Saturday, April 29, 2006

Adventurous hike leads to bison bones

Today was hiking day. In the morning Larry, Penny and I hiked the state park’s “skidmarks” mountain bike/hiking trail that follows the contour of the land, dipping through hills and winding alongside bluffs. The 3-plus mile trail was interesting: the wildflowers were just getting started for their season, a rabbit warily watched us pass by, and rock bridges and wooden bridges spanned gullies. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning.

Back at camp for a break, Penny made preparations to continue on her journey, Paul and Betsy worked on their air conditioner that had stopped working, and Larry and I set out to walk to seven of the eight lakes – another 3+ miles – with a stop at the visitors’ center for information on other hiking areas.

Not content with just two outings, Paul, Betsy, Larry and I set out to find some ancient bison bones that the ranger told us about. Ranger Stefan said in the years around 200 to 250 AD the Jumani (sp?) Indians lived in this area. They hunted bison, stampeding them toward and into the canyon where the animals died, allowing the Indians to use primitive tools to get the hides, meat, and other useful parts.

Up until 2002, the archeological area was a well-kept secret. However, after an article in the Roswell newspaper told about this site, it became a popular place for artifact hunters and the curious. Many of the accessible bones were taken.

After walking from the campsite to a nearby canyon and then climbing over a fence onto BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), we started the hunt. It was quite a hike – on the canyon rims, up and down canyon walls and through the canyon bottom, beating the bushes and hoping to avoid any rattlesnakes. We found numerous bones lodged in the canyon walls. The discovery was sweeter because of the effort and challenges it took.

Thanks to the intrepid Larry Flinn – never known to turn down a hiking opportunity – we had an enjoyable and safe hike. Back at the campsite, Paul commented that never would have climbed the fence nor would he have tackled the canyon if Larry hadn’t been there.

The last activity of the day was heading into Roswell to a restaurant for a delicious steak dinner and dessert at Dairy Queen. It was a super day; and the evening was calm.

Larry retreated to his tent, and Cat and had her “lap time” while I did some reading. I finished my Clive Custler book.

The current issue of Real Simple magazine had an article about “really old” women. Here are some quotes from amazing American women, ages 100 to 106.

Don’t hold onto anger – you’ll just make yourself miserable.
There are still happy times ahead after loss.
Life is not a spectator sport.
Stay active and keep your mind sharp.
You are better off alone than with bad company.
If you worry about being old, you will be old.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Barking frogs and blind snakes? Oh my!

Today’s outing was to 24,500-acre Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1937 as a haven for migrating waterfowl. Paul, Betsy, Penny and I enjoyed several hours there. We didn’t see the barking frogs or blind snakes, but they are there.

The ranger on duty there was full of information. We took the 8-mile driving loop, stopping many times to observe wildlife.

The brochure says, “…where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, bizarre geology is responsible for habitats supporting wildlife you’ll find nowhere else in the world.”

The seasonal migrations of birds, ducks, geese and cranes provide visitors with plenty to watch. Other critters that call the refuge home are amphibians and reptiles, including barking frogs (found only in three New Mexico counties), Pecos pupfish (they change from dull brown to iridescent blue in breeding season), spadefoot toads and the Texas blind snake.

The big annual event at the refuge is the Dragonfly Festival. The dragonfly and damselfly population peaks in August and visitors can see the most diverse population in North America. Did you know how to tell dragonflies from damselflies? Look at their wings. Dragonflies’ wings are always perpendicular to their bodies; damselflies’ wings can fold back parallel with their bodies.

In the late afternoon, Penny and I set out down the lake trail to see if we could locate “Lost Lake.” (We did – it is off the trail and hidden by the surrounding tamarisk trees)

Friday evening my Albuquerque friend Larry Flinn drove in to spend the weekend. The wind was blowing fiercely, but amazingly (to me) he got his tent up and securely staked. About 9:30 that evening, the skies opened up and dumped rain for an hour or so. I love the sound of the rain on the motorhome roof, but I wondered how Larry was faring in his tent.

I fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof and counting my blessings that include family and wonderful friends. As I meet people, I gravitate to those with positive attitudes. Here’s what W. Clement Stone has to say about attitude:

There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. That little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Did aliens crash-land here in 1947?

Paul and Betsy included me when they went to town to “explore the mysteries of the UFO museum.” You probably recall that in July 1947 a “flying saucer” allegedly crashed in a deserted area 75 miles away and according to “witnesses,” debris and alien bodies were recovered. This was followed by an alleged “cover up” by the military. The incident remains a mystery.

