There are a few choices of routes to take from Lajitas, TX to Carlsbad, NM. We thought this time we would avoid the mountains. The route we chose through Ft. Stockton and Pecos looked fine from the map; nice straight roads without much elevation changes. What our less the detailed map didn’t show, was that we would be travelling through the Permian Basin. The Permian Basin is a hotspot for oil and natural gas extraction. We ended up travelling through a hundred miles of drill rigs, tank farms, pump stations and refineries, with heavy industrial traffic on a undivided highway. It probably would have been better to drive the longer route to avoid it. Anyway, we got to Carlsbad, NM and set-up at the Carlsbad KOA, a very nice park.
We wanted to see the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which was about an hour south of our RV park.
We spent a few minutes in the visitor centre, refreshing our memories of cave formations.
Then we walked down a path to the natural entrance. The path was paved, with handrails all the way along and had a fairly easy grade.
Our eyes adjusted to the limited lighting. We didn’t talk much and then only in a whisper, because voices carried and would disturb others. Most other people also stayed quiet, so it was quite a calm atmosphere. We walked down about 1 and a quarter miles until we came to the “Big Room.” Here’s a view of one of the formations.
These are soda straws growing from the cavern roof.
Everywhere you looked, there would be another fantastic structure. We could have chosen fifteen photos and it wouldn’t have been enough to show you the variety, but you will have to be satisfied with these three. It was definitely worth visiting.
We also had a day to go birding at a few different areas. We started in our campground, where there was an almost tame covey of Scaled quail, a bird we had been hoping to see in Texas. We didn’t have to work hard to see these.
There was a field along the edge of the park, where Red-tailed hawks hunted as well as this Sharp-shinned hawk. We watched the red-tails chase the smaller hawk out of the field. He rested in a tree on the edge of the RV park, which allowed us to have a good view.
Next stop was Las Cruces, NM. We had stayed at the same KOA the last time we were here a few weeks before. This time, we arrived just as the wind was picking up. The low pressure system that blew through brought high winds with gust to 100 km/hr, but no snow like the folks in Arizona experienced. We stayed in our trailer, sheltered from the storm, and were happy we weren’t on the road.
It was still pretty breezy in the morning, so we took a drive to Hatch to buy Hatch chiles from a local company. We went to a wild bird specialty store to buy birdseed for our campsite in Mesa the next week, and arrived just as a seminar on nests and nestlings was about to start. We enjoyed the presentation and learned a lot.
By then it was time for a beer, so we visited the older brew-pub in Las Cruces, High Desert Brewing.
So the next day was dedicated to birding. Las Cruces is about two hours from the best birding spot in New Mexico: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Our good friend, Kath, who recently passed away, recommended that we go, so we got up early and made a day of it. We dedicated our day of birding to her memory. Actually, everyday we bird we think of Kath. She inspired us to learn and report more. The visitor centre had bird feeders outside its window and a cactus garden with a nature trail just beside it, so before we got into our truck to drive the self-guided loop roads, we had seen a dozen species of birds.
Just as we were getting ready to hop in the truck, more than a thousand snow geese circled over. They were coming their overnight resting spot in the fields that were a few minutes flight away. They landed on the pond right at the start of the tour. Doug took some good photos, although it is hard to capture the movement and noise of the flock.
They took some time to settle; they’d be down on the water for a few minutes, then up and circling again and back to the water. Later in the day they were mostly just swimming in a large group, and not moving very far and it was not as dramatic.
While all this commotion was going on, a lone Cattle egret sat on the shore, looking very lost. And we guess he was a little lost, since he wasn’t expected to be there for at least a month. It’s always nice to have a good photo to submit to eBird when the RARE bird alert shows up and you need proof that it was there.
In among all the Snow Geese, were a number of Ross’s geese, a goose we have never seen before. It’s difficult, however, to differentiate the geese when they are in a huge flock. This Ross’s goose was kind enough to separate itself and wander beside the ditch. It’s bill is different from a Snow goose and doesn’t have a “grin patch.”
We drove the loop roads and stopped at random spots. There were viewing platforms throughout the route, but Doug found another solution to get high enough to see by standing in the bed of the truck. We also used the scope a lot to see birds that were in the distance.
This Green-winged teal’s head was beautiful, but the thing that stood our from a distance was his buff behind, especially when he was dabbling.
There were also birds in the fields. We saw over twenty meadowlarks. We couldn’t say for sure if they were Western or Eastern, since they are both here at this time and look very similar.
We also got a good view of a Red-tailed hawk.
And an American kestrel.
This raven was close to the road and very cooperative, so Doug got a few good pictures. It was good we had photos, because we were able to confirm that it was a Chihuahuan raven, based on the length of its bill and how far his nasal feathers go down his bill.
We saw a lot of birds! There were also a thousand or so Sandhill cranes. Mostly they were in a field of corn that had been grown especially for them, but a few groups of them took to the air.
We spent about five hours at the refuge, so by the time we got back to Las Cruces, it was a nine hour day. But it was worth it.