Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 3:  Back to the Bosque

In November of 2021, we spent a wonderful month at a little Airbnb in Lemitar, New Mexico.

Casita del Cranes, Lemitar, NM (2021)

It was located about 30 minutes from the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, where over 100,000 sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other migrating birds winter each year. So, when we returned to Casita del Cranes this year it was like coming home. We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday, November 2, and were settled in long before bedtime.

back to Casita del Cranes and the Bosque del Apache!

When we left Grand Teton, winter was right around the corner. A week later they had a foot of snow and temperatures had dropped to below zero. It was nice to return to autumn in New Mexico where the aspens and cottonwoods had just started to peak,

November 4, 2022

And we tracked the color changes over our month’s stay.

by the end of November, the leaves were nearly gone, and ice formed on the wetlands in the early morning

On this visit, we spent a lot of time just relaxing at Casita del Cranes.

such a relaxing place!

It is the last house on a quiet road and the only sounds are the birds

lots of kestrels on the power lines around Casita

And occasional freight trains that rumble by day and night – something we found charming.

picturesque freight trains rumble by day and night

Oscar and Maddie loved going for sunset walks along the ditch road,

sunset on the ditch road in front of Casita del Cranes

And checking on Pam’s chickens!

Oscar checking on Pam’s chickens

And we loved all the photo ops right outside our door.

a few of the animals around Casita (clockwise from lower left): Say’s phoebe, yellow warbler, roadrunner, Mexican ground squirrel, mourning dove

We heard the calls of the sandhill cranes every time we stepped outside.

sandhill cranes in the field next to Casita

And often found them in the nearby fields or flying overhead.

sandhill cranes at sunset

The Bosque del Apache is a combination of wetlands and agricultural fields, and the planted/flooded areas are rotated each year. Last year the birds were close to the roads and easy to photograph from the various observation decks.

sandhill cranes at the Flight Deck, November 2021

This year the Wetland Roost, an area alongside the road heading towards the main entrance, was flooded and we got some wonderfully close shots of the snow geese

snow geese flying out at sunrise

And sandhill cranes,

sandhill cranes at sunrise

Along with the coyotes that regularly scouted the shoreline in the early mornings.

coyotes on the shoreline in the early morning

We also managed to capture several of the Bosque regulars: an adorable least bittern doing her best to shoo away an American coot,

least bittern and American coot

the many duck species,

Northern pintail

White pelicans,

white pelicans

Northern harriers,

female northern harrier



And dozens of TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds).

dark-eyed junco

In addition to a 14-mile scenic driving loop, the Bosque maintains twelve hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty. Instead of spending all of our time looking for birds, we hiked several trails.

Some, like the Desert Arboretum, are short and easy.

Gambel’s quail (male) on the Desert Arboretum trail

It shares a parking lot with the Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop, making for a convenient stop on your way to or from the Bosque.

Others, like the Canyon National Recreational Trail, require a bit more planning.

the Canyon National Recreational Trail

It is a 2.5-mile trail through a canyon where we found animal tracks in the sand

snake, bobcat, and mice tracks in the soft sand along the trail

And nests tucked into crevices high up on the cliffs,

peregrine falcon nest high up on the cliff

While winding our way up to the top of a ridge with a glorious bird’s-eye view of the refuge.

couple’s selfie from the top of the ridge

The Bosque is not just about birds. Many other animals call this area home including javelinas,


Mule deer,

mule deer

Ground squirrels,

ground squirrel

And multiple species of reptiles.

Eastern side-blotched lizard

You can view all of our bird and wildlife photos here:

says phoebe-03447
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

We had such an incredible time in 2021 that we did not feel under any pressure to get “the shot” on this trip. We visited other wildlife refuges and explored the beautiful state of New Mexico.

Bernardo Waterfowl Area snow geese at sunset

One day we drove east to Tularosa and on our way, happened upon the Valley of Fires.

Valley of Fires campground pano

According to the BLM website, 5,000 years ago Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock.

from a distance the lava looks black and dead

The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick, and covers 125 square miles.

the lava is 160 feet thick! (vertical pano)

The lava appears black and dead but take a closer look and it is full of life

white-crowned sparrow (juvi)

And color!

the Valley of Fires is full color!

On another day we drove south and west to Silver City, stopping at the VLA.

the VLA

The VLA (Very Large Array) is comprised of twenty-eight enormous radio telescopes and is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

28 enormous radio telescopes

It also makes for some excellent photo ops!

taking photos at the VLA!

