The Whales of Laguna Ojo de Liebre

At one of my first jobs in a travel agency in Miami I saw a photo of someone in a kayak next to a whale. I love wildlife and whales are one of my favorites and I thought then how sweet it would be to get that close to a whale.

Eschtrichtius Robustus – robust indeed!

Hector and I have been on whale watching tours about 20 times in three U.S. States and three Canadian provinces. In kayaks, small fishing boats, zodiac boats and big boats. We’ve been fortunate enough to see about nine different types of whales, some pretty close up.

But not long ago, I read about the gray whales who migrate to Baja California from the Bering Sea in the winter. While they’re up north, they spend their time feeding and gorging, preparing their bodies for the long migration south.  It is one of the longest migrations of any animal on earth.

Once they reach Baja California, they congregate in three lagoons on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Whales that mated the previous year will give birth to their calves (their gestation period is about 13 months ) and others will mate. In these lagoons the calves are protected from their two predators: sharks and killer whales.

We set off in the morning on our tour to see the whales. I tried to set realistic expectations and told myself that seeing the whales would be enough but had my hopes up for more.

There were eight of us in the boat, from France, Belgium, Australia and us.  A second boat from our tour company had a group of Mexicans. Excitement was high.

The boat headed out to the middle of the lagoon and stopped. We immediately saw our first whale, then another and another. The boat inched a bit closer. They have rules that restrict them from getting too close to the whales, approaching them from behind or too directly.

The whales did not approach the boat and we moved on. There were lots of whales around and we could see spouts in the distance. Everyone was enjoying seeing so many whales. There are about 800 in the lagoon at this point, but in other years there have been as many as 2500. Apparently, El Niño changes their migration patterns.

Each cow has one calf and trains them for about five months prior to their migration north. One of the things the cows do to build the calves’ strength for the journey north is to have them swim against the strong tidal current at the entrance to the lagoon.

Momma with her calf

For some unknown reason, even though humans slaughtered them to near extinction, the whales now seem to enjoy human contact while in these lagoons. They will swim up to the small boats that go out into the lagoons to get “petted”.

When the calves are a bit grown they will also bring their babies and lift them up at the side of tour boats, presumably to get petted also. The lagoons of Baja are the only place in the world where they do this.

The captain said that a whale was coming towards us from the right side (my side). He had an uncanny way of knowing when they were approaching even though they were underwater. Once they were pretty close, we could all see them underwater.

The whale came to the boat and then went under. Several times whales came to our boat and swam under it from one side to the other.

A little while later another whale swam over, this time coming right up to my side of the boat and surfacing. I barely reached it and gave it a light stroke but it kept swimming and went underwater.

It was a surreal moment, never did I think I would actually touch a whale.

Several other whales swam up to the boat on both sides, and several of the people on the boat got to touch them.

It was really moving.

One gentleman screamed so loudly when he touched this one whale that it immediately went underwater, I think he must have scared it. But everyone on the boat got a close up look and all were happy.

Hector and I just bought a GoPro and used it for the first time. We captured some of the whale encounters, as well as some shots of whales underwater, but our internet connectivity in this area is not good enough to post. However, the video allowed us to capture a few still photos. Hopefully we can post videos later.

On our way back to shore the boat cruised by a vast expanse of sand dunes that border the north of the lagoon. Spectacular!

And as a last treat we had a few more glimpses of marine life: some dolphins, sea lions and lots of marine birds.

We arrived back on land with big smiles on all of our faces from this magical experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Warrior

To get to the town of Guerrero Negro (Black Warrior), you have to cross the state line from Baja California to Baja California Sur. The state line is the 28th parallel (latitude).

The government does not allow produce across to Baja California Sur so we gave our remaining produce away before we left Bahia de los Angeles. Some people said that “they never check” but we like to do all we can to have nice easy border crossings. They did ask us if we had produce and Hector said “of course not, we heard you couldn’t bring any across”. The officer was pleased with that answer.

The other unique thing about this border crossing is that when you cross there is an automatic spray from the road to the underside of your vehicles and your tires. Presumably some sort of pesticide agent to kill off something or other (hopefully not us).

