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Monday, August 13, 2012

Road Trip: Hot to Cool

Since we stayed up so late last night, and since the coyotes were crying and waking me up, and since I was sleeping practically on the ground in a tent, I didn’t get much sleep and I was LESS than thrilled with Mrs. Dancer’s excited encouragement to get up just before dawn. I am so glad she dragged my not so pleasant self out of bed, seeing the half-moon with Jupiter shining brightly above and Venus shining lower and to the left was really fantastic.

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We thought briefly about going back to bed but we were already up and full of adrenaline, plus this was the desert and I wanted to get some birding in before it got too incredibly hot. We took down the tent in the predawn twilight and loaded up the car. It was early but we were happy and hungry.

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REFLECTION OF THE DAWN SUN ON THE CAR WAS SO PRETTY

After breakfast we headed over to Big Morongo one of my favorite birding spots. At 7:30 in the morning it was already a hot 85 degrees. Mrs. Dancer borrowed my second camera body and lens and birded right along with me. She is getting much better at using the camera and learning the settings.

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MRS. DANCER AND I ENJOYING OUR NERDY BIRDYNESS

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I AM NOT REALLY SURE SHE SHOULD BE IN POSITIONS LIKE THIS WITH HER BROKEN BACK BUT THE SPIDER WAS JUST TOO PRETTY – NO PAIN NO GAIN

We first set out hiking figuring to get to the back while it was still cool. We saw quite a few cool birds but not as many as I thought we would. I am sure with how hot it is here that some migrate, I have only mostly been here in the spring and fall when the temperatures are much milder and the migrating birds are literally dripping from the trees. Still there were some birds around and I managed to get some good photos.

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HOODED WARBLER FEMALE PANTING IN THE HEAT

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I CAUGHT A NUTTAL’S WOODPECKER PERCHED ON A TREE

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CALIFORNIA TOWHEE TAKING A BREAK IN THE SHADE FROM THE SUN

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YELLOW WARBLER

After an hour it was just too hot. Thankfully this place has excellent hummingbird feeders at a place where we can sit in the shade, drink water and photograph. The feeders were packed with hummingbirds, there had to be over 40 buzzing around. And since hummingbirds are very territorial, they do not like to share, it was noisy with quite a few fights going on. Still with so many birds in such a small area it made it much easier to try and photograph these little guys; especially when they are perched.

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BLACK CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

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BLACK CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

Although hummingbirds are SUPER hard to get photos of flying I managed to practice and get quite a few I was happy with.

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ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD

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ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD

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BLACK CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

Dripping with sweat we finally gave up, it was just too hot outside. We headed back to the car to grab some water and think about where we wanted to go next. NO WONDER we were so hot, the temperature was reading at 111 degrees. So we sat there in the air conditioning and started to brainstorm.

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THE TEMPERATURE WAS A BOILING 111 DEGREES

This is what happens with impromptu trips, no real plans. We knew it was too hot to stay in the desert so we headed for the hills and on the way I remembered the Air Tram, something that I have been keeping on my radar for a while. The Air Tram takes you to the top of Idyllwild and by using our smart phone we found out the temperature up there was a beautiful 80 degrees. It was the perfect solution.

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ARIAL TRAMWAY UP TO IDYLLWILD

I knew that this tramway went high, it does go to the top of a giant mountain after all but I really wasn’t thinking about the logistics nor did I do any research about the tramway. I just heard it was cool, we had some time, and so we jumped into it. Once we got there we found out that the tram actually takes you up about 6,000 feet and would only take 10 minutes. That is a really HIGH and very FAST climb. The tram is also the only way to get to this part of the mountain. Although I am sure you could probably hike up the hill if you were completely crazy. Construction of the towers and cables was a wonder of engineering. It took 26 months to complete and most of the work had to be done by helicopter! The tram is considered a historical civil engineering landmark.

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The tram is a cable car and the cabin is a circular piece that actually rotates; as in the floor of the car spins slowly around to give everyone fantastic views of the scenery. It is one of the largest rotating tram cars in the world and it was WICKED cool!

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When we finally arrived at the top I was happy to be back on firm ground. I was also ecstatic with the temperature. To go from 111 degrees to 80 degrees in ten minutes was awesome. We headed to the terrace and the overlook first and the views were breathtaking. Oh if only I could build my house at the top of a mountain like this.

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MRS. DANCER AND I, MUCH COOLER AND MUCH HAPPIER

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THE OVERLOOK LEDGE

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THE BEAUTIFUL VIEW

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THE BEAUTIFUL VIEW

It was also really cool to go from a desert habitat to the mountain habitat. We went from sand, glaring sun and mesquite to soft breezes, pine trees and fresh mountain air. I really miss green like this. Living in LALA land it is all brown and dry and arid. I grew up in Michigan where EVERYTHING was green. Being in the mountains like this really makes me miss my childhood home.

