Valley of Fires
Carrizozo, New Mexico, April 2003

We loaded all three dogs and both parrots into the RV on Friday afternoon, after fruitless hours calling around for a replacement shroud for the A/C. The old one blew apart on the way back from Dallas, when we were coming home with Cu, and there's nothing left of it at all. Not a good thing. However... nobody had one. Mreh. I'm toying with the idea of just building one out of wood.

Anyway... critters within, I took off for the the campground at the Valley of Fires. It took about 4 hours to travel the 150 miles or so in the great wallowing beast that is The Yaga Hut. Lots of small towns, and sharp turns on the road. The dogs settled down pretty quickly, though when Cu decides to come look out the front, I can't even -see- the rearview mirror on the right side, much less actually use it. Butterfly still had work to do, so she was going to follow along after.

It's a good thing I left early and didn't wait up for her, for by the time I got at the campsites there was only a single RV spot left! I snapped it up quick! And the Hut, being the Hut, blew a staggering amount of coolant onto the ground after we stopped. In large part because it was facing downhill, and once the motor stopped running, the fluid stopped circulating, which meant the really hot parts started boiling off coolant. Grrr. Silly old engine designs. Ah well. I washed down the anti-freeze, so no critters would come and drink it up, then got all the power & water connected, and took the dogs for a much-needed walkies. Despite the fact that she left more than an hour after I did, Butterfly rode up about 30 minutes after I got set up. Funny how much better time a light & agile vehicle makes!

We got camp all set up, and then headed out to attend the actual reason we came down here in the first place - to attend a small rally being held by a motorcycle group Butterfly belongs to - the Motor Maids. Of course, having only the one bike there, the only way to do this was for us to ride two-up. Which we never had done before. So... a little practice riding up and down the roads in the park, and we hit the highway again, with her in back. It's her bike, but... I've got longer legs, so we figured it'd be easier for me to keep balance at stops and such.

A very nice half-hour ride later, and we were at Benjy & AJ's place, meeting with the other MM's and their spouses. Most of those ladies are just a hoot... a couple of them are several hoots. And they're all older than us, by at least 5-10 years, and most of them are more than that. It's kind of fun, really... because a lot of these women have been riding for longer than I've been alive. And through times when it simply wasn't done, for a woman to ride her own bike!

After many cups of coffee and much chatter, we headed back to the site for bed, to rest up for the road run in the morning. Dogs and birds were all happy to have us back again, and we enjoyed a small lazy while just being, before falling asleep. And then, as usual... with Butterfly waking up at some ungodly hour (1:30?) to let Cu out. Urgh.

Morning, and we wake to the sound of the coffee maker burbling contentedly to itself, and that fine smell. Ahhh. Take the dogs out, and discover that Cu has the runs. Urgh. But we pile on the bike (me in back this time) and head down to a local restaurant for breakfast w/ the group. Insanely slow service, but good food. Over breakfast the route information sheets are handed out, and there's much figuring of just how long each leg will take, etc.

I volunteer to man one of the stations, which amounts to sitting there with a clipboard, and taking note of when the riders get there. They're supposed to stop, you write down their time on a chart, and on a slip of paper which you give it to them, and they ride on. The tricky part is they have no idea where the checkpoints are, and yet they have to arrive there at exactly the right time. I was out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Found myself an abandoned chair by the side of the road, sat down, and waited, watching the crows skydance. Really very beautiful. And since the speed they're supposed to maintain is 30mph... I had quite a while to wait.

Butterfly was the first rider, and... didn't see me at all! Just rode right by! Ooops! I noted her time, and the lady behind her did see me, but also didn't stop, just waved as she rode by. Glrk! Oh well... noted her time too. The last two (only 4 riders - VERY small group, out here in the desert southwest) both stopped and got their numbers like they were supposed to. And trailing the 4th rider was my ride - the guy who manned the first station, on his GoldWing. So I rode pillion yet again... and man, it was like riding a lounger. Soft and cushy. Not my idea of a good motorcycle, but... I prefer sportscars over Lincoln Continentals, too.

Anyway, we finished up the run, and drove back to Benjy & AJ's place for more chatter... but after a fairly short time we headed back to the campsite, to check on the critters. Good thing we did, as Cu's runs had overcome him. I'll spare you the details... I'm just glad we had a long runner down the middle of the RV. Took that out and hosed it off, and I decided to stay behind and take care of him, while Butterfly headed back to the party. Good thing I did, as I had to take him out twice more before she got back, much later. Poor guy. The drawback to this, other than the fact that I missed good food and good company, was that I didn't manage to get a single picture of the entire event! Argh! It would've been the perfect time to, since the run itself would have made singularly boring photographs.

With Butterfly back to watch the hounds, I decided to go out and walk around the Malpais - the lava plain that gives the Valley of Fires its name. It is an absolutely incredible experience. Geologists suspect that the lava isn't the result of an eruption, per se, but more just an upwelling of lava through cracks in the crust. An upwelling that they estimate may have lasted for thirty years

The source of most of the lava - Little Black Peak - is still visible nine miles away, as you walk along the tumbled, cracked, jagged landscape - a low mound that's definitely not quite like the more cone-like form of a regular volcano. Words don't do justice, at all, to this incredible landscape, and so I took many many pictures. Fortunately for you, I've thumbnailed them here, so you can just click for a larger version. These were all taken with our old digital camera... and I can tell I'm going to have to go back down there again with my film camera, and spend a lot more time.

