Sunday, September 30, 2007

Haunted, haunted Pecos

I don't think that you can go to Pecos National Historical Park without feeling a connection to the past. I've never been anywhere else where there is such a sense of disturbing history. The Indians there were forced to convert by the Franciscan fathers; their land was colonized, they were forbidden their kivas, and they were made to build an adobe church south of their pueblo. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, they rose up, killed the priest, and "built a forbidden kiva in the very convento of the mission."* When you visit today and look from that kiva to the ruined church, you can easily imagine the Pecos taking back the adobe bricks from the church they were forced to build and using them to reconstruct their sacred kiva.
Each time we have visited Pecos it has been hot and still, with only the sound of birds and the occasional quiet words of another visitor carrying down the trail on the wind. We step lightly, respecting the rattlesnakes' right to privacy. We look over our shoulders often, for there is always a strong feeling that the current peacefulness of the place is only lightly superimposed on the violence of the past.
I am reading The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook, a novel set in Pecos. The narrative moves back and forth between the modern day and the late 1890s, and from Pecos to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Pecos is described as fantastic...unsettling...and eerily romantic. I think that you will agree, if you have the chance to go there.

Information source:
*Pecos; U.S. National Park Service brochure 404/952-40107, 1996.

Friday, September 28, 2007

You Knew We’d Have to Talk About Snakes, Sooner or Later

Checking out some road kill one morning while out on my dawn bike ride, I saw what looked like a very large (formerly alive) snake. It didn’t have rattles, but I wasn’t sure what kind it was. After doing some research, I determined that it was a bull snake. Here is what I learned.

There are 46 species of snakes in New Mexico, but only 8 of them are poisonous. These include 7 species of rattlesnakes and a type of coral snake. The bull snake, so named because some think it makes a bull-like snort when threatened, is a non-venomous snake that relies on mimicry to defend itself. It might coil up and make a hissing sound while shaking its tail. Of course, this is likely to remind its enemy of a rattlesnake. It can even somewhat flatten its head to resemble that of a rattler, although (unlike the rattlesnake) the bull snake’s head and neck are actually of the same width. If this behavior doesn’t frighten off the perceived enemy, the bull snake might lunge toward it. Personally, I would have been long gone, but readers of this blog already know that it doesn’t take much to send me packing (see The Big, Big Spider and the Brave Red Shoes post).

The bull snake (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi) is a subspecies of pine-gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer). It is found in the U.S. west, the south, and the southeast in deserts, forests, coastal dunes, and grasslands or agricultural areas. It is often associated with prairie dog towns. We have a lot of prairie dogs right around where we live, although their habitat is rapidly being dug up and turned into housing lots, so it's not surprising to find bull snakes close by.

It is one of the largest snake species in the U.S., ranging from three to eight feet, but usually averaging around five feet in length. It is brown, yellow-brown, or cream colored, with black and brown markings.

It feeds on mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, lizards, ground-nesting birds and their eggs, and even other snakes. Because it helps control rodents, it is really the farmer’s friend, and some farmers will allow a bull snake to live under a porch or in a barn. It constricts, or squeezes, its prey and then eats it whole, usually head first. In turn, it is preyed upon by coyotes, kit foxes, red-tailed hawks, and eagles.

Bull snakes are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day, although they may also be about at night during hot weather. They hunt in the early morning, late afternoon, and early evening. They hibernate in the winter, denning* with other bull snakes and sometimes with rattlers, racers, and even garter snakes.

They mate from March through April, and the clutch of 5 to 19 leathery eggs is laid in loose soil during July or August. Hatchlings emerge in early autumn, and must find their own way in the world, as there is no parental involvement.

In captivity, bull snakes have been known to live up to 22 years. However, because they are comparatively slow moving, in the wild they are often killed when crossing roads or basking on roadways. This road danger, together with ongoing habitat destruction, considerably shortens their average life expectancy.


