Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sacramento Peak Observatories - September 2015

This is a continuation of my trip to southeastern New Mexico. This part is exclusively for science and astronomy lovers... and for any others who still have a sense of wonder about the wider universe.

Part 1 is here.

Remember, to view larger images click on any one.

Part 2 of 2:

National Solar Observatory and Apache Point Observatory

Wednesday, September 16th

Sunspot, New Mexico

The day before, I noticed an unusual sign as I turned down the Sunspot Highway; it said "Neptune". Just before I got to the turn-off for Benson Ridge, there was another which said "Uranus." Ah, ha, I thought. Not a big leap as above the planet name was a sign that said "Solar System" and had little icons of the planets. The observatories, several educational institutions, and other organizations, such as NM Department of Transportation have laid out the solar system along the highway. An excellent way to bring home the vast distances of the outer planets, and how close (relatively) the astroid belt and inner planets are to the sun. Very cool and a good warm up for what's ahead down the road.

The destination and final (first?) Solar System sign.

National Solar Observatory

First I visited the National Solar Observatory.  They have a Visitor Center with exhibits (for a small fee), a gift shop, and restrooms. Pick up a brochure to begin the free walking tour. I'll include a very small snippet from the brochure with my photos, below, but it has more complete descriptions and the anatomy of the sun. In additions to the VC, two of the buildings are open to visitors.

The Big Dome

First stop on the walking tour is the "big dome", a.k.a., the Evans Solar Facility. It was completed in 1952 and holds two main telescopes. The facility is mainly used to study the sun's corona. There is a window through which visitors may look into the interior of the dome. One of the telescopes was visible - I had to hold my camera at an angle to fit it all in the frame.

One of the telescopes in the Big Dome. Note: I've marked "horizontal" on the right.

Next is the "Tower", a.k.a, the Dunn Solar Telescope. The structure holds a large vacuum telescope 136 feet tall, but also extending 228 more feet below the ground. The rotating part of the telescope weighs more than 200 tons. This telescope is used to study solar granulation, sun spots, faculae, filaments and solar flares.

The Tower

Schematic of the vacuum telescope

Visitors are allowed inside, around the base of the telescope. The light level is extremely low; allow a few minutes for your eyes to adjust lest you stumble or tumble. No flash photography is allowed, but my handheld photos are not too bad. I felt privileged to be able to enter, especially as observations were in progress.

The optical bench and instrumentation at the laboratory level of the telescope.
The mirrors, prisms, and filters are used to zero in to the light frequencies of interest to the investigator.

I looked at the computer screen the observer was consulting and it contained nothing but several columns of numbers - data, not images.

The control bay for the telescope. The screen at bottom right, partially obscured, is displaying the results of the current observation.

Next was the Improved Solar Observing Optical Network (ISOON) facility, though it's operations have recently moved to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

ISOON sits atop the peak of the peak

The the Hilltop Dome, also, is no longer used for active observations, but functions as an optical design laboratory. Ironically, the only dragonfly I saw my entire time in the Sacramento Mountains was cruising the lawn outside. One of those species that fly real fast and never perch, so all I could see is that it was green.

Hilltop Dome and research laboratory.

The Grain Bin Dome was the first telescope dome built in Sunspot. The grain bin was ordered from the Sears Catalog and modified to accept a 6" telescope. In 1963 the duties of the Grain Bin were transferred to the just completed Hilltop Dome. In 1995 a night-time telescope was installed so Sunspot residents could star gaze.

The Grain Bin Dome held the very first telescope.

Apache Point Observatory

This astronomical observatory is located a little farther south on Apache Point next to Sacramento Peak. It is run by the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC) with six university members, including New Mexico State University. None of the buildings are open to the public, but they do provide brochures on a sign post along the sidewalk from the parking lot. Information can be found on the facility at and

This observatory complex has four major telescopes that are actively engaged in observations and research: the ARC 3.5 meter telescope, the 2.5 meter Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope, the NMSU 1.0 meter telescope, and the ARC Small Aperture 0.5 meter telescope. The projects being studied are many, including studies of galaxy evolution, mapping nearby galaxies, studying the expansion of the universe, early phases of cosmic history, infrared spectroscopic surveys, and lunar ranging measurements.

