on the road to arizona   14 comments

Posted at 3:27 pm in birds,california

After spending the previous day resting and exploring in the Ridgecrest area, it was time to move on. My goal was to arrive at our final destination in southeast Arizona on November 15th, so two more days of travel ahead of us. I can probably speak for Sabrina in saying that we were both tired of being on the road.

Before departing from Ridgecrest, we stopped to eat breakfast in a park on the east side of town. Almost as soon as we sat down in a tree-shaded area, we were accosted by an unkindness of ravens. In fact, all of the trees in the parks were filled with similar groups that croaked and kraaked at us. The boldest dropped down onto the nearby pedestal barbecues, or to the ground to march up to make their demands known. Clearly, they expected some form of tribute. Sabrina was slightly intimidated by their aggressive behaviour. She would turn her head to look elsewhere as they cocked their heads and ogled her from a few feet away. Unfortunately, that just encouraged them to move in closer. She would then quickly turn her head back to see how far they had advanced. The closest might hop back a step or two, but soon marched forward a few more paces.

I came across several references to Common Ravens in the Mojave region. Apparently, there has been a great increase in their numbers over the past couple of decades, with large numbers of birds hanging out in urban areas or around dump sites. There is concern over risk of raven predation on desert tortoises in the western Mojave Desert. They do seem both plentiful and aggressive, so I would think they could pose a threat to any small creature.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed south to catch 395, where we promptly hit a patch of road construction and sat in the van long enough to experience how quickly it could be transformed into a Mojave-style easy-bake oven. Continuing south, we passed through the village of Red Mountain, which seems to be home to an eclectic mix of found-art creatives. About the middle of town stands what I’m guessing to be a Yucca bearifolia.

Leaving Red Mountain behind, we continued south towards Kramer Junction where we would pick up Hwy 58 to head east toward Barstow. Just before that junction, there is a massive solar concentrator installation. It can’t really be photographed from the ground, so refer to the above link, or google “Kramer Junction solar concentrator”. As in my last two posts about the Searles Valley, with its mineral extraction, and the military weapons ranges, etc.. at China Lake near Ridgecrest, it’s impossible to ignore how the deserts of the southwest are becoming a hotbed of industrial activity — without doubt, to the detriment of the considerable flora and fauna.

To an outsider such as myself, it was somewhat jarring to find the ubiquitous assortment of service vehicles, filled with survey or work crews, scattered almost everywhere as I crossed the Mojave. I can’t help but wonder if all of this activity is flying under the radar screens of the many as….well….the common perception of the desert is that it is “just a big empty space, isn’t it?” I admit to having experienced a brief twinge of that notion during the first day of my first visit to Arizona about thirteen years ago. However, that illusion soon melted away as I began to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of the desert. In fact, after visiting the desert several times over the years, I can say without hesitation, that deserts are among the most fascinating and active places on earth — this from someone who has done quite a few surveys of flora and fauna, and a good deal of nature photography, in a wide range of vastly different habitats.

On this day, my plan was to drive through to stay at a motel in Lake Havasu. I would have preferred to camp the last leg of our trip to southeast Arizona, but Sabrina and I were really hitting the wall as far as energy was concerned. We were now reduced to just driving, sleeping and trying to find some kind of edibles to see us through to our final destination. Also, I was beginning to experience a lot of fatigue – both physical and psychological. One of the most difficult things to deal with was the growing sense of isolation that I felt while traveling. I have touched on this a bit in previous posts. Traveling alone with my dog, I couldn’t help but notice that almost everywhere I went, others traveled as pairs, or with friends. At rest stops, they would get out and wander around, picnic, switch drivers, and then carry on. The only solitary travellers seemed to be the long haul truckers, and even many of them were traveling with their spouses. At the above rest stop along I-40, a trucker climbed out of his cab, gave his wife a hand down, and then lifted their white toy poodle to the ground. Such was actually a fairly common sight throughout this trip.