*The idea of snakes denning in a great mass is an intriguing one to me and has been so ever since I read the children’s book, A Gathering of Garter Snakes, by Bianca Lavies. I highly recommend this book, which is about the famous Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba ( You can borrow Lavies’ book at your library, of course!


For more information about bull snakes, visit these web sites.

Desert U.S.A.:

Enchanted Learning--For a drawing of the bull snake constricting and suffocating (and eating) its prey:

Natural Source; An educator’s guide to South Dakota’s natural resources.

Texas Parks and Wildlife:

For a very interesting and somewhat disturbing (well, I found the part about trapping snakes using a glue board and then freeing them using vegetable oil disturbing, but you might not) article on snakes in New Mexico, read New Mexico Snakes — recognizing the poisonous ones and controlling them around homes, by James E. Knight, at
Thanks go to my New Hampshire herpetologist friends, Tanya and Andy, for technical advice for this post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Green Chile Recipes

It's time for a post about recipes for our wonderful green chiles. From time to time, I'll come back and add additional information to this page.

Chiles Rellenos (low fat version)
Roast 6-8 or more large green chiles (Anaheim type) under the broiler or over an open flame until charred all over. Place in a closed plastic bag or covered Tupperware container for ten minutes or so. You should then be able to peel them easily. Take off the stem ends and take out seeds and membranes (leave some in if you want—they’re the hot part). Beat three egg whites until stiff, adding ½ tsp. salt. You can leave out the yolks, but I stir them up and fold them into the beaten egg whites. In a greased oblong casserole, place half the egg white mixture, put all the chiles on top of it, sprinkle with as much grated cheese as you want, then cover over with the remaining egg whites, spreading them all the way to the edges to seal. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so until brown.

Green Chile Meat (for Burritos)
After our trip to Cloudcroft and our yummy burrito lunch, I came home and did my best to duplicate the green chile meat stuffing. This is what I came up with.
Brown one chopped onion. Add a pound of ground beef and stir until all is well browned. Add a 2 tablespoons of flour and mix well. Add four peeled, cubed, cooked potatoes. Stir in 12 roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped green chiles (you decide on the type and the amount of heat you want. I used a medium hot Anaheim-type). Add 2 cups water or beef broth, stir well. Simmer for about 30 minutes. The mixture will thicken, so stir it occasionally and add more broth if necessary. You want a consistency that you can spoon into a warm tortilla, not too soupy. Top with grated cheese.

Getting a Mountain Fix

A couple of days ago we drove up from 4300 feet in Clovis to over 8600 feet in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, located in the beautiful Sacramento Mountains. What a gorgeous drive! After several months on the high plains, we needed another mountain fix.

We took Hwy. 70 from Clovis past Roswell, to the beautiful Hondo Valley. Here we passed through the tiny towns of Picacho, Tinnie, Arabela, Hondo, and San Patricio. If I were 30 years younger, I would love to live in this uniquely scenic area.

We continued on to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, passing through Ruidoso. We turned off on Hwy. 244, a quiet two lane road that travels through Elk Canyon, where we stopped to take pictures and could hear elk bugling on the hillside above us.
We traveled in and out of the Lincoln National Forest, an area rich in history. According to the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway web site: "The Lincoln County area...has been home to Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County War, the Mescalero Apache tribe, Kit Carson, "Black Jack" Pershing, the Buffalo Soldiers, the world's richest Quarter Horse race and Smokey Bear."

For the first half of its history, those going to the village of Cloudcroft went by excursion train from Alamogordo, traveling 16 miles up from the desert floor. The first highway to Cloudcroft was built in the mid-1940s, and the train service was discontinued in 1948. We found a delightful small mountain town with abundant fresh air (and abundant tourists, too). After a delicious lunch of green chile meat burritos that we ate on the front porch of a little cafe, we started back to our home on the plains.

Here are some points of interest on our journey.

