Friday, December 26, 2008

In The Field

Christmas Day saw the buffet dinner in the Ole Opera House- turkey, ham and venison at the head of the line. Then heavy rains came in and by the end of the day the wind was driving the rain so hard it wasn't fit for man nor beast, and everyone disappeared inside their rigs and that was that. The dry wash right below camp was running hard in short order. Only a day earlier we had traveled by atv to the "headwaters" of the wash, also known as Antelope Creek, and there was only one or two spots where there was even a puddle of water. The desert is like a cameleon, and we are getting to see the many faces of the desert up close and personal. It is not the hot and dry only place that we had envisioned. Back in Maine, we used to say, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute." Here, it can change in even shorter order than that Maine minute.

This morning we woke to icy cold temps but crystal clear blue skies. The sun FELT warm even though the thermometer was reading 26 degrees. That seems to be a trait of the winter desert. But as the day went on, the weather changed yet again and a snow squall moved in late it comes...

Here is my digital portrait of a Christmas snow storm in the desert:

So today we threw the gold monkey off our backs and pulled our first gold flakes out of the desert. THREE flakes to be exact! We were just sampling different areas and soils to see where we might find some "color." Hey, it's a start.

I should mention that when I stepped out of the coach this morning, I was quite surprised to see 6 peccary, a pig-like, non pig animal that frequents the desert, right outside my door. I darted in for the camera and followed them down the bank to the gully for a while but they only let me close enough for a glimpse and wouldn't pose for the camera. I got a couple pictures of their backsides but hardly what you want to put on the blog to show off camera prowess. Crafty little critters!

When I started digging samples for panning or running through the sluice box that was set up in the wash, I started to classify (screen down by size) first. I wasn't wearing gloves until I saw my first scorpion crawling around my classifier ring. I put the gloves on at that point, and another 6 or so scorpions showed up in short order. They were small scorpions and a couple of them went right through the mesh and into the bucket of material to be run. Marilyn said they floated down the sluice box real nice and got out of the way in short order.

When we took the bike to the end of the trail- the point at which we back packed in to the area we wanted to work, there was a roadrunner waiting for us. Usually these guys run away faster than you can blink an eye. But this crafty fellow seemed to know that if we were going to beat through the bush, we just might kick up a few tasty morsels for him, so he waited for us to be ready, then hiked in with us. Along the way, he darted off after something every now and again....and I think he found a few of those scorpions to be a tasty Christmas buffet of his very own!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ole Chris said....

Here's the disclaimer: I said "Ole" Chris NOT "OLD" Chris. It wouldn't matter if I were talking about KRINGLE, but I'm not. I'm talking about "Ole Chris Guld", deliverer of blog knowledge to the universe of RV'ers, who once said to me when I said "If only I could put up ALL my pictures..."

"You can! Just use a slide show."

A little knowledge is said to be a dangerous thing, so I reckon I know just enough to be minimally dangerous. I just love my slide shows!

Now every year on the road so far, we (the three of us) donned our Santa hats and posed for our now annual Christmas photo for family, friends, and anyone else who will look at it. It's fun to do. Depending on where we are in any given year we get some pretty strange looks when we take them, but that's all part of the fun. No one is allowed to assist us. The photos are taken on a timer setting on the camera which is on a tripod. I roughly frame the shot, hit the magic timer and run like a reindeer to put myself in the shot. Sometimes I make it some times I don't. But back to "Ole Chris" for a minute.

What if people look at one shot and think, "Oh big deal, they took one holiday picture and I'm supposed to be impressed with that?"

So I got to thinking about those sage words of wisdom from that wise person of the keyboard and the motherboard and decided that this year, I would make a, you guessed it, slide show, to illustrate the work that goes into such a production. What trials and tribulations we go through so that we can send you our warmest seasons greetings and put our best faces on the card at the same time- all the while portraying where we are and what we are doing this year! It's the moral equivalent of the annual "form letter" that some like to mail out. But it's OUR VERSION and we don't care if you take it with a grain of salt or not. From our house (on wheels) to yours, where-ever you find yourself, a very Merry Christmas! And as this is my third post of the day....and to all a Good Night.

Christmas Eve In The Desert

"Greg, Grab the camera and come out here quick!"

There was a light procession going on. Not since the Southern Lights Chariots of the Night have I seen such grand splendor giving majesty to the night. An all-ATV cavalcade of rolling seasonal adornments materialized from the desert and then passed back into the night, leaving only their digital image behind to announce the coming of Christmas to the desert. It was unexpected. Surprises are not always fun, but this one was. Exhilarating. And mindful of the fact that this is not just another cold night in the winter desert. It is the night of birth. A beginning, and not just the end of another day. As parades go, it wasn't Macy's and it wasn't the Mummers and surely not the Rose Parade, but it rivaled them in the sheer delight of young and old who found themselves huddled together on this night at this time in this place. Joy to our world.

