Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Traditions - Outdoors

Once we have celebrated Indoors Thanksgiving, we like to take to the great outdoors! This year we chose to visit one of our favorite places ever - Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Most destinations in New Mexico involve mountains or at least traversing mountains and so we first needed to drive through the Capitan Mountains in order to get to the Rio Grande on the other side. Here's the Rio Hondo River valley which takes us between the Sacramento Mountains to the south and the Capitan Mountains to the north (pictured in background). The Capitan Mountains are the only E-W trending mountain range in New Mexico:

It's a pretty valley complete with nice little towns such as Lincoln - originally named Las Placitas del Rio Bonito ("the village by the pretty river).

Lincoln in now a state monument and has...

...many historic (and cute) buildings...

Down the other side of the Capitans, across the Tularosa Basin and another 80 miles of supreme shorgrass prairie and pinyon-juniper woodland and we finally reach our destination on the edge of the Rio Grande. Here's Jennifer getting ready for birding at the Bosque! Chupadera Mountains in the background:

Jennifer checking out ducks from "the flight deck":

Steve brushing up on the birds:

Next morning we awoke (tent camping) to temps in the low 30's but we were excited to make it back to the refuge early to take in the wonderful sunrise...

...and birds! Incoming snow geese:

Outgoing snow geese:

More Bosque fun...a mule deer...

Sandhill Cranes, Ross's Geese, Snow Geese..

...Gambel's quail...

...old farm road...

...some sort of flycatcher...

...northern shoveler...

...Little San Pasqual Mountains...

...Northern Pintails...

We are very thankful for Bosque del Apache!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Traditions - Indoors

For us, Thanksgiving is all about great and healthy food.

Making it...

...sampling it...

...having a good meal (home-made crescent rolls and cranberry-rice soup)...

...healthy snacking (apply-cranberry quick bread)...

Lest we fall into napping, we decided to put up the Christmas decorations. Here's Bounder - being the first present of Christmas 09:

Not to be outdone, Bobcat soon upped the ante!

Our outdoor Thanksgiving celebration would be next....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Our very sunny south window is allowing us to grow herbs! Look at this beautiful basil plant growing readily everyday...

Here's a look at the setup:

We have a tree west of the window that shades the pots in the afternoon, but the seedlings (basil, cilantro, parsley and sweet mace) are doing fine thus far. It's very comforting to have little plants growing in our kitchen!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Common Checkered-Skipper...

another fan of the lasting calendula blossoms. The mallow family of plants provides foods for the common checkered-skipper caterpillars. Cute little butterflies!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Very Cool Nature-Themed Metal Art

If you love nature, you'll love the work of Henry Dupere, Metal Artist out of Arizona. Here's our little "Carlita" - she's named in honor of Carlsbad Caverns:

There are many other critters available - check them out here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dumpster Workbench, Continued

Ever notice that once you finally pull together the gumption to get something started then things really get started? "Build it and they'll come." is another way to put that.

Well that's kind of how things are leaning since I built the Dumpster Workbench a couple of day ago. The day after I built the dumpster workbench, we were walking down the road and saw this poor little dresser to be thrown out:

The only good thing about cheaply made furniture is that it's easy to take apart for the wood:

Between the dresser and the extra wood from a trashed piano that I salvaged, I'm pretty well set for awhile. To celebrate, I did a bit of carving today:

It was so darn nice out - teeshirt weather!

To celebrate even more I painted the dumpster workbench some sassy southwest colors:

Not spending money has never been so much fun!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Celebrating Sumac!

Why celebrate sumac? They provide food/shelter for wildlife and they are beautiful. Although there are many more reasons, those are enough for us!

Here in the Guadalupe Mountains we have about 6 species, 4 of which are the most commonly seen. Lanceleaf Sumac (Rhus lanceolata) has, get this, lance-shaped leaflets. Littleleaf Sumac (R. microphylla) has, believe it or not, tiny leaflets. Fragrant Sumac (R. trilobata) has leaves that are - don't let go of your seat - three-lobed (per trilobata in the Latin name). Finally, Evergreen Sumac (R. virens, var. choriophylla) has leaves that are - drumroll please - evergreen! So I suppose that, from a selfish perspective, another reason to celebrate sumac is that they are easy to identify due to aptly descriptive common/Latin names.

Learn much more about sumacs at the incredible Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website. You can search the database by species and get propagation notes. You can also use the "Recommended Species List" to determine which species of sumac might be appropriate for planting in your location.

A final note - some species such as Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) are considered invasive in some areas. When in doubt about any species that you plan to bring onto your property, ask for help. Here's a great place to start:

Next time you are outdoors keep an eye out for sumac!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dumpster Workbench

How does one combine the carcass of a junk dresser and the shell of a junk piano (both of which I salvaged from dumpster fodder)? Well, I needed a workbench and so why not go for that?

