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The abandoned cement mixer that’s been turned into and abandoned space capsule by an artist. The oddity sits eats of Phoenix near the Casa Grade exit on the south side of the road.

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.: — Rosalia de Castro

Between Phoenix and Tucson

I was heading home to Tucson from Phoenix on Interstate 10 with my friend Jean when I saw a strange object in a barren farm field off the road to my right. It kind of looked like part of a rocket, was my immediate thought,

The cement tree that sits off Interstate 80 between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Wendover, Nevada.

“What’s that?” I asked Jean.

Truly a woman of the times, Jean said she didn’t know but she would find out.

“I doubt you’ll find that on your smartphone,” I said as she began tapping its keypad.

“Wanna bet?” she replied. Fortunately, I didn’t because a few minutes later she

Told me exactly what we had passed. It was an abandoned cement mixer from an old truck that artist Jack Milliard had painted to look like a downed space capsule. The abandoned mixer had sat in the field for 30 years before that.

Weird, I thought. Then my mind went to the cement tree that sits in the middle of the Bountiful Salt

The two-story outhouse in Gays, Illinois. — Photo by Pat Bean

Flats between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Wendover, Nevada. As a journalist, I had written about this 83-foot-tall structure that was built to withstand desert winds gusting at over 130 miles an hour, and earthquakes in the order of 7.5 on the Richter scale.

According to the local Highway Patrol, and Wikipedia, more than two million cars travel past the tree annually, and five to seven an hour of these cars stop for a more thorough look. When Utah pumped water out of Great Salt Lake onto the West Desert to avoid the lake from flooding in the 1980s, the joke was that the state was doing so to water the cement tree.

Then I remembered the Two-Story Outhouse in Gays, Illinois. I did a short travel blog for American Profile magazine on this roadside oddity.

Such surprising sights are what make road trips so delightful. Do you have a favorite roadside oddity?  I hope you do. I’d love to hear about it.

Bean Pat Frog Diva thoughts https://frogdivathoughts.com/2018/12/03/all-i-want-is-a-hippopotamus-for-christmas/#like-8863 Do you remember this? I do.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon. Currently, she is writing a book, she is calling Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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Looking across the valley from the undeveloped ridge near my apartment complex where I often take my morning walks, — Photo by Pat Bean

“… an ordinary desert supports a much greater variety of plants than does either a forest or a prairie.” — Ellsworth Hunting

Just a Happy Accident

A gila woodpecker on a saguaro cactus, one of many I see on my walks in the desert. — Photo by Pat Bean

Six years ago, after spending nine years traveling this country full-time in a small RV with my canine companion Maggie, I made a small third-floor apartment in Tucson my home. It was an unplanned move, but the time had come when I wanted a nightly hot bath instead of a skimpy shower; and I wanted the pleasure of a local library. This southeastern Arizona apartment complex had a nice bathtub, was dog friendly with shady places to walk my pet, a library was close by and, just as important, it was affordable.

It also helped that my youngest daughter lived in town, the area was a great place to watch birds, and my new apartment stood in the shadow of the Catalina Mountains, which are comparable in their 10,000-foot elevation to Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, whose shadows I lived in for 25 years before I retired, sold my home and bought my RV — I’m not sure I could ever again live away from mountains. That I found

A Tucson sunset. — Photo by Pat Bean

myself living in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was just a happy accident.

The surprise has been how much I have learned to love the desert, particularly this morning during my early walk with my current canine companion Pepper – after I read about all the snow storms taking place elsewhere in the country.

Life is good – and this old broad is happy and grateful for her many blessings.

Bean Pat: Good signs https://simpletravelourway.wordpress.com/2018/11/26/consider-this/?wref=pil This goes along with my goal of encouraging people to be kind to one another.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is available on Amazon.  She is now working on a book tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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“…on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over the rimrocks, sit quietly and listen for a wolf to howl, and think hard of everything you have seen and tried to understand. Then you may hear it – a vast pulsing harmony – its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.” – From Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

There is something of magic in a wolf’s howl that speaks to my soul. — Wikimedia photo

A Moment to Remember

My fascination with wolves began at a young age, triggered when I read for the first time, but not the last, Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” I discovered the book when I about eight years old among my late grandfather’s book collection.

