Owl’s Well in Moose Jaw

We had a delightful 400 mile drive today in perfect weather. The countryside in Manitoba is like Kansas – mostly flat. There are a few hills, but it’s mostly a pancake. It’s pretty and green, but Yosemite it is not.

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Breaking up the monotony were many roadside ponds. For a long stretch there were also ditches with rushes growing in them and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds.

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But mostly it was like this. When we arrived in Moose Jaw we found the clock had changed again – to Mountain Time, believe it or not.

I had received an email from sister Janet, telling me that there was a Burrowing Owl Interpretive Center so we started there.

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The Admin building is on the left, a gazebo in the middle, and the open-air cages on the right. The Center is well done, and emphasizes healthy prairie habitat partnerships with the farmers and ranchers. Burrowing Owls are good at killing mice and grasshoppers, but not so good with poisoned mice and grasshoppers. I guess this is a story most Auduboners are familiar with. Continued good luck to the Center promoting these partnerships.

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Most of the owls are injured and unable to be wild (this one, for instance), and they are fed remotely so as not to habituate to the keepers. A couple are habituated on purpose to use for Show and Tell trips out to schools.

We then wound our way through Moose Jaw to the Wakamow Heights B&B.

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This house began as the home of Wellington White who made a fortune making the bricks with which to build Moose Jaw. (He also had a home in Long Beach, CA, and his children ended up living there. Stuart? Any relation?) The current owners are the second to make it a B&B and it is a work in some progress. Our room is great – the Penthouse Suite. It’s a moderately warm day and the breeze is keeping us cool.

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After last night’s dinner semi-failure, I perused Tripadvisor with a sharp eye and discovered that most places in Moose Jaw are either ‘family’ or ‘bar’ or all you can eat Chinese buffets. Not promising. After having had lunch at a Dairy Queen we figured our calorie quota was almost full anyway, so we are eating cheese and crackers and apricots tonight.

(Photo credit to Alice for the flat country pictures taken at 120 kph)

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Chaco Canyon

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We left Gallup early to beat the heat (and the crowds, it turned out) at Chaco Culture National Historic Park [CCNHP]. We drove 70 miles on paved road and the last 20 on dirt, but the dirt was very smooth. 40 mph was no problem.

On the final approach we saw this fake cow on a rock. We also saw a gray fox run across the road. There were many jack-rabbits, one of which had lost a contest with a car and there were several ravens arguing over the body. It put me in mind of the poem, “Raven in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Gray:

Full many a Raven is born to croak and preen,
And waste invective on the desert hare.

 

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This is the Fake Cow view of the approach to Chaco Canyon.

The park is between mesas and not deep in a gorge. In 1920 the National Geographic Society started digging out massive stone buildings dating back before the Norman Conquest. The builders were ancestors of the pueblo tribes living in New Mexico today, leaving the area in about 1250 AD.

There is a self-drive loop road that has parking at five building complexes. You stop and walk a modest distance to view the ruins.

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Above, a typical grouping. The walls are remarkably smooth on the exteriors, with openings for windows and to support large logs for the interior roofing.

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Not all buildings were for dwelling. There were hundreds of kivas, a particularly large one here. We did not take a guided tour, so we remain ignorant of the function of the interior layout.

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Pueblo Bonito is the largest grouping, most of it for ceremonies. Every other room was a kiva.

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A few of the wildflowers at Chaco.

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These petroglyphs were up a talus slope and Alice decided not to blow out her knee on the third day so I clambered up for photos.

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Can’t say goodbye without a few birds. Clockwise from top left: Blue Grosbeak, Common Raven, Black-throated Sparrow, Greater Roadrunner. Cool petroglyph, eh?There were lots of the BTSPs and also many Rock Wrens, House Finches and Canyon Towhees.

The drive out had a shorter but bumpier dirt road. The Park Service cautions you to check ahead for road conditions. It also cautions you to ignore your GPS and we agree. The GPS would have sent us off on the wrong roads. It has also failed consistently to find other places in New Mexico. Be warned.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

An Anniversary Dinner.

We have decided to change our anniversary date from May 1st to, simply, the first Saturday in May. We were married on Kentucky Derby Day, with bridesmaids gathered around a portable TV for the Derby.