0.5 meter Small Aperture Telescope

New Mexico State's 1.0 meter telescope

The big kahuna, the consortium's 3.5 meter telescope

A side view of the SDSS telescope. Note how it hangs over the edge of the mountain.
Yet, is firmly anchored to the ground. The whole top section is on rails and rolls out of
the way when it is time for the telescope to operate.

As a retired engineer I was fascinated by this custom built manipulator arm assembly with 2 "elbows".
If I've read the documentation correctly, it is used to lift & move the telescope's 400 pound data cartridges.

[Update: 9-27-15; 12:43pm MDT] Here is an interesting YouTube video created by the SDSS team showing the manipulator arm, cartridges and telescope in action.

I was awed by the solar observatory complex then wowed by the facilities at Apache Point. Although only the buildings housing the telescopes were visible, my imagination ran wild. Visions of all those PBS NOVA episodes on astronomy, the original Cosmos TV series, all the programs I attended at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park when I lived out there, and the presentation I was able to attend at Stanford University given by Carl Sagen, all came together to boost my spirits out of this world! Gadzooks!

What the camera saw:

I love the symmetry of this photo. Note Tularosa Basin and White Sands in the background

What my mind's eye saw:

My night sky photo from northeastern New Mexico last June.

Before I departed the observatory, I had a sandwich on the adjacent picnic tables.

The lunch was plain, but the view was delicious.

A great conclusion to a wonderful trip in my little camper. Thanks for reading!

Southeastern New Mexico - September 2015

After my enjoyable trip to SW New Mexico and the Ode Blitz last month, I was primed to take another trip to look for new dragonfly species in the southeastern part of the state. I hoped to time my trip to attend the Dragonfly Festival at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, then continue farther south to the Carlsbad area. I wanted to check out Dog Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, as I'd heard good things about it. Then I'd return home after a quick survey of the Sacramento Mountains where I'd never been.

Remember, to view larger images click on any photo - highly recommended.

Part 1 of 2:

Pecos Basin and the Guadalupe & Sacramento Mountains

Sunday, September 13th

Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Roswell

I'd delayed driving down to Roswell for the annual Dragonfly Festival as the weather forecast had been for clouds and rain on Saturday. Odonates depend upon direct sunlight to see, as their vision is tuned for polarized light. Consequently they don't fly, and are therefore hard to find, when it is overcast.

Bitter Lakes NWR

I arrived late morning and was disappointed to find the Visitor Center was closed; I'd hoped to replace my dragonfly mug that fell off my kitchen counter and shattered. The tours were ongoing, but the facility was closed.

Bitter Lakes NWR Visitor Center overlooking one of the lakes.
Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is popular with birders and hosts migratory water birds in winter, such as Ross & Snow Geese, ducks, and a large Lesser Sandhill Crane population. Though near the Pecos River, much of the water here comes as artesian flows from the mountains far to the east. Of course the many dragonfly species is what generates interest in the annual festival.

Desert Whitetail at Bitter Lakes

My last minute plans precluded me from reserving a place on any of the official festival tours, but I did run into one old friend and caught up, but missed my other buddy. It was hot and I checked a few spots in the refuge for odes on my own, but didn't find much.

One of the highly saline lakes at the south end of the refuge colored by algae.

Lea Lake Outflow Wetlands

Lea Lake Outflow Wetlands with storms building on the horizon

I drove over to the Bottomless Lakes State Park area to check the Lea Lake Outflow Wetlands, which is on BLM land. By the time I got there the wind was picking up and gusting - not good for dragonfly photography. Worse, before long a thunderstorm rolled into the area. This is not what the forecast had promised. Bummer!

