2004-11-28 - 9:08 a.m.
all photos © 2004 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams
Nov. 20, 2004
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.
a tiny piece of trinitite photographed at trinity site
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 barn/bunkhouse
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.
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.
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