The largest piece of left-over piano would be the top and the dresser carcass the base:

The dresser legs had to go as did the top lip of one side of the dresser carcass (so that the top of the workbench would go on level):

I screwed the top down:

Braced-up the back and sides of the base for stability:

And added some "outriggers" on the bottom of the base so that the whole works wouldn't be tippy (for the outriggers I used the piano legs):

Here it is, ready for use. The wood scraps on the top right of the bench are from the piano frame (I'll use those for some carvings):

It's even pretty darn level - and I didn't even try! Just enough pitch for the rain to run off (yes, I'll be working outside - apartment living does not allow for an inside workspace). The weather here is fine for outside work, though, as it's been dry with highs in the upper 60's to low 70's.

Now I have everything I need to finally get back to woodcarving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What do Curry and Apple Crisp have in common?

At our house - dinner last night! This was my (Jennifer) first attempt at Indian food and it turned out pretty yummy indeed. I found the recipe in a Nutrition magazine from our local health food store and followed it pretty much true. The recipe follows with my adjustments.

Chana Saag Chickpea Spinach Curry (Serves 6)
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1.5 cups finely chopped yellow onion
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs grated gingerroot
1/4 tsp sea salt
dash white pepper (I did not have so used a dash of black pepper.)
1 15-oz can chickpeas
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 lb. baby spinach ( I thought this was too much and added a few handfuls only.)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Warm oil and ghee in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cardamom, cinnamon, curry and cumin. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook 4-5 minutes, until onions are just tender. Add garlic, ginger, salt and white pepper; cook 1 minute.
3. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered for 10 minutes, until chickpeas are soft.
4. Add spinach and cook 1-2 minutes, until spinach is just wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Garnish with cilantro and serve with basmati rice, if desired.


As I typed the UPS man arrived with this:

Yes - Indian spices for my new love affair with Indian cooking! I borrowed the book from the library as one of my first goals after finishing my season at CAVE. This is so exciting!

So now, on to the apple crisp. I know it's not a traditional Indian dish, but we had two apples just waiting to be used and last night seemed the perfect night. Steve was quite happy when he arrived home from work.

Steve's Apple Crisp
(adapted from Rosetta June Stuck's recipe)
4 cups apples
1 tbs water
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1/4 cup oats
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease pan. Put apples in pan and sprinkle with water and lemon juice and cinnamon. In small bowl combine butter, sugar, grains and salt with hands until it forms clumps. Distribute the clumps evenly over apples. Bake 1 hour until the topping is dark and bubbly. Makes 4-6 servings. Mm mm good!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Swamp Milkweed

Isn't this photo gorgeous? (Make sure you click on it to make it larger.) Our friend Paul McAfee, nature photographer extraordinaire, took this photo of Swamp Milkweed seed heads. As you all know, we think milkweeds are pretty cool plants and swamp milkweed is one of our favorites. Paul participates in an annual nature photography workshop at Merry Lea Environmental Center and says this about his experience and photo: "It was a great workshop with Jerry McCoy from Warsaw. He's quite the artistic photographer and I hopefully learned a few things about making more artistic type photos." You can see more of Paul's photographs here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dog Canyon to McKittrick Canyon Through Hike

We are darn lucky to have not one - but two - great national parks to explore. Carlsbad Caverns is known as "a cave park" while Guadalupe Mountains is known as "a hiking park". That's largely true (although there are great hikes and wonderful scenery at Carlsbad too!). Guadalupe Mountains National Park has some of the most striking scenery and the best-built trails we've come across. This summer we'd done a bunch of great day hikes at Guadalupe and this past weekend we did a spectacular two day through-hike from Dog Canyon to McKittrick Canyon (map below from an NPS brochure):

After a winding drive across the Lincoln National Forest we, at long last, crossed from New Mexico into Texas and arrived at the Dog Canyon ranger station. Here's Jennifer and Katie making last minute preparations at the trail head:

Off we go across some nice shortgrass prairie. (Can you guess the top two states for "most species of native grass? Texas and New Mexico, of course!).

Soon we had great views of Dog Canyon and fall colors courtesy of maple, ash, hackberry, hornbeam, cherry, honeysuckle and oaks:

After about 3 miles of up, up, up and chilly winds from the north, we reached McKittrick Ridge and were treated to spectacular views all the way to McKittrick Ridge Campground:

We met Robbie and Mike who had hiked in from the opposite direction to meet us at the campground. Here are Katie, Mike and Robbie feverishly setting up camp (the temps. were low and the winds high):

(Apologies for the lack of campground picks - it was just too darn cold. We woke up to frozen water!)

After saying farewell to Robbie and Mike, we headed back out on the trail.

View of McKittrick Canyon and the Permian Basin to the east:

Views into McKittrick Canyon Wilderness Study Area (closed to the public):

This is the stuff of life!

Heading back east and descending into McKittrick Canyon:

We don't know what this skinny ridge is called but we'll call it "razorback crossing":

Soon we were ready to remove some layers of cloths, have a snack and take in the views. Here's Jennifer and Katie absorbing wilderness medicine:

We would be descending into this gorge-like canyon:

The wonders of an extended southwestern mountain autumn delighted us at every turn for the remainder of the hike...

Good hiking comrades, 15 miles of rugged wilderness and the wonders of forest, desert and grasslands - who could ask for more?!!!