Alaska '98 Trip. Week 10. Denver to San Jose, California

This is the last weekly report. Then we're going to write a "trip awards" report. Best bird, worst campground, biggest mistake made, stuff like that. It'll be along about a week or so after this one.

FORGOTTEN LIFE BIRD: Oops, I forgot to list a life bird we saw on Week 9 Day 7, Thursday July 23. It was a GRAY-HEADED JUNCO*, one of the several variations of Dark-eyed Junco. It was about the same place we saw the house wrens. Lifer #73, Trip Bird #229. This is a little tricky because officially, all these dark-eyed junco variations are the same species. But we count each distinct subspecies as a different "bird" if its appearance is appreciably different from the others.


Week 10 Day 1. Friday July 24, 1998. 64th day out. Still at daughter Shandra's in Denver.

Both Shandra and Jeff work today. Jeff up at 4:00, leaves the house at 4:30am. Shandra up about 5:30am, feeds Samantha, off to work about 7:15am. Grandma and Grandpa take over. Ahhh. Grandma does the work, Grandpa plays and runs to the store.

Later, two-year-old Mikayla walks the four steps to the trailer from the house. Grabs the screen door from the bottom and pulls it open, "PahKah?" If I don't answer, a little louder. I answer. She climbs the steps, spots me and says, "Where MahKah?"

"Well Hi, Mikayla. Come on in. MahKah's in the house," I say. She climbs up the steps of the trailer, I'm sitting at the table typing on the computer. I lean out into the little space between the table and refrigerator and open my arms wide, on a big diagonal. She thinks about it and ignores me one time, but clomps over with a huge smile three times out of four, as if to say, "OK." We give each other a huge hug. She walks back across the trailer and climbs up the steps to the bed. Up, roll to the back, giggle, stand up, bounce. Not too high, remembers bumping her head yesterday. Play with the tiny, hanging birdhouse windchimes, and the mosquito house, even smaller. Down and up the steps to the bed about six times.

Tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches hit the spot for dinner.

Fun family stuff. Rent three movies to watch in the evening. Watch "A Fairy Tale," or some such movie we figure would be for kids. Is, sort of. Then Sharon and Shandra watch "Wag the Dog," while Jeff and I zonk out.

No birding today.


Week 10 Day 2. Saturday July 25, 1998. 65th day out. 6 days left. Last day at daughter Shandra's in Denver.

Shandra is off today, but Jeff works. Prepare for going on the road again.

If you do all the right stuff, three-month old Samantha will giggle and do this special sucking-air-in laugh. Sharon's the best at coaxing her. I try to get photos, but she's fascinated with the cameras and won't smile if she sees a camera.

Rained most of the afternoon and evening.

That night, we enjoy Starship Troopers, one of our movie rentals.

Hugged our goodbyes to Shandra and Jeff late tonight. Sharon gives kisses to the two granddaughters, lying in their beds. I love to put my open hand on the heads of sleeping Mikayla and Samantha. Just like Tara and Shandra yesterday... Barely touching the hair, gently rubbing my hand back and forth. Giving something, getting something. Bye little tykies, see you later, alligator.

No birding today.


Week 10 Day 3. Sunday July 26, 1998. 66th day out. 5 days to go. Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Alarm off at 5:00am, we're off at 5:30. We listen to the Best of Art Bell as we make our way out of the Denver area. I've never listened to him before, but I know three people who do and like him. We drive by Georgetown, the takeoff point to Guanella Pass, home of the White-tailed Ptarmigan.

We climb to about 11,000 feet and enter the Eisenhower Tunnel, later drive by Breckenridge ski area. It starts to sprinkle a little. We crest Vail Pass, about 10,700 feet.

Drive through miles of the canyon containing the Colorado River. The landscape changes from Rocky Mountain high to southwest sagebrush, red rock canyons.

We get to Grand Junction a little before 11:00am, set up and have a whole afternoon to bird. We choose a desert loop, aiming for Gray Vireo, Chukar (CHUCK-er) and Virginia's Warbler.

We get a white-tailed prairie dog right off the bat. Lots of Western Kingbirds.

The roads have fascinating names. M-8 Road, 8 Road. We are looking to turn onto S Road, we pass R Road, then R 1/2 Road. That's right, R 1/2. We find S road, then turn right on 6.5 road. We then cruise a ten-mile, dry, dirt road (terrible if wet) looking for Chukars. Lots of LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES, Meadowlarks, and LARK SPARROWS, with their wonderfully marked heads. We spot a SAGE THRASHER. Then see a pronghorn and he sees us. We double back, all the way. No Chukars.

We turn on U Road, make our way up Brewster Ridge, it's quiet as a mouse. Supposed to be Gray Vireos, but I'm guessing they've raised their young, who've fledged and they're all outta here. Nice Horned Lark. Then a wonderful soaring SWAINSON'S HAWK, best view we've ever had.