For additional information:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lovely Color

Take a look at these two photos, taken with my old non-digital camera, which captured colors in a wonderful way. The wall with the blue door is in Mesilla, Las Cruces' "old town," and the other picture is of my sister's apartment in Berkeley. These colors make me feel so happy, it's no wonder I decided it was time for the beige living room walls to go.

My intention was to paint them a beautiful canteloupe color, so here is the paint I got:

It's so hard to show true color on the computer, but the shade looked like orange sherbet (canteloupe sounds healthier). Here is what it looks like in the living room. I'll show you the "before" beige and the "after" colorwash.

Much cheerier, don't you think? If you could see the colorwash up close, you'd think that I used two or three colors of paint to obtain a layered effect. Actually, I thinned the paint down with water, about half and half, and sponged it on sparingly with a natural sponge, which had been cut to a comfortable size to handle with a sharp knife. The straight edge of the cut came in handy when painting around windows and molding and up where the wall meets the ceiling. Because the wall has some texture to it, the end result is a mottled effect that I really like. However, the walls turned out to be several tones of gold, instead of the intended canteloupe. It was amazing, I loaded canteloupe color onto the sponge and it turned gold on application because of the underlying beige layer.

The room is now a warm and lovely looking color, and it only took seven tablespoons of paint!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Knit for Kids

Just in case anyone reading this happens to be a knitter (or would like to be), I want to tell you a little about Knit for Kids. This program, which supplies hand knit sweaters to children all over the U.S. and the world, is in its tenth year. Volunteer knitters send sweaters to the home office in Carmel, New York, where the sweaters are sorted and packed up to be sent wherever they are most needed. Sometimes they might be sent to an orphanage in Europe, or to American children who have a parent who is in prison. Sweaters have recently gone to southern Iraq, Liberia, and Madagascar. The website has a distribution map showing where sweaters have been sent. Over the past ten years, Knit for Kids has sent out over 400,000 sweaters. According to their website: "2006 smashed all previous records – 74,983 sweaters were received, an amazing 11,729 in December alone."

You don't have to be a fancy knitter. Knitting beginners can use the basic and very simple knitting patterns that are supplied on the website, and very clear instructions are given for finishing the sweaters. You don't need to use expensive yarns--these sweaters are to keep kids warm and need to be washable and pretty sturdy.
Just in case you think you don't have time to work on a project like this, consider this. There are times every day when you might have a minute or two--riding on a train, sitting in a meeting, even working out on your exercise bike! I found out about the program a year and a half ago while chatting with a friend during a Town Meeting break, and since that time I have knit 23 sweaters--some of them are shown here. I knit while watching the Red Sox, while listening to books on tape, while riding in the car. I've found all sorts moments when my hands would otherwise be idle.

Please check out the Knit for Kids website at You can read stories about volunteer knitters, download a pattern, and see some great pictures of kids wearing their new sweaters. Thank you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cowboys of the Canteloupe Corral

Time to paint the living room. Enough with those beige walls. This is New Mexico, after all, where colors are intense and seen in combinations that you might never imagine. When we lived in Las Cruces I learned that pink and orange and purple together make a wonderful combination. My color courage grew, and when we moved back to New England I planted hot red-purple-pink-orange flower colors side by side out in the garden, then took my newfound bravery to our interior walls.

Our red New Hampshire living room brought friends scurrying to have a look. They liked it but said that they would never have the courage to do the same to their walls. But I noticed that they smiled a lot in that room.

Now, in our new Clovis house, we have a red-orange kitchen and dining room. I can't claim to have done it--I probably wouldn't have been brave enough--but I love the results. It's a great place to be in.

So, now it's time to paint the living room. It's such a neutral place, though it has lots of texture--brick, wood, faux leather, and copper touches. It's a little kitschy, I'm afraid, with a cowboy theme featuring pictures of me as a four-year old "cowgirl" living in San Francisco. There are big boots and my little boots from way back then. There are some fake cowhide items. It's comfy and a good place to kick back and put your boots up. But it's all surrounded by those beige walls.

