2023—What Uncertainty Awaits Us

The last three years (2020, 2021, and 2022) have left us a bit shaken about what to expect. Plans are only that, and flexibility is ever more important. And, at our age, we feel an urgency to see and do as much as health, time, and money allow. On top of that, the young grandkids are growing up, and we wonder when we will not be their preferred company. A couple have already outgrown us, and another two are quickly approaching teenage years. Our health has held up pretty well, but aches and pains seem to be more numerous and debilitating, and proneness to injury limits our physical activities—the mind wants to do it, but the body doesn’t respond accordingly. 

For us, we have serious concerns about our country and about our church. I abhor divisiveness and that seems to be the preferred answer to most regional, national, and international differences. But there’s always pickleball and golf.

Thursday through Saturday, December 29-31, 2022—Ending An Unusual Year, 2022

Pickleball was on the agenda for Thursday morning, and it sure felt good to be back on the courts as I played a round robin with other 3.5s.

Unpacking was completed, golf clubs and carts readied for play, and ancillary traveling items (e.g. auxiliary brake) stowed for the winter. Partly sunny skies and moderate temperatures provided a reminder of why we spend winters here in Casa Grande, Arizona.

Regretfully, however, rain was in the forecast, and that meant covering golf clubs, carts, and bicycles. Another wonderful soak in the hot tub preceded our night’s sleep.

As was forecasted, it did rain early Friday morning, with more expected during the day. All scheduled pickleball was cancelled, and the golf course was wet. With weather conditions such as they were, we opted to go to Chandler and Gilbert, Phoenix suburbs, for lunch and shopping. The PGA Superstore and Costco welcomed us with open arms. And, we found time to travel to the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert for last of the year photographs. A late lunch at a great Thai restaurant wrapped up a good day away from the resort.

Saturday was pretty quiet for us. We did join other Hot Springs Village folks wintering here for a New Year’s Eve potluck at the Starrs. TheGeorgia/Ohio State football game kept us on pins and needles most of the evening. And needless to say, the food was delicious, and the ham and rolls provided by the Starrs were the centerpiece of our “last” meal of the year. A champagne toast at 10 PM (it’s 2023 somewhere) ended our evening and 2022.

Monday through Wednesday, December 26-28, 2022—Westward Ho

We were up really early Monday morning, ready to drive west for warmer temperatures. After leaving the storage bay, the old Honda CR V was hooked up to the motorhome, and we were driving southwest by 6:30 AM.  With Kay and I taking turns driving and the lack of heavy traffic, particularly semis, the day’s milage added up quickly; even the drive through Dallas and Fort Worth was relative easy.

Our first overnight was at Coffee Creek RV Resort and Cabins in Santo, Texas, near Weatherford. Though the weather was a bit warmer, the nighttime temperature dipped to 22•.

For some reason, the “house” batteries crashed about 2 AM early Tuesday, and the beeping refrigerator woke Kay up. The only way I could get things working was to start and run the motorhome engine. After an hour and a half, the batteries were charged enough to work until we departed at about 6:30 AM. The day’s drive took us through the Permian Basin, with its landscape of oil and gas wells. Poor Kay fought the wind during her driving time Tuesday. We opted to overnight at Van Horn, going to bed just after 7 PM.

Early Wednesday morning was near an identical repeat of Tuesday morning, including the loss of battery power early in the morning. Again, running the motorhome engine temporarily solved the problem. Since we were already awake, we opted to leave really early, departing about 4:30 AM. Lack of traffic and wind made the early morning departure well worth it. With the early start and a change in time zones, we were able to drive through El Paso without heavy traffic or any issues. Rain and heavy wind accompanied us from El Paso, through the bottom corner of New Mexico, and into Arizona. We stopped for an early lunch at a rest area near Wilcox, and fought wind for only a few more miles. After driving through Tucson, another hour’s drive brought us to Palm Creek RV and Golf Resort in Casa Grande.

Check-in was smooth, and set-up was without any major problems. After unpacking most of our “stuff” it was off to the car wash to remove the dirt and grime accumulated on the tow out here. The car wash did a poor job, but we’ll get another tomorrow. And, hopefully, their vacuums will be working as well. Our late afternoon was quiet, and we enjoyed a long soak in the hot tub before bedtime.

