Nutria Canyon Hike and the Ice Cave

Recently my friend Dia and I spent a whole day exploring the area around El Morro near Grants, NM.  Our main destination was to find Nutria Canyon.   I’ve heard very little about this hike and there is minimal information online.  But there was this one tantalizing photo online that drew me back again and again during the winter months.  I knew I just had to find this place during the summer when my friend could join me.  It’s about 3 hours away from where I live, so I didn’t want to venture out on my own.

We started out early with hopes of getting to the canyon by around 9.  Sadly there was a lot of road construction that slowed us down.  Then, when we were in the general area, we just didn’t know where to go.  Luckily I saw this one dirt road that said Nutria Lake.  It was 25 miles sooner on the highway than my online directions were saying.   Thankfully, just as we turned onto the road a local came driving by.  They were very helpful and told us we were definitely in the right place.

Since the lake was just a little side trip off the road, we headed over to see it.  It was a pretty place with a few ducks enjoying the water.  We got out to enjoy the view and let Scarlett have a bathroom break.

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Nutria Lake

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Scarlett started doing her “business” a pack of reservation dogs came out of nowhere heading straight for us.  Dia and I were calling Scarlett to HURRY! HURRY! get in the car.  But she just couldn’t finish her “business” quickly enough.  We were panicking by this time.  Dia ran to drag Scarlett to the car if need be, and I was opening the doors and grabbing the gun! Thankfully Scarlett hurried up and jumped in the car along with us in the nick of time! Whew! Needless to say, we left the lake and headed to our original destination.

The valley we were driving into was very lush.  We saw lots of happy horses and other livestock.  And there were prairie dogs EVERYWHERE!!!

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As we neared the trail head, we came upon a marshy area where Nutria Creek spills out of the canyon.  Just gorgeous!

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Marsh area near the trail head

Dia had just gotten a new tattoo on her entire back.  So she wasn’t able to carry a pack.  I told her I would carry everything in my pack (I’d do anything to go see this canyon!).  So when we arrived at the trail head, she started loading up my pack.  Wow! Heavy!

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That pack had to weigh 40 pounds!

I told her she had to at least carry the gun.  She gladly accepted that task!

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Dia packing heat!

The trail headed into the narrowing canyon with lush green trees and bushes.  It definitely beckoned us to head inside.

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Entrance to trail – so green!

Almost as soon as we started the trail, there was water.  Scarlett immediately dove in!

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Scarlett in her happy place!

Thankfully enough people have been on this trail that they have constructed makeshift boardwalks out of old pallets and scrap lumber.  They were rickety but effective to walk over the mud.

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We started climbing up above the creek and into a lush forest of oaks.  There were Yellow Warblers everywhere!  I didn’t bring my birding lens, so no bird pics this trip.  But so much birdsong in the canopy made me regret my decision to leave that lens at home.

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Kelly on the very lush trail.

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It was nice and cool in the shade

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We eventually met up with the creek again.  Then we turned a corner in the canyon and it opened up to a stunning view.  Beautiful steep red canyon walls and gorgeous green foliage.  We were getting close to where I saw that tantalizing photo so many months ago.

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Dia enjoying the view on this perfect seat.

Then there it was! A picturesque pond in this hidden canyon.  Stunning!  I was so wishing we had found the trail much sooner.  By this time it was noon and not the best conditions for photography.  But I did my best to capture some images that did the view justice.

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Gorgeous!

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I loved the reflections in the pond.

I just had to have a photo of me and Scarlett in this beautiful spot.

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My sweet Miss Scarlett

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Scarlett and Kelly

The day was warming up quickly.  Scarlett was tempted to jump down into that pond.  We kept having to tell her no.

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It was sooooo tempting to jump in…

Eventually we made it around and down to that pond and she was a happy girl!

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Such a peaceful place

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Scarlett loved the ponds.  Cool and refreshing water to play in.

We hung around here for a while as the trail just became too congested with brush to continue on.  I had hoped to explore further but this is just not a well known place.  So there isn’t enough foot traffic to keep the trail open.

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Untouched beauty

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Scarlett kept on eye on me as I navigated the big boulders

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Beautiful

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Dia and Kelly

Eventually we headed back to the car.  We still had quite a bit of daylight left to the day.  So we decided to visit the Ice Cave.  I had never been, and Dia said it had been a long while since she had been there.

