2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip Final and Round up

It's already 2014 and I haven't finished the final section of our 2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip. Things just got a little busy.

For the blog postings so far of our trip:

Day one

Day two

Day three

Day four

Day five was Thanksgiving day. We decided it would be a good day to drive around Tucson and explore some of the neighborhoods. We explored and headed north to Ora Valley and the settlement of Oracle. Then we headed west across the desert plains on Park Ridge road to the I-10. Park Link Road has a splendid view of the Pichacho Peak with some saguoros in the foreground.


We headed to the West side of the Saguoro National Park, explored a bit, and decided to explore the Hugh Norris trail. This is a great hike (although at our fitness level, we waddled rather than hiked.)

The trail winds up through the saguoro groves. We spent a lot of time taking photos. Here are some:


Kevin taking pictures as we followed the trail.


I loved the shapes the saguoro's made against the sky.


We were lucky with the light, as the sun started to sink towards the horizon. I loved the way these giants were back lit.


During our hike we heard a noise. We turned and looked down at a red tailed hawk with a large wriggling snake. Gave me the heebie jeebies. (Yes, yes, I know. Snakes are all part of the great circle of life! Yes I know that they are great for the environment. But I just can't abide them.)


Ahh the shapes! The light! Gorgeous!


Saguoros are so slow growing. This huge giant must be a couple of hundred of years old. Amazing.

The next day, the day after Thanksgiving was our departure day. We really didn't have much time before we had to get to the airport, return our car, and catch our flight back to Denver (via Phoenix.) We drove to east Saguro National Park, but really ran out of time. A pity.

In the five days that we had to spare for Tucson, we certainly jammed a lot in. The days were pretty short, so we found that we ran out of light quickly. I am glad we decided to visit Tucson, and give it a thorough explore. Flying down, and spending all the time in Tucson meant that we really took our time to see as much as we could. There is still much more that we didn't get to see. Perhaps that will be for the next trip?

2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip Day Three 11/26/2013

We decided to take this day to visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It is about a 1.5 hour drive from Tucson on highway 86. The observatory is set in quite a dramatic setting. The mountain drive up to the Observatory is very interesting and winding. There are ample pull outs to stop and take photos. There is no charge if you want to visit, and to do the DIY tour. There is a charge for the guided tours. We packed a picnic lunch, and had a picnic at the Observatory.


Kevin at the entrance.




We were lucky to be able to go and view the sun.


 This photograph below is of the solar scope. I loved the shapes.


I took this photo below and converted it to black and white. I thought it looked sought of arty.


and more...




Like I said, very arty!

Afterwards we drove back towards Tucson ending up at the San Xavier del Bac Mission and Church just as the sun was setting illuminating this beautiful church so that it glowed in the desert.


Inside was beauiful...


and look at this gorgeous ceiling...


and this detail...





2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip Day Four 11/27/2013

Wednesday 11/27/2013 it was overcast and cool. We decided to visit the Tucson Botanical Gardens in urban Tucson. This is a small facility with a butterfly house. We had nice overcast weather; great light for photography. Admission is $13 per person.


"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."


I loved the cactus garden.


There are many other interesting parts to these gardens - a beautiful herb gardens, native american crop gardens, butterfly gardens.

The greenhouse where the exotic butterflies were held was hot and humid. We left our coats in the car prior to entering.


You had to tread lightly.


 Butterflies are so beautiful.


The greenhouse contained some gorgeous orchids.


We ate our picnic lunch at the Gardens and then decided to go and visit the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun.

We really enjoyed this. There is no charge.


This is truly remarkable personal gallery of the local artist DeGrazia (died in the 1980's.) I remember his images from christmas cards that I remember from my childhood.


I loved the chapel that he built on the premises.


Look at this glorious interior.


Here are images of the artist's home...




We ended up photographing the sunset at Gates Pass.




2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip Day Two 11/25/2013

The next morning, Tuesday 11/25/2013 we had a nice hot breakfast at our hotel, the Best Western Innsuites on N Oracle drive and decided to head out towards the Saguaro National Park (West) and to the Desert Museum. We had read good reviews about the Desert Museum. It is more like a zoo than museum. Cover charge is $20 per person, and it is well worth it. We ended up spending about 4 hours wondering the grounds.


 There is an annual pass per family of $75 per year.  We found the docents to be knowledgeable and informative. I found out about scorpions, and the harris hawk. We had a very good siting of this mountain lion sitting in the sun. Good kitty.


