Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

We are thinking of all our family and friends this Christmas Day. It is the first year we have been away from both my family and Ed's family and we miss you all. We are counting our blessings - and they are many. We are healthy, happy, and have each other. Most of all, we are grateful to God for sending his Son, Jesus. He is our example of how to live a life of love, joy and peace.

On Christmas Eve, we visited a residential neighborhood here in Tucson called Winter Haven. Everyone on the block decorates their homes with lights and prizes are awarded for "Best Dressed House", "Best Street", etc. The roads are closed to traffic. Families wander the streets with kids and dogs in tow. Horse-drawn wagons transport carolers. These are just a few scenes.

Santa's sleigh...

A mailbox masquerading as Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer...

Scenes from "The Twelve Days of Christmas"...

...and the promise of a time when the lion shall lie down with the lamb...

After visiting Winter Haven, we attended a traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service at Rincon Congregational Church. Poinsettias and wreaths graced the sanctuary. Evergreens and candles marked each pew and lined the center aisle. The congregation sang carols and took Communion. Finally, each of us lit a small candle, the flame passed from one person to the next, as we sang "Silent Night". Truly, we were reminded that amidst the hustle and bustle, Jesus is the reason for the season.
A Special Prayer for Christmas
God of wonder and delight,
Warm us with your love.
Embrace us with your presence.

Remind us that no matter who we are,
Or where we are on life's journey,
You welcome us.

Fill us with comfort and joy
That we might reflect the hope of the Christ Child.
Because all the earth cries out for peace with justice,
We pray for all the people!


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chiricahua National Monument; Wilcox, Arizona

In 2002, a photo in a Christmas newsletter from our friends, Kathy and Jerry Lemay, inspired us to visit the “Wonderland of Rocks” for the first time. Originally named by pioneers, the area is now the Chiricahua National Monument, designated by Congress as a wilderness area in 1976. Located in the Chiricahua (say "cheery-cow-ah") Mountains just 50 miles north of the Mexican border, the monument contains extraordinary rock sculptures – towering spires, massive stone columns, and balanced rocks weighing hundreds of tons that perch delicately on small pedestals.

Scientists believe that volcanic eruption 27 million years ago formed a 2000-ft. layer of rhyolite rock. Wind, water and ice exploited vertical and horizontal cracks in the rock, sculpting it into odd formations. To get to the scenic overlook at Massai Point, we followed Bonita Canyon Drive for eight miles to the mountains’ crest at 6870 feet. Several hiking trails, ranging from ¼ mile to 9 miles, loop through the Heart of Rocks area. (In 2002, the trails were coated in places with snow and ice due to the elevation. Back then, I only walked out with Duncan as far as I dared to get a few photographs, trying to stay on the bare patches of the trail. Duncan bounded around eating snow and thoroughly enjoyed chasing snowballs that Ed threw for him.) But on this visit, temperatures were quite comfortable and we walked the 1/2 loop trail at the summit.

No dogs are allowed on the trails so we let Duncan & Roxie out in the parking lot to stretch their legs. But no one was around, as it was getting late in the afternoon. So we took them on the paved walkway designed for wheelchair accessibility up to a lookout for views from the top of the "island in the sky". The Arizona mountains are like that - flat expanses of desert with mountains sharply rising up thousands of feet. In the Chiricahua Mountains, Mexican species of plants and animals intermingle with those more common to the Southwestern US. Prickly pear cactus grow next to fir trees in this unique environment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Snoozing Shelties

I have never seen Duncan (right) & Roxie (left) snuggle on the bed like this before - sleeping side by side. How comfy are THEY, do you think?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a "Little" Like Christmas

We've been getting ready for Christmas, including decorating our motorhome. We bought a "Wheel Topper" that turns the steering wheel into a small table. Perfect for a miniature tree! We are enjoying our favorite family heirloom ornaments as well as a few new ones this year. Under the tree, notice the lighted RV. It was a gift from Nancy & Rob Rodney, my sister's mother and father in-law, when we first went full time in 2002. We enjoy it every year! We have a pink/cream poinsettia plant on our coffee table. Big red bows adorn our outside mirrors. I can't say it looks a "lot" like Christmas. Why? No snow...and that's a VERY good thing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hola Arizona!