Down through the years I read many more books that encouraged this love affair, including “Never Cry Wolf,” that details the summer the author spent observing wild wolves in the Arctic tundra. I longed see one of these wild creatures outside of a zoo. But given the way we humans had been eradicating these animals for decades, it was a miracle I doubted would ever happen. Then it did, in 2005.

I was traveling in Yellowstone with my youngest son. We had stopped at an overlook to check out an unkindness of ravens in some trees, as were other visitors to the park. Or so we thought. We finally noticed that humans and birds alike were focused on something moving on the far side of the small pond below. When I saw it was a wolf, I was almost afraid to breathe. Here was nature at its purest.

One of the wolves at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana.

The overlook placed the wolf center stage while the morning sun, just capping a ridge to our east, spotlighted it.  The wolf ignored our presence until a small dog, left in a vehicle by its owner, began yapping. Only then did the wolf tilt its head in our direction. It clearly knew we pitiful humans were watching.  The barking dog, as if feeling the heat from that glance, became silent, and the wolf again continued its ground-covering stride.  Through my birding telescope I could almost count the hairs on the wolf’s back.

In comparison to seeing a wolf in the wild, which I would rate 20-plus on a 10-point scale, Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana, was a mere 10.

I arrived at the park just in time for an afternoon guided tour of the 75-acre grounds. While much more than a zoo, the wolves here were not free and only half wild. Wolf Park is a research facility, created to allow researchers to make closer observations of these animals than would be possible in the wild.

While the wolves are kept in large enclosures that encourage them to form, and live, in packs as they would in the wild, they have been conditioned to human contact to facilitate researchers. This begins when they are only a couple of weeks old, at which time they are removed from their wolf mothers and given to human mothers to continue raising. At about four months old, the cubs are returned to their packs.

A tour guide explained all this as he walked us around the park. His spiel included a genealogy of the pack affiliations, and stories about the personalities of each of the park’s 24 wolves. I was fascinated.

The pack I would late howl with was led by Tristan.  As wolves do in the wild, he had gained his position by asserting his dominance over higher-ranking wolves. This pack in-fighting, unless death of an animal seems imminent, is not interfered with by the park staff. Fights for the alpha female role, our guide said, tended to be more vicious than those of the male wolves, probably because the right to breed belongs only to the female alpha.        ,

I returned to the park later that night for the weekly Friday Night Howl, and found myself sitting on bleachers in front of a large fenced enclosure. A couple of staff members entered the compound and were greeted enthusiastically by the wolves, much as my daughter’s Great Dane, Tara, greets me. She is extremely loving, but if I’m not careful of my stance, she could easily bowl me over.

With the greeting between humans and animals completed, the staffers talked a bit about the work at the park, and then invited us to start howling to encourage the wolves’ response. I found the howling a bit weird at first. I didn’t sound at all like a wolf. Tristan seemed to agree – and looked at us humans as if we were missing our brains. But just then, somewhere in the background, one of the wolves from a different pack howled.  Tristan answered the wild night song. Other members of his pack quickly joined him. The chorus of human and wolf howls went on for a while, but at some point, I stopped howling and simply listened, feeling a freedom in my soul that I find hard to describe. It’s a writer’s block that actually gives me pleasure.

When I began my human, screechy imitation of a wolf’s howls again, Tristan gave me a disdainful stare. Then, never taking his eyes from mine, he decided to take pity on this mere human and howled with me. Shivers of delight rolled up my spine. It is a moment I will never forget.

Now available on Amazon

The above essay is a short piece from my book Travels with Maggie, which — to toot my own horn – would make a great Christmas gift for travel enthusiasts, especially RVers. You can get it on Amazon.

            Bean Pat: Window into the woods https://awindowintothewoods.com/2018/11/19/really/#like-11871 Brave little chickadee.

            Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Currently, she is writing a book, she is calling Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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In a region of Texas some call the last great habitat, thorn forest intermingles with freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. Dense patches of thorny brush rise among unique wind-blown clay dunes called lomas.”  — US Fish and Wildlife Service

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Birds Galore

            It was a warm November day in 2005 when I visited South Texas’ Laguna Atascosta National Wildlife Refuge, whose name loosely translates to boggy lake. My own description of the refuge, recorded in my journal, coincides somewhat with the official version. I wrote: “Laguna Atascosta is one big briar patch – a haven of thorns. It seemed as if every plant was armed.  Scattered purple and orange wildflowers sat among sage, yucca, and palm trees with shaggy trunks.”

A pair of aplomado falcons. — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Along with my descriptions of the landscape was a list of the birds I was seeing: osprey, white-fronted goose, great egret, great blue heron, white-tailed kite, long-billed curlew, loggerhead shrike, kestrel, sandhill crane, white-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, white pelican, Harris hawk, red-shouldered hawk – just to name a few. Half of the birds found in North America rest, feed, migrate through or nest on this landscape, the leader of our small birding group told us as we watched lesser and greater yellowlegs feeding in some shallow water.

It was easy to tell which was which of the two, not an easy task when looking at only one of the species, I thought, as I added dunlin, marbled godwit, black-bellied plover, northern harrier, gull-billed tern, black-necked stilt and willet to my bird list, which kept getting longer – and kept looking for the No. 1 bird on my priority list.

But as the day wore on, I became more and more doubtful I would see an aplomado falcon, a globally abundant species but rare in North America. Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, only two remaining pairs of aplomado falcons were known to exist in the states in the 1940s and ‘50s, most likely because of over harvesting of eggs, according to US Fish and Wildlife.

Aplomado falcon. — Wikimedia photo

Today, the aplomado falcon has made a comeback in South Texas due to an aggressive recovery program involving captive breeding and re-introduction efforts. As of 2004, more than 900 falcons had been released in the Rio Grande Valley, with 25 nesting pairs documented in 2006.

Finally, thankfully, I got to see one of those pairs. Our group finally identified one sitting regally on a yucca. The aplomado falcon was a good distance away, but my long-lens telescope brought it up close for a detailed view. As I watched the falcon, which was a new life bird for me, I noted a second one sitting a bit lower on the plant. What a delightful day for us birders.

But it wasn’t over. Before we headed back to our Harlingen Hotel, which was the base for those attending the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I added lesser scaup, crested caracara, belted kingfisher and a dozen or so more birds to my day’s list.

Laguna Atascosa may mostly be a briar patch, but I feel like Br’er Rabbit, who despite his words, would have been quite happy to be tossed back into that thorny thicket.

Bean Pat: Bay of Fundy https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/the-bay-of-fundy/#like-38633 One of my favorite blogs because I usually learn something new, especially how to identify wildflowers.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

An old bristlecone pine at Great Basin National Park, where stars light up the sky at night. — National Forest Service Photo

A Walk Among the Trees

I was sitting on my third-floor balcony drinking my cream-laced coffee this morning, with my binoculars aimed at our resident great horned owl. We have a pair here, and since this was the largest of the two I assumed it was the female.

All that’s left of what was once the world’s oldest living tree. — Wikimedia photo

The owl was restless and flew off after a couple of minutes, but I continued to stare, this time at the magnificent Ponderosa pine in which the owl perched, and which graces my balcony view. I saw the tree as a living thing, and knowing that it is a tiny cog in the ecosystem that is necessary to my daily breath, I was awed and thankful,

And that thought took me back to the trip I made to Great Basin National Park, where I stood near the summit of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, and learned of the murder of what was thought to be the world’s oldest living tree.

I was with a small group of hikers led by a ranger at this time, and one of the men in the group asked: “Did they kill the murderer.”  The ranger responded: “They should have.”

Stella Lake at Great Basin National Park. — Wikimedia photo

But the truth is that the murderer was given a permit to cut the bristlecone pine tree down for research purposes. It was found to be 5,200 years old, and the oldest known living tree.

