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new mexico trip report part 3

2004-11-28 - 9:08 a.m.

all photos © 2004 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams

bosque del apache, sunset

You have arrived at Part 3 of my New Mexico trip report. To start with Part 1, click here. To go to Part 2, click here.

Nov. 20, 2004

sharp-shin hawk A young Bald Eagle had joined the majestic adult on its snag when we visited the refuge in the morning. We explored on our own and found a beautiful but tiny Sharp-Shinned Hawk posed in a tree near the road. It was a three raptor stop, since a Northern Harrier skimmed right past the Sharpie tree and a Red-Tailed Hawk cried enthusiastically to draw our attention to where he hunted just across the street.

We lunched at the famous (at least among birders) Owl Bar and Cafe with its delicious green chili cheeseburgers and its insanely delectable onion rings. A man who had been 12 years old at the time of the Trinity blast told the story of being gotten out of bed to watch the blast while drinking hot chocolate. Although no one really knew what they had seen, it was clearly the moment when his life changed. Instead of working in his family's grocery store (which was on the site of the Owl Bar), he grew up to work at the proving grounds. It was a very emotional story.

Then we visited the site of the first atomic blast itself, our busload of tourists scattering a flock of shorebirds (probably killdeer) who had been grazing quietly in the blast crater. The Army had removed most of the green glass formed by the Trinity blast many years early, but if you looked closely, you could still find a great many pieces of the trinitite winking at you from the ground. There were quite a few rabbit droppings as well, proof, I suppose, that life goes on despite the rather dessicated-looking plant life. But, to be honest, the plant life outside the blast crater didn't look all that enthusiastic either.

site of world's first atomic explosion, the trinity blast

trinity site


a tiny piece of trinitite photographed at trinity site

We kind of got mixed messages on the trinitite. The sign warned that it was illegal to take any, but the guide said that the trinitite sold in the rock shops was stolen, so he didn't seem to advocate that. Then he picked out several pieces and put them out "where people can look at them." I had the impression that he wanted people to take one of these small pieces if they liked. But, you know, they make such a hoo-hah about how they'll do everything but crucify you upside-down if you take any petrified wood from the petrified forest in the next state over that I just didn't know what to think. So I didn't take any.

Later, when we left, I noticed the little pile of trinitite that the guide had picked out still sitting by the obelisk, and I felt a little bad. I didn't want him to think we didn't care. Sometimes it's hard to know what you should do.

I didn't go completely without a souvenir however. Near the old falling-down barn that housed some of the Trinity workers -- the first structure to be damaged by an atomic blast other than the rig supporting the bomb in the air itself -- I found some old purple glass glinting in the sand. There were no signs suggesting that old 1940s purple grape soda glass was the property of the federal government. So I took a couple of pieces that I'll polish into "beach glass" style jewelry.

presumably the first building damaged by an atomic blast, the old 

presumably the first building damaged by an atomic blast, the old barn/bunkhouse

There were herds of Oryx roaming the area, introduced a long time ago by Fish and Wildlife for hunting.

oryx at 
trinity site, new mexico We had dinner at the historic old steakhouse which did not, alas, live up to my snotty ideas of Saturday night out on the town. How do you get gristle in a chicken breast?

Nov. 21, 2004

I couldn't believe how fast time was flying. For our last day, we visited Water Canyon where, from time to time, little swirls of snow would come raining down on us, although it wasn't cold enough to stick. Our scope saved the day, since many of the birds couldn't be seen well without it. I sniffed the bark of the ponderosa pine, which did indeed smell strongly of vanilla, while another birder demurred, muttering, "Tree hugging is one thing, but I draw the line at tree sniffing!" It would be a tough pick, but my favorite bird of the outing would have to be the comical-looking Acorn Woodpecker, who posed for a long time so that everyone could enjoy him both in the binoculars and in the scope.

Back at the visitor center, I watched from the Browser's Corner in hopes of seeing the Green-Tailed Towhee. The towhee was a no-show, but I finally got a look at some Lesser Goldfinches who came to drink. A little brown bat slept near the entrance, while an eye-blastingly gorgeous Yellow-Headed Blackbird male grazed a step or two off the path.

We finally had a chance to check out the exhibits. A confused California kingsnake mutation was mottled, banded, and striped in various areas, making him the curiosity of the herp display. The Rio Grande Zoo brought a van full of critters, including a personable Lorikeet who said, "Hi, come here," and "Thank you," surprising the curator who had thought he was still practicing how to say, "Hi." She kept asking, "Did you hear him say that? Did you hear him say that?" like she was worried that she was imagining things. I assured her that I did hear those phrases and that she was in possession of a talented bird indeed.

Many rehabbers had brought injured hawks and owls to give close-up looks at these magnificent birds. A Saw-Whet Owl and and American Kestrel amused me because of their body language; although they shared a perch, they refused to acknowledge each other in any way, shape, or form whatsoever as they sat back to back and gave the impression of each being completely beneath the other's notice. A Burrowing Owl surprised me because it looked so much smaller and thinner than they do in the binoculars.

greater sandhill cranes flying

We took a final guided tour around the refuge. Wouldn't you know it? The very last bird to be added to the list was Greater Roadrunner, but we saw two well, and I think some people saw more. We also saw splendid examples of light morph, rufous morph, and Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk. We were sorry to say good-bye to the 11,000-plus Sandhill Cranes and many other beautiful birds of the Bosque del Apache refuge. There is so much to see in New Mexico, and we've barely scratched the surface.

Nov. 22, 2004

The media and the website fibbed when they said that the planes would be full. Our hopes for a "bump" were dashed, and we didn't get the opportunity to pick up any airline vouchers for future trips. On the positive side, because of the relatively light loads, I was upgraded to first class on both legs of the trip, and we got home right on schedule.

snow geese

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