Catron County in western New Mexico has a population of over 12,000 elk. We did not see any elk on our drive, but we did see mule deer, a roadrunner running across the road (where else?), a coyote, and a beautiful golden eagle.

golden eagle in flight

We passed the Chino (aka Santa Rita) Open-Pit Copper Mine, the third largest in the world

the Chino Copper Mine

And something you must see to believe!

something you must see to believe!

We drove through the Gila National Forest with its astounding beauty

the road through the Gila National Forest

And exhilarating hairpin curves,

the road!

Stopping at the Emory Pass Overlook for a panoramic view of the mountains and forest.

Emory Pass Overlook

Ride along with us for 30 seconds as we head down the mountain. Unless you get dizzy easily – then skip the video!

fasten your seatbelt as we drive through the Gila National Forest!

On yet another day we drove north to the Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge from the High Bridge

And the High Bridge, located about ten miles west of Taos.

the High Bridge

At six hundred feet above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States, and a bit unnerving for even the most intrepid!

TG walked out into the middle of the High Bridge

I wanted to photograph the bighorn sheep that are common in this area, but all we managed to find were some fresh tracks.

bighorn sheep tracks

We detoured home via Ramah, with prehistoric cliff dwellings dating back to 1200-1300 A.D.

prehistoric cliff dwellings in Ramah, 1200-1300 A.D.

And stopped at the El Morro National Monument where a waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made it a popular campsite for hundreds of years.

El Morro Visitor’s Center

We did not take the time to hike to the ancient campsite to see the over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs carved into the sandstone walls.  Instead, we enjoyed a quiet picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest before pointing ourselves back towards Lemitar and Casita del Cranes.

a picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest

You can view all of our landscape photos from both the Bosque and our day trips here:

bernardo sunset-9233
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

One day we drove to Gallup to visit the historic El Rancho Hotel. Opened in 1937, it was the base for many Hollywood movies filmed in the surrounding area and is full of movie star photographs and memorabilia.

such a fun day!

We had so much fun and took so many photos that this visit deserves its own Flickr album!

El Rancho Hotel
hover on photo and then arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Although we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary back in October by splurging on a week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton, the day we officially said “I do” was in November. We celebrated this special day with a long walk along the dirt road in front of Casita, dinner at the only restaurant in town open that day, and a night out shooting stars while being serenaded by howling coyotes. It was, indeed, a Happy Anniversary!

1982 /2022, my star stack, northern harrier in flight, and freight train wheels close up

During our month-long visit we sampled some of the local cuisine: huevos rancheros in Tularosa,

huevos rancheros at Loredo’s Bakery in Tularosa

Frito pie – which is shredded lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and cheese on top of Fritos mixed with red or green chile sauce – and considered a specialty in these parts.

My oh my, Frito Pie!

Piñon coffee – a “must” for coffee lovers in our opiñon!

piñon coffee and red chile veggie burrito

We also drove east and north to the tiny town of Corona for a delicious lunch at the El Corral Cafe, where real cowboys (complete with Old West hats) strolled in for their pick-up orders.

lunch at El Corral – where everyone feels like family

When ordering any dish with chiles, you are always asked “green” or “red.” We overheard a guest at El Corral say, “make mine Christmas-style.” And with December right around the corner, that is the perfect ending to our month in New Mexico!

Christmas – New Mexico style!

Coming Next: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The BIG Surprise”

Badlands National Park


In October 2021, we embarked on our most ambitious road trip to date: a 7,700-mile journey to New Mexico where we planned to catch the winter bird migration in the Bosque del Apache as well as visit other interesting spots out west. All-in-all we would be gone for 28 days.

packed and ready to go!

During our month-long trip, we would travel through nine states across three time zones, over multiple mountains and rivers, and cross the Continental Divide four times.

nine states, three time zones, 7,700 miles!

We loaded up the pups and pulled out of our driveway at 6am, driving through Florida’s panhandle,

So long, Florida!

Then Alabama, and spending our first night in Jackson, Mississippi.

the tunnel through Mobile, Alabama

The next morning, we crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana before entering Texas.

crossing the Mighty Mississippi

We had programmed Siri to avoid tolls and thus far she kept us on interstates with not a whole lot to see.

However, once we arrived in Texas, she took us on country roads which proved much more interesting.

Texas roadblock
“Oil that is, Black Gold … Texas Tea”
“Don’t Mess With Texas”

With no traffic and a 75-mph speed limit, we did not lose any time as we continued on our way.

