A Surfer’s Paradise, Encinitas, California, USA, 1-2019

Swami’s, D St., Grandview, Seaside, Ponto, 17th St. Huntington, 19th St. Newport, and of course good ole Trestles. Places near and dear to my heart. I took up surfing when I was about 12 and back in the 70’s there were few girls in the water and I was one of them. Back in the day I was a full fledged fanatic. All I could think of was when and where I could find the next wave roaming the coast in my bright yellow Honda CVC with surf and windsurfing boards atop. Surfing before and sailing after work I managed to amass quite a collection of unpaid parking tickets from surf spots up and down the California coast. That was until I got caught and the Seal Beach Police towed away my tiny transport with my beach towel in it. Then clad only in my bikini and carrying my board I had to walk into the busy Seal Beach Police Department to retrieve my car from the towing lot. I will never forget the embarrassment and stares of that visit! Today I promptly pay all my parking tickets. That time was only slightly matched when, again only in my bathing suit, I had to check in at the Scripps emergency room after suffering a concussion at Swami’s when a kook kicked out his long board at my head. Ahhh good times…The footage that my son and his lovely girlfiend caught on a recent visit to Encinitas captures the beauty of the sport and of one of the places that I have been lucky to call home. Footage courtesy of Jolly Schwarz Photography

Back to home

A Winter Visit To The Navajo Reservation, USA, 1-2019

A white whisper of snow dusted the sandstone buttes of the Lukachukai mountains that are sacred to our people the Dineh´. Franz and I had come out to the Navajo Reservation for a whirlwind tour to visit family out on the “Rez” with our son and his Austrian girlfriend, who was a first time visitor to the US. We wanted to share with her the beauty of our homelands but were pressed for time due to our guys having to be back in California to give a talk. Can the Southwest be done in 7 days in January? Yep! Enjoyable? You bet! It can be as long as it’s not the worst winter on record and if one focuses on one main destination per day it can be quite doable. The day before we had flown in from San Diego to Albuquerque, New Mexico and we overnighted with family in Placitas. When in the vicinity a must stop is at the iconic Range Cafe in nearby Bernalillo for some local eats and live blues music. 7 days is not a whole lotta time out in the great expanse of the American Southwest. That and a weather front had just dumped substantial snowfall on the route out to Arizona that included several high passes and remote roads. This was of concern as well as the government shutdown which affected the clearing of the highways and had caused the closure of many national parks and monuments. 

https://www.rangecafe.com/menus/

https://www.newmexico.org/nmmagazine/articles/post/native-basket-array-grants/

As luck would have it the dawn brought sunny skies and clear roads and the Navajo Nation had stepped up to ensure that the highways out on the Rez were maintained. The stars had aligned in our favor. Our route from Placitas via I-40 to Grants, New Mexico included a side tour via Route 66 to check out a Native Basket Array installation at the Fire and Ice Park. The project highlighted the work of local artists who had repurposed satellite dishes and painted them in traditional designs to create unconventional pieces of public art. While there a quick peek in at the New Mexico Mining Museum is well worth the time taken and holds a collection of related artifacts from the area and some tribal art.

Route 40 winds near the ancient El Malpais National Monument where the landscape morphs into unusual basalt formations with dormant volcanic spires and hardened lava flows. The otherworldly terrain was formed from 115,000 to as recently as 2,000 years ago and the local tribes the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna Pueblo people have inhabited this region for over 10,000 years. One’s imagination can easily take hold out here in the vast spaces of this arid region. And mine did just that as my sister recounted a story that told of large lizards that inhabit the remote lava tubes of this eerie landscape and are said to be voracious eaters that keep the locals and animals away. The 60’s sci fi film Journey to the Center of the Earth came to mind. Creepy! This of course intrigued our guys and Franz set out on foot to check out an underground flume they had spotted on Google Earth and Stefan followed him with a drone recording his progress. I am happy to report that he encountered no flesh eating lizards but perhaps they were hibernating in the winter months only to emerge come spring with ravenous appetites… but regardless of the lack of large reptiles the footage they caught was pretty spectacular! 

