Overlanding

Production finished on new Overland Expo video


Overland Expo 2014 — What do you dream? from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We're really pleased with the results of our new promotional video for Overland Expo. We developed the storyline idea over a wonderful dinner at Bluefin in Tucson. Roseann did the production on Final Cut Pro on our new iMac, and the music is from a talented composer, Dan Phillipson.

Much of the film footage was shot by Jonathan, including the aerials in Arizona. The drone and GoPro combination worked beautifully to capture the storyline at Grand Canyon. You can follow some of our practice footage below.

We'll be taking the drone and a new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition to East Africa in November to get some footage of wildlife and landscape for a new video project. Stay tuned.

A lesson in making Sonoran flan, from a master




After working in Sonora, Mexico's remote Sierra Aconchi for four days on a biological survey, we decided to spend a night at La Posada del Río in Banámichi, a picturesque colonial town along the Río Sonora. Lovingly restored but decorated in bright modern colors, with a tropical plant-filled courtyard  and antiques from around the world, it is truly a treasure. But the real treasure is the staff: friendly and helpful, everyone we met made us feel like we were guests in a home rather than a hotel. Chuyita Ruiz is the cook, and she prepared delicious Sonoran specialties such as tortilla soup, carne asada, machaca and eggs, and flan chiltepín. The latter, a classic Spanish custard but spiced with locally grown wild chiles, was out of this world, and we expressed our opinion vociferously. The next morning, Chuyita invited us to the kitchen for an impromptu lesson. Experiences like this are why we love to travel.


To make the caramel, add 1 cup sugar to heavy pan and stir constantly over medium-high heat.



The sugar starts to melt and caramelize. Keep stirring so it does not burn.


Continue stirring until rich, dark caramel-brown.


Carefully pour the hot caramel into the tin mould, swirling to coat the whole inside. Careful, the molten sugar sticks and burns skin very badly (notice how Chuyita is holding the tin as she swirls it, keeping her hands well away from any drips). The mould is a Christmas cookie tin with a lid.


Prepared mould, set to cool while the batter is made.


Mix the batter in a blender: 1 can evaporated milk, 1 small can sweetened condensed milk, 8 oz. cream, 4 eggs, 1 t. vanilla. Add flavoring or not. Chuyita made one with chiltepines (very hot wild chiles, a specialty of the Río Sonora region) about 10 crushed finely; or a tablespoon of instant coffee. (If you prefer not to used canned milks, you can use whole milk and eggs: Add 2 cups milk and salt to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring milk to a brief simmer. Do not let the milk come to a boil. Remove from heat. In a mixing bowl combine 6 eggs, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and beat well, until light and foamy. Add milk to the egg mixture, whisk continually.)


Pour the batter on top of the caramel.


Place the lidded tin in a simmering water bath.


Cook in the water bath for 45 minutes.


Fresh from the water bath. Let cool a bit before inverting.


Place a pie plate over the tin and invert.


Voilá—the inverted flan with the caramel coating on top. A flan chiltepín "muy rica," courtesy Chuyita Ruiz and La Posada del Río Hotel, Banámichi, Sonora, Mexico.