75 mph even on two-lane country roads

We stopped the second night in Amarillo, Texas.

the Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo

We had planned to push hard the first two days and we did:  putting in back-to-back 13-hour drives. By the time we reached Hyatt Place Amarillo, we were ready to slow down a bit.

everyone was ready to slow down a bit!

We had six more hours to get to our Air BNB in Lemitar, New Mexico and wanted to mosey with multiple stops along the way.

First up: Glenrio. This town was abandoned once the interstate replaced Route 66, but its ghosts remain.

abandoned motel, Glenrio TX

Glenrio straddles TX/NM and the gas station sits just east of the border, proudly claiming to be “the last stop for gas in Texas.”

“the last stop for gas in Texas”
TG captures the old gas station in Glenrio

Once we crossed into New Mexico …

family selfie, New Mexico Visitors Center

We headed for Tucumcari, another town on the old Route 66. This town has worked hard to preserve the nostalgia of that by-gone era, and we had fun capturing images of the vintage buildings.

Texaco Gas Station, Tucumcari
Palomino Motel, Tucumcari
Tucumcari selfe

You can see more of our photos from Glenrio and Tucumcari here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

tucumcari pano 2-SharpenAI-softness-DeNoiseAI-standard

We had a four-hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to arrive in enough time to get unpacked and make a grocery run. So after Tucumcari, we headed southwest.

heading southwest through New Mexico

We took the time to marvel at the huge wind farms,

TG and Oscar alongside a wind farm
wind farm pano

And the mile-long freight trains, loaded with stacks of containers.

this freight train was two miles long!
freight train pano

The topography of New Mexico is beautiful. Living in flat Florida, we had forgotten how much we love the mountains.

driving through the mountains of New Mexico

The cottonwood trees were in full bloom, a brilliant gold against the blue sky and reddish-brown mountains.

the cottonwood trees in full bloom

Casita Del Cranes makes for a comfortable and affordable home-away-from-home with plenty of privacy. It has a big living/dining/kitchen area, one bedroom with a queen bed, and a small bath with hot shower. We had room to spread out as well as set up Oscar and Maddie’s kennel.

Casita Del Cranes

It sits on a quiet road – other than the occasional passing car the only sounds are the freight trains that rumble past, something we found charming.

freight train across the road from Casita Del Cranes

It is located about a 15-minute drive from the town of Socorro, with a large, well-stocked Walmart. And only 45 minutes from the Bosque del Apache where we would be spending most of our time.

Home – Bosque del Apache – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

We spent our first 2 ½ days checking out the Bosque at both sunrise

TG at sunrise
the Bosque at sunrise

And sunset.

sandhill cranes at sunset

The birds had not yet arrived in the 1000’s we expected but we planned to be in this area until mid-November when the migration would be in full swing.

We did manage to spy a coyote sneaking across a field at sunrise, a small bobcat, several mule deer, and a group of javelinas crossing the road ahead of us!

javelinas crossing the road

We took a break from the Bosque on Tuesday and drove out to the Very Large Array. The drive through the mountains was breathtaking.

the drive through the mountains was breathtaking!

The VLA is a group of huge radio antennas that complement giant, single-dish telescopes for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. In a nutshell, it creates a telescope many miles across. It is difficult to grasp its massive scale, but we were able to see the large, white dishes from more than 20 miles away.

we could see the round, white dishes from miles away

These huge antennas are on tracks and are repositioned throughout the year – sometimes bunched close together and other times spread far apart.

the VLA

You can check the VLA website for exactly where they will be at any given time and plan your visit accordingly.

VLA Configurations – National Radio Astronomy Observatory (nrao.edu)

You can see more of our photos from the VLA here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

VLA stack-

We continued west over the mountains and, in the process, crossed the Continental Divide.

Continental Divide selfie

The following day we drove south to White Sands National Park. This was a 2 ½ hour drive and we wanted to arrive for the early morning light. On our way, we crossed the Rio Grande.

the Rio Grande

After traveling through the entire state of New Mexico, this grand river becomes the US/Mexico border once it reaches Texas.