Sunday, December 25, 2022—Merry Christmas

Seasons greetings family and dear friends. Today, Kay and I celebrate our 24th Christmas together, and have experienced another blessed year. 

New Year’s Day 2022 found us at Palm Creek RV and Golf Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona, to begin our third winter there. Many games of pickleball, golf, bird photography, hot tubbing, and get togethers with other Hot Springs Village folks ensued. We returned home in mid-March to a wet and soggy Hot Springs Village where we resumed golf and pickleball. In late April, we traveled to England, Scotland, and Wales, touring by bus the lands of our ancestors. June was for grandkids as we had visits from all of the young ones. It was a first time visit for Linc and Sutton, our two youngest. July was hot and muggy, a perfect month for golf, pickleball, and time at the pool. 

Spring was short lived, as the wet winter seemingly transitioned to summer overnight, absent the weeks’ long beautiful spring weather usually enjoyed. We opted to escape the hot weather and did a car trip to Utah and Colorado, revisiting national parks and seeing several state parks for the first time. And then the hot, humid days of summer transitioned into one of the “best” autumns we’ve experienced. The beautiful weather came to an end as fall leapt immediately into winter as sub-freezing, near single digit temperatures greeted us in early November.

I did a photography trip to Costa Rica in early December, and shot thousands of photographs of beautiful birds and mammals. Returning home, we experienced a wonderful Christmas season with family and friends.

Our kids are doing well, and we now are the proud grandparents of 7, comprising an age span from 27 years to 2 years. They are way too busy, as are their parents!  

Everyday aches and pains not withstanding, we have enjoyed good health with no major illnesses or surgeries. Life in Hot Springs Village remains great; golf courses and lakes abound, and grandkids are close enough to be accessible. We both keep busy with golf and pickleball.

So what’s in store for 2023? Again, we are scheduled to spend winter at Palm Creek RV and Golf Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. In early May, we will travel to Rome, joining a “Journeys of Paul Cruise” with 10 nights aboard Royal Caribbean Odyssey of the Seas. This journey will take us to Rome, Santorini, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Crete! After that, there are no plans; we would like to visit New Zealand and Africa before health and/or age takes its toll. It’s all a question of money and time.

In ending, Kay and I wish you peace on earth and goodwill to all. Again, our blessings overflow.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thursday through Saturday, December 15-24, 2022—All About Christmas

Having had a great 8 days photographing in Costa Rica and almost fully recovered from international travel, it was now time to settle down and focus on the Christmas holidays. This meant family, friends, church, opening gifts, food, and an assortment of other odds and ends.

Our first celebration was Saturday, December 17, as we traveled to Memphis to observe gift-giving with Jenny and her kids. It was so much fun to see the excitement they demonstrated as each gift was opened. We had a great visit despite Jenny recovering from a bad cold.

We returned home late afternoon to avoid driving in the dark. Even with all the activities, Kay and I both squeezed in time for packing for our winter in Arizona. Kay continued her social activities (the social butterfly of the family) while I finished medical appointments and church business meetings for the year. An historic arctic front hit Arkansas on Thursday, December 22, as the temperature dropped into the single digits. We had not winterized the motorhome, requiring supplemental heat to keep pipes, pump, and tanks from freezing; our efforts were successful.

Kay and I hosted our second Christmas celebration on Friday, December 23. Our Maumelle and Bauxite kids and grandkids joined us for brunch, followed by gift giving and opening. It was a real joy watching the grands opening their presents; even the adults enjoyed opening theirs! We missed grandkids Kaden, Jordan, and Diana. 

Saturday, December 24, is always the “biggest” day of celebration for us. It began with coffee, and gift exchange between Kay and me. I’m still like a kid as opening presents is always a thrill. Kay was a bit short-changed this year.  And then, the Christmas decorations began coming down—faster than going up. Kay does such an amazing job of decorating the house each Christmas season and takes time to assure that every decoration is in its right place. The decorations were stored and the house reorganized. As is our custom, we attended the candlelight and communion service at church, followed by a great Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner at Jim and Jackie’s. As Christmas even came to an end, we officially declared Christmas to be officially over at the Dunn’s. 

