Now I Get It!

Colorado highlands
Click to view a gallery of
the Colorado highlands.

There’s been a prevailing feature throughout this trip that is borderline uncanny. With no disrespect to Karma, we were blessed, time after time, with good fortune and/or crazy surprises. Rather than bore you with a list (I’m a listing kinda guy), let me share a few anecdotes.

Our 45th year reunion of my Peace Corps group was enjoyed by all and, in deference to our age, it was agreed we’ll reconvene in 3 years (instead of the usual 5) in Asheville, NC. Our final event was a singing & salsa evening at Lucy’s, and later I snuck away to a nearby tavern searching for some local music. Alas, the performers were just finishing their gig and the barkeep was a friendly guy so we yacked about barbecue. Salt Lick is on the tip of every Austonian’s tongue when asked where to eat some—a tradition not worth missing. When it came time to leave, I asked for the tab and he smiled and said, “Next time, my friend. It’s only beer.” I tipped him a six-pack, reflected while walking back to the lodge how that had never happened to me before and, thoroughly pleased with our week in Austin, we departed the following morning.

Our mantra of 200 miles or 4 hours, whichever comes first, came (thankfully) into play as we hit the Texas highways after a week of goofing off in Austin. After a couple days revisiting South Llano River State park, we headed toward Abilene State Park where Sooney had encounters with the White-eyed Vireos and Summer tanagers. We then navigated to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a recreational respite before exploring Colorado. En-route, in Plainview, TX, we found ourselves on a side street and all around us were Scissor-tailed flycatchers. It was too late for the chocolate shake we were really looking for and proceeded north. We were barely out of town and the sun was low; off to our right was an incredible grain silo that dwarfed a full-size diesel locomotive. Everyone knows how big those pullers are, so fathom the size of the silos! We got back on the northbound toward Happy, TX, a pleasant spot on the map, and noticed the sky getting very, very dark—almost green! When the hail started falling, it became apparent that cozying up to other vehicles beneath the nearest overpass was wise. We learned later that hailstones the size of baseballs fell on Happy, but the storm was blowing south and we were heading north.

Double rainbow following the tornado scare.
Click for more Texas gorgeous.

When we arrived at the Canyon offramp, I noticed that quite a few vehicles were still clustered beneath the overpass (it was mildly raining by now), and wondered what they knew that I didn’t. We headed east for several miles, approached the Palo Duro State Park office, and were greeted with “Open” signs, the lights turned on…but nobody anywhere. I caught a glimpse of some activity in a stone structure serving as rest rooms and parked there. Heads popped out of the door beckoning us to hustle our butts inside because there was a tornado alert and we were in its path. For the next 30 minutes, we caught an earful about tornados from residents living in “Tornado Alley” on the Texan panhandle. The first thing is NEVER wait out a twister beneath an overpass. I guess those travelers back at Canyon could have learned a thing from me!

Our tornado had other plans and we settled into our site with a double rainbow blazing in the back door of our camper. Palo Duro is allegedly the largest canyon next to the Grand, and our couple days there included hiking to the “lighthouse” hoodoo and cycling one of many hiker/biker trails available to us. Truly bizarre was a surprise sighting of a ferrel pig who, with its mates, wreck havoc throughout the park. He left us alone and with a memorable image—pinto colored, lean, overly furry ears, and a large snout and bellow to match. Nothing like a javelina, this guy was escaped bacon and wanted nothing to do with us. Prickly pear cactus? Now that’s another thing.

Santa Fe's incredible International Folk Art Museumentertained us while it snowed outside.
Santa Fe’s incredible International Folk Art
Museum entertained us while it snowed outside.