Well, I'm ready to make the change, and I just got back from the paint store with a bucket of paint in a shade that looks like the fresh canteloupe down at the Clovis Farmer's Market. Cowboys, saddle up!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Mexico Fiction

I've been looking around for the best fiction with a New Mexico setting. I've found several helpful lists that give authors, titles, and sometimes short reviews.

The Santa Fe Library has some good lists.

From the Moby Dickens Bookshop in Taos comes A Selected, Annotated Bibliography of Books About Taos and New Mexico: Works of Fiction, prepared by Arthur J. Bachrach. This is a charmingly personal list, with comments that make you want to drop into the bookshop and talk books with the people there. If you scroll down you will also see the list The Major Writers of Mysteries Set in New Mexico.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Thinking About Fall in New Hampshire

Back in New Hampshire right now it is time for the big fall preparation for winter. Between Labor Day and Columbus Day it seems like there is never enough time to get everything accomplished. The days are crisp and beautiful, sunny and windy, but although we would appreciate the weather leading up to the first big frost, we were way too busy to take out much time to enjoy it. Here are the main chores and tasks that I recall we packed into those six or seven weekends:

  • Get the behemoth furnace down in the cellar cleaned and serviced

  • Be sure that the oil has been delivered and the oil guy will come automatically to refill the 250 gallon tank a couple of times

  • Stack the dry firewood, get some green wood delivered to be drying for the next year

  • Decide about when to close the pool, traditionally done on Labor Day weekend. If you wait until later you can get in some nice warm Indian Summer swims, but then somebody (me) has to take one last chilly dip to get all the leaves out before putting the cover over the pool

  • Decide when to take out window air conditioners, gambling on the weather staying cool

  • Put the garden to bed: Plant bulbs, weed, mulch

  • Rake the leaves

  • Wash the windows one last time or spend the winter wishing you had

  • Put the storm windows down and the screens up or off

  • Make sure you have a good relationship with the plow guy and have a plowing schedule set up

  • Be sure the snow shovels are in good order and available

  • Get buckets of sand from the town sand pile to spread on icy walkways

  • Visit that great farm in Deerfield to get squash, apples, pumpkins, mums, apple cider

  • Make a straw man for the porch or use the summer's scarecrow

  • Decorate the porches with pumpkins and mums

  • Go to as many local fairs and farmer's markets as you can

  • Freeze and can fruits and vegetables

  • Grill outside a lot while you can

  • Get ready to store deck and patio furniture before the first snow

  • Have cars checked out for the winter—change window cleaner for non-freezing kind, put on snow tires

  • Put emergency supplies in car: cat litter to shovel under the wheels when you're stuck on ice or in snow, shovel, blanket, flashlight

  • Put away summer clothes, get out winter clothes, and hope you didn't do it too soon

The fall rush to get things done was always ended for us by the first hard frost. Then it was time for us arthritic types to hunker down by the fire and enjoy our quiet indoor winter pursuits by lamplight, leaving the skiing and snowshoeing and snowmobiling to the younger and more mobile folks.

Here are a couple of pictures of winter at our house in New Hampshire. The first one is of our VW Bug, buried in a single snowfall a few winters ago.

Here in eastern New Mexico, on the other hand, I'm not really sure what the coming winter will be like. I do know that we will not be in for those six months of winter we endured every year in New Hampshire. I haven't noticed that our neighbors are doing much preparation, other than putting out some porch decorations of fake fall leaves. Personally, the only change I've made so far is to occasionally wear a long-sleeved shirt with my shorts on my early morning bike rides.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back to the Camel

I just can't seem to get over seeing a camel in our neighbor's backyard. I had to go back and get better pictures. This time she was standing up, but I wasn't calm enough to get a picture in focus. I know, I always have an excuse, it's either me or the subject or the camera.