On the way out, we decided to stop at a few of the abandoned homes in the valley.  They are interesting to explore.  Just a plethora of things to photograph!

 

We had lunch at the Ancient Way Cafe.  It’s a tiny little place, but the food is good and the desserts were outstanding! They have quite a baker working there.

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Our sandwich was shaped just like a Bigfoot footprint!

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Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!

The visitor’s center at the ice cave was very interesting.  It’s amazing what they found down in that hole.  Centuries of history perfectly preserved.  I highly recommend you take the time to look around at all the treasures jammed into this small building.

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Look at those giant perfectly whole Indian pots!

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Fascinating!

The Ice Cave offers two hikes.  One up to the Bandera Volcano and one down to the ice cave. We hiked the volcano first since we knew we would cool off at the ice cave. 🙂

It was a short and relatively uninteresting hike.

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Bandera Volcano

At the top of the trail, Dia collapsed due to lack of a Starbuck’s for hours.  I told her to hang in there.  We will get her one soon.

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Where’s Starbucks????????? she wailed

The Ice Cave was much more interesting.  The trail to the cave takes you through the basalt fields left by the volcano.  It makes you wonder how anyone found that ice cave so long ago.  It had to have been quite the challenge to navigate through that jagged sharp basalt.

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Basalt field

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A blooming cactus brought beauty to the stark view.

The area was called The Devil’s Playground by early settlers.  It’s easy to see why.  While hiking to the cave we came across this unique dead juniper.  I took a picture of Dia there being her naughty self.  She then took my photo and edited it to fit the area’s nickname.  🙂

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Dia being evil…

At the cave you climb down a steep set of stairs.

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Kelly and Scarlett ready to descend

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Steep stairs

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There it is deep below the surface.

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As you descended you could really feel the temperature dropping.  It was quite refreshing after a hot climb up the volcano.

I didn’t let Scarlett go all the way to the bottom.  You could see what she thought about that…..

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The inside of the cave was beautiful.  I tried to capture the colors in the cave by setting my camera to a slow shutter speed.  Just beautiful.

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The colors in the rock ceiling were so beautiful.

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The ice had a green cast to it.  It made for a lovely contrast with all the colors in the rock formation.

Too soon we were heading home.  On the way out we saw a few Mule Deer.  One was more curious than the others and had a beautiful shaggy coat.

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Mule Deer

When we got to Grants, Dia had to have her Starbucks.  But she almost had a big tantrum when she realized there wasn’t a Starbucks there.  It was hilarious!

The drive home was long due to yet more road construction.  But the day’s adventures had been fabulous (even with the lack of Starbuck’s at the end).  🙂

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65 miles to go until home….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver City Area Adventure

Last October my friend Valerie and I went to Silver City for a long weekend.  I hadn’t been to that area since I was a young girl in the 70s.  I was anxious to see the area again and share it with my friend.  Though Valerie was born and raised in New Mexico, she had never been to the sights around Silver City.

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It takes several hours to get to Silver City from Albuquerque.  We got a late start so ended up driving through the mountains in the dark.  The highway from I-25 to Silver City is very windy and steep.  It was quite stressful driving that road at night.  But it was exciting too.  We saw several animals cross in front of us on the road:  a mountain lion, a mule deer, a racoon and a fox!

We stayed at an old historic hotel called the Palace Hotel.  It still had a nice “old timey” feel to it.

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Lobby of the Palace Hotel

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Lobby

We were given Room 55.  When we got to the second floor, we had to look twice for the door to our room.  Hmmmmm…..I told Valerie “I think it’s behind that lamp.”  WTF?!\

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There’s our room door behind that standing lamp….

We did eventually find another entrance to our room that wasn’t blocked by lamps, chairs and tables.  LOL!

I especially liked the main painting in the lobby.  I told Valerie, “It’s me all over!  Red dress and lipstick, holding a gun and showing lots of cleavage!”

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What I would have been like “back in the day”

One of my favorite memories from childhood was hiking the Catwalk Trail in the Gila Wilderness.  This trail consists of suspended walkways above Whitewater Creek.  Several years ago the original catwalk was destroyed due to severe flooding.  But in May of this year, a one-mile portion of the trail had been restored and opened up to the public.

