Hummingbirds as Colorful as Easter Eggs!

I went for a drive today to scout out a place to photograph the rising moon and found myself outside the Smithsonian Institution's Whipple Observatory. It wasn't open today but I plan to check out their schedule and try to visit when the facility is open to visitors. I parked in the picnic lot nearby and spotted several hummingbirds scampering around some nearby flowering bushes. These are Broadbilled  Hummingbirds, Male and Female.

 

Then is gorgeous Costa's Hummingbird made an appearance. His head looked black until the light hit it! Magnificent to watch! These birds are as colorful as Easter Eggs!!

The cloud cover thwarted my attempts to photograph the full moon tonight so I was happy to have captured these photos and spent the evening getting them ready for you! Enjoy!

 

Beautiful Birds Along the Rio Grande

Dexter and I enjoyed a lovely walk along the Rio Grande again today. It was a sunny 72 degrees with a light breeze. Heaven! Along the way, we encountered several beautiful birds starting with my old friend from yesterday, the Phainopepla. I was ready for him this time having brought my Nikon D5200 fitted with the 55-300mm lens:

The mistletoe in this tree really set off his shiny black feathers and bright red eye.

Next, I spotted a Black Crested Night Heron hunting along the banks of the river. I managed one good shot of him before he took flight. He was also sporting a bright red eye!

I was amazed at how large he looked in flight compared to how compact he was on shore. He made such cool shapes with his body in flight.

We continued along the trail as it ran parallel to the river, stopping frequently to look for more birds. I have learned that scoping out birds to shoot with the camera requires a bit of patience. It helps to Stop, Listen, and Look. When birds sense movement, like when you are walking, they scatter as fast as Munchkins in the face of the Wicked Witch of the West! If you remain still, they will return to their business in a relatively short period of time. Listening helps to pinpoint their location. Often, birds are surrounding you but they can be difficult to see when they are tucked back into the landscape or shrubbery. Blending in well with their surrounding with natural camouflage helps them stay alive. I'm beginning to become familiar with the calls of several birds and listening to their chatter helps me to locate them in a tree or shrub.

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing blended in well with his surroundings with his yellow belly. He was easier to spot out in the open.

This little House Finch kept his eye on me and Dexter from a safe distance to see what we were up to.

Dexter kept himself amused while I shot photos. I kept him tethered to me by buttoning his leash into my shirt. That leaves my hands free to shoot. He's getting better at the "wait" command and takes the opportunity to roll in the dirt when we stop walking. Notice the "Who Me?? I wasn't doin' nothin'" expression on his face. Yeah right....I see another bath in his future.

I caught up with the Phainopepla again further down the river. He seemed to be trying to get the attention of a young lady in the tree but was being rebuffed either by her or by another suitor. He kept trying though and was posing, calling, and showing off his tail feathers in an attempt to garner her favor.

In the same tree,  I encountered a pair of Western Blue Birds eating their lunch. One finally came out into the open long enough for a quick shot.

On our way back to the camper, we spotted this Ladder-Backed Woodpecker feeding in the low brush.

It was a good birding day!

Hot Stuff, White Sands, Amazon Goodies, Turning Back the Sun

What a busy and exciting time the past few days have been! After dealing with the furnace issue yesterday morning, I drove to the town of Hatch, just a few miles up the road, to meet my brother-in-law David for breakfast. He lives in Alaska and is visiting friends in the area, so it was a real treat to meet up with him. David and I  had breakfast at a quaint little place called “Hot Stuff” that offered Mexican curios and food. David and I had a lovely visit then he headed north to Santa Fe to meet his friends. Thank you for breakfast David!

Hatch is renowned for its locally grown chile peppers! I poked around the town a bit and visited a few of the chile markets. At Grajeda Farms I met Sergio and purchased a Listra, a string of chiles. The chiles are strung this way so they will dry naturally and last for a very long time. My mother had one that she used for years, occasionally plucking peppers off and tossing them in a pot of beans!  Listra take the shape of a traditional long rope, circles similar to a wreath, or are sometimes fashioned into crosses. I enjoy seeing all the bright peppers hanging together!

I'm fairly close to the Mexican Border here so there are US Customs Checkpoints scattered around the landscape. I have passed through these checkpoints several times in recent days. There are cameras set up and as you approach, these cameras take photos of your license plate so the agents know all about you before you even get to the stop! At one stop, they asked if I was a US Citizen and then waved me on. At another, they just waved me without any questions. My Dad was a US Customs officer and two of my brothers as well. Thank you for your service!

