Rocky Mountain National Park – Day 1

Recently my friend Dia and I took a long weekend to visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) near Estes, Colorado.  We have talked about going there for about 5 years.  Finally our schedules came together and we were able to go.  I have long wanted to visit this national park.  The photos I’ve seen from there are just stunning.  Water everywhere!  (Unlike New Mexico LOL!)

It took us about 10 hours to drive there, due to the many stops made at Starbucks 🙂

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Kelly and Dia getting their Starbucks fix!

We arrived at the entrance sign to Estes Park late in the day.  Of course, we had to take a pic there of us in our matches dresses.  🙂

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We made it!  Don’t you love our matching dresses!?  🙂

There were several Black-Billed Magpies around and one was happy to pose for me on the sign.  I guess they are no longer a nemesis of mine LOL!

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Black-Billed Magpie

We knew it was going to be crowded every day there as we were visiting during peak season.  So we made plans to go to bed early and get up very early to beat the crowds.  It proved to be a great plan as we found when we were leaving the trails that’s when most people were heading out.  Doing this allowed us to visit the spectacular park with minimal intrusion of other people.  There’s nothing more discouraging to a photographer than to have a beautiful setting for a photo crowded out with masses of tourists.

Dia has been to RMNP a few times in the past.  I had never been before.  So I followed her lead on what to see first.  Her favorite drive is up Old Fall River Road.  A one-way dirt road that climbs to the highest point in the park.  When I looked at the map, I realized a couple of the waterfalls I wanted to photograph were on this route.  Yay!

Our first stop was at the Allivial Fan Falls.  This waterfall was created by a major flood due to a failure in a dam upstream.

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Alluvial Fan Falls

Heading up Old Fall River Road, we saw so many beautiful sights.  Everywhere you looked, it was a Kodak moment. Dia drove my Jeep so I could take photos.  She loves driving my Jeep – especially off road.  🙂 At one point, Dia almost ran over a marmot who had no fear of the Jeep.  Evidently he’s used to tourists feeding him as they pass.

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Kelly and her Jeep (not her husband’s Jeep) 😉

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Dia and Scarlett enjoying the drive up Old Fall River Road

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Marmot

I especially loved this little waterfall at the beginning of the drive.  There was no formal trail, just enough of a path to view the water closer.

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Further up the road we came to Chasm Falls – another waterfall on my “must see” list.  What a beautiful waterfall coming through the narrow canyon.

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Looking downstream

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Scarlett, Kelly & Dia

Scarlett loves water – so of course we had to let her play a little before hitting the road again.

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Scarlett enjoying the falls in her own way 🙂

Soon we were climbing higher and higher.  The views expanded.  Just glorious!

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Gorgeous views from Old Fall River Road.

We eventually rose above the tree line.  Beautiful!  We came across patches of wildflowers.  Everything was so green – way different from New Mexico.

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Just before reaching the RMNP Alpine Visitor Center, we came across more marmot.  I liked how this one posed nicely for me.

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Marmot

The views at the visitor center overlooking a glacial cirque were truly breathtaking.   The grasses were so lush and the snow provided a beautiful contrast to the photos.

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Glacial Cirque

There is a hike from the visitor’s center that takes you to a peak.  It was tough going considering there was very little oxygen at 12,000 feet above sea level.  The views from the top were amazing.  I love exploring!

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Trail from the visitor’s center.

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Breathtaking views!

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Dia

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Where’s Starbucks???!!!!!

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Views of the visitor center from the top of the trail.

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Dia, Kelly and Scarlett at the top!

After a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center, we decided to take the drive to Grand Lake.  We wound our way back down the other side of the mountain.  At the bottom we took a short hike to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful weather.  I saw several sparrows in this area but only managed to get one pic of a Savannah Sparrow.

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Such a lush valley of green

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These squirrels found a good home.