We make our way down, down, down, and stop to look for Chukars one last time. No luck, no chuk. We cross over the freeway, then enter it, eastbound, headed back to camp. On the way, we see the entrance to Colorado National Monument, so we decide to go up there. Chukars are supposed to be there too.

Stop at McDonald's and pick up a McFlurry. Then up the hill. We stop at one place and get a nice SAY'S PHOEBE, then a couple of CANYON WRENS. Further up, up, up we go, and it starts to rain huge raindrops, white like snowflakes. They're enormous and smack when they hit. The rain lets up, but from a lookout, we can see dark clouds with streaks of rain reaching to the ground in the far distance. We've never heard of this national monument, but it's breathtakingly beautiful. We turn around and head back down, stopping at a place we're curious about.

We get out and decide to walk around a little, looking for a picnic area called Devil's Kitchen, but can't find it. We pick up an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER though.

We decide to give up and start back. We see a bird, stop and identify a very red-headed male House Finch, singing to the view. We feed about forty of them at our house, every day, but I don't recall them being this bright red. We see birds overhead, occasionally zooming near us, at this overlook, on a high saddle. They are spectacular, WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS. First saw them in southeast Arizona a couple of years ago. They gather food, fly into their nests, located in huge, long cracks (maybe 6-8 inches wide) high up on cliffs. They decelerate from 50 miles an hour in about a quarter of a second, or so it seems.

We continue on down, head back out the entrance, and ask the guard about Devil's Kitchen. "That's at the East Entrance," he says. We both thought this WAS the East Entrance, but it was the West. Dohp! Hey wait, this entrance was spectacular. Good mistake.

Back to camp, update the computer, and zonk off to sleep, thinking ahead to Salt Lake City. Might get three lifers there. Might get none. Hoping for two-out-of-three.

Day's Best Birds: Swainson's Hawk, Canyon Wrens, White-throated Swifts.

No life birds today

Trip Birds: 7 today (Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Swainson's Hawk, Canyon Wren, Say's Phoebe, White-throated Swift, Ash-throated Flycatcher), 236 trip total.

Junction West RV Park, Grand Junction Rating: B, pretty much in open, but nicely laid out. Very friendly and helpful owners. A much shadier, cooler-looking RV Park in Fruita, a few miles west.


Week 10 Day 4. Monday July 27, 1998. 67th day out. 4 days to go. Grand Junction, Colorado to Park City, Utah (near Salt Lake City)

We're planning to spend two consecutive nights near Salt Lake City, to bird and relax. Hoping to connect on a life bird today, whose location I picked up on one of my email subscription birding reports called BIRDWEST. The bird is in Lehi, near Provo, on the way to our camp northeast of Salt Lake City. Alarm off at 5:30am.

Welcome to Utah, "Still The Right Place." It's overcast, but not raining.

Last evening, we bought two boxes of stuff that at first glance, look like Hamburger Helper. On second glance, it is Roadkill Helper. Just add roadkill. Heat on your manifold, etc. Can't not buy 'em. General Foods sued the guy who came out with these, and it seems to me that they must have let him sell out his inventory, else how could we buy these? Very clever.

A roadsign says "Watch for Eagles on Road." We see several Golden Eagles, but none on the road. The southeast corner of Utah was flat and desolate. But coming northwest on Highway 6, through Price, is very scenic. The bare rock canyons gradually give way to grass-covered canyons, then we drop down to the Utah flatlands, around the Great Salt Lake. A Common Nighthawk flies over.

As we near Lehi, I begin to ponder the chances of seeing our bird in the mid-day heat. We find the correct corner in town, it's across from a park. Sharon fixes us sandwiches, we sit in our lawn chairs in the shade, and watch the stately old pale-yellow brick house. Four brick chimneys on top are very formal-looking and are the key to this bird being here . We wait an hour, then take off, figuring our birds aren't going to be here this time of day. And unfortunately, it's too long a distance to drive back here again tonight at dusk.

We go back out to I-15, continue north towards Salt Lake City. We reach the beltway, take it up to I-80, turn east, and drive about 15 more miles to Hidden Haven RV Park, near Park City. I'm skipping the construction delays, detours, wrong turns and backtracks I made. The incline, up to Parley's Summit is the longest, steepest of the whole trip. The temperature gauge acts like an altitude indicator. But we finally make it.

We set up and I want to make a trial run to the location of tomorrow's early morning target bird, the rarest of the three types of Rosy Finches. We'll be driving well before sunrise tomorrow, so I want to be sure of the route.

We pass another cryptic road sign: UTAH SHOWDOWN WILL-CALL, NEXT EXIT. Our best guess is that Utah has a rodeo like Cheyenne Pioneer Days or the Calgary Stampede, and it's called Utah Showdown. But that would be an odd name for a rodeo. And why do you have to drive clear out here to get your will-call tickets? We forget to ask anybody, and leave it a mystery.