What Did You Do For Christmas This Year ?

We spent our Christmas holiday in the desert - Stanton, Arizona to be exact. The Christmas/ New Year LDMA outing is held here each year and this year we are joining in all the fun. This year it's too wet to dry wash, but not wet enough to dredge or even high bank and pan without a little help from the prospectors, so job one was to use the back hoe to dig a big hole in the gully wash and fill it with enough water to use the highbankers. The big blue tarp helps to retain the water that otherwise might go right back into the sandy soil.

Then we find an area that promises to be holding ore (gold, that is) and dig out a mess of that dirt to run through the equipment in the hopes that Goldie Santa will be good to all of us! Our old pal from back east, Harry, was out here running the back hoe. That guy sure gets around. Many of you may know him from crew Nome, Alaska. A former Marine, Harry never runs out of either energy OR enthusiasm, which makes him fun to be around. Semper Fi!

I walked the borders of the Stanton claim, just so I could scope out where I wanted to do my own prospecting after the common outing. There are lots of good looking prospects- hence the name, prospecting! With the weather conditions we have this year, it's the method and not the madness that will be the challenge. Challenge is good! I think people are conditioned to wish for a lack of challenge in their lives. Bull crackers! Without challenge, life is boring. Just ask anyone who does not have a challenge in life. I'll say it again: challenge is good! Doesn't need to be a big deal: a nugget in the desert or a needle in the haystack....

Then we hooked up with camp legend Wayne (RED) Johnson for a bike tour of the outlying area. He led on his Kawasaki dirt bike and we followed as best we could (novices that we are) on the Honda Rincon 4x4 ATV. What an amazing ride. Up into the mountains where few people get to go. Over winding roads and hills, though valleys and washes, all types of terrain and geographical features. Red explained WHAT we were seeing and how it should be interpreted, especially as it relates to our prospecting goals. Many of the claims in the "outback" are his. But he showed us many others as well and explained the possibilities (and likelihoods) for each. From some of the vantage points the view was all encompassing and breathtaking all at once. Some of the trails were easily manageable; others were testy; a few were scary, two made Marilyn get off the back of the bike and walk until the trail settled back down, and one made me think about getting off myself and leaving it there! But what a special way to spend the day: learning, seeing, feeling, experiencing things that few will ever have the chance to do. Time is best spent on things that advance our life experience. This was such a time today. Special!

Foie Gras And Vultures In The Desert

Come On! You didn't really think there was foie gras available in the desert, did ya? Come on! You know I meant to say "FROG ROCK." Frog Rock is THE place to dine in the Stanton vicinity. Not that I have done that. Not that I am saying the food at the cafe is great. maybe it is; maybe it ain't. I'll let you know if and when I get there. Located 5 miles from the LDMA Gold Camp (maybe a little shorter on your ATV if you know the back roads) the cafe more or less marks the road back to the camp and the Octave Mine.

We weren't out dining in the desert this day, we were off to visit the office of the Weaver Mining District which owns many of the claims surrounding the LDMA camp. There are many claims holders in the area, but the Weaver district claims are in very close proximity to the Octave vein and as such are very productive claims. We stopped in to pick up a claims map of the area so we have a better idea of whose land is whose, and, as the man with the shotgun would say, "Whose claim do you think you are on?" Just incidentally, mind you, the Weaver Office is adjacent guessed it, the Frog Rock Cafe.

Now about the Vultures. For sure there are plenty of vultures in the desert. Every old cowboy movie used to show them circling above as Hollywood part and parcel of the metaphor for the bad guying dying in the desert- with or without his boots on, depending on his last request. The vulture gets a bad rap. He is not the angel of death. He is simply part of "crime scene clean up." He gets rid of the "leftovers" and the smells that can accompany in the heat here. Gruesome, I know, lets move on. The Vulture referenced today is the Old Vulture Gold Mine just outside of Wickenburg, where we went to take the tour of the now "ghost town" that used to be the largest mining operation in Arizona. As an aside, I'll mention that it is currently for sale. Just in case any of you wish to go in with me on the 6.5 million asking price and go into business! ( I know they'll take less; I've seen the place) Why, you ask, would anyone want to buy an old mine? Well, there has been, more or less, 200 million in gold alone taken out of the mine. There is perhaps 2 or 3 times that much gold still in the mine. Proven fact! Problem is the ore worth taking is the support left in place for the shaft. Take out the ore, bring to ceiling down - it wouldn't be the first time and in fact it happened at this mine before. If we could just figure out how to get the gold- some 1500 feet down in a mine that is now flooded to the 600 foot level, without caving the place in and or drowning in the process we could get rich! Let me know if you have a plan. Gary Skaggs, what about you, buddy? Oh, and the buildings are going to need a bit of repair as you will notice in the slide show.