And the town thrives on the UFO Incident. Even Walmart has a large UFO souvenir section. Here are photos taken of downtown businesses.

Roswell is home to the UFO Museum. Displays included witness affidavits, photos, etc; alongside are documents disclaiming the incident. Most displays are written material, and it would/could take an entire day to read them all. My eyes quickly glassed over so I just read portions.

Each year more than 190,000 believers, non-believers and the curious travel from around the world to see the museum that also is a clearinghouse for other UFO phenomena. The museum encourages visitors to read the evidence and then make up their own minds about the incident. I do think they want us to “believe.” I found it interesting that the “aliens” in drawings, etc., looked so much like earth humans!

Put me on the “curious” list. I’m certainly not alarmed that it might have happened, nor do I intend to worry about if it will “happen” again. I like what Buddha reportedly said:

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Are the lakes really bottomless?

Today was a travel day between Brantley Lake and Bottomless Lakes state parks – a short (less than 70 miles) trip that took me through Roswell – famous for its “alien invasion” in 1947 and less famous for its dairy industry that provides milk for the world’s largest mozzarella factory located in this southeastern New Mexico city.

Roswell also is home to the New Mexico Military Institute (military prep high school and junior college founded in 1891), the International Law Enforcement Academy, a transit bus manufacturer and numerous aviation-related businesses.

The town really plays up the UFO connection – even Walmart has a large UFO souvenir section.
I made stops in Roswell to get groceries, post to my blog and answer email. One email was from Penny Shar, a lady I had met last November at Percha Dam State Park. Her message said she was back from her medical mission in Guatemala and was in southern New Mexico. We connected by phone and when she found out I would be at Bottomless Lakes, Penny said she would alter her route a bit and meet me there!

After my town errands, I continued on about a dozen more miles to Bottomless Lakes.

The road to the park drops down from some bluffs and loops around some small lakes. This series of eight lakes are actually sinkholes ranging in depth from 17 to 90 feet. They were formed when circulating underground water dissolved salt and gypsum deposits to form subterranean caverns. Eventually the roofs of the caverns collapsed from their own weight, resulting in sinkholes that soon filled with water from underground aquifers and springs. The lakes do have bottoms, contrary to the “bottomless” name. The illusion of great depth and the greenish-blue color are created by algae and other aquatic plants covering the lake bottoms.

The lake names are: Cottonwood, Mirror, Devil’s Inkwell, Lazy, Figure-Eight, Pasture, Lost and Lea (90- feet deep and the largest).

This was New Mexico’s first State Park, founded in 1933; the following year the CCC (civilian conservation corps) built a large day-use structure and water tower at Lea Lake. This lake is popular with the locals for swimming, scuba diving, and enjoying paddle boats and canoes that are available in the summer.

Even though the lakes and soils are mildly salty, making it impossible to grow most plants, cowboys herding cattle through in the 1800s used this area as stopover. The only plants that grow here are the tamarisk (salt cedar), mesquite, bush muhly, saltbrush, snakeweed, creosote and salt grasses. So far all efforts to successfully plant other trees have failed.

Roadrunners, meadowlarks, turkey vultures, rabbits, small rodents, raccoons and lizards are some of the critters that call this home. I’ve enjoyed watching birds eat at the feeders I put out.

The RV sites, with electricity and water, are located near Lea Lake; I settled into space 32 on the end of an oval with several tamarisk trees. I have a covered picnic table. Paul and Betsy are in space 31, and when Penny arrived later in the day, she went into space 12 across from me.

Lkkkkkkkkkkkoiu8 (Cat just walked across my keyboard and “wrote” you a greeting!) Cat would also like to tell you that she got a good whack on her head, but doesn’t seem to be affected by it. I was opening my clothes cabinet near my bed at the same time she was jumping up on the bed. I opened the door just as she jumped – she and the door collided and she fell to the floor. Ouch! I do let her outside here, and she sticks pretty close. There is a short, dead tamarisk tree near that she likes to climb. She is a “cautious risk-taker” – and that’s how I see myself. My two favorite risk-taking quotes are:

"If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would astound ourselves." - Thomas Edison

“Risk is what separates the good part of life from the tedium.”
- American musician Jimmy Zero

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wind, wind – go away!

The little flying nuisance bugs have arrived at Brantley Lake State Park. They look like very anemic mosquitoes; but thankfully they don’t bite. Yesterday evening I was reading until bedtime. It had finally cooled off and my windows were open. When I was too tired to read any more, I looked up and was surprised and amazed to see the window screens were thick with the little bugs. They couldn’t get through the screens, so they just sat there. I closed the windows and turned off the lights – hoping they would head off to another RV.

