Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

July – Sept 2015

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (YHONA) is a Bureau of Land Management facility located just north of Newport, Oregon.  The 100+ acres are on a promontory extending into the Pacific Ocean and is home to Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, ocean beaches with tide pools, hiking trails, and an extensive Interpretive Center.  YHONA has three RV pads on-site for resident volunteers.

Volunteering here was a very positive and interesting experience for us.  We answered the ad on volunteer.gov and were contacted by the interpretive ranger for a telephone interview.  After being accepted, we received a CD with information and training material – a nice touch that helped us get off to a fast start.

Volunteer Site1The three RV pads are assigned by taking the space of the volunteers that have just left.  We were happy with our site, which had a large cement pad and picnic table.  Our door opened into the side with trees, so we had a bit of privacy.  Volunteer Site2Of the other sites, one was in the open and had an ocean view, and the one in the middle was small and had little outdoor area.  The volunteer area isVolunteer Site3 adjacent to the entrance station, but only visible through a break in the bushes, and has a gate that could be closed at night.  The TV satellites are not visible from the sites, but there are both DirecTV and Dish network dishes set up with cable leading to the RV area.  No WiFi but Verizon cell and 4G were strong.  The only drawback was that when returning from town we had to wait in line to get through the entrance station, which always had a line of cars.

YHONA is a busy, bustling operation.  The staff consisted of full-time BLM rangers, seasonal hires, interns, and both resident and local volunteers.  The main attraction was the lighthouse, where the BLM staff gave guided tours dressed in period costume.  Visitors were required to visit the Interpretive Center to obtain passes, one of Brenda’s main duties (and headaches).

Fog over Agate BeachThe weather was typical Oregon Coast – temperatures in the 60s, often windy, and cool at night.  Very little rain, but periods of heavy fog and mist.  On the lighthouse deck, the cold North wind could exceed 30 mph and wind chills could fall into the mid-40s.  It was hard to believe that just fifty miles away the temperature could be 100 degrees.

Volunteers here normally split their time between working the desk at the interpretive center and an outside activity, either as a tide pool guide or roving ranger.  Everything was well organized; a detailed schedule was posted every two weeks, changes posted daily, and everyone carried a radio.  We decided that because the tide pool duties required at least two trips a day up the 130 steps, that I’d take the outside duties and Brenda would work in the interpretive center.  The Interpretive Ranger was very accommodating and was only concerned that we’d become bored – which was never a problem.

Our schedule was five four-hour shifts, either 9:30–1:30 or 1:30-5:30, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.  On the surface, the 20 hrs/wk doesn’t seem like much, but it was a busy, intense time since the visitor count at YHONA is well over 350,000/yr.  We found that the two days off a week were just not enough to enjoy the area as we had hoped. 

Beatrice and BrendaBrenda enjoyed the interpretive center, and although busy, it gave her the chance to meet many interesting people.  I had to do a lot of self study to understand the tide pools and their inhabitants, but it was interesting and worthwhile.  Tidepool ViewWhen the tide pools were covered, I’d roam the area providing information on whales, seals, and birds.  like Brenda, I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country and the world.

Newport itself was a disappointment.  A mix of depressed looking shops and restaurants with a smattering of upscale tourist resorts.  Most restaurants catered to tourists with overpriced seafood, and shopping was limited to Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Fred Myers.  Corvalis, a university town with plenty of shopping and dining choices, was a 60 mile drive.  We much prefer the Southern Oregon coast; much quieter and more to see and do.

We enjoyed our time at YHONA and are grateful to Kath, the interpretive ranger, for giving us the opportunity.   It was truly a memorable experience!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Jan – Mar 2015

Patagonia RV SiteThis is the Nature Conservancy’s oldest Arizona preserve, located 1/4 miles on a gravel road from Patagonia, a small town 20 miles Northeast of Nogales, AZ.  As the host volunteers, we were the only residents on the near-400 acre preserve, with the manager’s house across the street and outside the fence and gate.  The site was level gravel, surrounded by Mesquite trees, with full hookups and free Wi-Fi that could be picked up from the office. 

Morning VIew of PreserveThe Preserve is open Wed-Sunday, and our days on were Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We opened the gate and visitor center at 0730 and closed at 4:00.  Our main duties were to provide visitor services – check in, collect fees, operated the small store, and provide information to visitors.  We also did light housekeeping and kept the two restrooms clean.

The Manager was very easy to work with and is willing to adjust hours/days if necessary.  He’s very busy as the only employee of this and other Nature Conservancy properties, so be prepared to operate on your own. 

Cardinal in BushHaving a working knowledge of birding is a plus.  The Preserve is a birder’s hotspot, particularly if a rare bird like the Rufus-backed Robin is in the area.  We learned a great deal about birds in the area, saw many new to us birds as we walked the trails, and met many interesting people from around the country.  There’s also ample wildlife; Javelina and White tail (Coues) deer are common, and Bobcat, Coatimundi, and Coyote are frequently seen.

BobcatAfter closing, the preserve was ours and we watched as the deer came out of the trees to feed, with an occasional Javelina family.  It was quiet, peaceful, and very dark at night.  There’s virtually no danger from immigrants or smuggles as the area is well patrolled by the Border Patrol.

The little town of Patagonia is an interesting mix of aging hippies, Patagonia Main Streetcowboys, and retired folks.  There are a few good restaurants, small market, and post office, and Sierra Vista is only 38 miles away.

The only cons, and they’re minor, is that the well water is very hard and you’ll have to be mindful of wood rats getting into your rig and damaging wiring.  We used a combination of Fresh Cab and lights to deter them and had no problem.

Stream ViewTo sum up, this is a magical place – walking along the creek under the cottonwoods is like being in another part of the country.  The birding is world-class, the setting is perfect, and the management is wonderful.  It’s one of the best opportunities we can imagine.