I put up just the one still shot from the mine. Strange how associations from the past visit us old codgers in the here and now. Walking across this desert sand to a part of the old mining town, I felt almost the same as I do walking up the front lawn to the Olsen place of Andrew Wyeth "Christina's World". Very different but somehow remotely the same. Maybe you'll see it, maybe you won't. Guess you had to be there.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Aquainted

Overcast. Cold. But time to get acquainted. So we strolled around the camp, took the Rincon a couple miles in every direction from camp to see what we could see, to see if we could make heads or tails of the mining claims maps and markings. To accomplish this, one day is insufficient. But we talked to a lot of people for opinions, ideas, and informative info on working the area. We lugged some water from the well to supplement what we brought in. Rain "spit" on us as a warning for what is forecast. The surrounding area is littered with private mine claims. Some you can work for a couple bucks a year. Some are annual membership mining country club type affairs. Nothing fancy though, to be sure. And who would need that?

We ran in to our "circuit" friends, the Prices, who were leaving the day after we arrived. They are headed to Quartzite, where we think we will go next just to see what that is all about. Prices sell mineral specimens and do cutting, tumbling, faceting work. Last saw them in North Carolina in October.

Below is a glimpse of the Stanton LDMA Camp from the other side of the canyon...or ravine...or wash...or creek- whichever nomenclature works best for you, since I really don't know yet which one is correct. To the right side of the pic is our rig, up against the edge of whatever you wish to call it. In front of us, that little 70's brightly colored rig is the camp digs of one Wayne "RED" Johnson. A colorful character himself, Red showed us countless pictures of nuggets found on his claims, actual samples of large copper nuggets, and lots of other neat samples of what can be found in the area. The inside of his camper is really neat, from the wood stove to the lifetime accumulation of mining artifacts and accomplishments and memorabilia. Hopefully, I'll be able to share some of this with you in the near future. Red guides people for metal detecting. It's a big desert, and while I hadn't thought about it, I suppose it's much like a fly fishing guide in Alaska or Wyoming or some other BIG place where your exploration is more or less like spitting into the wind. And we all know you spit into the wind OR pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger!

On our ride toward the Lucky Linda Claim, we came across these coyote tracks. Truth be told, you can see them everywhere now that the desert sand is wet enough to render clear tracks. Very cool to see. But we do keep our eyes open. They run in packs here, and like all wild animals, deserve respect. Especially Marilyn's!
A lone saguaro cactus stands guard at the foot of the potato patch. They say it (The Potato Patch) was named for the size of the nuggets found here way back when, but the rocks look like a pile of potatoes in a bowl on the kitchen counter as well. Neat-o!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where Ever You Go...

Where-ever you go, that's where you are. Well. Here I are! The historic old mining ghost town of Stanton, Arizona. The first camping location established by the GPAA. After a grueling, difficult and extremely dangerous day's journey...oh, wait, that was another time. After a sunny day and an easy going trip from Tucson through Phoenix (Surprise!) we arrived in Wickenburg. From there, a gravel road (wicked washboard, but quite passable if undertaken slowly) carried us across the desert landscape to the base of the mountains and the Stanton LDMA Camp. Our mid afternoon arrival left just enough time to pick out a site (dry camping only) and set up camp. Coach opened. Rincon out of the back of the Quigley and covered for the night. Tables and chairs arranged. A few of the mining supplies organized and readied. Then just enough time to take a stroll around town, if you would like to call it that. More on that as time permits. There's a canyon 3 feet in front of us. Putting it in forward instead of reverse when we leave in two weeks would be a monumental problem. Don't worry. I won't! There's a large Saguaro cactus just to our right. A mountain range right behind us and the Potato Patch ( rounded mound of rock where gold nuggets the size of potatoes have been found (but not recently I am told), just over our left shoulder. Seems like a perfectly splendid place to spend Christmas and New Year. There will be time to cover those activities in future postings. This is not JUST a prospecting camp this time of year. It is a celebration of the old west and the mining culture that is attached to it. Our first sunset over the canyon before us was only slightly less than spectacular, but hey! it's a start!

The Road Less Traveled.....
I had a few other shots in the Nikon, but all that bouncing around on the way in to camp, or all that blasted dust we kicked up, rendered the USB cable incapable of service. I figured a way around it after about 6 hours of techno-gyrating, but the pics I had for today in that camera are gone. No biggie. That's why I shoot multiple cameras. Ah, yes, the Gundy redundancy! To the rescue!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seen Scene Sonora; Si Si Senor

What can I say? You spend the day in the Sonora desert so that you can see the forest of Saguaro cactus that call it home....and you will see the forest AND the "trees." Saguaro are my favorite cactus. They are simply magnificent. We stopped at the Saguaro National Park West visitor's center on the way in. The ranger gave us some good tips for the best places to stop. And she told us where to pick up the "off road" loops that we were permitted to travel. The Quig took us where we wanted to go. Here's a look at the scene. Oh, if you were expecting to see something OTHER than Saguaro in this slide show...............nope!

