Westward Ho(ly cow)! Episode 7: Eastward Home!

On September 18, 2022, we left Florida for a 5 1/2 -month road trip, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was an ambitious itinerary and we were excited about checking many “must-sees” off our bucket list.

And … we’re off! (September 18, 2022)

Sometime in December, we decided that spending two more months in the cold, northern winter would be too much.  So, we cut our month in the Sax-Zim Bog down to just a week and pointed ourselves towards home at the end of January.

by mid-December we were done with the cold and snow!

By the time we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee, we had traveled 22,614.6 miles for 130 days, visited 19 states and two Canadian provinces. 

22,614.6 miles later we were back home (trip odometer rolled over three times) January 25, 2023

In all those miles, we sat in traffic due to an accident just once:  ironically, it was outside of Orlando on our way home, less than 100 miles from Okeechobee.

Oscar and Maddie were amazingly good road trip pups!

We stayed at seven different Airbnbs and spent 15 nights in hotels while moving from one place to the next. TG fully packed and unpacked the car sixteen times, and partially unpacked/repacked it 30 times.  

TG had the packing & unpacking puzzle down to a science!

After we returned home, someone asked, “what was your favorite sighting?”  In 4 1/2 months of favorites, that’s an impossible question. 

Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the “Best/Worst” along with a few photos.  We’ve also put together a highlights video you will find at the end of this blog.

Best Drive: The roads from Canora, Saskatchewan to Fargo, North Dakota for the beautiful landscapes and all the wildlife we saw along the way.

What is left of Arena, ND, a ghost town between Minot and Fargo, January 6, 2023

Worst Drive: Teton Pass had TG white-knuckling it while I breathed into a paper bag. (Seriously!)

Teton Pass

Best AirBnB: Our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan. It had everything we needed and was laid out perfectly, with a fenced-in yard for Oscar and Maddie.

our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan

Worst AirBnB: None! They were all great!

Best Hotel: Hyatt House, Minot, North Dakota. Full size kitchens and complimentary washers & dryers!

Worst Hotel: Days Inn, Topeka, KS. Don’t even ask.

Best Meal: Huevos rancheros at the El Corral Café in Corona, New Mexico

Huevos Rancheros at the El Corral Cafe in Corona, New Mexico

Worst Meal: Thanksgiving, 2022. We wanted fancy cheeses but all we could find in Socorro were Kaukauna cheese balls.

Thanksgiving dinner, 2022

Funniest Moment: See Worst Meal. I asked the salesperson if they had any brie and she replied, “is that a type of alcohol?”

Scariest Moment: Driving the Norris-Canyon Road in Yellowstone National Park on a sheet of solid ice.

the icy, snowy roads through Yellowstone National Park

Favorite Sighting: Huck, the huge grizzly bear we spotted crossing the Snake River while driving the Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. “It’s a bear!!!! In the water!!!”

Huck, named by the locals for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain

Favorite Landscape: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Favorite Night Sky: The Northern Lights in the wee hours of January 4, 2023

Around 2:00 am, January 4, 2023

Most Memorable: Our week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton

a view of the Grand Tetons from our shower!

Our Bucket List:

Grizzly and black bears √

black bear, Grand Teton National Park

Moose √

moose bull and cow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features √

Old Faithful timelapse, Yellowstone National Park

Bear and bison jams in Yellowstone √

bison jam, Yellowstone National Park

You can read all about our visit to Yellowstone in Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side


Mormon Row √

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn at Mormon Row √

the Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton landscapes √

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park

You can read all about our visit to Grand Teton in Episode 2: The Grand Splurge


Bighorn sheep √

bighorn rams, Badlands National Park

You can read all about our visit to the Badlands in Episode 3.5: The Big Surprise


Northern lights √

Canora, Saskatchewan January 4, 2023

You can read all about our trip to Saskatchewan in Episode 4: Christmas Lights, Northern Style


Saw-whet owls √

Northern saw-whet owl, Fargo, North Dakota

You can read all about our trip to Fargo in Episode 5: Saw-Whet, Say What?!?