So, on this day, we went to Geronimo, the second-best (they try harder) restaurant in Santa Fe. We saved $5 by parking in the valet lot by mistake. I was still shaking my head over the art gallery we had passed that claimed their featured artist was a “Master of Metaphysical Reality,” and missed the valet pylons.

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They started off right by bringing Alice her glass of champagne and a free pomegranate/plum sparkler for me. That’s not just a lemon peel in my sparkler, it’s a lemon peel tied in a ribbon. Woo-hoo.

 

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Maryland Blue Crab Cakes: caviar dill sauce, braised leeks and baby watercress. OK.

 

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Cream of Californian Peppers: smoked peppers, Maple Leaf duck confit, truffle aoli, parmesan lace cookie. Very spicy.

 

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Mesquite Grilled Maine Lobster Tails: hand-crafted (imagine!) Thai basil pasta,spinach, edamame, creamy garlic chili sauce. Amazingly good. Perfectly cooked.

 

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Tellicherry Rubbed Elk Tenderloin: roasted-garlic fork-mashed potatoes (again with the hand-crafting), sugar snap peas, applewood-smoked bacon, creamy brandied mushroom sauce. Elk is marinated 24 hours in hoi-sin sauce and even medium rare is very tender. I asked and – it’s imported from New Zealand.

 

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Dessert: as far as I remember, it was a pineapple-coconut-mango terrine, but the ‘terrine’ makes no sense. Could use a little design help. Tasted fine.

Like all of Santa Fe, Geronimo was a bit pretentious. At least they didn’t serve us anything metaphysical. It was a fun evening, Alice got her dream menu (champagne & lobster), and the food kicked Jules Verne’s butt.

Familiar Faces in New Places

Day 11: Lago San Pedro and the Otavallo Market

We celebrated our last day with the longest road trip – a round trip of 208 km taking about 2 hours each way. We made a refreshment stop to sample hot chocolate and the local bizcochos (the local one is like a salty shortbread) and then went down to the lake.

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Lago San Pedro from our restaurant

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People weave the rushes at the lake into carpets/sleeping mats and take them to market.

We rented an outboard with a canvas roof (it began to rain a bit) and explored the near shore. At first we encountered old friends from back home.

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What? A Common Moorhen?

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What? Again? A Lesser Yellowlegs.

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Finally, something exotic. The ducks with yellow bills are Yellow-billed Pintails. But, the ones with dark bills are Blue-winged Teal, another old friend.

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And now for something completely different – boys jumping into the lake.

Of course there were coots, but something strange was going on. There were four distinct forehead ‘plate’ colors: black (probably juveniles), white, red, and yellow. As you can see below, the red ones came with yellow bills instead of white.

After some reading, I found that this is one species, the Andean (Slate-colored) Coot, formerly split in two because of the colors but now lumped together as color morphs of the same species. The red (or chestnut) ones are one morph, and the white and yellow are the other. Seeing them in seemingly equal numbers is unusual; it may have something to do with Ecuador being officially and legally a multi-cultural country. Or perhaps it was habitat.

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Andean Coot

Not having found our real target bird we traveled around the lake scanning the shore until we came to an access point – an Aquatic Park. We found many interesting things, nothing at all to do with water. First, we found the target.

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Southern Lapwing

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Horse rides are available at the Aquatic Park. (I can hear my sisters groaning about letting the horse graze with the bit still on.)

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Foal came along too.

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And a Junior Polluter In Training.

So it was off to the market.   This was a large market that took up all of a large town square and spilled into the connecting streets. It was a great place to buy fresh fruits and veggies, and also cheap Chinese plastic crud. But most of it was about cloth and cloth products, especially hats.

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Closing up as rain threatens.

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Typical view of raw cloth and products like bags and rugs.

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Robert buys a felt hat for $10, bargained down from $16.

Warner bought a couple of Panama-style hats which were rolled up and packed in 3x3x12 wooden boxes. Interesting. I looked for something we might actually use and found some Christmas tree ornaments made from ‘calabas’ I think (small gourds, very light), carved on the outside and with nativity scenes inside.

I missed seeing anything really spectacular. I wouldn’t buy jewelry because I have no clue what I’m buying. The carvings were either nothing special, or really bad. Embroidered tablecloths about 2×3 feet might be nice, but I don’t see us using them. Some were beautiful though. And fresh fruit spoils, so in the end the ornaments I did get are locally done and will remind me of the trip.