It's All About The Cactus!

It's all about the cactus! The Desert Museum (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum), that is. Yes. And then some. We made it our first stop of the day. We planned about an hour there. But the museum is so extensive and so all inclusive a desert experience that we wound up spending the entire day there. It has perhaps the most interestingly presented mineralogical display I think I have ever seen anywhere. The collection is under ground. You hike down a dimly lit "mine shaft" which opens up into a big screen volcanic eruption, a Google Earth type display in 3-d, and display case after display case in different rooms of the mine. They are exquisitely lighted. When you are finished viewing the display, you exit the mine through the ore cart dump pile (which is a pile of mineral pieces and specimens that you are free to pick through and select one for the taking. I took a nice piece of turquoise.

We really enjoyed the raptor exhibit and demonstration as well. A talk about raptors with a look at beak, talon, wing, and skull specimens (hands on) was given as an introduction before a family of 4 Harris Hawks came out for an extensive up close and personal fly session. Simply amazing.

This is the land of the cactus. The museum is the next door neighbor of the Sonoran Desert, home of the Saguaro Cactus, surely the most stately cactus of them all. And not incidentally, the
Sonoran was to be our second stop of the day. Back to the schedule drawing board. But this all brings me to my photographic dilemma. Since the lion's share of the photos today have cactus as the main subject of the shot, and I have been working diligently on a major slide presentaion of cactus, I hated to use a lot of today's shots on this post. So compromise saves the day. Shots used today may have a catus in them, but must also have another subject - a bird, a rock, a critter, what have you. So the rest can go into the "really big show" as Ed Sullivan used to say.

That still leaves plenty of good stuff for today. It was a wonderful experience, we learned a lot, and now can head into the desert knowing a great deal more of what to look for, where to go, what to do.

Desert Museum NON CACTUS Slide Show

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Biosphere 2

It started more than 20 years ago as an experiment to see if we could sustain human life on Mars, or the Moon, or somewhere else in the universe other than Planet Earth. Ultimately the experiment came to an end. To some it had been a failure, but far from that, Biosphere 2 (Biosphere 1 being Earth itself) went a long way to begin the development of knowledge toward just that end. Currently managed by the University of Arizona, the Biosphere is part greenhouse, part laboratory, part tourist attraction, part sustainability demo, part conference center, and part public education facility. It is a fascinating tour. The structure, the mechanics that run the facility are almost otherworldly in and of themselves. It is literally a living, breathing wonder, complete with a set of "lungs", it's own ocean, full range of planetary environments from rain forest to desert and everything in between. The entire plant has the capability is of being kept perfectly air tight so that all variables - water, air, land - can be completely controlled. It is the ONLY facility in the world that has this complete controlability. The Biosphere has been on my personal list of things to see before I die for a long time. I loved it! My only regret is that the original experiment was unable to be sustained. The idea of total self sufficiency has long intrigued me. And even if that experiment had ended, I wish I would have had the chance to tour the facility totally in use as it had initially been designed. As Martha Stewart would say, "It's a good thing!"

Slide Show - Biosphere 2

The Visitor's Center in downtown Tucson was not only colorful but the staff was incredibly helpful with orientation and ideas for our visit to the area.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Well, Color Me Arizona

We arrived in a mercifully warmer Tucson, Arizona this day and promptly colored in the new state for the Visited States map on the blog dashboard. It was a beautiful and easy drive. Felt as though driving from New Mexico to Arizona was all down hill. There were long stretches of many miles where I never put my foot on the accelerator at all. Coasting is good for fuel mileage! We joked that if we didn't need the power to the steering and the brakes we could have just "shut 'er down" and saved even bigger.

At a rest stop near the border between the two states, we pulled into a trucker slip next to this BIG RIG. It seemed both a bit funny AND a touch adorable that this SMART CAR WITH TOAD had the "attitude" that it needed to pull in with the big boys. The driver told me his "rig" was getting over 40 miles per gallon. You go, boy! No way can we hold a torch to that level of economy. True, we do have a bit more room to move around and store belongings. But when it comes to turning heads at the truck stop, the hands down winner goes to BIG BLUE here! And no, it's not a PhotoShop con job- it's the real deal....

Who can identify these berries, seen on a tree at the truck stop above ? No leaves on the tree to help with the ID and it's a species I have no familiarity with. Talk about a seasonally correct decor!

This spectacular landscape was not a special stop- just part of the Arizona rest stop referred to above. These trees are beautifully manicured Mesquite. There were only a couple magazines that I can recall being part and parcel of our household when I was a kid. One was National Geographic. That's still what I pick up in the doctor's office to this day. And the other was Arizona Highways. Now if I'm being honest, I can't say I recall reading with great intensity the articles in that magazine. But the pictures were ahead of their time beautiful, and many of those images are still in my mind's eye. Only a few hours in the state and I can see why that magazine did such a good job - they obviously had a lot of good raw material to work with.