Bleached Skimmer at the Outflow Wetlands.

It was way too hot to camp at the state park, so I returned to Roswell and got a motel room. I'd researched motels via Google maps before I'd left home, just in case, and chose the moderately priced one rated 4 stars. The stars didn't lie, it was very clean and comfortable. I was able to relax in the air conditioning and watch baseball on TV.

Monday, September 14th

After breakfast at the motel I drove down to Carlsbad. I stopped at the National Park Service office to check status of Dog Canyon and ask about the roads. Then I stopped at the Lincoln National Forest district ranger station to get the latest info on the areas I hoped to visit and to purchase a map for the northern two districts.

Black River

The Black River as it flows under the county road. Cool dragonflies were found here.

South of Carlsbad I turned onto Black River Village Road to see if I could find a way to access the Black River and look for dragonflies. There were no locations or records that I could find from this area, but it looked promising on Google maps satellite view. About half-way between the US highways the county road dips and crosses the (small) river. I later learned that this spot is called Harkey Crossing. There were places to turn off on the south side of the highway. The river backs up a bit here, enough to form swimming holes and party spots for the locals, who left a lot of trash, unfortunately. But on the positive side, I was able to find several interesting dragonfly species, including two I'd never seen or photographed before, a Swift Setwing and a Flag-tailed Spinyleg that is not often seen in New Mexico.

Swift Setwing along the Black River

Rattlesnake Springs

From there I drove back to US-180 and south to the turn off to Rattlesnake Springs. The artesian pond and adjacent picnic area are administered by Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This location has been known as a birding hotspot for many years and now with the increased popularity of finding and photographing Odonates, a hotspot for us as well.

The artesian pond at Rattlesnake Springs - here be dragons.

As soon as I parked and walked over to the outflow canal from the pond I saw two interesting dragonflies, which I later identified as an Eastern Ringtail and one of my target species for the trip, a Yellow-legged Ringtail. They were more concerned with each other and not me, so was able to sit on the lawn and take lots of photos. One more new species for me.

Less than two weeks before, a Thornbush Dasher dragonfly, a species that had never before been recorded in New Mexico, was seen at this pond, so I began a slow walk around the pond to see if it was still there. About half-way around I spotted it perched on a stick toward the middle of the pond. I took some photos, but it was not very close and was facing the other direction. I continued to walk around the small pond.

Suddenly at my feet were literally dozens of Desert Firetails busily going about the business of insuring future generations. This was a damselfly I'd spent two days looking for last month at the Ode Blitz and only got once brief chance at a photo that entire time. Needless to say, I took many photos.

Desert Firetail at my feet

A bit later, I found the Thornbush Dasher again. This time it was perched perfectly in the sun, posing for my photographic pleasure not too far from the edge of the pond. I took lots and lots of photos of this gorgeous bug with its metallic blue eyes which made me very happy.

The prized Thornbush Dasher at Rattlesnake Springs

  • If you are interested in viewing photographs of all the Odonate species I photographed on this trip, click this link.

Dog Canyon

From there I drove back to Carlsbad for a very late lunch and headed southwest on NM-137 to Dog Canyon. This campground and ranger station is part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It is so remote that, although it is in Texas, the only way to drive in is via New Mexico. The last time I'd visited GMNP and hiked McKittrick Canyon, the folks I'd met told me what a beautiful place it was. It is a long drive along the state highway, up onto the plateau of the national forest, down the other side, then south to the very end of the road.

As you drop off the plateau, this magnificent vista of the Guadalupe Mountains opens up.
Dog Canyon sits at the head of this basin. The photo is looking south.

