From New Mexico’s Festival of the Cranes to Flagstaff

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Cranes in flight: Bob Wells

By Bob Wells

I’ve just arrived back in Eherenberg, Arizona from my trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. It was an amazingly wonderful trip that I liked so much I’m already planning to go again next year.


The climb up into the Ponderosa Pines: Bob Wells

I took four classes and they were all truly outstanding; I believe they are going to revolutionize my photography. I’ve read lots of books on all those topics but they are no substitute from learning directly from a master photographer and teacher; and that’s just what we did.

Today we’re going to talk about the trip and weather, then in later posts I’ll have mainly photos from the birding I did, the macro class and then the star trails class I took.

Rather than overwhelm you all at once with the trip, I’ll try to intersperse posts on it with other topics. With Thanksgiving coming up, one post will be on our big T-Day meal. Let me remind you again that I’m back in Ehrenberg and you are still welcome to join us for a Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s not too late. There’s plenty of room and we will have plenty of food. Please join us. There’s a map to our location at the bottom of this post.

Here was my very busy itinerary for the trip:

Saturday, Nov 15th leave Ehrenberg, drive to Flagstaff.
Sunday, Nov 16th leave Flagstaff and drive to Magdalena, NM
Monday, Nov 17th drive to Photograph Bosque del Apache NWR.
Tuesday, Nov 18th take two classes: 1) Editing with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, 2) Macro Photography
Wednesday, Nov 19th take two classes: 1) Bird Photography 2) Shooting Star Trails and Light Painting at the VLA (Very Large Array) Radio Telescope (made famous in the Jody Foster movie, “Contact”.
Thursday, Nov 20th Leave Socorro and drive to Quartzsite, AZ
Friday, Nov 21st arrive at Ehrenberg, AZ
There were three things that were most memorable about the drive: 1) how pretty it is from Phoenix to Flagstaff, 2) how unattractive and boring it is from Flagstaff to Socorro, and 3) how very cold it was the whole trip!! Today we’ll look at the drive and the weather.

It’s a pretty drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

It’s over a 600 miles trip from Ehrenberg to the Festival Of the Cranes in Socorro, New Mexico and I prefer to drive less in a day so I took 2 days to drive over. The first day I drove to Flagstaff and stayed at my old camp and then the second day I drove the rest of the way to the Festival. I’ve always thought the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff was an unusually pretty drive because you get an amazing variety of landscapes. Phoenix is pretty because it’s set in a broad valley surrounded by rugged desert mountains, and then as you drive north you gain a lot of elevation; Phoenix is at 900 feet and Flagstaff is at 7000, so you gain 6000 feet and you can just watch the landscape change from flat desert, to high desert, to grasslands, then,to Juniper forest and finally the largest Ponderosa Pine Forest in the world.

All along it’s full of hills, mountains, curves and washes and I think it’s very pretty. This post is mostly photos from the drive from Flagstaff since the rest of the way to Socorro is not very pretty at all. Bear in mind that all of these shots were taken through the windshield while I was driving, so they aren’t works of art. But I think they give you an idea of how pretty the drive is.

It was cold.

The Polar Vortex had dropped down just before my trip and gripped the rest of the nation in it’s icy grip. Most of the Southwest was spared, but not the northern mountains at higher elevation–they were also very cold. My first night at Flagstaff was miserable. It was probably about 19 degrees when I woke up and had snowed a little bit in the night. I had plenty of warm clothes and blanket with me so I slept warm but poor Cody was shivering and obviously uncomfortable.


Cody stayed warm in his fancy new coat: Bob Wells

I thought I could just run my stove to keep the van warm in the evening while I worked on the computer but because the van is uninsulated, it was just too cold for it; the heat escaped as fast as the stove made it. So the next morning I went to the Flagstaff Wal-Mart and bought a Little Buddy heater then stopped at a PetSmart and bought Cody a coat to wear at night.

I was very pleased with the Little Buddy heater, it was just the right size for the very small space of an uninsulated van and kept us comfortable until bedtime. I’ll do a full report on it later. Cody adapted really well to the coat and his shivering stopped. The first morning I left it on him when we went for our walk and it didn’t interfere with his movement at all. However, he runs right through brush and trees so it got a little tore up; I’ll never let him walk in it again. It’s perfect for those cold nights though!

The morning shopping put us off to a late start and I try to stop every few hours to walk Cody so we didn’t quite make it to Socorro that day. We stopped just outside the little town of Magdalena, New Mexico, and boy was it cold that night. I’m sure it was in single digits and all my water froze.


Right beside the Pie-O-Neer Pie Restaurant was a little road, so Cody and I went down it for a walk. It was cold, the snow was deep, and the ice was frozen solid on the road: Bob Wells

When I opened a Diet Pepsi for breakfast (yes, I drink Diet Pepsi for breakfast, I’m an addict!) it was frozen! Not solid, but enough that if it didn’t get warmer they would all freeze and burst. I gotta be honest with you, I gave serious thought right then to calling it quits and just turning around and driving straight home! It was brutally cold! Oddly, even though I lived in Alaska for 45 years and this was nothing compared to that, since I left Alaska I’ve lost all my tolerance for cold and I’m a total wimp when it comes to the cold.

We drove the rest of the way to Socoroo and fortunately it was at a much lower elevation and quite a bit warmer. The nights were still very cold (around 14 degrees) but the days warmed up and were pleasant. I’m really glad I didn’t turn chicken and run away, I ended up having a truly outstanding time and in fact I’ll plan on attending the Festival every year. Next year I’ll sign up for classes early because many of the ones I wanted to take were already full so I missed out on them. I’ll also come much more prepared for cold weather.


Republished with permission from Bob Wells has been a full-time Van Dweller for 12 years and love’s it. He hopes to never live in a house again.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.