Because of this new acquaintance, I've done a little background research into the subject of camels. Apparently the one-humped camel is called a Dromedary, is rather hot-tempered, and is found in the hot deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.

My new friend, the more mild mannered two-humped camel, is called the Bactrian Camel and is native to the cold mountain and high desert climates in Central Asia. Because of the variations of this climate, the Bactrian Camel grows a thick coat for the winter, which is shed in the spring. It can grow to over seven feet in height and can weigh up to 2000 pounds. Its life span in captivity is around 40 years, and is shorter in the wild. There are thought to be fewer than 1000 Bactrian Camels still living wild in their native range, and it is therefore considered an endangered species although there are perhaps 2,000,000 domesticated Bactrians. There are perhaps only 200 to 400 living in North America.

The Bactrian Camel was domesticated over 4500 years ago. It is an herbivore; it eats dates, grass, wheat, oats, leaves, bark, and shrubs. It will often eat plants ignored by other animals, such as thorny or salty plants. It will even drink saltwater slush in the absence of fresh water. It is well adapted to its desert life--the two toes on each foot spead apart to help it travel in shifting sands, and its nostrils can be closed at will to avoid blowing sand. It can run up to forty miles per hour.

Here are some interesting camel hump facts (if you are still with me). The humps contain fat, not water. The camel can go long periods without food and water. As the fat stores in the humps are used up, the humps lose their rigidity and can fall over to the side. When rigid, however, they make a handy saddle for those inclined to ride camelback.

Information Sources:

The Alaska Zoo:

Brookfield Zoo, Chicago:

Enchanted Learning:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Clovis Roundabout

The City of Clovis has a roundabout not far from my house, at the intersection of Norris and Llano Estacado. Its construction was begun in November 2005 and completed in February 2006, when the community of the nearby Faith Christian Church provided landscaping for it. You can see photos the construction and the completed project at

I was curious about the history of these traffic control features, so I found out that roundabouts, also called traffic circles or rotaries, have been built to help traffic flow since the construction of the Columbus Circle in New York City in 1905. At first the circles led to traffic lockups, crashes, and increased congestion. In 1966, the United Kingdom began requiring incoming traffic to yield to traffic already in the circle, so that traffic flow improved and there were fewer and less severe accidents. Other countries adopted this approach and the circles became more popular. For a U.S. Federal Highway Administration information guide on roundabouts, which includes historical information, see To read a more simplified version of the history see the Maryland Dept. of Transportation page at For a slightly nerve-wracking (to me) animated clip showing how a roundabout works, see their roundabout home page at

I always approach the roundabout with a bit of trepidation, especially when there is other traffic around—of course, that’s a situation easily avoided in low-stress Clovis. I’m sure that I’ll get more used to the process with experience, but I always mutter my way through—“right lane for immediate right turns at 3 o’clock or 12 o’clock, left lane for eventual right turns at 9 o’clock or 6 o’clock.” At least I don’t do as poorly as this fellow, whose single-minded approach was captured on video by a web cam mounted on the steeple of the Faith Christian Church: The story goes that he lost his brakes and panicked. That little brick wall around the center landscaping is 2-3 feet tall.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Harvest Time in Clovis

It's green chile time in New Mexico. Everywhere you go you can smell chiles roasting--in supermarket parking lots, in backyards on grills, and at the farmer's market.

It's also peanut harvest time here in Clovis. Just down the road toward Portales we can stop in at the big peanut plant and buy big bags of sweet Valencia peanuts. They are different from the peanuts we used to buy back east. Valencias have three or even four kernels in each pod and have a beautiful dark red skin.