No doubt, the following observations have to do with my overly sensitized state, but I seemed to encounter signs of “couple-dom” in every direction that I looked. At Trona Pinnacles, it was the message in stones. At this rest stop, it was a debarked tree trunk (above) upon which were scribbled countless proclamations of so-and-so loves so-and-so. Further along from this rest stop, there were many big cupid’s hearts and initials, formed of arrangements of black volcanic rock, on every little hillside facing the highway. Recently, I’ve read the writings of other bereaved men and women who have described much the same feeling — that after the death of a partner, it appears as though the world is the territory of couples and families, and not so much for those who must, or choose to, journey through life alone. Such does seem to be the case. I suppose that those of us who are forced to carry on alone, must search for our own icons and messages. Among all the tree graffiti, there was one that seemed meant to speak to every traveler.

From Lake Havasu, I traveled to Tucson, and then on to the southeast region of Arizona, where I have been spending the winter. My next few posts will be about some of the places I have hiked and photographed nature. In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving to gradually make my way back north to Ontario and then probably on to Nova Scotia. I’m hoping that the weather will be a little more cooperative. After a winter of good food and plenty of hiking, Sabrina is in much better condition and should be up to doing more hiking than on the trip south. More about southeast Arizona and my rather nebulous trip plans coming up very soon.

Written by bev on February 21st, 2009

14 Responses to 'on the road to arizona'

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  1. Hi Bev. I just caught up reading your posts from this month. I hope your winter has been a time of rest and healing. I just returned from Ottawa and looked in vain for a raven along the way. I have never seen one and they are not found in our part of Ontario. All I saw were hundreds of crows and their squared tails. I like your new species of Bear Yucca 🙂


    21 Feb 09 at 7:01 pm

  2. Ahh, the ravn, as a Norwegian friend would say. A very dangerous bird. It’s interesting that you pointed out that ravens have been on the increase there. We don’t have ravens here (although there are local populations in the Appalachians here and there). We do have crows, and I’ve noticed they’ve been more abundant in the last few years. I suspect that’s why we have seen a decline in owls – an unkindness of ravens is equivalent to a mob of crows, here.

    The Kramer Junction facility is pretty amazing. It’s a good reminder that solar on earth is not without its detractions.

    Yikes! Truckers with white toy poodles. The mind boggles.

    Glad to hear Sabrina is doing well.


    22 Feb 09 at 9:09 am

  3. Bev,

    You are NOT alone, just be open to receiving the signs, as you mentioned at the lookout a few posts ago.

    I think the isolation is a stage that doesn’t get mentioned. Five days a week I’m surrounded by a 100 people eight hours a day, and yet that feeling is there. I’m not so sure it is so much lonliness as a “disconnection”. Who else is there that can feel what you are feeling or even begin to understand it? So we segregate ourselves physically or emotionally.

    But its very obvious from the comments your blogfriends care and are trying to understand.


    22 Feb 09 at 11:07 am

  4. It’s been good reading Chris Clarke’s posts on the desert. I had used the word “desertification” many times in the past without recognizing that what we humans do amounts to sterilization. The desert you describe is a place of incredible beauty and biodiversity.

    Your strength and fortitude simply knock me out, bev. I don’t think I could take a journey like this one you are on. I am too inherently lonely as it is. I have a sense that you will emerge stronger and more whole after these many miles.

    What route are you taking home?

    robin andrea

    22 Feb 09 at 11:44 am

  5. Ruth – There are plenty of ravens throughout the Ottawa region, but (in general), I’ve found that you have to be a bit away from main roads. Around my own area, they seem to be associated with the tall White Pines.

    Wayne – Yes, Sabrina is doing much better these days. She’s still getting on in age, but at least she’s getting stronger after last year’s ordeal. I hope she’ll continue to do well on the trip home as it would be nice to hike trails all along our route. That just wasn’t possible on the way down due to her weakened state.
    In recent years, we have seen many more crows up in my area of eastern Ontario. They live in huge numbers in the city, flying to the outskirts each morning throughout fall and winter to forage in the fields looking for gleanings after the grain corn has been harvested. They also fly around getting into household garbage on the roadsides. I’ve noticed a sharp increase in their numbers along the road by my farm every garbage day. No doubt, they fly to another area to pick at garbage bags on the other days of the week.

