Travel journal USA 2010

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser



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April 2010, USA
15 April 2010, Arizona USA
We are back in the USA! Our 10-year visa for the USA was expired, but we still had our entry permit that was valid for 6 months. Although the custom officer had a look at the visa, he did not mention anything about it. Maybe he had not seen that it was expired. We visited our friends Art and Sally, which we met years ago in Mexico, when they were still gypsies traveling in a small camper. A year ago they decided to settle down again and they bought a house in Tucson and started a new phase in their life. The environment has always been important to them and they have placed solar cells on the roof and are collecting the sparse rain water in huge containers. Even the waste water of the washing machine is reused to water the plants. The power that they not use is sold back to the plant. They compost their kitchen waste and grow most of their own vegetables. And we enjoyed some fantastic salads at the dinners.
A couple of days ago Art found a bird that dropped out of her nest and Sally is lovingly taking care of it. We made pictures of the birds in their back yard and shoot a great horned owl on the golf course. Gary and Martha were here too and we remember the days when we spent one New Years in Organ Pipe N.P. together and one in Sayulita, Mexico with the six of us. 

      Happy Hour with our friends                              Art en Sally                                                Orphaned bird
                     Pyrrhuloxia                                      Great Horned Owl                                             Quail

April 2010, USA
20 April 2010, Utah USA - Preparing for Yellowstone
When we arrived at my cousin in Utah nobody was home and their trailer was not parked in the back yard...
No wonder she had not replied to my e-mail that we were coming; they went on vacation! Fortunately we know the key of their garage door and we could get into the house to pick up our winter clothes and an extra sleeping bag. Their two cats were looking very surprised. Strange to sneak through somebody's house without them knowing it, but we cannot go to Yellowstone in our summer clothes!
We have winter clothes and WINTER clothes. When we go to Yellowstone in April and then continue to Alaska and be back in Utah in October we need our WINTER clothes. In Alaska it is less cold than most people think, but it can still be chilly in the early mornings. This time we are going for only two weeks to Yellowstone and then will return to Utah, so we need our 'winter' clothes. We have checked and the forecast is some sunny days and some snowy days. During the day it will be around 50 F and the night in the twenties, but you never know for sure with forecasts.
When I was packing PJ's fake fur lined hat, he immediately threatened: "If the weather is that cold, I will leave the park!". I pointed out to him that last year we had an amazing experience when three wolves attacked a bison and all four tumbled down a hill. It was not even so cold, but because of the wind, we almost froze.
"Would you have liked to miss that moment, just because your ears were cold?", I asked him.
I am typing this story while we are driving to Yellowstone and we are surrounded by ice fields. My hubby will be thankful to me.

Yellowstone National Park (22 April - 8 May 2010)
Surprisingly there was not much snow in Yellowstone. We started our first days with an old winter kill (that is an animal that died in winter of natural courses and because of the melting snow is only discovered by wolves and bears in spring). After a long wait we were rewarded with a gorgeous large gray wolf which approached us till eighty yards. And the next morning we saw here again, a bit closer and in fresh snow. Wolf watchers told us that she was the alpha female from the 'Quadrant' pack. Her mate is a nice looking darker wolf (with German Shepard markings), but he did not dare to come very close.


At the same carcass we saw some old acquaintances; the wolf pack that is called the 'Canyon' pack. In spring last year we have made many pictures of this pack of four, unfortunately one gray wolf is missing and has not been seen since fall 2009. The white alpha female is visible pregnant and hopefully she will not lose her pups again. The wolves and a young grizzly bear were taking turns to eat from the carcass, although the bear was very annoyed by the ravens.


An enormous very dark grizzly bear chased the little one away. Sitting on his butt he enjoyed the company of the ravens while chewing on the bones.


27 April 2010
The weather forecast was predicting snow and hard winds for the coming days. We decided to leave the park for a while and drove to Bozeman for some tax free shopping. The next day we went to Hebgen Lake to visit my uncle Bill and aunt Donna. We stayed another day to start up our brand new laptop. On April 30th we drove back into Yellowstone National Park and were very surprised that half the park was closed because of heavy snow fall. Was it that bad? We could not drive any further than the Old Faithful geyser, an area that we do not know very well. I made some pictures of a osprey and then we heard about a fresh elk kill. After four hours of waiting a gray wolf showed up. A ranger told us that the wolf biologist believes that this wolf is the missing one from the Canyon pack. That would be great! We pasted a picture of last spring and this spring together and we were convinced we had a match.