As we continue on the road towards Kamas (KAMM-us), a small town just on the western edge of the Uintas (oo-IN-tuz) National Forest, we come upon "Deer Xing" signs. They have prepared this high-speed road in a manner similar to the highway between Banff and Lake Louise. There are fences on both sides of the road, except for (in this case) cross-walks about every mile. Deer crosswalks. The crosswalks themselves are bordered with eight white lines on each side. This is to fool the deer into thinking that they are cattle crossings, so that he'll go straight across the highway. We don't see any deer though.

We do see a park ranger's office in Kamas, park and go in. We ask for a map, but ours are as good as theirs. We confirm that the road is paved, open and reasonable all the way to Bald Mountain Pass, our destination tomorrow morning. I tell Sharon I don't feel a need to drive the final thirty miles today, since the road is good the rest of the way.

I realize that we are closer to the yellow brick house now than we are to our camp, and dusk is only a couple of hours away, so I agree to do what Sharon has wanted to do since noon - go back to the four-chimney house at dusk. We drive past the Jordanelle Reservoir, a recreation lake, and catch a glimpse of a pair of immature Red-shouldered Hawks, soaring and buzzing each other. Sharon thinks maybe one is adult and one immature. Sort of like some people describe us. I get to be the immature one, I get to be the immature one.

We continue on past Deer Creek Reservoir, which dams the Provo River. This is also a recreation lake and the lake-side state park is the best combination of good-looking and functional. You can rent sailboats, motor boats, power boats, ski boats, fishing boats, and skidoos. There is a sandy beach, and two dozen waterfront picnic sites, each with overhead shade. There is golf course-type green grass all around and plenty of parking. There is a kiosk as you drive in, where you pay the entry fee. Pretty cool, very inviting.

Dropping through the bottom of Provo Canyon, we see a handful of spectacular waterfalls on the left. The left side of the canyon, beyond the Provo River, is an enormous hunk of mountain. We pass a turnoff sign to Squaw Peak, and I remember it as the location of a third target bird for the Salt Lake City area, about 13 miles up. I point it out to Sharon, but we're after the yellow-brick house birds right now.

We continue on down into Orem, to I-15, north toward Lehi, then into the town again. We didn't have a good sight line on the chimneys today at noon, from the park across the street, but this evening we locate a spot behind the yellow house, in front of its next-door neighbor. I feel a little odd parking in front of somebody's house, but I suspect that they've had birders park here before.

We begin our chimney watch stakeout at 6:00pm. We can see the tops of three of the four chimneys and the air above the house is easily visible. We know that these birds like to feed over lakes during the day, and from the map, Sharon has figured out that the edge of Utah Lake is only two or three blocks from here.

Dusk seems an hour or more away, so after waiting perhaps five minutes, I ask Sharon if she still wants to do her plan of driving over to the lake and scanning high above, then hurry back. She says might as well. As I'm adjusting stuff, fastening seat belt and getting ready to roll, I become aware of Sharon leaning forward with binocs and looking above the house. "I think it's them," she says. I get free and jump out of the truck, and I see swallows that are not swallows. That is, there are Barn Swallows nesting under the porch roof on two sides of the house, and we've been seeing them all the time, with their two-point tails.

But these are different. Their wings are much thinner, and they beat several times, then glide. The swallows don't do that. And their tails are short and squared off. And they are sooty dark all over, except for a hint of lightness on their throats. I see four of them with the naked eye, then put the binoculars squarely on one, staying locked on. He suddenly flies up, then down, straight down the largest of the four chimneys. It appears that all of his deceleration had to be inside the chimney, because he must have been going about 30 mph on the way in. Like the White-Throated Swifts of those Arizona Patagonia cliffs. "Whoa!" I say. Sharon yells too, she happened to be on exactly the same swift as he darted into the chimney.

Our bird is the VAUX'S SWIFT* (VOSE although we're starting to read about arguments that it's VAWX-uzz). It's the western counterpart of the Chimney Swift, common throughout the eastern half of the US. But a check of the range map of our NGS Field Guide shows them not present in Utah.

Sharon went to a birder's presentation once where the speaker showed slide after slide of birds he had photographed where they were not supposed to be. 'Keep your mind open to all possibilities' was his message.

Add Utah to the Vaux's Swift range map.

This eastern-western version of birds is not uncommon. Eastern and Western Kingbird. Eastern and Western (Black) Phoebe. Eastern and Western (Spotted) Towhee. Eastern and Western Screech-owl. On and on.

We watch for perhaps twenty minutes, and see another swift zoom down the chimney. Fantastic. We finally give them up, head back to camp, up the interstate, swiftly this time, since we're not pulling the trailer up the long grade.

Sharon fixes dinner, I check our email and chat with owners Bonnie and Okie (guess where he's from). Last year a birding group took over the camp, and they talk a lot about them. One of the birder's even gave them a list of camp birds seen in the seven days they were there. Bonnie prints me out a copy. No life birds here, but several trip birds possible. I tell Okie the Anchorage Goshawk story and about the Rosy Finch we're after tomorrow, while Bonnie's in the next room, producing the list. "Let us know if you find it," they say, as I head for the trailer.