Sometime in the middle of last night the (in)famous New Mexico Spring winds started with a fury, making for a restless night. The wind was still howling when I woke up. Maybe it will stop when the sun comes up, I thought. No such luck. And it had turned cold – 48-degrees. I had to laugh: the past few days it was very hot; this morning it is so cold I turned the heater on!

I scrapped my morning plans to walk down to the lake’s edge, and instead read and wrote. The wind stopped about 2, giving me time to walk to the lake.

After a mostly idle day, I was reminded of this poem written by Mary Oliver:

The Summer Day.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I have decided to leave here a day earlier than planned, so I’ll drive to Roswell in the morning and then on to Bottomless Lakes in the afternoon.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Today was a “bonus” day!

Betsy walked over and invited me to go with them to the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in nearby Carlsbad. “You bet! I’d like to go,” was my quick response. Even though it is near by, this New Mexico State Park wasn’t on my travel schedule because it doesn’t have any camping facilities. So thanks to Betsy and Paul, my 5-park adventure became a 6-park one.

The 1.3-mile self-guided walking tour took us through a variety of habitats found in the Chihuahuan Desert. The plants were well marked; cacti and wildflowers were either blooming or ready to bloom. It was amazing to find plants growing in gypsum deposits. The aviary had a collection of native birds of prey and another area had 14 species of snakes.

We were there in the morning, shortly after feeding time. The javelinas were enjoying bell peppers and other fresh produce in the arroyo habitat.

The zoo is home to a 16-month old black bear that had been rescued from another state after its mother and sibling were killed. At first, he was nowhere in sight. We were about to give up looking and move on to another exhibit when he came bounding from one of many caves. What a sight. He was covered in loose straw and ran straight to the pond, jumped in and frolicked. He ran around, played with a toy for a while and then went back into a cave. We waited. Just after I said: “Put another quarter in” the bear came back out to play!

We almost missed seeing the most surprising critter – a colorful centipede. Betsy leaned down to look at a small plant at the base of a tree and immediately jumped back saying “Look at this!” It was about 6-inches long, was bright red head, a black body, a yellow rear end, and had bright yellow/orange legs. It is a giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros). They are predators that eat other insects, etc. They have a painful bite that is not dangerous to humans. This is the best photo I could get.

It was such a treat to go on this outing, and reaffirms my belief that there are plenty of interesting and kind people in the world. I’ll remember the Desert Park with grateful and fond memories of Paul and Betsy.

I’ll end today with this quote attributed to Amy Grant:
“I realized that any act of generosity, large or small, truly makes a difference, becomes a strand of hope woven permanently into the fabric of life. When you give something, you become a part of something bigger than yourself. And both the person who’s giving and the person who’s receiving, feel equally blessed. That’s a beautiful cycle if you ask me.”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Up and over the mountains to Brantley Lake State Park

Well, no luck finding a wireless Internet access in Alamogordo on a Sunday morning – so there was no opportunity to post to my blog. After a stop for gas and another to dump my waste tanks, I headed east and UP!

The altitude at Alamogordo is a little more than 4,000-feet – and after only a mile on highway 82, I started a 16-mile climb up the west flank of the Sacramento Mountains to the village of Cloudcroft – at 9,200 feet. One of my travel books said I was passing through “all the climatic zones from the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico (creosote bush and cacti) to the Hudson Bay region of Canada (spruce, fir and aspen).” Jeremiah is such a trooper, climbing with relative ease. This route took me through a tunnel – a rarity in New Mexico – the villages of High Rolls and Mountain Park.

From Cloudcroft, I gradually descended to the town of Artesia. This probably started as a small town in a lush farming area, watered by artesian wells (thus the town’s name of Artesia). Then oil was discovered and then town grew.

I took pictures of the local huge monument dedicated to the men and women who take the risks and do the work to find, produce and refine New Mexico oil and gas. It is a full-size replica of a 1950’s drilling rig; it was unveiled in 2004 in celebration of the 89th anniversary of the first commercial oil well in that area.

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
– Daniel Burnham, architect 1893, Chicago World’s Fair (on one of the plaques at the drilling rig monument)

At Artesia, I turned south on highway Less than 24 miles later I was pulling into Brantley Lake State Park – and into space #39! It is indeed a good site. Closest neighboring sites are at least 50 to 70 yards away, and there is nothing but brushy land between the lake and Jeremiah. I’ll be eager to explore the trails that lead to the lake. I have a cabana, picnic table and a windbreak wall.