One of the most amazing things to me was how -fertile- this forbidding area is. Admittedly, the lava flowed thousands of years ago, and has had a long time to break apart, but... it's still amazing to me. I tried to capture some of that, but it's very difficult to really convey the unforgiving hardness of the landscape. Every place you put your feet is bubbly, hard stone. Often jagged and cracked and sharp. As the lava cooled on the outer edges, the gasses within would rise to the top, and form bubbles... sometimes immense ones. And eventually the tops of these gas domes would collapse, forming large holes and half-dome caves. Sometimes just a couple of feet across, sometimes thirty feet or more.

One neat aspect of all this is a curious juxtaposition of materials - the park itself is actually on a sandstone 'island', that's almost completely surrounded by the lava flow. So you get some really interesting contrasts between the weather-shaped soft sandstone, and the sharp, un-smoothed hardness of the lava.

So... here's pictures! The thumbnails are nice and small, but many of the final images are really very large, because I felt like too much of the texture was lost in smaller versions. And texture is something I really, really enjoy trying to capture. Feel free to use any of these as backdrops or whatever, I'd just get a kick out of knowing if you do.

Whew. That's a lot of pictures.

So, after the usual dog-interrupted night, the next day arose, as it's wont to do. I got up for the 6:am dog-disturb, and let Butterfly sleep in for another hour or so while I ate breakfast, and did a little bit of getting ready to go. After she got up, we stowed everything away, gave the dogs one last walkaround, and then detached the plugs and pipes, and the great steamer Yaga took to the asphalt waves once more. We paused at the dump station, then I hopped on the bike, and we rode rode rode! Took a different route home, which proved to be faster for the Hut, and probably shorter in general. Eventually the time came to part ways, and she continued on home, while I rode to Wildlife West, in Edgewood.

I got there an hour or so before the bird handling class began, so I got to meet a couple of the 'bird team' people there, and helped carry a few things around while they fed and watered the featheries. The class itself had about 12 people in it, two or three of whom already do volunteer work there, but had simply missed the class last year. This first (of three) class was held in a small picnic area, open on three sides, and roofed. It started off with an introductory talk by someone who I think is the actual founder of Wildlife West - talking about its goals and ideals. The rest was mostly lecture - talking about avian biology, history, and behavior. Then we worked on learning the falconer's knot, which I figured out fairly quickly. And then... skreee! We were given the opportunity to actually hold the birds! This was not something I'd expected so early. And since I was the first person there, I got first choice of who to hold - a barn owl or a redtail. Since I was a little intimidated by the idea of holding a redtail... I chose that.

The bird in question was gorgeous, and very well behaved. Fortunately I've got a lot of experience with parrots, but... raptors are VERY different! Still, different as they are, they have enough in common that it helps more than hurts, I think. I think Ken (the guy who's her normal handler) was a little surprised at how good she was for me, actually. He was still trying to explain how to get her from his glove to mine when I said "Up", moved my glove, and she stepped right up, right away! She only weighed about 3 pounds, but... after holding her for 15 or 20 minutes, it felt like a lot more! You definitely use very different muscles, holding a bird on-glove, than you do for anything else. Ken told me some helpful hints on how to stand and balance, to offset this, but... obviously you just have to build up that specific area of arm strength.

Lots of things to pay attention to, when holding a raptor, and of course each one has its definite and distinctive quirks. Like most birds, they want to be on the highest possible spot. They much prefer to be facing into the wind, and they hate having anything come up behind them. This particular bird is also quite wary of shadows, which is a bit unusual. She only bated up off the glove once, but when she did, she came back down with one claw on the glove, the other on my arm. Fortunately she's very gentle, and felt quite secure of her balance on me, so she just stepped her way back up to my hand, not leaving even the slightest mark. She thought about bating several times, but I always managed to talk her out of it, which I think bemused Ken rather a lot.

Eventually I had to give her back over to Ken, before my arm got really tired and holding her became less safe for both of us. He passed her to another of my classmates, and I stood and watched and listened for a while as different things were discussed, then went over to talk with one of the other instructors and workers there, as she held the turkey vulture. A VERY different bird, with totally different mannerisms and behaviors.

It's interesting to note that vultures were, for a long time, considered raptors... with the main reasoning apparently being that they eat meat. But watching one for very long shows how very different they are, in almost every way. They don't have the same type of talons, and their behavior is very different in a number of subtle ways. Recent genetic testing has shown that they have a lot more in common with the Ciconiiformes (Herons, Storks & Ibises) than with the Falconiformes, where they're currently placed. There's a movement to officially change their classification, but it hasn't happened yet.

Eventually time came to put the birds away, and I talked briefly with the lady who's the primary caretaker for the Harris hawks (!), and discovered that she'd like some help in the afternoons on Tuesday, so... I'm sort of pushing myself into the 'volunteer' thing, by just ... volunteering. I'll go back out to Wildlife West on Tuesday, and do what I can do, and learn what I can learn. And, probably take more pictures.

And now... this has turned into more of a novella than a trip report, so... I'm calling this the end.


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