Gila Storms Continue to Rumble

It is now August 7 and the monsoons continue to rumble through. Life is bucolic. Sometimes for fun I order my favorite videos off Amazon. I got a surprise when I ordered the movie “Departures” and it showed up from Thailand! Another surprise when I had to go into the preferences and change the primary language to Japanese from Thai and the subtitles to English! Funny!

s-Departures from Thailand s-Thai Stamp

On July 31 Chris, her dog (Zuni’s friend) Spike and I took a hike up to White Rocks. I had been there before but it is a good workout. This time I wanted to take pictures, but a midday storm once again rolled in! Not safe to be up there when the lightning is putting on a display! Here are some photos of Spike on the trail, flowers, and searching for dwellings along the cliffs.

s-1a-Spike on the trail s-1b-Flower s-1c-Looking for Cliff Dwellings s-1d-More Flowers s-1e s-1f s-1g s-1h-Remnants of dwellings

s-1i-Chris and Spike s-1j-Photographing penstamen s-2a-Beer Keg-Spike-Chris s-2b-Its a Dogs Life s-2c-Watching approaching storm s-2c-White Rocks s-2d-Exploring White Rock Tanks s-2e-Moth Joining us for lunch s-3a-Sphinx Moth 1 s-3b

The caterpillars just above are reportedly going to be sphinx moths after they grow up. Miles of the trail were crawling with them all headed in one direction! It was an amazing nature site to see! They were as big as my fingers and crawled real fast, occasionally losing their balance and rolling over for a moment before righting themselves and forging ahead. Mesmerizing and kind of yukky, too!

At the end of our hike, Chris and I came back through the corrals and pastures of the National Forrest Service pack animals. It was the late afternoon and I am sure the mules were looking forward to dinner. They were also extremely curious about Spike! Chris was very scared of the mules and I kept shooing them away, but curiosity always got the best of them! The mules are very used to having dogs with them on their treks into the wilderness. I am sure they just wanted to be buddies! Chris is 51 and has never had children, and Spike is her first pet. She says that one of her mother’s favorite lines about her is “Ah, spoken like a woman who has never had kids!”.  She is as protective of Spike as I am of Zuni.

s-Spike 1 s-Spike 2

From the cliff dwellings on one of my work days: Here are some pictures of coworkers Jeff (L) and Greg (R), flowers and watching for the approaching storms in anticipation of closing down for safety reasons.

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Meanwhile back at the contact station I posed Rita the Raven, Petey the Packrat and Jack the Jackrabbit. They help us do tours some days and help keeps kids attention when we are giving them safety orientation before the kids head up to the dwellings. Even adults love them!

s-1f-Rita-Petey-Jack

Two days ago I was going to walk up to the Lightfeather hot springs, but decided I did not want to get my feet wet. Here are some photos of the overgrown trail and the flowers which perfume the trail.

s-Middlefork 8-5-13 s-Middlefork Perfume s-Middlefork Trail Overgrown

Over the weekend we had our first Search and Rescue (SAR) of this season. Three 20-year-olds went by canoe on the Gila river for a 1/4 mile trip. They failed to show up at their pick-up point and their parents reported them missing at our Visitor Center. In the evening our park superintendent, Jeremy, and Chris, who is a trained SAR person in New Mexico hiked all night and failed to find them. As soon as a helicopter could get into the air Sunday morning they immediately found them 9 miles downstream. They were all okay, despite the young woman being a diabetic. Like so many people, it was rumored that there was alcohol inbibed pre-trip and they truly underestimated the wilderness.

Yesterday, I wanted to take an hour or two hike up around the corral behind where we live. It is where Chris and I saw the mules the other day. My little hike turned out like Gilligan’s “three-hour tour”! I got turned around – obviously my internal compass is deficient – and I spent 5 hours hiking. My first thought was “Oh, no! Don’t let me be the second SAR of the season!” Fortunately I was able to figure ou my path and get back okay. Good for my physical fitness level, though!

s-1a-Fenceline s-1b-Flower 1 s-1c-Flower 2 s-Lightfeather 2 s-Lightfeather 3 s-Lightfeather 4 s-Lightfeather Hot Springs 8-6-13

That’s all for today, folks! Back to reading and other stuff around the house, then 4 more workdays!

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Wow! 3 months done!

