settled for "Hey, Honey. Get a backbone!" Groan

… as were the skeletal remains of this poor critter.
I considered singing, “I ain’t got no body…” but settled for pointing it out to Tim and shouting, “Hey, Honey. Get a backbone!”
Groan

Although black bears and mountain lions are known to roam the area, all we saw were a lot of birds, and a couple of, well, we didn’t know what manner of rodents they were until we got back home to Google. But before then, it was, “Oh my god. Is that a skunk? Wait. No. It’s a… Well, damn. What is that?”

Turns out they were Abert’s Squirrels, common round these parts, but never before seen by either one of us. Freaky looking little buggers with those tufted ears and white tails! (Photo borrowed from enature.com; I wasn’t fast enough to get one of my own.)

Turns out they were Abert’s Squirrels, common ’round these parts, but never before seen by either one of us. Freaky looking little buggers with those tufted ears and white tails!
(Photo borrowed from enature.com; I wasn’t fast enough to get one of my own.)

After two weeks here in Williams, AZ, we haven’t done as much exploring as we’d hoped, due to needing to be… well, heck… I almost said “near a phone.” Seriously? When in the last decade have we not had a phone with us at all times? I guess it’s better to say that we’ve needed to stay within a strong cell signal area, and the places we like to kick around often lack that. Nothing’s wrong; we’ve just had some business matters take priority, and I’ll have news to post about that later.

"The mountains are calling..." - John Muir "No, wait. It's just our realtor again." - Tim and Emily Rohrer

“The mountains are calling…” – John Muir
“No, wait. It’s just our realtor again.” – Tim and Emily Rohrer

“Win standoff with a bison” wasn’t even on my bucket list. Nevertheless: check!

About mmmmm, maybe half a mile into our 7-mile hike at Antelope Island State Park today, we encountered a speed bump. It had four legs, a gigantic shaggy head, and likely weighed in at about 2,000 pounds.

Dude. Are ya kididng me? We're trying to hike here!

Dude. Are ya kidding me? We’re trying to hike here!

Bison!

Hundreds of them roam the island. We know not to approach them, not even for selfies (oops — see below), but this guy clearly hadn’t read the signs. And he was in our way. So we made noise, and waved our arms, and begged, and cajoled, and finally seemed to annoy him enough that he wandered off down the hill toward the females, as I suggested.

But first, and since you insist on standing there, lemme take a selfie anyway.

But first, and since you insist on standing there, lemme take a selfie.

(Disclaimer: I do not recommend this strategy. We emerged unscathed, but also aware that things could have gone sideways quickly. But at least we didn’t put him in our car because he looked cold.)

Anyway, after that the hike was far less exciting, but wickedly strenuous. We gained about 2100 feet of elevation in 3.5 miles, and it took nearly 2.5 hours to reach the 6596-foot summit of Frary Peak. Per park signage, the hiking level is “Difficult.”

The last half mile, however, was what I would call treacherous, in that a fall could cause serious bodily harm — if ya live to limp back down the mountain and into an ER. I talked to myself for that whole last stretch, thanking my feet for taking cautious steps, my legs for holding me up, the rocks for providing footholds, and the breeze for providing oxygen so that I didn’t hyperventilate. I also sang songs. “One Singular Sensation,” “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and “Baby Got Back” all made my mental playlist. Don’t judge. I made it to the top because of them.

Island map. From the summit (see the number 6576 about halfway down?), we could see the entire island!

Antelope Island
From the summit, we could see the entire thing, lots of the Great Salt Lake surrounding, and distant mountain ranges I am too lazy to look up on a map.


Going up -- and thinking this rock outcropping slightly resembles a bison head. Also, I'd been hiking in full sun for an hour, so if you don't see it, it's me, not you.

Going up — and thinking this rock outcropping slightly resembles a bison head.
Also, I’d been hiking in full sun for an hour, so if you don’t see it, it’s me, not you.


My guys, ascending.

My guys, ascending.

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Made it! Man, that was a tough climb. And there's no shade or water, so plan carefully if you decide to give this one a try!

Made it!
Man, that was a tough climb. And there’s no shade or water, so plan carefully if you decide to give this one a try.

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Views from the top...

Views from the top…


... south end of the island...

… south end of the island…


... and the reason we didn't spend much time at the top. If you don't move, the flies infest you. I count eight there on my knees, and the SOB's bite.

… and the reason we didn’t spend much time there.
If you don’t move, the flies infest you. I count seven there on my knees, and the SOB’s bite.

After our hike, we took a quick swing through the park’s historic Fielding Garr Ranch, which dates back to 1848 — and bonus, offers running water in the public restrooms instead of the usual state park pit toilet with empty hand sanitizer dispenser.

After our hike, we took a quick swing through the park's historic Fielding Garr Ranch, which dates back to 1848 -- and bonus, has running water in the public restrooms!

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We couldn't resist taking a peek inside the sheep herder's wagon. RV of the times!

We couldn’t resist taking a peek inside the sheep herder’s wagon: RV of the times, with cookstove, bunk, and storage areas!


Final glimpse of the bison -- this time from a safer distance, and with the engine running!

Final glimpse of the bison — this time from a safer distance, and with the engine running!

Dismal when we got here, but then we saw wild pigs (the kind that can maim a dog) and swam wit’ da fishes

People aren’t kidding when they tell you West Texas is vast, wild and untamed. In fact, West Texas is the very definition of vast, wild and untamed. Look it up in a dictionary. I’m pretty sure it’s there. 
 