Facts about Brantley Lake and the State Park

Created by building a dam on the Pecos River, 12 miles north of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The resulting lake “drowned” the wild-west town of Seven Rivers, one of the wildest towns of the Old West.

Because of the on-going drought, all New Mexico lakes and rivers are low.

The park is home to numerous wildlife: raccoon, javelina, pronghorn, mule deer, kangaroo rat, bobcat, badger, hare and rabbit, skunk, gray fox, coyote, lizards, snakes and porcupine.
Also, a good variety of birds and waterfowl.

Everywhere you look in this harsh environment you’ll see creosote bush, mesquite and acacia, agaves, yucca, prickly pear and other cactus and succulents.
The altitude is about 3,000 feet.

I worked up a sweat getting Jeremiah leveled and hooked up and the air conditioner on – yeah! Electricity again! Outside temperature is in the high 80s to low 90s. With a cold bottle of water, I walked around the camping area. The 51 spacious campsites, all with electricity and water hookups, are arranged around a large figure-eight.

I stopped to meet a couple – Paul and Betsy (and their traveling companion: Bumpy a black rabbit) from Florida. The two of them have an adventurous spirit and an interest in history and outdoor activities – my kind of people! They are on their way to a “work camp” job (camping space and utilities in exchange for work) at a camping park just outside of Ruidoso. They also want to move from Florida and will be looking around New Mexico.

This evening’s sunset was gorgeous! Here’s a picture of it.

Good Sam State “Samboree”


After the pistachio farm tour and a stop to get groceries, I located the Elks Club where the Samboree was to be held. A parking volunteer directed me to my space. After trying unsuccessfully to level Jeremiah, a man from a neighboring space came over to help. We tried several things, and then finally resorted to digging out holes for my front wheels and putting the back wheels up on blocks. Rather than “dig” he actually chipped away at the impacted gravel/dirt. I checked in at registration.

There are about 145 RVs registered – motorhomes, van conversions, trailers, and 5th wheels. Some are here at the Elks and some are at regular RV parks around town. Mostly older folks and about 98% couples.

Wednesday’s schedule started with doughnuts and horrible tasting coffee. I don’t do doughnuts and I don’t drink bad coffee. I had anticipated this – had already enjoyed my own delicious coffee and breakfast.

Three tournament games were on the schedule – bridge, Sequence and dominoes. I wandered around, introducing myself to others and looking for interesting people to get acquainted with. Everybody has been nice and polite; but the majority are members of “local chapters” where they live and weren’t inclined to mingle. The game players are super serious.

You can tell the long-time members by looking at their chapter vests. Check out the photos of one lady’s vest!

The best part of today was the evening entertainment – a steel drum band. They were very talented – 8 to 10 girls, ages between 11 and 16 and about 5 adults. The sounds they made were amazing. They played non-stop for about an hour.

There was nothing of interest on Thursday’s schedule, so I decided to ride my bike into town – first to a café for breakfast (more about that to come) and then to the library. I had a lot of email to answer. I was hoping to have an email from the Raikins with Jackie’s phone number, but no luck.

The old downtown is all of two blocks long – mostly empty buildings. I made a stop at Walmart and then a second-hand bookstore. (Rick: I got a Clive Cussler book – “The Sea Hunters.” Thanks for the suggestion.) (Maria – I got “Bubbles” – Beverly Sills’ autobiography.)

It was a very nice bike ride – 12 miles total. Back at the Elks Club, I walked around looking for people to meet before going to the evening’s entertainment. It turned out to be a “fashion show” of fancy ballroom dance dresses from the olden days.

Now, why did I have breakfast at the café? Well, it is tough to produce good food for a crowd, and the “hot breakfast” offered by the Good Sam folks was pitiful. They served: biscuits (OK), fairly tasteless gravy (ugh!) half-cooked bacon (stomach ache waiting to happen; one camper commented that every time he poked his bacon with a fork, it went “oink, oink!), and scrambled eggs (passable at best). Oh, yes – more of the ghastly coffee. I pushed things around my plate and then found the nearest garbage can.

I again gambled with the “hot breakfast” that was offered. This one – pancakes and sausage – was OK. I had the pancakes, skipped the sausage. After breakfast, I again visited with some people, and then went back to Jeremiah to have lunch and read.