So on an early October morning, we headed to the trail head.  The weather was perfect:  cool but sunny.  The shadows were long which made for great photography.  Here are some pics from the hike.

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What a unique hike

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Suspended above Whitewater Creek

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Beautiful!

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The walkway criss-crossed so we could see the walkway ahead

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Valerie enjoying the hike

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The walkway eventually ends and you walk down to the creek.

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The bridge ahead was the end of the trail.  The entire trail has not been cleaned up from the flood.  I hope they eventually open the entire trail again.

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Valerie and Kelly having fun!

After hiking the catwalk, we tried hiking another trail nearby, but the creek was too high.  There were several river crossings on the hike and no bridges available.  So we decided to drive up to Mogollon.  It’s a great historic town high in the mountains.  Sadly, the road to Mogollon was closed so we had to cancel that idea as well.  Drat!

So instead we headed back to Silver City to walk around town. On the way back we stopped to feed horses and photograph some rusty tractors.  Valerie got a pic of me in my new Jeep Wrangler!  I love my new vehicle!

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Those horses loved that apple Valerie fed them

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Cool old tractors

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Me in my brand new Jeep!

We browsed shopfronts and took some photos around town.  Eventually we ended up on a path that follows a creek that runs right behind Main Street.  Funny thing is, the creek was actually Main Street before a giant flood took out the street and many of the buildings along it in 1895.  So Main Street was moved over and the ditch created by the flood became permanent and is still in use today.

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We found a way down to the creek!

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I loved all the pools in among the limestone bedrock

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Stream flowing from pool to pool

The next day we headed out to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  Even though my family visited the Gila National Forest many times when I was young, we never went to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  So I was looking forward to seeing it as much as Valerie.  The road there was very windy and steep.   It was difficult driving.  But what made it worse was we were having to drive around and among a bunch of racing bicyclists.  Stressful!  So many blind curves with no shoulder.

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Windy road to the Gila Cliff Dwellings

I was tempted by this car for sale… LOL!  After all, it only needs a battery!

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It was worth getting there even though it took over an hour to drive there from Silver City.  The hike to the dwellings was just beautiful.  We both said we could hike trails like this all day.  It was picturesque hiking in a forest, along a creek and scenic bridge crossings.

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Bridge over the Gila River

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A beautiful trail

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We loved all the bridges

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Wonderful!

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Valerie

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Lovely!

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Kelly

Eventually we climbed up to the dwellings.  They are small, but they allow you to walk inside the rooms and get a feel for what it must have been like to live there so long ago.

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Gila Cliff Dwellings

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What a beautiful view!

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Valerie

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While up at the top, a thunderstorm had moved in.  We had to hurry back down the trail to safety.  I’m glad we took our time going up and enjoyed the trail sights along the way.

On the rive back we stopped at one of the scenic pullouts to appreciate the stormy sky and wide vistas.

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Panorama of the scenic view

I turned one photo into black and white.  It made me think of the artist Ansel Adams.

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On the drive back to Silver City, we were soooo hungry!  We talked about what we wanted for dinner.  We both agreed fairly easily…Pizza and Wine!!!!  The restaurants in the downtown area were very busy so it took a while to find a place to eat.  But we eventually sat down to dinner and we even managed to find that pizza and wine!

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Delicious pizza!  It hit the spot!

On our last day in the area, we visited City of Rocks State Park.  It’s a cool piece of geology just stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  It’s a great place to explore all the nooks and crannies formed by erosion.

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It was fun exploring for a few hours.

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Panorama of the park

We had fun climbing the rocks to get fun photos of each other.

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We go to great lengths to get the “perfect” photo

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Some of the areas were scary to navigate on foot! LOL!

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My beautiful friend! 

Going home we got to see that beautiful drive coming in.  The views were amazing at the top of Emory Pass.

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View from the top of Emory Pass

I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures in Silver City!  It was a fabulous weekend!

20th Anniversary Trip – Day 8 Arizona

Our last day of vacation.  It has been an amazing trip.  It had been a long time since we had been on a trip together for this many days.  The road trip was a great way to spend quality time together.  When you spend hours in a car, you have a lot of undivided attention.  I highly recommend road trips over flying.  You have everything at your disposal, and you get to see so much of our beautiful country.  There’s so much out there to explore and experience.