There were a number of animals I had never seen before: javelinas and coati. Javelinas are NOT pigs (although they sure look hog like to me. Coati's are related to ferrets, but these reminded me of large bear-weasels.

The museum is nicely laid out with concrete winding walkways. The bushes and plants are nicely labeled. And of course there was this saguaro home to a little bird.



I loved how the sun was backlighting this cholla. I had to take the photograph.


This bobcat was fascinated with a squirrel (off picture.)


This litte gray fox was curled up in the sun. My favorite exhibit was the hummingbird aviary.


It was such fun to sit down on one of the benches and watch and listen to the little hummingbirds buzzing around. Hummingbirds are such amazing little creatures.


We shared a burger at the local eatery on the premises. Time flies when you are having fun. Then we decided to go into the National Park and do a quick orientation, as we still had some light. The visitors center consists of restrooms, and a watering station. The visitors center shop and information center has good maps, and you can talk to the rangers to get advice.

We left the Visitors Center and hiked on three short trails to get a sampling: Valley view trail. We spotted a deer amongst the cacti and saguaro's.






We spotted the petroglyphs on the Signal Hill hike.


And photographed the sunset at the Desert Discovery Trail... P1090158

We ended up back at our hotel after a very satisfying Day Two.


2013 Thanksgiving Tucson Trip Day One 11/24/2013

As we do every year, around this time of year, we love our road trips. This year we decided to visit Tucson. We had initially decided to drive, but the weather turned nasty and we worried that we would get stuck in it. So we decided to do something completely spontaneous, and thanks to last minute travel dot com, we had booked a flight, a rental and 5 nights in a hotel in Tucson. I had a momentary panic attack as we booked everything on Friday night, with scheduled departure on Sunday. I called everyone - hotel, and rental to make sure that they had received the booking.

We flew down early Sunday, arriving in Tucson midday after a bit of wait for our connection in Phoenix. The flying time to both Phoenix and Tucson is relatively minor, and both airports are small and manageable.

Once we gotten our rental at the Tucson International Airport we got our bearings (Tucson is nicely layed out on a grid system, and is quite easy to find one's way around) and decided to drive the Mount Lemmon scenic by way. We had read that it was a very nice drive.


 On the way up the road twists and turns with a number of pull outs to photograph the views. As you climb in altitude the countryside changes from desert with cacti to a more alpine ecosystem.


 We stopped frequently and took photo's. As we made our way up in altitude the climate changed to a magical winter wonderland.


It was truly quite something to see the change - quite something.


We spent the afternoon exploring the Mount Lemmon Scenic by way. We returned to Tucson in the early evening, and checked into our hotel.


Greeley: Greeley Freight Station Museum

Over Fathers Day, my mom and dad spent the weekend with us. Kevin and I had found the Greeley Freight Station Museum in one of our many mini road trips. We had almost convinced ourselves that we had taken my parents there. Luckily we asked them, and since neither of them had been we decided that we owed another visit.


Even if you are not a train buff, even if you have only the most remotest of interest in trains, I still highly recommend this museum. We spent a wondeful satisfying couple of hours.


There was so much to look at. Look out for the bald eagles, the skunk scaring the picknickers and , the occasional bear frightening a kayaker or two! The attention to detail is truly amazing!



2012 Thanksgiving Road Trip - 11/22/2012 - 11/24/2012 (Part Four)

We woke around 7AMish on Thursday 11/22 (Thanksgiving) and went to the front desk to see whether the second night we could keep the same room. They could! This Best Western has a Garden Cafe - on the premises where you can buy some really scrummy breakfasts. I had eggs, hash, sausages, and a bite of Kevin's bacon. It was a substantial good breakfast, and it needed to last us the day. It did.

We then headed north on highway 101. Our Goal - Mendocino. We drove up towards Cloverdale and we took the highway 128 that cuts diagonally northwest towards the coast. Again lots of twisty windy roads. This time past vineyards and wine farms. Nothing much was open given the holiday. It took quite a bit of time to get to the coastal highway. Sometimes slow. And the road wound between dark redwood groves. Kevin mounted his GoPro video camera on the front of the car and we had fun with that.


The vineyards were either yellow or reddy orange. Quite gorgeous looking.


We came out at the ocean highway near Albion. Again it was a treat to see the ocean and follow the narrow winding road up towards Mendocino.