And now to set the alarm for 3:40 a.m. for the trip to the airport.

Trekking and Lekking

Day 4: Quito to Milpe

[Note: when we arrived at Milpe we had power for about an hour and then the lights went out. They stayed out for two days and only now at the end of Day 6 are they back on. I was down to my last milliamp of camera battery and waay behind schedule for a shower (electric water pressure).]

We spent the morning wandering the grounds of the hacienda and taking some more hummingbird photos.

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Hacienda courtyard. My room was a bit to the right.

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The photo crew. The hummingbirds do not seem bothered by the flashes.

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Shining Sunbeam, guarding a feeder. This species was the most aggressive by far.

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Black-tailed Train Bearer.

About noon we had our box lunches and then drove off towards Milpe and one of the highlights of the trip, an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. We had to be there by 3:00 because apparently the birds have a dancing schedule. (A lek is where some species have the males strut their stuff to impress the females. This is different from, say, birds of paradise, where generally [can’t think of an example where this is not true] only one male performs.)

2 3/4 hours later we arrived. We could hear the squawking that passes for singing in these birds as they closed in on the lek. Well, it turned out to be a quiet day. I saw only three males but two of them did come down into the open and make rude gestures at each other. I took video most of the time so only have one or two stills – but those alone are as good a look as I have ever had. The last time I had a chance at them they were flying up and down a hillside like bullets and you had no idea what they looked like.

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Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

And so to Milpe and two days of romantic candle-lit adventure.

La saison des amours

The wind was really blowing this morning, so we slept in a bit before breakfast. Around 10 we shipped out and stopped up the road at the Parc Ornithologique to see how many of ze Eenglish were in southern France. Yes, the Brits are the world’s champion birdwatchers and they were here, with their 600mm lenses, Wimberley mounts and funny hats.

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However, there was a distinctly Gallic flavor to the sanctuary. Only the French would have a picture of mating kingfishers and this slogan.

For most of the birds the saison des amours was fermée. The only ducks around were mallards and they seemed pretty subdued. The herons were sitting on nests doing the hard work. The flamingos were just standing around. And so on. We heard reed warblers (species unknown) singing but couldn’t get a good look. There were tons of House Sparrows and Barn Swallows.

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Grey Herons and Cattle Egrets

 

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Greater Flamingos

 

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Flamingos are the Big Attraction of the Camargue

It was only a half hour drive to Arles and we found the rental car place without trouble, and just down the road was our boat, the Amadeus Symphony. Lots of old people on board, but more about the boat later. Now it’s time to relax and let somebody else do the driving.

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Nobody on the sun deck.

 

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We had a lovely view until another river cruiser
parked on our side. At least our windows don’t match up.

Bourbon Explained

Versailles, 5/31/13.

0531-1If it isn’t horses in Kentucky, it’s bourbon. Today we went to the Buffalo Trace distillery to learn how to make it. In short, there is a legal definition of bourbon whiskey:

(1) at least 51% of the grain must be corn. The typical composition is 60-75% corn, 10-20% rye, 5-15% malted barley, and water. Variations, other than the minimum of corn, exist.

(2) No additives (colors, flavors, etc.).

(3) Must be made in the USA.

Buffalo Trace is proud of the fact that they age the bourbon only in new charred white oak casks. The aging in the barrel give the flavor and color. The aging is affected by temperature variations, so the barrels stored in the bottom floor take longer because the temperature is steadier. Alice and Nancy are standing in front of one of the many aging buildings.

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And, down on the ground floor. We enjoyed this part because we detected the “Angel’s Share,” the bourbon evaporating at 3% a year. On this floor it takes ten years to mature; on the upper floors it’s 7-8 years.

After the tour we had a tasting, and found their answer to Bailey’s Irish Cream: Buffalo Trace Cream. Not available everywhere, but quite tasty and, according to Alice, better than Bailey’s. Alice had to have a souvenir and chose an old barrel stave with single-barrel bourbon bottle stoppers in the shape of horses at various stages of a race in holes drilled into the stave. Then we walked up the hill to Col. Blanton’s house, a 1934 Craftsman that we unfortunately could not enter.

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Col. Blanton had two distinguishing characteristics: he worked his way up from office boy to president of the distillery, and more important, was a birdwatcher. Really. He planted gardens designed to attract birds but we couldn’t be sure if the current gardens followed this plan. They were beautiful and one of the guys there said there was a high emphasis on native plants, so maybe the tradition continues.