Three months! It almost seems impossible that this amount of time has passed here at the Gila! We have settled into the monsoon season which seems to have started on about June 29. I believe we have only been able to keep the cliff dwellings open only 4 of the past 26 afternoons. All other days we have had lightning close enough to shut down. (Insert lots of visitor grumbling here.)

The bookstore manager, Randall, was telling me today that the monsoons will start producing more rain and the rain will begin to move from afternoon to after dark. This has sure been true the past couple of days. It makes for good sleeping weather – thunder and the intense drumming of rain on our little roof lull Zuni and me to sleep. The morning temperatures are in the high fifties or low sixties, and thick fog rises up from the low areas between the mountains. One morning all the mountains were enveloped in fog. But by 10:00 a.m. daily the skies are vibrant blue with a few puffy white clouds. The temperatures start zooming up to 85 or more and air conditioners whir to life. But by noon thunderheads billow up, black walls of storm press in from all sides, the temperature drop to 70 and the whole cycle starts all over again!

Where previously the hills were all brown tinder, everything now is green and lush. We even have tiny mosquitoes accompanying the flies! With apologies to Mother Nature I bought flying insect killer at Walmart to protect myself so I could sit outside in my lounger and enjoy the weather a bit.

I love the drive through the mountains to and from Silver City. There are always a few deer grazing roadside, the occasional turkey strutting across the road and of course the surprise bobcat chasing a potential meal of robin. This Monday I saw a mother and dad Montezuma quail with 8-10 babies crossing the mountain road. The male quail are very distinctive – I liken his markings to a 4 year old who has discovered mommy’s eye make up! So far in my travels I have seen California or Gambel’s quail, scaled quail (in Big Bend) and now Montezuma. Since they are normally very fast moving and I cannot activate my camera fast enough, I’ve nabbed some photos from the internet:

montezuma Quail

Scaled Quail – like I saw on the Black Gap Road in Big Bend:

Scaled Quail

Gambel’s Quail – seen several times in my travels:

Gambels Quail

Today I was carefully removing some things from storage under the RV. One always should be wary of scorpions, spiders and snakes in this environment. Wood piles, under rocks and ground level storage areas – like under the RV – are prime habitat for the critters. Low and behold I encountered what I thought was a 3-4” long scorpion!  It lacked the curly tail of a scorpion and had more prominent stick-like legs. It moved real fast and I could not find it again after I got my camera. The full-time residents tell me it is a “vinegaroon”. Non-poisonous. It comes out this time of year and loves to eat other bugs:

vinegaroon2

I almost forgot that Zuni’s dog-friend, Spike, and his mom, Chris, came over to visit last night. The “kids”  enjoyed tearing up a squeaky chew-toy:

s-Zuni and Spike

It is 8:30 p.m. and the thunderstorms are really cranking up now. It is time to get ready for work tomorrow. I’ve got the tour so Petey the packrat and I have got to brush up on our presentation skills! Good night! Here is a picture of the storm moving in before it started to dump on us a few minutes ago:

s-Storm moving in

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Approaching July 4th

It has been a couple of relatively quiet weeks here in the Gila, so I will just share a few photos of recent stuff. The saddest news that almost everyone knows of is of the 19 firefighters who died fighting wild fires in Arizona. So many of the young firefighters (average age 22) come to the Cliff Dwellings on their days off from fighting the nearby Silver Fire. The firefighters are always so cute when they stop by the visitor center picking out Zuni-made earrings for their sweethearts and sometimes for themselves, too. Male or female, they always put on their earrings and ask how they look!

Since I have not been at work the last 3 days I am not sure whether recent rains have quenched the Silver Fire. It had grown to just over 125,000 acres last weekend. After reading “Fire Season” I understand the US Forest Service philosophies of fire fighting better. As the Silver Fire is burning in the wilderness with 100+ years of forest debris fueling it, it is probably in general a “good thing”. Apparently unless the fire is threatening people and homes the forest service is more likely to let the fires burn themselves out. Since naturally started fires (e.g. by lightning) occur at least once every decade, nature’s way is best. The litter needs to burn before it accumulates to the point where it burns so hot it destroys old growth trees (as it is doing now!). Other plants sometimes need fire to open the seeds, etc. and the cycle of life continues. It takes us people a long time to learn our lessons from nature.