Mendocino is a funny little quaint town. There was hardly anyone about, and a few stores were open to take advantage of those out and about on a holiday. I thought that while quaint, Mendocino had a very sanitized feeling about it - I mean I didn't see one structure in need of a good paint job.


Murder She Wrote was filmed here.


After that we decided to head south. Mission - we wanted to find and photograph Bowling Ball Beach - described in Kevin's collection of Photograph America newsletters.

So down we went and managed to find the turn off - there were a number of locals who parked their cars, and we followed the directions contained in the newsletter to the beach.

We nearly turned back as we approach a sharp descent onto some rickety looking logs built to be a "log ladder". But as luck would have it, we watched a couple who was walking their tiny dog come up. It was much easier than it looked. So down we went, Kevin filming me "bumming" my way down. Done! we were on the beach - had it to ourselves, and we scampered over to Bowling Ball Beach to photograph the rocks that were shaped like bowling balls. What fun. We were delighted that we did that!


We had the beach to ourselves.


We headed south towards Jenner to take the 116 to Sebastapol, and then the 12 towards Santa Rosa and highway 101. We planned to leave the following morning (Friday) from Santa Rosa.

On Friday 11/23 we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the coast, and turned back towards Colorado. We retraced our steps - taking the I-80 over Donner Pass through Nevada. We overnighted (Friday night) again in Elko NV at the same Best Western. Saturday we decided to push all the way home. On the way we stopped off at the Bonneville Speedway just for the fun of it.


Each year around September enthusiasts gather to race the clock on the salt flats. Maybe next year we'll plan to be in the neighborhood?


For more information check out this website.


I took this photograph above through the window of our car as we went by Salt Lake City on our way home.

While exploring and road tripping is wonderful, there is nothing that beats coming home.


2012 Thanksgiving Road Trip - 11/20/2012 - 11/21/2012 (Part Three)

We left the Best Western in Novato for the second time on the morning of 11/20/2012. It was raining, foggy and damp. It stayed that way the entire day. No complaints from this traveler! We drove to our gas station, filled up, and then headed north of highway 101. We took the south Novato Blvd turnoff. We spotted a Auto Parts dealer and popped in to get "Sea Foam", an additive I found on the internet when googling the car's stuttering problem.

We headed back to Pt Reyes National Seashore by following the road we left it yesterday. We followed the Pt Reyes/ Petaluma road to Pt Reyes stopping now and then to take photos of the beautiful rolling green hills, the gnarled oak trees, scrub oak and other exotic (to our eyes) flora.




The rolling hills have dairy cows and farms. We stopped off at the "Cheese Factory" a road side store cum tourist attraction specializing in local bries and other soft cheeses. It had a nice pond filled with Canadian geese, and picnic tables. We browsed, signed the book and headed for the road.

We decided to bypass the Bear Valley Visitor center that we saw briefly yesterday and head out towards the light house. The road we took was called the Francis Drake Road that runs parallel to the Tomales Bay - a wonderful protected inland bay. We saw numerous bufflehead ducks.

I took a nice picture of a grounded boat/ shipwreck.


The roads are narrow and winding. Once you get out towards the point it becomes more open, and grassy. Still lots of cows. We saw a herd of deer - probably black tailed deer.


These are indigenous to this area. Fallow and axis deer were introduced to the region in the 1930s and 1940s. The mist/ fog really got thick. We pushed on to the lighthouse in spite of visibility being less than mile. It rained and the wind blew, but we were not going to let that get in our way. We climbed out and made a mad dash down the path to an overlook. But it was completly fogged in, and very windy, so we retraced our steps, holding onto our hoods. Spotted a number of banana slugs, which Kevin had to photograph.

Here's Kevin at the overlook.


And here is the Banana slug...


Got back in the car and tried to dry off.

Then we made our way to  the seal overlook at Drake's Bay. Slighly clearer in Drake's bay. I saw my first Surf Scoters! Western Grebes played in the surf. Saw gulls, and other unidentified birdies. Watched from above as the elephant seals bugled below.


We started to retrace our steps. Kevin decided to take a road to our left. We took the road to south beach to see the crashing waves. It was very windy, but well worth it. The rolling hill sides were covered with succulents of differing colors. Had some fun with photography. I decided to grossly underexpose to increase the color saturation.



It was really wonderful to see the ocean.


Kevin on the beach...


And on our way out...