We are beginning to get settled at Cactus Country RV Resort on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ. Nothing but desert surrounds the park. We have mountain views and are just a few miles from Saguaro National Park. Yet stores and restaurants are just minutes away. I think we'll be very happy here. Here's a photo of our new homestead for the next four months.

Our mail will be forwarded from Florida each week on Wednesday. But if you would like our mailing address here, let me know.

We plan on doing as much sight-seeing as possible before we go back to work full time. I'll still post news and photos here, so check back soon!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Adios New Mexico!

Northern New Mexico was forecast to be too cold for our thin blood. Albuquerque, Santa Fe & Taos will have to wait until Spring when we head from AZ back to CT.So after T. or C., we turned south and spent a couple of days at the Las Cruces KOA campground again. We spent more time with our friends Tony and Chris, the owners. Here they are with the display of southwestern merchandise in their KOA store.

Tony & Chris took us for dinner to Chope's Bar & Cafe, an authentic local Mexican restaurant. Located in La Mesa on Rt.28, about a 15-20 min. drive from the KOA, we were impressed with the excellent quality and low prices. Ed had a combo platter and a frozen margarita, I had a quesadilla appetizer that was big enough for an entree (as it turned out), plus a chile relleno and a glass of sangria, and our bill was about $20.00 plus tip.

On the way to Chope's, Chris pointed out the pecan trees lining the road and Stahmann's Country Store, part of the grove. Stahmann's is the largest privately owned pecan grove in America. We decided to come back the next day to shop at the store. This photo is from the Stahmann's web site.

At this time of year, of course, the leaves have fallen and the pecans have been harvested. But the pies, dark chocolate pecan bark, and cinnamon-coated pecans are all marvelous. Naturally, we had to conduct our own personal quality-control inspection! Everything is freshly made on the premises. The web site has a mail-order catalog so you can check it out if you're a nut lover.

Yesterday, we drove to Willcox, Arizona, about 200 miles west of Las Cruces. Today we visted the Chiricuhua National Monument, also known as the Wonderland of Rocks. As soon as I get a chance to sort through nearly sixty photos, I'll post a few! Tomorrow - on to our final destination for this Fall 2006 Adventure, Tucson, Arizona.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge; Socorro, NM

About 75 miles north of Desert Haven Animal Refuge lies a very different kind of animal sanctuary. Near Socorro, New Mexico, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge provides a haven for sandhill cranes, snow geese, ducks, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, and many more species of birds who winter here. Created by Frankin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Corps in the 1930's, the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge combines farmland-

-and marshland-

- to provide the proper habitat and food supply that was lost by the draining of the Rio Grande River for irrigation and consequent elimination of seasonal flooding. A man-made system of irrigation canals and gates, such as seen here,

mimics the floodplain that sustains native and migratory wildlife.

The wingspan of these graceful cranes is over seven feet.

In contrast, I measured my own "wing span" in the Visitor Center at only five feet.

We were fortunate to get quite close to a flock of snow geese with a few cranes among them. Look at the sequence of four shots as the flock took off for the skies and flew overhead.

There is no campground at Bosque del Apache but the Refuge does employ workampers, supplying campsites as compensation for the volunteers.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Desert Haven Animal Refuge

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”
by Edward Everett Hale (American Clergyman and Writer, 1822-1909)

Eliana Aubin, President of the local Sierra County Humane Society, lives by this creed. She and a small group of volunteers founded an independent Humane Society in 1989. Five years ago, despite initial opposition from ranchers and local town officials, Eliana opened Desert Haven Animal Refuge, the only no-kill animal refuge in this corner of New Mexico. She has never taken a salary and has worked tirelessly with volunteers to maintain a thrift shop, "Paws & Claws", that provides most of the funding for Desert Haven. A small adjacent RV park provides income and a free site for workampers who volunteer at the refuge.

