Friday, June 24, 2016

Ongoing Saga of Soda Pocket

As you could tell from the previous post, the campground of Soda Pocket in New Mexico’s Sugarite Canyon State Park was pretty much a fascinating place for Barbara and I.  The Fox, Mule Deer, Bear and Hummingbirds along with the beautiful scenery held our attention and imagination day after day.

We had only planned on staying one week and then moving on, but come the 7th day we were questioning ourselves as to why move when we were enjoying where we were at.  So, the day before we were to pull out we changed our minds and gave Soda Pocket another week to work it’s enchantment on us.

Fishing.  Our plans are to tour and discover the great state of New Mexico for at least a year.  With that in mind, I went ahead and purchased a one year, non-resident fishing license.  It’s not cheap, but spending a year in “trout country” certainly makes the cost bearable.  Barbara did some quick math and surmised that in order for the license to pay for itself, I would need to provide her with at least ten fresh caught fish dinners over the next year.  My first stop was Lake Maloya which, along with Lake Alice, is a part of Sugarite Canyon State Park.

Lake Dorothy in Colorado which I wasn't licensed to fish.

I have two different sets of tackle with me; an inexpensive fly rod and reel, and a spinning reel and rod for bait and lure casting.  I chose, for my first real attempt at catching a New Mexico Rainbow Trout, the fly rod.  With my very first amateurish cast, I hooked and landed a trout!  Of course, a photo was in order to record the event.  An eleven inch rainbow Trout is a perfect pan-size fish for me, so it was a keeper.  Several other fly rod casts resulted in a small perch which I threw back and another trout which got off before I could land it.  Then the wind kicked up which made fly casting a chore so I switched over to my spinning rod.

First fly rod caught Rainbow Trout, Lake Maloya, NM

Worms do not seem to be the bait of choice for trout.  Here, they use what is called “Power Bait”, a play-dough type of substance scented mostly with garlic, and also some little red gel balls that are suppose to emulate fish eggs or roe.  They are scented with something as well.  The Power Bait did it’s job and helped me land another trout, this time 10 inches long. Another keeper.  After that, the fish quit biting so after field dressing them I proudly took my two fish back to camp.  The two fish didn’t look like enough for dinner so the next day when we went grocery shopping I purchased a farm raised trout to compliment ours.  Come to find out, “compliment” was a big understatement.  The taste and texture of the store bought fish did not even come close to the excellent taste of the fresh caught. The three fish made for an excellent meal, and “Dinner Number 1” was in the books.

Fish Dinner number one, in the books

Several days later I took my poles down to Lake Alice and once again with my very first cast, this time with a Kastmaster Lure on my spinning rod I hooked a small trout which I photographed and released.  I then hooked another trout and then a small catfish and once more, the biting died off.  I went back to the camp empty handed but satisfied to know that I could catch fish and did so in both lakes at Sugarite Canyon.  I was happy.

Hiking.  As Barbara and I continued to explore the area we’d do some short walks and hikes, mostly around the campgrounds or along a service road that followed the shore of Lake Maloya.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the thinnest of the air at 8,000 feet can and does take ones breath away.  That made any strenuous hiking something to work up to.  After our first full week, we chose a trail head that was located on the way out from our campsite.  It was listed as an moderate trail and as being 4 miles in length, ending up at the lake.  We hiked it about half way, always on guard for bear, and then turned back.  Along the way out, right at a turn in the trail, we almost collided with a bicyclist!  He stopped in time and said “Whew! You scared me as much as I scared you!” We both thought that the other was a bear.  LOL  After a short conversation with him, a native of Raton, NM, we both continued on our way and we marveled at how good of shape the man was in to be bicycling a rough rocky trail as we were on.  Barbara and I were both pleased at our “accomplishment” of doing a four mile round trip hike into the mountains and that gave us the confidence toward the end of our last week to try the shorter but more strenuous hike up to Little Horse Mesa.  

The two trails that we hiked; one moderate, the other strenuous.

Fresh Bear track along the moderate trail. Found plenty of over-turned rocks as well.

