Fred’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

It is cold and there is very little sound coming from the darkness in front of me. But I know that they are there because they landed there at sunset the night before. As the first quiet light touches the sky behind me, the gathering of large birds begin to talk and ready themselves for another day in the fields. There are some 4,300 sandhill cranes currently in the refuge on this mid-November morning, and a large number of those are in the pond before me. The number of cranes that migrate to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge each winter can number as many as 17,000, but most of those will come toward the end of December and beginning of January.

As the glow of the sun behind the mountain in the east slowly intensifies, the activity of the cranes begins to ratchet up as a large swarm of snow geese converge on the pond and circle above it, frantically darting up and down and left and right, and slowly descend toward the water and land among the large birds. The clamor generated by the cranes and geese is deafening. An instant before sunrise the snow geese “blast off” as one and fly directly over my head in one giant wave and fly toward the sun and the fields of corn in another part of the refuge. While the number of geese at this time of year is less than the 50,000 that will migrate to the refuge by year’s end, it is still quite substantial. As the morning dawns, the cranes also begin to lift off in small groups and circle toward the fields. This will continue for almost an hour until all of the birds are gone, and the pond will sit empty until that first crane returns at the end of the day.

We visited the refuge during the annual Festival of the Cranes which runs November 17-22 just outside of San Antonio, New Mexico. Over the five days that we were in the area, I was up at 0415 to get into the refuge well before sunrise to catch the “fly out,” and was also in the park until after sunset to see the “fly in” when the birds return to their night roosting spots. A truly extraordinary spectacle to see, one that I will experience again when I return to the refuge the middle of December for four more days with the birds.

Images from my first visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are below.    

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.




Our Thankful Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving meal is prepared!
Fred, Kyle, Daryl, Jennie, Jackie, Kristen and Rachael – ready for our Thanksgiving feast

What a blessing it has been to be with Jackie, Daryl, Jennie, Rachael, Kristen, and our nephew (my sister’s oldest son) Kyle to celebrate Thanksgiving!  Indeed, we all have so much and are so grateful for our many blessings!  We missed being with other members of our family who weren’t with us, but we toasted them, prayed for them, then proceeded to enjoy our traditional Thanksgiving dinner!

We Wisconsinites were really looking forward to the Packers / Bears game.  Unfortunately only one of us was happy with the outcome — that would be my husband, the Bears fan.  But we did all enjoy seeing Bart Starr make an appearance to celebrate the retirement of #4 at Lambeau Field and Brett Favre’s induction into the Football Hall of Fame this year.

Slowin’ down in San Antonio

Home Sweet Home in San Antonio
Home Sweet Home for the Thanksgiving holiday in San Antonio

November 21 — After a couple of long days of driving down through New Mexico and across a lot of Texas, we arrived at my college roommate’s home just north of San Antonio.  As you can see, it’s not a bad place to be taking a little break from the road where we plan to unwind and celebrate Thanksgiving.

With a nice big kitchen in which to cook — actually big everything here in this house; we are in Texas, you know…! — I am running “Auntie Laura’s Cooking School” with Rachael (9th grade) and a couple of her friends, and Kristen (7th grade) for a few days as we lead up to Thanksgiving.  Jennie, their oldest, is away at college this year — wow, are we getting old; Jackie has a daughter in college!

Like the last time we were here, the thing I am enjoying most, besides the company of friends, is sitting down together at the dinner table for family meals.

It’s sure nice to have a home here in Texas to come to to slow down, unwind, and enjoy some family time….

National Take a Hike Day

Hiking the Bosque on National Take A Hike Day
Part of the 3.6-mile Canyon Trail that we took yesterday to celebrate National Take a Hike Day

Hiking the Bosque on National Take A Hike DayHiking the Bosque on National Take A Hike DayHiking the Bosque on National Take A Hike DayYesterday was National Take a Hike Day.  When we learned of this, Fred & I weren’t sure if that meant to tell someone off or to go for an exhilarating hike!  Ba-doom shhh.  Seriously, since we live an Out There lifestyle, once we learned of this day that was right up our alley, we decided to take a hike in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, we first became aware of this place while watching the CBS Morning Show; it was featured in the Moment of Nature segment that runs at the end of every Sunday’s show.  I’m guessing it was some two years ago that the show’s microphones were on and their cameras were running to capture the scene and sounds of tens of thousands of waterfowl that had migrated here to central New Mexico to spend the winter.  Using words like “spectacular” and “magnificent” not to mention “loud” to describe this migration phenomenon is an understatement, and we never forgot about this destination that we wanted to see when we got Out There; we noted it in our journal on the Must-See Places page.

So here we are now; we routed here for a few days to be a part of the annual Festival of the Cranes that began yesterday, and to witness the start of the arrival of nearly 50,000 cranes, geese, and other waterfowl, who ‘summer’ in the northlands of Canada and the Arctic Circle.  Over the course of the next several weeks they will continue to arrive here in The Bosque for their winter layover.  

Fred will soon be sharing his shots of the daily morning fly-out and the late afternoon fly-in, but I wanted to make sure that our readers knew that, indeed, we took a hike yesterday in celebration of Take A Hike Day!