I wonder if our Rosy Finch luck can possibly continue tomorrow.

Days Best Birds: Vaux's Swift, immature(?) Red-shouldered Hawk pair.

Life Birds: 1 today (Vaux's Swift), 74 total.

Trip bird: 1 today (Vaux's Swift), 237 total

Hidden Haven RV Park Rating: B, friendly owners, nice scenery at the lower levels (where we are), no cable TV, no trees.


Week 10 Day 5. Tuesday July 28, 1998. 68th day out. 3 days to go. Park City, Utah to Wendover, Nevada (Nevada/Utah Border). Birding Bald Mountain in the Uinta Mountain Range, east of Salt Lake City.

Punch the alarm off at 4:30am, pack our portable breakfasts, some snacks and an official Boy Scout Compass, take off for the Uintas. We pass through Kamas in total darkness. The road is smooth as silk, but we can't see outside the car's headlight reach. A black shape crosses the road and walks into a meadow on our left. I slow and turn the car, like I'm going to drive into the same meadow, stop. Bear? I illuminate a very dark female moose. Soon we see another, but we recognize it immediately. It's getting a tiny bit lighter.

Thirty miles past Kamas, and after making a long, steady climb, we pull into the Bald Mountain Trailhead parking lot. There is another peak in the region called Mt. Baldy, and we had to be careful to get this right.

Our instructions said not to take the trail, but walk up past the rest room building, over the saddle, then angle down in order to see the talus and snow fields on the east face of Bald Mountain. Should be a communications tower on our right, on the saddle. I take a short walk up to verify the presence of the comm tower. Check. Back to the truck to wait for some light. The instructions also said that the birds feed here in the early morning, then go higher on the mountain later. I didn't want to get here too late, and I don't see how we could have gotten here any earlier, and made any use of the time. It's as good as we can do it.

After maybe ten minutes, we can see enough to maneuver to the desired location on the mountain. It becomes clear that this won't be a big vertical climb, like the one we did near Lake Louise, Alberta, home of the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. Rather, it'll be a little up, over a saddle, and then an unknown distance down. But it's raining, and we don't know what that means in terms of the bird's presence. We hope it means he will be low, where we are, but not lower.

It's also a good thing I brought the compass, because the skies are totally overcast, except for a small, brightening section on the western horizon. So if one were looking for lightening horizon to tell which direction is east, he'd be way off. My compass tells us that the rising sun is completely hidden by the cloud cover, and it tells us the truth about the direction of the east face. Sharon is not sure, since the compass results don't agree with what the eyes are seeing.

I have the scope and an umbrella, Sharon has an umbrella and her walking stick. Otherwise, Sharon is in her cold-weather parka, ear covering and wool cap. I have on a T-shirt, hooded sweat shirt, and a warm jacket, but not a parka. It's not cold like it was at Lake Louise. And of course we've got binoculars, water and bird ID books.

We are up on the saddle peak, then begin angling down, down, down. Easy walking, zero exposure to danger. We see the talus and snow patches, two small lakes about 300 yards below. We continue down, until we have a pretty good spot to view most of the east side of the mountain, plus the talus, the lakes and the forest edges below.

We wait.

As Sharon is scanning the talus, and I'm watching the skies, she picks up movement. At the same time, I notice birds flying among the treetops at the forest edges. It takes a little while to figure out that it's a group of Mountain Bluebird families, maybe 15-20 birds in all, flying back and forth between forest and talus. The females and juveniles are pale blue and gray, the relatively few males are spectacular icy blue. We enjoy watching them while we wait (and hope) for the rosies. By now it's 7:25am.

We watch several flocks of a dozen or so birds fly over and finally identify Pine Siskins, as a group lands and stays put long enough for us to scope them.

The rain slackens quite a bit, and we shed the umbrellas. It's 8:00am and I'm getting a little antsy about the time. We see a bird land atop a pine tree, smaller than the bluebirds, but he lifts off before we can get a good look. We tell ourselves that wasn't him, because a Rosy Finch probably would not land in the top of a tree.

Sharon spots a fox, I get him also. He's running across the talus from right to left, stops behind a boulder and stays there. We are hearing a bird do a sort of a rattle, but can't find it. Sharon spots a marmot, who's been giving a little "peep" at regular intervals.

Sharon decides to scan the talus closer, trying to ignore the bluebirds. She hits paydirt. "I've got one. I can see his pink wingpatch!" she yells. This is unusual, because we neither heard nor saw him come in. "Come quick, hurry, he's right in the scope." But she can't back away very quickly amid all the rocks, and not having her walking stick. I get there as quick as I can, but he's gone. I see three or four small black dots among the bluebirds with my binoculars, but can't tell much about them. Except that this must be our birds. Gotta get them with the scope for the ID. Sharon gets another one. Same urgent request, same missed opportunity. Dang. They leave the vicinity, Sharon is upset that I wasn't able to get them. She's afraid that was it. Nobody's fault. It happens that way sometimes.