On our return drive we had to decide - it was rapidly approaching 3pm and we had made no plans for accommodations. Kevin had picked up a flyer at the Bear Valley Visitor's Center for the Abalone Inn. So we decided to give it a whirl. We arrived, to luckily a vacancy sign. Innkeeper is Donna. Very nice and friendly. Checked in, paid - cash. No credit cards. Very quaint and comfortable inn.

We then decided to head for Pt Reyes Station for a late lunch (our only meal). I had read about the Station Cafe. So we went there. Kevin had the Fish Taco, and I had a very nice fish and chips. I also needed some hot tea to warm up.

We ambled around Point Reyes Station - took photos and popped into a really nice gift store. Then we headed back to the Abalone Inn. We had the place to ourselves, so we had a relaxing time sipping sherry and browsing a nice selection of reference books kept in the Inn's common room.

For more information about the Inn... go here.


We had a very nice comfortable sleep  at the Abalone Inn. Queen bed was very comfortable and we didn't hear or were disturbed by the fridge in our room. We woke up, and showered. And had fruit, toast, and 2 hard boiled eggs each. The eggs were courtesy of Innkeepers hens which we met later.


The sun was shining. and we were eager to get going. So the morning of Wednesday 11/21 we left the Inn and we decided to return to Pt Reyes National Seashore.


High voltage turkey vulture.

We wanted to see Limantour beach. We hadn't had the opportunity to see it yesterday as we ran out of time. We had a leisurely drive south, and then to Limantour. We stopped off in the parking lot, and had a wonderful time birdwatching in amongst the trees. Kevin had a fine time photographing a little sparrow bathing in a puddle. Turkey vultures and crows soared overhead, causing the little birds to flee for cover. We saw an osprey in the distance. We have had good sightings of Red Tailed hawks, I've seen a Coopers hawk and I think I saw a Red Shouldered hawk lazily floating over the green hills.



Above is the little sparrow that bathed in front of us.

After birding at Limantour we decided to head out north on the ocean highway (Hwy 1) north to Bodega Bay. It was fun following the coast line of the Tomales Bay, and then watch the changing landscape as it opened up to the Pacific.


Bodega Bay was very touristy. We were feeling peckish so decided to stop by at the Tides Restaurant. Made famous with Hitchcock's "The Birds". Very mediocre tourist trap food. We shared a burger and a seafood appetizer sample. It really was not good.

Then we went to the Bodega Head because I had that this was a good birding spot.

We were not disappointed. I spotted Marbled Godwit - actually huge flocks of them, with Willets intermingled. A first for me! Also nice flocks of Western Sandpiper.

We walked down a long dock to see if there was anything interesting. We saw a fin in the water, and we got very excited. Turned out it was a seal that was toying with us - and only because I managed to spot the whiskers. We are such land lubbers!

Headed towards the Bodega Bay Head, and had a lot of fun photographing the crashing surf, and the sun and light hitting the waves just so. Spent quite a bit of time, photographing the surf here.





Then we decided to meander northwards towards Jenner. We didn't get far when distracted by a sunset, we started photographing that. I got a wild hair, to try and find us suitable accommodation. I didn't want to have to drive all the way back to Novato! So I called and booked at the Best Western Plus at Santa Rosa.

2012 Thanksgiving Road Trip - 11/19/2012 - Part Two

We left our Best Western the morning of 11/19 after an excellent night. Kevin checked to see whether the Hotel had availability since we were approaching the holiday week. We were told that they had availability, but were fully booked over Thanksgiving.

Here is a photo of the Best Western Plus Novato Oaks hotel, Novato California.


And here is Kevin - we have arrived in California!


After checking out, we decided to head southwards towards Golden Gate bridge. We didn't get that far. Instead we got kind of "lost" but ended up following winding narrow roads through some very interesting suburbs. We even stopped by a Seminary and took pictures of the beautiful church.


We took Lucas Valley road to Fairfax. From Fairfax we followed College Ave to Muir Beach.



The beach sand was a dark grey. Not a white beach at all. I saw my first black phoebe at Muir Beach. A very common bird here, just not found in Colorado.

After that we headed to Muir Woods National Monument. We drove through some nice winding roads, through rolling hills, covered in dense scrub oak. The narrow road approaching the National Monument was lined with parked cars. Kevin took the bull by the horns and snagged a parking spot from a departing vehicle. I am glad he did. Because the parking lots were full full full. We visited the center - I got some postcards for Jane, and a California bird book. Kevin picked up some road maps. Then we asked advice from the cashier - who advised if we wanted to see it within an hour to do the 2nd bridge loop. And so we did.


