Lake Mead N.R.A.

Lake Mead N.R.A.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exploring the Bill Williams River Refuge

A couple days ago we had the opportunity to go out into the refuge. The largest and most remote tract of the refuge is partially accessible off Planet Ranch Road across the highway from the visitor center and offices. However, the general public can only drive about 3 miles on Planet Ranch Road before it’s gated and dead ends. (Refer to one of my earlier posts of Planet Ranch Road.)
The refuge has a wonderful young woman, Nicki Devanny who has been doing an internship with The Student Conservation Association (SCA) at the refuge for the past year.
Nicki Devanny

We see her arrive early in the morning and she usually leaves the compound in one of the 4wd trucks often pulling an ATV. She clearly seemed to be doing a lot of work for the refuge.
A few days ago, Joyce and I were talking to Nicki after learning that she would be leaving soon to take a conservation job in Colorado for a non-profit. We asked about what she did with the ATV and she explained that once a month she had to go out into the refuge and collect data from a series of wells. Her final trip would be this week so she invited us to tag along.

Tuesday morning, we left the refuge headquarters at 7:30 and drove to the end of Planet Ranch Road and off-loaded the ATV. After unlocking the gate, we drove through the washed out portion of the road till we came to a dry riverbed which we followed along a steep canyon. Apparently during the spring months the river rises and fills the riverbed. Below is a damaged dingy left at the site where some boys were rescued after trying to go down river during the floods.

Driving in the sandy riverbed is difficult, even in the ATV.

Nicki took us along to several well heads where she collected data to include the ground water levels.

Often we drove out of the open riverbed and into the brush in search of the well heads. Joyce and I were amazed that Nicki was able to find the well heads in the dense brush without a map or GPS.

There are beavers in the area and they often dam up portions of the active river basin. Here Nicki and I are accessing the depth and solidity of the bottom to make sure we can get through without getting stuck!

A couple of times, Nicki had to cross streams and crawl over logs to get to the well heads and collect the data.

The temps were approaching 100 and expected to be well over 100, so it felt good to get a little wet!

Nicki Unloading Her Gear

Above Nicki has to crawl under tree branches and brush to get to a well head below.
I lost track of how many well heads we visited. But Joyce and I were amazed at the dedication and perserverance of this remarkable young woman. Joyce and I were attired in long pants and long sleeves and I sometimes wore gloves. Nicki scrambled through the sticks and thorny branches without complaint or bother. What's truly amazing to me is that she routinely did these tasks out in the wilderness where there is no cell herself. There is certainly potential for getting stuck in the ATV, bitten by a snake or injured. When asked, she told us she once came across a transient man hiking through the preserve that law enforcement suspected was camping out there. Nicki carried a GPS emergency locator device that could send an e-mail to the office with her location if she got into trouble. Still it would take a couple hours to get out to her!
After collecting the data, Nicki took us out into the desert for a little sight seeing.

The contrast between the desert and the riparian marsh of the Bill Williams River is remarkable.

I tried my skills at driving over some of the steep and rocky terrain and Nicki took pictures.

By this point, we are all pretty hot and filthy and it was time to make our way back via the way we came.

Nicki showed us a great time exploring the refuge and its diverse ecosystems. She's truly a remarkable and dedicated young woman. We are going to miss her when she leaves at the end of the week. I'm sure she will enjoy her new job in Colorado, as she certainly enjoys the great outdoors! 
Last night we took Nicki out for dinner in Lake Havasu at a small Thai restaurant. We all had a good time and returned to our rig to watch some of our favorite new season series on TV before calling it a night.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trip up the Bill Williams River

September 26, 2010 Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge
It continues to be warm here near Lake Havasu, Az. Temps are still over a hundred with 109 expected today. Generally it's been a little cooler in the evenings and overnight. The bad thing about the cooler temps is that it brings out the rattlesnakes. One of the biologists here at the refuge told me that the snakes like 76 degrees give or take 10 degrees, so we can expect to see them when the temps are 66-86. Yesterday morning, I saw a very large rattlesnake at the back door of the tool building I work out of. Not a reassuring sight!
A couple of days ago, Joyce and I decided to take out our Sea Eagle 370 for a ride up the Bill Williams River. Below is an older picture of our Kayak.
The launch at the refuge for kayak, canoes and other non-motorized watercraft.

