A Great Migration: Bosque del Apache

The sound of the sandhill cranes and the scent of roasting green chile herald the arrival of autumn in the Rio Grande valley

It was a frigid November morning at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where we had joined dozens of ardent wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, lined up tripod-to-tripod and scope to scope, ready and waiting for the action to begin.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We were standing on an observation platform called Flight Deck overlooking a network of fields and marshes teeming with thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese that pause here to feed and rest during their annual migration south.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Talk about a great migration! Every year starting in early November, some 10-15,000 sandhill cranes, 20-30,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks, and even a few hawks and bald eagles migrate to the Bosque del Apache. This annual event also attracts birders, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds who also migrate to the Bosque to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Rio Grande just a few miles off Interstate 25 south of Socorro (between Albuquerque and Las Cruces) in the tiny town of San Antonio, the 57,000-acre refuge was established in the 1930s to protect the sandhill crane. The majestic 4-foot-tall crane had nearly vanished along the Intermountain West Corridor, a vital north-south flyway for migratory waterfowl and many other birds.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. As is a “fly in” at sunset when the flocks return to the shallow marshes after a day of feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They could go any minute now,” said the photographer next to us. An amateur wildlife photographer, here as a member of a photo tour group. “They take off all at once…thousands of them,” he adds, “and it’s really unbelievable.”

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we watched and waited, the sun inched over the eastern horizon illuminating a wispy fog rising from the marsh several hundred feet away. Then, without any discernible signal, it happened. In virtual unison thousands of snow geese erupted in a thunder of wings, and in a blur filled the sky as they flew low over head before soaring northward to spend the day feeding in the fields.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sandhill cranes then started to walk. Others lowered their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s unbelievable how they take off all at once, thousands of them. Nothing we’ve ever seen in nature compares to it. It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then in the late afternoon they streak the sky and return to the water to roost for the night. The afternoon fly-in is almost as enjoyable to observe as the morning fly-out.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sunrise had also made us forget for a time the freezing chill as we retreated to the warmth of our toad.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once warmed up, we drove the 15-mile one-way auto loop road and hiked the trails and observed large groups of snow geese and cranes, thousands of ducks of many varieties, hundreds of Canada geese, dozens of hawks, eagles, blackbirds, crows, roadrunners, sparrows, grebes, coots, and other birds along with occasional reptiles, amphibians and mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The one-day entry fee is $5 per vehicle including all occupants; an annual pass is $25. Golden Age and other federal passes are accepted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge hosts a number of special events, including the annual Festival of the Cranes, staged during the height of the fall migration. The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes is set for November 20-23, 2019. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

24 Photos That Prove Fall Is the Best Season Ever

We are SO ready

We could be here all day talking about fall. When the air gets crisp and the leaves start to change colors, we’re filled with a special sort of joy that might even surpass our feelings about Christmas (okay, it’s a tie).

There are so many outings we can’t wait to do. Like going to the pumpkin farm and grabbing a gourd to carve. And don’t forget about apple picking—and apple pie! And pumpkin pie, for that matter. Or, sweet potato or pecan pie!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s not only the activities. The sheer beauty of autumn is a standout all on its own, which is why people travel far and wide for the best leaf peeping each year. And don’t forget your camera!

Seven Oaks Market near Grants Pass, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But if you can’t get away to a charming small town to see it for yourself, don’t worry. You can take a drive in the country or even just a stroll down a city street. But if you really need an autumn fix, then we suggest flipping through these photos. Trust us: They really do prove it’s the best season ever

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Outdoors

Head east and take a hike in the Smoky Mountains. The stunning views will not let you down.

Pumpkin Perfection

Pumpkins, colorful leaves in the distance, and a beautiful blue sky in Oregon? Nope, a more perfect fall day doesn’t exist.

Warakusa, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One with Nature

Fall is the best time to take a break from life and immerse yourself in nature. Just look at this scene from Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah and try to argue otherwise.

Goshen, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Serenity in the Suburbs

Walk down a quiet suburban street lined with trees shedding their leaves. The beauty could inspire anyone to give up city living.

