Here’s wishing everyone a very safe and Blessed Christmas!
I recently attended the annual River of Lights held at the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens. Each year they make it bigger and better! I hadn’t been for awhile so it was a real treat.
I went with my friend Dia and we had so much fun. This year they offered a “magic hour” from 5-6. You could purchase tickets for this time and they limited the number of participants so you could get some great photos without the crowds. We loved having the place practically to ourselves. The gardens are big enough that we really didn’t see many people.
We took a few photos of each other in the beautiful lights. It felt very festive!
Here’s a slideshow of all the fabulous lights we saw. If you are viewing this post on a cell phone, click on the photo below and you can scroll through the images.
While in San Antonio last June, I visited the Japanese Tea Garden. It’s not a very big place, but it’s very unique. This site was initially a limestone quarry that opened in 1840. Many of the buildings in San Antonio during that time were built with the stone from this quarry.
Entrance to the gardens
In 1880 it was changed to a cement quarry. At this time a kiln was added to the site, which still stands today.
Old kiln door
Kiln stack and buildings
Such unique craftsmanship
Living quarters for the laborers
More openings for the kiln
By 1917 the cement plant had shut down. The City Parks department of San Antonio launched a program to convert the old quarry into a Japanese Tea Garden. Prison labor was used to shape the quarry into a complex that included walkways, stone arch bridges, an island and a Japanese pagoda.
Restored pagoda, gardens and pond
What a wonderful idea for an old quarry.
In 1919, at the city’s invitation, Kimi Elzo Jingu, a local Japanese-American artist, moved to the garden. Him and his wife maintained the garden, lived in the garden and raised 8 children. Kimi died in 1938 and in 1941 the family was evicted from the garden due to the rise of anti-Japanese sentiment of World War II.
Arched path built by prison labor
Such beautiful landscaping
Bridge to the kiln stack.
The Japanese Tea House up above.
For years the garden sat in neglect and disrepair, becoming a target of graffiti and vandalism. In 2005 the city started restoration on the pagoda-like pavilion.
The roof was rebuilt in 2005.
In 2007 restoration began to restore the ponds and waterfall.
View from the pagoda
Path to the waterfall.
I loved the waterfall!
All work was completed by 2011. The Jingu family members still alive returned for the public re-opening. In recognition of the garden’s history, it has been designated as a Texas Civil Engineering Landmark, a registered Texas Historic Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walkway from the gardens to the zoo nearby
I am so glad this precious gem of history has been saved and has been restored to its previous glory. It was a wonderful place to visit. So peaceful and beautiful.
I loved walking these paths
If I lived here, I would visit often!
Scarlett enjoyed touring the walkways as well. She was curious of the Koi fish and they looked like they were just as curious.
Scarlett was fascinated by the curious koi 🙂
I love the colorful koi fish
I’m so glad I decided to visit the gardens. I would have been sad if I had never taken the time to see such beauty that has been restored to its former glory.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to get out and bird a time or two. I mostly went out to see some rare sightings that have shown up around town. I missed several, but managed to see a couple to add to my life list.
I visited Valle de Oro a couple times. I had heard there were a number of warblers there. It’s always fun to go find warblers, though my neck complains by the end of the day LOL!
When I arrived at Valle de Oro I saw a pair of coyotes out hunting. One disappeared right away, but the other stayed out long enough to let me get a few good pics.
As always, I saw several Western Meadowlarks out singing. I love their beautiful voice.
I walked along the main drainage ditch hoping to see some good birds. A scrub jay announced his presence.
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay
Then almost right away I heard a lot of birds singing. I just started taking pics of everything that moved. As you know, songbirds are small and fast!!! When I looked at the pics I was surprised to see a several birds I don’t see often. Mainly my nemesis, the Lazuli Bunting. Try my hardest, I can’t get a good pic of this bird.
Black-Throated Gray Warbler
I heard several Summer Tanagers singing. It’s amazing how a bright red bird can hide among green leaves. But they can just disappear! I only got a few pics and they weren’t very good. But I did see a Western Tanager female closer to me.
Western Tanager Female
I had been told where a Common Black Hawk’s nest was near the Valle de Oro. So I went on a 2-mile hike to find this beautiful bird. Once I was in the general location, I looked for the nest. I found it way up high in a cottonwood tree. There was no seeing if anything was in the nest. I waited around for a while and eventually heard the hawk calling from a distance. Then to my delight the bird flew in and landed near the nest. A lifer for me! At first I barely saw him as he was deep in the leaves.
Common Black Hawk
Eventually he moved to a better location for photos. This is a magnificent bird. From what I understand there are only about 250 breeding pairs in the US. They are easily disturbed by humans and are known to abandon nests if bothered too much. So after getting a few pics, I quietly left the area to let them raise their young undisturbed.
Common Black Hawk
On my way back I saw a flycatcher along the ditch. I believe it’s a Hammond’s Flycatcher.
Then I heard another bird calling that I only rarely hear – a Gray Catbird. Always a treat to see and hear! I only managed one pic and that was from behind.
While hiking along he ditch, I enjoyed the wild irises blooming.
While hiking at Valle de Oro I came across this interesting insect. I tried looking it up, but I can’t figure out what it is.
Not sure what this cute guy is….
I had heard about a very rare sighting in the East Mountain area that I just had to go find. There was a Golden-Winged Warbler sighted and it was practically in my back yard. After much searching I was rewarded with a short view of this bird. I took several photos before he disappeared into the deep brush. I managed to get a few decent pics. Another lifer!