The frozen waters of Wheatfields Lake lay silent with only a whisper of falling snow. If one is lucky majestic eagles can be seen perched along the pines lining the shore. The Diné/Biitah Scenic Road winds right past Wheatfields Park at 7300 feet which is known for its trout fishing then steadily climbs the Chuska Mountains until descending into the Lukachukai Valley with the mountains (9466 ft.) in the distance. We spent an evening at the homestead and planned the next day to take in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, just one of the many treasures on Navajo tribal lands.

After a lovely family evening our small group took off to visit a special place in Canyon de Chelly that involves rugged muddy roads and takes effort to get to especially in winter. The view from the point is quite spectacular and mother nature does not get any more beautiful than this. The canyon itself covers 84,000 acres and is about 45 miles long with sandstone faces up to 800 feet tall. Carved into the Defiance Plateau by the Chinle Wash this magnificent gorge is considered sacred to both the Navajo and the Hopi and has been inhabited for over 5000 years and still is today. Prehistoric cliff dwellings and rock art dot the canyon walls with the grande dame spire of them all, Spider Rock (830 ft) presiding over the canyon. Spider Rock, or Na’ashje’ii, is sacred to the Navajo and many stories are associated with her, such as how she taught the Navajo how to weave as well as her ensnaring naughty children in her web that has kept many little kids in check over the years.

http://navajopeople.org/blog/navajo-creation-story-the-third-yellow-world/

We woke to snowfall the following day which kept us from exploring further afield instead we hiked closer to home then cozied up to a warm fire
and played a rousing game of Scrabble. To my dismay one of our native German speakers won the game with a whopping 84 points for the word “question!” Ouch! Our trip out to Lukachukai was way too short but we had to get out to California and opted to drive back with a few stops along the way. With our first time visitor in tow we headed to our next destination via Round Rock and Kayenta to Monument Valley, about a 2 hour drive away. One simply cannot visit Navajo Country for the first time without stopping at the Monument Valley Tribal Park. The rugged buttes, jagged pinnacles, and flat mesas that grace the valley and beyond did not disappoint as they shimmered in the stillness of the January day. Its breathtaking beauty always inspires awe no matter how many times I’ve visited. Traveling the Southwest during the winter is a gamble weather wise, but if the conditions are right one can experience the season when tourism slows to a trickle and can walk about the parks and the visitor centers minus the crowds. It felt as if we had the whole majestic place to ourselves.

https://navajonationparks.org/tribal-parks/monument-valley/

Content that our photographers got their shots we hit the road once again with our next stop, the amazing sandstone wonders of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. To tour the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon it is necessary to book a guided tour as it is a big tourist destination even in January. We had made our appointment at 3:00 pm with Ken’s Tour at the Lower Antelope Canyon to catch the best possible winter sun rays and there was no way we were going to miss our allotted time.

Our route lead us 2 1/2 hours through the chaparral terrain (6312) of Shonto, Arizona. As we descended from the high plains the placid waters of Lake Powell came into view. It’s hard to miss the second largest man made lake in the US that covers 190 miles in this arid region. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that the conditions had cooperated and we would make our tour. And it was simply amazing! It was even better than I had anticipated and far surpassed our expectations. Stunning, spiritual, spectacular, sensational and all the superlatives combined, it was that and more. We also had the best Navajo guide possible who was not only friendly but a wealth of knowledge regarding the geology and history of the “Corkscrew” Canyon. And to top it off he was a photographer who could offer advice as to angles and spots to shoot from and for this amateur photographer his tips were most welcome. It turned out visiting in the off season was a good choice as we had heard that during the high season the experience can be trying to say the least. Highly recommend a winter visit!