Amish Country Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumnal Countryside

The crops may already be harvested, but there’s still plenty to behold on this Amish Country farm.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving a Road through Beauty

Cherohala Skyway’s 36 miles of scenic mountain views rival any scenic byway in the eastern U. S.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Scenic Drive

Lush forests provide gorgeous views for long drives across the country.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina

Okanagan Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farewell My Summer Love

What better way to end an amazing summer than to dive into a wine country extravaganza?

Montpelier, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Small Town Charm

The rich foliage beautifully complements Montpelier, Vermont’s many red and white buildings.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful Vineyard

Rows of yellow, orange, and red vines make British Columbia’s Okanagan Wine Country look even more stunning.

A walk in the park near Penticton, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vibrant Fall Foliage

There’s nothing quite like a walk in the park during autumn.

Stephen C. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pretty Reflection

Who wouldn’t want to take an autumn canoe ride on this gorgeous river?

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Early Fall Morning

The reflection in the water of this New Mexico landscape means double the fall foliage.

Oregon Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling Hills

These Oregon vineyards seem so serene in autumn.

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crimson Trees

We could spend all day daydreaming in this magical forest filled with fall hues.

Lancasster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall Fields

Vibrant colors abound during autumn in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf Peeping

Discover fall colors on Skyline Drive as the Blue Ridge Mountains erupt in color

Cranes at sunrise prepare for flight © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranes at Sunrise

Autumn leaf color too at Bosque during the Crane Festival

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visual Marvels

At Okefenokee, the dark, coffee-colored tannic water is the base for a living jumble of pine, cypress, swamp, palmetto, peat bog, marsh, island, and sand ridge.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain Splendor

The Icefields Parkway winds through Rocky Mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

Pops of red © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pops of Red

The Blue Ridge Parkway is arguably the country’s most beautiful drive.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saturated Yellows of Quaking Aspens

Utah’s Fish Lake is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazed aspen forests.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Daydreaming of the European Alps

Take a Sound of Music history of Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Tips for Photographing National Parks

National parks, along with being natural treasures, are a gift to photographers of all levels

Home to inspiring sights, like the rugged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, the big trees of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and the natural stone arches and other landforms of Arches National Park, national parks offer some of the most captivating locations around the world for photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before heading to a national park, consider the following tips to ensure your photos are as striking as America’s breathtaking backdrops.

Few places across the U.S. and Canada can rival the picturesque combination of majestic wildlife and dramatic landscapes found in national parks.

Ask a Park Ranger for Ideal Vantage Points

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to finding the perfect angles inside the national parks, a park ranger can be your greatest friend. Not only do rangers know where to find scenic spots, they know where and when the animals are most active and the location of the best vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos. This information is particularly beneficial when visiting the mountain parks of the West.

Park rangers can also offer insider tips on the park’s lesser known hidden treasures, which will provide you with unique perspectives.

Start Early: Get Out Before Sunrise

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is when most people are still sleeping, and the animals are up and out. The morning mist still lingers, and, if lucky, some ground fog may add to the atmosphere. In addition, the wind is usually calm at this time, making for easy great reflections macro shooting.

Plus, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful natural light and gorgeous colors.

Stay Out Late

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same applies for shooting at sunset. The best light for photography can be found as the sun is low along the horizon (golden hour) when the light is like butter and everything looks great.

At this time, abundant wildlife can often be found roaming and grazing.

Stay Until Dark for Low-Light Scenes

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the new digital cameras, we can just about shoot in the dark. Animals come out as darkness approaches, and we can get these shots of them by turning our ISO up, making the cameras more sensitive to light.

Enjoy Your Surroundings

Canyon de Chelly Nationa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved l Monument

Take time to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the park. During the middle part of the day, when the quality of light is poor, put your camera away, and get out and hike. Keep in mind future compositions, but mostly enjoy your majestic surroundings.

Stray off the Beaten Path

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of staying in your toad or tow vehicle or on a ranger guided tour, hit the trails on your own. The countries’ national parks offer thousands of miles of maintained hiking trails that take you into the mountains, forests, valleys, and canyons that make each one unique. You’ll not only get away from hordes of visitors, but will also have a better travel experience— and in turn, will take better photos.

Try a Polarizing Filter

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A polarizing filter increases contrast, takes haze out of the atmosphere, and takes reflections off water surfaces. The filter needs to be turned while you look through the camera to see the effects. It takes away almost two stops of light, but you can always turn up the ISO to compensate.