And this is the RV park at Rincon West in Tucson. 1100 sites! Yikes! At this park you really NEED the map they give you for the park when you check in. Even a GPS is helpful inside the park. What a beautifully manicured garden park this is. You can see below that rigs are parked in a "square" around a courtyard of sorts. I haven't seen much evidence of grass elsewhere in Arizona so far, but the grass here is perfect. The desert style gardens throughout the park are terrific. It's not really busy here yet so they are letting us keep the car at the adjacent site. We have our very own Mesquite tree- two of them actually. Views of the mountains from the site. The exploration begins tomorrow. So far, so good!

While I haven't tried to get any airplane pictures yet, I should note that we are near the airport and at times during the day we have been in the flight path of landing planes, both commercial and military. Surprisingly it isn't very noisy though. And some of those planes are magnificent.

Lots of people who follow the blog send us tips from time to time. Quite a few of them are in regards to where to have an interesting meal out in a particular place that they are familiar with. Suggestions are always welcome; they help us learn as we go. I thought I would talk just a bit about our "philosophy" in this area. We don't eat out very often - hardly at all in fact. When we do, it's usually a special treat or occasion....or because we are on the run and didn't have the time to fix something ourselves, or maybe just because we think it will make good copy for the blog, like tackling a 9 pound lobster in New Brunswick. But what we really enjoy is learning what ingredients, fresh or otherwise contribute to the cuisine of the area. Then when we shop, we pick and choose what looks good and try to prepare our own meal with area specialties. I help however occasionally, with the actual cooking because Marilyn is a great cook. Chef MJ. She has perfected many a dish in many a genre. Compared to her meals, many restaurants (not all, but many) pale in comparison. I am most productive in the areas of dehydrating, smoking, jerking, and grilling - from drying rose hips for tea to jerking game or fish or specialty meats, or a nice turkey leg or sausage slow roasted in the smoker, maybe even using a piece of mesquite harvested from the desrt. We use herbs we find along the way when possible and we are sure of the safety of their use. We make it fun. We try to learn something from the process. As regards economy, one can buy the best ingredients and prepare them close to perfection very effectively and far more economically than the price of a single meal out. Quality up; entertainment value of sorts; cost down. Sounds like a plan to me. But of all the dining options that we could discuss at any given time, the best meals and the best times are always shared with family and friends.

...A Rock And A Hard Place

A two hour drive from our base camp in Silver City carried us through the mountain wilderness on the Trail of the Mountain Spirits to Gila Hot Springs to see the Cliff Dwellings. The Mogollon (mug-gee-own) people lived in these natural cliff caves for only around 20 years near the end of the 1200's. There is much more NOT known about them than known about them, and there is a distinct lack of interpretive narration on site, and the guides will be the first to tell you that. The dwellings were sacked and ransacked long before they were scientifically explored so no proper recordings of the artifacts has ever really been made. We were rather horrified to learn that there is a totally un-explored dwelling in the area that has some 200 rooms just littered with artifacts that no one has yet to study. The park is way too short of funds to undertake the study and no one has written a grant to undertake the project. But the fact that there is much unknown only serves to make one more inquisitive, and wonder how and why these dwellings were used, and why the inhabitants moved on after such a short period of living here.

There is some hiking involved in this exploration. A winding path takes you 180 feet vertically to the first of seven caves. After that, they are pretty much on the same plane. Some of the paths between caves are narrow and without railing. A walking stick comes in real handy! Inside you will see divider walls and functional rock structures of all types that were used such as the ring of rocks that supported the large round earthen pottery they made and used. Some of the rooms are identifiable as kitchen and living areas while others seem to be more ceremonial in nature. A few have not yielded any clues as to their use.

The cold blowing air of this day sent a chill wind through the caves. A fire, like the ones of old that have blackened the ceilings of the caves would have been a welcome addition to the exploration. But only the secrets blowing through on the wind were left to shed some light on the people and the times. There has not been the crackle of a warming fire here in a long time.

On the way back we passed the Santa Rita Copper mine operation. Huge scale mining going on here. Quite impressive. A few shots of that near the end of the slide show to round out the pictures of the trip up and back.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What A Ride!