Below, pledging in new Junior Rangers and a pretty lizard on the trail:

1a-Jr Rangers Pretty LizardJust before the day of the full moon, here it is rising through the smoke of the Silver Fire. After that the smoke completely obscured the moon and moderated our daytime temperatures to the 70’s!:

1a-Rising Up 1 through Smoke 1b-Rising Up 2

One of the “dig days” was simply doing surface collection. John Heisey referred to it as legalized pot hunting! It is a tool used by archeologists to see if a site has potential for a dig at a later time. Here is a lousy photo of a lovely little parrot head bead and a small arrow point. I did not get a photo of an exciting big spear point blank. Perhaps Aaron will dig here next year. . .

1a-Parrot Bead 1b-Arrowhead

My favorite agave – the Havard Agave on the way into Silver City:

1aSilver City Havard Agave

A chilling day at the camp!! I was minding my own business when a caterpillar as large as my finger with a wasp attached dropped out of the cottonwood tree to the ground inches from me. The wasp was killing the caterpillar and the caterpillar was thrashing around wildly for almost 2 minutes before the it succumbed. I never saw the wasp use its stinger – just biting it!. When the wasp detached and flew away, the caterpillar was clinging to a small twig which I moved away to a secure location about 18″ away from the “kill site”.

The wasp returned in a few moment and it was ANGRY!! It was buzzing around me and acting in a threatening manner, so as carefully as I could I dodged the wasp and moved the caterpillar closer to the kill site. By now the wasp was agitatedly pacing the ground looking for the caterpillar. When it finally found it, he had started from the kill site and walked the “path” to the caterpillar. The wasp was now calm and each time it flew away and returned for more, he landed at the kill site and walked the exact path to the caterpillar each time. Amazing!! It must have created a chemical trail that it followed. By the fourth trip, the caterpillar was gone! I don’t know if the wasp was filling up and regurgitating the load of caterpillar, but each time he flew away there was just a small bit of guts hanging from his mouth area.

Killer Wasp

And then there are the really slow days around camp when I take photos of the birdies and flowers that I am growing . . .

s-1a-Birdie 1 s-1b-Birdie 2 s-1c-Flowers 1

Another dig that I got to see at the Harris site – a great Kiva. If you recall what the dig site of us amateurs looked like, compare the precision of the dig below. Dr. Barb Roth (a leading archeologist) would only allow real archeologists dig at this site and now I can see why! She was excavating a great, “adults only” (i.e. – truly ceremonial) kiva which required extreme care and precision to uncover various adobe floor levels and nuances of construction that were not evident to my untrained eyes. I loved how Dr. Roth was completely covered with dirt and kept calling for more buckets as she dug! The grinning guy is Igor, who was color matching the various soils to known “standards”.  I was also impressed with Dr. Roth and her team – how friendly and willing to share their knowledge!

s-1a-Harris Site-Barb-John-Kathy s-1b-Harris Great kiva s-1c-Igor Color Matching Soil s-1d-Silver Fire in Background s-1e-Bring More Buckets

Well, that is about it for today! I’m having friends over for pasta tonight then back to work for the July 4th weekend!

 

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Dig, Dig, Dig!

Saturday, June 15 – Today I worked at the visitor center so I had some time to catch up on cataloging photos and collecting my thoughts.

First – the archeological dig last Monday! We knew that the day was going to be hot, but I honestly cannot ever remember being coated with dust over every square inch of my body – exposed and unexposed!! We probably hit 100 degrees that day and as a result had to rotate between shady and non-shady jobs. I got to work in the shade most of the day, but volunteered to give someone else a break in the afternoon and dug with a handheld pick. The dust glommed onto the sunblock I had applied and made me look like a grey, wrinkly mummy by days end! Sorry – no photos of the mummy me!

We were also a little concerned as we drove to the site because we got closer and closer to the fire that had started the day before – now known as the Silver Fire. It is still uncontained after all these days, but is not making news because only a small town is threatened. The fires in Colorado are making national news because of the hundreds of homes destroyed and 2 lives to-date lost. Highway 152 through the eastern wilderness is now closed. That is the route that I drove when I went to Las Cruces and White Sands last week. It is heartbreaking to think of the devastation wrought by fire – whether it is started by careless humans or lightning. Below is a photo of the sun rising through the smoke of the fire when we arrived at the archeological site:

s-1a-Day 2 of Silver Fire fm Stewart Site

From left to right: Nicole (student), Aaron (doctoral candidate in charge of this dig), Marilyn (local resident heavily involved in archeology), and Kathy and John (fellow long-term cliff dwelling volunteers and archeology specialists).