Be Creative

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks contain some of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. and Canada which can be both a blessing and a curse. With a myriad of impressive photos capturing iconic landscapes, it’s easy to find inspiration. However, it also becomes difficult to find distinctive angles when shooting the same scenes as millions of other photographers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When photographing, turn around, your best picture might be behind you.

—David Huffines

A Photographer’s Guide to the American West

Tips to ensure your photos are as striking as the American West’s breathtaking backdrops

From west to east and north to south, we have toured and photographed numerous National Parks Service sites including national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national historic sites and battlefield.

These parks offer a cross section of the best of the best for scenic beauty and historic significance across America.

Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most amazing iconic landscapes in national parks and beyond are found in the American West. Few landscapes are as awe-inspiring as those found in the western states. And who can resist taking lots of photos?

Here are some pointers to help you bring back images you’d be proud to share.

Take the Iconic Photos and Move Beyond

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone wants to capture those iconic images we’ve all seen in books and on postcards. Give it a try and you’ll likely realize it’s not as simple as it may seem. Many of those images were taken from high up on a mountain trail or from down below in a canyon.

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even if you get that iconic image, push yourself to something beyond. Move around and go higher, lower, closer, farther away to find a different perspective—one that reflects your personal vision. Simple changes often redefine your image and give a more complete sense of the place.

Include an Interesting Foreground Element

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One problem with many landscape shots is that the subject is far away and there’s nothing of interest in the foreground. That gives landscape images a flat sameness that we want to avoid. As you look at some stunning vista, pay attention to nearby rocks, plants, or even puddles of water that can add interest to your image.

Work with All Kinds of Natural Light

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Light is the primary ingredient in photography. You’ll encounter various types of natural light throughout the day and from one day to the next. Learn how to make the most of whatever light you have available.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even dull overcast days can work wonders with landscape photos. Such days bring out natural colors and eliminate what can often be annoying shadows. Take advantage by getting a high perspective so your image is mostly land with very little sky.

Since early morning and late afternoon are the choice times to photograph, plan out at a key location prior to venturing out.

Pay Attention to the Sky

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Composing a landscape includes making a decision about how to deal with the sky. Finding the right balance between land and sky is often what makes or breaks a landscape image. Consider the sky and general weather conditions. A blue sky or one with puffy white clouds or threatening dark ones can be an asset to your image and you may want to include more sky and less land.

But if the sky is a uniform dull gray, minimize the sky or eliminate it completely. Nothing spoils a landscape photo more than a swath of white where the sky would have been.

Optimum Sharpness is Paramount

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great advantages of landscapes is that they don’t move, so you can take your time to compose and get optimum sharpness. What is optimal depends on the image you have in mind, but certainly you want the foreground and middle ground as sharp as possible.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For maximum control over sharpness, use a tripod. That allows you to take several shots of the same location with different settings so you can decide later which works best for you. Also, you’ll get a sharper image with a higher f-stop. If you’re shooting just the landscape, a slow shutter speed should not pose a problem. But if you’ve got your eye on some wildlife in the landscape or want to capture grasses bending in the wind, vary your shutter speed to get either a sharp image or an interesting blur.

After-Capture Techniques

Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great boons of digital photography is that the image-making process continues after you have taken your shot. Today’s digital photography offers an incredible number of options for improving or rethinking our images in the computer.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One simple tool lets you crop your image in case you were unable to keep an unwanted element out of the frame during shooting. Remember, you can always cut something out, but you can’t add something you didn’t include in the rush of shooting.

As you become more familiar and comfortable using after-capture techniques, they will become a natural part of your photographic repertoire, helping you achieve the aesthetic results you want within one or two minutes.

Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you work these pointers into your landscape photography, you’ll come up with landscapes that truly look out of this world.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want.

—Ken Rockwell

Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! Where to See the Best Blooms?

Weather brings spring wildflowers to add desert color

Spring-like weather has arrived in the desert a little later than normal this year but it comes bearing gifts. After a rainy and snowy winter, warmer temperatures are triggering a profusion of wildflowers.