Cat and I had settled down with Clive Cussler’s book – right before there was a knock on my door. My friends Jackie and Ben were there! Turns out that when Irene received my email, she called Ben’s sister Beverly, who in turn called Jackie. What a pleasant surprise. Since they are members of the Elks, they took me into to lodge and we enjoyed a cold beer, popcorn and some good visiting time. We made plans to spend Saturday morning together.

Jackie picked me up at 7 a.m. and took me to breakfast and then to their home. Their neighborhood was having yard sales, so Jackie and I shopped. I bought a dehydrator for $5 (hope it works!), a basket and some books. Then Jackie and Ben took me out to Holloman Air Force Base (he is retired Air Force) and then gave me a tour of Alamogordo. The last stop was “Mom’s Cafe” for delicious hamburgers. We ended our visit with another cold beer at the Elks – I had a really nice morning.

In the afternoon I did some preliminary chores to get ready to leave here in the morning. One chore was to get my blog writing done so I can post it tomorrow.

Sunday morning reflections
In all, I had a good time. I was parked next to nice folks.

Hanging out with older people who are still enjoying RVs reminds me that, Lord willing, I have a lot of traveling to look forward to. (The couple next to me has a huge 5th wheel: she’s in her late 80s and drives; her husband is in his early 80s and does all the maintenance, etc. I met a 90+ man who had brought his “girlfriend” along.)

I got some good information about the state parks I’ll be going to soon: “see if you can get space 39 at Brantley Lake” was one piece of advice.

I found out that if you don’t belong to a local chapter and don’t play a lot of games – and play them seriously – there isn’t much to do at a Samboree.

“Boondocking” – a.k.a. “dry camping” is not difficult. However – not something I want to do on really hot or really cold days. Unlike the bigger rolling castles, Jeremiah does not require a lot of electricity, and I found that I only needed to run the generator an hour each morning and another hour in the late afternoon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Sex Life of Pistachio Trees

Today is a short travel day – only 12 miles. I arrived in Alamogordo and went straight to the Chamber of Commerce to use their wireless Internet access to post to my blog. I also realized that I had neglected to bring the phone number of some Winnebago friends, Jackie and Ben Kepsel, who live in this town, so I emailed another friend (Irene and Bob Aiken) in hopes of locating Jackie.

Alamogordo means “fat or large cottonwood” – I don’t know how the town got its name, but I do know that it started as a railroad town. It is the home of Holloman Air Force Base – and the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Farm. (
It is a family owned farm that was started in 1974.

I had a fascinating time learning about pistachios. Did you know…

The Pistachio tree is related to cashew, mango and poison oak?

Pistachios are only grown in three areas of the USA: California’s San Joaquin Valley, in parts of southern Arizona and in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. These are the only areas where the altitude and climate are conducive to their growth?

A pistachio tree starts bearing nuts at its 4th or 5th year and ends production after 15 to 20 years? It reaches about 30 feet at full maturity.

A 5-year-old tree produces only one-half pound of nuts; but eventually yields up to 80 pounds in later years?

There are male trees and female trees? The male trees grow taller. A grove needs one male tree to provide pollen for 10 females.

Birds and/or bees are not responsible for pollination? It’s the good old New Mexico April winds.

By mid-May, the shell of the nut is fully developed? But the nutmeat has only begun.
The nutmeat rapidly expands and by the first of August, the seed has filled the shell?
The nuts – actually splitting at the seams – are ready to be harvested in early September?

When the nuts are harvested they are rushed into huge refrigerated rooms where they await sorting by size and by quality. Some are roasted, roasted-and-salted, and roasted-and-seasoned. I was able to sample several kinds of “seasoned” pistachio nuts – green chile, red chile, garlic and lemon/lime are my favorites. Unlike some California pistachio processors, Eagle Ranch never uses a red dye to hide blemished shells. Instead, this company simply shells the imperfect ones.

The growers keep the nuts under refrigeration unless they are undergoing processing. And they are returned to refrigeration after packaging and awaiting shipping. Eagle Ranch’s pistachios are sold under the “Heart of the Desert.”

I read something that you might not know about Alamogordo – it is the burial grounds for old Atari video games. In 1983, with the video game industry they had helped create came crashing down around their ears, Atari warehouses were filled with millions of unsold game cartridges they had optimistically overproduced, including 5 million E.T. cartridges. Basing a video game on a movie rather than an established arcade hit or a tested game premise (and expecting it to sell simply because of the popularity of the film) was a questionable enough decision, but the poor quality of the finished product was unprecedented.