 s-1b-Nicole-Aaron-Marilyn-Kathy-John

Marilyn and her jackrabbit mascot: at a dyslexia fundraising event her sister bought her this lovely wooden rabbit painted in the Mimbres pottery style (black on white and very whimsical in design). The jackrabbit comes to all the digs with Marilyn and she took photos of him sitting by the river, having lunch with us, etc. The people of the Mimbres area (very close to here) made the black and white pottery while the people of the cliff dwelling area/era made a plainer brownish or red pottery.

 s-1c-Marilyn and Mascot

The dig (sunny) and sifting (shady) areas: Aaron told us that during the 1970s pot hunters would figure out where ancient dwellings were located, identify the walls and bring bulldozers to scrape away the earth until they located pots. Pots were often buried with the dead under the floor along the interior walls. In some cultures serving bowls would be placed over the face of the deceased. A hole was made in the center of the bottom of the bowl so that spirit of the deceased could ascend to a higher spiritual level. Unfortunately, the pothunters had no respect for the bodies of the deceased and would carelessly toss them aside. When we uncover bodies or remains, we respectfully store them, and then at the end of the dig the archeologist contacts Hopi tribal authorities and arranges for a ceremonial re-internment on the dig site or other sacred lands. The Zuni and Hopi of the Albuquerque area have been biologically linked to the people of this area.

s-1d-Dig Area s-1e-Sifting for Buried treasure

Tuesday, June 11 – Trip to SaddleMountain Lookout

Today I drove about 5 hours to meet John and Melissa Forsythe. John is retired from Big Bend National Park and Melissa is retired from teaching school at the park school, too.  (We were introduced via email by Mike and Nancy Coe from Big Bend when they realized that we would both be working in the Gila this year.) One of Melissa’s dreams was to work in a fire watch tower so she is working on her bucket list! John helps out but is pretty much free to do as he wishes with his time. They are both avid backcountry hikers so most days off they are out camping and hiking.

Below are photos of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness from a wayside vista and views of the trip up Saddle Mountain. I especially love the sign that states “Dangerous Mountain Trail”!

s-1a-Aldo Leopold Wilderness Vista s-1b-Drive up Saddle Mtn s-1c-Dangerous Park Trail s-1d-Saddle Mtn Sign

Next, Melissa shows off the outhouse and her mascot.

s-1e-Melissa Showing off the outhouse s-1f2-Melissa Showing off Beaver Mascot

Here is “home sweet home”, a 12’ x 12’ space complete with stove, refrigerator, fold-out bed with drawers beneath and all the equipment, compasses, maps, etc. for watching for fires. Sorry, no restroom – you have to climb down the stairs to use the outhouse!

s-1f-Home Sweet Home 12x12

John and Melissa leave the fire tower 2 days each week when a relief man takes over. During those 2 days off they stay two hours away in Glenwood in a trailer provided by the fire service. I am sorry that I somehow missed getting any photos of John! But he called Melissa and me down from the tower to get these photos of  a horned toad that lives up on the mountain with them. There are black bear, too, but most of them stay a little further down the mountain (good!).

s-1g2 s-1g-Horned Toad

Wednesday, June 12 – Hiking down to Hinkle Park, Drive Home

The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful view of sunrise from the tower. John cooked his world famous egg sandwiches and I got to see how Melissa’s workday begins. She makes notes about the weather, wind direction, temperatures, and forest conditions and then calls in via radio to the dispatch center. If she spots any smoke she determines the location and coordinates, then calls in to dispatch. With the help of other fire tower observers the exact location is confirmed and a fire fighting crew is usually onsite within minutes assuming conditions are okay for the helicopter to fly.

s-1a-Sunrise from Saddle Mountain

Since it was a short 2.5 mile hike down to Hinkle Park where my car was parked I reluctantly left at a little after 10:00 a.m. Of course, I was watching out for bear and a little disappointed that I did not get to see any. Melissa has seen bear prints on her morning runs and a day or two after I left she saw a bear up in a ponderosa pine at Hinkle Park eating the tree! Awesome!!!  The only fun things I saw were a very noisy Acorn woodpecker in the top of a dead tree and the one remaining lily in the meadow before I got to my car. The Acorn woodpecker was so large and incredibly noisy that when I was able to identify him I almost could not believe it. He reminded me of the pileated woodpeckers I saw raising heck in southern Illinois.