Great gray owls √

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

You can read all about our trip to the Sax-Zim Bog in Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly, We’re Back!


We also had some delightfully unexpected surprises. The first was when I had taken a turn driving and said, “I’ll just go to the next rest area.” Little did we know that rest area was home to the beautiful sculpture, “Dignity.”

the 50ft high Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota

Both TG and I had the opportunity to meet up with several schoolmates along the way.

Welcome sign for TG at his grade school friend’s pub in Lawrence, KA

And many surprises in New Mexico where we spent a lot of time driving around the state during our month-long stay:

Gallup and the El Rancho Hotel

El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico

Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, New Mexico

The Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque

Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

You can read all about our trip to New Mexico in Episode 3: Back to the Bosque


We were also smitten with the rolling hills in both South and North Dakota and the beauty of Saskatchewan including the hoarfrost, all of the wildlife we saw while driving around, the “prairie sentinels” that dot the landscape, and the delicious Ukrainian food!

Ukrainian skuffles (a type of tiny cinnamon roll) O.M.G.

And a few final stats:

Windshields replaced: 1

nice chip in the windshield driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico

Times stuck in snow: 0

waiting for the roads to open after someone else went off the road, Yellowstone National Park

Times car would not start: 0

Oil Changes and tire rotations: 2 (Bozeman, MT & Albuquerque, NM)

Stickers on car from places visited: several dozen

we were planning to take them off when we got home but have grown to like them!

Refrigerator magnets: several dozen

quite the collection!

New T-shirts: a dozen or so

Westward Ho(lights)! video from our trip (click to open a new tab in Vimeo):


When we left Okeechobee back in September, we said to each other “at the end of this trip, we’re either going to arrive back home saying NEVER again or let’s GO again!”

Stayed tuned … we’re already planning our next trip!

22,000-mile punchiness: “Take a little trip, take a little trip with me-ee”

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 5: “Saw Whet – Say What?!?”

If you know me, you know I am a bit owl crazy. I never get tired of seeing them, whether it is a tiny screech owl in our backyard, a barn owl in flight over the cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, or a barred owl hooting above my tent while camping.

Whoo’s ready for a nap? blanket I made using my owl photos

We have traveled to Michigan in the middle of January to photograph snowy owls and spent a month at the Sax-Zim Bog one February to see the great grays. So, it should come as no surprise that we included a stop on our 5 1/2-month road trip in hopes of spying a northern saw-whet owl, Aegolius acadicus.

northern saw-whet owl, January 2023

These pint-sized little owls are found from Alaska and Canada into the north and western US. They can be spied further south on occasion, but the odds of seeing one in South Florida are zero.

Northern saw-whet owl range map — zero chance of seeing one in Okeechobee! (All About Birds.org)

With adorable, catlike faces and large, expressive eyes they captured my heart and I longed to see one for myself.

northern saw-whet owl, January 2023

We scouted the listings on e-bird and determined that the area around Fargo, North Dakota was a “hotspot” with multiple sightings over the years. We booked a week at an Airbnb in Dilworth, a short 20-minute drive from several of the most popular locations.

the blue pins are multiple sightings around Fargo every January (ebird.org)

In the happiest of coincidences, we were able to connect with Fargo’s northern saw-whet owl whisperer, Dan Mason.

Dan and me

Before we arrived, Dan did his best to set my expectations: “Be aware they seem to be getting harder to find than usual, possibly due to the heavier-than-normal snow pushing them to new hunting areas, and severely sagging their favorite roost trees/bushes.”

He also sent me a link to his photo set along with this caveat: While many of these are the standard, out-in-the-open “glamour shots” others are more realistic in showing how well these birds can be mostly hidden or only partially visible when on the roost. Seeing these is helpful in training your mind’s eye in what to look for when you are out in the field.”

hiding in plain sight, January 2023

He even offered to scout various locations before our arrival and seemed genuinely excited about helping me find one. On Jan 1, 2023, I received another email with an attached photo: “Found my first Saw-whet of the new year today in Fargo’s Orchard Glen Park, so there is at least one of the birds still hanging around, waiting for you!”