Our next destination was Santa Fe, NM, where we had a date with a package mailed from Austin. I’d forgotten my laptop’s power brick and, although a replacement would have cost about the same, it was great having mine back. What we weren’t prepared for was, well, Santa Fe. Our neighbor in Ashland formerly lived here and provided us with some suggestions for a good time. In addition to some fabulous restaurants, another was to visit the Ten Thousand Waves Spa way up in the Hyde Park Canyon. I called the guy and was informed of an unexpected vacancy. We were offered an additional 20% discount for the same day reservation and, considering it was raining and cold at Santa Fe’s 7,200’ elevation, we were really excited about the prospect of warmth. Alas, our luck turned south when we received a call that our reservation was made in error. They were mortified and assured us a camping spot in their parking lot and, for good measure, they comped us all the amenities of the spa. It was there I finally “got” it (about spas, that is). When we do Yoga back home, my favorite part is Shavasana, the important (albeit way-too-brief) resting pose at the end of the practice. At the Ten Thousand Waves Spa, rest is the salve that heals one’s body. After soaking, baking in the sauna, and then freezing (momentarily) in the cold bath before returning to the tub, my body was jelly. Guests are provided a heated tatami room where you rest for as long as you like, surrounded with soft wool blankies and silence. Probably more expensive than most of my hobbies, it’s nice to know that after 70 years I’ve still got options.

Rather than spoil a good thing, we successfully scored a room for the following night, and repeated the process in style that included dining at the exquisite Izanami Restaurant located on the premises. The suites feature private porches, adequate kitchen facilities, wood stoves, and a Toto toilet with a warmed seat and a feature that washes your bum with warm water if you can figure out the remote control. The toilets also have a sensor that raises the toilet seat cover when you enter the restroom, but a clever housekeeping staffer figured out how to turn that annoying feature off after they tired of the seat popping up and down during their cleaning routine.

Click for images from
Tent Rocks Nat. Monument

Mind you, we’re heading home but our house is occupied by a dear friend and the most pressing thing on our Ashland calendars is a massage. (Gotta love retirement.) So we packed it all up and headed west. Our dear friend, Phil, a former resident of Santa Fe, highly recommended the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument located west of Albuquerque, NM, and along our route to our next sleepover camp at Bluewater Lake State Park near Gallop. We’re suckers for good hike, and throw in a slot canyon and we’re mush. We spent several hours wandering up and around wonderful terrain and even found a couple tiny Apache tears. Apache Tears are Obsidian, a form of silica glass formed by the rapid cooling of molten volcanic lava and are created when hot lava is forced directly into the air and solidified before hitting the ground. The name “Apache tear” comes from a legend of the Apache tribe: about 75 Apaches and the US Cavalry fought on a mountain overlooking what is now Superior, Arizona, in the 1870s. Facing defeat, the outnumbered Apache warriors rode their horses off the mountain to their deaths rather than be killed. The wives and families of the warriors cried when they heard of the tragedy, their tears turning into stones upon hitting the ground. While Tent Rocks is a considerable distance from Superior, AZ (that’s near Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park where we visited earlier on this trip), the legend still holds and we’ve a couple pea-sized “tears” to emblemize their loss. (Sheriff John said it was OK to take a few for educational use.)

Click to view images from
Bluewater Canyon State Park

After departing the reservation, we arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park, 41 miles east of Gallop, NM, for an amazing sunset. Included in the park is a fabulous 2-mile canyon beneath the dam, and our campsite overlooked a portion of the canyon. The lake is a world-class fishery for Tiger Muskie and so the canyon was ours. During our stay, we only saw 2 other humanoids during our walks in the canyon. (We don’t include cattle in that category). Barely 50’ down a slope from our campsite was a geologic shelf that quite handily accommodated our camp chairs and cocktails—tequila on the rocks with a hefty twist of lime. The bird list (below) quantifies our sightings but, for me, hanging out around nesting Ravens, Cliff Swallows, Black Phoebes, Peregrine Falcones, and a multitude of Western bluebirds was truly remarkable.

An annoying sound from under our truck provided us a couple-day layover in Delores, CO, a quiet berg on the Delores River north of Cortez. Following the suggestion of our new best-friend muffler mechanic, we approached 8,500’ and found a gratuitous disperse campsite. While chilly, it was brilliantly shimmering with not-quite-opened Aspen budkins and the hillsides were surreal, a blend of pines, oaks, and aspen. After a glorious morning, warmed by the sun and the antics of mountain chickadees, we descended to a more sensible elevation and found the Delores River Campground that’s providing me WIFI to write this post (and leafed-out trees and shrubs along the Delores River). Our best to our loyal readers, and the bird list follows.