OMG! What a ride. Forecasts for high winds made us reconsider whether to cross the desert again, backtracking to Las Cruces in order to proceed to Silver City. The northern route forecast was for snow- and I'm just not into driving mountain roads in a motorcoach hauling a van behind it. A girl we met yesterday had warned that today would be high winds, remarking that she had seen tractor trailers blown over sideways in winds like those forecast. But the morning broke with high, but manageable winds, so rather than wait around for even worse conditions - we booked it back across the White Sands. Clear, but steady winds blew 25 to 35 with gusts to 50. Think that's not scary? That is time to hold onto the wheel for all you're worth even with the tag axle that makes it steadier as she goes. Trucks flipped over. It happened right in front of us as we crossed the San Andres Mountains. Tractor down over the bank. Trailer ass end up in the air, belly of the bed hinged on the shoulder like a giant closed in see-saw. That will make you slow down even more. But it was also a Tiny Tim kinda day (God Bless Us Every One) as the wind direction changed 180 degrees three times on the crossing, and in each case blowing the giant sand cloud away from us and not into us. The passage is on the edge of the White Sands Desert, not through it, so wind blowing from the road onto the desert is infinitely more manageable than one that blows off the desert and onto the road. We had a few minutes of the sand blasting- sounded like driving through a heavy sleet storm to me. But short lived. I thought I should have grabbed a picture of that flipped truck, but thought the better of it for whatever reason. The picture of it, however, is mine forever- camera or no....

In addition to the weather conditions, we hit three more check points for border patrol and customs. This time they made us laugh. Our friend had responded to the recent post about our checkpoint experience and advised that here and in Arizona it would happen with some regularity. She relayed the experience of the guards bringing out the dogs one time to check out "three old ladies with binoculars." But she has passed this way before, and often, and in her words "rolls with the punches." She, by the way, is not old by any standards that I would ever apply - but she does have binoculars. Oh, yes, so do we! You think that's what makes them pull us over ???

As we dashed away, dashed away, dashed away all, I called out my window to the patrol: "Think you guys could turn back the wind machine a bit for me?"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What To Do In The Desert

If you thought the desert was just a big old flat chunk of dry desolate land that had nothing going for it.....Then think again. The desert is alive in many ways and this day we packed a little bit of just about everything into the agenda. Desert diversity was the order of the day.

For starters we headed out from Alamogordo through Tularosa to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Here one can find somewhere upwards of 20,000 petroglyphs, 600 year old rock drawings made by Native Americans by removing the outer layer of the rock to expose the differently colored inside layers and create an image. Some have faded and been damaged by the onslaughts of time and the extreme weather of the desert, but most are remarkably well preserved. While no one knows the full story of these marvelous mysteries of the desert, most accept that some were made to show life in the area- plants, animals, hunting, and sun. Others may have been religious and spiritually inspired. The Indian explanation for heaven and earth and life and death is a simple one that stands the test of time. In order to sustain life, it is necessary to preserve life and to respect life. That is obvious in the images we saw here. But I also could not get over how many of the images suggested present day matters -a peace sign or a cartoon character or a state emblem or an alien from outer space or something that surely no one would have been thinking about or known anything about at the time these were created. Meaning no disrespect, I put a few light hearted captions on a few of the images just to share what some of the images made me think of in the modern era. Have we drawn this heavily on our native American roots? Or is all this just coincidence? The wind howled across the desert and threatened to blow us off the very rocks we were there to explore. But there was a silence that accompanied the roar of the wind. There was a presence remaining from the past. And we felt rather spiritually wind-whipped as we took in the magic of the moment.

Petroglyphs of Three Rivers

If there was peace and quiet so called at the petroglyph site, it was certainly missing at our next desert stop. We pulled into the White Sands Speedway and Tulie Motocross. Dirt bikes and quads (4 wheeler ATV's) were running on the off road track. If you like the sound of a bike engines, motorcycles, and dirt flying everywhere, you'd love it here. Vroom. Vroom. Smaller and less imposing than say, a NASCAR race, these hotrodders get together for racing on Saturday Night. I am a guy who loves a good bike ride and riding the Honda Rincon ATV we carry in the back of the Quig is a real joy. But I prefer to have my wheels in contact with the ground below me - which puts me in sharp contrast with the likes of these riders, who prefer to fly. As you will see! It's a great activity to hold in the desert, the noise doesn't really bother anyone. If you think it probably drives the local animal inhabitants crazy, you may be right but you may be wrong, as this speedway is on the fringe of the White Sands Monument National Park- and there is plenty of life going on right there! I know it's not everybody's cup of tea. But the space allocated to the motor sports is extremely limited...and desert preservation goes on full throttle even right adjacent to the speedway.

If Indian history and culture and motor sports are not for you, how about a bit of farming? The desert, yes, the desert, is where those tasty little pistachios you love so much are grown. We stopped at Eagle Pistachio Ranch for a look around. No tours on Saturday, but samples in the gift shop and store were , well, full of the taste of the South West. Believe it or not, there are vineyards here as well. I guess you could say that in the desert they make a really goo DRY wine. It sells under the name Heart of the Desert.

History, Racing, farming - all in the desert and all within 20 miles of each other...and even along the same road. Along the way, we found a most beautiful church...