Our original plan had been to continue directly to the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, where we planned to go whale watching, and bypass the town of Guerrero Negro. But we needed to run several errands and our provisions were getting low so we decided to stay at Guerrero Negro and take a whale watching tour from there.

Guerrero Negro gets a bad rap, so I had very low expectations. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The town may not be a charming colonial gem but it has a very interesting history and is neatly kept.

The whaling Captain John Melville Scammon discovered the entrance to the lagoon and whale nursery and to his delight found it full of whales.  Of course he promptly killed as many as he could and had a great windfall.  The secret soon got out and other whalers joined in the slaughter in “Scammon’s Lagoon” and soon the majestic California Gray Whale was hunted to near extinction.  It is estimated that the total population dropped to a few hundred individuals.

Perhaps because there were no more profits to be had, Captain Scammon became one of the earliest conservationists seeking to protect the animals.  Happily, the grey whales have recovered and there are now over 20,000 around the world.

During the whaling times, a wooden ship named the Black Warrior ran aground on the shallow sand bar separating the northern and southern parts of the lagoon. The wreck served as a warning to ships of the shoal water for decades.  All that remains of the wooden ship is the wheel, displayed at the bar of the Malarrimo RV Park and Hotel.

We stayed at the Mallarimo RV Park right in the center of town. They also sell the whale watching tours at this location so we could board the bus to the lagoon right outside our RV. And they have a hotel and a restaurant on site. Check out our review of the campground here.

We set off to handle our errands and found an ATM, a place to fill our water jugs with drinking water, a decent grocery store, a very nice fruteria (fruit and vegetable store), a panaderia (bread store), a liquor store, fresh oranges and a laundry all within 10 minutes of the RV park. People were extremely helpful.

But best of all, we found the best fish tacos at the Tacos del Muelle taco truck. Others that have been to Baja say they’re the best tacos in all of the peninsula. A fellow RVer commented on Facebook that “by extension, that makes them the best in the world”.  I don’t doubt it.

That afternoon we drove out to the camping area at the lagoon just to check it out. It’s about 35 minutes from town on a pretty good gravel road. It’s a lovely and remote area to camp and we may just camp there on our way back north.

In the 1950’s the present day town was built as a company town to support what would ultimately become the world’s largest salt mine.  Huge shallow ponds with hard rock bottoms are flooded with sea water and allowed to evaporate leaving behind sea salt.

The salt mine exports millions of tons of salt annually and covers an area larger than the city of Los Angeles!  The government originally named the town after some Mexican historical figure, but no one called it that. They used the Spanish name for the wrecked Black Warrior, Guerrero Negro.  The name stuck and it was officially changed to the name it has to this day.

The site of the wreck of the Black Warrior was eventually replaced by a proper lighthouse whose ruins can still be seen. The drive out was between wetlands and was actually more interesting than the lighthouse itself.

We saw long-billed curlews and lots of yellow-crowned night herons, osprey, great blue heron, snowy egret, great egrets, and more gulls and pelicans.  This is the largest concentration of Osprey in the world and we saw lots of them.

On our return we drove over to a bird refuge area that you can walk on and spotted some brants in the water. I don’t believe we’d seen those ducks before. And we saw more osprey, they are nesting right now.

We have a much better appreciation of this friendly company town.  And the actual whale watching was incredible.  More on that next.

 

Breathtaking Bahia de Los Angeles

Our side trip to Bahia de los Angeles began with a lovely drive through more desert gardens. Thankfully, the road was in very good condition and a bit wider than the Peninsular Highway.

As you approach the Bay, there is a moment when the Sea of Cortez and its surrounding islands appear before you, it is stunning!

We were relieved to see that the gas station in town was open as it closes if the gas delivery doesn’t come.  Our rig didn’t have enough diesel to make it both across the gas gap and also do the extra hundred miles or so for this side trip.  For cars that run low, there are a couple of pickups with “barrel gas” at the Bahia turn.  Folks do tend to find a way.