Atari rushed E.T. through development in about 6 weeks (less than 1/3 of the usual game development period) to get it onto the market in time for Christmas, and the result was a virtually unplayable game with a vastly sub-standard plot and graphics in which frustrated players spent most of their time leading the E.T. character around in circles to prevent him from falling into pits.

According to Atari's then-president and CEO, "nearly all of them came back." Atari, stuck with millions of games and consoles — along with prototypes and limited runs of experimental hardware like the questionable Mindlink system, a control method for the 2600 based on mind-control — that were largely unsellable at any price, sent fourteen truckloads of merchandise from their plant in Texas to be dumped in a city landfill in Alamogordo in late September 1983. In order to keep the site from being looted, D9 Caterpillars crushed and flattened the games, and a concrete slab was poured over the remains.

Goodbye Oliver Lee; hello Alamogordo

I’ve had a great time here!

While I have my morning coffee, I’ll do some writing. I had some new “guests” at the sunflower seed feeder – eight Gambel’s Quail that entertained Cat and I.

Today I’ll unhook and pack up to drive 12 miles back to Alamogordo for the New Mexico State Good Sam “Samboree.” The event is being held at the Elk’s Club grounds in town.

I’ll leave here mid morning and make several stops before checking in. First stop will be the Chamber of Commerce to access the Internet through their wireless system. I’ll check email and post to my blog.

Then I’ll find out when the nearby pistachio grower/packer has tours scheduled. Figured this would be a good time to learn about this tasty nut.

Then I’ll fill up my gas tank because I’ll be “dry camping” until Sunday. This will be a new adventure for me – I’m used to having electricity. I’ll be using my generator for a part of each day, and it runs on gasoline from the engine’s tank. Having lived on solar and generator in the past, I’m already programmed to be a miser when it comes to using electricity.

I’ve met a lot of people, but got to know some more than others:

Dave and Marlene, (in their mid 60s) campground hosts from Michigan. They’ve been splitting their winter for several years between Pancho Villa and Oliver Lee State Parks. She “works” in the visitor center, he does miscellaneous outdoor jobs. Always ready with helpful hands and a welcoming smile.

Dave and Carol, (in their 60’s also), originally from Omaha, are full-timing in their 5th wheel. Ten years ago, Carol had a lung transplant. As with most traumatic events, it was their “wake-up” call. When she recovered from the surgery, Dave retired and they started traveling.

A couple from Alabama that parked across from me: They have a fancy rolling castle and have lived in it for the past two years. They tow a trailer with a motorcycle. They find an RV park that has a lot of things to see and do within 100 miles (Oliver Lee fits that requirement), and then they use their motorcycle to explore.

A couple in a tent: She is active duty military, stationed at nearby Holloman Air Force Base. We often crossed paths in the morning while she was getting ready for work at the women’s restroom. He stays at the tent. I would have liked to get to know them, but her mornings were busy and I didn’t want to intrude on their evenings.

Favorite things about Oliver Lee Memorial State Park:
Wide, spacious sites that aren’t crammed together.
No glaring “yard” lights allowing great visibility of the stars at night. There is something delightful about falling asleep looking at stars and feeling a cool breeze from the window.
Super quiet at night – even the javelinas that reportedly roam the park at night are quiet.
Lots of birds, cactus blooming, and mild winds. Temperature in the low 60s at night, mid-90s in the day.

Send email to

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Tularosa Basin from Dog Canyon Trail

Sunday was my day to hike part of Dog Canyon National Recreational Trail. In total, it is almost 6 miles and an altitude gain of 3,100 feet. The first 6/10th of a mile, the trail climbs 600 feet, switch-backing up a steep hillside to reach the first plateau area. This entire part of the trail is visible from the campgrounds. Since I was hiking by myself, my goal was to reach this first plateau and then either come back or go further depending on the difficulty. With binoculars, camera and water in my backpack, I got an early start. The trail faces southwest and would be extremely hot by midday.

I hiked the escarpment – loosely translated as slanty rock surface. I climbed slowly and carefully, enjoying the view. I could see the entire width of the Tularosa Basin, the white sands (the famous White Sands), and the San Andreas mountains – and of course the entire RV portion of the park.

After reaching the plateau, taking pictures and enjoying the view. I decided to go further. The trail leveled out and became mostly dirt instead of rock. Now instead of planning every footstep, I could relax and enjoy this meadow area. The predominant cactus here is prickly pear. Thanks to yesterday’s plant walk, I knew to search out the less-obvious kinds. They were all over the place – one alongside the trail, the rainbow cactus, had its showy yellow blossom.