If you’re interested, check out this 3-minute video put together by the Friends of the Bosque:  

Finally, I’ll share a happy little fact:  each year the numbers of birds that flock (pun intended) to this wildlife sanctuary has increased.  For example, in 1940, just 17 Rocky Mountain Sand Hill Cranes wintered here on the refuge.  Today the number of sand hill cranes calling this place ‘home’ for the winter is upwards of 17,000!

Fred’s White Sands National Monument

What a surreal terrain, nothing but undulating mounds of white as far as one can see. While the sweeping vista is spectacular, there is a hidden beauty resident in plain sight, tight vignettes of form, contrast and texture. The images below are in black and white – the land lends itself to a fundamental form of representation.

Please note that there are two pages of photos below.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.


A Nod to the Pistachio

The world's largest pistachio in Alamogordo, NM
The world’s largest pistachio in Alamogordo, NM

At the time we chose to spend a week in Alamogordo, New Mexico, we had no idea what to expect — we just thought it looked like a big enough map dot to have a decent grocery store, a liquor store (we were getting low on Tito’s vodka!) and who-knows-what-else, but the location was perfect for a stopover for what we wanted to visit in the area, so we chose it.  Little did we know that in addition to being home to White Sands National Monument,  it is also home to the world’s largest pistachio!  Well, this was an unexpected bonus, and it turns out we were staying right across the street from it!

For this past week we have made the Boot Hill RV Park our home, and from Charley’s front window we had a full view of the giant pistachio, deemed the world’s largest by the Guinness Book of World Records, no less.  Talk about lucky!  Our morning walking route took us down backroads in the area where we got to see lots of pistachio trees growing in the dry desert dirt.  Neither of us have seen pistachio trees before, but Fred learned all about them on his $2 pistachio tree farm tour!

Given that we had a coupon for a free gift in the McGinn’s gift shop, we just had to go in for a look-see!  Their sampling table featured all sorts of flavored pistachios — ranch, lemon-lime, hot chili pepper — who knew these little treats came in so many flavors?  I found I liked the plain ones best so that was the bag we purchased.  What did Fred enjoy?  You guessed it… the pistachio ice cream!   Ode to the pistachio

Inspired by the big pistachio we stared at all week long and by all of the pistachio trees growing on the pistachio tree ranches all around us, I decided to make a pistachio creation of my own for us for dinner tonight — spaghetti squash with some fresh herbs, garbanzo beans for protein, Feta cheese for a little salty flavor, lemon juice to brighten the whole dish up, and pistachios for crunch.  Yum!  And we have Alamogordo and the world’s largest pistachio to thank for it!

The White Sands of White Sands NM

White Sands NM

As I stated in my previous post, we are seeing a lot of national monuments these days because there are a lot of them here in the Southwest.  Most have to do with Native Americans having been here and feature hundreds-of-years-old remnants of their time in a particular place.  But not this national monument.  White Sands NM has nothing to do with former tribal locations, rather it features a very cool natural wonder — glistening wave-like dunes of gypsum sand covering some 275 square miles of desert here in southern New Mexico.

I could get into a long scientific explanation of what created this rare form of sand, but I’ll just summarize that gypsum in the mountains, carried down to a basin with the rains, then blown and broken up into small sand-sized pieces is what forms these brilliantly white dunes.  They’re spectacular and really other-worldly!  Have a look at what we enjoyed at White Sands National Monument.

The dune front at White Sands NM
The front edge of the dunes at White Sands NM
White Sands NM
Hiking along the 4.5-mile Alkali Flat Trail — talk about a unique hike!
White Sands NM
Footprints in the shifting white sands

White Sands NM
Wind patterns in the pristine dunes

So Long, Santa Fe

11/5 - We awoke to this this morning in Santa Fe!It’s time to say ‘so long’ to Santa Fe.  We have been here for two weeks now, and since we woke up to this view out our front windshield this morning, we know it’s time to be movin’ on…. 

This is actually our second visit to this wonderful little artsy town in northern New Mexico.  We had a lovely stay this past March when three Chicago girlfriends came out and joined us here, and this time we routed back because we arranged a little rendezvous with our friends from Vermont, Pam and Stan, who flew out here for a week to join us.

Our reunion lunch in ABQ
We began our visit the right way – with a cocktail toast – margaritas, of course!

Of course our first order of pleasure upon their arrival at ABQ was to have lunch and celebratory cocktails which, incidentally, we’re good at doing all together!  And then no visit to Albuquerque is complete without breaking bad and visiting one or more of the Breaking Bad filming locations.  We were surprised when our Google search returned scores of locations all mapped out for us — too many to visit in a hour — but we picked out a couple of the highlights that were nearby including Walter White’s house, Saul’s office in the strip mall (“Better call Saul!”), and the money-laundering car wash.

During our week together we shopped and dined and explored and did many of the things we did during our previous visit, but with more time we also went farther afield.  We all had a great day hiking at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument — see A Month of Monuments post.  We spent a day getting smart at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos and another day up in Taos where our husbands bought us each gorgeous turquoise bracelets — lucky us!  We hit the exclusive Canyon Road and thoroughly enjoyed browsing the fine art galleries there [some of the pieces we saw were more expensive than Charley!] followed up by a fancy lunch at a James Beard award-winning restaurant, Compound.  Pam and I confined our purchasing to the more modestly-priced boutiques and shops down near The Plaza in Santa Fe and we both report much success in the way of shopping!