Water is scarce here (no campgrounds offer water hookups or water for filling your tanks), so we filled our tanks in Cataviña.  We checked out Daggett’s campground and used the dump there (only one in town). While Hector handled the stinky slinky I checked out Campo Archelon next door.

Daggett’s was nice enough but Campo Archelon had one spot left by a large palapa right by the water and that became our spot!

Campo Archelon has a fascinating history.  Betty and her husband Antonio arrived in 1979 to set up a sea turtle research station.  At that time, the turtle population was diminishing but they were still being hunted for food. Their research ultimately help prove that the turtles needed protection and new laws were finally instituted in 1990 to protect them across the Mexican shores, a critical habitat for the global turtle population.  The research center is no longer there, but the cabanas and the palapas still in place for the RV park had been set up originally to house volunteers and for educational meetings.

There is still a feeling that something good happened here. Antonio senior passed away a few years ago and Betty now runs the place with her industrious son Antonio. Check out our review of this lovely campground here.

We set up in our huge palapa and were able to place our barbecue and outdoor stove on the large table provided by the campground. Instant covered outdoor kitchen!

That night we were graced with the first beautiful sunset of the week. What a spectacular place!


Bahia de los Angeles is known for occasional high winds from the north (Nortes) which were blowing on our first day there. So we drove over to the little town. We found some interesting murals and a few small businesses but not much else of interest except for a lovely little museum.

The Museo de Naturaleza y Cultura is a museum that was founded by an American lady, Carolina Shepard, who has lived 40+ years and raised her family in Bahia de los Angeles. The museum has many examples of marinelife and shell species, indigenous artifacts, exhibitions representing the history and ecology of the region, mining and ranching artifacts and more. It is clearly a labor of love. Surprisingly, we found Betty from the campground overseeing the museum. Carolina humbly gives much of the credit for the museum to all of the people who have given their time to it and Betty is apparently one of those people.  We were fortunate to meet these two pillars of the community,

We returned to our beautiful campsite and took a walk on the beach where we found many lovely shells and watched another stunning sunset.  By the end of the week we had amassed quite the haul.

The sunsets were great.  But the sunrises were even more intense.

An interesting thing about the town is that most of the residents have to get non-potable water from a nearby well, and potable water from a nearby spring. We saw Antonio head out several times in his truck to acquire water. The campground uses a system to capture seawater to flush the toilets and for two little sinks outside the toilets (clearly marked as salt water). They use the good water for the showers and for a faucet located outside the shower building.  Moving water is hard work!

At dusk every day, when the tide was low, shorebirds, wading birds, pelicans and gulls gathered on the rocks to catch their dinner. There were oystercatchers, great egrets, great blue heron, different types of seagulls, pelicans, reddish egrets, greater yellowlegs, and more.

That was our evening entertainment prior to the magnificent sunsets. The sunsets had different colors and patterns each day. A magical place.Antonio the younger has ambitious plans for the place. A new restaurant is under construction and he was continuously working on the garden, the buildings, and helping the guests with advice and assistance.

Campo Archelon was magical.  Our visit to Bahia de Los Angeles was all we dreamt of.  Next up our kayaking adventures while we were in this beautiful place.

Hector and Brenda

Fun with Friends in Moab, Utah

We made a few more stops after Bryce Canyon and before the end of our walkabout…After leaving the beautiful canyon, we headed east across the dramatic Utah landscape where we planned a brief stop for some fun with friends in Moab, Utah.

As was the case in many of our later travels, our route to Albuquerque from Tucson was turning out to be quite loopy. But since these were the last weeks of our walkabout, we could not pass up the opportunity to see some of our RVer friends once again.

We wanted to boondock in Moab, but weren’t sure about our options, so we reached out to our friend Amanda (WatsonsWander). She told us that several of the better known boondocking areas were pretty full, but suggested Klondike Bluff Road just up a couple of roads from where they were boondocking.

We found a great spot, with 360 degree views and 4 bars LTE signal no less. Check out my review of Klondike Bluff Road here.

Having contacts sure helps when looking for these special out of the way places.

We’ve been turned onto more than one killer (and FREE) campsite through the kindness of fellow RVers.

