Sunday, May 20, 2007

Goodbye Navajo Lake; Hello Heron Lake

The good about Navajo Lake:
Once I figured out the maze of park roads and loops – and moved to #4 – I saw how cleverly they laid this park out to make good use of the available land while giving a fair amount of space to each RV. This is a very popular large lake; fishing is reportedly good. I had a lake view and easy access to the beach. And the birdwatching was super. For the first time I saw an American goldfinch, Green-tailed Towhee, and Brewers Blackbird. My hummingbird feeder was popular from before sunup until after sundown. I met some nice people and enjoyed the company of Hilda, Sylvia and Jesse for two days. And I had good Internet and telephone access. There was no charge for my week’s camping since I’m a park volunteer.

The not-so-good about Navajo Lake:
The weather wasn’t cooperative at all. I had expected early May to be much warmer, and the rain, hail, and a bit of snow kept me housebound more than I wanted. Kurt had offered to teach me the basics of fly fishing, but the weather kept us from it.

Monday morning, May 7. Before making the decision to move to Heron Lake State Park, I checked the weather on the Internet – a chance of more winter weather including rain/snow predicted in the Chama area (this town is about 20 miles from Heron Lake State Park). I called Ranger Anthony Marquez at Heron Lake for his weather report. He said it looked good and that if there were any rain it wouldn’t be until late afternoon. I packed up and left for Heron. It was about a 100-mile drive.

What a beautiful and pleasurable drive to Heron Lake. This is definitely off-season for camping; the camping area was practically deserted. I easily found the Willow Creek and Blanco camping areas – but no sign of the lake. Space 12, a back-in site at Willow Creek was spacious. I parked between some tall trees that afforded privacy and the site looked fairly level. Of the 23 sites here, I was one of three RVs. Boo-hoo, no lake view, and no obvious trail to the lake.

And no Internet or cell phone. This, plus the fact that the park is practically deserted, results in forced solitude; which in turn gives plenty of time to reflect on memories. A passage from William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways said:

Memory is a kind of accomplishment. It is the only thing one can call truly his own. Memory is each man’s own last measure, and for some, the only achievement.

I met Patricia and Ed from Albuquerque. They come up frequently to fish. The other RV, that came in shortly after I had parked and set up, had a couple of men and a German Shepherd dog.
One of the first things I do when setting up is get my bird feeders out. I could hear a few birds, but none came near. I found a few more on my walks – saw a Black-billed Magpie for the first time. This large – 20-inches – bird is boldly marked with black and white; looks like he has a tuxedo on. I could hear another bird – two whistles and a slightly descending trill – and finally got a glimpse of it – I think it was an Spotted Towhee; another first for me.

I interspersed writing with walking and reading. As I settled in for the night on Tuesday, I started thinking about moving to the Blanco camping area.

Wednesday morning, as soon as it warmed up a bit, I walked to the Blanco area. According to the park map, most of the 37 sites are reservation only, so there would less just 8 to choose from. Yea! I found a good site #58; well worth going through the unhook-move-rehook process. Both areas have spacious sites and fir, pine and juniper trees.

As soon as I arrived and before I could get set up, Cat jumped out to explore. I really like this site – there are plenty of birds, I saw a deer run behind Jeremiah. I’ve yet to meet up with any of the Rangers here; I guess they see my campsite registration that signifies that I’m a park volunteer and so haven’t stopped by to collect a camping fee. (They, too, honored the free camping for volunteers – so no payment was needed.)

As for more wildlife – the big poster at the restroom building warns: “You are in cougar country.” That was not good news because I’ve heard about a 5.5-mile trail alongside the Chama River between Heron and El Vado Lakes, and I was hoping to hike it. Rather than just dismiss this, I decided to at least find the trailhead and then evaluate the possibility of hiking it by myself.

I met my RVing neighbors: Steve, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and Betty and Ted Pierce who came here from Albuquerque to fish.

You may be thinking, “Carol is always meeting people.”
Yes, I am. Being alone on the road makes me ready to meet someone when I stop. Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

Wednesday afternoon thunderheads formed and headed this way, bringing rain. As the sun was lowering to set, the sky turned a fiery orange. I grabbed my camera and headed out for this Kodak moment. Here’s my reward:

Once it warmed up on Thursday, I set off on lightly traveled NM highway 95 to bicycle to Heron Dam, and hopefully to find the Chama River trailhead. It was a very hilly five-mile road to the dam. Remembering my Yuma bike spill, I take safety precautions – I have my helmet on and my tall orange flag waving to alert drivers to my presence.