s-1b-Hinkle Park s-1c1-Dead Tree at Hinkle s-1c2-Acorn Woodpecker at Hinkle Park s-1c3 s-1d1-LastLilly at Hinkle s-1d2 s-1e-Lilly Field

June 13-17 – The Workweek & Another Dig Day

Not too much going on at work this last week. One of the highlights was seeing a small herd of elk, including a calf, on my way home from work one day. No pictures – just the image of the big bull standing in the road (as I reached for my camera – not quick enough!) and the mama elk gently guiding her baby away through the woods with the herd. The highlights for me were that new volunteers & friends, Jari and Greg from Colorado, and John and Delona (friends from Big Bend!) arrived! All of them went on the dig Monday (June 17) and it was sure fun to have a big crew. After the dig, I rode with Jari and Greg to Silver City to do some shopping and have gelato (yum!). We drove through the town of Mimbres where acres and acres of fire fighter encampment was set up. They had all flown in to fight the Silver Fire and I was truly amazed at the number of people, cook tents, and other facilities had been set up. Here are some photos from the dig. First, a little toad had set up a home under the tarps overnight!

s-1a-Good morning toad

Next, a photo of Aaron (head of the dig and PhD candidate), Greg and Jari, & John and Delona.

s-1b-Morning Briefing

Here Aaron is giving a little more information about the pueblo and one of the main timbers which would have supported the roof of this large pit house. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he and the other professionals will be able to extract the post. In this photo it has been wrapped in string. Next they will pour paraffin over the timber, wrap it with cotton batting and try to extract it. If it holds together they may be able to have it dated via dendrochronology (tree ring study) or other method.

s-1c-Aaron giving tour s-1d-Main post

The neighbors are watching!! Marilyn told me that on the two previous days they had watched a lizard eat a big millipede and the next day they watched a snake eat the lizard! Cool!

s-1e-Being watched by neighbors

And some miscellaneous photos of the workday:

s-1f-Amy digging s-1g s-1h s-1i s-1j

Tuesday, June 18 – A Day Digging with Lots of Archeologists!

I was the only rookie at today’s dig. Aaron, Marilyn and other archeologists, Darrel, Bob and Nancy were also there. I had fun just keeping my nose to the gritty job of digging while they dug, then discussed theories, dug and discussed . . .

s-1a-Nancy-Bob-Marilyn

Lunchtime at the river:

s-1b-lunch time at river s-1c s-1d

The real shocker of the day was how the Silver fire seemed to have grown! It appeared to be so much closer this afternoon as we crested the hill above the dig area!

s-1e-Fire Grows

From yesterday afternoon, below is a photo of the fire from closer to the place where I live. I just spoke to our acting park superintendent a few moments ago and he said the forest service is estimating the fire will grow another 6,000 acres today because of the wind and high temperatures. For most of the last several weeks, we have had temperatures in the 90s. One day we had a little rain and the temperature dropped to the 70s for about 2 hours. I was FREEZING working at the cliff dwellings that afternoon!

s-1f-Fire from closer to home

I am resting today! I have blisters on my fingers from swinging the rock hammer and new muscles which are sprouting on my forearm too! Zuni appreciates me being home and has worked extra hard to make me giggle with her bird-chasing-through-the-window antics.

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White Sands National Monument

Howdy everyone! Before I forget again – last week I saw a bobcat chasing a robin across highway 15 just before I got into Pinos Altos (town closest to Silver City). Wow, that was really amazing! No photos, but like the lynx in Alaska the bobcat image is seared into my memory.

This last week on Tuesday and Wednesday Zuni and I went to White Sands National Monument east of Las Cruces. I decided I’d better start getting out to see the countryside before the summer is gone. It takes about 4-5 hours to get to White Sands from Gila. I traveled out the east side of the Gila Wilderness on route 152 which is another twisty, turny mountainous road. Is there any other kind of road out here?? I think not!

Emory Pass is one of the locations that white settlers and military explorers first crossed into this area in the 1800’s. In the late 1800s the US military was beginning to be a presence, protect white ranchers, settlers, explorers and government interests. As a result the military began rounding up the Apaches and moving them to reservations in Florida and later Oklahoma. As the signs photographed below explain, unfortunately most of the Apache died in captivity from diseases like tuberculosis that flourished in the eastern climate.