Well, it certainly has the rugged beauty of high desert mountains. The tent sites at the campground are quite nice, nestled in among the trees. The campsites for truck campers and RVs is a grassy parking area in the full sun with no trees. The grass was green and level and there were picnic tables, but if you desire to visit this area, I'd recommend going during the cooler months. Nonetheless, with the elevation and low humidity, it cooled off fairly quickly as the sun dropped below the mountains to the west, so was very comfortable in the evening and for sleeping. There is running water and flush toilets, but no showers.

My campsite at Dog Canyon in the RV parking area.
The tent sites are located under the trees you can see in the background.

The stars were amazing as there was no moon and no lights of civilization for many, many miles. The Milky Way was easily seen and admired. I thought about digging out my tripod for some night sky photos, but noticed there wasn't a moment when there were not at least three commercial airliners, and frequently several more, crossing the sky with their blinking lights. One sky photo with a jet streaking across is interesting, a photo with several a novelty, but I figured having every photo cluttered with streaks was not what I wanted. This remote spot must be under several very busy air traffic corridors.


Dog Canyon continued

I woke up very early in the morning. It was still dark with no hint of dawn. Still, I was wide away, so started the coffee and breakfast. I had intended to hike this morning and an early start, so I could finish before the heat of the day, sounded like a good plan.

The lower section of the Bush Mountain Trail

I started my hike just after dawn with the sun still behind the eastern mountains. I hiked up the Bush Mountain Trail. I'd read the hike up to the overlook and back was a bit under 5 miles and rated moderate.

A little farther along the trail cuts through grasslands.

There were lots of "pointy" things growing along the trail. Those rocks are the trail.

From my observations I'd say this area has suffered drier than normal conditions for several years, although I believe the current year was closer to normal. The Piñon pinecones were bursting with nuts.

View from where I turned around. I don't know if there was a formal overlook, but I'd hiked far enough.

This manzanita tree was just hanging on to life.

There was lots of wind and I was glad I had my hat with a chin strap to keep it on my head. The upper reaches of the trail were very rocky, so I made up a little joke to keep my spirits high - "Why is the trail so rocky?" "To keep it from blowing away." [bada-boom]

A Northern Shrike, a predator, watches over his hunting grounds

A couple of pines straddle a wash across which the trail traverses

A small Short-horned Lizard

A Paintbrush flower in the grasses as I near the campgrounds.

I got back to camp a few minutes before noon. After breaking camp and a quick bite, I headed back up the highway into New Mexico and points north.

Sitting Bull Falls

Picnic shelter built from native stone. Commemorative plaque is dated 1940

I wanted to stop at Sitting Bull Falls, a scenic spot and picnic area administered by Lincoln National Forest. One drives several miles off the state highway down into a small, yet dramatic canyon, to get to the site. I'd tried to visit there a few years before, but it was the off season and the gates were locked. I hiked the short ways to the falls and took a few photos. It was hot!

Sitting Bull Falls

Pool and canyon below the falls.

Fortunately, I didn't need to hike the 3 miles up Lost Canyon to look for Yellow-legged Ringtail dragonflies, as I'd found and photographed one the day before at Rattlesnake Springs. Whew!

From there I took the state highway back to US-285 to Artesia. I stopped there for gas and for (another) late lunch. I had BBQ at Henry's, a place I'd stumbled upon during a previous trip. I love their green chile pulled brisket. From Artesia, I drove due east on US-82 toward the Sacramento Mountains.

Sacramento Mountains

I was very glad I had thought to pick up a map in Carlsbad the previous day, as it was after 5pm when I passed the District Ranger Station in Cloudcroft. I was even happier that a friend had passed along suggestions for camping and site-seeing in the area. Those tips served me well.

Dispersed camping along Benson Ridge Road

I found a beautiful camping spot along Benson Ridge Road, FR-223. There were a number of dispersed camp sites along the road, but I kept driving until I found one I liked with grass, not dirt or mud, and a level place to set up. I also saw several elk along the drive, including a majestic bull with an amazing rack. Unfortunately, I was slow with the camera and only got a photo of elk rump, ha ha. I did get camp set up in time for the amazing sunset. It was delightful to hear the elk bugling during the evening.

