Our days at Desert Haven Animal Refuge fell into a comfortable, yet busy routine. Tuesdays are always busy as that is the only day open to the public. Major projects get started and hopefully completed on Tuesdays, depending on how many local volunteers are available and how many different projects are in process. The weather has always cooperated on these days – no rain, not too warm, a slight breeze. We’ve had some memorable Tuesday potlucks – a Fat Tuesday menu, an Italian meal one week – always something delicious.
Another day during each week we’d have animal care and at least one other Workamper couple might join in to give us a hand on our day, as we’d help others on their days. And of course, we always had a turn helping at the thrift shop, sorting through an endless parade of clothing, appliances and other household items.
It’s not all work and no play. We had a fun wine and cheese evening after one of the Tuesday workdays. Larry (of Larry & Mavis from IN), our resident firebug, had a nice campfire going and after the sun went down and the temperature dropped considerably, we brought our circle of chairs in closer to soak up the fire’s warmth. It gave us all a chance to get to know each other, share a glass of wine, some snacks and enjoy the beautiful southwestern sky as the sun was setting.
Some of the things we did and places we visited in February:
We went to White Sands National Monument, about 60 miles east of Las Cruces, getting there just in time to have a picnic lunch. Shelley went with us and had a ball running up and down the sand dunes. She probably wondered why this white stuff wasn’t cold like snow. White Sands is RV friendly - a large parking lot at the visitor’s center and roads through the park that can easily accommodate any size rig, with lots of places to turn around. Unfortunately, there’s no camping there. What an awesome place to overnight, especially on a moonlit night.
We joined Barry and Judy on a spur of the moment trip to City of Rocks State Park. What an adventure we had just getting there! We drove the most direct route, through Hillsboro, onto Hwy 152 towards Silver City, then south to the park. The road we were on was twisty and windy and kept climbing. We spotted a snowplow in front of us; the temperature kept dropping (we started at 47 degrees, it got down to 29). We ended up at 8200' with snow on the mountains surrounding us and on the roads that we were on, combined with slush, hairpin turns, and steep drops. It took us 2.5 hours to get to our destination. Needless to say, we found another way home that was 50 miles longer but took us just two hours. Next time, we’ll check out our destination’s weather and altitude before heading out.
On the way, we passed one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines, the Santa Rita. The dump trucks looked like small toys from our viewing area
City of Rocks State Park encompasses a one-square mile area in the southwest New Mexico desert. Large sculptured rock columns, rising as high as 40 feet, were formed about 34.9 million years ago when a very large volcano erupted. Erosion since then has slowly formed the columns seen there today. The ‘city’ is so named because paths resembling city streets separate the columns. The formations are fascinating and mind-boggling. One huge boulder appeared to be balanced on a rock the size of a tennis ball. What is unusual about this park is that you are encouraged to climb up and around the formations – awesome. We were bundled up as we enjoyed a picnic lunch in between some of the formations.
We enjoyed the hospitality of the local Moose Lodge’s Valentine’s Day Dance, as guests of Desert Haven’s director Eliana and her husband Jerry. Cornish game hens were on the menu – they were more like little chickens – enough for a couple of meals per person! We’re not sure how they make any money on this event. It was a bargain at $15 per couple. A local musician played nonstop for almost three hours, taking requests, and doing a wonderful job imitating various artists. His Louis Armstrong was unbelievable. With your eyes closed, you would have sworn Satchmo himself was in the room.
One Sunday afternoon, with Barry and Judy driving we visited the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, located in Mountainair, NM, northeast of Socorro. Three separate ruins, Abo, Quarai, and Gran Quivira, make up the national monument located in the Salinas Valley, “a major trade center and one of the most populous parts of the Pueblo world during the 17th century.”
Our first stop was at Quarai, which has the most complete church, built out of what appears to be red bricks or stones, noteworthy because of the contrast between the red and the brilliant blue sky that afternoon. Very little of Quarai, other than the church and some small ruins, has been excavated, which puzzled us at first. A volunteer back at the animal refuge. an archaeologist in between jobs, explained why. She said that technology continues to improve. Archaeologists may excavate a site close to one that was done over 80 years ago and with more sophisticated equipment can better analyze what they find. Alfie said that because of this, when a new site is discovered, only half of it is excavated using today’s technology. The rest is left for future archaeologists.
Gran Quivira is the largest of the pueblos. Though this site is about 35 miles east of Quarai, the stone used was gray rather than red. The self-guided tour led us up on top of some of the walls still standing, looking down into the small rooms that were only accessible from their roofs. A ladder was used to access this opening and then pulled into the room to keep out unwanted visitors. Interesting at this site was to see that some of the rooms were built upon older rooms. The upper rooms, used in the 1500s and 1600s, were built upon rooms from the 1300s. The earlier rooms were built in a circular pattern while rooms built 300 years later (imagine houses today lasting that long!!!) were built in a rough rectangular pattern.
The last of the three pueblos is Abo. Most notable here is the start of a second church, which was never completed before the pueblo was deserted.
All of the pueblos were abandoned in the 1670s due to drought, famine, disease, and attacks by hostile tribes. Unanswered questions speak volumes as we toured these beautiful ruins.
Another trip with Barry and Judy was visiting the Very Large Array (VLA) near Magdalena, NM. Once again, our ride up there was an adventure. We took a ‘shortcut’ on state road 107 that turned out to be 42 miles of dirt road. It was a great road though, recently graded, with fabulous scenery of the mountains, valleys, and arroyos. Larry spotted a sideways rainbow that appeared to be flat on the ground. The picture he took doesn’t do it justice.
The VLA, located about 60 miles west of Socorro, NM, is an observatory at which astronomers can study cosmic objects by studying radio waves emitted by celestial objects, rather than using optical telescopes. The VLA is a collection of 27 huge satellite dishes, spread in a Y pattern than can extend as far as 13 miles on each leg of the Y. By combining the data from all of the antennas, a radio picture is created that is equivalent to one produced by a monstrous 36-kilometer single antenna. The area of just one dish equates to about 4800 square feet – picture your own home’s square footage to get an idea of how large each dish really is. Barry walked several minutes to get to the base of just one dish and even with a zoom lens, he looks like a tiny figure in comparison.
One Sunday we drove to El Paso to visit again with friends Jim and Betty. We found out that they too will be going to Alaska this year, but on a cruise that unfortunately will not be where we will be during our stay there this summer. We enjoyed lunch with them at Carlos & Mickey’s Restaurant, where 20 years ago, we had our first fried ice cream. Since then, the search has been on at various Mexican restaurants, trying to find this dessert, as good as, if not better, than that served at Carlos & Mickey’s. To date, no one that we have found compares. Fried ice cream is a scoop of vanilla ice cream (in this case, a grapefruit-sized scoop), rolled in rice krispies, frozen till rock hard, then fried to a golden brown, drizzled with a cinnamon-honey sauce – yum!
We ended February with a farewell dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, La Piñata, wishing Barry and Judy luck as they hit the road on March 1st. La Piñata probably is large enough to hold 25 people – we were 13, taking up half of the dining area. Both the food and company were wonderful. We will all miss Barry and Judy – they were such a great help while they were here. And we enjoyed our adventures when we’d sightsee together. We hope to connect with them in Mesa next month where they are watching their Cubs in spring training.
Next month: we hit the road mid-March--Arizona bound.