The flowers of the Sonoran Desert are a splash of color and passion. While almost entirely absent last year, they are out in force this season. This is a time to revel in satiny sun and balmy breezes and go looking for them. It’s a show you don’t want to miss. Here are some places to admire those soft, ground-level fireworks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

First, let’s establish a few rules so everyone can enjoy this season’s bounty.

1. Don’t pick wildflowers. They won’t last long enough to see a vase. They’ll die very soon after being plucked and then all their hard work of sprouting, growing, and blooming was for naught. Leave them for others to enjoy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

2. Stay on trails and watch where you step. There could be small seedlings all around. And for goodness’ sake, do not wade out into a field and trample the flowers, thus ruining them for everyone, just so you can snag a selfie. Take all photos from the pathways.

3. Don’t dawdle. Peak colors at any one location may last from a few days to two weeks. If you hear about a wildflower bonanza, track it down. The beauty may be ephemeral but your memories will last for years.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The wildflower population appeared spotty at Usery Mountain Regional Park until moisture-laden storms in February changed the equation. Suddenly hillsides were streaked with color. Poppies, primrose, lupines, rock daisies, fairy dusters, and the flame-orange tips of ocotillo added drama to mountains that already exhibit plenty on their own.

The Userys gain enough elevation to afford stunning views back toward Phoenix and farther east to the rolling waves of mountains like the Goldfields and Superstitions. Hike the slopes to Wind Cave and Pass Mountain to admire the best panoramas while wading through bands of flowers.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There’s always a bit of magic where desert and water meet. Add flowers to the mix and that’s a great way to spend a day. At Lake Pleasant, the heaviest concentration of poppies can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge is guarded by some extremely robust globemallows the size of landscape shrubs. A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Bartlett Lake

Near Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The road to Bartlett Lake quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies—this is a good spot for them.

Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers are on a blooming binge at Picacho Peak State Park. Carpets of dazzling golden Mexican poppies play a starring role in the colorful show—but other wildflowers add their own hues to the landscape. Among them: blue lupines, orange globemallow, white desert chicory, and bright yellow brittlebush.

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nearly any spot along the park’s main road will include wildflower scenery. One of the best side routes for colorful views from a vehicle—and even more grand vistas from trails—is the Barrett Loop.

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“We had poppies blooming in January and that’s unheard of in my time here,” park manager Steve Haas says. Two large washes keep the park cooler than the lower desert and generally prompt a later seasonal bloom. Traditionally, colors peak from late March into early April but things are happening a little earlier this year.

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with cream cups, poppies, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days each week.

Worth Pondering…

Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!

—Lady Bird Johnson

Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom

Spring is the most glorious of seasons in the Southwest

Growing up in Alberta I always feuded with winter, a cantankerous, disagreeable season that seemingly lasted forever. As a snowbird, I take great delight in rambling around the desert in shorts and T-shirt searching for signs of wildflowers.

Many people consider Arizona to be a land of two seasons, summer and the absence of summer. But us-snowbirds know better. Spring is the most glorious of seasons in the Desert Southwest, with days of glorious sunshine, azure skies, and carpets of wildflowers. Round these parts, we often start getting whiffs of spring in January and it goes full bore through much of February and on into May. Chew on that, Old Man Winter.

Bartlett Lake. March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Unless you’ve actually visited the Desert Southwest, any mention of the region probably conjures up images of an arid wasteland devoid of life. Nothing could be further from the truth: the landscape is, in fact, full of life—and when the desert blooms you will want to be there.

This amazing transformation usually happens by mid-March, but only during the years when winter rains have been the right amount and springtime temperatures the right range of degrees. When that occurs, a dry and seemingly lifeless desert springs to life in a glorious tapestry of purple, white, yellow, orange, and green.

Between Casa Grande and Florence. March 2015 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

More than 600 species of flowers, plants, and shrubs join the spectacle with their short-lived but profuse blossoms. Desert blooms typically appear in this order: bladderpods, Mexican poppies, chuparosa, globemallow, brittlebush, and then other various cacti species.

What a difference a year makes. As Arizona wildflower seasons go, 2018 was almost a complete bust. But 2019 has flower watchers trembling with anticipation. More flowers bloomed this January than all of last spring, and it wasn’t even close.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park. March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Why such a discrepancy? Why do Arizona wildflower seasons vary so drastically from year to year? And what makes 2019 look so promising?