https://www.antelopecanyon.com

Admiring the clouds tinged with pink that reflected off the calm surface of Lake Powell we shivered in the evening light. In earlier times in summer we had camped along its shores and water skied though its red sandstone canyons. And it had been wonderful. But that is only one side of Lake Powell. As our photographers busied themselves capturing their footage I pondered the other side of the reservoir that lay before us. That is the controversial history of the flooding of Glen Canyon and the building of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1956. The mega project was conceived by the US Bureau of Reclamation so that the Upper Basin states could fulfill their obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact to deliver a fixed amount of Colorado River water to the Lower Basin states. The plan was ardently contested but the government prevailed and the project went forward resulting in far reaching environmental damage to over 80 side canyons, streams and natural arches, not to mention the loss of habitat to its thriving wildlife. Recreational boating introduced invasive species into the water system and the dam dramatically altered the Colorado River itself. The impact on Native American communities meant that culturally significant places and an unknown number of archeological sites have been lost due to flooding. And it never seems to stop as the disputes over water rights in the arid Southwest continues with the growing demands of urban settlement putting pressure on an already overtaxed river system. As I gazed over the life giving waters of the Colorado mulling over these complicated issues I wished that I could have seen what these ancient lands had looked like before man and his machines had made their mark. These thoughts and memories finally gave way to the more pressing issue of hunger. I put aside my thoughts and was thankful for the joy of my traveling companions. In high spirits we enjoyed the local eats and drinks at a nearby restaurant and reveled in our shared our experience.  

https://visitpagelakepowell.com

Back to home

Road Trip In The Southwest USA, 4-2017

The blend of deep rust brushed with streaks of ocher right out of mother nature’s iron oxide paintbox were striking against the volcanic slopes of the San Juan Mountains. My sister and I made our way slowly along the breathtaking Million Dollar Highway on our route to the National Historic Landmark town of Silverton, Colorado. The town once a former silver mining camp located on the Silverton Caldera is one of the highest in the US at 9,318 feet. It had been the traditional summer home of the Ute Tribe (Nuchu) that had inhabited this high country since 1000 A.D. but this waste change with the economic forces of the mining boom. The road built in the 1880’s was an engineering feat at the time and it followed the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad track and is by many considered one of the “most scenic drives in the USA.” The byway continued to wind up the steep passes of Coal Bank (10,640 ft), and Molas Pass (10.970 ft) and the snowpack glimmered in the sun. Clear roads at this elevation is always a concern in early April and fortunately the road was dry and the skies blue as we climbed toward the peak. This route is known for its sheer cliffs and narrow lanes that can be dangerous with jaw clenching hairpins turns, stretches with no railings, and combined with unpredictable weather makes for a truly memorable drive. We took in the surrounding slopes that bore the traces of ski touring and cross country runs along with the tell tale snowmobile tracks before making our descent.

http://www.dangerousroads.org/north-america/usa/635-million-dollar-highway-usa.html

The million dollar view into the valley below revealed a quaint Victorian mining town with colorful facades that highlighted its “wild west” past. Silverton is nestled in one of the worlds richest mineral supervolcanos that had erupted 27 million years ago. The vast wealth extracted from its caldera included gold, silver, copper, etc. and was the source of prosperity for the region that began in 1861 and ended in 1991. With the closing of its mines Silverton and surrounding towns have had to deal with the political, economic, and environmental complications stemming from years of mining pollution and controversial superfund support. Tragically in 2015 the Gold King waste water spill released toxic chemicals into the Silverton and Animas Rivers and what followed was an environmental disaster. The region has its work cut out for them in contending with the mining waste contamination but despite these complex problems Silverton is promoting high country tourism and touting the recreational and sporting opportunities of this alpine landscape.

http://silvertonmountain.com/town/

http://fortune.com/2017/01/07/colorado-mine-spill-animas-river/

The giving and receiving of directions out of the Navajo Reservation can be confusing if not downright impossible for non residents. Often they are issued with a nod of the head and pursued lips with the chin pointing the visitor in the right direction. Sometimes a hand wave is included towards a notable landmark such a water tower or chapter house then slowly one is told to proceed down the second graded road then turn left at the fence after the cornfield etc .…..It can be quite a challenge making one’s way around Navajo Country. I had come back on my yearly visit to Northeastern Arizona around Canyon to Chelly to spend time with my family after traveling through the dramatic landscape of New Mexico following my sojourn in Southwestern Colorado. Visiting the clan along with a requisite pilgrimage to Canyon de Chelly National Monument to pay my respects to Spider Rock is balm to this Native’s soul.