As the sun slowly sinks in the west...

...the gorgeous sunset


Sacramento Mountains continued

After breaking camp, I headed back to the Sunspot Highway, NM-6563, and south. I took the turn to Bluff Springs. This is where the spring-fed Rio Peñasco drops off a travertine cliff. It is not much of a waterfall, but in New Mexico we have to revere every little one. There is camping at the springs and farther along the road, but those sites are susceptible to being coated with dust from the road.

Falls and flowers at Bluff Springs

There are also a number of overlooks along the Sunspot Highway where you can view the Tularosa Basin and White Sands. It is quite a view!

The Tularosa Basin and White Sands

The highlight of the day was visiting the observatories on top of Sacramento Peak at Sunspot, NM. This is the location of a major facility of the National Solar Observatory and also of the Astrophysical Research Consortium Apache Point Observatory.

As this may be of limited interest to those not science geeks, I decided to make these photos and the related commentary into a separate blog post, but include one photo here as a sample. Read about it and see the photos here.

Apache Point Observatory

After visiting the observatories I drove a little farther down the highway just to get a flavor of what it is like. I then retreated back to Cloudcroft, then off the mountain down to Tularosa Basin and north, home to Albuquerque.

Thanks for reading along.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Southwest Ode Blitz 2015

August 26 - 30, 2015

Blitz Headquarters: City of Rocks State Park

One of the Odonates found on the Blitz: Serpent Ringtail

What the heck is an Ode Blitz, you ask? Ode is short for Odonata: the scientific name for dragonflies and damselflies. Blitz is German for flash, as in quick as a flash, but in this case refers to a gathering of folks to intensely search for odes within a certain geographical area in a short period of time - a flash snap-shot of species in an area.

Why would anyone want to do this? Well, much like birders seek out, photograph, and list bird species; we get a kick out of finding and photographing interesting and colorful dragonflies. Our efforts also help biologists, ecologists, and the scientific community to determine what species are where and when. But mainly because we find it fun and interesting; we love nature and all it's beauty and critters. Southwestern New Mexico, where this event was held this year, is particularly underreported, has interesting scenery and also has some cool species that are not found in other parts of the country. This last point attracted Blitzers from coast to coast - Oregon to Florida; Vermont to California; and points between.

The SW Ode Blitz this year was headquartered at City of Rocks State Park, between Silver City and Deming, NM. The organizers reserved a group site for our use, though I stayed in the adjacent area that had electrical hook-ups so I could keep my compressor fridge plugged in (not having solar, like some campers do, and staying in one spot with driving to recharge the batteries.)

Our field trips were to Grant, Catron, and Luna Counties where we cataloged species via photograph. Some species cannot be conclusively identified by sight or photo alone, so a number of our party brought nets to snag those. There was no collecting on this Blitz, strictly catch, photograph and release. 

I will only include a couple dragonfly photos in this blog; use the following link to view all my best photos from this trip.

Gallery of Dragonfly & Damselfly Blitz Photos

Click the photos below to view larger versions. I tried to present the photos on their proper day, and I did for the most part, but sometimes it was better to move them around to balance the page.

My Journey - Wednesday

I set out south on I-25 in the morning. I planned to take a small detour to visit what is called the Percha Box - a box canyon on Percha Creek - east of Hillsboro, NM. Though I had excellent directions I was not able to find the primitive road that lead to the canyon trail. Consequently, I returned to the freeway and headed south to Hatch, NM, where I filled the tank and took the cut-off toward Deming. Just before Deming I turned north toward Silver City on US-180, then took NM-31 to City of Rocks State Park.

City of Rocks State Park

This is just the central section of the "city."