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Dia happy with her Starbucks! 🙂

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This was the only butterfly I saw that day. Terrible photo as I didn’t have my birding lens.  I believe this is a Mormon Fritillary

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Savannah Sparrow

As we made our way toward Grand Lake we saw a turn off for Lake Irene.  What a serene little lake.

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Lake Irene

As we left Irene Lake we saw a bunch of folks looking into the dense brush along the road.  We figured they’d spotted something good.  And indeed they had – a moose!  Actually two moose – a mother and calf.  They were a ways away and in dense brush, but I managed to get a couple photos.  I’d never seen a moose before!

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Moose with calf

We also saw some nice bull Elk along the road.  One was really enjoying the good life of summer.

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Very healthy bull Elk

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Enjoying summer

Near Grand Lake I spotted an Osprey nest.  It’s always a good day when you see a bird of prey.

 

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Osprey

Grand Lake was very touristy and actually not in RMNP.  So we turned around and decided to drive the Ridge Road back to Estes Park.  Once again we were in store for more stunning views way above the tree line.

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Click, click, click….I took over 5,000 photos on this trip! Yikes!

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Expansive views

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I love the high alpine meadow flowers – so small and delicate.

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Dia and Kelly

At one point we saw a nice herd of elk.  They were grazing in the high meadows well above 11,000 feet.  They have a very picturesque home.

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Scarlett was enjoying all the sights and smells.

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So many smells!!!!

We stopped at one pullout to view a glacier.

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Hmmmm…look at my Jeep keys precariously dangling from Dia’s hand….

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Glacier at 12,000 feet.  I love the blue pool of water in the lower right.

While taking photos, Dia noticed a little brown bird hopping just below us.  I quickly got my birding lens and was happy to see it was a Brown-Capped Rosy Finch.

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Brown-Capped Rosy Finch

Further down the road we stopped at another pullout.  There were lots of folks feeding the birds and squirrels here.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take close up photos of the rather tame squirrels.

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What a cutie!

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excuse me…you have something in the corner of your mouth…

But I was thrilled to see a Clark’s Nutcracker here looking for handouts.  I’ve only seen this bird once before several years ago in Santa Fe.  I’ve heard them a few times since then, but never saw them for a photo.  So it was great to see this bird close up!

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Clark’s Nutcracker

The views from this location were beautiful.  You could see the entire valley below.  You can even see the Alluvial Fan Falls area we had visited in the morning.

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It was a full day of fun!!!  Off to bed early for another full day of exploring!

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These flowers were extremely tiny!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Weekend in Taos, New Mexico

My friend Dia and I went for a quick trip to Taos, New Mexico, recently.  My goal was to photograph several historic churches and see the Taos Pueblo and the graveyard there.

I needed to stop by a job site on the way there, so we decided to make a big circle for our road trip.  On the way to Taos we went through Las Vegas, New Mexico.   I mentioned to Dia there was a pretty little glacial lake just north of there.  One thing I’ve learned about Dia – take her to any kind of water and she’s a happy girl!

We were soon at Morphy Lake.  Such a peaceful place.  Set at a higher elevation, it was a nice 75 degrees there in hot summer.

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Morphy Lake

While walking the shore, I happened to notice a giant tadpole.  After further searching, we saw lots of them in different stages of changing into a frog.  We even saw some fully formed frogs.  I also saw an oddly colored fish.

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This frog still has his tadpole tail.

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hmmmmm….not sure what kind of fish this is

Then Dia saw a crawdad.  She’s fascinated by these guys! Soon she was trying to catch one.  After a couple of attempts, she got one!

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Slowly…..slowly…..closer……

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Got him!

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Success!

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Oh dear…. lol!

Soon we were on our way again.  We passed through a few small towns and past Sipapu Ski area.  We were climbing in elevation the entire drive.

We came upon a pretty stream.  Scarlett was wanting to get out for a bit.  Knowing how much she loves water, I figured this would be a nice place to stretch our legs.   Soon Dia and Scarlett were in the water having a fun time.  I swear I was traveling with two kids!  🙂

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Dia and Scarlett having fun! 