https://www.nps.gov/articles/dechelly.htm

Back to home

Heli-Skiing Adventure in the Yukon and Alaska, Canada & USA, 4-2017


The cry of an unfamiliar bird awoke me. Looking out of the motor home I realized that we were not in Austria anymore. My son Stefan and I had flown half way across the world to the remote territory in the Northwest of Canada in the wilds of the Yukon. The view outside was stunning as we had parked at the edge of a seemingly endless frozen body of water called Lake Atlin with snowy mountains on the horizon as far as the eye could see. The bird turned out to be a large bald eagle with its recognizable dark brown body and a white head and it was majestic. We were lucky to catch some spectacular footage up close of this formidable bird of prey at the beginning of our third movie of our Canadian sojourn.

My son Stefan and I had decided to take a special adventure trip together to celebrate my 60th and his 25th birthday organised by Furtenbach Adventures. Our original destination was heli-skiing in Japan but it was canceled unexpectledly and instead we chose the other side of the planet. The itinerary was a very different type of trip, rather than hotels we travelled in large motor homes with two people per vehicle with the advantage being that we had the option to go where the weather and the snow were most optimal.

We flew into Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and began our journey there. Our small caravan consisted of three motor homes with five participants and our Austrian guide Harald. After our group stocked up with supplies we drove south on the scenic Alaskan Highway into British Columbia. We had changed from our original destination, the Haines Pass and were lucky that the weather was much better in Atlin, and that the local Atlin Heli Sports was able to accommodate us. After arriving Harry gave us a thorough avalanche preparation course including how to trigger the reusable airbags. The charismatic owner André Gutenberg and his lovely wife and daughters as well as his team took great care of us. The following day we cooked out and spent the night on the lakeshore. As my son was taking photos around 11:30 pm he noticed a green sliver on the displayed picture on the camera. We hadn’t detected it with our eyes yet but it was the beginning of the Aurora Borealis and we watched the sky turn into a green spectacle for 20 minutes. It was quite a sight to see.

We awoke with anticipation to our first day of helicopter skiing and all kinds of activity at the “ranch.” André informed us that he had obtained the rights to a mountain area that had not been skied for many years and that he was going to check it out with some other guides. We were to follow behind. Of course we were really excited about that, especially that he would consider our skiing skills good enough to follow his team. Our group consisted of three others from Germany including Jo from Swabia, and Tobi and Michael from Bavaria. They were all great guys and we became good friends. The mountains were a good distance away and our guides flew with the helicopter while we were transported to the mountains with an old de Havilland Beaver. The sturdy plane was 62 years old but flew like a youngster, piloted by the always happy Chris.

Our trusty transport landed on the lake near two big oil barrels that contained gasoline for the helicopter. A few minutes later the heli arrived and took us to our first landing site near the top of a mountain. We had received strict loading entry and exit procedures that required us to huddle with one knee near the aircraft on the ground so to avoid any possible contact with the overhead blade. First the skis and airbags were loaded into a side metal box of the heli followed by our group with four in the back, the lightest in the middle, and the guide on the left side. Due to Stefan being so light were we able to fit 7 people into this helicopter. The entire landing process took less than a minute before the pilot lifted off again. Unfortunately for us on the first day the weather and visibility was not all that great. The remote location was incredible but the snow conditions were challenging, nevertheless we were elated. Our group followed the tracks of the guide group, sometimes veering off a bit to get fresh powder. Whenever we got to the bottom of a run the heli was there in no time, and we flew off to begin anew. The weather improved as we also descended further into the valley and below the tree line. Meal time proved challenging as well. Lunch was served next to the heli at the bottom of the run but getting there we had to master the increasingly difficult terrain ending in complete slush. I had borrowed a pair of skis and they were not as wide as what the others had and I definitely paid the price for it that day. After a wonderful lunch of hearty soup and sandwiches we had a few more higher runs then headed on home. We were surprised by a wonderful steak dinner that Mira, André’s wife, cooked for us.

The next morning the process was repeated but his time Stefan flew with the guides. This day I borrowed some really fat Kästle skis that were perfect for the terrain and was then able to thoroughly enjoy the entire day. We flew to two distinctly different areas and had a blast with the snow quality improving due to the lower temperatures. On the third day in Atlin we went snowmobiling with our guide who lead us to the Hinterland and prepared a wonderful barbecue with delicious Moose burgers. The only casualty that day was Stefan’s drone which he had the bad luck of flying it into a tree as he was filming. Fortunately two sets of rotors fixed the little critter that provided us with so much amazing footage.

The following day it was time to say good bye and head back north, then southwest to Carcross – originally called Caribou Crossing – from there over the White and Chilkoot Pass across the Canada – US border to Skagway. Our route was an amazingly beautiful drive that followed the famed Klondike Trail that so many hopeful prospectors traveled in the last years of the 19th century to pan for gold. The town of Skagway still pays tribute to that time and in the summer visitors can take the Yukon Route Railway up to the White Pass.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush

We made camp at a quiet park near the Skagway town hall and had a nice dinner in town with lots of locally brewed beer. The following day we took a one hour ferry boat to Haines across the sound. It was a beautiful sunny day and we saw the destination of our next ski adventure beckoning us from the distance. In Haines we checked in with SEABA, our next heli company that had a sprawling lodge on a hill overlooking the ocean that was not far from downtown. In the lodge we met a rowdy group of bartenders from Lake Tahoe, California who were spending ten days in Haines. Stefan immediately connected with these guys since he had grown up in Southern California.

We had to wait two more days before the weather was acceptable for flying, so we explored the town and its surroundings and ventured out to the Chilkoot State Park. The next day we drove up the Haines Pass, where another heli outfit was located. This had orginally been the place where we had planned to ski first but decided against and it turned out to be a good choice we had made. A Red Bull film crew and a professional snowboarder had been holed up there for a week due to bad weather. Despite the weather we drove further on and took a 2 hour ski tour in heavy winds and fog, at least we got to use our muscles a bit.

Friday came around and there was an excitement in the air at the lodge. The guides met at 7 am and the cook had prepared us a fantastic breakfast. We prepared and loaded up our skis, airbags into the shuttle vans and took off promptly at 8:30 to the close by airport. Each one of us was given a climbing harness and a radio, and we were weighed with and without all of our gear. We were assigned a cheerful guide named Austin and took off into the clear skies with breathtaking scenery below us. It was the most unbelievable day. The mountains were much steeper than Atlin, in fact Haines is a place were many professional extreme skiers come to film incredible descents.

Our fifth run was called the Pineapple Express and was named after a weather phenomenon. Just looking down the steep 50 degree descent sent shivers down my spine. Our guide took out his climbing rope and secured a second guide so he could test the stability of the snow. All checked out so the first group skied down one by one. Then it was our turn. Stefan dropped in and lay down fast powder lines. Two thirds down the slope there was a snow hill sticking out, which he attempted to use for a jump. Unfortunately it was an icy mound, he landed badly and ended up somersaulting several times without his bindings opening up. Both of his legs were severely shaken around in his boots, that gave him a contusion in both calves. He ended up doing one more run but then had to quit because of severe pain. Even though he was able to walk just fine when out of his ski boots unfortunately he could not ski again. We did 8 flights and runs that day and it was definitely the most epic ski day of my life. To top off the day despite Stefan’s injury we did enjoy a fine seafood feast of Alaskan king crab.
Saturday brought some great weather to begin with but we had to stop after four runs because of clouds moving in. The following day Jo and Michael attempted to go out but ended up with only two runs and a lot of waiting at the airport. To our surprise the company then gave us a gift of another four runs the following morning. Our guide was on a snowboard and we finished skiing with some wonderful powder. Our last evening our group came together for our farewell barbeque on the beach and we made a strong fire and grilled some awesome ribeye steaks with baked potatoes professionally prepared courtesy of Harry. The setting sun bid farewell to this incredible scenery with its glaciers down to the ocean and steep mountains reaching to the skies.

Our drive back into Canada via the Haines Pass to Haines Junction and then onto Whitehorse was uneventful and we returned our RVs. The next morning we left for Vancouver while the others headed back to Europe. We spent a nice evening in one of Canada’s finest cities and flew back home the following day. It was an adventure of a lifetime.