We weren’t sure what to expect and quickly found out that the quarter mile trail was basically straight up a mountain side.  Think “Loose Rocky Staircase”.  But we took our time, stopping often for a drink of lemonade and eventually crested the top onto the mesa. We had no idea what awaited us at the top!  The top of the mesa was a huge grassland prairie dotted with pine trees and an enormous amount of flowers and other blooming plants.  It was simply beautiful.  And the view from the top was gorgeous as well.  As you can see in the photos, we were pretty high up at about 1,000 feet more than our campsite!  We spent another hour or so hiking around the rim of the mesa before starting our assent back down.  It was actually a little more difficult, due to the loose rocks but we both made it down and once more patted each other on the back for another accomplishment and another step forward to a better lifestyle.

The view from Little Horse Mesa looking out and down upon our RV

View looking from our RV back up to Little Horse Mesa.

Throughout or last week at Sugarite, we heard stories of Cougar and Black Bear sightings and we continued to see plenty of bear ourselves. In fact, the day before we pulled out, a bear came through the field we camped by and “posed” several times for me as if he were giving me a parting gift.  In fact, it was and I even thanked him verbally for doing so!

My "Good-bye Bear". Nice!

There is so much more I want to tell you about our stay here; the way the rising and setting sun constantly changes the view of the mountains, how bright a half moon is at 8,000 feet above sea level on a clear night, how afternoon rains bring a welcome cooling as evening sets in and of the many wonderful campers we’ve met who had so many stories of their own to share.  But blogs shouldn’t be too long, shouldn’t be a novel, and shouldn’t be loaded with all the photos that I had set aside for it.  So I’ll end this one, the conclusion of our stay at Soda Pocket Campground, knowing that I have in no way done this place justice with the words I’ve written or the photos I’ve shared, and knowing that someday soon, perhaps this fall, we’ll be back to explore and take in even more of this wonderful part of New Mexico.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Two Days at Soda Pocket

We pulled into Sugarite  (Shoo-gah-reet) Canyon State Park, Raton, New Mexico on Tuesday afternoon picking a remote, no amenities site high up on a ridge called Soda Pocket Campground.  Here it is, early Thursday morning and the events that have taken place in such a short period warrants a blog post already.

View From Soda Pocket Campground, Sugarite Canyon State Park

We’ve met several others up here, camping in everything from tents to vans to truck-campers and RVs.  There was even one young woman traveling around, sleeping in the back of her pick-up truck that had just a shell covering.  All of the ones we met were friendly and we swapped stories of where each was from and how long we’ll be staying, etc.  Normal pleasantries.  One of the campers, an older fellow who’s been coming up here for quite awhile told us the rangers have been seeing bear in the area and if we were lucky, we might get to see one as well.  More on that later.  By the way, the signs around here post that we ARE in Bear AND Cougar country.  Cool.

On Wednesday morning, Barbara’s birthday, we woke up to a flat tire on her car.  No biggie really.  She had a spare “tire” (doughnut) so I pulled it out, bounced it on the ground several times to make sure there was still air in it and then began the job.  Old tire off … spare tire on …. lower the jack …. and watch the doughnut flatten out.  Wonderful.  I grabbed my air gauge and checked the pressure and it read 15 pounds.  Fifteen pounds of air in a 60 pound tire wouldn’t get us down the mountain to a tire shop.  Fortunately, a Park Ranger was driving by and they were able to go back to get an air tank for me. Once the tire was inflated to proper air pressure, we made the drive into Raton to purchase Barbara’s birthday present.  I asked her if I should put a bow on the new tire before having it mounted but she somewhat chuckled and said “No.  But thanks for the thought.”.  Happy birthday Babe.

One Bluebird Sitting on a Post

Over the last 2 short days, we have seen a variety of wildlife; Cottontails, Hummingbirds, a Fox, Mule Deer and Black Bear.  The cottontails did their usual thing early in the morning and late afternoon; hopping along the gravel road dodging in and out of the bushes that line it.  The fox was basically a stroll through at our particular campsite.  Barbara noticed it first as it entered one end of the site, trotted past La Casita and exited on the other side.  That’s when I caught a view of it, just as it was leaving.  Barbara said it looked as if it had something in it’s mouth. Probably breakfast.

Hummingbirds. Lots of them.  Very entertaining as they fly straight up into the turquoise sky and nose dive faster than you can say “Superman”, pulling out of the dive at the very last possible moment to skirt along the top of the weeds. Amazing how quick and agile they are.  Of course, they love us.  Free food!  And if we don’t get the feeder set out early enough or we take it in too soon they are quick to let us know about it.  Those things can really chatter as they hover outside the RV window as if to say “Hurry up, before the others get here!”.  They are somewhat territorial in their feeding.  I watched two of them duking it out close to the ground before one flew off and the other reclaimed his stake at the feeder.