                     Osprey                                    Wolf Canyon pack Spring 2009              Wolf Old Faithful Spring 2010. A match?


We spent another night at my uncle and aunt and made an early start to the Old Faithful carcass the next morning. We had to wait till 11:30am before the wolf showed up again. You need a lot a patience in this park. When we heard that the roads to the northern part of the park were open again, we left the carcass around 3pm. It snowed going north.

          Where is that wolf?                                    Reading another book                                 Snow driving north

In the northern part of the park we saw a black bear sow with her two yearlings. One cub was sleeping in a tree for a while. Mum and the other cub stood up.



We ran into Dave and Jackie from Oklahoma. We met Jackie years ago in Hyder, Alaska, but we have never seen her husband. A nice couple, just a little bit older than us, and as passionate about wildlife as we are. They have gotten an invitation from Dave's colleague who has an aunt who has a remote cabin in the woods. Jackie and Dave asked us to join them and we liked some change of scenery. We agreed to meet up in Livingston, an hour north of the park. From there we followed them to Big Timber. In a restaurant we met the aunt of Dave's colleague; Donna who is about our age. Seven years ago she became a widow. Donna brought her son Dillan with her and she was very enthusiastic to show us her cabin. With our camper and another car we drove 40 miles south. We had to pass a private bridge to get to the cabin. It was not as remote as the colleague had told Dave, but the cabin was placed on a nice spot along the river. Dillan made a camp fire and with warm sweaters we stayed outside until the snow flakes  pushed us inside. Inside it was cozy, even with the inevitable mounted animals. Donna made a large pot of spaghetti.



When it got dark everybody went home, but we were invited to stay the night! This will only happen in the USA, where somebody hand over their keys of their house to total strangers. What a trust and hospitality! The next day we went looking for wildlife and found some moose and a wolf crossed the road. We gave the keys of the cabin back to Donna and arrived back in Yellowstone around 1pm. Close to the north entrance we found a fresh carcass about eighty yards from the road. Weren't we lucky? At the moment there were no wolves, so we parked the camper strategically and the waiting began. After one and half hours ranger Ken knocked on our door to tell us that he was heading to two bear jams! That was very nice of him and we were in doubt: leaving this carcass for some bears of stay put. We decided to go for the bears and found a young grizzly bear digging in the snow. When it started to snow we went back to the carcass. After an hour waiting a young wolf appeared. Later in the evening a golden eagle chased away all the bold eagles. The ravens were brave enough to stay. This is only the second time (!) that we saw a golden eagle, so we were very exited.


The next morning we parked at the carcass, but nothing happened! We had the company of Dave and Jackie, so no time lost. In the afternoon we went looking for other wildlife and ran into the young sow again. This time she barged in between cars and people, to the annoyance of ranger Ken.


5 May 2010
When we drove through the park the temperature dropped to a nippy 4˚F! It has not been that cold this spring. We found some fresh wolf and bear tracks and fooled around in the deep snow.



6 May 2010
For a change we slept in and drove into the park at 7:30am. We were lucky again: a very fresh carcass was lying next to the road! We could see bloody bear tracks in the snow going north and two wolves had just disappeared over the hill going south. The rangers were quick at the spot and as expected were discussing about moving the carcass, because the situation was too dangerous for the tourists. But to our surprise ranger Brian decided not to remove the carcass, but to move it with pull horses to a safer spot. We made some nice action shots.



Unfortunately the horses and people had left so many scents that the wolves did not dare to come close, let alone the bear. At night the carcass is skinned to the bone. But we appreciated the effort of the rangers.

7 May 2010
We only had two days left and the East entrance just opened, so we drove all the way East. There we met some old friends who told us about the many grizzly bears in this area. For many hours we patrolled the area just outside the gate with six vehicles and were rewarded with two large grizzly bears (courting couple). Especially the sow had a perfect round dish face. We also saw a cow moose up close.



8 May 2010
Only one day to go and we drove from the East to the Hayden Valley. We found a large jam in the valley because of the young grizzly bear PLAYING with a coyote! Just fantastic to see the interaction between the two animals! The bear enjoyed it more than the coyote, who was showing its teeth a lot.
From cineaste Bob Landis, who sells his work to National Geographic, we got his latest published DVD. When we watch it we saw several moments when we were there too! That was a weird experience.