Thanks Amanda!

Our friend Mona Liza (The Lowe’s RV Adventures) had planned a get together with several folks that were staying in the area on the day after we were due to arrive, and since she knew we were on our way, invited us as well. So that evening we met up with friends for dinner at a restaurant in town.

Amanda and Tim were there with their parents, along with our friends Pam and John (Oh, the Places They Go!). And we met Susan and David (Beluga’s excellent adventure), whom we had heard about from several other RVer friends.  It was a fun time, as it always is with our RVer buddies.

The next day Hector and I took one of our sunrise drives over to Arches National Park. We visited this beautiful park a number of times when we lived in Colorado, but it is another of those places that you never get tired of.

Hector’s ankle was still not doing so well, so we just drove on the park road and stopped for short walks along the way.

Later that afternoon we returned to the park with Angel for a slightly longer drive. This time we drove over to Salt Valley Road which goes to a more remote area of the park. It’s a dirt road with very little traffic, so we had the place virtually to ourselves.

After we had driven for quite awhile, Hector spotted some burrowing owls. Shortly after we realized that this area was also a prairie dog colony. Burrowing owls frequently live amongst prairie dog colonies due to the abundance of insects, one of their preferred foods. They also modify unoccupied prairie dog burrows to lay their eggs.


The burrowing owl are sometimes alerted to predators by the prairie dogs alarm calls. Another one of those very interesting symbiotic relationships in nature. These owls are declining in some areas partially due to prairie dog control factors, as well as habitat loss and car accidents. They are considered endangered in Canada.

We spent a lot of time watching the owls, they are so incredibly cute as they peek out of their burrows! These little guys provided our entertainment for the afternoon. 

Angel got a few walks alongside the road, since there was no traffic.  It was a fun afternoon for all of us, especially the photographer.

The following day Mona Liza and Steve had a little dinner party at their campsite. She made her literally world-famous lumpia (Philippine eggrolls) as well as some pancet, a noodle dish. We had never tried either of these before. Delish!

Pam and John and Susan and Dave were there, and we met two more RVers, Joe and Gay (good-times-rollin) All wonderful people and we truly enjoyed spending time with all of them.  These impromptu gatherings were one of the very best parts of the RV life.

We entered the park one last time for a sunset drive. So beautiful.

The weather had been touch and go and it rained all night the night before we left. This made for quite an exciting exit from our perfect boondocking spot. One of the scariest drives from our entire walkabout. VERY wet and muddy as in – whatever you do, don’t stop! But we made it.

Stay tuned for a few more posts, as we explored a couple of new places on our wandering route before our landing in Albuquerque.

~ Brenda

 

 

The Sonoran Desert Garden

sonoran desert-114sonoran desert-25In addition to checking out the city of Tucson, we made sure to get out into the Sonoran desert garden. Tucson is in the Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by mighty saguaros and many other fabulous desert plants. During this visit,we were super excited that we were going to be in the desert during the springtime bloom for the first time ever.sonoran desert-100

sonoran desert-18sonoran desert-19Tucson Mountain Park is a 20,000-acre county park that is adjacent to Saguaro National Park West (there is a Saguaro National Park East on the other side of town). Offering many outdoor opportunities on the West side of town. Hiking and biking are popular.sonoran desert-20
sonoran desert-46sonoran desert-39

sonoran desert-40Our friend Jean knows a TON about the native plants and we always learn new things from her about the diverse vegetation that is everywhere.  Our problem is we can’t remember it all!  But we are getting better at it. sonoran desert-38sonoran desert-51
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Touring Tucson

Tucson-90sonoran desert-29Tucson, Arizona marks the beginning of a transition for us, this is one of the towns that we are considering as our next home. Many people know that we planned our walkabout for three years and that last year we extended it for one more year. Well we are now well into that fourth year. So in the month of March, we will be touring Tucson.

We fell in love with Tucson and the Sonoran Desert three years ago when we approached the city from the West and were greeted by so many beautiful Saguaros. I wrote about them in my post Tucson and the Sentinels of the Desert.