The Bill Williams River is in western-central Arizona in Mohave County; the river proper is the northern border of La Paz County which it drains in the north, as well as areas of far western Yavapai County. It is a major drainage westwards into the Colorado River of theLower Colorado River Valley south of Hoover Dam/Lake Mead, and the drainage basin covers portions of northwest, and west central Arizona. The equivalent drainage system paralleling the east-west lower reaches of the Bill Williams is the Gila River which flows east-to-west across central Arizona from western border New Mexico and joining the Colorado River in the southwest at Yuma; (it also collects from the drainage just east in northwest Arizona, to add to the total 60 percent of Arizona-half or more desert washes !). The Bill Williams River confluence with the Colorado, is north of Parker, and south of Lake Havasu City.
A couple of Egrets.

In the picture below, you can see how clear the water is in Lake Havasu. 
A couple of Koots swimming along. They feed on the mats of aquatic plants in the lake.
 A Cormorant.
The two tributaries to the Bill Williams are the Big Sandy River and the Santa Maria RiverAlamo Lake is a major fishing and recreation region on the Bill Williams River. The Colorado River confluence region and the Bill Williams River Delta and the entire riparian environment has state parks and wilderness areas, (Buckskin Mountain State ParkCattail Cove State Park; also Gibralter MountainSwansea, and Cactus Plain Wildernesses).
Named after an early explorer of the region, Bill Williams is a relatively short but scenic and interesting river in a little-known area of Arizona - it flows from Alamo Reservoir through the wild Buckskin Mountains in the west central part of the state and joins the Colorado River at Lake Havasu, just above Parker Dam.
The lower stretches of the Bill Williams River, reachable by road, are wide, and the river meanders across a tree-lined valley, protected as a National Wildlife Refuge mainly because of the many species of birds found there. The upper part is rather different as here the waters flow through a narrow, pathless canyon where sheer cliffs and rocky terraces alternate with sandbanks along the edge while deep pools and occasional small cascades are found along the streamway, and so exploring the river can involve an easy walk around the NWR or a rather more strenuous hike through the Sonoran desert scenery of the upper gorge.
There was very little breeze on our trip up the river and the virtually no current in the river. We got a late start and weren't on the water till 8:30. After a few hours it was getting hot and we turned back. We had a good time and spent most of our time on the water paddling. Our Sea Eagle is better suited for going down river with a good current. Out on the lake, we were pushed around a bit by the very calm breeze.
Yesterday and today (Saturday and Sunday) we are back at work in the refuge two days into our 3 days on and 3 days off cycle we work about 4 hrs. each day. Over the weekend after cleaning off the paved trail and emptying garbage cans around the refuge, we worked inside the office buildings. No one is the offices on the weekends. Joyce cleaned and I did minor maintenance tasks, hanging signs, replacing exit sign batteries, filling holes with expansion foam, replacing outlets, etc.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Central Arizona Project, Restringing a Day Night Shade

September 22, 2010Bill Williams River NWR

Another week of volunteering at Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge under our belt. Temperatures this week have continued to be over 100 degrees with low’s in the upper 70’s by dawn.
Lake Havasu, just steps from our door.
We started work this week on Sunday and we did a lot of trail upkeep, filled the endangered Pup Fish pond, fed the tortoise and did a lot of our regular tasks. Joyce worked inside the visitor center and fisheries offices cleaning. I worked on a list of small maintenance and repair projects. We made two trips to Lake Havasu in the refuge vehicles running down materials at the local ACE Hardware and dropping off a load of recyclable materials. It was a busy 3 days that goes by rather quickly as now we are off again for the next three days.
In the picture below, our site which is out of view, is located on the upper left bank. The bridge is for Hwy 95. Behind the bridge is the Central Arizona Project pump station that pumps water out of Lake Havasu up the mountain then through the mountain from a pumping station that you can see 2/3s of the way up the mountain. The water is provided to municipalities in central Arizona such as Phoenix.
Central Arizona Project is designed to bring about 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year to Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties. CAP carries water from Lake Havasu near Parker to the southern boundary of the San Xavier Indian Reservation southwest of Tucson. It is a 336-mile long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants and pipelines and is the largest single resource of renewable water supplies in the state of Arizona.

