11/09/12 I left this morning for my trip to Tucson and Socorrow New Mexico. I met my friends Rich Strobel and Jose Magsaysay at 8:00am in El Cajon. Rich stayed with me and Jose drove his own SUV. We stopped in Yuma for lunch/breakfast at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Continued on and arrived in Tucson Arizona at the “Rincon Country West RV Park” around 5:00pm. I was dead tired, but we got set up OK in the upscale park costing about $55/night. We met Jose near his hotel and had dinner at the “Famous Dave’s Barbecue Restaurant”. Jose and I liked it, but Richard got a very upset stomach.
11/10/12 Had breakfast in the trailer. We stayed in Tucson an extra day to attend the “Arizona Science & Astronomy Expo”. Rich and I Arrived at the Tucson Convention Center around 9:00am meeting Jose. The Expo was lots of fun, educational, and had tons of new products to look at. The telescopes and accessories were the largest and best of any show I have ever attended. We met a friend Bill Lofquist who is very active in the local astronomy club and who also had attended a 10 day Grand Canyon rafting trip with Jose and I about 3 years ago. We had a great time and left about 3:30pm to have a late lunch/early dinner at a fantastic Mexican restaurant which Bill recommended to us. Retired to trailer and went to bed early.
11/11/12 Got off early around 7:30am for Socorrow, NM. It was a beautiful sunny windless day and the landscape of New Mexico was very open and impressive, big Montana like country. We were told that the Bosque Bird Watchers RV Park near Bosque Del Apache NWR was full, but we decided to check it out in person anyway. The owner kept terrible books and was not sure if he was under or overbooked. He checked us in and told us it was a night by night stay. His bookings were optimistic and we were able to stay all 5 nights we wanted to stay. We liked the rustic park with full hookups and only about 1 mile from the entrance into the NWR. We arrived about 3:00pm and got completely set up in 1.5 hours. We enjoyed this park a lot, as it was full of birders and photographers all there to see Bosque Del Apache NWR so we were among our kind. We went out to the refuge 2 hours before sunset to scope out the ponds that contained Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. The visiter center was modern with a very helpful and knowledgeable staff. We set up our cameras on a recommended pond and did some still flying shots and scenery video shots. After dark we returned only 5 miles to our trailer and I prepared a shrimp vegetable pasta stir fry for dinner. Watched a bit of TV and retired early.
11/12/12 Richard got me up at the ungodly hour of 5:00am so we could photograph the cranes taking off from the ponds. It was an incredible site to behold, perhaps a 1000 cranes on one pond. There was actually a thin layer of ice on the ponds making it some effort for the cranes to break out. There were perhaps equal number of Snow Geese on some of these ponds. The NWR diverts water from the Rio Grand River to encourage the migrating cranes to stay at this refuge. They also raise corn and actually chop it up randomly to also encourage the cranes to come here. The birds on the pond we selected all took off within an hour after sun rise. The lighting and the back ground fluorescent Cottonwood trees were beautiful the first two days. After the morning shoot we toured the 12 mile refuge auto trail along various ponds, canals, and picturesque fields all irrigated by the Rio Grand. Truly a beautiful place and a must see for birders and photographers. Retunred to the trailer; had lunch, viewed our photos on our computers, and rested up a bit. We again went to the refuge for sunset and the return of the cranes and snow geese back to the refuge ponds.
11/13/12 It got down to 15 F. last night and it was a good thing that I disconnected our fresh water hose to prevent freeze up. I had an electric heater on my end of the trailer and kept it a toasty 71 F. Richard used the trailer central heater and kept his end at a very cold 55 - 60 F. Unfortunately, the cold night reduced the bright color of all the flora in the area. We got out to the refuge for sunrise and sunset 4 out 5 days during our stay. I did most of the cooking and I must say we ate very well, better than what I eat at home. We shared dish washing duty. Mostly Richard and I got along fine, but did have a few disagreements while driving and parking the rig. I was forced to watch a few new TV shows I had never watched. I must say that I now like the “Big Bang Theory” and “Good Wife” two of Richards favorite shows. Overall it was quite an enjoyable partner ship.
11/14/12 We drove about 70 miles today to the VLA Very Large Array radio observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil. It is huge and awesome in the pristine high desert mountains. The self guided tours and movies are all worth seeing especially if you are into astronomy. We saw some herds of antelope on the way back, snapping a few photos.