Sierra Aconchi Expedition, Sonora, Mex., July 2013

Spent the last three days in Sonora, Mex., backcountry. Nine miles up 2500 feet--low and slow. Working on a biological survey with Sky Island Alliance.Our camp in a small meadow next to a sycamore-lines creek. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar camp setup. John Palting's JK working hard. John is an entomologist and spends all night with lights collecting species-- a number of them new to science. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar off-highway trailer.A few of the species collected on this trip. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliancePhotographing a tiger rattlesnake. Beautiful.
Tiger rattlesnake discovered on the first evening next to our dining area. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceJonathan staking out a Sinaloan Wren nest to get some awesome video of nest construction and beautiful song. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceHow to put a lizard to sleep: tummy rubs. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceWe really like our new #Frontrunner aluminum and stainless table, which mounts under the overhang of the Four Wheel Camper. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceThe Frontrunner table slides mounted under the Four Wheel Camper overhang.Mud turtle. Could be undescribed subspecies. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliance
Tiger beetle. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceOut of the backcountry, spending July 4 at La Posada del Rio in Banamichi before heading back tomorrow. Lovely restored colonial style hotel.Courtyard detail, Hotel Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiDoor detail at La Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiLooking at the Sierra Aconchi from Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoBanamichi, Sonora, Mexico.
Old door, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoOld colonial hacienda "zaguan" entrance, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoLa Posada del Rio courtyard at night.Truck art. Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoChuyita, the cook, gave us a lesson in making flan; open photos to read directions in the photo descriptions.Lesson in making flan
We spent four days in the Sonoran backcountry with Sky Island Alliance's MABA Expedition team (Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment) cataloguing insects, mammals, herpetofauna, birds, and plants. After four days in the field we headed to the colonial town of Banamichi along the Rio Sonora and stayed a night at La Posada del Rio, a restored hacienda along the plaza. It was a great combination of rugged backcountry exploration, camping, work, and then fantastic cultural experiences before heading home.

Easter 2013 exploration - Willow Springs Ranch, AZ

Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltoppingpoppiesDesert ChicoryWillow Springs Tortolita Mts campWillow Springs Ranch Catalina MtsSpring emerging tortoise
A group of friends gathered in the Sonoran Desert over Easter weekend 2013 to celebrate a 40th birthday. The company, food, and chocolate cake were outstanding. The weather was perfect, and to our delight we also were surrounded by beautiful desert wildflowers, found a desert tortoise just emerging from its burrow, and climbed a hill to find a furious flurry of hundreds of spring butterflies "hilltopping."

Hilltopping is mate-locating behavior. Males compete for the best location on the highest hills, patrolling furiously, trying to find the few females amidst a sea of males. Theory is that the "top" males that can ascend the hill and hold the best territory make the best mates.

We observed black swallowtails, desert orange-tips, Sara orange-tips, possible Texas crescents, and perhaps 4 other species.

The experience was pure magic—our blood pressure plummeted and we sat, entranced, surrounded by an aerial dance, exclaiming with delight like children at a circus.

Enjoy a short video here:



Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltopping from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

BGAN review turns into real-life test

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Lost at Sea, a set on Flickr.

When we took an OCENS BGAN satellite communications kit to a remote beach in Mexico where we planned to celebrate the New Year with friends, we expected to have fun testing it by checking email and news, and maybe making a few phone calls to friends to evaluate the ease of use and reception.

As it turned out, the unit had to prove its value in much more tragic circumstances.

If you’re not yet familiar with the concept, BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network; just say “beegan”) allows both data and telephone communication from virtually anywhere on earth, via a compact portable antenna that links with one of four geosynchronous equatorial-orbit satellites. Roseann and I wanted a system that would allow us to send and receive email, post images and articles on the Web, and make critical telephone calls anywhere we parked the camper. BGAN technology now makes doing so easy and efficient (if not yet exactly cheap) using one’s laptop computer, which communicates with and through the antenna via either a cable or wi-fi connection to access and send data at up to 464 kbps. A separate telephone receiver can be used with the antenna on its own if you don’t need data service (although it will send and receive SMS messages).

We’ve been working with OCENS (“oceans,” for Ocean and Coastal Environmental Sensing) for over a year now—they sponsored the communications area at the 2012 Overland Expo. The company is a comprehensive resource for satellite communication systems, and can equip travelers, explorers, and scientists with BGAN kits, satellite telephones, and other types of equipment and software, either on a purchase or rental basis. Matt at OCENS sent us the latest Hughes 9202 terminal—the smallest Class 2 terminal on the market at barely over eight inches square—along with a Thrane and Thrane Explorer handset. The kit, with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, comes tidily packaged in a Pelican 1450 case. A complete set of instructions for connecting to the Inmarsat satellite system comprises a single laminated card.