The mule deer up on this particular point seem to consist of a family of four; a young buck still in velvet, a doe and two young ones.  They meander down the middle of the road or walk along the edge of it, making their way to a small bottom that lies between the campsites and the base of a ridge.  It’s comical to see mule deer “run”.  Nothing like a Whitetail deer that flat out runs with their body close to the ground.  Nope.  Mule Deer pogo … kind of like a stiff legged hop…. you can almost hear the “Boing…. boing….boing” as they bolt across the field after being spooked by something.  Usually a hiker on one of the many trails up here.

A late arrival to Soda Pocket on Wednesday afternoon was a young man named Brett and his dog Griffin.  Brett is from Kansas and is into day 3 of a one year camping adventure to wherever he wants to wander to.  It’s Brett’s first time in the mountains and as he was setting up his pup tent he noticed a brown spot across the road, to the backside of the bottom land.  A bear.  He told me later “I looked out across the field and seen a clump of something and thought “I hope that’s not a bear.’.  Then I seen it move and thought “Holy crap, it is a bear!’.”  Some other campers were walking past as he was setting up his tripod and we all stood out in the road, watching the black bear (brown coat) makes it’s way along the back edge of the field and into the brush.  My photos are a bit blurry as my lens was maxed out and I was hand-shooting.  The black bears here have various colors; black, brown, cinnamon and blonde.

First Black Bear behind our campsite.

This morning, I couldn’t sleep very well and got up a bit before sunrise.  I sat in the camper looking out the window waiting for the sun to crest the distant ridge. I was able to get some nice colorful shots of the morning sunrise and then later on, as it became lighter out, I noticed Brett stirring around to get his day started.

Sunrise over Sugarite Canyon State Park, NM

I had already seen several deer in the road and the meadow and as I watched them and other wildlife, I looked over at Brett’s campsite and noticed Griffin alert and looking out across the back edge of the same field where we had seen the bear the night before.  Four deer working their way west along the wooded edge.  Brett noticed as well and set up his tripod to capture some shots as they slowly made their way.  Suddenly, the deer reversed direction and were coming back, bouncing across the field at a high rate of speed.  It was too much for Griffin to handle and he bolted across the road and into the field after the deer with Brett running after him. Brett broke rule number one; keep your pet on a secure leash.

My immediate thought was that there’s only a few things that will spook deer like that; a human, a bear or a cougar.   Yeppers, it was a bear.  A big bear.  And just as I ran from the RV to warn Brett of the bear, he caught sight of it just yards away from him and Brett immediately froze still.  He then slowly started backing away from the bear and made it back safely to his site.

Brett & Bear Showdown

The deer had crossed the road, followed by Griffin and then followed by the bear, all going down into a steep wooded ravine.  The only thing Bret could do was wait and hope that Griffin would return soon and be in one piece.  After fifteen minutes or so, Griffin returned tired and bit wet and muddy.  He is now tethered. 

So there you have it.  How much more could have happened in a 2 day span?  How much MORE will happen during the next 3 or 4 days that we’re here at Soda Pocket Campground?  Stay tuned to find out.  

On a side note, this high elevation (7,500+) takes our breath away…literally!

It’s exciting times for us!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When Three Becomes Nine

When traveling and living full-time in an RV, we’ve learned pretty fast that the best laid plans are always subject to change.

That’s what happened when we pulled into Lake Red Rock Campgrounds near Pella, Iowa on Tuesday, May 24.  The campground that we were shooting for was full.  “In fact”, said the Gate Keeper, “all the other 5 campgrounds at Red Rock were full.”.  Bad news for us!  Barbara explained that we were not locals and had arrived early in hopes of securing a site for just a few days before the Memorial Day crowds arrived and if they didn’t have any sites available, perhaps she could direct us to someplace that might.  Well, the Gate Keeper fell for Barbara’s big sad green eyes and said she’d make a few phone calls to the other campgrounds to make sure that they were full. Nice. 

A few phone calls later and we were told that there was one site, and only one, available over at Ivan’s Campground.  We hightailed it over there expecting the worst possible site imaginable and to our total surprise and joy, it was a site nestled in-between two huge shade trees with a river view out of the back window!   We set up, met Rich, the camp host, and set off to explore the area!