The drive home was mostly uneventful.  We could have taken the interstate home pretty much the whole way.  But instead we decided to drive the highways that skirted along the northern border of Arizona.  By doing this we drove along the southern edge of Monument Valley.  You could see many of the formations off in the distance.  The geology along the highway had a lot of its own unique formations.

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Unique formations along the edge of Monument Valley

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Beautiful scenery

After driving several hours, we started heading south to I40.  Looking at the map, I realized we were going to go right by Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced day shay).  This canyon has been occupied by Native Americans and Anasazi uninterrupted for the last 5000 years.

We didn’t have time to explore down in the canyon.  But we had enough time to drive to several overlooks.  I have wanted to see Canyon de Chelly for a long time.  I’ve known several people that have visited there, and they always said how beautiful it was.

And it was beautiful!  The day was overcast, which is actually perfect for photographing a landscape that has deep canyons, shadows and lots of sandstone.  Each overlook provided a different view of the long canyon.

 

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Last selfie of the trip 🙂

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Just beautiful!

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The Navajos live and farm in the bottom of the canyon.

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I would have loved to take a horseback ride along the bottom of the canyon.

At the upper end of the canyon there were ruins left behind by the Anasazi.  They were way down in the bottom of the canyon.

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Anasazi Ruins

I zoomed in with my birding lens to get a closer view of the ruins.

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If you look closely, there are petroglyphs on the flat face of the cliff between the upper and lower houses.   I can only imagine how they hung there to do carve those thousands of years ago!

I loved the effects of the staining on the canyon cliffs.

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Unique stains and another cliff house near the bottom

We walked along the edges of the overlooks.  It’s a long way down to the bottom!  Tim enjoyed the views.  Anyone that knows my husband knows he doesn’t smile big very often.  I was thrilled to get this photo of him smiling!  🙂

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Big happy smile!  I love my handsome husband!

On the way out we saw several of the local horses free grazing along the top of the canyon.  I loved the markings on this gray Appaloosa.

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I liked the white eyelashes on this horse.  Gave it a unique appearance.

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I’ve never seen a horse with white eyelashes, blue eyes and black eyeliner!  Unique!

But my favorite was this young Palomino.  It posed nicely for me! A great end to our trip!

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I loved this photo! I love capturing the beauty of life!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my fabulous 20th Anniversary Trip.  Thank you so much for coming along!

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San Pedro Parks Hike

Last Thursday my friend Dia and I went on a hike I’ve been wanting to do for some time.  I didn’t want to go alone, because the location was about 1.5 hours away from home and in a “no cell” area.

The drive to the trail was very pretty.  We stopped along the way to admire the beautiful countryside.

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Interesting rock formations along the road.

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These horses have a great pasture!

There were lots of thistle and shooting star blooming alongside the road.  Bees and butterflies were enjoying the blooms.

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Honey bees

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Great Spangled Fritillary

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Black Swallowtail

This trail is located at over 9,000 feet in elevation.  It consists of a lake and several streams cutting through high meadows.  Unfortunately, this summer has been very dry so the water level in the lake was very low and the streams were dry.

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San Gregorio Lake

It’s been very hot this July.  Even at over 9,000 feet in elevation, it was in the mid 80s.  Scarlett was happy to see water to cool off.

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When Scarlett ran out of the water, she went right by Dia and covered her in mud splatters.  Bad Scarlett!! 🙂

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Dia covered in mud splatter – bad Scarlett

The were some neat rock formations near the lake.  So of course, we had to do some photo ops!

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Miss Scarlett loves climbing rocks now.

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Me and Scarlett

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Dia found her throne.

There weren’t very many birds out at this time.  But Dia spotted a Hairy Woodpecker by the lake.

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Hairy Woodpecker

When we entered the forest on the far side of the lake, the temperature dropped in the shade.   It was very pleasant to walk then.

Soon we came across some trees that had fallen over and their root balls exposed.  The size of these root balls was astounding!

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At some points in the trail, we had to walk around the downed trees.  Of course, Dia is so small, she just went under.  LOL!

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After hiking awhile, we came to an area full of flowers.  There were lots of butterflies enjoying the flowers.  I couldn’t resist taking a ton of photos of them.  I had a hard time identifying them.  So if anyone see’s an incorrect name, I’d love to know.