Back to home

Sunny North San Diego, California, USA, 12-2015

The arid desert landscape changes from the higher elevations of mixed evergreen forest as it slopes down to chaparral terrain until it plunges down to the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean arriving in America’s Finest City San Diego, California . This is the region that I call home. The familiar drive from the airport north on Highway 5 via the Pacific Coast Highway 101 to Encinitas highlights the best of the California Beach lifestyle. This scenic drive begins at Windansea where one just has to pause to check out the famed surfing spot then follows the sandstone coastline to the cliffs of La Jolla down into La Jolla Shores. It is not only picturesque but a great place for snorkeling and diving. Continuing north it’s onto UC San Diego Scripps Institute and its world famous aquarium. The Scripps Aquarium is definitely worth a visit. Continuing on the road, a pause at the glider port is a must to take in the view of Blacks Beach and the colorful hang gliders maneuvering about on the coastal winds. The route veers along the bluffs past the well known Torrey Pines Golf Club to Torrey Pines State Beach where the majestic evergreens grace the hiking paths along the coastal bluffs. The road descends along the beach where the “turf meets the surf” at Del Mar and its recognized thoroughbred racetrack. The city of Solana Beach is next in the lineup with a North County institution, the good ole’ Belly Up Tavern that is host to home grown and global musical artists. Continuing North the San Elijo Lagoon separates Solana Beach from the quaint Cardiff by the Sea that is nestled up against the coastal slopes and boasts the quirky “Cardiff Kook” surfing sculpture. Finally 101 reaches the funky city of Encinitas, known as the “Flower Capital of the World”  and its iconic surfing reef Swami’s as well as the lovely San Diego Botanic Garden. For me, despite living abroad for many years there’s no place like home because “you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the girl.”

http://www.lajollabythesea.com/windansea-beach
http://www.sandiego.org/what-to-do/beaches/torrey-pines.aspx
http://www.sandiego.org/articles/north-county/del-mar-california.aspx
http://bellyup.com
http://www.sanelijo.org/welcome
http://thecardiffkook.org
http://www.sandiegocoastlife.com/san-diego-beaches/beaches-swamis.html
http://www.sandiego.org/articles/north-county/encinitas-california.aspx


Back to home

Faces Of The Rio Grande, New Mexico, USA, 11-2015

_DSC5797

An early morning moon lit the Sandia Mountains with a bluish haze as we made our way up the path to glimpse the rising sun. A chilly breeze rustled the golden leaves of the aspen trees and there were traces of an early snowfall as blue jays and other small birds flew about in their never ending quest for food. The mood was magical and we reveled in the serenity of the New Mexican dawn.

Franz and I had come to Placitas to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family just outside of Albuquerque. Placitas is nestled at the base of the Sandia Mountains and overlooks the Rio Grande River and the old city of Bernalillo. This area is rich in culture from the numerous Native American tribes that have called this home since they emerged from Mother Earth. Pueblos, Navajo, Apaches, and other tribes have coexisted with the Spanish and Mexican people that had later settled in the region as well. This mixture of people have lent New Mexico a unique heritage that is expressed eloquently in its architecture, art, food, music, and dance.

_DSC5886

And did I mention food? This area is known for the spicy and mouth watering cuisine from the simple to the sophisticated and every year I happily taste my way through many of the local eateries. Among my favorites for comfort foods I enjoy the Range Cafe in Bernalillo for American standards with a Southwestern note, and for fusion European/Southwest cuisine Blades’ Bistro in Placitas is a pleasurable place to pass the evening. Going into Albuquerque for simpler fare the must haves are Christie Mae’s for the BEST chicken pot pies and lemonade in the Southwest and for Mexican fast food you can’t beat good ole’ Taco Cabana. Also Sadie’s of New Mexico is an Albuquerque institution and the food is as authentic as it gets. A bit farther afield on the outskirts of Santa Fe is the unassuming but amazing Palacio Cafe. After I had my fill of Thanksgiving turkey I had a hankering for tamales and and satisfied my craving at the lovely La Plazuela At The La Fonda that has a reputation for innovative Southwestern cuisine. The old world Spanish setting was festive for the holidays that made for a special lunch ambience.
http://www.rangecafe.com
http://www.bladesbistro.com
http://www.christymaes.com
http://www.tacocabana.com
http://palaciosantafe.com
http://www.lafondasantafe.com/la-plazuela#overview-section