By the time we arrived at White Sands National Park it had turned into another sunny, cloudless day and the stunning white sand looked like huge snowdrifts. Driving through the dunes in the early morning quiet, without a single car in sight, was otherworldly.

the road into White Sands National Park
TG on the dunes

The sand looked hot to touch (like our Florida beaches), so before we let the pups out of the car I ran a handful through my fingers. It was soft as powered sugar and almost cold! Air temps that day were in the mid-50’s.

family selfie at White Sands

We decided to stick around for sunset, so we took a mid-day break to check out McGinn’s Pistachio Land,

McGinn’s Pistachio Land

Bowlin’s Running Indian Trading Post for refrigerator magnets,

as tacky as it looks!

And the famous recycled roadrunner sculpture overlooking the town of Las Cruces.

the famous recycled roadrunner sculpture overlooking the town of Las Cruces

We arrived back at White Sands around 4 pm and enjoyed a picnic dinner while we waited for the sun to set.

family selfie in a White Sands picnic pavilion

Without a cloud in the sky, the sunset was not as dramatic as it might have been, but we were nonetheless awed by the ethereal beauty of the park.

sunset at White Sands

By the time we pulled into our driveway at Casita Del Cranes, it was after 9pm – 15 hours in the car with Oscar and Maddie! All of us slept well that night!

TG making a “sand angel”

You can see more of our photos from White Sands here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

white sands-07438

And so ended our first week in New Mexico.

Week Two started with another day of brilliant blue sky and plenty of bright sunshine. We chose to stay home – working on photos and getting ready for our upcoming “embedded road trip.”

In addition to our time in Lemitar, we had made reservations to stay in Farmington for three nights, Monument Valley for one night, and the Grand Canyon for another two.

our “embedded road trip

We drove north and west from Albuquerque through the Valles Caldera Mountains, and at over 7,000 feet we could feel our ears popping!

the Valles Caldera Mountains

Before checking into our Air BNB in Farmington we first drove to our destination for later that evening:  Shiprock.

checking out Shiprock for later that evening

Like the VLA, it is impossible to show the massive scale of this natural rock formation. It sits in the middle of Navajo Nation land, and you can see it from 30+ miles away. It felt like we drove forever before arriving at our rendezvous spot!

we could see it long before we reached our rendezvous spot!

Shiprock (Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼí or “rock with wings”) rises 1,600 feet above the plain and is considered a sacred site. As such, you are not permitted to drive close to the monolith without a Navajo guide. We booked our tours with Navajo Tours USA.


four-image pano

We settled into Fairview Hide-Away in Farmington, our home for the next three nights.

Fairview Hide-Away, Farmington

And were back at Shiprock by 6pm.

Our guide, Kialo, arrived shortly after, and together we caravanned to the end of the road. Kialo assured us that our VW Jetta could make it “no problem” but it quickly turned into the bumpiest, most nerve-wracking non-road TG had ever driven!

following behind Kialo for the sunset … what road?

We parked at the base of the monolith and then proceeded to scramble up the side of a sheer cliff to get to our first photo spot. Kialo bounded up like he had been doing this his whole life (he has) while I inched along behind him, not daring to look down and clinging to the rock wall for dear life. A tumble would, at the very least, result in severe injury, and we took our time going up.

selfie from earlier that day showing how far we drove and then climbed!

But we were rewarded with an incredible bird’s eye view of the monolith, the last of the sunset turning it bright orange.

we were rewarded with an incredible bird’s eye view of the monolith

What goes up must come down, so we inched our way back in the inky blackness and on to our next spot for Milky Way shots. TG set up for a stack,

TG’s star stack

While I walked back and forth shooting the Milky Way from various angles.

the Milky Way over Shiprock

The moonless sky was clear, and the stars were out in such numbers it was difficult to spot individual constellations. The Milky Way was a brilliant, vertical arch that stretched far over our heads into the sky above us.

there were so many stars we could barely make out the constellations!

It was truly a night to remember.

Thank you, Kialo, for a night to remember!

You can see more photos from Shiprock here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

shiprock milky way-1

On Saturday we had arranged for two day-hikes into the Bisti (rhymes with “Misty”). The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a rolling landscape of badlands that offers some of the most unusual scenery found in the area.

the hoodoos of the Bisti

Time and nature have etched a fantasy world of strange rock formations made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt.

the “Wings”

These hoodoos are in the shapes of pinnacles, spires, capped mushrooms, and other unusual forms.

We met our guide, Gilbert, at the north section rendezvous spot at 7am.

Gilbert, TG, and me

We learned a lot about the Bisti and Navajo culture as he pointed out the various formations.

“The Queen”
“Vanilla Hoodoos”
the “Owl”

 We also played “What do you see?”

I named this formation “Thirsty Dog.”

“Thirsty Dog”

TG said, “I see a camel!

TG spies a camel

We ended our first hike around 11am and had just enough time to drive home for a quick lunch and spell Oscar and Maddie. The total distance that morning was around four miles.

We were back at the south section parking lot by 3pm and hiked to several well-known spots including the Petrified Logs,

Petrified Log

And the famous Egg Hatchery.

TG at the “Egg Hatchery”

We finished our afternoon hike at just over 5 miles and were so tired we could barely make it home. But it was another memorable day.

Gilbert enjoying the afternoon sun

You can see more photos from the Bisti here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):


The next morning, we caught up on photos and took advantage of Fairview Hide-Away’s washer & dryer – an amenity we appreciated being one month on the road!

Fairview Hide-Away

Later that afternoon we drove back out to Shiprock for one more shot at the night sky and a star stack. Because we were on our own, we stayed in the parking lot. But even so, it made for a special night as the headlights from passing cars illuminated the dike while we took our shots.

star stack from Shiprock parking lot (dike lit by passing cars)

On Monday, we said goodbye to Farmington and headed west.

It is difficult to take in the vastness of the southwestern United States. It goes on forever and coming up over a rise you can see for 50 or more miles. It is beautiful and it is spellbinding.

it feels like you can see forever

A quick detour took us to Four Corners.

the Four Corners monument

And of course we had to take a selfie standing in the four states: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado!

selfie at Four Corners

We ended the day at Monument Valley. We checked into our room at the Kayenta Valley Inn,

relaxing in our room

And then drove the twenty-five miles to the monument entrance. Here is TG’s description of our experience: 

We visited Monument Valley near Kayenta, AZ yesterday. I must say that despite the monuments themselves being extraordinary in size and beauty, it was a letdown. It was the most controlled, yet uncontrolled, experience I have ever encountered.

the famous Mittens at Monument Valley

For $20, you are issued a permit allowing a timed, 2-hour drive on a marked road that really should not allow any vehicles with moderate to low clearance…

checkpoint before entering Monument Valley
you are issued a time-stamped permit that you must sign and return when exiting the Valley

There were many spots that we had to cover at less than 5 MPH and a couple of very steep hills with loose gravel on the way out that we almost could not climb.

we were not sure our Jetta could make it up this incline!

Additionally, there is no policing of the drivers once in the park, although there are plenty of rules. Many drivers went well above the 15 MPH limit, kicking up dust, not looking where they were going, driving the wrong way, and stopping in the middle of the road. What we had looked forward to quickly turned into a “let’s get out of here ASAP” moment.

15 mph speed limit through the Valley

You can see more photos from Monument Valley here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

monument valley-09573

Our original plan was to go back the following morning for a sunrise drive but based on the previous afternoon experience we nixed that idea and continued west.

Alongside Route 160 there is an interesting rock formation called “Elephant’s Feet” where we stopped to take a few photos and stretch our legs.

“Elephant’s Feet” pano
a quick stop at “Elephant’s Feet” to stretch our legs and take some photos

We arrived in Cameron around noon – far too early for our 4pm check-in. So, we headed straight to the Grand Canyon National Park, located about a 30-minute drive west of town.

Welcome to the Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon was on both of our “Bucket Lists” and our first views did not disappoint.

“First View” of the Canyon

It truly is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and I found myself in tears, overwhelmed by its awesome beauty.

pano from Desert View
family selfie

Since we had all the following day, this afternoon was a scouting mission to get the lay of the land.

Back in town, we checked into the historic Cameron Trading Post, our home for the next two nights.

Historic Cameron Trading Post

This charming hotel has gorgeous views, private entries, and well-laid-out rooms. It also has the prettiest, softest baby-blue towels!

blue towels!

We had plenty of space to spread out our laptops and camera gear.

Cameron Trading Post

The restaurant serves both American and traditional Navajo food, with convenient curbside pick-up.

our “Navajo Tacos” ended up being two meals!

We realized that we were woefully unprepared for photographing the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon with its layers of light, shadow, and colors. TG spent some time researching “how-to” techniques for the next morning’s sunrise.

we realized we were not at all prepared for photographing the Grand Canyon!

We were back at Lipan Point well before dawn and watched the sun slowly bring the layers of color alive as it rose above the horizon. Once again, a lump formed in my throat as I took in the beauty of it all.