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Blue Copper

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Dainty Sulpher

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Margined Mustard White

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Purplish Copper

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Purplish Copper

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Small Wood Nymph

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Southwestern Atlantis Fritillary

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Southwestern Atlantis Fritillary

Out of all the orange flowers, I spotted one flower that stood out.  I loved the colors of this bloom.

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We eventually came to a signpost at a large meadow.  We explored a ways along the Rio de Las Vacas trail.  We tried to stop and have a snack in the deep shade, but the flies decided we were lunch!

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We headed back to the meadow and decided to see where the Damian trail led.  It didn’t go far at all or we lost track of the trail.  I clicked a couple of photos on this trail.  Now I always think of the Damian Omen movies when I see the name Damian.  When I was going back through my photos, I realized the cloud formation looked like a devil face….creepy!

 

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Damian Trail…with creepy cloud looking down on us

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Can you see the creepy face?

The day was growing late, so we decided to head back to the car.  By now we’ve hiked over 3 miles.

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The large meadows were very pretty.

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We turned around at this meadow.

I saw several house wrens, but they just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  But I did see this young Lincoln’s Sparrow.  He was very curious of us, but wouldn’t come too far out into the open.

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Juvenile Lincoln’s Sparrow

On the way back, I saw this beautiful moth on a flower.  When I looked up the name of the moth, I just had to laugh.  Who comes up with this stuff?!?  The black and white really stood out.  There were also a few more butterfly species about.

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Police Car Moth

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Police Car Moth

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Freija Fritillary

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Weidemeyer’s Admiral

About a mile from the car, Dia spotted a rock that she swore was petrified wood.  I have my doubts but she was convinced.  She carried that rock the whole mile back to the car.

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Dia with her “petrified wood” rock

We finally made it back to the car.  Since there was no cell service, I couldn’t use the Map my Hike app.  But my polar fitness band let me know how far I’d gone.  🙂

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Driving back down Hwy 126, we noticed a lot of birds hanging out on the barbed wire.  Of course, I just had to stop to take some pictures.  We saw lots of Western Tanagers, Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Bluebirds.  But all of them were camera shy. Here’s the pictures we were able to get.

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Western Tanager Male

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Juvenile Western Tanager

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I believe this is a Vesper Sparrow Juvenile

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Juvenile Western Tanager

We decided to take the road north through Los Alamos to head back home. The biggest reason for this was to visit a Starbucks.  Dia was pining for a Starbucks drink.

We drove by the Valle Caldera preserve.   The caldera basin was just beautiful.

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Valle Caldera

We had a fun but very long day.  We can’t wait for the next adventure!

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Searching for Lesser Prairie Chickens – Day 2

Day 2 started out very foggy.  After all the rain the day before, it was cold and wet.  But the forecast said it was supposed to not rain and clear up in the afternoon.   So I got up at 4:30 am and loaded up Scarlett and headed for the first route of our two surveys.

It was a difficult start to the morning drive with thick fog, cold temps just above freezing and no coffee.   Ugh!

But by the time I arrived at my starting point, I was awake and the fog had cleared quite a bit.  Just as I started my route the sky was beginning to lighten with sunrise…but not by much due to extremely thick cloud cover.

I drove my entire route and didn’t see any Lesser Prairie Chickens.  At the last of my stops on my route, I could hear some way off in the distance.  Of course, Scarlett was not holding up her end of prairie chicken survey duties….she slept the entire time….snored even!!!

As the daylight increased, I found lots to entertain myself while looking for those elusive chickens.  You know how I love to photograph horses.  At the last two stops on my route, I was treated to a nice herd of horses watching me.

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Now that I had completed my duties for the first survey, I was off to find some breakfast and coffee and then some more birds!

My first stop was at Oasis State Park outside of Portales, NM.  A lot of birds had been sighted there recently.  But the morning I was there, it was so overcast that the birds just weren’t interested in singing or showing themselves much.  I walked around the campground and let Scarlett stretch her legs.  Mostly saw sparrows and quail.  I heard some Northern Bobwhite but never could get a photograph.

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Curve-Billed Thrasher at the opening of their nest

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Scaled Quail

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Eurasian Collared Dove

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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White-Crowned Sparrow – a first year transforming into adult plumage

Before leaving the park, I walked around the small pond.  It’s a nice man-made pond with almost a swimming pool feel with flagstone rocks lining the edge.  But I thought it was very pretty.  Several birds were coming in for a drink at the pond.  They figured out there are a couple places with cattails enabling them to get to the water.