As I got nearer and nearer to the park I kept expecting to see some of the exotic rock formations for which the park is named, but I didn't. I became concerned. It wasn't until I topped the final hill on the park road that the rocks appeared all in one large, isolated cluster. Amazing! (Though I failed to take a photo from this perspective, darn it.)

I had made reservations to insure I had a site with electricity, but that would not have been an issue. There were electric sites available each night. If I were to go again, on my own, I would simply chose any one of the many individual sites situated around and among the interesting rock formations. Some even had a bit of shade.

My campsite with hook-ups. I remembered to bring my humming bird feeder,
seen hanging from a pole off the back corner of my camper.

I set up camp in the late afternoon with temps in the high 80's/low 90's (as the sun set, it cooled off due to the altitude and dry air). I walked around the rocks a bit in the early evening and met Kathy, the organizer of the Blitz, and her husband Dave, setting up their tent in the group site they'd reserved.

There were many Desert Cottontails around; there were also a number of Black-tailed Jackrabbits.

Dramatic clouds behind Cookes Peak, east of the campground, as it gets close to sunset.

There were many species of birds in the park, including this Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
She was finding bugs burrowing into these yucca seed pods.

Moonrise over Cookes Peak

Thursday - Day 1 of the Blitz

Iconic yucca and rocks in the early morning light (from Saturday morning).

After breakfast I wandered over to the group site to see who all had arrived. There was supposed to be an initial group meeting at noon, but when I got there before ten, a meeting was already in progress.

East Tank

The initial field trip was to be in the afternoon, but they were planning an impromptu trip and I got there just in time. The field trip leader, Tony Godfrey, works for the State Park and wanted us to visit nearby East Tank - this artificial pond was originally constructed to catch water for livestock. The state now owns this land, and hopes to eventually open it to the public. We had to drive on a rocky two-track for about half a mile (honestly, I didn't have to drive, as I left my camper set up and bummed a ride with other folks each day), then hike a bit over a mile to get to the tank. I think there were about 10 of us on the hike.

Excitement over a horny toad.

It was an interesting walk with lots of things to see, including a cooperative Texas Horned Lizard.

The subject of the excitement above. He really blends in, doesn't he?

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the pond; see my gallery. Everyone got lots of photos of those and also the butterflies that were feeding on the minerals on shore.

Very small Checkered-Skipper

There were several groups of 4 to 6 of these tiny guys feeding on the minerals.
I chose to just focus in on this iridescent male.

Tony was happy when I found this Prickly Poppy, as they had not been seen in the state park.
Though in the following days, we passed many on the roadside farther north.

The walk back to the cars was very warm and the trail seemed even rougher.

Katfish Kove

After lunch back at City of Rocks and a short meeting with those who had arrived after we took off to East Tank. We formed a caravan to Katfish Kove, a private "resort" with oxbow lakes (ponds really), off the Mimbres River. It is in Luna County about 10 miles south of the state park. It formerly was popular with birders, but had been closed many years. The new owners are refurbishing the resource and Tony secured permission for us to check it out.

American Rubyspot posed prettily along the banks of the Mimbres River.

There were a few pond damsels and dragonflies, but the ponds were filled with cattails and frogs (that eat odonate larva), so only a few species of interest were found - none by me.

We returned to camp. The plan for tomorrow was to head up to the Gila River, about a two and a half hour drive north, the next morning.

A Western Wood-Peewee, a flycatcher, visited my campsite.

Another campground visitor.

Day Two, Friday

Sunrise Friday morning.

The previous night my friend Leslie offered me a ride with her and a gentleman named Norm, whom she'd met on a previous Blitz, for today. He is from Medford, Oregon and had picked up Leslie in his car where she lives, south of San Francisco, on the way to the Blitz. They were tent camping at the group site. Those of us from the campground left at 8am and met up with those who had motel rooms in Silver City in the village of San Lorenzo - last stop for gas, ice, and food before heading into the Gila Mountains.