On to the Capitol Building in Frankfort. It is quite elegantly classical. The guard on duty had a swell time joking with us and made sure we understood it was legal to carry a gun into the building. Since we had to pass a metal detector, I guess the guard holds your gun while you do so. Outside, rain threatened.

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Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky and gets pride of place in the rotunda. Just to be fair and balanced, there is a statue of Jefferson Davis too, and on a little portable sign, the Ten Commandments.

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0531-6We skipped the many 1/3 scale dolls of the First Ladies, dressed as the ladies did but with identical faces, and went to the second floor and the Reception Room. Mirrors at the end of the room were arranged to show an infinite line of crystal chandeliers.

Marble was indeed the omnipresent interior material. Since the legislature only meets for 60 days in even years and 30 days in odd years, this must be the most luxurious building per workday in the USA. Not that I’m against short sessions. No sir.

The other thought I had, looking at all this wonderful marble, was that if we could fill the building with spring water, the clear unsullied kind they use for bourbon, it would make the greatest swimming pool ever!

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0531-8We went to the “old town” section of Frankfort for a bit of street walking and lunch. That sign on the left will mean something to close relatives and the rest of you get No Clue At All. But, we had to eat there. It turned out to be quite ordinary and unworthy of photos. The surrounding streets had some attractive old brick buildings, but nothing exceptional. Nancy bought a pressed glass pedestal cake plate at an antique store, and then we went to a cupcake store. Go figure. One of their offerings was a pineapple-flavored sponge-cupcake with whipped cream and a mandarin orange slice on the top. The name of this confection was, “Pig-Lickin’.” I am not making this up.

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On the way home the skies opened, but later on we found that more tornados were hitting Oklahoma City and St. Louis. “Tornado Alley” runs inside the western border of Kentucky, but Nancy says we’re in the clear. For now.

Almost There

Nashville, 5/29/13.

DSC00298One of the uses of the Trace was as a post route. Riders started from each end, met in the middle and exchanged mailbags and returned to their starting point. Each of these journeys took 14 days.

We, on the other hand, will have done it in a leisurely 3 days by tonight.

 

 

Today’s topic is Water. There seems to be no lack of it along the Trace. Today we passed cornfields with no apparent irrigation except nature. On the first day we saw cypress swamps. Today we came to the Tennessee Tombigbee (“Tenn-Tom) canal, a 234 mile waterway that some (a lot, really) condemn as a pork barrel project. (Just don’t say it here.) Some have criticized the project for allowing individual private boats to use the locks which consume 45 million gallons of water on each iteration. Me, I have to admire a project that sets aside an entire picnic ground for snorkelers.

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The Trace goes through a small chunk of northwest Alabama. We stopped at Rock Spring for a nature walk and found it to be full of birds: American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Louisiana Waterthrushes and a Belted Kingfisher. There were clear signs of beaver dam building too, but no lodge and none swimming about.

 

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0529-4On to Tennessee. One of the primo stops is at Meriwether Lewis’ grave. Although there is still controversy about the manner of his death, it did happen at Grinder’s Stand on the Trace. His grave is there, with a peculiar truncated column on the top to signify a life cut short – he was only 35.

 

Of more interest to birders is the eponymous Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis). Surely we would hear about it in the Park Service cabin on the grounds. And yes, there it was, on a little flip-up-for-the-answer board:

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Urk! Wrong bird in the photo – that’s an Acorn Woodpecker. Poor Lewis, yet another part of his story they can’t get right. I told the staffer and she said she would be sure and tell her supervisor. Someone should check back in a year and see……

 

0529-6Back to water. Alice stands before the waterfall at Fall Hollow and realizes that the Spring flood has passed. But it’s still a pretty spot.

So, we have ended our trip up the Natchez Trace and it was indeed relaxing. For three days we have been driving on a road with very little traffic, no stop signs, no billboards and no curio stands. Yes, the scenery was consistent/monotonous but we didn’t mind because it so beautiful. We sort of wish we had done this in the early spring (wildflowers) or fall (leaf colors) and it was obvious from the traffic that people do stop coming when it gets hot. Still, happy to have been here. Now it’s another 200 miles to Nancy in Horse Country.