Once in Taos we ate lunch at a local restaurant called the Farmhouse that uses fresh farm grown produce.  Sadly the food really wasn’t very good and I can’t recommend a visit there to eat. But the grounds were pretty with a pond, wildflowers and garden spinners.

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Pond at the Farmhouse Restaurant

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I love garden spinners

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Funky Taos art

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Dia, Kelly & Scarlett

Then I noticed an old rusted truck out in a field.  As you’ve probably figured out by now, I can’t resist photographing old rusty things!!!

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I love all the different layers of paint (and a little bondo)

We also had to pose on this truck LOL!  But the metal was hot as fire making it difficult to do much. LOL!

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Kelly

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Dia

We ate at a local bar that is housed in the oldest building in Taos.  We had a great time having a couple of margaritas and playing shuffleboard.

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Delicious margaritas and it was happy hour!

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Kelly and Dia enjoying drinks on the patio

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Dia won both games of shuffleboard

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My silly friend!

Finally the sun was setting.  Time to get out for some sunset and blue hour photos of the mission at Ranchos de Taos.  This mission was built in 1772 and has been wonderfully kept over the years.

We got there just as the sun was setting.  It was a gorgeous evening.

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I especially loved this photo I captured.

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Dia wanted me to take a photo of her that made her look like a ghost.  After several attempts, I think I got a decent shot.  I’m only just learning how to do night photography.  I still have lots more to learn but having fun trying!

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Ghostly Dia

The next morning we got up early to visit Taos Pueblo.  We drove through the northern end of town to get there.  And wouldn’t you know it I saw one of my nemesis birds – the Black-Billed Magpie.  And I didn’t have my birding lens!  Ahhhhh!  These birds were everywhere.  After several attempts I did manage to get a decent pic with the setup I had on hand.

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Black-Billed Magpie

When we got to the pueblo, we found out it was closed due to a funeral.  😦  So I guess I will have to plan another trip there to see the sights on the pueblo.

We stopped for gas and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this crow in the parking lot.

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American Crow

Since our original destination was closed, we headed over to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  The morning was very hazy, so the photos really weren’t that good.  But we still had a fun time on the bridge and shopping the local artist tables there.  We each bought a pretty ring and earrings.  🙂

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Rio Grande Gorge

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Kelly’s feet – it’s a loooong way down to the river

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Dia and Kelly at the gorge bridge

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We even saw big horn sheep down in the gorge.

On the way home we took a different route.  We took the “High Road” back home.  This road takes you up high in the mountains through the quaint towns of Las Trampas and Truchas.  It was too bad the day was so hazy, because the views from this drive are amazing!

There’s a beautiful historical church in Las Trampas built in 1760.  It has some interesting details.  Plus there was also a House Sparrow pair busily building a nest.

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San Jose de Garcia Church

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This angel was carved above the door.

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House Sparrow

Further down the road is Truchas.  It’s perched high on a mountain with long reaching views.   As we were looking for the church there, we came upon a flock of Evening Grosbeak.  I still didn’t have my birding lens, so was challenged to get a decent pic. They are such beautiful birds.

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Evening Grosbeak

There is a quaint church off a small side road – Our Lady of the Rosary built in 1764.

Our last stop was at Chimayo.  The El Santuario de Chimayo is a National Historic Landmark and is famous for it’s healing holy dirt.  It was founded in 1816 and people pilgrimage here from all over to receive blessing and leave mementos of loved ones.  It would be easy to spend several hours here exploring and enjoying the peaceful setting.

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I loved the murals in this little side sanctuary

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While Dia and I walked around, we left Scarlett in the Jeep.  She was not happy with this decision.  LOL!

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Scarlett left in the Jeep – poor girl…..