One of the highlights of our time together was having cocktails at the Bell Tower Bar on the roof of LaFonda on the Plaza.  Thanks to Pam’s good scouting skills and the Butlers’ early arrival, we had a great table and one of the few blankets with which to keep warm on that chilly night up on the roof!

We had several wonderful dining experiences, but the one that stands out the most is our evening at Raaga.  Recommended to Pam & Stan by a guy on their plane ride out, we looked it up on TripAdvisor and found it to be the #1 restaurant in Santa Fe (out of 450) so we just had to check it out.  Chef/Restauranteur Paddy Rawal came to our table several times to inquire about the food (flavorful, exotic and excellent!!) and ensure we were having a nice evening.  We tried and loved several of his classic Indian dishes as well of some of his own takes on his native cuisine.  We purchased his cookbook which he so kindly personalized for us, and once I’m in a larger kitchen and have room for spices like cardamom, coriander and fenugreek, I’m going to try to recreate Paddy’s incredible modern Indian cuisine.

After being in Santa Fe for three weeks now, I’ve become rather fond of the place.  However, it’s time to move south and continue to chase warmer weather.  But without pause or hesitation I would highly recommend a nice, long stay in Santa Fe….

A Month of Monuments

It’s November 1st — where has the month of October gone?!?  We are currently exploring the American Southwest, specifically the Four Corners area that is Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  During the fall we have had the opportunity to visit two more national parks — Capitol Reef National Park in Utah and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona — and several more national park units.  In fact, we’ve tallied up 11 more of these gems that, for various reasons, have been set aside as special places that are to be protected by our U.S. government for visitors like us to enjoy.

Here’s a look at the eight national monuments and three other national parks units that we visited in the month of October — it was clearly a busy sight-seeing month for us!

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in an album.  To close the album, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Oct 1 — Natural Bridges National Monument protects one of the largest natural rock bridges in the world, known as Sipapu, and two others, Kachina and Owachomo.

Oct 6 — El Malpais National Monument
was clos
ed for the winter, the Information Center anyway, but we enjoyed a drive through the rugged beauty of this area known as “the badlands” of northwestern New Mexico.
El Malpais NM - CLOSED FOR THE WINTER is why we have no more photos from this place

Oct 6 — El Morro National Monument
 features Inscription Rock, a sandstone monolith marked with Native American petroglyphs, Spanish explorers’ markings, and later inscriptions made by pioneers who made their way to this place that was a known source of fresh water for weary travelers.

Oct 8 — Chaco Culture National Historical Park protects an 11th century Puebloan community in the high desert of New Mexico’s Colorado Plateau.  The 20-mile dirt and rock road leading out to the NHP is also where we blew a tire on Toad — see A Heck of a Place for a Flat post.

Oct 11 — Hubble Trading Post National Historical Site is an authentic 19th-century trading post on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona that is still in operation today and features, among other things, beautiful Navajo rugs for sale to the visiting public like us, as well as the local Diné peoples today.

Oct 13 — Walnut Canyon National Monument is the site of cliff dwellings built along the rim of a 350-foot deep canyon by the Sinagua people around 1100 A.D.


Oct 15 — Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument protects a cinder cone volcano that erupted 900 years ago, and the area that surrounds it.

Oct 15 — Wupatki National Monument protects Native American pueblos built by the ancestral Hisatsinom people; it was a 12th-century center for trade and includes a “tall house” and the reconstructed remains of an ancient ball court.

Oct 19 — Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a sprawling reservoir that was created when the Glen Canyon Dam was built on the Colorado River thus creating Lake Powell.  Although this 1.2 million acre NRA is mostly vast desert backcountry, the primary activities in the park are concentrated on the waters, and it includes the one-of-a-kind Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado.

Oct 28 — Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument features “tent rocks” formed by erosion of ancient volcanic rock and ash; some of them up to 90 feet tall.  With our Vermont friends, Stan and Pam, who were visiting us in Santa Fe, we hiked up the slot canyon surrounded by these “tents” to get to the top of the mesa where we enjoyed incredible 360-degree views of the Cochiti tribal lands below and of the Pajarito Plateau of northcentral New Mexico that was all around us.

Oct 30 — Petroglyph National Monument is a fabulous assemblage of stone carvings — more than 20,000 of them — just west of Albuquerque in three separate canyon locations.  Most were created by ancestral Puebloan people, but a few were added by the Spaniards once they came to this region in the mid-1500s.

Clearly, October was a terrific travel month for us Jollys, and we are now in our eighteenth month of living Out There in our RV.  I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat, once again, how very fortunate we are to be able to visit places like this.  The history we glean from seeing first-hand Native American pueblos, cliff dwellings, rock art, trading posts, and other relics of the First Peoples of our country is crucial for understanding, respecting, and honoring our past, as well as acknowledging some of the sins of it.