And a deserted old homestead with an outdoor stone cistern and a cool old tower still standing against the wind. Behind it in the distance, but not really visible in this photo, the White Sands were showing off a mega white sand storm. Some of what looked like white fluffy clouds? NOT!

A set of active train tracks ran beside the road. The passes over the gully washes were much more photogenic than the modern piggyback train cars that passed us several times during the day.

Regional influence. Red hot chile peppers- in bottles of oil in all the fancy stores all over the country. Strings of red chile pepper Christmas lights on trees and camper awnings. Red chile dish towels. Red chile grilling aprons. Even a national fast food franchise called Chiles. I guess we could give Mexico credit for that. But you could also make the case that this popular food icon grew to its status in the south western United States as well. And since I am in New Mexico, as opposed to Old Mexico - New Mexico wins! (Please note the bags of Florida Oranges being sold alongside the hot peppers!)

But what of unique shopping in the desert! Sure, they have that too. Ever seen those hot babe decals on the back of pickup trucks and mud flaps? Or a team logo on a rear windshield? What about that sinister looking little white stick figure guy who always seems to be "taking a leak" on somethings? Or a favorite animal? Or a fish? Well, sir, there is an RV perched on the edge of the desert that sell each and every one of them (displayed on the vehicle itself) and every one of them is guaranteed to be in stock. I was so overwhelmed by the choice that I just couldn't make up my mind and left empty handed. Oh, except for the photos that is!

So life in the desert is very diverse. But what will keep all this activity healthy and prospering into the future? Ahhhhhhh. SEX! Yes, there is sex in the desert, and today, intrepid wildlife photographer that I am, I have captured it on film (well, digital image anyway) for my readers. WARNING: This may not be suitable for young children and people who don't like big black bugs! (And yes, dad, I do know they are actually beetles.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fighter Jets and Faux Snow

A funny thing happened on the the way to Alamogordo! Heading out of Las Cruces, we ascended the mountains that looked back down upon it. The climb was much steeper than it had looked. The big diesel engine strained a bit in the morning cold to carry us to the top. Once there, we were awestruck looking down over the other side. Before us stretched limitless expanses of high desert. In fact, the desert before us, the Chihuahuan (little dogs, big desert) Desert, including the White Sands National Monument and the White Sands Missile Range is the largest desert in North America. But at the summit we found a roadblock, a police force out in force. And a sign advising us to expect an hours delay for whatever was going on. But we found no delay and the police, or soldiers, or whatever they were waved us through. All seemed well. And for the next 15 minutes or so we cruised through the desert at around 50 miles an hour in a speed zone that allowed 75. Our speed was better for taking it all in, for seeing what there was to see. The vast expanses before us. The tan sands. The scrub brush. The white sands. But then there was, almost out of no where, a white car in my rear view mirror. On the inside lane of the two lane, divided highway. A white car with a low profile red and blue rack atop the vehicle. Police? Seemed so. He shadowed me for ten minutes or so before I felt a bit weirded out. If I went a bit faster, so did my shadow. If I slowed down, so did my shadow. Convinced I had done nothing wrong I maintained my speed and continued on. But my eyes looked to my rear view mirror every bit as much as they watched the vista before me. After an hour or so crossing the desert, a check point appeared before us. All vehicles stop. The white car with the dome lights was still behind me. This was no weight station. Customs. A hundred or so miles north of the border. In the middle of nowhere. A half dozed custom officers met us at the stopping point.
"Anyone else in the back of that rig?"
"No, sir. Just the two of us and our dog"
"Officer, if I am on the road to Mexico I am really truly lost."
Yes, you are!"
I am? Really?
"No. Just kidding. Have a nice day. Pull through."
Whew. What was that all about? We had just crossed the missile test range. The last vehicle allowed through before they closed the desert for test firing. They dogged us to make sure that A) we neither picked up nor left off any undesirables out on the range and B) we were off the range before the jets out of Holloman Air Force Base opened fire on their test targets. I blew in my hand as though to clear my throat to mimic the noise a two way radio makes when dialog begins:

" CHHHHHWWWWWWWW, F16 to base, locked and loaded on that fat ass Winnebago in the middle of the desert. Permission to fire?"

We joked about it, but honestly it was a bit unnerving to think about. At the far end of the range, traffic was backed up for a mile or so. It reinforced what we had figured out about what was going on. I don't know if comforting is the right word. But something like that. The fighter jets, 4 of them, took off over our heads as we cleared the roadblock. Loud. Very loud. Good hunting intrepid warriors. We be clear!Fire when ready.