We had a fun filled couple of days and saw lots of sights.  But I know I have to plan another trip in the future to see Taos Pueblo.

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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 6 Nevada & Utah

This day was one of the funnest days of our trip.  We covered a lot of miles and saw some stunning scenery.

We left Ely, NV, and started heading to Utah.  Before we left the area, I had Tim stop again at the Comins Lake.  It was such a great place for birding.

This morning I saw completely different birds than I had seen the evening before.  Which I loved!

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Sagebrush Sparrow

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Solitary Sandpiper

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Eared Grebe

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

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Sage Thrasher

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Barn Swallows

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Vesper Sparrow

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Brewer’s Sparrow

After birding for a short while, a Great Blue Heron came flying in.  I love these elegant birds.

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Great Blue Heron

He wasn’t too sure about me walking along the shoreline.  So he flew to the other side of the lake.  I captured a few photos in flight.  When I was editing the photos, I saw an elusive warbler flying in the photos as well.  Looked like a Yellow Warbler – so bright! Wish I could have gotten some good photos of that warbler.

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Great Blue Heron – see that bright yellow warbler!!!

I also saw a tiny bird feeding along the edge of the reeds.  It’s obviously a juvenile.  But I had a heck of a time identifying this bird.  My conclusion is that it’s a juvenile Virginia Rail.  But if someone knows the correct identification of this bird, I’d appreciate knowing.

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Juvenile Virginia Rail

Too soon we were on our way.  I never want to leave a good birding spot!  We started heading further south.  One of our planned stops on this trip was Cathedral Gorge State Park.  It’s a small park comprising about 1600 acres, but just beautiful!  We had a good time exploring all the small slots formed in the rocks.  I could easily spend a day investigating all the cracks and crevices. Very unique!

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Cathedral Gorge State Park

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Unique geology

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Tim exploring

 

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Just beautiful!

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Interesting holes and cracks

 

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Kelly exploring the slots

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View from inside the slot canyon

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My handsome husband!

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Kelly inside the deepest slot canyon

Tim spotted a lizard among the formation.  Yay!

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Plateau Fence Lizard

We next headed east toward Utah.  We headed up a scenic highway called Cedar Canyon that was truly breathtaking at every turn.  We climbed very quickly with some steep grades at times.  One of the most scenic highways I had ever seen.

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River along Highway 14 Cedar Canyon

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Gorgeous rock formations along the scenic drive

We soon had gone from 4,800 foot elevation at Cathedral Gorge to 10,000 feet.   The views were so expansive!

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Views from 10,000 feet

I saw on the map that there was a National Park just ahead of us:  Cedar Breaks National Park.  Of course we just had to stop in.  And I am so glad we did.  Just breathtaking!!!

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Cedar Breaks National Park

 

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Stunning!

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View from 10,000 feet

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From 10,000 feet the bottom of the canyon is 2000 feet below

The views looking down into that canyon were breathtaking.  I would have loved to see what the views looked like from down in the bottom of that canyon.

While there I saw (and heard!) and Clark’s Nutcracker.  These birds are big and loud.  Sadly it flew away before I could get a photo.

Further up the road was another turnoff that showed a different view of the park.

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Tim and Kelly

At the parking area of Cedar Breaks there were lots of wildflowers with butterflies busily feeding.  Along with the familiar butterflies, I actually got a new one!

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Hoary Comma

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Mourning Cloak

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Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – a new butterfly for me!

Heading down the other side of the mountain, we saw a beautiful lake, mountain meadows and small ponds.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

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Sheep grazing in a high mountain meadow

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Navajo Lake – a high mountain lake formed by lava

 

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American Avocets

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Mallard female

We stopped at one pond that was full of ducks.  As we watched the ducks an osprey flew over looking for some lunch.  He circled a couple times but didn’t see anything worth trying for and flew away.

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Osprey

We finally made it off that mountain and to our destination of the Zion Mountain Ranch.  It’s an actual working buffalo ranch.  The buffalo were there but way far away.  I had hopes of seeing them up close before we left.