Tuesday and Wednesday, December 13-14, 2022—Traveling Home

After a long, leisurely breakfast, we returned to the room to pack for flying home. Our shuttle driver picked us up slightly before 11 AM, and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time to go through security and find our gate. The plane departed on time, at full capacity. I shared a row of three seats with two other big ol’ boys, and we were shoulder to shoulder the 4+ hours from San Jose to Atlanta. It was such a relief to be on the ground and have some space! After going through customs, and then US security, we caught a transporter to the correct concourse, and walked to the gate where we waited for several hours to catch a midnight plane to Little Rock. After arriving in Little Rock, the car was retrieved from long-term parking, and the hour long drive to Hot Springs Village followed. Needless to say, Wednesday was a bit of a down day, though clothes were washed, and photo equipment unloaded.

Sunday, December 11, 2022—Has the Fat Lady Sung?

After the amazing day yesterday photographing the Resplendent Quetzal and various hummingbirds, is it all over? After all, has the best has already occurred? At least we thought…

Today, the early morning, after breakfast, was spent touring the gardens and greenhouses of Savegre Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota for the purpose of practicing macro photography. This lodge is hosting our group for three nights and days during the tour. 

Members of our group practicing macrophotography
One of the many unusual flowers in the greenhouse
Couldn’t pass up a shot of these limes

Of course, Dan and I were drawn to the hummingbirds.

Lesser Violetear Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

And then we were off to Los Quetzales National Park and Cerro de la Muerte. Los Quetzales, one of Costa Rica’s newest national parks, covers 12,355 acres encompassing three types of highland tropical forest and 14 different ecosystems. More than 116 species of mammals can be found here of which two dozen live only in this secluded area (endemic). The terrain ranges from mountains to lakes of glacial origin. Cerro de la Muerte is the third highest peak in Costa Rica, standing over 11,000 feet, and crowning the continental divide along the Talamanac Mountain Range. The area exhibits the typical vegetation of tropical regions above treelined, mainly formed by shrubs and short plants, all adapted to cold temperatures and high levels of UV rays, and known as Sub Alpine Paramo.

Carlos, the program manager, atop Cerro de la Muerto
Atop Cerro de la Muerto
Atop Cerro de la Muerto
Atop Cerro de la Muerto

On the return to the lodge for lunch, our program manager spotted a Resplendent Quetzal sitting on a tree limb adjacent to the mountain road. Everyone got to observe the bird and make photographs.

Resplendent Quetzal

Further down the mountain road, these idyllic scenes illustrated the pure beauty of the area—a great way to end the day.

Savegre River
Along the Savegre River

Saturday Afternoon, December 10, 2022—Photographing Hummingbirds

Seemingly, after observing and photographing the Resplendent Quetza this morningl, anything and everything left on the trip would be considered anticlimactic. Not to be outdone, the endemic hummingbirds of the  mountains of San Gerardo de Dota put on quite a show in the afternoon. We traveled by private van to a hummingbird haven, Batsu Garden, designed specifically for birdwatching and photography. Feeders and fruits attract the birds to viewing platforms, while trails wind through the blooming gardens had been established to enhance bird watching and photography. This provided a great opportunity for fast speed photography, fill flash photography, and birds in flight. I shot over 1,000 photos of hummingbirds while there!

White-throated Hummingbird
Lesser Violetear
Lesser Violetear
Lesser Violetear and Scintillant Hummingbirds

Lesser Violetear and White-throated Hummingbirds
Lesser Violetear

In addition to hummingbirds, a few other beautiful birds appeared and offered poses.

Tennessee Warbler
White-throated Sparrow
Acorn Woodpecker
Baltimore Oriole

Saturday Morning, December 10, 2022—Chasing the Rare, Elusive Quetzal

We were up early, departing the lodge at 5:15 AM in an attempt to spot the rare, elusive Resplendent Quetzal. The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a small bird found in southern Mexico and Central America. These exquisite birds live in tropical forests, particularly montane cloud forests, and they are part of the family Trogonidae. Like other quetzals, the Resplendent is omnivorous; its diet mainly consists of fruits of plants in the laurel family, but it occasionally also preys on insects, lizards, frogs, and snails. The species is well known for its colorful and complex plumage that differs substantially between sexes. Males have iridescent green plumes, a red lower breast and belly, black inner wings and a white undertail, while females are duller and have a shorter tail. Grey lower breasts, bellies, and bills, along with bronze-green heads are characteristic of females. These birds hollow holes in decaying trees or use ones already made by woodpeckers as a nest site. They are known to take turns while incubating, males throughout the day and females at night. The female usually lays one to three eggs, which hatch in 17 to 19 days. The quetzal is an altitudinal migrant, migrating from the slopes to the canopy of the forest. This occurs during the breeding season, which varies depending on the location, but usually commences in March and extends as far as August. These magnificent birds are infrequently seen in the mountains of southern Arizona.