Town Square Information Office and Square Tulip Monument

We learned quickly that Pella, Iowa was founded in the mid 1800s by a group of Dutch immigrants.  They were so impressed with the area that they set up camp and over a period of time worked out an agreement with the local land owners to purchase a large amount of acreage.  One of the things that impressed me most about their arrival and settlement in the New World, was that they immediately assimilated into America, while keeping their rich Dutch traditions.  These early pioneers considered themselves to now be Americans.

The Dutch traditions and faith are still very strong today.  The town is rich in various places to worship and that (their faith in God) and what they call “Dutch Clean” is noticeable in their actions, words and community.  Barbara and I were constantly amazed at how friendly everyone was, from the eldest to the youngest.  A strong sense of civic responsibility and pride was certainly evident.  We drove around the village, a population of 10,000, and could not find one “bad side of town”.  Every home, from the meekest to the richest, was well kept and maintained.  The village has a town square and is a very nice, quaint place to visit.  Shops line all four sides of the square and several of the side streets as well.  The village architecture is attractive and interesting to look at.

Pella is known for it’s Tulip Festival that is held the first part of each May.  I read that in the fall, they plant over 100,000 tulip bulbs and then in the spring, after the festival, they dig them all back up and re-plant with over 25,000 bedding plants.  Then come fall, back into the ground goes another 100,000 tulip bulbs.  Amazing!  They are also well known for a pastry called “Dutch Letters”.  Yes, we tried ONE.  It had been recommended by Rich, the Camp Host back at Ivan’s.  Dutch Letters are a cinnamon powdered pastry with an almond paste filling.

Dutch Letter Pastries

They are also known for their Pella Bologna (we got ours at a meat market called In’t Velds, which means “In Field”) and some amazing cheeses.  They are also home base for Pella Windows and a company called Vermeer.  If you’ve ever seen those huge round bales of hay out in the farm fields, Vermeer invented the machine to do that.  I would say that we were enchanted with this little community.  Now…. if they just didn’t have winters….   ;-)

A small "water canal" in a business district.

The same can be said for Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake.  With six campgrounds, plenty of boat and bank access to the waters both above and below the dam and over 11 miles of walking trails the activities are endless; Camping, boating, fishing, hiking, kayaking, swimming, bicycling, Eagle watching, birding or just lounging around the camp! 

Our campsite at Ivan's Campground

We met this deer along one of the walking paths.

Our time at Ivan’s Campground is a memorable time. Red Rock (which is where Ivan’s is located) is a Corps of Engineer Park/Campground and during our stay was meticulously taken care of.  All the sites were clean and well maintained as were the bathhouses.  We spent our time walking several trails, watching for Bald Eagles and other birds and visiting with neighbors in the campsite next to us.  Often times, we’d just lounge in our camp chairs and watched our neighbor Jim and his friends wade out into the river and fish.  Three of their biggest fish were a 23 inch Walleye, a 26 inch Northern Pike and a five pound Wiper.  A “wiper” is a hybrid of a White Bass and a Striped Bass. I think that was my only regret of this visit, that I didn’t splurge to buy a 3 day nonresident fishing license to join in on the fun.  Lesson learned.


Neighbor Jim going after some big ones & his dog Journey.

We were constantly entertained by three local Domestic Swans that always acted aggressive but never did us any harm.  There was a fourth swan that was nesting so that probably had something to do with the aggressiveness of the others.  They became quite comical at times!  And Barbara took a shine to Jim and Melanie’s Golden Lab, Journey.  He was a very lovable dog.

Success for the crane!

Mom-to-be Swan and her protective hubby.

Lake Red Rock Beach was a sad place.  It had lots of driftwood debris and the sand was only a few inches deep at best.  There was no way a kid could build a sand castle or bury his dad on that beach!  I did happen to find thirty-nine cents with my metal detector though!  Winner winner!

There is so much more to tell about Pella and Lake Red Rock and the things that we encountered and experienced there but, without experiencing them yourself they’d just be words on a page.  You REALLY need to visit this place to get it’s true flavor!

Lake Red Rock and the nearby village of Pella was so beautiful, we stretched that three day stay into a wonderful nine day staycation!  We had arrived in Iowa only intending to stay 3 nights and then head on down the road.

There ya go.  So much for well laid plans.