I’ve never blogged much about the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but it was either white settlers or the military that burned the cliff dwellings around this same time thinking that they would prevent the Apache from ever returning to this area. Even though the Apache had been in the Gila (Geronimo was said to have been born at the headwaters of the Gila River) from what I’ve read they never would have used the cliff dwellings as a stronghold. Like most native American tribes, the Apache probably believed that the spirits of the previous tribe still lived there.

As I crossed the mountains I thought it was hilarious that there were so many cattle catchers (those obnoxious open grating across the roads) to keep the cattle off the forest lands, but the cattle seemed to be “open range” at just about every turn!

s-1a-Emory Pass s-1b-Smokey Bear Sifn s-1c-Open range s-1d-Cow 2

As I pulled off at a highway rest stop just before getting into Las Cruces I realized that I had a flat tire. Two young cross-country truckers offered to change my tire and I accepted! One of them hurt his hand pretty badly doing the job but I was prepared with disinfectant and band aids as well as a tire pump. We had a good laugh about my “being a boy scout” – always prepared! One of the men had been a tire mechanic in his previous life and he told me one one of the tires belts must have failed. It turned out to be true! I still had to pay Walmart $55 to replace the tire under the road hazard warranty and I had just gotten the tires early last May before going to Alaska.  All’s well though! At least the tire did not blow out in the mountains or at high speed.

Zuni and I stayed at a Sleep Inn (her first hotel experience!) She did a lot of hiding under the bed but by noon the next day had completely acclimated. I did not have time to keep her company as I had tires to repair and project stuff to shop for. I arranged for a late check-out at the hotel, ate a wonderful waffle and scrambled egg breakfast (free at the hotel!) and drove out to White Sands by 9:30 a.m. Believe it or not, it was already 85 degrees when I arrived. Since the sands are white gypsum they reflect the sun’s heat and at least the sand was cool to the touch. Whenever I am on sand I think back to the scorching hot sands of the Lake Michigan beaches of my childhood. Ouch!!!

There was a lot of hiking available, but I only got to do a few things and hike a mile along the nature trail. It would be fun to go back. I was also struck by how easily a visitor could get lost in the dunes. The park service recommends carrying a compass, lots of water and a map. The photos below show some of the most interesting things along the trail. For instance, there were quite a few darkling beetles crawling around the dunes. They don’t have to evolve lighter color for protection because they emit a noxious odor if a prey animal tries to eat them. (Yes, these are relatives of the ones in Big Bend.) Other animals like the lizards have evolved light colors – even white – as their darker hued brethren were picked off. I was impressed by the large ant colonies, too, and especially liked the photo of the ant carrying a butterfly wing home to eat.

Last in this series of photos I’ve shown some of the cottonwood trees and a dried yucca flower. Some of the plants survive by building big root systems that hold the gypsum sand in place even after the dune flows away. Other plants, like the cottonwood, seek out the subsurface water and survive as long as their leaves are above-ground. There were many cottonwood trees that were buried in sand right up to their crowns.

s-1a-White Sands Natl Mon s-1b-Info s-1c-Gypsum Hills s-1e-White Lizard s-1f-Yucca Growing s-1g-Darkling Beetle s-1h-Flower s-1i-Ants s-2a-Cottonwood s-2b-Cottonwood 2 s-2c-Yucca Flower

The sun washed out so many of my photos that I could not tell what I was shooting until I got back to civilization. The most startling was this gopher snake which was at least 25 feet up in a dead tree trunk snacking on bird eggs or baby birds. I’ve got wonderful video of mama bird trying to drive off the snake to no avail!

s-2d-Upset Bird s-2e-Gopher Snake s-3a-Treetops

I was back in Las Cruces by noon, packed up Zuni, ran the car through a car wash (what a treat to get the RV park tree sap off it!), grabbed lunch on the go and headed back to the Gila. Along the way I drove through City of Rocks state park. A visitor at the Cliff Dwellings had said it was very nice. Took the following photos and it was very interesting to see this formation out in the “middle of nowhere”! They had a lovely Havard Agave which was starting to bloom. On the way back, just before the town of Mimbres there were lots of these odd yellow flowers with red streamers growing along the roadside. I looked them up when I got home and they are called Cooley’s Bunch Flowers. Very striking!