Our first morning on the beach in Mexico we made coffee and wandered about catching up with people we hadn’t seen in a long time. There was the usual round of campsite tours as we checked out who’d done what to their Four Wheel Campers or Volkswagen Westfalias or OzTents or FlipPacs. I took some video with the Canon 5D MkII, then moved down to the water’s edge to get some background footage of tidepools and birds. The water was glassy silver; barely a swell tumbled home on the gravel. Brown pelicans skimmed past just millimeters from the surface, defying physics. I heard the sound of an outboard motor, and saw two fishermen heading into the cove, so I set up the camera and got a shot of them traversing the frame. As the camera rolled I looked askance at the boat—a 12-foot, outboard-powered aluminum craft, painted camouflage, that would have been fine on a bass lake but seemed marginal for the Sea of Cortez even in calm weather. The men were obviously weekend sport fishermen; they carried what appeared to be light spinning gear. The two made a few casts in the cove, then motored off to the north.

The afternoon turned windy, as it usually does in winter in the Sea of Cortez, and by dusk a sizable surf was pounding the gravel beach in front of our truck, and whitecaps showed out in the open water. But early the next morning it was calm again when we heard another outboard, and saw three men dressed in foul-weather gear motor up to our beach in a panga—the sturdy and seaworthy fiberglass boat used for decades by Mexican fishermen. Behind the panga they towed a camouflage-painted aluminum boat, which, it developed as we talked with them, they’d found capsized, barely afloat—and empty except for an outboard motor and two fishing rods.

The story continues here: http://www.overlandexpo.com/overland-tech-travel/2013/1/5/bgan-review-turns-into-a-real-life-test.html

Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt

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Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt, a set on Flickr.


The oasis of Baharia, about five hours south of Cairo, is the gateway to the Western Deserts and a major hub for expedition services and vehicles.

While there during the Sykes-MacDougal Centennial Expedition in February 2012, we had heard there was a booming trade in all things Land Cruisers, but we were not prepared for the sheer numbers of every type of Land Cruiser imaginable—and then some!

There were plenty of new, expensive models, sure, but there were many custom amalgamations that sometimes boggled the mind. Apparently, to avoid the high import duties on any vehicle (new or used), canny Egyptian mechanics in Baharia started bringing in halves and quarters of Land Cruisers from Japan and elsewhere, and then reassembling them after arrival—duty-free.

These photos were taken in just one day plus part of a morning, not even a full 8 hours in the town during daylight. There were hundreds—literally six or seven out of 10 vehicles was a Land Cruiser. Almost all the images are snapshots, taken out the window as we drove or shot quickly while walking; there are a couple of non-Land Cruisers in there, just too interesting not to include.

What we have to be thankful for

We are especially thankful this year for the wonderful people we count as true friends. We spent part of the weekend in west-central Arizona, just south of the Bill Williams River Wilderness. We see most of these people once a year or every few years yet are blessed by the time we do spend, meeting up in remote beautiful locations.

A little backroads exploring with good food, good drink, good people. Isn't this what it is all about?

Heading toward the Bill Williams River, a beautiful desert oasis.

Look for Al's 'bar flag' and that's where you'll find the action . . . and the tequila selection.

No campfire is complete without marshmallows.
Chris and Sharon made everyone pancakes with all the fixing.

If you are on Facebook, you can see a full photo album here.


- Posted from my iPhone

Great event ~ great people


I'm still recovering from many months straight of planning and organizing the second annual Overland Expo, which finished up the 18th of April. The event was an enormous success, I am happy to say ~ thousands of people gathered from 35 U.S. states, 4 Canadian provinces, 25 countries, 5 continents and a subcontinent. We had 100 exhibitors and authors/filmmakers, but the real treat were all the people. We met so many fantastic new friends . . . Ted (Jupitalia.com), Nicole (RuggedRider.com), Ara (theoasisofmysoul.com), Lorraine (lorrainechittock.com), Grant (optimohatworks.com - thanks for the photo and the loan of the hats!), and Duncan (wildtrackers.com), Sarah (landroverexperience.com) . . . and we caught up with many old friends. We are a tribe of nomads and explorers, who come together once a year at Overland Expo to catch up and compare adventures. You can check out more photos on the website ovexpo.com, and Facebook.com/Overland-expo as well as video at Youtube.com/Overlandexpo. Hope to see you there next year.