It starts raining again. Our binoculars start fogging up and I have to keep cleaning the eyepiece of the scope. Sharon has to go to the bathroom and heads off into a patch of rocks and small trees behind me. I continue scanning the snow patches and talus for not-bluebirds, trying to be like Sharon. I scan as carefully as I can with binoculars first, because you can cover a bigger piece of territory faster, looking for movement. Suddenly...

"Bob. Bob, come quick." I look back over my shoulder. Sharon has finished her nature's bathroom trip, is walking back, but has stopped, frozen in her tracks. She's speaking firmly, but not too loudly. I know she's onto something. "Black Rosy Finch, right at my feet," she says. I look at her feet. Nothing. "I don't see him. Is he still there?" "Yes, yes, he's still here, hurry up, he's right at my feet."

I leave the scope in its place, know I won't need it. I walk right straight towards Sharon, finally realizing that she's looking about ten feet away. "I was walking back, and he landed right at my feet." Now I know that right at her feet means ten feet away, in this case. The bird flies before I can see it.

Fortunately, the BLACK ROSY FINCH* lands near a visible snow patch, and starts catching bugs, keeping them all in his beak. "I got him," I say quietly, "down by that snow patch." There's a boulder blocking Sharon's view, so she makes her way over to me. We both get a long, long view. Black head, small gray nape patch, black body, outstanding pink wing patch, a little brown around the patch. He seems much bigger than I was expecting. It is so cool to just watch a bird right after we ID it.

He flies into a pine tree, near the top, rests there for a moment, and is gone. Lifer Number 2 in two days. It's not even 9:00am yet. "Let's go get the Williamson's Sapsucker," I say, feeling lucky. "I just want to savor this moment a little longer," she says. I let Sharon enjoy the moment, for a moment, then tell her where the third bird is. She's up, and down for it.

We basically retrace our path from yesterday, but turn left towards Squaw Peak, the turnoff being in Provo Canyon. We know it's 13.1 miles up, with the last 2.5 requiring a high clearance vehicle. It's a not-very-well-maintained-but-paved road for the first eight miles or so, and is steeply uphill. A sign says, "Not for automobiles or trailers." It doesn't rule out pickups, but I review our plans quickly in my mind, and know that if we head up further from here, we'll lose a day.

Finally, the thought of getting home a day later has outweighed the possibility of getting a new life bird. That, plus the fact that the Williamson's Sapsucker is also in California, and I think we could probably get it in a weekend trip. So back down we go, first taking a few-hundred-yard spur to an overlook. Sharon wants to play the sapsucker's tape, even though the habitat is wrong and the nesting bird is six miles away. I love that positive attitude about her. I wouldn't have even thought to try.

She rolls the tape, plays the drumming a couple of times. Up pops a LAZULI (LAZZHH-you-lee, where LAZZHH rhymes with the CAS of 'casually.') BUNTING, but instead of a blue throat, it's white. Otherwise, it's a perfect example. He sings from the top of a small tree, and is beautiful - blue, white and yellow-orange on his chest.

For you birders, there's still one more bird, but it's not a lifer. You can skip to Thursday July 30, which is Week 10 Day 7, if you want.

For the rest of you, we make our way down the mountain road. Going uphill, you smell the engine. Going downhill, the brakes. We retrace Highway 189 to US 50, then take 50 north to I-80, then a couple of miles back to camp. It's about 1:00pm, and we see owner Bonnie working on some flowers in front of the office. We tell her we saw the Black Rosy Finch, and she's tickled for us. I acknowledge that we're here past the noon checkout time, but she waves off my offer for a late fee. We head down to the third level, to pack up and head out. We believe we have about three or three-and-a-half hours of travel to the Nevada state line, where we plan to sleep tonight.

We hitch up, take up the jacks in the front and the stabilizers in the rear. The last thing is to pull the tire chocks, and the really last thing is to do a walk-around to make sure nothing's amiss.

Flat tire. Trailer right rear. Blast that flaterrap, hoggy pegaloomer. I quickly review what we need to do. Trailer's already on the hitch, that's good. I had put the spare back under the trailer in Shandra's driveway, thinking we wouldn't need it any more. Have to get that back out. Jack up the trailer. Off with the flat tire, on with the spare. Let the trailer down, toss leftovers in the back of the pickup. Up to the service station, have them replace the flat tire with the 2nd new Titan trailer tire.

But then I remember something I saw yesterday evening. In the last day or two, we've been noticing a vibration up on top of the dashboard or console, way over to the left. Sounding like an insect, a fly maybe. But it only starts up at about 40 mph. So I think it has to be vibration related. Anyway, last evening, I examined the spot, and found that there is a small cutout in the console top, so you can see the vehicle ID number. And lying right on top of that number was a dead fly.

Could it be? I retrieved a pair of tweezers from the trailer, and extricated him from his temporary viewing location. I deposited him carefully under the dash, in case I wanted to recreate the experiment of his buzzing from beyond later.