A couple days ago, one of the day/ night shades in our rig came crashing down after 3 of the 4 strings in the shade broke. I couldn’t find the proper poly rope to restring the blinds so I picked up some twisted polyester rope at a hardware store.

We managed to take the blind apart and restring the blind with the twisted polyester rope. It works but I'm not sure how long the twisted polyester rope will last. I’ll need to order some string on line as a couple other blinds have strings that may break soon!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week Three and We are Alone at the Refuge

September 18, 2010 Bill Williams River NWR
Wow, I’ve really fallen behind on this blog. It’s been a busy week but I need to make time to regularly update the blog. 
We’ve finished our third week of volunteering here at the Wildlife Refuge. Last week we had a short reprieve from the over 100 degree temps. But this week the temps were again well over 100. 
In the evening and at night, the creatures really come out. I recently saw a large black Tarantula however, I didn't have the camera handy. I did manage to get a picture of this California King Snake.
The week started off with the male half of the volunteer couple parked next to us, telling me he had crashed the older John Deere Gator at 5:00 that morning into the guard railing over the concrete fishing pier on the paved peninsula trail. No telling what he was doing driving around in the dark.
The rail had broken off. He’s lucky he didn’t fall over with the broken railing. In the picture the railing is being held up by the rope.
He reasoned it was because he wasn’t taking his medication. He told me this as he was again departing for the week leaving his girlfriend behind. 
We did a lot of weeding and trail maintenance this week. Joyce broke out in a rash from coming in contact with a Sweet Bush which usually isn’t a problem for most people. However, Joyce has sensitive skin and broke out in hives on her arms from touching the bush. She has been suffering through that for a few days but yesterday she finally appeared to be getting over it.
There’s a short hiking/observation trail known as the Delta Trail which is near the kayak launch on a narrow peninsula that has been closed since before we got here. It wasn't accessible due to a cedar tree that fell over along with dense brush blocking the entrance. We felt a sense of accomplishment cutting out the fallen tree, clearing the debris and getting that trail opened. We also cleared months worth of neglected weeds and overgrown shrubs around the visitor center and offices and did our daily chores of cleaning the paved peninsula trail and the weekly power wash of the two aluminum fishing piers.
A couple days ago, we took a short ride to the dead end of Planet Ranch Road which parallels the Bill Williams River for a short distance.

The Bill Williams River often runs underground or through porous gravel beds creating these dense cattail areas.

A rough and rugged landscape bordering the Mohave and Sonoran Deserts.

Planet Ranch Road is within the refuge.

End of the road.
Afterwards we drove into Parker to do some grocery shopping before heading back to the refuge.
When we got back from Parker, we were relaxing inside when staff from the refuge asked me to move my truck and the two John Deere Gators. Shortly thereafter repo men were next door hooking up to the other volunteers’ rig. The young woman living there was home alone as her boyfriend was out of town. Hours later, the repo men pulled out with their fifth wheel leaving behind our neighbor and her belongings. Thankfully her girlfriend came to her rescue and we helped load her things into their cars and our truck and Jeep. We hauled a load over to her girlfriend’s home and said goodbye. Without getting into their personal situation, we wish the young woman well and that things work out for her.
Yesterday, the refuge staff gave us some volunteer uniform shirts and a key and code for the two staff buildings and visitor center. They hired a contractor to repair/ weld the broken guard rail. Stan (our handler) already has a fresh long list of projects for me to work on next week. 
So for now over the weekend, we are alone in the refuge! I gotta say our views of the river have improved with the other couple gone.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Remembering those that gave all and 1 Year Retirement Anniversary

September 11, 2010 Bill Williams NWR
May we never forget those who died on Sept. 11, 2001 at the hands of those engaged in heinous terrorist attacks against our country.
September 11, is also the anniversary of my last day of work at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