    Shelley – I very much agree that we are experiencing feelings of “disconnection”. I actually find being among people about the most difficult time for me. I think it’s because I look around see everyone else doing their thing and I don’t feel at all a part of that kind of life these days. It’s easier being out in wild places where I am alone with my thoughts and focussed more on the natural world. On my trip north, and this coming year, I expect to be spending most of my time off hiking or canoeing – in Ontario and Nova Scotia, but perhaps other places as well, before returning south to Arizona. I hope you’re finding good places and means to deal with your loss too.

    robin – I won’t gloss over the fact that I’ve found the past year quite devastating, in the months before and following Don’s death. Outwardly, the effects probably don’t show too much, but inwardly, it’s an entirely different story. It’s difficult to find much meaning in anything anymore, except perhaps in the natural world. My instincts are telling me to spend my time there, so that’s what I’ve been doing, and as mentioned above, will continue to do when I leave here. It’s a solitary life, but I could be among thousands and feel no less isolation, so it seems the right way for me.
    I haven’t yet decided on an absolute route for the trip northward — a lot will definitely depend on the weather. However, I’m tossing around the idea of going north through Arizona into Utah, camping around here and there if the weather continues to be warm in the southwest (it’s supposed to be 80 for the next couple of days here in southeast Arizona). From there, I may actually swing westward and travel through Nevada and into parts of California and Oregon, but am also contemplating crossing through southern Idaho and wandering through Montana, maybe into Wyoming, and then the Dakotas, Minnesota and on east through Wisconsin into Canada up near Sault Ste. Marie. So much will depend on weather, my energy levels, and just how I feel about being in one place or another. If all goes according to plan, I will barely land for more than a few days when I reach my farm back in Ontario, then take off again to head east to Nova Scotia to spend most of the summer before heading back south once more. My only plans are that I don’t really have any plans at all — I just make it all up as I go.


    22 Feb 09 at 12:52 pm

  6. Bev, I’ve just gotten back after an absence and am glad to continue to read about your experiences. While I think I can understand and sympathize with the sense of isolation you feel, I hope you are able also to take hold of the good that can come of that “disconnect” from the demands of being with others, even others you love. There are times I need nothing more than that sense of isolation you describe and, though it sounds odd, it makes me happier and more free than anything else I can imagine when, in those rare moments, I capture it. I’m not suggesting you revel in it, but at least try to find in it some of the strength it has the capacity to give to you.

    I wish you’d consider continuing on east through New Mexico and Texas and on through the southeastern US. I’d be very curious to know how you perceive those very different places–I know, its selfish, but there you have it,I’m just that way! And, of course, if you sent through Texas, you could stop in Dallas long enough to let us meet you and treat you to lunch or dinner!


    22 Feb 09 at 4:19 pm

  7. Ah, Bev, you touch a raw nerve with that whole theme of
    ‘coupledom’ and how isolating it can be: farmers market,
    walks in the park, outdoor concerts, restaurants, even
    movies, even church. “Get a life, GET OVER IT,” keep telling
    myself, but never really works for me.

    People like you who plow ahead, meet life head on, keep themselves open to whatever, are such a boost for me. I
    worry about the two of you, but am sooo incredibly grateful
    that you share the internal side of your explorations with us.
    Lots and lots of us in that situation, I suspect.


    23 Feb 09 at 10:55 am

  8. I’m not sure whether there are more crows around NW Georgia these days, but there are sure a lot of them.

    Bev, isolation when traveling is something I kind of enjoy, as I think I might have mentioned before, but for me, at least in the past, it was a choice. But even when I enjoyed that isolation, when I saw something particularly interesting, I always wanted someone to nudge and say, “Look at that!”


    24 Feb 09 at 11:35 am

  9. john – It’s quite true that there’s a feeling of freedom that comes with the disconnect and isolation that I’ve been experiencing on this trip. I do get some sense of enjoyment out of it — I think it’s that feeling that many feel when they head out on the open road with no particular plans, or that I feel putting my canoe into some lake or river that I’ve never explored. Quite aside from “place”, my life, in general, has become unexplored territory. It is not without stress, uncertainty, and perhaps dangers of various sorts, but now I am alone with no one to answer to buy myself. It’s a weird feeling, but I have to become used to it, and this trip is probably helping me to find ways to do so.