 

Dexter was waiting for me back at Wild Thing and after packing a snack and water we headed down the road to see the White Sands National Monument. It was about an hour drive from the campground, up and over the mountains with breathtaking scenery. Once over the mountains, a vast expanse of the desert floor made it easy to see why missiles are tested here. We drove by the White Sands Missile Range and Museum but didn’t have time to stop on this trip. I’ll save that for when DH is with me!

The White Sands National Monument is a spectacular sight,. As we approached the area I could see white sand dunes with low vegetation very similar to the dunes I’d seen at Cape Cod, but there was no water in sight, this is the middle of the desert! In the Visitors Center I watched a short film and toured the exhibits before heading out to the dunes. A $5.00 fee bought me the 8-mile drive into the dunes area and the ticket is good for 6 days making it quite a bargain.  As we drove, the vegetation became more and more sparse and the dunes became larger and larger. Before long I felt like I had been transported to the Sahara! Dexter absolutely loved this place. He has always enjoyed the sand at the beach but was not thrilled with water, so this place was absolute heaven for him! He also seemed to just love the feel of the sand under his paws…and on his nose! I too thoroughly enjoyed this tour and hope to return again in the future.

On our drive back to the campground, I stopped in Las Cruces to pick up a package of trailer stuff I ordered from Amazon. My Escape Trailer Friends Charlie and Lucy gave me some great advice when I saw them last week. They recommended an electric heater that they use instead of the furnace when they have access to electric power, as a way to save propane. Charlie also told me about a wireless thermostat that makes regulating this little heater very accurate. I placed an order for these items as well as a new water hose and water filter that my friends and fellow Escape owners Fred and Dora recommended. The hose I’ve been using has been a real struggle to wind up if it’s at all cold, so I’m anxious to try this cloth hose. The water filter will help keep my fresh water holding tank clean. I also ordered a 30 amp power extension cord. I don’t want to get caught short again and have to re-hitch to reach the power source.  I placed the order on Amazon with a shipping address of a local UPS Store. The package arrived in just two days and the UPS store didn’t even charge me for the service. Nice!

Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat

Nashone Wireless Thermostat for Heater

Zero-G 5/8" Water Hose

Camco TastPure Water Filter

Camco 30 Amp Electric Extension Cord

This morning I tidied the camper and truck, then hitched up and moved to site 17…two sites down from where I was. It was worth it to be able to spend an additional night and enjoy the winter solstice program.  I'm going to stay hitched up tonight since I'm leaving tomorrow. This afternoon I enjoyed the “Turning Back the Sun” program sponsored by this state park. I ate buffalo stew (very yummy and spicy!) and pizza and bread baked in a Horno, a traditional adobe oven of the Pueblo People. I watched a presentation by Dr. Jawor about how animals adapt to the changing seasons and light and the Native Dances of the Pueblo People. I attended a presentation about the petroglyphs and the solstice, enjoyed traditional Navajo storytelling around the campfire, then gazed at the stars through powerful telescopes. It was a rich and rewarding day. I hope you enjoy the pictures and videos.  Tomorrow I will move on…somewhere down the road yet to be decided….

https://youtu.be/tjpgDuLgN98

https://youtu.be/putlXP27NNs

https://youtu.be/LV9zGvZxd5c

 

Leasburg Dam State Park, Chachis, Dos Equis Cerveza

Leaving Van Horn behind in the rain this morning, I headed further down I10 West. I had only a 3.5-hour drive today and gained an hour entering Mountain Time. The rain and fog continued through El Paso and then the skies began to clear as I entered New Mexico. I turned on the I25 and headed north out of Las Cruces toward the Organ Mountains. The landscape is a beautiful desert terrain ringed by majestic mountain ranges. The little settlement of Radium Springs has only a few small houses, trailers, and a Family Dollar Store and a Post Office. The Leasburg Dam State Park, on the other hand, is a diamond in the rough! The park is very well maintained, the campsites are large semi-circular pull-throughs with a concrete pad for the camper and a lovely shelter over a picnic table, water and electric with a fire pit for $14.00 a night!

