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new mexico trip report, part 1

2004-11-26 - 4:46 p.m.

all photos � 2004 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams

greater sandhill cranes, new mexico
You have entered Part 1 of my New Mexico trip report. For the bird list, click here.

November 13, 2004

A lady is allowed two carry-ons including her purse. A gentleman is allowed two carry-ons including a camera bag or a briefcase. As a birder, I found myself with the following two carry-ons -- an optics bag holding the binoculars and my spotting scope, and a longer but skinnier bag containing the tripod. Oops, no purse. So, to get around carrying a handbag, I opted to wear an old Banana Republic photographer's vest from the 1980s with too many pockets to count. After I had passed through security, a TSA worker had a second thought, and she came back to check and see if I was sure that I wasn't carrying a purse. No, ma'am, I just have a lot of pockets. She walked off shaking her head but she agreed that I was within the rules and didn't have to check one of my bags. Whew. The tripod bag would probably be OK, even if subjected to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers, but why chance it if you don't have to?

I was successfully upgraded to first class. It was too early for a real drink, but I ordered a Bailey's on the rocks just to have something to sip and to make the hoi poi jealous as they boarded after me. I never said that Peachfront was mature.

The second leg of our journey was on a tiny puddle jumper that didn't have a first class. Fortunately, there was no one seated in my row, and I called DH forward so that he could have the two seats to himself on one side and I could have the two seats on the other. No first class service, no weird pasta salad or free drinks, but at least we had room to stretch out.

I'm embarrassed to say how little we paid for our first-ever Priceline hotel room. It was a steal. Nice and roomy, with free shuttle service to and from the airport. We even had a little glass door leading to the roof over the restaurant -- but, alas and alack, someone had "fixed" the door so that we couldn't actually climb out on the roof. We had to be content to enjoy the Albuquerque city lights through the glass.

view from our priceline room
view from our first-ever priceline hotel room
Nov. 14, 2004

We picked up a little gold Impala rental car and set out to explore the Sandia Mountains, including a ride on what they claim to be the world's longest tram ride.

Yeah, we trammed from 6,669 feet to 10,378 feet right into the middle of a blizzard. The furry boots and silk interlock underwear proved their value that day.

We had a blast trying to photograph snow. The Olympus didn't "white out" the scenes; in fact, it did a beautiful job. I got a kick out of capturing some feather-like snow crystals that grew sidewise instead of down like the icicles I'm familiar with.

feather like snow crystals at Sandia Peak At one point we took a break to enjoy hot drinks at the High Finance restaurant at the top of the mountain. Roger had a classic Irish coffee, while I had a concoction of:

  • Kahlua
  • Baileys
  • Grand Marnier
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hot coffee
  • all topped with whipped cream

Well, it was a vacation.

We saw no birds in the snow, but as we explored the mountain paths at a lower elevation, we encountered a singing male House Finch, a bold Canyon Towhee, and many Dark-Eyed Juncos, many of the Gray-Headed type but a few of the Oregon (hooded) type.

Nov. 15, 2004

project mogul In the morning, we stopped by Old Town to visit the National Atomic Museum. The photo on the right, of a balloon similar to the alien spacecraft that landed in Roswell in 1947, was taken there.

In the afternoon, we took a quick spin around Elephant's Butte to make sure we knew where the marina was. Along the way, we encountered some adorable Gambel's Quail playing in the street. Then we took a ride upwards into the snow-kissed mountains of the Gila National Forest. The golden leaves and black limbs of some lightning-blasted cottonwoods rising from the snow caught my eyes, as did the spectacular rocks that loomed like ancient castles over the highway.

cottonwood in the snow

Nov. 16, 2004

My history of bringing rain to the drought-stricken areas of the world continues in an unbroken streak. When we arrived at Elephant Butte in the morning, a marina employee exclaimed, "I haven't seen rain like this in six or seven years!" Little did he know that the rainmaker had arrived.

I feel a little sorry for DH since he can presumably remember a time before everywhere he went, it rained. I've always been like this, so I don't really notice anything. Once, as a teen-ager, I went on a 9 weeks camping trip with some kids from my school. They say it was the rainiest summer in 20 years!

Fortunately, the wind wasn't bad at all, and all the other birders who signed up, showed up, so the tour was not cancelled. We boated for a few hours on the lake, enjoying the gray sky and water in contrast to the bright orange salt cedar. The vivid orange bills of the Clark's Grebe compared to the greenish-yellow of the Western Grebe seemed to stand out for miles.

elephant butte fall colors

One of the tour organizers cooked an organic turkey and bean chili on the boat, which helped take off the chill. Later in the day, after the rain had passed, we also took a stroll along the river. At first, it was rather quiet, but suddenly we had an explosion of small eye-catching birds.

Birds seen today in approximately the order seen:

  1. Chihuahuan Raven
  2. Common Merganser, female
  3. Western Grebe
  4. Clark's Grebe
  5. Eared Grebe
  6. Ring-Billed Gull
  7. Herring Gull, one immature
  8. Double-Crested Cormorant
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. White Pelican
  11. Osprey
  12. Northern Harrier
  13. Northern Shoveler

    white pelican

  14. Mallard
  15. Brewer's Blackbird
  16. Snow Geese
  17. Gambel's Quail
  18. Red-Shafted Flicker
  19. House Sparrow
  20. Northern Mockingbird
  21. Ladderback Woodpecker pair
  22. White-Crowned Sparrow
  23. Pyrrhuloxia
  24. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
  25. Black Phoebe
  26. Gadwall -- pairs
  27. American Wigeon
  28. Belted Kingfisher
  29. Black-Throated Sparrow
  30. Spotted Towhee
  31. Loggerhead Shrike
  32. Chipping Sparrow
  33. Curve-Billed Thrasher

We had dinner at an old-style diner in Soccoro called El Camino that looked like Winkie's in Mulholland Drive, except with older and more authentic period lighting. The crunchy Chili Rellenos were to die for and I think I almost did, since I could not resist eating them to the bursting point.

You have just read Part 1 of my trip report from New Mexico. Part 2 will focus on the spectacular Festival of the Cranes, so stay tuned.

el camino lighting fixtures, the real thing

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