Click to view the bird portraitscompiled throughout this journey.
Click to view the bird portraits
compiled throughout this journey.

Abilene Lake State Park
Western Kingbird, Bewick’s Wren, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-crested Titmouse, White-crowned Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Pine Siskin, House Finch

Palo Duro Canyon State Park
American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture, Inca Dove, White-winged Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Black-crested Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren, Canyon Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Spotted Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, House Finch, and a lone feral pig!

En-route to Santa Fe
E/W Meadowlark, Swainson’s Hawk, Chihuahuan Raven

KOA Sante Fe
Evening Grosbeak (flock)

Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary, Santa Fe Canyon
Black-billed Magpie, Western Scrub Jay, Stellar’s Jay, Raven, White-winged Dove, Spotted Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, American Robin, Chipping Sparrows, dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, House Finch, Evening Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, Grace’s Warbler

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Gray Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pinyon Jay, Western Kingbird, White-throated Swifts,

Bluewater Lake (and Canyon) State Park, New Mexico
Dark-eyed Junco, Canyon Wren, Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, American Coot, American White Pelican, Belted Kingfisher, Western Scrub Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, American Crow, Northern Flicker, Red-naped Sap Sucker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Kestrel, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk (4 and one carrying chipmunk), Sharp-shinned Hawk flushed out of a Juniper, Red-winged blackbird, Western Bluebird, Lazuli Bunting, Tree Swallows, White-throated Swifts, nesting Ravens, Phoebes, Cliff Swallows, and Peregrine Falcons, Pygmy Nuthatch, Rock Wren, Gray Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebird, Evening Grosbeak, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Northern Mockingbird

West fork of Dolores River, Colorado, 8,300 elevation
Black-billed Magpies, American Robins, Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain Chickadees, pair of Mallards, couples of Canada Geese, Northern Saw-whet Owl (heard), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Evening Grosbeak (flock), Stellar Jays, Chipping Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds

Bike ride on “Boggy Draw” trail
Western Bluebirds, Mountain Bluebirds, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Cassin’s Vireos

Sooney’s Musings during our stay at the Dolores River Campground, Dolores, CO
A morning walk with chattering Tree Swallows overhead which looked like copulation going on, a mating pair of American Kestrels moving around the neighborhood and perching for more mating behavior on dead branches, then three Lewis’s Woodpeckers fly into the tree with the Kestrels all within the first few minutes. I notice a Northern Flicker lower on a stem. Pygmy Nuthatches coming in and out of a hole in a nearby tree. European Starling on a branch with the Lewis’s Woodpeckers and next thing I see are two Woodpeckers in a tumble with the Starling. One vocal Woodpecker remains and the Starling comes back, and gets an earful. Must have another walk around the woodsy tenting and dog walking area along the river.

Walking back around the campground I noticed a Black-chinned Hummingbird perched in a tree across from the empty feeders. Pine Siskins were in the same tree along with a few House Finches.

A pair of Canada Geese were on a pond with their six goslings and a Mallard nearby. Song Sparrows were in the shrubs along the pond near the flow into the Dolores with serenading Red-winged blackbirds in the cattails and nearby elms. Yellow-rumped Warblers working the trees.

During another walk-through a few hours later the female Kestrel was present. No sign of the Lewis’s, more Starlings were active, in and out of high up holes. A sweet House Wren let us know it was there. A pair of Red-napped Sapsuckers were flying from tree to tree, perhaps looking for that special spot to make a nest.

A pair of Common Mergansers were beautiful with their reflections on still water on the pond until I came to have a look. They flew down river. In the early evening, only the female Kestrel was present and quiet. Now as I am back in the camper truck, I hear the salient song of the American Robin. I hope I can do a walk around tomorrow morning and see if any new birds came to the neighborhood.

Two loud American Crows flying over our camper Monday morning reminded me that I could make time to have a look around. The female Kestrel was alone on her branch. One Lewis’s Woodpecker was present.  The Black-billed Magpie seems to be everywhere and in everybody’s business. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were spotted and the female was hard at work drilling a new hole. Two Calliope Hummingbirds were chipping on a shrub. The Pygmy Nuthatch came out and went back in the same hole as yesterday. A couple of Eurasian Collard-Doves are perching overhead.