An hour later we were happily set up in the shadow of the mountains in Alamogordo. Abby feeling better, or so it seems. We unhooked from the mother ship and headed back to the test range where the White Sands National Monument sits in proximity. The adobe buildings I wanted to show you last post are here today. Classic! And this time, what looks like snow is not snow at all, but 250 square miles of pure white gypsum sand. Eight miles into the surreal desert park we ventured. Less and less the desert looked like desert and the more it looked like an Alaskan white out - snow plowed roads and all. But there is no snow here. Just sand. Beautiful white sand. At the "Heart of the Sands Nature Center" we found (are you ready for this???) George Clooney shooting a film supposedly called "The Men Who Stare At Goats." The Jon Ronson book about a 1979 military scheme to make soldiers virtually invisible, able to walk through walls, and kill goats just by staring at them - has basis in the present day war on terror, at least according to the web site.

I thought a slide show would be the only satisfactory way to show you the look at the white sands. There are a lot of pull over educational displays, some hiking trails across the dunes with signage to explain what you are seeing...and why. Were it not a warm and pleasant day, it would have been easy at some interior spots in the park, to believe you were deep in the arctic..

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Passing Las Cruces

Well, this is a look at the trip that took us, in high winds and rain and snow, both heavy at times from Carlsbad to Las Cruces. We changed our intended route and headed south around the Guadeloupe Mountains, instead of going up and over them, to avoid even worse weather in the mountains. Good thing I guess because what we drove through was a gigantic mess. One look at these babies and you can see why going around them in a snow storm might have been a really good idea. As it was an elevation of 4900 feet so as it was here.

As we drove, the mountains turned white before our very eyes. Below you can clearly see it IS snow. Again, not what I came here expecting at this point in the year. Bad research on my part I guess. One local told us that this is the warmest winter they could remember in some time. Define "warmest" to me since the nighttime temps have been consistently in the low 20's please.

Any way after a dangerous ride on slippery roads through El Paso, which had tractor trailers jack-knifed and one accident after another slowing traffic, we arrived in Las Cruces. I should be talking about the old village of adobe houses and shops built around lovely courtyards and showing some pictures of those. But instead, all I have to offer is the view from our Hacienda RV Park. It is surely one of the finest we have stayed in anywhere in the country...and that worked out well as Abby, as she had been back a short while, got really sick again. Most of the time we didn't feel like we could leave her alone. Our few trips out were to veterinary hospitals and the drug store to fill prescriptions. We did manage to all take a ride around town one afternoon so we could at least get a feel for the place. There are some very beautiful spots. But the Organ Mountains which were in our front "picture" window for the duration of our stay provided a lovely spot to recoup. The added opportunity to catch up on some rest may just be a good thing for all of us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Living Desert

We spent a very full day exploring the desert. We visited the Lincoln National Forest with its true oasis at Sitting Bull Falls. Drove for miles in the boonies looking for cactus and critters to photograph. I'm working on extensive slide shows on both those topics so admittedly I am holding back some of the best photos. But I'm trying to keep enough of them in use to show the wide variety of experiences we are having along the way. We did visit a nature center called "THE LIVING DESERT" which showed us some of the animals and plants that we should be looking for as we tour. So some of these shots come from there. It is a stroll along a pathway that has recreated the different desert zones that exist out here with different elevations, water content, vegetation, and so on. Some animals that we are most certain not to see (because they have been virtually eliminated in the wild here, like bison and wolves, I have included in this post. But some of the very best shots we did in fact find in the wild. Oddly enough, my favorite shots are of the mule deer. You will see a fence behind him - as though he were in an enclosure. He was most certainly not. Marilyn spotted him outside the Lincoln Forest. There are cattle in the area so the fence keeps the cattle off the road- that's all. The" muley" was between the fence and the road and he ran back and forth, back and forth as though he was torn between running away and having his picture taken. That was lucky. I was a whole lot less luck with the road runners who were always gone by the time I could jump out of the van with the telephoto lens on. But I'm still working on that!

It looks like fun to pet the nice kitty, right? And this cat and this girl had some kind of bonding thing going on. It was very nice to see but a bit scary as well, as one wrong move from that cat, mountain lion actually, could have changed the experience in a big hurry. This is the female cat of the pair. The male was quite vocal that he was not so thrilled about his mate getting a rub down, but he seemed to leave it alone and just watched. It was hard to believe that we could get this close to the cats at all. But you can see for yourself- it wasn't hard at all. I'm thinking it's a horror show waiting to happen. On the other hand, it was a beautiful thing to see.

These wolves are extremely rare and have been virtually eliminated in the states. A few can still be found in Mexico. There is a program to protect and bring them back.

Scorpions anyone?
Peccarys look like pigs. They aren't. They are desert critters and while they can make a go of it as long as they have cactus with high water content to eat, they much prefer places where there is a water hole, a stream, or at least some limited wet land. Like foxes, they have a strong smell and you are likely to smell them, or even hear them grunting contentedly in the thick brush long before you will actually see them. Neat critters.

This is the first picture I've had a chance to take of prairie dogs since I have the new camera with the telephoto lens. Much better!

And here's our "muley."
And one cactus shot for good measure: