Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some Wonderful Smithsonian Photos of New Mexico

The photos on this post are mine and have nothing to do with the post itself. I just thought it was time for us to look at some roses and dream. These pictures were both taken at Cochiti Lake, New Mexico in the public garden there that is maintained by community volunteers.

One of my favorite websites is that of the New Mexico Office of the State Historian. It's one of those sites that just goes on and on and is added to frequently, so that when you explore it you have that satisfying feeling that you will never run out of new experiences.

If you would like to see some really fine photos of New Mexico, taken by Annie Sahlin for the American Museum of American History's exhibit on New Mexico (open to the public 1992-2004), go to the Featured Projects page of the website and click on The Smithsonian's Exhibit of New Mexico. There are photo collections about pueblo feast days, re-plastering an adobe church, and the Santa Fe Indian Market.

In the meantime, let's just dream on a bit about roses...

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the Trail of the Best Green Chile Cheeseburger

For those of you who don't live in New Mexico, I just want you to know that Beez and I are doing our best to explore the new Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail interactive map. We'll report back to you from time to time about our findings.

A couple of weeks ago we drove up to Hatch, home of some of the best and hottest green chiles anywhere. We were headed for Sparky's, which is the only restaurant in Hatch to make it onto the trail. What we found was disappointing--Sparky's was closed, and on a Wednesday. The best I could do for you was to snap these low quality photos of the place with my phone.

On the way out of town, still hungry, we stopped at a place that looked like absolutely nothing from the outside, located as it was in an old gas station building. The only thing it had to recommend it was a steady stream of what looked like local cars pulling into the parking lot. We took a chance, went in, and are so glad we did. It's called Sugar Bears Bistro. You'll want to remember that name, although I can't provide any sort of explanation for it.

We had the best fresh tortillas chips ever, served with a choice of salsa or queso. We took the queso, and it was delicious. The green chile cheeseburgers were fantastic, as were the home-baked buns, the fries, and the onion rings. The waitress and the other customers were so friendly that we could barely hold back from hugging everyone good bye when we left.

The menu features New Mexican, Italian, and American food, sometimes in intriguing combinations. Believe it or not, we are going to try the green chile manicotti next time we drive up to Hatch.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the Gloaming: For Skywatch

Gloaming: After sunset and before dark

If you click on the photo to enlarge it a bit, you can perhaps just make out a lit-up church steeple in the lower left. If I were a better photographer, I might have been able to make it a more obvious part of the photo. By the way, I am signed up for Digital Photography classes, which will be starting soon. Hooray!

The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. ~John Muir

To see the grand show from all around the world, be sure to visit Skywatch.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bertie and Gracie Go to the Olympics

It's been kind of quiet around the house while Bertie Pierre and Gracie have been off in Vancouver...

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Galloping Horse Quilt

Who makes a movie out of a quilt? I do, I'm afraid. You were warned that I would be experimenting around with iMovie, and using it to show you the new quilt I just made is the perfect occasion.

Back in January, I mentioned that I was thinking of making my first quilt to go along with the new bedroom curtains that I made you look at in Heatherstone Curtains Revisited. I figured that if I promised right here on the blog to try quilt-making, I might have to follow through and actually do it.

Well, I did and am quite pleased with the results. Most of the fabrics came straight out of the scrap bag, and are a combination of the blues and greens I have always loved because I was born and grew up near the sea, together with some almost-blinding yellows and golds that I like to think of as Southwest-y.

Pity the poor English major, always looking for a theme...

I am showing you the quilt today in film-ish form because it is one of those objects better observed from the back of a galloping horse. In other words, it is filled with mistakes and puckers and if I limit your view of each photo, I am hoping that you won't have time to notice!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Watching Birds in Las Cruces

That nice Beez gave me a tiny little Flip video camcorder for Christmas. Since it is much smaller than my regular camera, about the size of a cell phone, I brought it along Saturday morning when we went on a guided bird walk down at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. Starting our walk along the Picacho Drain (a hundred-year old irrigation ditch), we moved through meadows to a man-made mitigation wetland,* then along the Rio Grande.

The bird activity is picking up at the Bosque. The weather is warming and that helps the birds (and us). Last time we were there, about a month ago, it was very cold, damp, muddy, and windy; and bird activity was minimal. This time we saw or heard Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Say's Phoebes, Bewick's Wrens, a Northern Flicker, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Cooper's and Sharp Shinned Hawks, Northern Harriers, a Great Blue Heron, White-Winged Doves, Crissal Thrashers, Western Meadowlarks, Shovelers (ducks), Mallards, Mexican Mallards (considered a subspecies of the Mallard), American Pipits, Least Sandpipers, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and American Coots. There were also some gulls--always a surprising sight so far inland--but we can't remember their names. Phew! Thank you, Auntie Bucksnort, for helping me with this list, which I would never have remembered on my own.

I understand that the park's bird list has reached 175 species. The ranger told us that many raptors would be arriving in March, and that May is the big month for warblers.