We’re parked at Davis Mountains State Park for a few days, and here’s what we’ve seen and done so far: 
When we got here, it looked like this. Brrrrrr and wet.

When we got here, it looked like this: brrrrrr and wet.

But the next morning? A herd of javelinas (see the baby?) next to our campsite!

But the next morning? There was a herd of javelinas (see the baby?) next to our campsite!

I thought this one was a rock. Until it moved.

I thought this one was a rock. Then it moved.

Sunday morning: a trip into town to get connected

Sunday morning: a trip into town to get connected

Nothing like a good old fashioned diner breakfast, with scenery like this!

Nothing like a good old fashioned diner breakfast, seated right next to an old-fashioned soda fountain!

Yyyyep. That about sums it up, in the best possible sarcastic way.

Yyyyep. That about sums it up, in the best possible sarcastic way.

Views from our hike on Sunday afternoon. We could see the McDonald Observatory from the trail. It's about 15 miles away, and we're going there on Tuesday for a tour and star party.

Views from our hike on Sunday afternoon. We could see the McDonald Observatory from the trail. It’s about 15 miles away, and we’re going there on Tuesday.

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Mule deer in the park. There's always that one...

Mule deer in the park. There’s always that one deer…

Adventure 2: The pool at Balmorhea State Park

Before today, I’d have said “You’re full of shit” to any one of these predictions

  1. You will swim in a spring-fed pool that’s so deep, people go scuba diving in it.
  2. And there will be fish and ducks swimming it it with you.
  3. And it’ll be 57 degrees outside, because it’s the last day of November.
From the park web site, “More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day, gushing from the San Solomon Springs. The pool is up to 25 feet deep, covers 1.75 acres, and holds 3.5 million gallons of water. The water temperature stays at 72 to 76 degrees year-round.” Well hello there, bucket list item we didn’t even know we had!
Tim contemplated it in his sweater for a few minutes...

Tim contemplated it in his sweater for a few minutes…

And despite the cold, the fish, the ducks (see them behind us?), and the depth, we took the plunge! Hey. I had cancer and teenagers at the same time. Not so much scares me anymore. Plus, I was wearing my magic shoes (see video below).

But despite the cold, the fish, the ducks (see them behind us?), and the depth, we took the plunge!
Hey. I had cancer and teenagers at the same time. Not so much scares me anymore. Plus, I was wearing my magic shoes (see video below).

That's me! In the deepest part of the deep! With the ducks!

That’s me! In the deepest part of the deep! With the ducks!

For those who are interested in the sciency part

For those who are interested in the sciency part

 Look. Some people need goggles, or nose clips, or a t-shirt for swimming. I happen to need shoes. I call them my magic shoes, I don’t care what you think, and I’m not giving them up anytime soon.

Today’s Hike: Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia

We started in Massie Gap (lower right) at 4600 feet. Finished up there in the top left at Mount Rogers, 5728 feet, after a 4.5 mile climb over rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Then we went back.

We started on the Rhododendron Trail in Massie Gap at Grayson Highlands State Park (lower right) at 4600 feet. After half a mile, we picked up the Appalachian Trail, and stayed on it for the remainder of the trip. We finished up there in the top left at Mount Rogers, 5728 feet, after a 4.5 mile climb over rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Then we went back. Total hiking time: 6 hours

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Up we go!

We encountered this group of college kids several times throughout the day. Second from right: dude in kilt. Awesome.

We encountered this group of college kids several times throughout the day. Second from right: dude in kilt. Awesome.

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I'd been muttering that we'd better damn well see some of these wild ponies they keep talking about in the park. Less than half a mile in, we met two!

I’d been muttering that we’d better damn well see some of these wild ponies they keep talking about in the park. Less than half a mile in, we met two!

"You got any treats in that pocket?"

“You got any treats in that pocket?”

So while I was snapping a selfie with this one...

So while I was snapping a selfie with this one…

... this one was trying to bite my behind.

… this one was trying to bite my behind.

And Tim captured that very moment!

And Tim captured that very moment!

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Some of the ponies blend right in -- and then kind of spook you a little when they cross the trail in front of you.

Some of the ponies blend right in — and then kind of spook you a little when they cross the trail in front of you.

Rocks. Have I mentioned that we climbed over a lot of rocks? And that I do not want to see rocks again for a long time?

Rocks. Have I mentioned that we climbed over a lot of rocks? And that I do not want to see rocks again for a long time? This is the actual trail.

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Nearing the summit, we encountered this group of 15 ponies. You'll notice the one on the far left is lying on its side. Some other hikers thought it was giving birth. I thought it was dead. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Nearing the summit, we encountered this group of 15 ponies. You’ll notice the one on the far left is lying on its side. Some other hikers thought it was giving birth. I thought it was dead. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

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The spruce-fir forest atop Mount Rogers is the only one of its kind in Virginia.

The spruce-fir forest atop Mount Rogers is the only one of its kind in Virginia.

This humble little US Geodetic Survey disk is all that marks the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. And if you don't look at the right boulder, you'll miss it.

This humble little US Geodetic Survey disk is all that marks the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. And if you don’t look on the right boulder, you’ll miss it.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

On the way back down: more ponies! This never gets old.

On the way back down: more ponies! This never gets old. You’re not supposed to feed them or pet them. We may or may not have broken that second rule.

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Purple mountains

Purple mountains, full of majesty, on another perfect hiking day in southwestern VA