While hiking there I was treated to some beautiful wild apple blossoms.
Wild apple tree blossoms
I visited the Rio Grande Nature Center. I hadn’t been there in a while, so it was a treat to see it in the springtime. Right away I heard a Yellow-Breasted Chat singing. I managed to find it in a tree on the island in the pond. So it was quite a distance away.
I also saw the resident roadrunners in the parking lot. Always fun to photograph!
While walking the paths, I heard some Summer Tanagers talking back and forth amongst each other. This time I had more success getting photos of the pair.
Summer Tanager male
Summer Tanager female
There were several Black-Chinned Hummingbirds visiting the feeders. Whenever there are several hummingbirds at a feeder, there’s always fights defending their food. For a tiny bird, they are fierce!
Uh oh! He sees another hummer coming for him!
Defending the feeder!
Here are some of the other birds I saw on my visit.
The gardens were beginning to bloom. The bees were happily gathering pollen.
Giant black bee
I was entertained by a resident White-Winged Dove that has become very tame. The gardeners told me his name was Lonesome Larry. He was so tame, he would take see from your hand. He stayed so close to me, that I barely got photos because my zoom lens had a hard time focusing on such a close subject. 🙂
Such beautiful coloring
I’ve been keeping an eye on a Red-Tailed Hawk’s nest not far from my house. When I visited recently, I saw the eggs have finally hatched. When I first looked, I thought there was only one baby. But the mother flew off the nest and I saw two babies!
Red-Tailed Hawk with babies
It’s been great getting out birding. It was nice to see all the summer birds returning to Albuquerque.
In early April I flew to Atlanta to surprise one of my best friends, Kelly, on her 40th birthday. She had no idea I was coming, so it was a wonderful surprise for her.
Her local friends put on a fabulous party for her. It was first class! They even got her an ice sculpture!!! I also stayed up the longest I ever had. I got up at 3:30 am to catch my flight and when I landed I immediately went to the party. Things didn’t wrap up there until 3:30 am and then we had an hour’s drive to Kelly’s house. I don’t think I went to be until after 5 am!
Kelly & Kelly
Me with Bob Dylan – one of Kelly’s favorite artists
Another friend named Angie also flew in to surprise Kelly. The three of us used to work together here in Albuquerque, but eventually Angie and Kelly moved away. Thankfully we have kept in touch and manage to see each other periodically.
The day after the party, the three of us wanted to do something together. But nothing too adventurous since we were slightly hungover and short on sleep. It was a pretty nice day so we decided to visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I’m so glad we went. We strolled and visited and enjoyed beautiful scenery.
The day we were there was the last day of an orchid show. They had over 400 variety of orchids on display. Stunning! I had no idea there were so many varieties!
Angie, Kelly & Kelly
Kelly & Kelly
The show was held in the Conservatory. A very large building that had several types of climates.
Here’s some of the stunning orchids we saw. I could have posted so many more than this! 🙂
I never would have guessed these were orchids.
This one looks like the head of a cobra snake.
Stunning colors and patterns
Touring the conservatory was just amazing. Everywhere you looked, there was something unique. No niche was left without some kind of plant. You wanted to walk through slowly so as not to miss some little treasure.
These strands are roots of plants planted 30 feet above in the ceiling. I loved this!
All of these colors are on one plant.
I thought this looked like the mouth of the Kraken! Arrrgh!!! 🙂
There were many varieties of pitcher plants. Fascinating!
These stripes looked painted on.
Outside, we walked along an elevated footpath that offered stunning views of the gardens and you felt like you were walking in the tree tops.
There were wonderful statues throughout the gardens. One of my favorites was of a bust of a woman. It will be a living statue in the warmer months. But for now, she’s bare but still beautiful.
Fat, lazy frog!
Adorable statue of a boy catching frogs.
I really liked this deer statue.
The living statue. I hope to see this woman transformed with living, blooming plants.
We visited the children’s garden. Kelly hates snakes, she didn’t want to walk on this path. LOL!
A little gnome was trying to get my attention 😉
The grounds were just beautiful. I can only imagine this place in the warmer months. It must be spectacular!
The pink tree is dead. They painted it to give it a second life.
I liked the perfect pine tree
One of my favorite photos was of the English garden area. Just beautiful!
I think we only saw maybe a 1/3rd of the gardens that day. It’s a huge place. It was still pretty cold in Atlanta. But there were a few blooming plants and trees outside.
One of my favorite blooming trees – the Dogwood
Not sure what this flower was, but this is exactly what it looked like. Seriously!!
Stunning Japanese Maple
We came across these vivid azaleas. Such striking colors!
Can you believe these colors!?!
The trees in Atlanta are so tall. I’m not used to trees that big. Things are more stunted out here in the desert.
I have a confession to make about this post. Can you believe I didn’t bring my camera with me to Atlanta?!? I was only going for 3 days and the forecast said rain the whole time. I just figured we wouldn’t get out so didn’t want to keep up with my camera. I was grieving for it!!!
My purse I used looks like a camera. So Kelly took a picture of me acting like I’m taking a photo with my camera purse. That’s how desperately I was wanting my camera!
So what did I use to take these photos? My phone!!! Our phone’s cameras have improved tremendously over the last few years. I was real pleased with what I captured. I hope you agree!
I’m planning on visiting again in August. I will definitely be bringing my good camera then!!!