Now, grab some popcorn (you'll have to eat it quickly) and sit back to watch my very first try at movie editing with this camera and a new MacBook laptop. I'm afraid you are going to be guinea pigs for my movie experiments for a while. It's not that easy, making a video the first time with unfamiliar equipment and software. This very brief one--45 seconds long--took hours to edit from my several minutes of raw footage, giving me a renewed appreciation for professional film editors.

That's our own Auntie Bucksnort wielding the binoculars, by the way.

Next time I'll remember to turn off the camera before swinging it toward the ground, or at least to make sure I edit out that part so you won't get seasick. Tricky stuff, this high-tech business.

*"Wetland mitigation is the replacing of wetland areas destroyed or impacted by proposed land disturbances with artificially created wetland areas." See discussion of wetlands for the source of this quote and for more information.

At the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, wetlands were reconstructed along the old Rio Grande flood plains to replace the wetland areas that were removed during the construction of the visitor center.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bertie Gets a New Suit

There was a time when Bertie Pierre ran around practically naked, like most little dogs.

Then along came Auntie Bucksnort, who likes to embellish most everything. Bertie had a bad feeling about Auntie's new-found love of knitting.

Are you sure that this is really a boy's suit, Auntie?

What? All the little San Francisco chihuahua boys love this style? Well, it does makes me feel kind of sprightly!

Hey, Aunt, let's go all the way with this dress-up stuff. Come on, lend me some of that jewelry.

No? Oh, whatever. Just be that way...

What do you mean, what should I say?

Oh, yes... Thank you, Auntie, for the new suit.

It makes me feel like doing the zumba! (Sorry, the photographer was laughing again and forgot to focus).

Oh, no, don't let Gracie see! Get this thing off of me!!

For more about Bertie, see the complete Adventures of Bertie Pierre.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tranquil Moonrise for Skywatch

For skies all over the world, see Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Intrepid Naturalists Travel Through Time!

The planet Mars (Wikimedia Commons)

When I was a child I was fascinated by astronomy and, through reading on my own, taught myself what then seemed like a great deal about the planets. Although I can still recite the planets in order (now leaving off poor Pluto), it seems that there is little else that I really know about our vast universe. I've been turning to some basic astronomy websites for some very, very basic information.

Our instructor at the Leasburg State Park star party told us:

Looking at the stars is a kind of time travel

It's a lovely statement, and a lot for my mind to get itself around. You've always known that abstract thinking is not my strength, so I'm sure you have absolutely no doubts now.

I looked at a site called Astronomy for Beginners. I found these statements under Basic Astronomy Facts. They clarify the idea of "star observation as time travel:"

When you look at the Andromeda galaxy (which is 2.3 million light years away), the light you are seeing took 2.3 million years to reach you. Thus you are seeing the galaxy as it was 2.3 million years ago.

Light from the sun takes 8 minutes to reach you, thus you see the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. It might have blown up 4 minutes ago and you wouldn't know about it!

Back at the star party, I was thrilled to be standing in the cold New Mexican night air, in a body I had just found out was made of stardust, looking through the universe and back into distant time.

If you would like to hear an explanation of space distances that even I can almost understand, go to Measuring Distance in the Universe, which is a thirty minute podcast on the website Astronomy Cast.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We are stardust... We are golden...*

Kepler's Supernova, from Wikimedia Commons

We are all made of stardust

I am still mulling over the things we learned and the things we saw at our star party at Leasburg Dam State Park last week. The instructor explained that we actually are made of stardust, because most elements on earth were created in the hearts of stars. I checked further when I got home (and once I was thawed out from our chilly evening in the dark) and found this information:

... the heaviest elements -- such as gold, lead and uranium -- were produced in a supernova explosion during the cataclysmic end of a huge star's life, says LSU physicist Edward Zganjar (pronounced Skyner).

"Those elements were ejected into space by the force of the massive explosion, where they mixed with other matter and formed new stars, some with planets such as earth. That's why the earth is rich in these heavy elements. The iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones were all forged in such stars. We are made of stardust," Zganjar said. (quote is from Science Daily, 1999.)

*Joni Mitchell (Thank you, Susan, for reminding me of this quote).

Monday, February 15, 2010

A reminder that spring is on its way

Look at what is blooming out on our front porch...

... and look at what will soon be blooming!

The first day of spring is one thing,
and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is
sometimes as great as a month.
~Henry Van Dyke

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oh, No, the Flash Went Off! for Skywatch

Someday soon I'm going to take a digital photography class. When that happens, I hope to have more control over my camera. In the meantime, my flash still goes off sometimes when I don't want it to do so. This was one of those times and I kind of like the spooky shot that resulted, even though you can hardly tell that the moonrise is what I was trying to capture.

Yes, yes I do like this photo, even though all the little houses appear to be moving. Someday I'm going to get a tripod, too.

To see some photographers who know how to make their cameras behave, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday. And, yes, I know it's only Thursday. One of these days I'm going to take a class all about the days of the week. I really am.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Intrepid Naturalists Meet the Stars

The Orion Nebula, from Wikimedia Commons (be sure you click on the photo to enlarge it--the details are gorgeous)

We attended our long-awaited star party last Saturday night at the Leasburg Dam State Park in Radium Springs, 15 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. I can tell you right now that it was a life-changing event for me.

Really. I will never be the same.

Here are a few of the things that we learned and experienced. I will tell you more over the next week or so.

Thanks to a monk, we were able to observe the heavens through a type of telescope that we could learn to make ourselves

We were able to look through this relatively simple and inexpensive (but large) telescope to a place outside of our own galaxy

We saw the zodiacal light, something that I have never noticed, which is visible with the naked eye

The Orion Nebula, pictured above, is visible through a pair of binoculars (although with much less detail, obviously)

If we were to read a 20-page book on our own universe we would know more about astronomy than the average American

We drove home through the darkness, cold and full of wonder at the miracles that we had seen. Miracles that are there for us all, night after night, if only we take the time to look up from our lives to observe and wonder.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pecan Harvest

We finally got to experience our first commercial pecan harvest in early January (see What I Didn't Know About Pecan Harvesting for a smaller home harvest). I think that the harvest was late this year because we have had so many storms, and read in the local paper that the nuts that had fallen to the ground would lose quality the longer they were down there. Even so, nothing is wasted--not a single valuable nut.

The time was finally right--we had some drying weather and a good forecast. We woke up one morning before dawn to feel the whole house vibrating. The dishes were rattling in the cupboards, which is a real warning sign to anyone who has ever spent much time in the earthquake-ridden regions along the fault lines in California. The sound of loud agricultural machinery was all around us, setting our teeth on edge for the whole morning.

I rushed out, camera in hand, and was just in time to get some shots of this machine. The operator moves it down the space between two rows of trees, lines it up to grab the trunk, then revs up the motor to give the tree three good shakes. He then backs up a bit before swinging to the next tree on the other side of the row.

They started before dawn

Notice the sweepers around the bottom of the machine. Not a single nut on the ground is to be run over--these nuts are valuable!

If you click on this photo for details, you should see the shaken and falling pecans in mid-air

After all the nuts have been shaken from the trees, this noisy machine sweeps everything on the ground--nuts, branches, leaves, pods--into furrows.

A third machine suctions up the piles and separates out the nuts, mostly still in the pods.

This poor fellow had the cold, often dusty, and uncomfortable job of following the nut-gathering machinery to make sure that not a single nut was missed. He even got down on his knees, when necessary.

Of course, we were over in our own yard, hunched over and picking up all the pecans that fell inside our fence line. We have a great big box of them just waiting for us to shell, out on the patio some warm afternoon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh, Happy Bird Day!

Our house was built half a century ago right in the middle of a pecan orchard, so I just knew this place was going to be wonderful for bird watching. Since we just moved here in wintery November, we have mainly seen doves and crows up until now, as one might expect, and a few starlings.

This morning, however, is glorious! We've just had a lot of rain and the orchard is full of puddles, fattening buds, and the promise of spring. The resident mourning doves are out in force, patrolling the ground under the trees, but we have also seen goldfinches, great flocks of robins, the first of the red-winged blackbirds, and an (as yet) unidentified woodpecker.

The air is full of birdsong and my heart is happy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Such Tender Promise... For Skywatch

The breeze at dawn has secrets
Don't go back to sleep.

For skies from all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Intrepid Naturalists Visit Leasburg Dam State Park

Leasburg Dam, which was built in 1908, is one of the oldest diversion dams in New Mexico. Located north of Las Cruces in Radium Springs, it was built to move water from the Rio Grande into irrigation systems by way of the Leasburg Canal, which serves 31,600 acres in the upper Mesilla Valley. The state park surrounding the dam is a great place for hiking either along the ridge or along the river, and for camping and bird watching year round. It's also a popular spot for kayaking, fishing, and canoeing during the warmer months.

Auntie Bucksnort and I took a walk along the ridge the other day. Feeling a bit more humble about our recently-acquired tracking skills (look! coyote scat! no, it isn't! it's dog poop!), we looked for birds instead. Our bird-identification skills being on a par with our scat-identification skills, I can only tell you that we saw some ducks, lots of doves, some Gambel's quail, and a brown bird sitting in a tree.

We did, however, meet a very interesting self-described "road woman" who lives alone full time in a small RV and travels solo around the New Mexico state parks. She certainly knew her birds and wildlife and told us about good places to see prairie chicken dances and dragonfly gatherings. Perhaps we'll see her at the upcoming star party at Leasburg when we plan to work on our not-so-great telescope skills.

From the park brochure: The large, well-tended Cactus Patch botanical garden contains numerous species of cactus and other desert plants, with identifying labels. These include huge yucca and agave, cholla, cow’s tongue, prickly pear, mesquite, creosote bush, and ocotillo. In addition to the Cactus Patch, there are a number of smaller cactus gardens throughout the park, which look spectacular in spring when the cactus are in bloom.

We found them to be pretty spectacular, even in winter.