When I arrived, the camp host asked if I was staying for the program on Saturday night, "Turning Back the Sun". I had only made a reservation through Friday night and did not know about the program at that time. He told me it is quite an event, a celebration of the Winter Solstice with many cultural activities running from noon until 8pm : Pueblo Indian social dances, Buffalo Stew, Hot Coco and Adobe Horno baked Pueblo Bread and Pizza, Traditional Winter and Coyote Stories from Dine', Apache, Pueblo, and Blackfeet Peoples, as well as Stargazing with the Astronomy Society of Las Cruces who will bring their big telescopes. As soon as I had my rig parked in space #21, I got on my smartphone to extend my reservation. Someone else had already reserved my campsite, #21 for Saturday, but I was able to reserve campsite #17 for Saturday night, and it was the only spot left available! Later, I was speaking with the ranger at the Visitors Center and we found that #17 had also been booked for Saturday but the folks had canceled their reservation just an hour before I made mine. What luck I have! I'm so excited that I can stay and enjoy this traditional festival on Saturday. The visitors center had much to offer:

Dexter and I took a short walk after setting up camp. It's still cool, in the upper 40's but the wind has calmed.

I went out for a taste of local Mexican food in the neighboring town of Dona Ana at a quaint place called Chachis. I knew I was in for a treat when the only folks there were local Spanish folks and a couple of Border Patrol agents! The food was delicious but spicy hot! I have forgotten what real traditional Mexican food tastes like... An ice-cold cerveza helped cool my taste buds!

I've seen many rabbits hopping around the campsite. They are normal sized and brownish grey in color,  but have exceptionally large white fluffy tails! I also saw a covey of Gambel's Quail. I hope to get some wildlife photos while I'm here. The birds and wildlife are quite abundant here on the desert floor. I also plan to get out to the White Sands National Monument. Tomorrow is forecast to be chilly and rainy so it may be a crafting day. Friday and Saturday look sunny and clear so I should be able to get out with the camera then. My brother-in-law David from Alaska will be in Hatch, NM on Friday morning as he travels through the area to Santa Fe so we have made a plan to meet for brunch. What a nice surprise that is! It will be great to see him.

I leave you tonight with a video of my campsite at sunset.

https://youtu.be/ok-rEbBhc4Y

 

 

Amazing World, Emerging Beauty, and Enchanted Hike

What an amazing world we live in! Yesterday I had an opportunity to photograph a chrysalis and watched a new life as it emerged into the sunlight. Today I was graced by a visit from a lovely new friend and shared a spectacular hike up an Enchanted Rock. There is so much beauty to be found in the world, but it can be easily overlooked as we try to navigate our challenging and changing times. I believe that in the face of these challenges, it is more important than ever to draw on the beauty and order of the natural world as a means to balance and strengthen our hearts. I encourage you to spend an hour or two each week in a place of natural beauty and see what a wonderfully positive impact it will have on your life! This morning started with a bit of rain so my friend Sandy and I decided it would be best to wait a while before heading out on our hike. I took advantage of these few hours to work on sewing the binding on a quilt I brought with me.

By mid-morning the rain was moving out so I jumped in my truck headed for Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg. Sandy was already on her way there from Driftwood, TX, just southwest of Austin.  Sandy and her husband Don were the very first RV folks I met in the very first campground I stayed in with Wild Thing, all the way up north of Seattle, WA in a little town called Bothell. Now, what are the chances that I would meet such a great couple so far from home, and what are the chances that we would be able to meet up again so soon! Life is an exciting adventure and I am frequently in awe of its elegant unfolding. Sandy and I "clicked" right away and so I was happy when she offered to drive the hour and a half to meet me while I'm in the area so we could spend this time together! She suggested a hike at Enchanted Rock which is a massive pink granite dome that rises up out of the landscape of the hill country. The summit trail was 0.67 miles and was moderately challenging but the views were spectacular all along the trail. The dark clouds moved off shortly after we arrived and we were left with beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds to augment the rugged landscape. We both enjoyed the hike and our visit.

 

 

Here's a link to a little video I took of the 360 degree view from the top!

https://youtu.be/e98nL5QLhSM

 

This evening I downloaded the photos I took yesterday with my Nikon of the butterflies and chrysalis in the flower garden in Fredericksburg. I was completely enamored with the chrysalis. It is amazing to me that a butterfly as large as the monarch fits in something so small. I was also curious about the shimmering gold spots and found this article that helps explain the phenomenon.

As I was photographing the chrysalis, I looked down and saw a monarch crawling up a leaf directly below. When I looked closer, I saw that this butterfly had actually just emerged from his own chrysalis! Although I didn't capture the moment he emerged, it was pretty exciting snapping these pictures of him next to his empty chrysalis!

Tomorrow Dexter and I will hitch up and head north up I10 towards New Mexico. I plan to stop for the night in Van Horn, Texas, the little town I moved to when we left Vermont. The past few days in Texas has been quite a trip down memory lane. I have years of memories scattered all around this state and it has been good to travel back and touch some of them again.