We stayed in a private cabin overlooking the horse pasture.  A very peaceful setting.

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Our cabin at Zion Mountain Ranch

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cozy…..

Tomorrow we see Zion!
P.S.  I just learned this was my 100th post!!! 🙂

 

 

 

 

20th Anniversary Trip – Day 3 Nevada

We finally made it to Winnemucca, Nevada.  You’re probably scratching your head asking, “Where are they? Why did they go there? How do you pronounce that?!”  All valid questions!  LOL!  We got that a lot when we would tell friends and family where we were going on our trip.

As you know, my passions are birding and photography.  I’m happiest outdoors with camera in hand. Well, my husband is happiest when he has his metal detector in his hand.  He’s a geologist and loves to hunt for gold.  There aren’t too many hobbies out there that actually make money instead of spending it.  🙂

Tim had read about a well known area in northern Nevada that was known for shallow placer gold.  It’s called Rye Patch.  And it’s located about 40 miles west of Winnemucca, Nevada.  It was discovered in the 1970s and has been a popular destination for gold hunters ever since.

So we got up early and drove out to Rye Patch State Recreation Area, a man-made lake which is fed by the Humboldt River.  We crossed the dam and headed to the Majuba Mountain range.  The gold is reported to be at the base of these mountains.

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect the countryside to be like when we were planning this trip.  I had imagined beautiful forested mountains with a peaceful lake.  It definitely wasn’t that.
The terrain was actually high plains.  There wasn’t one cactus that I could see, which was great!  It made for much easier walking through the grasses.  There wasn’t one tree in sight.

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Rye Patch gold area in the foreground with Rye Patch lake in the background

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Golden grasslands for miles

When we finally parked after driving for 15 miles or so on dirt roads, Tim noticed right away we had gotten a punctured tire.  Drat! But fortunately, he had a mini compressor in the truck and we were able to air up the tire which would give us time to drive the 30 miles to a little town near Rye Patch to get it fixed.  So with no worries, we each started exploring the area.

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So glad Tim had this compressor or he would have had to change a tire!

There weren’t any trees, but I did notice a thick stand of bushes about 100 feet away.  So I headed in that direction hoping to find some birds.  I figured any birds in the area would be drawn to those bushes.  It turned out to be a good idea.  I saw most of my birds in this small area.  I was excited to see a warbler as my first bird sighting of the day.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

The most prolific bird of the day was Sagebrush Sparrows.  They were everywhere and didn’t limit themselves to the little area of bushes.  They migrate to New Mexico for the winter and are not easy to find there.  So I was thrilled to have so many subjects to see.

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Sagebrush Sparrow

 

Here are the other birds I saw in that little area of bushes.  Birds were scarce!

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Brewer’s Sparrow

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

My friend Valerie texted me to see what I was up to that day.  So I took this picture just for her.  LOL!  She tells me I take photos of every rusted thing I see.  😉

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Rusty soda can circa 1970s  😉

I had thought I would see lots of lizards.  Back home in New Mexico I usually see lizards often when I’m out hiking.  But not so in this part of the country.  I had gone most of the day without seeing one lizard.  Then finally I spotted a tiny lizard sunning himself on a rock.  I slowly crept closer to get a photo.

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Western Fence Lizard

I soon realized he was very tame and didn’t seem to mind me coming closer.  Before I knew it, I was 3 feet away taking photos of all angles.  🙂  At one point I reached out a finger to see if he would move.  And he licked it!   LOL!!

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Western Fence Lizard

I noticed some movement on the ground while photographing this lizard.  When I turned, I saw there was a sparrow foraging on the ground.  So I quickly got a pic.

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Savannah Sparrow

While I was entertaining myself with birds and lizards, Tim was busy looking for gold.  I could tell he had covered a lot of ground.