The silver lining from this tragedy – and the Pollyanna side of me always looks for this ray of sunshine – is that the hue and cry from this 1964 murder eventually led to the creation of Great Basin National Park.

“If anything good can come from the cutting of the world’s oldest tree, then it was that,” the ranger said, as we walked among other bristlecones, some of which were thought to be as old as 3,000 years.

That recorded memory, recalled from my journals and a newspaper story I wrote when the park was celebrating its 10th birthday, dates back to 1996. I made the trip to the Nevada park after then Rep. Jim Hansen, protesting the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which, I note, has recently been reduced in size, suggested that parks like the Great Basin didn’t deserve national protection.

I disagree one thousand percent.

Bean Pat: Old Plaid Camper https://oldplaidcamper.com/2018/06/22/hazy-lazy-low-tide-mornings/#like-10237  Life’s a marathon not a sprint.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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Bar Harbor park at the pier. — Photo by Pat Bean

“A minute of thought is greater than an hour of talk.” — John C. Maxwell

A Lesson in a Watchful Moment

I spent a week on Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, at a campground  just outside of Bar Harbor, Maine. It was an awesome week that included visits to the park, a boat tour around Frenchman Bay, a lobster lunch at the pier, lots of bird watching, and free shuttle rides that let me explore the entire island while my canine companion stayed behind in Gypsy Lee, my small RV.

View from Acadia National Park on Desert Island in Maine. — Photo by Pat Bean

But travel is more than just being a tourist. And while I have fond memories of all the sights and activities I saw and did, when I think of Bar Harbor, the first thing I remember is watching two women trimming hedges on the village green, where I was waiting at the shuttle stop.

After the pair had finished, they walked to the other side of the street for an overall look back at their efforts. Their actions struck me as what should be a life axiom. Sometimes we need to stand back from our current activities and potential decisions so we can see the whole picture.

There have been many times in my life that I’m sure I would have made better decisions if I had done just that.

Bean Pat: Your voice https://www.janefriedman.com/you-have-a-voice-and-it-means-something/ I follow several blogs on writing, and this is one of my favorites – and most useful/

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, who spent nine years traveling North America from coast to coast and border to border in a small RV. You can read more about her Maine adventures in her book, Travels with Maggie, now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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View looking down Conejos Canyon. — Photo by Pat Bean

“The more I draw and write, the more I realize that accidents are a necessary part of any creative act, much more so than logic or wisdom. Sometimes a mistake is the only way of arriving at an original concept, and the history of successful inventions is full of mishaps, serendipity and unintended results.” — Shaun Tan

Following the Road 

Hmmm. I think I took a wrong turn a couple of dozen miles back. — Photo by Pat Bean

One lovely fall day a few years back, I took a wrong turn in Chama, New Mexico, a quaint village with a population of not much more than a thousand residents. After a bit of exploring the town’s charm by dawn’s light, I set off again toward my Texas destination.

My lack of directional sense, however, sent me driving in the opposite direction.

It was an awesome drive, and my fascination with the scenery distracted me so much that it wasn’t until I was near the top of Cumbres Pass, high in the San Juan Mountains, that I realized my mistake.

Instead of backtracking, I decided to simply continue on and discover what else the road had in store for me this day. While I usually carefully charted my daily routes during this  wandering without deadlines period in my life, I occasionally let the road decide my path.

However, with scenery like this, I think I’ll just keep going. — Photo by Pat Bean

This day was one of those, and I soon found myself in Conejos Canyon, one of the wildest places in the United States, and where grizzly bears once roamed.  I have seen a gazillion stunning landscapes in my travels across North America, but this day’s drive might have topped them all with its kaleidoscope of color and surprises.

I learned early on not to bemoan my flawed sense of direction, but to enjoy the unexpected wonders it brought. This day made me especially thankful for the lacking gene – and also for my willingness to simply go with the flow.

Bean Pat: Paperback Reader https://dereid99.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/paperback-reader/  Usually it’s just the opposite, so this tickled my funny bone.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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