Along the way I spotted what looked like a nest high atop a platform that was secured to a telephone pole. Coming closer, I could hear noises and then could see a white head poking out. At this point I had to climb a fairly steep hill, requiring me to get off and walk my bike. (Note to self: get back into bicycling shape!) The big bird came swooping out of the nest fairly near me. What a beautiful, large, black and white bird; what is it?

When I got to the dam overlook, I found a poster advertising “Osprey Days” at Lake Heron. (The 2007 Osprey Days are July 13 – 14) It also had photos of ospreys in flight. So that’s what I saw!

I also found the sign to the Chama River trailhead, turned off the highway – and since the road to the trailhead went downhill, I locked my bike to a gate and continued on foot. The trailhead was at the cliff edge! It starts with a “spiral” staircase made by the Adult Conservation Corps in the ‘70s. It was made of wood, so instead of being curved, think right-angles. I don’t like heights, so it was even difficult for me to look down toward the river – it’s a long way down there. Yikes! Not a trail to take by myself – cougars or no cougars. I’m adventurous but not willing to take unnecessary risks.

Back at my campsite Betty and Ted gave me their fishing report: they had caught five good-sized trout – four Rainbow and one Brown – and gave one to me (headless and gutless, thank goodness). Now’s when I wish I had a grill.

My evening snack was popcorn and, since I made more than I wanted, I tossed the rest outside Jeremiah for some critter to enjoy. It was still there early Friday morning; but not for long. I heard the ‘caw’ (either a crow or a raven – can’t tell them apart) and watched the large black bird tackle them. First he (or she) seemed to be swallowing them whole, then he started stuffing his ‘mouth’. He had at least three kernels showing between his upper and lower beak at one time – and each time he tried to add another kernel, one would fall out. He gave up trying for more and flew off!

Mid morning I headed out on my bike again, this time in the opposite direction. I had traveled this road in Jeremiah on Monday – and my recollection was that the road was pretty flat. Hah! Not so at all. So I alternated coasting down hills, pedaling on the flats and walking it up hills. What a beautiful ride. I rode for about five miles through ranching country, then turned around at the former village of Rutheron (about five miles) and headed back to camp.

On one of my Friday afternoon walks around the Blanco and Willow Creek loops, I discovered that there were only four RVs in the 60 total sites. Later in the day quite a few Boy Scouts and their adult leaders arrived to spend the weekend at a leadership outing. They are from Rio Rancho.

One of my trip projects is to keyboard past – pre-blogging – adventures. In one of my 1990 adventure diaries while on an Amtrak trip, I wrote:

What do I want from the rest of my life? It is up to me to decide, then to take the steps needed to get what I want. I can’t just sit back and wait and hope for someone to make my dreams come true – it is up to me! I’ll spend the rest of my trip being more specific and listing the actions steps that are necessary.

On Saturday morning I decided to get some writing done; I still had a few articles to write for the Personal Chef magazine. From time to time I took breaks and walked around the park. More folks have arrived. There was a notice about a ‘Stars in the Parks’ program this evening. One of the park volunteers, Dan Martin, stopped by in his golf cart and offered to take me to the program. All the scouts came, as did a few of the campers. The telescope was intriguing – I had not seen that design before. The program was good, and when the telescope time started, I was amazed how well I was able to see Saturn and its ‘rings.’

PHOTO of telescope

My body was itching for some physical activity on Sunday, so mid morning I headed out on my bicycle. My goal was to ride to the park’s marina and then on to a different marina where the Albuquerque Sailing Club keeps boats. I had a nice visit with a couple from Los Alamos who were assigned to ‘marina sit’ for three days.

As I was doing some computer work, one of the New Mexico thunderstorms arrived to cool off the afternoon and early evening.

Monday morning: This morning I will unhook, dump waste tanks, and drive to the small town of Chama for groceries and hopefully to find Internet access to post to my blog and pick up email. From there I’ll drive to El Vado Lake State Park. It is about 6 miles away – as the crow flies; but, including a short addition to Chama, it will be about 45 miles by road.

Well, I discovered a problem as I was getting ready to go – my slide would not retract! Hmmm!

As Voltaire reportedly said, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

A mental rundown of possible problems finally led me to believe the chassis battery might be dead. How come? After unloading the driver’s seat (which serves as storage for my computer printer and the cat carrier) to check if the engine would start, - it wouldn’t – I discovered the problem: I had left the ignition key in the ‘auxiliary’ position.

Thank you Ford and Winnebago!!! Jeremiah has a ‘battery boost’ switch for just such occasions. (I had to use it once before when I left my headlights on one night – yes, I should have noticed it, but didn’t.) So, depressing the boost switch, the engine started right up, and then I was able to retract my slide. Whew!

It’s been a good week here at Heron. And I’m a happy adventurer!

“Happiness is not a condition; it’s a decision.” – Writer Patti Lawson