The loop walks through the redwoods on a nice flat paved road. Lots of chances to stop, ooh and ahh, and take photos of these magnificent giants. It was surprisingly busy.




And here's more.. my favorite photo...


On way back to our car we spotted the Western Scrub Jay (Coastal) also very common, but a first for us.

We then we discovered we were extremely hungry. We left the National Monument and got on Highway 1 towards Stinson Beach. This road was in excellent condition, but narrow and windy. Spectacular views of the ocean, and at certain angles look back on N. SF area. Saw many boats and ships passing. Stacks of turkey vultures, and red tailed hawk riding the air streams. Lots of small chirping birds - titmouse, chickadees or something!! I wish they would sit still long enough to be identified. But no such luck there!

Drove into Stinson Beach, and went to the the Parkside Cafe for a bite. I had calamari, and Kevin had the mussels. Calamari were deep fried, and completely over cooked. It was like eating rubber bands. Kevin's mussels were nice. But they were covered in grated parmesan.

I felt queasy after the deep fry. So we pressed on the Point Reyes Station, in the hopes of finding somwhere to stay. Point Reyes looked really interesting. We stopped by a pond to look at some 30 American Widgeon ducks.

We then decided that we would head back to Novato (via the Costco) for another night at the Best Western.

2012 Thanksgiving Road Trip - 11/16/2012 to 11/18/2012 (Part One)

We have a tradition. Over Thanksgiving - a time traditionally spent over Turkey, stuffing and gravy- we head out on a road trip, just for the heck of it. It is a wonderful time of year for this kind of thing, and often ends up being surprisingly free of crowds.

This year we decided we wanted another road trip to California. In 2010 we did a road trip to central California - entering the state through Las Vegas. We loved that trip. This year we decided to explore northern California.

Night Zero: Friday 11/16/2012

We left Fort Collins after work and drove to Rawlins, WY to overnight at the Ferris Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Psychologically we like the "night zero" getaways. Even being 3 to 4 hours closer to your destination really helps.


For more information check out their website here.

We stayed in the Blue Room - everything was very comfortable. Our Innkeeper was warm and friendly, and we got introduced to the household pet ferret called Miss Daisy.

Breakfast the next morning was tasty and filling - fruit, juice, coffee, toast, and an egg bake. We left for Day One of the road trip feeling refreshed and ready for the road.

Here is Kevin making toast.


The next day we headed west on I-80. We passed through Salt Lake City, and I had to take photos through the car window of the salt workings visible from the road.


We made good time through Utah and then into Nevada. Kevin had read good reviews of the Best Western in Elko NV, so we spent Night One (11/17)  there. We make it a habit of always asking the motel front desk for  food recommendations. We had dinner at JR's - a very good family restaurant (attached to a casino - naturally- this is Nevada) that served very good burgers. This restaurant was in walking distance. Their sweet potato fries were superb.


 We left Elko the morning of Sunday 11/18 leaving around 9am.  We drove west along I-80. Very interesting landscape. Out of Elko - rolling mountains.  It was also raining on and off during our drive.


Then it opened up into those flat straight roads that you expect NV to have. As we passed small towns, we passed towns inviting us for casinos and ... $10 lap dances. Charming! We grabbed a picnic lunch at a rest stop. Very dry and arid. At the rest stop there was a sign explaining the "Forty Mile Desert."

Then we pushed on to make it to Reno. We had been worried about the weather forecast and getting over Donner Pass. We decided to try it. I couldn't stand the thought of having to delay our arrival into California by a day. Just before the pass just outside Reno- Sparks - at a gas station we swapped drivers. Kevin drove the pass - on the NV side it was just fine. Then on the CA side over the Donner Pass proper - that is around the town of Truckee. - we went through rain and snow. Kevin did a magnificent job. Just drove slowly. No need for chains. 


Rain turning to snow.



And warnings of snow removal equipment!

At a rest stop after we had come down the pass at around 3000 ft we swapped again, and I drove to Davis or near there. Then Kevin called our Best Western in Novato to book for the night. He drove the 1.5 hours with the help of Google Maps navigation to get to Novato.

Very comfortable room. Went to Wild Fox - a restaurant adjoining the Best Western for a burger. I also had a glass of wine, a Wild Fox Chardonnay. Kevin seized the moral high ground and ordered a salad instead of fries, and he avoided the burger bun.

We are very pleased we managed to get to CA on Sunday. We thought that we would have to wait it out in Reno.