While I miss my buddies and the folks I worked with at the Sheriff’s Office, I surely don’t regret my decision to retire. I'm proud to say that all the folks on the Patrol Operations cover photo of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office web page worked for me just before I retired and they still look sharp!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Volunteer Work, Cooler Temps and Rattlesnakes

September 10, 2010 Bill Williams River NWR.
View from our site towards the entrance.
We’ve completed our second week of work.. I mean volunteering. The last few days the weather has been much cooler with temps in the mid 90’s and low 100’s. However the biggest difference has been the cooler evening and morning temps in the upper 70’s and lower 80’s. Yesterday we spent the majority of our time working on the peninsula trail, clearing weeds and brush from within a foot of the paved walk and then pressure cleaning the two aluminum fishing docks. I wanted to get an early start with the pressure cleaning, but I forgot that I would have to wait for the solar powered water pump that supplies water from the lake to the peninsula needed to capture enough sunlight to operate which is usually later in the morning.
Wednesday night after work we went down the road to the Lake Havasu resort and a local restaurant, named The Springs for dinner. Nothing to write home about but reasonable.
Again we’ve put in more hours than required this week, but I’m motivated by the amount of work that needs to be done around here. Today we were actually off but I worked on installing a water tank, pump and battery in the bed of the newer John Deere Gator. I did the install so that the tank can be removed by taking off two wing-nuts freeing up more room in the bed of the gator when the tank is not needed. A feature that the older Gator doesn’t have! While I was doing that, Joyce was busy cleaning the inside of our rig.
The last two evenings we’ve taken Maggie and Rico for a walk along the paved peninsula trail. 
However each night we’ve come across large rattlesnakes within a foot or two of the paved walk. My first instinct would be to kill them but here at the refuge, it’s frowned upon! So, we generally end our walk and/or turn around and go the other way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to Work with Milder Temperatures

September 7, 2010.
Back to work today. We were out the door by 6:00 a.m. with temps in the 80’s. I got to work on the older of the two John Deere Gators by filling the rear tires with Slime tire sealant. I then worked on draining and cleaning the water tank in the bed of the Gator. Our supervisor, Stan brought over the new pump for the tank. I would have to come back to it as Joyce and I needed to take care of some other work before it got too hot
Joyce and I started off with cleaning the three fishing docks, emptying garbage, cleaning the pit toilets and blowing off the concrete peninsula trail. I then collected some landscape gravel from one of the piles in the work yard and filled in where storm water run-off before our arrival had washed away the decorative gravel.
Afterwards we went to the kayak launch and shoveled off sand and gravel from the concrete launch area. Again this was a result of storm water run-off which occurred sometime before we had arrived. It looks good now!
Eventually we got back to working on the John Deere Gators. Joyce topped off the eight batteries in each of the two (battery powered) Gators. I worked on putting together the pump for the water tank. It will be used to pump water for general cleaning and maintenance tasks. Stan also gave me a new fender to put on the older Gator as one of the fenders was cracked and broken from someone colliding with a guardrail (old damage before our arrival). It took us a few hours to change out the fender as I had to remove and remount the front wheel and shock absorber, then remove and remount the fire extinguisher mounted to the interior of the fender. I wasn’t able to complete the electrical connection for the pump as it was missing a connection.
Later in the day, Stan located the missing connection. He wants me to now remove and replace each of the 8 batteries in the older Gator tomorrow at which time I’ll complete the electrical connection for the water pump. Stan also wants me to install a new tank, pump and 12 volt battery power source on the newer Gator on top of the other chores!
We called it a day by  12:30. At least it was cooler today with a high just over 100. Tomorrow should be the same and actually cooler with highs in the mid 90’s by later in the week. This evening we took the dogs for a walk and it was actually pleasant outside. I sure hope the change of season is upon us!
I’m having difficulty loading photos on the blog and I’m not sure if it’s a software issue or just related to our poor internet connection speeds. It’s something I’ll have to work out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pictures of the Refuge and Dealing with the extreme heat