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Ash-Throated Flycatcher – he’s got a tiny bug in his beak

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Chipping Sparrow

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler – Audubon’s Southwest Male – what a beauty!

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Killdeer

I drove slowly as I left the park.  The bird activity had increased quite a bit as the cloud cover was starting to thin and the temperatures were rising.  The long country road leading into the park was lined with barbed-wire fence with lots of prairie grasses and a few country homes.

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Northern Mockingbird

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Loggerhead Shrike

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Swainson’s Hawk

Not too many trees, just a few scattered here and there.  These trees were bird magnets.  There was a pair of Swainson’s Hawks that were hanging out in one tree.  I decided to stop and see if they were starting a nest.  When I zoomed in on the nest, I was surprised to see yellow eyes looking back at me!  And to my surprise it was a new bird! It’s a Long-Eared Owl.  Of course, with the wet fog that morning, it’s ears weren’t looking to perky.  It’s often confused with a Great Horned Owl, but it’s much smaller.  I was thrilled with my find!

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Long-Eared Owl

Next stop I decided to walk a few of the parks around Clovis, NM.  I saw lots of birds driving between parks, but most of the parks weren’t very productive.

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Western Meadowlark

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Horned Lark

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Long-Billed Curlew – my best photo yet!

My favorite park was about 7 miles north of Clovis.  It was a beautiful park with nice mowed grasses, lots of tall shade trees and several ponds.  Definitely an Oasis in the desert.  I could see how birds would be drawn here for miles.  Scarlett loved it too.  She had so much fun running and stretching her legs.  It was really nice that day we were there.  The sun had finally burned off the clouds and there wasn’t any other people at the park.  Perfect birding conditions!

The first pond we came to was very small with a tall berm on three sides.  But it was loaded with ducks and geese.  Upon closer inspection, I saw there were baby Mallards in the pond.  Adorable!  And every bird in that pond was protecting them.

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Female Mallard with a dozen babies

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Swan Goose helping to protect the babies

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So adorable!!!

As we rounded the pond, to the non-berm side, Scarlett was wanting to go swimming in the pond.  The temperature had risen quite a bit and she was thinking a cool dip in the water would be nice.  But I didn’t want her swimming in that pond because of the baby ducks.  There was a sign at the edge of the pond that said “No Swimming”.  I wanted to get a picture of Scarlett under this sign.   As I was taking a picture to look at settings for my camera because of all the shade, I caught an amazing photo.  Neither of us heard or saw this coming!!!!

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Scarlett about to be attacked by a Great Horned Owl!!!!!

Scarlett yelped and took off like a shot for the car!  I had no idea there was a Great Horned Owl’s nest next to the pond.  And those owls were defending that nest with a vengeance! They kept dive bombing her the whole way to the car.  Fortunately she’s such a sweetie and knows not to bother the birds that she never once tried to get those owls.  She was just very determined to get into the car.  🙂

After putting Scarlett in the car, I decided to find the nest.  Of course, they were nested in the largest tree at the park.  A very old tree with a giant trunk.  And the babies were all looking out wanting to see what all the commotion was about.  Just beautiful!

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Great Horned Owl babies

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Great Horned Owl

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Great Horned Owl

I took several photos of the angry owl.  I was very impressed with his bravery as I realized he only had vision in one eye.  It didn’t seem to mess with his aim.  He nailed Scarlett squarely on the rump!  And obviously has been doing a good job feeding his young because all three babies looked very healthy.

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Great Horned Owl

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Great Horned Owl – you can clearly see the bad eye

I tried to get a photo of the other owl, but she was staying very hidden.  I only saw her briefly as she joined in the chase of Scarlett when she was running for the car.

Not wanting to disturb the owls any longer, I moved us along to another area of the park.  It was so nice to walk around for several hours enjoying the warm sunshine and relaxing.

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House Finch

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Pine Siskin at the opening of it’s nest

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Common Grackle

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Hermit Thrush

After all that excitement it was time to head back to town and get some dinner and sleep.  It was going to be another early morning!

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Pretty nest built with Easter trimmings 🙂