Grand Canyon at sunrise
sunrise at the Grand Canyon pano
sunrise selfie

November is a great month to visit the Grand Canyon. It is less crowded – for our sunrise session, we were one of a small handful of people. And although the morning started out quite cool, it warmed up quickly during the day. We were fortunate to have blue skies and bright sunshine for both days.

The roads are free of cars,

the park is relatively empty in November

And we were able to stop and snap photos of the elk that grazed in the woods on either side.

lots of elk grazing on both sides of the road

We even took turns hiking a bit of the Grandview Trail.

Grandview Trailhead

With O & M waiting patiently in the car neither of us wanted to be gone for too long, so a trek to the bottom was not an option for this trip.

Maddie waiting patiently in the car

That afternoon we went back to Lipan Point for the sunset.

taking photos at Lipan Point

Many people had the same idea and the best vantage points were crowded with photographers, picnickers, and folks simply taking in the view.

people enjoying the sunset at Lipan Point

We took a few photos,

Lipan Point

And then moved on to Moran Point, a quieter location to wait for nightfall.

Moran Point

You can see more photos from the Grand Canyon here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

canyon pano 5-4

Thursday morning it was time to pack up the car and head back to Casita Del Cranes for the remainder of our trip. We plotted a route south and east, through Winslow, Arizona.

Winslow, Arizona

And yes, Eagles Fans, we did stand on the corner.

TG ♪♪standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona♪♪
yeah, I did it too!

Driving for hours requires regular pit stops – for both us and the dogs. I do not normally write about these, but the truck stop in Twin Arrows deserves special mention.

Set in the middle of the Arizona desert, the doggie area was a large section of Astroturf, akin to a putting green. Oscar and Maddie found this unacceptable and used the surrounding bushes instead.

Oscar and Maddie are too well-trained to use the Astroturf – they thought it was carpet!

And before you were allowed to enter the building, your temperature was taken. The Navajo Nation was hit hard with Covid, and they are doing everything they can to keep it at bay.

our temperature was taken before we were allowed to enter the building

They also sold Navajo Blue piñon coffee, which might be some of the best coffee around!

Route 60 goes straight east through a fun little spot called Pie Town, where we stopped for (you guessed it) pie.

Pie Town

The homemade options this day were traditional apple and pecan pie muffins.

traditional apple pie

Pecan pie muffins!?! They tasted even more delicious than they sound, and my hips are grateful there isn’t a Pie Town back home!

pecan pie muffins – “we’ll take-two-make-that-four, please.”

We arrived at Casita Del Cranes late that afternoon, happy to be back at our home-away-from-home. While TG fixed dinner, I took a walk down the dirt road in front of the house to look for roadrunners.

I was happy with this sighting of a Gambel’s quail, a new-to-me bird!

Gambel’s quail

Week Three began with a visit to the Socorro Nature Area, a beautiful little preserve about three miles from Casita.

northern flicker

Most of the birds were TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds) that required much patience to photograph.

say’s phoebe

TG was able to capture some beautiful landscapes,

Socorro Nature Area
Socorro Nature Area pano

On our drive home, we spied a red-tailed hawk

red-tailed hawk

and (much to my delight) beep-beep! a roadrunner!


The VLA is a designated ClearDarkSky site, and the forecast that evening was for clear and dark skies with excellent “seeing.”  When away from lights, the night skies in New Mexico are unlike anything we have seen. The Milky Way is incredibly bright and visible, much more so than in Florida. We wanted to try for a star stack with one of the VLA’s massive white dishes in the foreground.

the VLA at night

We arrived at the VLA around 7:30pm and the stars were already out in full. We parked in the darkness close to one of the giant antennas and set up for a star stack. It takes about an hour to shoot the 100-200 images needed for a stack. As we waited, we looked for various constellations and watched as stars and satellites shot across the sky while the screeching cries of hunting owls filled the air around us.

the sky was so dark and clear we could see the northern end of the Milky Way

By now the birds had arrived in the Bosque del Apache in the thousands we were hoping for, so we spent the last six days of our trip close to home.

snow geese by the thousands!

We alternated between hikes:

Seven miles of the Chupadera Trail where we climbed up to 1800 ft.

Chupadera Trail

The full trail is 9 1/2 miles, but we turned around at a dry riverbed crossing. The drop down was at least five feet, and we knew the scramble back up would be a challenge!

hiking the trail

We spied a few desert cottontails

desert cottontail on the Chupadera Trail

And a group of Gambel’s quail.

female Gambel’s quail and white-crowned sparrow

The Marsh Overlook Trail, which has a short but beautiful climb up to a panoramic view of the Bosque,

a short hike to the top for a panoramic view of the Bosque
pano from the top of Marsh Overlook Trail
female northern harrier

And the Rio Viejo Trail.

the Rio Viejo Trail

Just as we started down the trail, a couple with a friendly golden retriever was headed to their car. They told us there was a family of javelinas near the back of the loop and TG whispered “not anymore.” 

TG on the Rio Viejo Trail

It was still a beautiful walk through the woods and we did manage to spy a group of mule deer.

mule deer

We drove the “Loop Tour” roads around the refuge multiple times, where we enjoyed encounters with various wildlife such as javelinas,


More mule deer,

mule deer

A fleeting glimpse of a coyote, a bobcat,


And many beautiful birds.

raven on a dead tree limb

You can see more photos from our Loop Tour drives and hikes here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):


And we spent each sunrise at the “Flight Deck.”

sunrise from the Flight Deck

The Flight Deck is a wooden boardwalk that stretches out over the marsh and in the mornings is THE place to watch the birds flying in, out, and overhead.

sunrise at the Flight Deck

We arrived each morning before dawn to secure a prime spot. Two dozen or more photogs, each armed with a big-lens camera, vie for the same choice positions at the north and south ends of the deck.

staking out a prime spot!

The noise from the birds is quite loud as small groups go through sporadic launches and then settle back down into the flock.

the birds go through sporadic launches and then settle back down into the flock

But suddenly, as if on cue, the noise swells to an almost deafening crescendo as they take off and fill the sky.

suddenly they all take off
… and fill the sky!

It is unlike anything we have ever witnessed.

snow geese fill the sky

It is spectacular.


You can see more photos from sunrise at the Flight Deck here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

sunrse flock-9928

Every day on our way to and from the Bosque we passed the Owl Bar and Cafe. This landmark restaurant has been in business for 76 years and boasts “the world’s best burgers and steaks.” I absolutely love owls, so of course we had to stop in. Being vegetarians we opted for the breakfast burritos — which were also delicious!

owls, owls everywhere! (I fit right in)

One afternoon our host, Steve, drove us out to San Lorenzo Canyon, located about six miles from the Casita. This picturesque canyon is in the middle of the desert and is only accessible in high-clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicles.

quite a bumpy ride to get there!

Even in Steve’s big truck, it was a bumpy ride! But worth it to climb among the narrow cliffs, arches, hoodoos … 


And angular rock formations.

path through the canyon

You can see more photos from San Lorenzo Canyon here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):


On our last afternoon, Pam joined us for one final Loop Tour drive. On our way out we spied a beautiful female northern harrier, posing perfectly in the golden light. Since this is one of TG’s favorite birds, it seemed only right that she be the one to bid us farewell.

female northern harrier in the golden afternoon light

Later that evening, Pam and Steve invited us for prickly pear margaritas. Over our three weeks at Casita, we had occasionally heard the hoot of a great horned owl in the pecan tree outside our front door. One night at 3am I went outside with a flashlight and found him sitting at the top of the tree, just out of range of my light and certainly out of range of a camera.

We sat under the pecan tree, calling for the owl. No owl was seen (or heard) but we enjoyed friendly conversation, a warm fire, and stars twinkling overhead.

a warm fire for our last night at Casita

It was a fitting end to our time at Casita del Cranes.

My sister lives west of Dallas and we wanted to spend a weekend with her before continuing home to Florida. But it is a nine-hour drive from Lemitar, so we broke up the trip by booking one night at the LaQuinta in Roswell.

We drove east through the lava fields and the spectacular Capitan Mountains.

the Capitan Mountains east of Carrizozo, NM

The town of Roswell was somewhat of a disappointment. It sits in the middle of a vast wasteland, surrounded for miles in all directions by nothing but rolling yellow hills. It is easy to imagine a UFO touching down somewhere in all that nothingness.

Roswell sits in the middle of a vast wasteland, surrounded by nothing

But the kitschy part of town is only about three blocks on Main Street, with lots of tacky souvenir shops,

the kitschy part of Roswell

Themed restaurants,

Dunkin Donuts

And the UFO museum.

the UFO museum

The rest of the town is kind of blah, without a whole lot of personality.

Welcome, Earthlings!