I drove up to the frontage road, and turned right, away from our normal path, which goes to the freeway entrance. I got up to 50 mph, and there was no vibration. I did a U-turn at a small shopping center, and I noticed a "Burt Brothers Tire & Service" sign on the front, thought nothing of it at the time.

So that's where we head this morning. I don't need to do any work at all, except drive very slowly so as not to put too much stress on the right side of the trailer, with only one full tire.

We pull into the shopping center, drive to the back, and make all the arrangements. We have to wait longer than I expected, and it frustrates me. I use the extra time to examine the rig closer. The right front trailer tire is looking so sorry, that I have them replace it with the good spare, and toss it into the back of the pickup. Much better.

We take off for Nevada. Out on the salt flats, the road is straight as an arrow for an hour and a half or more. Sharon takes the wheel as I have a nap. After I wake up, we pass this neat sculpture in the middle of the salty Utah desert. Its a big 25-foot vertical stalk, with flowers growing on it and hanging down. Only instead of flowers, they're giant, colorful balls. And not just any balls, some are croquet balls and some are Christmas ornament balls. They are different sizes, but the smallest is about the diameter of the length of our pickup. The biggest is about 50% larger in diameter. And on the ground lie three pieces of balls, as if a giant desert cat had come along and pawed one off, causing it to fall to the desert floor and break.

Love the way this breaks up the monotony. Lots of monotony to break up but it doesn't last long.

We finally pass the exit for the Bonneville Speedway, and detect the beginnings of an almost imperceptible elevation rise, from the sound of the engine. We run most of the time in cruise control.

We cross the Nevada state line, and suddenly it's not 6:05pm, it's 5:05pm. Sharon drives us into the KOA, we register, I drive us into the site to set up. It's blowing about 40 mph, and raining. The skies are totally cloudy and we wonder how big a storm this will be. No awning will be let out here, the wind might rip it right off. It feels so good to get here, after our flat tire earlier. Plus this gives us the option to get home on Thursday, making an even ten-week vacation, or Friday, per our original plan. We'll decide later.

We get full hookups, with cable TV. Sharon has taken over my job of weeding out the bad TV channels and adding the good ones. So when you click up-channel or down-channel, it goes to the next good one, not the next numerical one.

And this job must be redone every time you stop and have television reception. Well, to say it "must be done" is like saying, "and you must eat the ice cream that is placed in front of you." I love to do it, because I'm thinking of its imminent usefulness as I'm doing it. Except now, Sharon loves doing it. I assume she does because it's about the first thing she does after we hook up electricity.

I take a walk around our trailer, just reflecting back on the trip.

Trailer license plate CALIFORNIA 2FX3497, the old-style yellow letters on blue background. Sticker OCT 98. License plate holder says "I TRAVELLED THE WORLD FAMOUS ALASKA HIGHWAY."

There is exactly one of the four original new tires I bought before the trip, still on the trailer. This attests to the fact that the trailer "alignment" I had had done before the trip didn't fix the big problem.

The original, good spare is on, the two new Titans are on, and the best of the four originals is still on. And another of the originals, in terrible condition, serves as our spare. I wouldn't trust it to go ten miles.

We lost a 2"x2" plastic plate covering the greased gear works for the left front trailer jack. It happened on about Day 4 of the trip, and I covered the space with duct tape. Has worked great.

The front trailer jacks themselves raise with some difficulty when they're under weight. I don't know whether something is out of alignment or dust and grime have jammed the gears somehow.

The truck tire wear has been excellent. However, three of the tire pressures measured around 75 pounds, while the right rear measured about 40 the other day, before I pumped it back up. I think there's a nail in it [Turned out to be a screw].

There is one tiny pit, one medium crack (semi-circled), and one gigunda hole in the windshield. Cracks radiate from that hole, and they are lengthening a little every day.

I had the oil changed twice, and put in an extra quart three times, all during the first half of the trip.

But the important thing is, as Sharon used to say after a hard day's nursing, when I would ask her how her day went, "Well, I didn't kill anybody."

I go into the office and download email. I hear somebody ask what time it is and am surprised by the answer. The answer is that it's Mountain Daylight Time in the KOA, in Nevada. I continue eavesdropping. "When you cross the state line, and are on the freeway, the time DOES change to Pacific Daylight. But the town of Wendover is split down the middle by the state line. There is a Wendover, Utah and a Wendover, Nevada. And to keep everybody from going crazy, we all stay on the same time. And mountain time is the one we choose."

That also answers the question of why Wendover is listed under Utah in the AAA Campbook.

Sharon and I both enjoy showers and have beef stew and toast, then watch some cable TV. Sharon has the control, and I cannot for the life of me understand how she can watch one show for thirty minutes without clicking around all the channels two or three times during the commercials, to see what else is on. Non-surfers, I non-understand them.

Later, as I step outside, the skies are clear, there is no wind, kids are playing basketball, swimming in the pool. It's like there never was any rainstorm. A desert quick-hitter.

