Thursday, October 28, 2010

Southwest Boogie: Painted Desert/Petrified National Forest

This was a return visit for me, but a new site for Avi, who marveled at the beauty of the scenery. When I did this trip with Dan we spent most of our time in the Painted Desert. This time we stopped a few times along the Painted Desert, then drove (and hiked) down to the Petroglyphs before continuing onto the Petrified Forest part of the Park.

painted desert and the miata closeup

At the Petroglyph spot, we were greeted by a Common Raven (though we also saw some Chuhuahua Ravens in the park as well), hanging around the parking lot. We surmise it was looking for a handout.

painted desert common raven

The petroglyphs were abundant at this stop. But there were more at another stop called Newspaper Rock. Some samples from the initial trail are below (with others on my Facebook page and, eventually on my Picasa page as well).

My favorite has to be the bird that appears to have a person in it’s bill. One has to wonder where the inspiration for this sort of drawing arose.

Then there’s the petrified wood.

The wood was originally washed downriver and buried in the silt to be mineralized over centuries. Silica and other minerals remained when the actual wood rotted away, resulting in beautifully colored logs and pieces of logs laying around appearing as though it used to be an actual forest.

We didn’t see many birds while we were there (other than Ravens). However, upon leaving the park and driving back up to I-40 we saw a young Golden Eagle flying overhead, being mobbed by two Ravens.

We drove on, arriving at the Grand Canyon well after dark. May I say the Grand Canyon National Park is quite the maze to get around in the dark with no park map available to us, since the entry booth was closed when we arrived.

However, we were able to “sniff” our way to our lodging for the next couple of nights, the Maswik Lodge.

Southwest Boogie Acoma Pueblo

At the recommendation of a friend we set out to visit the Acoma Pueblo (Sky City). This is a village set high up on a mesa. The settlement dates back to the 12th century C.E., and has been continuously inhabited since then.

acoma pueblo homes

Today about a dozen families reside there, many of them working in pottery and beads, selling their wares along the tours.

The drive up to the Pueblo is incredibly dramatic, with rock formations on either side of the road. Scenery in the Southwest is both dramatic and ever-changing. This drive was no exception.

On way to Acoma Pueblo 2

You can only visit the Pueblo on an organized tour. We paid $20 each, which covered the tour and camera permits.

The tour guide told us the residents live without running water or electricity, cooking and heating with wood. This is probably true for many of them. But we found a bit of anachronistic details in a couple of the homes. Can you find one in this photo?

acoma pueblo no electric question mark

(HINT: Look in the upper right corner of the photo.)

Avi and I, being creatures of detail, enjoyed the way of couple of the homes were set apart from the others through a little bit of decoration. One home even had a hummingbird feeder out, though we didn’t see any of the birds around, other than a few House Sparrows, masters of civilization everywhere.

acoma pueblo home detail 2 acoma pueblo home detail

The tour was interesting, the Pueblo was interesting, but, for me, the pottery was the MOST interesting. Inside the visitor center was a piece that will haunt me for years. It was a multi-piece Storyteller Doll – a Grandfather telling a story to many children.

clay storyteller all 2

The detailing is incredible. Every character has a Ladybug somewhere. The Grandfather has a small lizard on his foot and a butterfly on the bolo he wears around his neck.

clay storyteller boy with ladybug

The work is an enchanting piece of art. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the name of the artist. Shame on me!

I left the Pueblo richer by two pieces of pottery, beautifully and painstakingly decorated with natural slips created from the colored clays and sandstone in the area.

We took the tour bus down and continued on to the Painted Desert/Petrified National Forest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Southwest Boogie, Oct. 23

We drove all afternoon yesterday and spent the night in Van Horn, TX. Woke up early in the morning, partook of our Holiday Inn Express "breakfast" and hit the road.

Our first stop was White Sands National Monument where we placed the very first stamp in our new National Parks Passport.


Unfortunately, it had rained heavily a couple of days prior so half the park was closed to traffic. But even access to half the park is pretty impressive! It's basically large white dunes made of gypsum. In fact, they're reputed to be the largest gypsum dune field in the world: 275 square acres. The National Park only uses part of the White Sands area. The rest is used by the US military for missile testing. In fact, the Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was detonated) lies at the northern end of the dune field.

Not much in the way of birds other than an easily identified Say's Phoebe. Any other birds we saw were small and flying away from us. So we spent our time looking at the vegetation and the way it interacted with the dunes in which it grew -- the sand giving these hardy plants a home and, in return, the plants giving the dunes some stability against the wind and rain.

After White Sands we drove back to Las Cruces, NM because we HAD to have a couple of #2 combination plates from Nellie's. It was the first time I've gone off my diet -- but it was necessary. If you've eaten at Nellie's you know. If you haven't eaten at Nellie's, get thee there ASAP!

We drove farther north and spent the afternoon checking things out at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, NM. This refuge is famous for its wintering flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Although the bulk of the populations hadn't yet arrived, there were sufficient numbers to have brought out over a dozen photographers. In fact, I DO believe we were the only "just plain birders" there.

While we were watching, a small flock of Ross' Geese also flew in, landing near the larger Snow Geese and giving us a nice contrasting view of the two species.

We drove around the area for a while to see what else was around. We came across a field filled with American Crows, a few smaller birds scattered in different trees, and two falcons: an American Kestrel and a Merlin (photo below).

As the sun began going down, we decided not to complete the Marsh loop. Avi was reluctant to drive too much after dark in rural areas. So, we continued north and marveled at an incredibly beautiful sunset with luminescent clouds, followed by a bright full moon over the New Mexico desert.

We're staying in Albuquerque tonight and tomorrow hope to have time to get in everything we have optimistically planned.

Rather than post a bird list at the end of each day, fighting exhaustion, I'm just going to break it down in a final post after I've arrived home.

So, I'll leave you with our sunset and moonshine photos.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Doin' the Southwest Boogie

Today Avi and I will embark on what I'm calling our "Southwest Boogie". Translated, this means we are going to put the top down on the Mazda Miata and hit the road. Our itinerary is a wonderful combination of nature, culture, and scenery. We've even purchased a National Parks Pass for the occasion.

A quick rundown of our anticipated visits:
White Sands National Monument, NM
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
Acoma Pueblo, NM
Painted Desert/Petrified National Forest, AZ
Grand Canyon, AZ
Bryce Canyon, UT
Avi's medical school roommate in Scottsdale, AZ
Chiricahua National Monument, AZ
Big Bend National Park, TX

Yes, it's ambitious, especially for a mere 10 days. But it will be a taste of many different things. And, speaking of taste, I've yelped and roadfooded several of our stops (along with memories of the best places Dan and I ate on some of the same route during our drive to Seattle). So food will be an added component to the trip. I KNOW we'll be stopping at Nellie's in Las Cruces, NM and The Frontier in Albuquerque, NM. But I'm hoping we'll find a few other "gems" as well.

So, stay tuned for some amazing scenery, interesting stories, and maybe even some birds!