Sunday, January 15, 2006

Three-plus days at Percha Dam State Park

Is a solo traveler just a person adrift? I’m always on the lookout for comments by others. Here’s what traveler and writer Daisann McLane had to say: “When I travel by myself, I feel more powerful than I do at just about any other time in my life. I alone decide what I will do and where I will go – and when. I enjoy being a woman on the road. I laugh, and I give thanks for the richly terrific life I get to experience.”

I echo her comment. It’s good to be on the road again. Jeremiah – my trusty Winnebago – is so easy and pleasant to drive. Cat is somewhere in the back, either napping or watching out a window. I left Rio Rancho about 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12. I stopped at my favorite lunch spot – Acosta’s Café in San Antonio (New Mexico) – for a green chile cheeseburger. They make them so much better than the “world famous” Owl Café.

I drove into Percha Dam State Park mid afternoon, and after being greeted by camp host Bob Nichols I settled into space #3. There are two other RVs, one belonging to Charlie and Sara a second set of camp hosts and the other to snowbirds Eleanor and Derrick. The snowbirds live in Wisconsin during the warm days and in Alamagordo (NM) in the winter. They both are birdwatchers, and make numerous three-to-four day birding trips to the southern New Mexico birding areas.

During my three-plus days here, quite a few very serious birders come and go. Besides expensive-looking binoculars and/or spotting scopes, they carry their bird identification books and their “life lists” of birds they have seen. I call myself a casual bird watcher, and enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out different species. I bought new binoculars (not the real expensive ones) before the trip, and they do help. But there are still some birds that I simply call LBB – little brown birds.

I took some winter pictures of the park – thinking I’d comment that they were taken “in the dead of winter.” Then I thought that was a strange saying, because it is anything but “dead” here. (see photo)

Here at Percha I go out early to stand in the meadow for the birds’ dawn chorus. It is surround-sound at its best! With so many species of birds here – more than 200 throughout the year – there are so many different sounds. I heard it said “the smaller the bird, the sweeter the sound.”

On Saturday, I met Paul Yoder, a volunteer who is manning the park’s Interpretive Center and leading nature walks for park visitors. On Sunday, I went with him for an early morning bird walk south along the Rio Grande. With his help I was able to identify a lot of my previously called LBBs. He also named trees, bushes, and grasses and together we tried to identify the many animal tracks.

I’ve had cold nights – between 18 and 30 degrees – and comfortable long-sleeve-and-jeans days. The only weather change was today. After a gorgeous morning, the wind blew and reportedly gusted up to 50 mph. The wind made it a good day to bird-watch from inside my motorhome. The slide-out with windows on three sides makes viewing easy. I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern and Western bluebirds, and some LBBs. It also was a good afternoon to stay inside to read, watch videos, and work crossword puzzles.

Each morning I awoke to the full moon shining in my bedroom window. And as daylight arrived each morning, another independent, solo traveler – a hen turkey – made her way south through the park. On one of my morning walks, I followed her tracks down a dirt path until they disappeared in a field. The camp hosts say she is always alone. Other morning regulars are the deer who travel north through the park – one or two does and two youngsters.

Bob and Joyce Nichols again invited me to be their guests for dinner on Friday night at the Eagles’ Lodge. The dinner theme was “Hard Times,” and the room was decorated to simulate a hobo camp. The meal was beer-brats, beans, coleslaw, fruit and for dessert, Twinkies and Moon Pies.

Tomorrow morning (Monday, Jan. 16) I continue on this trip. I’ll head south on NM Hwy 187 and west on I-10, stopping in Hatch, Deming, and Lordsburg (New Mexico), before stopping for the night in Benson (Arizona).