Several kinds of birds, including two mountain chickadees and several finches, flitted around and I met up with a Collard Lizard who seemed to pose for my picture taking.

When I reached the one-mile marker and the trail again headed up, I turned around. I had lingered so long during this mile that it was about 10:30 and it would be a hot, treacherous hike back down. (Note to my hiking friends: distance-wise it sounds like a wimpy hike, doesn’t it? I went for quality instead of quantity!)

My icy-cold Corona was wonderful when I got back to Jeremiah. I relaxed in my reading chair and started reading a book recommended by my friend Nancy Griffin: Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. It is the true adventure of two men who risked everything to solve the mystery of a missing German U-boat. Author Clive Cussler called the book, “An engrossing saga of the suspenseful, intriguing, and dangerous underwater investigation of a mystery sunken U-boat.” What a book! Those who know me well know that I’m an early-to-bed person – On Sunday night I stayed up reading until 11 p.m.

Good thing I had decided to make Monday a kickback day. I read off and on all day, taking breaks for several one-mile walks around the park, and finished it by suppertime.

Two tidbits from the book stuck in my mind:

Most men go through life never really knowing themselves. A man might consider himself noble or brave or just … but until he was truly tested it would always be mere opinion.

When things are easy a person doesn’t really learn about himself. It’s what a person does at the moment of his greatest struggle that shows who he really is. Some people never get that moment.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

First two days at Oliver Lee

On Friday morning, I awoke with a grateful heart and an eagerness to explore and enjoy Oliver Lee State Park. Cat had a restless night – she was on and off my bed plenty of times; and one time she landed with a thud. I think she had leaped from the back of the dining bench to the bed. When I sat down with my coffee, the morning bird chorus started up.

I had breakfast and then walked around to see how many different birds I could spot, and ended up at the Visitor’s Center for information. As I walked past an RV in site #27, I noticed they were unhooking. The site looked pretty level and it had a cabana/windbreak. Then I noticed the sign that said: Campground Host. Bummer.

At the Visitor’s Center, on a whim, I asked about the Campground Host site. They were not expecting anyone, and yes I could move into it. Yippee!! I hustled back, unhooked my electricity, (hadn’t hooked up anything else) moved Jeremiah and easily leveled and extended my slide.

On Friday afternoon, I explored Dog Canyon’s Riparian Nature Trail, starting at the visitor’s center. As advertised, it is a short, scenic loop hike into the canyon alongside a spring-fed creek. Benches and tables are scattered along the trail, and interpretive signs put names to the plants: cactus and ocotillo in the beginning along with cottonwood and ash trees; farther up were creek-side plants such as desert willow, ferns, columbines, and even a type of orchid. The last portion of the trail ends with a boardwalk – and a healthy stand of poison ivy well off the trail – and steps to a viewing place.

Yes, there was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake moving along under the stairs – easy to see, but thankfully impossible for him to strike at me. The rear-end photo was the best I could get.

When I headed back, I took the lower end of the loop that ended at the ruins of Frenchy’s Cabin. Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas was a French immigrant who lived alone at Dog Canyon from 1886 until 1894. Reportedly he came here for his health. In his short eight-year residency, he tapped water from Dog Canyon, grew a successful orchard and vineyard in the desert and tended his cattle herds. By himself, he built a long rock, mortar-less wall up the steep slopes of the canyon to contain his cattle. He died from a bullet wound to his chest – a still-unsolved mystery.

On Saturday I joined the ranger-led plant hike. I had met Ranger Charles Wood last year at Santa Rosa Lake State Park. He is very knowledgeable about plants and surprised me with some of his statements. Do you remember that in a previous trip blog I had declared “dead” an ocotillo that had a few blossoms at the end of otherwise dead looking stalks? Well, I stand corrected. I learned that when enough water is available, an ocotillo will produce both leaves and flowers. When water is scarce, the ocotillo only makes flowers in order to reproduce. And I always thought at the ocotillo was just another cacti – but it is not. It is considered a shrub.

Why choose to study and learn about plants when birds seem more interesting? While on the plant walk two birds landed on a nearby mesquite. Ranger Charles said, I think it is a warbler but I don’t have my binoculars to be sure. A man who had binoculars looked but then said the birds won’t sit still long enough to identify. Charles responded, “that’s why I study plants – they don’t fly off while I’m figuring out what they are.”

There were about 20 people on the hike.