Off to sleep, knowing that this is the last RV park we'll be paying for, barring unforeseen problems. Tomorrow night, we should be in Gardnerville, Nevada, and sleep in the side yard of Red & Jeane, Sharon's sister. We had set out on our Alaska journey in a two-rig caravan with them, but they were home in seven weeks, and we will be home in ten.

Days Best Birds: Black Rosy Finch*, Lazuli Bunting.

Life Birds: 1 today (Black Rosy Finch), 75 total.

Trip birds: 2 today (Black Rosy Finch, Lazuli Bunting), 239 total.

Wendover, Nevada KOA RV Park Rating: B-, but a welcome oasis in the desert. Free phone line to use for email downloads.


Week 9 Day 6. Wednesday July 29, 1998. 69th day out. 2 days left. Wendover, Nevada to Gardnerville, Nevada.

We set the alarm for 5:30am last night, I punch it off, step outside. Blue skies, puffy white clouds on the horizon, and a gorgeous sunrise just seconds from happening. That first pinpoint of sun breaks the horizon, and it's odd to see Red Garter and Peppermill casino neon lights competing with the sun for illumination honors.

An hour or so later, we pass through Wells. We begin to construct our preliminary Trip Awards. More on them later.

We see several cormorant flocks, only later I figure out that they're White-Faced Ibis. Right at home in Nevada. We pass through the Starr Valley, just past Wells. There is a small green mountain on the left. There are crops growing, an RV campground with grass. Water has to be flowing through here, and I think it's the Humboldt River.

We pass through Elko, where things are green also. The next major town is Battle Mountain, then Winnemucca, where I have my last McFlurry of the trip. I'm deciding they're not as good as I first thought. I tell Sharon, who's tickled at this. She grabs the cassette recorder and hits 'record.'

"Bob has hunted down every McDonald's between Alaska and here for his McFlurries, and now he is saturated. I love it."

I do that. Ate too many, too fast. Or I associate them with being on vacation, and now I'm starting to not be on vacation.

We pass an overturned, maroon-colored Ford Taurus in the center divide ditch, doors open. Looks like it happened earlier today or yesterday. A highway patrolman is parked near the median on the other side, is out of the car, scratching his head. No other people near the car.

We pass through Lovelock, then at East Fernley, we take US Alternate Highway 50 down to the real 50. 35 miles to Carson City, then we know it's about twenty minutes to Gardnerville. I can finally tell the birding's over for me. I'm eager to get there.

We pass through a quick, heavy rainstorm, but it's soon gone. We pull into Sharon's dad's place in Gardnerville at 3:47pm, 90012 miles on the odometer. We trade stories, then we all go over to Jeane and Red's ranch, in the country outside Gardnerville. I set up the trailer, tapping into his 20-amp circuit, outside the garage.

We swap Alaska and Canada stories with Jeane and Red. Fantastic fun. We trade trouble stories. Even more fun.

Years ago, Sharon and I took a trip to Los Angeles to visit Jeane and Red. That's where they lived before they retired to Gardnerville. Actually, they lived in a town called Placentia (pluh-SENT-shuh). One of their sons, Mike, had married a girl named Amy, and Amy's mom, Vi and step-dad, Herb were professional musicians. One Saturday night, we drove to a big hotel, like a Hilton maybe, near the John Wayne International Airport. Formerly the Orange County Airport. Amy's folks played here every other Saturday night.

They were spectacular. A popular song at the time was "Black Velvet," about Elvis Presley, and sang on the radio by a lady named Ellanah Miles, or something like that. They sang this song, and many other popular hit songs of the day. They mixed these in with country & western songs for line dancing and Texas Two-step. They could play just about anything. Amy's stepdad, Herb was superb, as the arranger. He arranged music for several big-time music groups. At the time, I thought that someday I'd bring Tara and Shandra down here, for their 21st birthdays, to dance to this music at this airport hotel. Never did it though, you know how life happens to you while you wait for your plans to unfold.

But Sharon and I went one more time, and heard them again.

About a week ago, Mike and Amy's 10-year old son James went on a camping trip with his musical grandparents, Herb and Vi. They went to Kings Canyon, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, in east central California, where they had gone many times before.

As soon as they arrived, they trekked down to this rockslide waterfall, where you slide down, into a pool below. The pool emptied into a stream or river. Only the water flow was very high right then, because of heavy runoff, I presume. The rangers warned everybody not to do the slide. But Herb did it anyway. I don't know all the details, but it cost him his life. Amy's mom tried to get into the water and pull him out, but became trapped, and couldn't get out herself. James tried to pull her out, but the current was too strong, and couldn't.

So ten-year-old James ran for help while Vi held on. It was about 2.5 miles back to the camp, and James pardoned himself to some campers and said, "Excuse me. My grandpa drowned and my grandma's stuck in the river. Can you help?" Something like that. Again, I don't know the details, but they rescued Vi, who was flown to a hospital in a helicopter, with hypothermia. I understand she has recovered. So James saved his grandmother's life.