Once you cross the New Mexico/Texas border you come upon hundreds of miles of cotton fields. Many had huge bales bundled up in colorful yellow or pink wrappers.

the cotton fields of west Texas

The landscape changes dramatically as you near the Dallas area – it turns into rolling hills with lots of green trees. We spent a too-short, but delightful visit with J & D in their beautiful home.

my family (minus Maddie who was hiding under the bed)

We wanted to get a head start on DFW traffic, so we left on Sunday afternoon rather than waiting until Monday morning.

We were glad we did, as even on Sunday the traffic was intense for us country folks!

DFW traffic on a Sunday afternoon

At the start of our journey, we had passed through the interesting town of Bogata, TX, and promised ourselves we would take time for photos on our way back east.

There are several old garages filled with classic cars and trucks. Many private homes also have vintage cars sitting on their lawns.

vintage trucks in Bogata, TX

Multiple Google searches did not turn up any explanation for all the cool old cars, but it was fun to see and photograph them!

Bogata, TX

Driving as many hours as we did, we came up with fun games to pass the time. One was “if you could live anywhere based solely on the name, where would it be?”  “Baton Rouge” is a fun name to say, as is “Sheboygan.”  But then we passed a sign for:

Hot Coffee, MS

???? HOT COFFEE?!?  Seriously, it’s a real town in Mississippi, and on our next trip we will have to check it out!

We spent our last night in Tallahassee. We had a six-hour drive home to Okeechobee and only 30 minutes to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. There had been multiple sightings of a flamingo at the refuge, and we wanted to see it for ourselves.

Oscar and Maddie were zapped and ready to go home!

So, we detoured south to St. Marks early the following morning and were not disappointed. The flamingo was there, looking ever-so-elegant in the early morning light.

American Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber

We also saw three bald eagles,

bald eagle

Some white-tailed deer,

Maddie was very interested in the deer

And were pleasantly surprised to find a few monarch butterflies still fluttering about.

a few remaining monarch butterflies fluttering about

You can see more photos from St. Marks here (click on photo then use the arrow to go through the images):

st marks pano 1-SharpenAI-focus-DeNoiseAI-standard-gigapixel-standard-scale-1_50x

We were heading home by 9:30am and pulled into our driveway mid-afternoon. It was an amazing trip and of the 17-odd things we wanted to see/photograph we got all but one: a rattlesnake. But it WAS winter after all!

Pepper before and after!

We also learned a lot about how to streamline for our next big adventure. TG and jet (and Oscar & Maddie) are indeed back “On the Road” again!

In conclusion, here are TG’s thoughts on our trip:

This was the longest road trip in distance and duration, and was a test run of sorts for some even longer journeys we have in mind…

Some Pros: JET is the best human road buddy…..we did not kill each other despite being together 24/7 for 28 days straight, much of it in the confines of a 2012 VW Jetta wagon.

Oscar & Maddie are the best non-human road buddies, period.

Driving across TX, in much of NM and a chunk of AZ, 75 MPH speed limits are the norm, even on 2 lane country roads…we liked it, especially with the new set of rubber we installed on Pepper before the trip.

Speaking of Pepper, she ran like a top, only burned a quart of diesel oil, which was expected based on my conversation with the VW dealership where we have her serviced…averaged 33 MPG for the 7,700 miles about 4,000 of which were with a 64 x 40 cargo basket holding a 63x38x18 cargo bag and contents…kind of like driving down the road with a refrigerator on top of your car.

New Mexico is truly The Land of Enchantment.

Taco Bell cheezy bean & rice burritos are the cheapest and best road food.

The Grand Canyon in November is sublime and uncrowded.

Pietown, NM is the only place to get Pecan Pie Muffins….and that is a good thing, because I would weigh 450 lbs in short order if they were in Okeechobee.

Tallahassee, FL is a beautiful little city.

Piñon coffee.

Hyatt Hotels are simply the best for road travel.

Some Cons: Not all Best Westerns are even close to Best.

Monument Valley is not worth the time, unless you enjoy a highly controlled , yet unpoliced experience.

Cigarette smokers congregating near your hotel room.

Cigarette smokers letting their dog run free and straight for Oscar & Maddie.

Roswell, NM is not worth the visit for a few cheap and crappy souvenir shops and a lame UFO museum.

Traveling more than 10 hours in one day is not worth it.

All in all, we can’t wait for the next adventure in 2022.

If you’ve stuck with me this far then a huge Thank You! And if you want to look at all our photos, the links to our Flickr sets are below:


shiprock panorama - 6 images


Bosque del Apache