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.

 

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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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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Hyder, Alaska

Hyder 12Our main reason for visiting Hyder, Alaska was to see more bears. There are two salmon runs in Hyder, which is at the head of the Portland Canal, a 90-mile fjord. Salmon come up the ocean to the fjord and up the Salmon River to Fish Creek to spawn. And the bears frequent the creek to feed on the salmon.

Hyder 13Hyder 63The U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage a viewing platform that was built over the creek, the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, that allows visitors to watch the bears safely (for both visitors and bears) as the bears feed on the salmon.

We had initially planned to be in Hyder earlier in the season to catch the end of the salmon run but we took our time further north and got there quite late. But we also wanted to visit Hyder to see the Salmon Glacier, the world’s largest road accessible glacier.

Hyder 9Hyder 3We spent the morning walking around Stewart with Angel. It is quite a charming little town, with restored as well as rustic old buildings, and a number of shops and restaurants. The little grocery store there, Harbor Lights, offers great free Wi-Fi which we of course took advantage of.

We walked Angel over a boardwalk that was built over a large wetlands area, a very nice little walk.

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The Chilkoot Bears

Chilkoot 25We spent a lot of our time visiting the Chilkoot River in Haines. This beautiful river is where the salmon run, and where we found the Chilkoot bears, as well as eagles, seagulls and others vying for the nutrient-rich fish.

Chilkoot 66The Chilkoot is surrounded by forest and and empties into a lovely lake, the Chilkoot Lake, which in turn empties into another section of river, where we visited frequently.

Chilkoot 30Chilkoot 35The rain was beginning to catch up with us and we had a couple of pretty dreary, rainy days, but most days we made at least one visit looking for the bears. No luck the first couple of times, but we finally spotted a sow and her cubs at the mouth of the Chilkoot River where it then dumps into the Lukat Inlet.

Chilkoot 53These two cubs were our first grizzly cubs of the year! We saw several black bear cubs back in Yellowstone and we saw quite a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Denali, but no grizzly cubs.Chilkoot 55Chilkoot 45Chilkoot 34

Grizzly bear cubs have an adorable feature, they have white fur around their necks. Since they are born early in the year, during the sow’s hibernation, the white fur is almost gone on one of the cubs, but the other still has an almost complete white collar.

We watched the sow and cubs fishing along the beach. Then we saw another bear on the other side of the river mouth, also feeding. The other bear was working his (we assumed he was a male) way towards the beach where the sow and cubs were.

Chilkoot 8All of a sudden, he got in the water and started swimming towards the beach.

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The Quirky Town of Haines

Haines 32There was something we really liked about the quirky town of Haines when we visited eight years ago. We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch and a beautiful float down the Chilkat River, where we saw lots of eagles.

Haines 39But this was also the place where we almost missed our cruise. After our rafting trip, we had scheduled a ferry back to Skagway, our port of call. We scheduled the next to last ferry that would get us back in time so that if something went wrong, we had one more ferry we could take.

Haines 23Haines 22Haines 21Haines 71Haines 72Haines 31Haines 24Haines 27When we got to the dock we found out that one of the ferries damaged a propeller and was out of service so the entire schedule was disrupted. Now there was no ferry scheduled that would get us back to Skagway in time. This is the danger of going off on your own from a cruise, they will not wait for you if you are late. We freaked out.

Because of an extremely nice and resourceful lady at the ferry office, we were saved. She got one of the tour cruises that had gone out from Skagway and was on its way back there, not scheduled to stop in Haines, to detour and make a very brief stop at the dock. We literally had to run down the dock and jump on the boat.

She also arranged for the cruise line to have a car at the dock ready to drive us straight to the ship on the other end. And we just made it! One little door was open on the side of the giant cruise ship. And we jumped in with seconds to spare.

So Haines had a really good vibe for us and we have been looking forward to returning. Now we were back. Driving down the Haines Highway after crossing the U.S. border we saw the Chilkat River that runs alongside the road. To our disappointment, but not terribly surprising, we did not see many eagles.

The Haines area is known as The Valley of the Eagles because thousands of eagles come to the ice-free section of the Chilkat for a very late salmon run in November, but most of these visitors leave between spring and summer.  But there are still several hundred resident eagles that you see all the time around town.

And the town has a lot more to offer than eagles. There are museums, a brewery, a distillery, a farmers market, shops and restaurants, hiking, boating, fishing and more. This little piece of Alaska is connected to other Alaska towns by sea – ferries take you to Juneau, Skagway and on to other towns in the Inside Passage.

But it is also pretty isolated, and the only road to town is part of Canada. There is no drugstore here, which we found out when we needed to refill a prescription for Angel, there is no really large grocery store etc.

And yet there is something about this town. The Tlingit were the first settlers in the area about 11,000 years ago and the first to discover its riches: the abundance of fish, game, and edible plants and berries.

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North to the Arctic

Arctic 10Even for us, it was an ambitious plan. We were going to drive 400 miles roundtrip on a sketchy gravel road, the Dempster Highway, north to the Arctic Circle and back to our campground. The Dempster is the only road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle, so it was a chance of a lifetime. I have to admit I had visions of sleeping in the car. But my more rational self figured that we would get back sometime around midnight.

Arctic 8The three of us headed out at 5a.m. with lots of food and water. It was still dark and there was a light fog in the air. As we reached Two Moose Lake, which had quickly become one of our favorite spots, light began to filter through the fog and we were rewarded by one of the most breathtaking sunrises we have ever seen. I actually had hoped to see a moose (or two) at Two Moose Lake but this was even better.

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A Strange Haze

Smoky 1With the mudslide delay, our previous day was over 14 hours again. We were sleep deprived, but somehow still had lots of energy. So we headed out shortly after 6 a.m. The morning was cloudy, which was forecast, but there was also a strange haze in the air, making it tougher for photography. So this day was presenting Hector with a different type of challenge.

Smoky 2The Teklanika River was still lovely, though, and we got a glimpse of a soft, pretty, smoky sunrise.

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