s-4a-City of Rocks s-4b s-4c s-4d s-4e-Havard Agave in Bloom s-5a-Cooleys Bundle Flower s-5b

It is hard to believe that another 4-day work period has almost gone by. Monday I will be doing home projects and overnight Tuesday through late Wednesday I plan on going 4+ hours away to see new friends who are working at a fire watch tower at the far west side of the Gila Wilderness. Zuni will have air conditioning and TV and be on her own for that 24 hours as I will be sleeping in a tent at the fire watch tower. In closing, this morning I took a photo of my flowers at the RV: More upon my return from the fire watch tower!

s-Flowers at home

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Few Changes in the Gila

Today’s news: Today the current Gila Cliff Dwelling superintendent, Steve, and his wife Kathy left the RV park to enjoy retirement in Oregon. This is a huge change for the Gila Cliff Dwellings since Steve takes with him more than 11 years of experience. All the long time volunteers are in “wait to see” mode – waiting to see how the management of the park might change. I do not foresee many changes in the offing since the interim superintendent is not going to take the job permanently. He is here until August.

Meanwhile, I got to do my official “tour” twice this last week and it seemed to go very well. I encouraged my first group to fill out comment cards, and I will find out at one of the next staff meetings if there is any official feedback.

Probably the most interesting stuff has been some of our guests getting “orbs” in their photos of cave 3. For people who believe that the energy of spirits stay around, the orbs are really cool. I do believe in that energy, but am a little miffed that my photos don’t show the orbs! Usually the photos show hundreds of orbs of multiple sizes and sometimes very pretty colors.

Because of agreements with the modern Native American tribes we do not talk about religious practices, burial practices, personal hygiene practices, etc. with visitors. If a visitor asks, though, we can answer. In ancient Puebloan culture the dead were buried under the floors of their dwellings and it is believed that they stay at that location. Some skeletal remains were found in the cliff dwellings and were reburied at secret locations here per the wishes of the current tribal descendents.

I have been enjoying riding my bike to work. It is about 4 miles one-way to the visitor center and another almost 2 miles to the contact station where the Cliff Dwellings are located so I get a little workout each workday. The roads around here are really mountainous so my red-letter day will be when I can ride up the last little ¼ mile hill to get home! Right now I can only make it a few feet up the hill, and then I have to get off and walk the bike the rest of the way. What a wimp I am!! I almost forgot to tell how I almost ran over a blacktailed rattler the other day! He was all stretched out like a stick, sunning when I realized what he was and made a quick maneuver to avoid squashing him! I rode back to confirm his identify and tell him to get off the road, but he had already made that decision and was lethargically scooting back into the grass. He acted like he was in a sun coma!

We always have interesting guests. My favorites this week were a couple (Holly and Andy) celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with a trip sans kids to the Cliff Dwellings. They were our last visitors of the day, so we gave them the royal treatment – a personal tour! They were so excited and bubbly! Holly was the first guest I’ve ever had who had orbs in her photos and what a huge collection two of her photos captured!! We had fun being scientific, too – took similar pictures with all our cameras and their cell phones with only Holly’s two camera photos picking up the orbs.

Yesterday, we had another interesting couple visit us. He had previously worked for the Audubon Society and now works for an organization called Wings and leads tourist birding expeditions all over. They are expecting their first child soon and her parents are moving into a house next to theirs in this area. We laughed about what a help her parents are going to be – perhaps even like “Everybody Loves Raymond” huh! I was amazed at the number of birds he added to the list of “birds of spring” that we keep at the contact station.

The Cliff Dwellings are closed this week due to rock removal taking place on the cliffs above the dwellings. We are offering an alternate tour of an unexcavated Puebloan village near the visitor center. I get a reprieve since I have Monday through Wednesday off and, due to inexperience, will take care of the contact station Thursday and Friday. We expect that some visitors will be very disappointed if they drive here without knowing that the dwellings are closed, so our job will be to appease/dazzle them with other information. There are road signs and internet postings telling visitors about the closing, but most people don’t read or check on the park before driving up.  Hopefully all will go well.