September 3-4, 2010 Bill Williams River NWR
We’ve been enjoying our time off the last couple of days. However, it’s been hotter than Hades! 114 yesterday and 111 today! When it’s over 110 the deference of a few degrees is indistinguishable. With both A/Cs running we are able to keep the main area of the RV at a comfortable 77-78 during the hottest time of the day. Actually the bedroom we can keep much cooler and typically it is 72 degrees.
Yesterday I took some pictures around the facility. However, our Verizon internet coverage is very poor here. Apparently, Verizon piggybacks with other service providers and does not have their own towers in this area so it's often impossible to get on the internet with our MiFI. When we are able to get on, it often runs very slow. So, I'll come back and post the pictures when I have a speedy connection.
The Peninsula Trail leading to the two ..
fishing piers.
In the afternoon, we drove into Parker, Az about 17 miles south of us. We crossed the Colorado River and for a few moments we were in California before turning around and heading back. We did some minor shopping and then checked out the Blue Water Casino in Parker. It’s a very basic looking smaller casino with a couple of restaurants. No where near the size and majesty of some of the other tribal nation casinos we have seen or as opulent as those in Biloxi, MS.
We Left Parker and drove in to Lake Havasu to catch the movie Piranha 3D. The movie was filmed on Lake Havasu. In the movie they call it Lake Victoria. The movie was a bit of a sci-fi gory film coupled with a Girls Gone Wild atmosphere. The scenery and shots of the lake are spot on.
Today we watched as much of the UF vs. Miami (Ohio) game as we could stomach before heading into Lake Havasu City. The Gators were playing awful..we hope it’s just opening season jitters. We killed some time in Lake Havasu City visiting Walmart and driving around the city. We weren’t in a hurry to return home where we would need to sit inside due to the extreme heat and the official “extreme heat warning” from the National Weather Service. Tomorrow is expected to be much of the same with a cooling trend by mid week.
While driving around we could see that lots of people were enjoying themselves on their boats out on Lake Havasu. There are some beautiful speed boats around here. Back at the refuge we’ve seen a couple of vehicles drive in and drive out. Not exactly busy!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Survived Our First Week of Volunteering at Bill Williams River NWR

September 1- 2, 2010. Bill Williams NWR 
On our second day of volunteering, we woke early having learned that we need to get going at the break of dawn to beat the heat. So we were out the door by 6:00. I started trimming the trees around the visitor center and then moved on to the peninsula. Joyce met with the volunteer coordinator Leslie Denney inside and went over the visitor center responsibilities. Joyce eventually joined me and together we finished trimming the trees along the paths. I also repaired some areas that had eroded from the rain water run-off.
We talked to Ranger Stan who had purchased some new clippers and other items. He gave us a couple more chores, re-arranging the tool shed (when we get a chance) and putting Slime tire sealant in the tires of the two Gators. The newest Gator was down due to a flat front tire from a thorn.
After finishing the tree trimming it was time for lunch. We both took showers and cooled off. It was over 100 degrees outside!  After lunch I worked with Stan on the water pump for the water tank on one of the Gators. The water tank and pump is used as the only source of water for some of the cleaning and maintenance tasks. The pump has been inoperable since before our arrival. We weren’t able to get it working and so a new one is on order.
Later in the evening we took Maggie and Rico for a walk around the refuge area checking for inoperable solar lights. We’ve seen coyotes, beavers and  jack rabbits throughout the refuge. Also we’ve seen fish jumping and lots of birds in the lake.
We again were out by 6:00 and I jacked up the newer gator to rotate the flat tire as I put the Slime tire sealant inside of it. I put Slime in all four tires which required jacking the Gator, deflating the tires, removing the valve stems, and filling each tire with a 24 oz. bottle of Slime before re-inflating. I then installed three new water hoses around the refuge. 
Joyce and I then cleaned the pit toilets. Stan and I got the new back-pack blower going and by the end of the day I had blown off the peninsula trail. The backpack blower is much heavier than a hand-held blower and I’m sure Joyce won’t be able to use it.
Stan also showed me how to operate the solar powered water pump and which valves to turn to create enough head pressure to operate a pressure washer at the floating docks. Subsequently Joyce and I worked till afternoon pressure washing the two floating aluminum fishing docks. By then Joyce was feeling the effects of the heat and developed a headache. It took us at least 4 hrs. just to pressure clean the docks. They hadn’t been cleaned since before July 4th and according to Stan they hadn’t been cleaned properly. Stan wants the docks pressure washed on the last day of our 3 day rotations!
We called it a day put away the equipment, showered up and Joyce took a nap till the evening when her headache finally subsided. Thankfully we are off the next few days so we can beat the heat. It’s suppose to be 114 degrees tomorrow!
The other volunteer couple camped next to us are suppose to work the next three days. However, they have kind of a strange arrangement. Apparently the male half has been out of town on business for the past week and won’t be back till next week and the young woman doesn’t seem to be very engaged with doing chores as she works part time somewhere else. They will only be here for a few more weeks. Anyway, we will enjoy our time off.
We did receive some good news from Stan. Originally each volunteer was to work 32 hrs.  Apparently in response to complaints from former volunteers, they recently got clarification from their headquarters that volunteer couples only need to provide 30 hrs. combined per week (after all we are just volunteers!) The new rule works out to less than 4 hours each work day for each of us (3 days on 3 days off). So if we start at 6:00 we should be done at 10:00!  This seems more reasonable given the nature of the work. I certainly feel we’ve worked too hard this first week and we’ve put in more hours than required trying to get caught up on the neglect over the summer. I’m afraid if we don’t slow down and only work the 4 hours a day that Joyce will get burnt out as she doesn’t handle the heat well. For that matter, I also feel the affects of the heat. 
Once the other volunteer couple arrives in October, we will be alternating with them on our 3 day on 3 day off schedule to include manning the visitor center over the weekend for 4 hrs. each day. But until then the visitor center is closed on the weekends. So far we’ve only seen two fisherman come and go from the docks and have yet to see any visitors in the visitor center.
The views around here are spectacular and I’ll need to focus on taking some pictures. I think we will enjoy our stay here once the cooler weather sets in and we learn to pace ourselves!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First day of work at Bill Williams River NWR

