|The Big Chili|
Las Cruces, NMAfter our fiasco in Junction, Texas, luckily, we "only" had 500 miles or so on Tuesday to get to Las Cruces. In my mind, once we got to New Mexico, our vacation would "begin", so I was very happy to get to Las Cruces. We stayed at the "Big Chili" America's Best Value hotel. We were greeted by a very friendly Australian who owned the place and a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa. Now that's what I call hospitality! David and I took Princess for a walk at the nearby La Llarona park along the Rio Grande wash. Poor Princess! The place was so full of "picker berries" she could only take 2 or 3 steps off the macadam before she would hop on three legs. It does look like an awesome path for running or biking though.
Since we were all exhausted, we decided to make dinner in the room that night. We had some leftover rice and black beans in the cooler from the other night, so I added some broth and tomatoes to make a passable tortilla soup. We used some of the complimentary tortilla chips as a topping. I barely got the dishes washed before falling into bed that night.
|Kara's a little devil on my shoulder :)|
|Princess loved the sands!|
Then it was time to turn eastward to Bosque del Apache NWR near Soccoro. We arrived just in time to see hundreds of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes settled in for the night. They were literally falling out of the sky onto the marshes. What a sight (and sound)!
|Snow and Ross's Goose|
|Snow Goose in flight|
AlbuquerqueFinally, we headed northward to our hotel in ABQ, the Barcelona Suites. This is a somewhat aging hotel, but our room was clean and comfortable even though I had screwed up the reservation and only gotten a king sized bed so that Kara had to sleep on the sofa sleeper. The free breakfast included fresh made eggs, home fries, and bacon. So, yes, I ate some eggs one day - a change from my typical oatmeal cooked in the room microwave - and Princess got some bacon. Our little girl was getting quite spoiled with the bacon and sausage treats at breakfast! She also was getting spoiled sleeping on mommy and daddy's bed every night. She earned the nickname BP or bed pig around the this time.
|Our little BP|
Our full day in Albuquerque started with a trip up the mountain to Sandia Crest House for a look at the three Rosy Finch species that have been reliable there. Unlike typical mountainous birding excursions, this one involved a warm spot inside a small cafe and gift shop, sitting downing with some tea or coffee and watching the feeders for said birds to appear. At first, we had only Dark-eyed Juncos and Mountain Chickadees for company and then some Steller's Jays and a very big, fat, and hungry squirrel. David had to go outside and shoo him away. Finally, after about 45 minutes, we spotted the Rosy Finches in the trees below the shop and within a few minutes the feeder was buzzing with their activity. David was able to get some awesome pictures.
|This is the front yard of the Sandia Crest House (10,678 feet and freaking cold)|
|Here's how the feeder looked when we got there. Empty!|
|A not-very-great picture of a Clark's Nutcracker|
|Rosy Finches (finally!)|
|There's that darned squirrel again!|
|And the Steller's jay, too!|
|Sandia Crest Tram|
|View from the tram|
FlagstaffLet's see... if today is Friday, we must be driving west to Flagstaff! We took a stop in between for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Monuments. What can I say, the pictures don't do it justice, but I'm going to include them anyway.
|Princess enjoying the view.|
|The "Log Bridge" formed by a thousands-years-old fallen tree.|
|Petrified cross section|
|Cheesy pic of me doing what the sign says.|
It had snowed on Thursday night into Friday morning, so by the time we got to Flag Friday evening, it was mostly cleared off the roads, but still hanging around the sideways, etc. If ABQ was cold, Flagstaff was freezing! If was hard to even run back and forth to the car because of the snow and ice on the ground. We wore our long underwear and were very glad for it.
We stayed at the Days Inn in Flagstaff which made me a little nervous because of our "Junction experience", but it was a very nice Days Inn with big clean rooms and no paint smell!
We ate dinner that night in downtown Flagstaff was at the Mountain Oasis International Restaurant. I had the tofu red curry which came with a side of black beans and rice and sesame green beans - very international dinner indeed!
|View from the window of the Mountain Oasis International Restaurant in Flagstaff.|
|My very international dinner.|
Our drive to the Grand Canyon on Friday was a little hairy. We hit a snow storm and wet roads from Flagstaff to north of Williams that slowed us dow a bit, but just north of Williams, the skies cleared, the sun came out, and it turned out to be a beautiful day. We spent a couple of hours at the canyon and in the gift shops to warm up. We also had lunch at Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim where I had a really tasty vegan chili in a sourdough bread bowl.
|The Grand Canyon, what else?|
|Vegan Chili at Bright Angel Lodge|
|Western Scrub Jay|
CaliforniaOh SoCal! I love your mountains, your warm temperatures, your many vegan options and other progressive ways, but I absolutely hate your traffic! Why must everyone do 80 mph on every street and why oh why can't you all stay in one lane for more than 30 seconds? What has to happen before you get stopped for aggressive driving? I mean, my foot is as leaden as the next guy, but in California, their gas feet must be made of plutonium! But I digress...
It was wonderful to see my oldest daughter happy and healthy - to see her smile and hear her laugh. It was even a little weird to hear her be anxious about whether the house was clean enough for company (who are you and do you know who you're talking to?).
|The face I couldn't wait to see.|
|Sweet and Sour Vegan Drumsticks...oops! I ate them all!|
|Aren't they just the cutest?|
|Look at these girls!|
We spent a week in California with tons of highlights, such as:
- Christmas day dinner of eastern European veggie dishes, including some very memorable sauerkraut and mushroom dumplings and one tiny taste of those potatoes that didn't quite make it to the table.
- Our traditional white elephant gift exchange silliness. Who is going to get that itchy tree garland next?
- Puerto Rican pigeon peas and rice that drew raves from the guests (thank you very much!) with a plate of too few tostones and fruity salad.
- Veggie Grill Buffalo Chick'n sandwich and mac and cheeze. Native Foods Oklahoma burger with vegan cheese, bacon, onion rings and a ton of veg garnish.
- Getting Princess an In-N-Out burger "protein style" and watching her wolf it down in one huge mouthful.
- Chasing California Condors with a 2-hour travel north of LA in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then DIPPING on them followed by a 2 hour -bumper-to-bumper traffic ride to Rancho Cucamonga so Kara could see her friends and we could spend time with Kat and Gleb. (You knew there had to be eating in there somewhere, right?)
- Finding BOTH Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit along with the bonus Western Grebe and Eared Grebes at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and then having the good fortune to meet a gentleman who directed us to a Laguna Beach lookout for Surfbird, Black Oystercatcher, Brant's Cormorant, and Wandering Tattler - every one of them a year bird.
- Princess scaring Tommy kitty so badly he looked more like a raccoon than a cat.