And it's watermelon time, too. You will see pickup trucks full of the striped melons backed up to the road, selling directly to their customers. My favorite place to buy them is at the Clovis Farmers Market. It takes place at 4th and Pile St. on Saturday mornings starting at 8 AM and on Tuesday afternoons starting at 4 PM.
Because we've already put up our fifty pounds of chiles and didn't have to worry about waiting in line for the chile roaster, we didn't get to the market this morning until at little after 8 o'clock. There was already a good crowd. It's a funny thing about that place--everyone seems to have on a big smile. Why not? The smells are wonderful, especially down by the line for the chile roaster. The people are friendly, and the food is lovely and fresh and handed to you by the person who grew it.

We bought onions with a little red dirt still on them. We bought corn and tomatoes and cucumbers. We admired these sweet potatoes, just dug up by their proud grower.

Back to those green chiles. After your bucketful is roasted, the chile roaster guys pour the chiles
into a big plastic bag. Here's what we did with ours when we got them home the other day. We dumped a couple of pounds at a time into ice water to cool them down, then drained them and packed them into quart freezer bags and popped them into the freezer. Some people like to peel them before freezing, but we just peel them when we are ready to use them. The skins slip off nicely when the chiles are partially thawed.
When we lived in New Hampshire we used to have a couple of boxes of chiles shipped out from Hatch, NM every fall. It was a lovely September tradition to work out on the deck on a sunny afternoon, under the big umbrella, roasting the chiles on the gas grill. I didn't mind doing the processing part this year, however, in the air conditioned comfort of our new kitchen.

Friday, September 7, 2007

I'd Ride a Mile for a Camel

Today wasn't such a good one for seeing rabbits. The only one I noticed was hiding behind a fence, as though he knew that I was finally carrying a camera on my dawn bike ride. I did, however, see the camel and the zebra. I don't know why they are there, but after seeing them the other day in a backyard down the block and telling family and friends, I was grateful for the photo opportunity so that I could prove I wasn't seeing things. When the camel stands up, she (he?) is so tall that she can easily look over the adobe wall.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My New Mexico

I have spent a lot of time researching about New Mexico, especially before we moved here. I wanted facts, I wanted descriptions, I wanted photographs, and I wanted to dream. Here is a group of links that I return to again and again to find out more about my adopted state.

Collector's Guide; Sharing the Art of New Mexico

City-Data Forum: New Mexico.

Cocinas de New Mexico.

New Mexico Farmers' Markets.

New Mexico in Words and Pictures.

Northeast New Mexico.

Santa Fe Journal.

Taos Web: A Vistor's Guide to Northern New Mexico.

Virtual Guidebook: New Mexico.

Viva New Mexico.

Welcome to My New Mexico.

Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico City Data.

New Mexico Magazine.

Albuquerque Journal .

Clovis News Journal Online.

Cities/Pueblos/Reservations, etc.

Images of the Southwest.

New Mexico: Taos and Santa Fe.

Southwest Photos.

Taos Web: Snaps.

Places to Stay
New Mexico Bed and Breakfast Association (directory).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Oasis State Park

We camped at Oasis State Park last weekend. We didn't really expect much, as the park is just 18 miles away and, for some reason, camping trips are supposed to be much further from home. But Oasis provided a beautiful and restful camping experience. We watched the incredible sunset and the even more breathtaking sunrise. Because I am new to digital photography my photo of the sunrise doesn't even begin to do it justice. That sun was red orange, as it often is at dawn here.

We sat out late, watching the stars and listening to the sounds of the night. In the predawn hours, we heard hunting owls and a pack of coyotes. I also heard the continual lowing of a nearby cow, eventually followed by what sounded like the cries of a newborn calf. We couldn't see far in that direction, because the vegetation was growing so high.

Even though the fishing pond was drained for repairs, we didn't miss it. We took walks, enjoyed the fresh air and the beautiful prairie views and colors. We slowed down enough to look at the small things, watching the mating drama of a pair of large grasshoppers. Then we headed off for home, marveling that such wonderful experiences were available just a half an hour from our door.