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Tim working hard looking for gold

 

At one point, Tim got my attention and pointed to the sky.  There we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk looking for brunch.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

I decided to head back to the truck for a cold drink.  The day had gotten warm at 90 degrees.  As I neared the truck, I saw a giant lizard run under a bush.  I quickly forgot about that drink.  I wanted to see this lizard! I stayed still and watched the opening at the base of the bush where I saw it run in.  Soon I was rewarded with my patience!  He started creeping out of his lair.  This big guy was easily 12 inches long if not longer.

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard coming out of his lair

I guess he decided I wasn’t a threat and quickly started hunting.  I was able to take quite a few photos of this beautiful lizard.  A real treat!

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

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Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

Then I heard Tim calling me.  He wanted me to video him digging up a target.  Now I always tell him every time he asks me to video him, the target usually is trash.  It’s like I jinx it.

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Narrowing down the location of the target. 

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Using tweezers to scrape in the cracks of bedrock.

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He then uses a straw (or in this case a dismantled ball-point pen) to blow out the dirt and hopefully reveal the gold in a crack

Sure enough, this target was trash…a .22 bullet.  Sigh….  But in the end he did find a nugget.  And what he thought might be a silver nugget.  But when he was able to clean it up, he decided it was a piece of lead.

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While exploring the area, I came across a lone blooming bush.  Most of the area’s bushes were done blooming.  So this was a very popular bush with the bees and wasps.

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I like the green eyes

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A busy bee 🙂

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Wasp

While photographing the bees, I noticed this spider lair.  The opening to the hole was about an inch in diameter.  That’s a big spider!  I caught a few bugs and threw them in the web in hopes of getting a photo of this spider.  But he was just too fast! I didn’t think to video him at the time.  Ah well….

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Funnel Web Spider lair

After a full day of fun, we aired up the tire and headed to Lovelock, NV, to get the tire repaired and get a bite to eat.  We stopped briefly at the campground along the Humboldt River to see what birds might be about.  We couldn’t stay long as the tire was losing air!

But I did get a few more bird photos.  🙂

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A hot Horned Lark

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Great Egret

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Snowy Egrets

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Snowy Egret

As we entered Lovelock Tim spotted a nice group of Wild Turkeys in a farm field but I didn’t have my camera ready and missed the shot.  Dang!

We still had some daylight left after visiting Lovelock.  So we decided to explore the area some before heading back to Winnemucca.  I had seen on the map there were Tufa Formations nearby.  We didn’t know what these were, so we went looking for them.  We drove, and drove, and drove and climbed up a mountain…but no Tufa Formations.  We were on a very curvy dirt road.  At one point we had a horrifying experience!  A Sheriff’s SUV came flying around a curve  going about 60 mph and saw us at the last minute.  He slammed on the breaks and turned sideways sliding towards us, dirt flying, and me screaming! Thankfully he narrowly missed us and just kept on going.   He didn’t have any lights or sirens going, so we had not idea he was heading towards us at such a breakneck speed.  I’m so glad we escaped what could have been a horrible accident.

Along this dirt road, Tim spotted a cool rock formation.  It’s handy having a geologist in the car.  🙂

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Columnar Jointing

Soon we were at the top of the mountain.  Tim asked me, “Where are these Tofu formations supposed to be?”   I laughed and said it’s “Tufa” and I think we passed them.

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View from the top of the mountain outside of Lovelock, NV

So we headed back down the mountain, with one eye looking out for that crazy sheriff.  When we got back to the highway, we realized the Tufa Formations were right there.  Pretty nondescript and not worth hiking to them to get a photo.  But during our day we had seen a squirrel that moved as fast as lightening.  Now I had tried to get a photo of this speedy guy, but he was just too quick! We saw another one of these squirrels as were we heading back to the highway.  This one ran lickety split to a far hill and stopped briefly.  Long enough to get a quick pic.  Then off in a flash he was gone!

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Harris’s Antelope Squirrel – it holds it’s tail over its back to shade itself.