January 1, 2023 northern saw-whet owl (photo courtesy of Dan Mason)

Dan and I agreed to meet on the morning of January 7. But first, TG and I went to breakfast at the Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant. They were so impressed with the fact that we were on a 24,000-mile road trip that they comped our meal! “We want to make your visit to Fargo just a little bit more special,” our server said. Thank you, Bailey and the Fryn’ Pan!

me, Bailey, and TG at the Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant

With that auspicious start, we met Dan at our rendezvous spot. We scouted five different areas …

Orchard Glen Nature Park – one of five places we scouted

… With nothing but a beautiful merlin to show for it.


Recent snowfall had the tree branches weighed down. That, combined with the morning fog, made it difficult to spot much of anything.

too much snow weighing down the trees

But I learned so much from Dan about where and how to look. I left him feeling confident that at some point during the coming week, our quest would be successful!

Dan and me at Orchard Glen Nature Park

The next day we stopped by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center, built in the now-familiar style of an old grain elevator.

Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center with woodchipper
the actual woodchipper prop from the movie “Fargo”

We were chatting with the nice young ladies when my phone chimed. A text from Dan with some exciting news:  he had found a saw-whet owl at one of the parks we visited yesterday and was waiting for us there. “On our way!” I texted back.

“On our way!!!!”

Dan was in the parking lot when we arrived, and together we hurried to the spot. She was still there, a little ball of puff about three-quarters of the way up an evergreen tree.

a little ball of puff but a saw-whet owl nonetheless! (January 8, 2023)

Our first-ever northern saw-whet owl and TG and I got to share this wonderful moment!

TG and I sharing the moment (photo by Dan Mason)

Although she never lifted her head, she was still a thrill to see.

the top of her head is just peeking over her tail feathers (January 8, 2023)

The next day Dan texted again.  He had found another owl: “glamour shot possibility, unobstructed, and only 8 feet off the ground.”  Twenty minutes later we were at the spot, and it was everything I dreamed of.

everything I could have hoped for! (January 9, 2023)

She was roosting quietly on a branch, not at all perturbed by us or our clicking cameras.

roosting quietly on a branch (January 9, 2023)

She even lifted a foot and did a little face scratch.

lifting her foot (January 9, 2023)

The next day we found her again – in an even better spot than the day before!

an even better spot! (January 10, 2023)

TG said, “ if yesterday we got Monopoly money shots, today we got US Benjamins.” 

be still my beating heart! (January 10, 2023)

This time it was me texting Dan and he responded, “be sure to get some video!”

saaw-weet little saw-whet owl!

I had just finished shooting a little clip when she puffed up and turned her back to us. We took that as a clear sign she was done, and quickly left the area. We were the only ones in the park and were certain that once we left, she would settle back into her nap.

she puffed up and turned her back to us (January 10, 2023)

We left the park and headed into Fargo to capture a bit of the downtown.

downtown Fargo
TG doing his magic

Dominating downtown’s Broadway Street is the art deco Fargo Theatre. Built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre, the beautifully restored Fargo Theatre now serves as an art house featuring independent and foreign films. It is also a venue for concerts and other live events.

the historic Fargo Theatre

That evening we returned for dinner and to take photos of the marquee at night.

Fargo Theatre at night

Later that night I received another email from Dan: “I went back out this afternoon and Lady Saw-whet was still in the same spot, snoozing.” 

Dan added that as he was leaving, he met a photographer who driven all the way to Fargo specifically to find a saw-whet owl. “Another kindly soul whose eyes and smile lit up at the sight of the bird … And the wheel keeps on turning.”

Dan Mason and me (January 8, 2023)

We are grateful for Dan’s time, expertise, and generosity. We could not have accomplished this goal without him and cannot thank him enough!  Also, it was nice meeting and spending time with another owl-lover.  Hopefully, he didn’t think I was *too* crazy for singing songs and talking to the owls.  🦉

You can view all of our saw-whet owl photos here:

northern saw whet owl-04446-DeNoiseAI-low-light-gigapixel-standard-scale-2_00x
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming soon: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 6: “Sax-Zim Bog-Golly We’re Back!”

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog March 1, 2022