Tucson-66Tucson-1So we are here to check out the town once again and compare it to our other final choice. I will write more about how we came up with our “finalists” in later posts.

But back to Tucson – we stayed in the center of town at Sentinel Peak RV Park, so that we could have easy access to the city. Check out my review of the park here.

Our plan was to enjoy some of what the city has to offer, select a realtor, look at some houses, and best of all visit friends.Tucson-6

We began by finding out about the local happenings, and the biggest one was the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. In its eighth year, the festival attracts over 100,000 people. Continue reading

Benson, Birds, Bisbee and Buddies

BensonWhitewater-15BensonWhitewater-80Our next stop was Benson, in the Southern Arizona desert, not too far from Tucson and also near lots of great places to explore. We stayed in the Saguaro SKP park, an Escapee Co-op, where we stayed a couple of years ago. It’s a very nice park, and as a bonus our friends Paul and Nina were staying there as well.

The park has a first-come first-served policy, but it has an overflow area where RVers can stay while they wait for a full hookup site. We lucked out and got the one spot in the overflow area that had full hookup. Which was great since it was starting to get hot and we needed to run the A/C.BensonWhitewater-79 Continue reading

Desert Tumbleweeds

Tumble-9Tumble-2After leaving San Diego, we headed to the Arizona desert where we planned to make several stops before landing in Tucson in March. For the next month or so, we moved to six different locations, met friends, had a medical scare (everything turned out ok), had maintenance issues, met more friends and enjoyed the desert. At times we felt like desert tumbleweeds. Oh, and I flew to Puerto Rico for ten days during that time – more on that in a later post.

Tumble-13Tumble-1Our first stop was Quartzsite, our third visit in three years during their annual RV show. This year we arrived only a few days before the end of the show, since our main purpose in going was to meet friends.Tumble-4

Tumble-12Tumble-8Tumble-3Tumble-11During our drive to Quartzsite I received a call regarding mammogram results from my medical exam in San Diego. Something showed up in the first mammogram, and the doctor wanted me to have a second one and maybe an ultrasound. Medical issues while RVing are always a challenge, but we continued on while we thought about next steps.

We boondocked in the Dome Rock area of Quartzsite, the area where we stay every year. During a quick walk through the show we met our friends Jack and Karen and made plans to meet a few days later.

Meanwhile, we had to figure out a way for me to get a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. And, for various mostly insurance related reasons, we decided that it would be best to return to San Diego for the additional tests. Hector had the idea to double back to Anza Borrego State Park, not too far from Quartzite. This would put us day trip distance from San Diego, so we could drive our car to my appointment, thus avoiding crossing the mountains again in Island Girl.

We had a couple of days to socialize so we spent part of our time hanging out with our friend Vince who was staying at “our” regular campsite nearby. And we watched some beautiful sunsets.Tumble-14 Continue reading

To the Arctic Circle and Back in 2015

What a year!  We travelled to the Arctic Circle and back in 2015.

cartoon529-2Be warned, this is a looooong post.  But we hope you enjoy a quick tour back through this most wonderful year with some of Hector’s favorite images.

Island Girl traveled a total of 12,345 miles.

We stayed in 88 campsites (29 of them were overnights and 61 were dry camping).

Visited 10 States, 2 Canadian Provinces and 1 Canadian Territory. And 6 veterinarians in 5 states and 1 Canadian Territory.

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The Central Coast of Oregon

Newport-208
Newport-1Our next stop was along the central coast of Oregon, not too long of a drive but longer than our last one. The coast of Oregon has an endless amount of rocky beaches and coast and many interesting lighthouses and the town of Newport is a great location from which to explore some of those.Newport-6

The last time we stayed in this area we stayed in a marina in the town of Waldport a little further north and really enjoyed it. This time we decided to try the marina in Newport. Both of these marinas offer dry camping at cheaper rates than the Oregon State Parks.

The marina is also walking distance from the Rogue Brewery, so good beer was in our future. And we were the only RV in the dry camping area of with a lovely view of the small boat harbor and the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Check out my review of the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina here.Newport-34 Continue reading