_DSC5968

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Golden and rust colored reeds and wild grasses swayed along the marshy banks of the Rio Grande. Sunlight peeked through the clouds and graced us with a glimmering rainbow that crowned the fertile landscape. We had driven about 2 1/2 hours from Placitas to visit the windswept wetlands of the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Flocks of birds of many varieties were everywhere and the waterways were teeming with wildlife. We caught our first glimpses of its most well known winter residents, the greater sandhill cranes. You can’t miss them as they are quite large standing four feet tall with a wing span of more than six feet. The immature cranes are rust colored and they become grey as they age and they can live up to twenty five years. They also have a reputation for their elaborate mating display to attract potential mates that sometimes encompasses entire groups in the breeding ritual. Their dance is a mixture of bowing, bouncing, jumping, wing flapping and spreading with some performances that even include the throwing of small objects into the air.

_DSC6057

The visitors center offered a good overview of the parks history and the various plant and wildlife contained within it. An updated board posted the different bird sightings and the day we visited it listed: Sandhill Cranes Greater & Lesser 3899, light Geese Snow & Ross 13401, Canada Geese 210, multiple variety of ducks 9269, water & shore birds 245, raptors Eagle, Hawks and Falcons 60. During our visit we saw almost all of the listed birds including a majestic bald eagle. The day’s highlight was at dusk as we shivered in the cold and windy viewing area to await the return of the masses of sandhill cranes to the safety of the wetlands for the night. What a feathered spectacle!
http://www.fws.gov/refuge/bosque_del_apache/wildlife/waterbird_survey.html

_DSC6133

Snow dusted peaks of the Sandia mountains glistened in the distance as the West Mesa beckoned us to the volcanic rocks nestled at the base of the Albuquerque mountains. These boulders are marked with the carvings left by the earlier Ancestral Pueblo peoples and the later Spanish settlers from 400-700 years ago that today is the Petroglyph National Monument. The basalt stone has proved to be an enduring canvas that relays the information left by the earlier people comprising over 24,000 petroglyphs that is spread over 17 miles in a series of monuments that make up the park dedicated to their ancient artwork.
http://www.nps.gov/petr/index.htm

_DSC6149_DSC6139 - Version 2

Our wanderings around the monument led to an encounter with an American Blacktailed Jackrabbit. We observed him hopping about as he fed upon the fragrant sagebrush. The indigenous Jackrabbit differs dramatically from the European hare not only in its size, which is massive, but it has extended long ears that have earned them the nickname “jackass-rabbit.” Their hop is unusual too due to their long legs that help them achieve great speed quickly to avoid the numerous predators that hunt them.
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blacktailedjack.htm

_DSC6289

The Southwest terrain has endless possibilities for day journeys. And one road trip I would never tire of follows a picturesque canyon route called The Orilla Verde Rio Grande Gorge. The thoroughfare runs through a volcanic plateau into the deep riparian gorge that is filled with willows and cottonwoods and holds abundant wildlife such as various birds, beaver, and muscat. The area is also open to all kinds of recreational activities such as fly fishing, river rafting, hiking, and camping.

The canyon has a hippie vibe to it and today is a refuge for some of the 60’s generation and others who escaped the hustle of the city and chose to live off the grid in alternative communities that have taken root here along the canyon. Some visitors are taken aback to find wineries along the route as well and are not aware that New Mexico is home to the oldest grapevines in the United States. The prized plants were brought here by Catholic padres who toted the desirable vines from Europe to take root along the river and they flourished in the warm climate and sandstone soil.

_DSC6222 _DSC6229

We stopped at the Vivac Winerys to partake in their offerings and we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the red wines. The host was quite a character and it is well worth a visit. I look forward to my next Southwest summer sojourn.
http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nm/programs/recreation/rec_docs.Par.51590.File.dat/RioGrVisGd.pdf

_DSC6344