And speaking of birds, my bird feeders and a makeshift watering dish have attracted a good number of birds – finches, sparrows, doves, towhees, grosbeaks, and wrens. One feeder is suction-cupped to a window and Cat spends a lot of time watching the birds, too.

After lunch on Saturday, I gathered with a small group for a tour of the Oliver Lee ranch house. It is about a mile away, and Ranger Charles let me ride with him. He started the tour by talking about Oliver Lee (1865 – 1941), one of the most colorful and influential men in New Mexico history.

These past two days I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Prodigal Summer, set in the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. The author’s knowledge and insight of the flora and fauna of that area was fascinating. The choices the characters in the book “made” reminded me of some pithy words attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day 1: travel to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

All those last-minute things got done, perishable items and Cat were loaded and we headed out at 9 a.m. Once through Albuquerque, my drive took me south in I-25, east on Hwy 280 past the Trinity Site (first atomic bomb was exploded there at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945) and Valley of the Fires (so named from past volcanic activity) to Carrizozo and then south on Hwy 54 through Tularosa and Alamogordo to Dog Canyon Road and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. This park, in the northern part of the huge Chihuahuan Desert, is a harsh landscape against the west face of the Sacramento Mountains.

Having lived in Phoenix and Tucson and spent time in the Anza Borrego portion of the Sonoran Desert, I’m familiar with the desert landscape. I did some research and found out that the Chihuahuan Desert is the largest – and the driest – of the four in North America. The others are the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin deserts.

The Chihuahuan Desert that at first glance is barren and lifeless is home to cactus, creosote bush, tarbush, mesquite, acacia, yucca (bloom only once in their life) and agave (can bloom once a year). When the US-Mexico border was surveyed in the 1850s, one man wrote, “It is wild and worthless.” Actually, when you get out and really look – especially in the early morning and early evening – it is full of surprises.

I arrive about 3 p.m. and I’m thankful that it is mid-April, because summers are probably very hot. There are no shade trees in the campground.

The weather is toasty-warm, and it is windy. In all there are 44 camping sites, but only 12 are electric/water sites that are not saved for reservations. Of those, only two have a cabana/windbreak. Only two water/electric sites are not taken. The park is at the mouth of Dog Canyon and sits on an alluvial fan – loosely translated that is sandy-dirt that over the years was washed down the canyon. The sites that are left are large but not very level.

I claimed site #24: the one that looked the best. The camp host came over to help me get situated. After trying several places on the spacious site and using my leveling boards, I still couldn’t get level. I was hot and now frustrated, hungry and cranky. I declared it “good enough.” I was about 40 feet from the electrical box and water faucet. I quickly hooked up the electric in order to get my refrigerator and air conditioner on. Then I went in to cool off and have a late lunch.

I cooled off, enjoyed lunch, but was still frustrated about not being level. I fussed and fumed a bit; tried to figure out what to do. I wasn’t even willing to put my slide out because I was thinking “why do I want to be here?!” I gave up for the evening, and sat down to read – a reprint of an article that Norman Vincent Peale wrote 36 years ago.

I hadn’t gone very far in the article before I read,

“Generally when people are disheartened, they can’t see the possibilities. They see only the difficulties that are involved, not the solutions. Strange thing about human nature – we have a tendency to magnify the difficulties, blow them up, and make them bigger than they actually are. The thing to do when you are disheartened is the very opposite: go hunting around in your situation for the bright possibilities that are surely there. It is a matter of attitude of mind.”

Bingo! I definitely needed a change in attitude. So I started thinking about things that I liked so far about this park: the sites are huge, and neighboring RVs are not close like they are at RV “resorts.” Look at this photo that I took on one of my hikes and you’ll see what I mean.

Also, there seem to be many different kinds of birds, the cactus are about to bloom, there are two trails to explore, a visitor’s center and there will be a guided plant hike and a tour of a restored 19th century ranch house on Saturday. There’s a lot to like about this place once I put some thought to it. I may not be as level as I would like to be, but I’ll be fine.

Cat seems to like it. She spent a lot of time watching birds from the window during the afternoon. Right now, it is dark out and she is swatting at a moth that she can see through the window screen. She’s briefly puzzled and then – because she’s so smart – realizes she can’t get it and decides to take a nap.

As I fell asleep, enjoying a cool breeze through my open windows and relishing my improved attitude, I reminded myself of something attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish every day and be done with it.
You’ve done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;
Forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
cumbered with your old nonsense.
This day is all that is good and fair.
It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on
the yesterdays.