August 31, 2010, Bill Williams River NWR
We slept good the night before with both A/Cs running all night. We got up least early to us and walked over to the visitor center at 8:00. The staff had arrived at 6:30 a.m. even though the visitor center doesn't open till 8:00. We met some more staff to include the refuge Director, Dick Gilbert and one of our "handlers", Stan (I'm ashamed to say I don't know his last name).
Stan sat with us and briefly described our duties and advising we would be working a 3 day on and 3 day off schedule. He then gave us a tour of the facilities on foot.
Some or our duties include:
  • Maintaining and cleaning the peninsula trail and its 3 fishing docks every work day.
  • Trimming foliage
  • Repairing the landscape damage caused by water run-off
  • Power-washing the fishing docks once a week
  • Cleaning and stocking the pit style restrooms
  • Keeping a pond of endangered fish full
  • Feeding and maintaining an enclosure for a tortoise
  • Watering portions of the compound
  • Cleaning the visitor center and offices.
  • Cleaning and checking fluid levels on the vehicle fleet and taking them to town for scheduled maintenance
  • Maintaining the solar powered batterie banks throughout the complex and cleaning the solar panels
  • A big part of our responsibility is to be at the refuge after hours and on weekends and holidays as a security presence and to assist the public. The staff are only here Monday-Friday. The refuge, particularly the fishing docks are open 24 hrs. a day every day. 
Our heads were swimming with all that we were shown and told today. Joyce will be meeting with the volunteer coordinator, Leslie Denney tomorrow to learn about working in the visitor center. We were promised packets with contact information and more details regarding our responsibilities. After lunch Joyce and I worked on topping off the 10 solar battery boxes around the complex with distilled water.
We use an electric Gator to work around the refuge.

We finished up around 2:30 but we over did it. We both felt a bit dehydrated even though we were drinking water throughout the day. We are both task oriented and when given something to do we like to get it done! With temperatures over a hundred degrees and working in the doesn't take much to get dehydrated, develop heat stroke or heat exhaustion. In fact the staff told us later not to push it past 10:00 a.m. in the heat. We will remember that tomorrow and get an earlier start.
That evening we drove into Lake Havasu City for dinner and to do some grocery shopping. We had a very good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Casa Serrano. Then went to Bashas' grocery store.
You know it's hot when they provide covered parking for a grocery!