We then drove to the Humboldt Mountain range looking for an old ghost town called Willow Creek.  We didn’t find Willow Creek but we did find Star City.

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Road to Star City

It was a beautiful drive up the mountain on a skinny dirt road following a stream.  Most of the time you couldn’t see the stream as it was hidden by thick vegetation.  But at the base of the mountain, the stream was dammed and rerouted.  We passed a few folks camping by the stream.

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Small dam on the way to Star City

 

We didn’t see but a few crumbling foundations at the site of Star City.  We were running out of daylight to explore for more ruins.  But the drive was beautiful and the views were grand.

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View from Star City

By now it was almost dark, so time to head home.  We were treated to a beautiful sunset.

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Beginning of a beautiful sunset

Stay tuned for Day 4!

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Summer Hiking in the Sandias

I’ve been hiking a lot lately trying to get in better shape before winter starts.  And also for an upcoming trip in September for my 20th anniversary.  So I’ve been putting in lots of miles over the past several weeks.  Scarlett loves it of course.

Yesterday I didn’t really want to go hiking.  But Scarlett all but pulled me out of my chair, handed me my keys and shoved me  into the car! I’m glad I went though because it was perfect hiking weather.

As you can imagine, summers in New Mexico can be very hot.  So I do a lot of hiking way up high in the mountains where the temperature is much cooler.  The trails are very pretty this summer with lush grasses and wildflowers.

One of the hikes I really enjoy is a series of trails that take you to the top of the Sandias where there’s a huge meadow and a stone building called the Kiwanis Cabin.  I visited the cabin last summer with Scarlett but hadn’t been back until the last few weeks.

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Panorama of the views from Kiwanis cabin

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Panorama of the Kiwanis meadow

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Mule Deer with antlers in velvet

Of course, I had to make Scarlett pose at the cabin 🙂

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Miss Scarlett posing for me at the cabin

There’s a sign at the cabin with an official letter from the forest service telling you not to climb on the cabin’s roof or you could be fined and/or jailed.  I love the comment someone wrote on this notice.

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The views from the Kiwanis Cabin are beautiful.  You can see for miles and miles.  This summer has been very humid for us so the views have been limited some.  But still great nonetheless.

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View looking south from Kiwanis meadow

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Panorama of southern view from Kiwanis meadow

One of the days I was hiking, the clouds were hanging right at the top of the mountain.  It made for a pretty photo.  And really cooled things off!

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Hiking in the clouds

Scarlett loves hiking. She loves to explore, run, sniff everything! She’s a great hiking companion.

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Sweet Scarlett posing for me again.  🙂

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I love this photo of Scarlett.  The ground was wet so she left footprints on the rocks.

As you know by now, Scarlett loves water.  There’s not much water to be had in the Sandias this time of year.  But Scarlett still managed to have some fun in a water puddle left by the summer monsoons.

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Scarlett loves water!

The birds have been very quiet this late summer.  The raising of their young is just about finished and molting is starting.  Sightings are much more difficult this time of year.  But I still managed to see several variety of birds over the last few weeks.

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Baby Western Bluebird

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Plumbeous Vireo

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Western Tanager – female

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Western Bluebird

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I believe this is a Nashville Warbler

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A very scrappy looking Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

One day I hiked over to the tram for a little change of scenery.  Scarlett and I met up with some sweet girls visiting here with their church group.  They loved Scarlett.

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Tram leaving the station

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Scarlett’s newest fan club members (Hanna, Karli and Lexi)

From the tram, you can see the Kiwanis cabin in the distance at the top of the peak.

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Kiwanis Cabin as seen from the tram (zoomed in of course!)

This year was a really good year for the House Wrens.  I’ve seen lots of babies while hiking.  They are just adorable.  And they haven’t learned to fear people yet, letting me get close for some nice photos.

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A pair of baby House Wrens.  They were waiting at the top of a bush for a parent to come by and feed them.