We left the park through the West entrance and at the last moment we were spoiled with two wolves up close. What a trip!


On May 11th we hopped on a plane back to the Netherlands. Only five months later we are back.

November 2010, USA
10 November 2010
Our house is rented out and we fly to the United States. Our 10-year visa is expired, so we are now traveling on a 3-months tourist visa. This means that after three months we are obliged to fly back to the Netherlands. We have bought a return ticket for February 5th, 2010, but we hope we can change our visa at the border of Mexico.
We have just made ourselves comfortable in the plane, when I feel something sharp poking my breast! One of under wires in my bra has broken and is coming through the fabric. I squeeze the broken pieces out and want to hand them over to the flight attendant. "Look, I just found a new weapon". She is not amused and does not even want to accept them. I throw them in the waste basket. So ladies, don't be surprised if we are not allowed to wear a bracket bra anymore when we fly...
The custom officer in Washington DC gives us our "3-months-stamp" in our passports and we are in! Now we only have to fly to Denver (4 1/2 hours) and than to Salt Lake City (1 1/2 hours). At 11pm we arrive there and at 1am we crawl into our bed. It is 23F, but with three sleeping bags and blankets we are not cold.

12 November 2010
The whole Friday we spent in a garage. The pick-up truck gets new tires and the engine is checked. We have e-mail contact with our Canadian friends Bob and Charlotte who are staying with their trailer in Yuma, Arizona. They are waiting for us, so we can travel together into Mexico.

Pictures right: this is how our camper was parked for 5 months in the back yard of my cousin. Thanks Diana and Randy!
14 November 2010
We left on Sunday from Plain City. It drizzles and it is just above freezing. The engine has a hard time to get started, a bit worrisome when it has just been checked. We cruise south and we take a late lunch break at a rest area. There is a gas station, a Subway and a small auto repair shop. And then something weird happens. The mechanic of the shop comes to our camper and compliments PJ with his tires. "Brand new", PJ replies. "But your shocks are bad", the mechanic says and shows PJ the worn out shocks. And he is right! He must have checked them out while we were having lunch in the camper. "Do you have half an hour? I can put new ones under it quick." Oh well, we can handle another bill and before we know we are sitting and waiting in the colder getting cabin of the truck.
Half an hour turns into two hours and we are on our way again. After sunset we arrived in Saint George (south Utah) and spent the night at Wal-Mart's parking lot. The night is suddenly sultry and we can do with only one sleeping bag.

The next we left early and headed south the whole day. At Las Vegas we see these disconcerting signs: "Try a real full automatic machine gun"...

At the end of the afternoon we arrived in Yuma, in the far west corner of Arizona, real close to the border of Mexico. This is a real snowbird destination for Americans and Canadians. There seems to be more trailer parks than houses here. Of course without grass, that is only used for the golf courses, we are in the desert here. The big advantage of this area is first the temperature; it stays warm in winter. Next is the language: you do not need to learn Spanish, and the golf courses (lots of them) and the cheap shopping for the Canadians and of course that they can hop the Mexican border for cheap dental work and prescription glasses.



Bob and Char gave us their address in Yuma and we have put it into the GPS system. It is an easy drive. We expect that they are staying at one of these golf resort parks, but it turned out to be totally different. We are not surprised easily anymore in this country, but sometimes we are. We drove into the street that they gave us and saw these lots with white gravel and low walls around it. On every lot there are one or two trailers. The ground can be hired or bought and this is how the people winter here!
The reunion with Bob and Char and their friends is very hearty (especially from the dogs!) and we drink a beer together. In the shade of course, it is in the high seventies.

25 November
The morning awakes with red skies. At 6.50 AM we arrived at the US immigration office at Sonoyta (Az). Outside custom officers wear woolen hats and gloves, it is just one degree above freezing. We decide to be honest to the custom officer. "We are tourists from the Netherlands and we go to Mexico. Should we do something? ". The officer looks at our passports. "When did you entered the United States?".
"November 9th".
"And how long will you stay in Mexico?".
"In April we will come back to the USA." "And you are with the waiver ESTA program? (That's the name of the 90 days visa).
" Yes."
"Well that seems no problem to me, but I'll will check with my colleague here. A little later he returned with the message:
You are good to go.
Less than five minutes later we're back outside. PJ remains suspicious, but I think we can stay for four months in Mexico!

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