 I was looking back to see if I had written about the raven who does occasional morning fly-bys of the cliff dwellings. Could not see that I had written about them. I have NEVER seen a raven do such a thing before – this one announces his presence with loud quorking. Then he quorks again as he folds his wings in and flies upside down for a moment, flips back over, then repeats the quork and upside down flying 2-3 times in a row before disappearing for the day. It is as if he is saying, “Neah! Neah! I can fly and you can’t!!” He is the reason I especially like to be up at the dwellings in the morning!

I am not sure what I will be doing the next couple of days. Here are just a couple of photos from the last week – the full moon sunset over the Gila, a few birds and flowers, too.

s-Full Moon

s-Bird s-Moth s-Stellars Jay

s-Flower s-Grosbeak

We believe this black and white butterfly is a Weidemeyer’s Admiral. He is a newcomer yesterday. People sometimes confuse him for the black swallowtail. Very pretty, does not like flower nectar, and entertaining, too, as he was landing on a lady’s pant legs and everywhere at the contact station.

s-Butterfly 1 s-Butterfly 2 s-Butterfly 3 s-Lizard

That is all for now! Love to everyone who is checking in on my adventures.

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Trash Pickup Day

Today I helped pick up trash along a 10 mile stretch of wilderness road. By “wilderness road” I mean the road that comes from Silver City up to the Cliff Dwellings. It was actually fun putting up the “Road Work Ahead” signs, then cruising along at 9-10 mph hanging out the sliding door of the park’s minivan yelling “stop!” whenever I spotted trash and nabbing it with a grabber. The weather is again stunningly beautiful – about 75-80, bright sunny skies and the usual 25-30+ mph winds.

I bought a sewing machine and have been making curtains for the RV having grown tired of the other window treatments. After the curtains, of course, I’ll have to see about reupholstering! Ah, a woman’s work is never done!

Volunteers are always coming and going here. Two ladies left last week, leaving only Joan, Mike, Eddie, John, Kathy and me. I believe there are 2-3 new people coming in soon and my friends the Roths are arriving in mid-June. I have to admit that the work weeks drag a little, but in the overall scheme of things the first month has zipped by. Not much social life in the Gila outside of us volunteers. There is an arche0logical dig starting in June about an hour away so most of us will be volunteering down there (an hour away) on our days off.

The photos immediately below are from a hike to the Cosgrove site. We try not to give visitors the site locations, preferring to let them discover them on their own to help prevent visitor traffic. How about the BIG tree I am hugging below, huh! The river rock has little jelly-like squishy critters on it as well as lots of little wiggly critters, too.  Sorry about the non-technical jargon, but I sure had fun discovering them as well as one of the many hot springs flowing into the Gila river.

s-1a-Gila s-1a-Pictograph 1 s-1b s-2a-Dwellings s-2b s-3a-Hugging Trees s-3b s-3c-Critters on Bit of Bark s-3d-Discovering mroe Hot Springs s-3e-Cool Bugs

The next few photos were from a recent workday up at the Cliff Dwellings. Most of the time we have great “lizard wars” going on. Here you see one of our cuties climbing across the “return trail” sign. Then you will see two of them discover the presence of the other, skirmish, then finally “detente”, peacefully coexisting on the same rock keeping vigil in different directions.

s-1a-Showing the way down trail s-1c s-1d s-1e-Detante s-1f-Flowers on Trail

My hike yesterday to 3-Mile Ruin started with lots of lizard sightings, of course! The lizard in the first photo below had a tail that was about one foot long! Then a close-up of his beautiful markings followed by another, obviously different lizard.

Beautiful scenery, what is left of the cliff dwelling ruins, then me enjoying more soaking in the beautiful river. There are tons of river crossings in this area! I think I have figured out what footwear works best without spending $100 on river shoes – cheap river shoes from WalMart worn under my old golf sandals! I’ll let you know the next time if it works. Today’s hike was about 8 miles round trip with 15 or so river crossings. One loses count so quickly!

s-1a-Long Tailed Lizard s-1b s-1c s-2a-River Crossings s-2b-Rock Formations s-2c s-3a-Three Mile Ruin s-3b s-3c

That is all for today. I think my bicycle was delivered to the visitor center today so I am off to get it. Then we have training on a new tour tonight for a couple of hours. By the way, we have Schwan delivery up here and their Hake fish filets are great! Don’t bother trying the Macaroni and Cheese balls – even though the first ingredient is cheddar cheese, they are flavorless dough balls. Not worth $10 and I am going to try to get my money back. Bye for now!

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