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This baby House Wren let me get really close.

Not very many butterflies were out on my hikes.  But I did manage to get a few.  There were lots of bees visiting the wildflowers.  I found one bee that was wet and cold and just sitting on a flower trying to warm up.  I took advantage of this to get a really close up pic.

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California Sister

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Field Crescent

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Painted Lady

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Cold, wet bee

Some of the days I hiked over to the travertine falls.  The falls are only a trickle this time of year, but still nice.

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Travertine Falls with wild mint and grapes growing at the base.

I’ve noticed a lot of trail maintenance this summer.  It’s nice that people volunteer their time to keep the trails cleared of fallen trees and overgrown brush.  Someone got really creative on the South Crest Trail near the falls.

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Natural art on the South Crest Trail

Scarlett posed for me at the falls.  Such a good girl!

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Miss Scarlett

Around this time of year is when you are more likely to see baby horned toads.  I love these little guys.  I usually can’t resist picking them up.  This also shows you how tiny they are!

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Adult horned toad

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Baby horned toad

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This is the same baby.  You can see it’s tiny!

Lots of lizards on the trails too!

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Of course, no visit to the Sandia Mountains in the summer would be complete without a trip to Capulin Spring.  But I have to say, I’m very disappointed in the recent work done at the spring.  I had been told they were going to clean up the area around the spring.  What happened in realty was way worse.  It was almost complete devastation of the surrounding area.  I met up with a woman there that had come upon the workers as they were “cleaning up” and she managed to stop the complete devastation of the area.  What is more disturbing, is that this was organized by the local Audubon chapter.

There were a couple small trees that people sat under for shade and concealment that have been completely removed.  Now when you sit to watch the birds you are completely exposed to the sun and to the birds.

There were two bushy trees to the right of the log that the birds loved.  They would land there to be sure it was safe to visit the spring and also to sit in and groom after they bathed.  One of the trees is a maple.  We have very few maples in this state.  The woman I spoke to stopped them from completely taking out these trees.  But they are half gone  now.

They had completely taken out the bushes on the way to the spring.  This woman asked the workers if they had checked the bushes for nesting House Wrens before they chopped them down.  They said no.  The college students helping the workers were horrified when they realized they had chopped down a bush with baby wrens in a nest.

They took out several big trees too.  The wood hasn’t been hauled off.  The debris from chopping down the beautiful bushes is still piled up.   The place is a disaster.  And the birds are very skittish now.  They are very hesitant to come to the spring when you are sitting there plain as day.  Even the common Dark-Eyed Juncos are spooked.

I can only imagine how much worse it could have been if that woman hadn’t gotten there when she did.  She said she had a big fight with them and made them stop.  One of the guys said about one of the workers…

“He just loves to clean up stuff.”  The woman replied that this wasn’t a back yard but a wild forest.  Go clean up somewhere else!

I know there’s more work planned for next summer.  I can only hope that future work there is considered and supervised much more carefully.  Ultimately this spring is for the birds and wildlife of the area.  We are just visitors there.

OK, I will get off my soapbox for now.  Here are some photos of the birds I saw at the spring.  It’s always a treat to see warblers!

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Virginia’s Warbler

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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

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Band-Tailed Pigeons

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Yell0w-Rumped Warblers having fun!

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Dark-Eyed Junco – this one had a white tail.

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Mountain Chickadee

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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MacGillivray’s Warbler

I can never resist photographing the little chipmunks at the spring.  They are always so adorable!

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While driving to the trail head the other day, I saw a Yellow Warbler fly by and land in a juniper tree.  I immediately turned around and parked for some photos.  He was busy hunting for insects but I managed to get a couple of pics.  I also saw a flock of Bushtits feeding in the same tree.  Bonus!

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Yellow Warbler

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Yellow Warbler

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Bushtit

Until next time!!!

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Scarlett says “See you again soon!”