The short answer is the moisture. But it’s more complicated than just the amount. Timing is crucial. A truly spectacular spring begins two seasons before. Here’s why:

Spring-blooming annuals must germinate in the autumn. They require a “triggering rain” of an inch or more. Last October brought widespread, often record-setting, rains to the Phoenix area. That was the first indication the 2019 season might be something special. That likely roused plenty of little seeds from their desert slumber.

Peridot Mesa. March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After the triggering rain, more storms are needed. Rains should total at least an inch per month through March, and more is better. The rains should occur consistently through the winter so there are no lengthy drying spells. That’s been the case for much of the state over the past few months. There was even a bonus New Year’s Eve snow gently melting across great swaths of the desert.

Another factor is temperature. Some annuals, poppies in particular, are delicate little divas that don’t like excessive heat. When thermometers push into the mid-80s, poppies start looking for the exits. Early heat waves have curtailed some recent seasons. But this year’s long streak of mild temperatures has given them a chance to flourish.

Picacho Peak State Park. March 2015 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Even with all of the right conditions in place, there’s no guarantee of an abundant wildflower season. Factors such as soil type, vegetation cover, and rodent population can affect blooming.

Usery Mountain Regional Park. March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Still, 2019 is shaping up to be a very good wildflower year. It should be above average just about everywhere, and has the potential to be spectacular in places. An event this rare should not be missed. Start making plans to venture outdoors and revel in satiny sun, balmy breezes, and a desert streaked with color.

Remember to bring your camera.

Click.

Sonoran Desert National Monument near Gila Bend. February 2019 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers.

—Lady Bird Johnson

Birding Arizona’s Sonoran Winter Vacation Destinations

Enjoy nature while observing Arizona’s diverse bird species

Arizona is a great location for birders to observe new life birds, to study the birds of the Sonoran Desert, and to photograph resident and wintering species. Arizona’s species list of around 550 is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

While periodic rains green the Sonoran landscape, January through April is an ideal time for birding this unique cactus-dominated landscape and to enjoy some warm winter weather. The number of unique birds that range northward from Mexico and Central America and the western species that flock here during winter are big attractions.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also you can enjoy resident species including the greater roadrunner, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, Gila woodpecker, Harris’s hawk, and the ones with the weird names—phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia, and verdin.

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Cactus Wren at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular birding areas in the Phoenix area is located in Gilbert. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch consists of 110 acres with seven “water recharge basins” where wastewater is treated, creating a superb wetland and riparian wildlife habitat. More than four miles of trails wind through the preserve, making birding easy. The area is at its best from fall through spring.

American Avocet at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roughly 300 species have been identified here including various ducks and shorebirds, black-necked stilt, American avocet, grebes, cormorants, Gambel’s quail, Inca dove, black-chinned hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, verdin, yellow warbler, Albert’s Towhee, and little blue heron.

Northeast of Mesa is a beautiful Maricopa County regional park—Usery Mountain. Walks along a variety of hiking trails take you through an attractive abundance of native cacti and mountain outcrops that yield an abundance of Southwest birds including Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, Gila woodpecker, Inca dove, and gilded flicker.

Black-necked Stilt at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther east of Phoenix, a favorite hiking and birding location is Peralta Canyon, located on the south side of the Superstition Mountains. Drive east on Highway 60 past the town of Apache Junction to the Peralta Canyon turnoff. Along the way to the Peralta Trailhead, you will pass through beautiful landscapes filled with native cacti and palo verde trees where Harris’s hawks are a potential treat along with three species of wrens—cactus, rock, and canyon—plus Gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, verdins, and phainopeplas.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther south, to the west and east of Tucson, the two units of the majestic Saguaro National Park contains many species seen in few other places in the United States. The diversity of habitats in the park ranges from lowland desert to pine forests. These diverse ecosystems support a surprising array of bird life. Common desert birds include greater roadrunners, Gila woodpeckers, gilded flicker, cactus wren, and Gambel’s quail. Northern goshawks, phainopepla, yellow-eyed juncos, and Mexican jays can be found in the park’s higher elevations.

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Greater Roadrunner at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, Mexican jays, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Vermilion Flycatcher at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A premier birding region of the state is to the southeast of Tucson and includes Madeira Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, The Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Patagonia State Park. These remarkable birding locations offer a whole different birding realm, and frankly, winter isn’t the best of seasons to visit the Southeast. We will describe birding opportunities there in a future article.