11/15/12 Did some trailer clean up and maintenance today. Drove up to Socorrow to get propane and shop for food, etc.
11/16/12 The Sandhill Crane festival located at the visiter center started in full swing today. We were at the Art show tent by 8:30am. We became friendly with a serious photographer corporate lawyer from Denver. We had met and talked to him several times in the fields at the ponds. He shot a Canon professional camera with Canon 800mm lens, hand held with no tripod. His work was excellent and we spent quite a bit of time discussing and admiring it. He seemed to be selling as much as anyone at the show. The art show was very high quality and competitively priced. There was a photographic equipment tent which both Rich and I enjoyed. The Sigma Lens Rep was there and was letting people demo their lens. I tried out a new Sigma 12-24 for full frame camera at $875 (normally $975) show price, no tax or shipping cost. I have since ordered it from the Hunt Photo, the vendor that was at the show. We left the show at 11:00am and packed up the trailer for exit.
At 12:30 pm we took off for Alamogordo, NM. This town is quite modern and prosperous for New Mexico. We stayed at the Alamogordo Roadrunner Campground. This campground is OK, but I would give it a poor rating, because there are too many permanents and the sites are not wide enough for today’s rigs. Richard was very unhappy with the location I chose to park it, as the 5th wheel door opened right next to a picnic table. I think I am way more used to adverse site conditions than Richard is.
Our reason for coming here was to visit White Sands National Monument. We headed south about 15 miles to the park entrance and visitor center. It was another modern well maintained visitor center with an excellent helpful staff on board. We drove about 12 miles on the park Dunes loop road out to where the biggest dunes are. We had a great sunset. I should have walked further out on the dunes however, to find more pristine sand. It is a very photogenic place. We returned to camp and had left over chili for dinner.
11/17/12 Got up very early around 5:30am showered and went out to breakfast at Dennys. Unfortunately the White Sands gate did not open until 7:00am , so we could not photograph the sunrise. The lighting on the dunes was great and we concentrated on doing stills of trees, bushes, yuccas, grasses, etc. growing in the gypsum dunes. We stayed about 2.5 -3 hours in wonderful lighting, no wind and low 60’s temperature. We returned to the visitor center and watched a very well done high definition film about the formation of the dunes. The gypsum material originates from the mountains, washing down the mountains by the spring rains to a lake which drys up in the summer forming crystals which break up into gypsum sand and then, the wind takes over forming the dunes some distance from the lake. Photographers can get into the park early if they buy a $50 pass a minimum of one day before entry. A better way however is to get a camping pass and stay over night in the dunes for nothing. Most people use back packing equipment and only hike in about .5 to 1 miles to an assigned camp site, which would not be bad at all. Even if two trips are required to get your gear in, it is only .5 miles. We then went back to camp resting and down loading our photos. Later we did another sunset shoot which was very enjoyable with fair lighting before sunset. It was really clouded up at sunset.
11/18/12 Left about 7:00am for the 360 mile ride to Tucson in a light sporadic rain. On hwy 70 there was an incredible steep hill on the edge of Organ Mountain NRA where my Chevy Duramax Allison transmission reached alarm high temperature just as I got to the top. My radiator water temperature was down within normal limits. I have never experienced this type of alarm before. Usually the transmission and the radiator temp rise in tandem. I checked when I changed the transmission fluid last and it was only 25K miles ago. I also checked all fluid levels and they were normal. I guess the transmission was not happy with the gear and speed I went up that hill. The temperature immediately began dropping when I started going down the hill. I stopped in Las Cruces to get new wind shield wiper blades. The road from here on was excellent with no steep grades. We decided to go past Tucson to “Picachio Peak SP” (one of my favorite parks in Arizona) about 35 miles north of Tucson. It has electric only, but does have a dump station with fresh water available. The Saguaro Cactus and desert plants are amazing here, coupled with large sites about a mile from the freeway. There is some mild freeway noise, but the beautiful surroundings make it a great stop for 1-3 days. We got some nice sunset photos here.
11/19/12 Left about 7:30am for the final push home. Had great driving conditions today with little wind and no rain. We stopped in El Centro and had lunch at “Burgers and Beer” the best burger place in the valley. Got home around 3:30pm meeting Rich’s wife at Park-n-Ride in El Cajon. Had a great trip but it is always nice to get back home.