West Fork of the Gila River

The first critter seen once we reached the river was this Spiny Lizard with his grasshopper lunch.

We drove through very nice scenery - a wide valley to start, lined with interesting rock cliffs, then rugged mountains once we were well into the national forest. The road ultimately leads to the Gila Cliff Dwellings (see my photos from 2014.) We drove to the end of the road, and parked in the cliff dwellings parking lot, where we accessed the West Fork of the Gila River. A few additional folks joined the group there resulting in a total attendance of between 30 and 40 avid Blitzers. This was not as unwieldy as it sounds as we naturally broke into smaller clusters as we wandered the river.

We hiked along and waded up the West Fork. Tony had warned us to wear water shoes or sandals as we'd spend much time in this shallow, cool mountain river. I should have taken photos of the scenery, but like my companions, was totally focused on seeking out those dragonfly species found here, but few other places.

It is a wonderful feeling to be walking up a beautiful mountain stream and to spot one of those species, an Arizona Snaketail, on a willow branch extending over the water. Another Blitzer quickly found a Serpent Ringtail nearby perched on a rock. Both brightly colored dragonflies became the center of much attention by many photographers.

One of our target species, the Arizona Snaketail

We continued upstream seeing many Painted Damsels and other interesting species.

Handsome Painted Damsel

Tony's original intention was to hike the West Fork in the morning and the East Fork in the afternoon. However, we took much more time exploring up the West Fork and by the time we turned around, we could hear the rumble of thunder in the mountains of the afternoon storms that were building.

We grabbed a quick lunch back at the cars, before heading to a place a little bit downstream. By this time, though, clouds had moved in and the odes had pretty much stopped flying. At a quick group meeting before heading out, we reached a consensus to change the itinerary. Rather than drive over to the Rio Grande the next day (a long drive that would put us into heavily used state parks,) we would instead return to the Gila and hike the East Fork the next day. A change I heartily supported, because it was about 20 degrees cooler in the mountains than would be along the rio, and because there were still species to be found in the Gila that we hadn't yet seen.

Many in the group did stop in San Lorenzo for dinner as recommended by Tony. I had chorizo and eggs and it was very tasty and filling. Others had green chile cheeseburgers or the fish & chips special. Everyone drank lots of ice tea to replenish our fluids, even those who'd started with a beer also drank volumes of tea.

Dramatic cloud behind the rocks as the sun set tonight.
The photo above reminded me that we had a heck of a thunderstorm one night. You could see it slowly working its way in from the east, so there was plenty of time to batten down. There were strong wind gusts and pounding rain, but not too much thunder. I could hardly sleep due to the shaking and the racket. Ironically, despite the storm being so memorable, I cannot remember exactly on which night this occurred, Friday or Saturday. I expected to see all sorts of signs of the deluge the next morning, but everything was in order - just another stormy night for City of Rocks. [Update: Kathy replied that the storm was Saturday night and that half the tent campers ended up sleeping in their cars for safety. There was some damage to tents, but no one was harmed.]

Day Three, Saturday

Table Mountain just before sunrise.

I again rode with Leslie and Norm as they were very pleasant and interesting companions for the drive back into the Gila. We parked at the Gila Cliff Dwelling Visitor Center, a couple of miles before the prior day's parking. At the VC some folks enjoyed photographing the hummingbirds at the feeders, and others purchased better hats in the gift shop than they had had the previous day, before walking down to the river.

Middle Fork of the Gila River

This is where we entered Middle Fork. As you can see, the Blitzers are eager!

Middle Fork of the Gila River was a bit wider and slower than the West Fork had been. When I'd realized the night before that I'd failed to photograph the beautiful scenery Friday, I resolved to do better today. So now there are photos of the scenery and Blitzers to give those who didn't attend an idea of what they missed.

These are the cattails where the Arroyo Darners were mating.

This is the area where the Desert Firetails were found and actually photographed.