    marci – thanks for commenting on the “coupledom” part of my post. I very much feel that in our society, and that’s partly why I try to spend the majority of my days alone. Basically, it’s just a lot easier to do so. As for “getting over it”, from what I know of others who have been in this situation, I don’t think you ever truly get over the death of your partner, especially when you were very close and so involved in each other’s lives to the extent that Don and I were. We truly lived for each other and everything we did was focused on making each other happy. If my life were a world, it is now missing more than half of its continents. That’s a big adjustment, and one that, at this stage in my life, is unlikely to be completed in what is left of it. However, I think that the only way to deal with the situation is to try to go forward – perhaps exploring what remains of this world. In my case, that route is by being off by myself studying and photographing nature — which is what Don and I would have been doing if he had not died. Anyhow, thanks for expressing your thoughts on the “going forward” part too. It’s such a difficult thing. Often, I feel weary and so overwhelmed, and at those times, I wonder why I should even bother — but suspect that a my survival depends on it. I’ve really never been the kind of person who chooses safety over a certain degree of risk, or “staying still” over exploring, so I think this is the right way for me.

    Mark – I think that the “Look at that!” sensation is one of the hardest parts of traveling alone. Don loved the southwest and the desert so much that I often feel twinges of sadness that he isn’t with me to see certain places. In the past, when I traveled in the west while he was back in Ontario, I would send him daily emails with plenty of photos attached, to try to share the best of what I encountered. It feels strange not to be sharing that now in any way other than with the friends who visit this blog. In a sense, perhaps my blog has come to represent “the people back home” – and that’s kind of a cool thought.


    24 Feb 09 at 12:43 pm

  10. How do you tell a raven from a crow?

    Apparently there are ravens in Maine, so I wonder if they’re around here on the coast.

    We have lots of crows and they’ve been flocking in the trees at sunset in the neighborhood recently. They are fascinating to watch, and louder than crowds of people at the local stadium!


    26 Feb 09 at 8:31 pm

  11. “Quite aside from ‘place,’ my life, in general, has become unexplored territory.

    In a sense, perhaps my blog has come to represent ‘the people back home’ – and that’s kind of a cool thought.”

    Appreciate your thoughts on being outside of “coupledom,” in unexplored territory. After all this time, I still look at the natural world as if R were with me as we were when we were young, remembering what would catch and hold his attention and bring happiness to him.

    Your survival instincts are moving you to spend part of the year to come in places that meant so much to Georgia O’Keeffe — the desert and Nova Scotia. I see something hopeful and creative in that despite your feelings of weariness and of being overwhelmed.

    In the last few months I have not been out visiting blogs as much as before but do relate to your idea of a blog representing “the people back home.” A blog is a place quite unlike any other place I can think of. A place to feel at home with kindred spirits.


    2 Mar 09 at 6:00 pm

  12. firefly – from a distance, the first thing would be call. A crow usually making a repetitive “caw” call, while ravens make gutteral croaks and other odd sounds. Ravens are usually larger — although the Chihuahuan ravens of the southwest are a smaller bird. The bill of a raven is thicker and more coarse in shape, having a strongly curved upper bill, while a crow’s is straighter. Raven’s feathers look rougher and often a bit shaggy around the neck area like a mane, while a crow is pretty smooth. A crow has a squared off tail, while a raven’s is wedge-shaped. There are two pages on discover life that can be used for comparison. Particularly note the shape of the bills in profile. Hope these links work.
    Raven page: http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20o?search=Corvus+corax&guide=Birds
    American Crow page: http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=Corvus+brachyrhynchos


    4 Mar 09 at 10:01 am

  13. am – I experience some of that feeling too — of seeing the natural world as I would if Don were with me. When I find a turtle shell or a dead butterfly, I know what we would have discussed and where that conversation would lead. I think that’s a way of feeling some degree of comfort at a time when it doesn’t seem to exist in too many other places. And yes, blogs seem to have evolved into places where we can share our ideas, experiences and thoughts with those who have a common interest or feel a certain connection.


    4 Mar 09 at 10:36 am

  14. thank you for the links! definitely the best photos I have seen on the Web of each type of bird.


    4 Mar 09 at 3:25 pm

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