Red & Jeane had been down in LA for the funeral, and got back up the same day we got into town. Mike and Amy, son James and daughter Erin, plus another of Red & Jeane's granddaughters, Amanda, were all going to be here for about a week. What a great place to go for a grandchild, for a week in the summer. A 15-year-old German foreign exchange student named Anya (AHN-yuh) was with Mike and Amy also.

Mike and Amy had had vacation plans scheduled for a long time, to visit Jeane & Red at this time, and to borrow their motor home for a several-day vacation to June Lake, south of Gardnerville on Highway 395. To show some sites to their foreign exchange student, Anya. Herb's funeral had modified their plans somewhat, but after some deliberation, they finally decided to go ahead and take the vacation.

But the motorhome was in the shop for some repairs from the Alaska trip, and so they were trying to figure out how to spend the rest of their vacation.

June Lake was the first trip we took in our fifth wheel when we bought it in 1989. We bought our current pickup at that time also. Had them outfitted with mating connectors, and installed a plug-in intercom system so trailer people and pickup people could be in contact all the time. It's a California law that this has to be. Otherwise, nobody can ride in the trailer. The intercom system cost about $1100 installed, and it's the only time we ever used it. Dohp!

Daughter Shandra and her sister Maureen rode in the trailer from San Jose, up to Yosemite, down the other side of the Sierras, and on to June Lake. With the intercom in 'listen' mode, we could hear the trailer interior sounds continuously. And you never heard such a racket. All the venetian blinds rattled constantly. The stovetop banged. Everything that could vibrate or move did so. We had to yell back and forth. Plus it was hot, and the air conditioner needed AC power, but the trailer doesn't have a generator.

But back to the current trip.

We watched one of our favorite scary movies Jeane & Red have on tape, "Misery," by Stephen King. Scare you to death. That's the movie J&R took their CB 'handles' from, when we were travelling together and talking on the CB radios. Jeane is Annie Wilkes and Red is Mister Man.

I gave Red back the half bottle of Vodka he had given me in Canada. We decide to go home tomorrow, hit the sack at 10:00pm. Ahh.

No birding today.


Week 10 Day 7. Thursday July 30, 1998. 70th (& Last) day out. Gardnerville, Nevada to San Jose, California. Home.

I sleep in till 8:00am, Sharon is already up, wanting to visit more with her sister. But Jeane has already gone to her volunteer hospital job in Carson City, so Sharon is ready to leave for San Jose as soon as we can get around.

Then, while I'm working on the computer, she comes in looking for the camera. "A mother California Quail and about ten chicks on the other side of the house," she says, heading back out the door. I put my shoes on and chase her, seeing an adult, but no chicks, as I circle the house, looking for Sharon. She's already back in, the chicks disappearing before she could get a photo. I have to check our database, and realize that the CALIFORNIA QUAIL is a trip bird, our 240th and last. [Sharon adds this: She also saw "Evander Holyfield", one of two rabbits that come to Red and Jeane's back yard to eat the grass. The other is named "Mike Tyson". Guess which one has a chunk missing from his ear.]

We take off at 8:18am, 90016 odometer miles. Within minutes, I take a photo of the "Welcome to California" sign. We continue on, 88 to 89, 89 to 50, 50 to Sacramento. Then we take Highway 5 south out of Sacramento to 205, I-205 to I-580 east, then I-680 south. Highway 680 automatically changes names to I-280 in north San Jose, we take 280 to 101 south, then 101 south to our Bernal Road exit, one more mile, and we're in the driveway. Odometer miles 90281.

Total miles from Red & Jeane's to our house, via Highway 5: 265. In September, we're going back up, and we'll take 680 to 80, 80 to Sacramento, switch to 50 in Sacramento, then up 50 to Red & Jeane's. Sharon and I are having an ongoing argument about which way is shorter. She thinks the Highway 5 way is shorter, but I am certain the 680-to-80 way is shorter.

I just hate to be right. But to keep the argument going (the real objective), Sharon will take an approach that engineers hate to hear, "Are you sure you measured it right?" or "I don't care what the numbers are, it still feels shorter." Or maybe, "I don't care if it's longer, it's faster." Then, when all the confirmed numbers are in, "I still like it better."

That's one of the reasons I love her. If we did everything my way, life would be pretty boring. (Note from Sharon, "And I love him because he puts up with my wish to be "right" and enjoys it rather than gets annoyed by it. What a guy!")

Day's Best Bird: California Quail.

Life Birds: none today, 75 total on the trip.

Trip Birds: 1 (California Quail) today, 240 total on the trip.

Total Life Birds After Trip: 444 previous + 75 trip = 519.

Total Pickup Truck Trip Miles: 12,808. Of which an estimated 10,000 are driving from one campsite to the next (i.e. WITH the trailer) and 2,808 are indulging our great hobby - tracking down wild birds (usually, but not always, without the trailer). This does not include approximately 500 miles of driving the Nome/Teller/Council road system in two rental vehicles.


One more report - the trip awards, in a week or two. Love the trip awards.

From our home Macintosh, Sharon & Bob

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