Any day birding in Southeast Arizona holds a level of excitement that you will find a rare bird wandering north from Mexico but the region holds plenty of remarkable birds to search for, along mountain slopes and river valleys—any day.

Hummer at The Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best takeaway message for this article is that Arizona has exciting birds found in a variety of birding locations throughout the state for snowbirds and residents alike to enjoy—and warm sunny weather, even in February!

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

RVing with Rex: The New Generation of Vogel Talks RVing

I’m back!

RVing with Rex is the new generation of Vogel Talks RVing!

I am confident you will like the new site and the changes I’ve made.

American entrepreneur Henry Ford once said, “Failure is an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Although I am not going to describe my time heading Vogel Talks RVing from August 2010 to December 2018 as a failure; however, I do recognize that changes needed to be made.

And then in mid-December Vogel Talks RVing was hacked resulting in all 4,000+ posts NO MORE—gone FOREVER with only blank pages to show for over eight and one-half years of posting.

This all begs the question, what lessons did I learn—or relearn.

Here, then is the lesson I learned—and you should too:

Back up your photos and then back them up again. I first learned this lesson over 10 years ago and I learned it the hard way when my laptop crashed with no back up.

Lesson learned—or so, I thought.

Since that untimely event, the external drive I used for backing up my photos and Word files crashed. I got lucky this time since my recently retired laptop still had most of the files lost in the crash. Lesson relearned. I now have all files backed up in two separate locations: my 4T Seagate external drive and in the clouds with Carbonite.

If you’re snapping away without a backup plan for your photos, beware: In an instant, you could lose them all, FOREVER.

Also be aware that if you upload an image to Facebook or other social media sites, you are not really backing up that photo since in most instances it will be digitally compressed. Since these sites are not designed to truly store photos, you want to carefully choose a backup solution—online and external hard drive.

Unfortunately, preserving the original photo isn’t the only issue you’ll face when backing up your images. You also need to know that there’s no completely foolproof method. There’s always risk. Store images on an external hard drive, and, as I earlier noted, it can fail.

Upload images to an online backup service and you face a different problem: You might think using a cloud service from an established company—like Apple, Google, or Amazon—would be safe.

The important takeaway here is that you should consider using a combination of services and solutions to safely back up photos. Ideally, store them both online and on two external hard drives—stored in different locations. However, at the very least, use an online backup and external drive.

Yet, consider Kodak, which for decades functioned as a powerful photography company. In 2001, it created an impressive photo-sharing and photo-storage site, called the Kodak Gallery. Yet, despite its heritage the company declared bankruptcy in 2012, shutting down its entire operation, including the Kodak Gallery, where many photographers had images stored.

As the name implies external hard drives which range in price from $40 (one TB) to $390 and up (12 TB), are like the storage that’s built into your computers except they’re connected externally. Most hook up via a USB connection, although there are other methods.

Consciously back up every day until the action becomes an automatic habit and second nature. According to a study at the University College London, it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit—more than six weeks longer than the conventional wisdom of 21 days as postulated in the 1960s by Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon.

O.K., now what?

As indicated previously, my 4,000+ posts are NO MORE—they’re gone FOREVER. With copies of the text and backups of most photos (original and resized), this post is the first of the new generation of RVing with Rex. Following a review of previously posted articles, some will be updated and reposted on the new site. And I will continue to write new material on RVs and Living the RV lifestyle including our snowbird travels.

This time, like Henry Ford said, I’ll do it more intelligently by capitalizing on the knowledge I gained the first time around.

As we plunge into 2019, let me say that it is really good to be back. I’m fired up for the new blog/web site and reinvigorated with a new vision and new mission to serve the RV community.

I really need to give a shout-out to a family friend with experience in the computer sciences and technology industry, for his exceptional, creative, insightful suggestions that helped me to get our website up-to-speed quickly. And to my wife, Dania, whose insight is invaluable and her vision regarding what RVing with Rex can become is second only to mine.

Oh, yes. And, I will continue to back up my files both online and on my external hard drive.

Worth Pondering…

Life happens while you’re making plans—especially when RVing.