The Quetzal had been observed earlier in the week feeding on avocados in the mountains. After a short drive, the bus was parked along side the road, and we climbed a steep narrow path from the single-lane road to a “viewpoint” near an Aguacatillo trees of the avocado family where they had been observed feeding the previous morning.

I was fortunate to be the first to spot the colorful bird sitting on a lower Aguacatillo tree limb about 25 yards from where we were standing. Note the long tail.

Because of its undulating pattern of the tail during flight, the bird is known as the “serpent of the sky.” Endangered due to deforestation, these creatures are notoriously difficult to find in nature around the world.

Friday, December 9, 2022—Travel to Death Mountain

After an early breakfast, luggage was loaded and we checked out of Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge. The drive took us south, over the mountains, through San Jose, and then southeast back into another mountain range to San Gerardo De Dota.

Sarapiqui to San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

Enroute the bus climbed the mountains, passing many pineapple, strawberry, and coffee farms and plantations.

A brief stop was made at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, Costa Rica. 

Our Lady of the Angels Basilica

The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Our Lady of the Angels Basilica) is a Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Virgen de los Pardos, officially known as Virgen de los Angeles (the Lady of the Angels). The basilica was built in 1639, but partially destroyed by an earthquake. The basilica has since been restored and constitutes a unique mix of colonial architecture as well as 19th-century Byzantine style; the current building dates back to 1939.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels is consecrated to the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, a small representation of the Virgin Mary carrying the infant Jesus, said to have been discovered by a peasant girl in Cartago. Tradition claims that the little girl found the small statue on a rock and took it home. The next morning she found that the statue was not there but back at the rock, so she took it to the priest and he locked it in a small box. The next morning the statue was back at the rock. During the construction, the church was destroyed by earthquakes so many times, it was finally decided to move it to the location where the statue was found and they were able to finish construction. Many people think that the earthquakes were signs that the Lady of Los Ángeles wanted the basilica built there.

Owing to the dark complexion of the stone statue, she is sometimes affectionately called La Negrita or Reina de Cartago (Queen of Cartago). The original statue is kept in a golden shell inside the basilica. An official decree declared the Virgin of the Angels the official patron of Costa Rica.

In the days leading to August 2, the Basilica is the object of extensive pilgrimage and visitation by over a million believers (estimates range from 1 to 2.5 million people), many of whom walk from different points throughout the country. However, most people join the 22-kilometer walk to the basilica from San José and surrounding communities. Locally the pilgrimage is known as the Romería and is one of the most enduring of Costa Rican traditions. As a demonstration of their piety, many people choose to crawl part or the complete journey on their hands and knees. At the basilica they wash themselves and drink the water from the rock on which the statue was found.

After climbing to an elevation of 10,000+ feet, the bus weaved it’s way down a one lane switchbacked “road” to the San Gerardo de Dota Valley. The small and secluded valley of San Gerardo de Dota is located at approximately 7,500 feet in the western flank of the Cerro de la Muerte (Death Mountain) massif in the Talamanca Mountain Range. The valley was carved by the Savage River as a result of the deicing of the glaciers during the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. The predominant habitats inside the valley are high elevation cloud and oak forests. San Gerardo de Dota is a clear example of a cold environment in tropical regions. During the day temperatures are a pleasant 70-75• F. At night the mercury can fall into the 40s.

Measuring approximately 41 kilometers from its source in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota to its mouth in the Pacific Ocean, the Savegre River is considered the cleanest river on the Central
American Pacific coast and is the fifth cleanest in the world. The Savegre river basin is part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve.

We arrived at Sevegre Lodge late in the afternoon, checked in, and were overwhelmed by the beautiful gardens and lodge infrastructure.