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We found out that the hiking trails were out back. Being on a mountain I knew we would have to be walking up and hopefully down some hills but I was not prepared at all for the switchback trail that took you too all the trail heads. Yup seven steep incline zig zags all down the hill. It wasn’t that bad going down, even with my monster lens, but I didn’t even want to THINK about climbing back up.

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Once we got almost to the bottom of the hill the thunder started. Usually I have a garbage bag whenever I travel with my camera equipment but this time I completely forgot it in the car. I wasn’t about to leave it to luck and just hope for no rain so I had to walk all the way up that hill in search of plastic bags. The only positive point was that Mrs. Dancer agreed to stay and babysit my lens so I didn’t have to lug it all the way up that path. Bags in pocket and back down the hill we finally found the hike we wanted.

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I had brought various lenses for both Mrs. Dancer and I to use and she generously offered to help carry the bag. I went from photographing birds with the big lens to shooting small things with my macro lens to switching to the wide angle lens for all the pretty landscapes. Sure it is a pain in the butt to constantly be switching lenses but it is a labor of love!

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We did manage to find and photograph a few birds. Again it was pretty quiet, even in the hills where the heat wasn’t so bad. We didn’t find anything exceptional and nothing new but I do love this time of year and all the juvenile birds out and about. We spotted a ton of Mountain Bluebird Juvies, they are just too cute with their little speckled bodies and not quite vibrant blue feathers of the adults.

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MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD JUVENILE

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MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD JUVENILE

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MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD ADULT MALE

Other birds on the mountain were common birds. I still enjoyed myself and Mrs. Dancer is getting much better at identifying the birds. It is fun to share my hobby with a buddy; normally I am out hiking alone.

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PYGMY NUTHATCH

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DARK EYED JUNCO

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YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER

There wasn’t a ton of opportunity to get our photo taken by someone else but we managed to snag a nice older couple to take a photo for us. We are so tiny next to these ancient Jeffry trees. And we found out a fun fact about Jeffry trees, they smell like butterscotch. Don’t worry we don’t just randomly go around sniffing trees, there was a placard talking about the distinctive smell these trees have.

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MRS. DANCER AND I DWARFED BY THE GIGANTIC TREES

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MRS. DANCER LOVED THE BUTTERSCOTCH TREES

One of the fun things about carrying such a big lens is that I get to meet a ton of people. Kids are always curious and the adults want to either know how much it weighs or how far you can see with it. This time however my lens got us a good find. A woman, I think she was Swedish, came up to us and started gesturing us to follow her. When we got to the location nearby we found out what got her so excited, her sons apparently found a very large rattlesnake. The largest I have ever seen. It ended up being about a five foot long Speckled Rattlesnake. Since I had the big lens I didn’t have to get too close. Such a great cool snake, the biggest rattler by far I have ever seen.

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SPECKLED RATTLESNAKE

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SPECKLED RATTLESNAKE

After a few minutes a small crowd had formed. The rattler started getting restless and a little spooked. No one was going anywhere near it but everyone took a giant step back when he started rattling his tail. Then seeming to make a decision he turned and slid back into the hole behind him; seems like he had enough of the gawking people.

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SPECKLED RATTLESNAKE

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SPECKLED RATTLESNAKE

We hadn’t hiked very far when the rain started to fall. I was so happy I had gone back to get the bags, all of our equipment was safe and since we were a little warm the rain felt actually nice. We both didn’t mind getting wet, it was only sprinkling after all, but it was now late in the afternoon and we were getting hungry. Plus without very much sleep last night we wanted to make sure we made camp with plenty of time to light a fire and get to bed a little early. We decided to head back to the lodge.

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We made it up those dang switchbacks just in time for the skies to really open up. A full blown thunderstorm swept through the mountains and it was beautiful. Even more so because we managed to get inside before we got soaking wet. We ended up skipping the cafeteria and opted to try the restaurant instead. We ordered a spread sampler with bruschetta and tapenade. And then for our main course we both opted for the burger. YUMMMMMMMMMY.

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An hour later and we took the tram back down to the base of the mountain. Even though it was later in the day it was still hot. On the way out we ran into a small water fall and a painted Ram. It reminded me of those cows each state painted. We found a little gift of water in the misters too. Of course none of the rain from the mountains actually made it to the desert floor but the misters did the trick.

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Another two hours of driving up the back of the mountain landed us finally in our campground for the night. By now we had been up for 18 hours with very little sleep. We quickly picked a site, pitched the tent and started the fire. Mrs. Dancer had never started a fire before herself, and since I had such a great time creating my own very first fire, I encouraged her to try. Soon we had a nice blaze going and we were relaxing in our chairs. I simply adore a campfire but of course the best part is roasting marshmallows.

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Even though it was only 9 we took ourselves off to bed. Mrs. Dancer gave a little shadow performance, which is so her, so adorable, and so silly I had to giggle and then it was time to sleep. This campground was much quieter than last night - AHHHHH finally some peace and quiet.

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1 comment:

paul peggy zeus said...

Watch out for that rattler, they bite with a punch!

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