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Trip Report - Cross-continent Drive - Spring 2022

Jim W

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In April-May, I completed a solo cross-continent drive.  Over the last 6 months, I've been posting a few pictures in pic of the day forum and getting help in the identification forum as I plowed through all the pictures I took.  At one point, I promised @Charlie Spencer that I would post some trip notes.  I keep a detailed travel blog for my family to follow, so this was an easy thing to do.

Some background:  My wife and I travel a lot, but she does not share my love for long driving trips.  So, every now and then I head off on a long solo drive across the continent (starting from my home in West Chester, PA).  This was my third:

  • My first was in 2010 (before I retired).  This was a 9,481 mile, three week drive to Seattle, Washington and back.
  • My second was in 2018.  It was a 17,801 mile, eight week drive to Anchorage, Alaska and back.
  • This was a 13,028 mile, six week drive across the deep south to San Diego, California and back.

From the mileages, you can see I do not take direct routes.  13K miles is enough to have gone back and forth from PA to SD twice, and almost make it back to SD a third time.  Here is the route I took.  The numbers in purple show where I spent each night (all of this is planned, and hotels booked, well in advance).  The reason I did a sideways figure 8 (overlapping central New Mexico) was so I could hit the deep south before it got too hot, but not arrive in SE Arizona until breeding season.




My main goal on these long drives is to visit national sites (e.g., national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, memorials), drive on national scenic highways, and hike on national recreation trails.   I have a pin map in my den showing all that I have visited.  After this trip, my count is 888, including at least one in each of the 50 states.

Secondary goals are hiking (I hiked 187 miles on this trip) and wildlife photography.  I suppose I'm not really a birder (animals only make my life list if I photograph them).  However, because I was driving through some very special birding areas, for this trip, I did dedicate significant time to birds (6 nights in the Rio Grande Valley, 5 nights in SE Arizona).  I also did a ton of research on where to go to look for new wildlife.

My research paid off big time, I was able to photograph 178 new species.  I had a list of about 80 high priority birds that I thought would be unique to this trip (birds only found in the deep south).  I ended up finding about 80% of them.   I also quadrupled my life count of ABA Code 2 birds.

Here is my detailed breakdown of new species.  As a side note, I rarely try to photograph insects, fish and amphibians.  There are so many species, and limited internet resources to identify them.  If I see something interesting, I’ll photograph it, but for the most part I concentrate on mammals, birds and reptiles.


Since this is a birders forum, here are some impressions of the bird sites I visited.  I visited a ton of sites, but here are some that stood out.

  • Rio Grande Valley.  This region was excellent, as expected.  Unfortunately, even though I set up my schedule to hit the RGV in early April, I caught a heat wave.  Highs for this time of year should have been around 85.  During most of my week there, the temperatures were over 100 (highest I recorded was 106).  This cut short some of my visits (limited to morning and early afternoon).  But I still had a great time.  My favorite site was Estero Llano Grande State Park.  Santa Ana NWR, Laguna Atascosa NWR, and Sabal Palm were all good.  Joe & Tony Oliveira Park is definitely worth a stop to see the evening spectacle.
  • SE Arizona.  This region was also excellent.   I loved the Santa Rita Lodge and thoroughly enjoyed the sky islands I visited.  Hiking in Madera Canyon and Cave Creek Canyon was the best on the trip.  Along with these two locations, other great sites for birding were Paton Center and Ash Canyon.
  • SE California.  I did not place a major emphasis on birding in the SD area, mostly because this is an area I will undoubtedly visit again in the future.  I was in the SD area for 5 nights, but I also had other places to visit and had some logistics to deal with (laundry, oil change).  Having said that, I did quite well collecting new species in the area.  My absolute favorite birding stop in SE California was Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.   I visited on a gorgeous day and the hiking was very nice.  I also photographed 13 lifer species in 5 hours (not all birds).  Other good birding stops included Ramona Grasslands Preserve, the Sweetwater Trail in San Diego NWR, Tijuana Slough NWR and Robb Field (San Diego River).
  • Miscellaneous sites:  Along with these three major regions, other memorable birding sites on the trip included:
    • Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods (TX)
    • Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park (TX)
    • Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park (TX)
    • Davis Mountains State Park (TX)
  • Disappointments:  There were a few sites that I had high hopes for, but turned out to be a bit of a bust:
    • High Island (TX):  This site is famous for migrating warblers.  I had a decent time here, and enjoyed the rookery, but did not see a single warbler.  To be fair, I hit the site early in the season and got to it in early afternoon.
    • Aransas NWR (TX):  I got here a bit too late for Whooping Cranes, but still hoped to see other birds.  It was a pretty dead day.
    • Cottonwood Springs area of Joshua Tree National Park.  You couldn't walk near the springs, nothing else to be seen.
    • Tecolote Canyon Natural Park, Lake Hodges, Kitchen Creek (all in CA).: These sites might be OK for birding, but they were a bit frustrating for wildlife photography.  The trails I tried went through heavy brush.  I could hear birds, and sometimes got glimpses, but found it almost impossible to get pictures through the brush.
    • Jacumba Hot Spings (CA):  The wetlands area was mostly dried up.  Not much happening here.
    • Base & Meridian (AZ):  I went looking for Barn Owls.  All I found were mosquitoes.

Finally, my favorite mammal and reptile pictures from the trip.  And, since it is a birder site, my two favorite bird pictures (both repeats from pic of the day forum).  Mammal is a White-nosed Coati, taken at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, AZ.  The snake is a Speckled Racer, taken at Sabal Palm in the Rio Grande Valley, TX.  Along with being a beautiful snake, it is apparently pretty rare in the US.  The first bird is an ABA Code 3 Aplomado Falcon from Laguna Atascosa NWR in the Rio Grande Valley, TX.   The second is an Elegant Trogon, taken in Cave Creek Canyon, AZ.







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