We hiked and waded up the Middle Fork on a gorgeous clear day. Again we dispersed along the river. When someone found something interesting, they'd call out and those within earshot would gather around with our cameras. Again some folks brought nets to catch those flyers that never landed, so we could ID the species and get pictures.

A side channel of the main river.

Note the small cave up on the cliff side. This is the type of formation in which the cliff dwellings were fashioned.

We were once again chased out of the area by the sound of approaching thunderstorms, but neither day did we actually get rained upon. As we drove out we briefly stopped after the bridge from the Visitor Center hoping to find the Filigree Skimmers that had eluded us this trip. No joy.

Searching in vain for Filigree Skimmers.

On the way out of the canyon there was a break in the clouds affording a brief stop at The Forks - this campground/picnic area is just above where the East Fork of the Gila River joins the main flow. But little was found there other than dramatic rock cliffs.

Dramatic cliffs along the river. Can you see the tiny human in the river below the big cliff face?

Saturday Night Gathering

Tony had arranged a cook-out for Saturday night. Volunteers grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. We all gathered at the picnic tables under the group shelter for the meal and a final meeting. Tony read off species names and we called out if we'd seen that species and at which location.

I tried to photograph everyone at the gathering. My apologies if I missed you or only captured your backside.

"Here, have a fork."

The hamburgers were enjoyed by many as they talked of past and future adventures.

Fruit for dessert while resting weary feet.

Tony logs the species identified and photographed during the Blitz.

[Update: Here is the group shot, courtesy of Sheila; amazing she's is in the shot, too ;-) ]
And here are the Blitzers (at least those who were around Saturday evening.)

We were going to have a star gazing party to end the evening, but the clouds came in. So instead our astronomy expert gave a presentation on NASA's Pluto fly-by mission.

We also bid our new friends adieu with promises to see them at the next Blitz or dragonfly festival, as many were not joining the group on Sunday, myself included.

Day Four, Sunday

As the sun rose, the moon set.

A Rufus Hummer at my feeder in the golden light.

The early morning light was wonderful.

A Black-chinned hummer having breakfast, on me.

I call this image "Stonehenge."

I didn't participate in the official field trips which were to be Mimbres River Preserve, owned now by the Nature Conservancy, or Bear Canyon Reservoir, a small lake controlled by State Game & Fish. I encourage any readers who did participate to comment below on your experience.

Paseo del Rio

Instead, on the way home I stopped at a location suggested by Sheila and Tony - the Paseo del Rio Recreation Area (though it has a new official name) this picnic/camping area is along the east side of the Rio Grande below Elephant Butte dam. There is a long-since closed fish hatchery there, built in 1937 by the CCC, and two of its three ponds still hold water. The ponds are surrounded by very thick, heavy vegetation including thorny mesquite. I didn't even see the ponds until I'd parked and gotten out of my truck. There is modest water flow through the ponds so they are not stagnant, at least.

Earlier this year ownership of this area was transferred from NM State Parks to US Bureau of Reclamation who will continue to run it in the near term; the concessionaire, Lago Rico, will supervise daily operations. Day use of the area is free; camping is $10.

Russet-tipped Clubtail in the bushes

I walked around the ponds trying to peek in to see the water, but mostly hunted in the surrounding vegetation. I found a dragonfly I hadn't seen on this trip, a Russet-tipped Clubtail, as well as a Checkered Setwing. A Halloween Pennant had been found here before, but not today. I walked along the Rio Grande, too, but only saw a few common pond species.

Checkered Setwing perched up high.

... and Home

From there I returned to the freeway and north to home - battered by rocks, cut by whatnot, punctured by thorns, hot and a bit dehydrated, but not sun-burned, and very happy.

It was fun seeing old friends at the Blitz and even more fun meeting new people and making new friends.

My thanks to Kathy and Dave, and to Tony and Sheila for the great job they did organizing the event and leading the field trips!