There are currently a couple of sites available in December for volunteers. Come by for an hour, a day, a week or a month. Dog-walkers and kitty cuddlers are always appreciated! Paying RV customers are welcome to visit and help care for the animals if they wish but are under no pressure nor obligation to do so. All proceeds from the RV park go to benefit the animal residents of Desert Haven. Call or e-mail first to make sure a site is available. Click here for more details, photos, and contact info.

Behind the campground lies the gate to the sanctuary. The design of the refuge is Old West - rustic yet functional.

Except during meals and excercise runs when the dogs bark excitedly, the refuge is quiet and peaceful. The only sound is the cooing of the doves, who were the very first residents at Desert Haven. Birdland now also accomodates four peacocks, two ducks, and believe it or not, chickens. The chickens are here because New Mexico is the only state that has no law against cock fighting, a brutal blood "sport." This is Birdland.
Rainbow Bridge pet cemetery is open to the public for pet burials. The one-acre fenced in area does double-duty twice a day as a place where the dozen or residents of Dogtown, shown below, can run off-leash.

Two views of Rainbow Bridge show the cemetery as a place of reflection, with park benches, statuary, and wind chimes.

With Dogtown on the right, here is a view of the Caballo Mountains to the east of Desert Haven.

Behind Dogtown lies the Cool Cat Neighborhood, over 1200 square feet of what has been described as "the feline equivalent of a five-star hotel."

Approximately two dozen cats can be accomodated. Volunteers put out seven or eight plates of dry and canned food each morning, which makes them very popular with the kitties! Self-feeders and waterers and numerous litter boxes are placed strategically to be always available. The desert floor of the Cool Cat Neighborhood, being sand and gravel, is just too tempting to avoid becoming one giant litter box. To prevent this, most of the area has been tiled or rocked over. Ed and I spent a few hours helping to complete this project. The cats were very interested in the new rocks being brought inside and immediately commenced "nasal inspections".

This is Pam, one of the RV workamping volunteers, with two of the most loving cats here at the Refuge. Both Feather, in white, and Toesie, orange and white, are "top cats" in the hierarchy. They usually eat first and have a tendency to "glom" onto you and will be petted for as long as you are willing. They might stop purring long enough to take a gentle swipe at other cats who try to usurp your attention.

Can you see how Toesie got his name? He has six toes on each front paw.

Feather supposedly has a feather-shaped mark on his head, but I never could really see it.

This is Ernie, a buff-colored very young guy, who is a "pre-purred putty-tat." He followed me everywhere, loudly purring just in anticipation of being petted. If we didn't live in a motorhome with two dogs and a cat already, I would have adopted this guy. He's great. But I don't think it would be fair to Bonnie, "Queen of Sheba" as the only cat in our household for three years now. Besides, we're out of room on the bed already!

A close-runner up as my favorite is Choco, this mostly-Siamese girl with gorgeous blue eyes. She, too, is extremely affectionate. She looks so much like Bonnie!

This black and white girl named Sasha really needs a home of her own. Read her story here on the petfinderwebsite She is a bit timid and the other cats take advantage of her so she has to eat last, etc. But she is a sweetheart and would love to be cuddled by someone she trusts.

Finally, these last two guys are brothers whose owner passed away. Tudor, the long-haired white guy, is very gentle and sweet.

And who could resist Cooper, this happy tabby caught in the act of rolling back and forth in the sunshine!

Desert Haven needs your support. Please check the new blog that I have set up for them at

There are links to both their web sites with lots more information that I can share here. Eliana writes a weekly newspaper column called "Humane Happenings" with news, updates, and a "wish list" for Desert Haven. This column will be posted in the blog from now on. So please, bookmark the site or add it to your favorites. Any donation of cash, no matter how small, is greatly apprecated. If you can visit Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, stop by and if you have room in your heart for a new dog or cat, you will allow Eliana to help one more.

The Starfish Story - Cat Rescuers' Version
(Traditional. There are innumerable versions of L Eiseley's "The Star Thrower"on the web set on beaches all over the world. This cat lovers' version was found in a cat shelter newsletter 1993 and on Usenet and is about "making a bigger difference".)

A traveller was walking along a beach when he saw a woman scooping up starfish off the sand and tossing them into the waves. Curious, he asked her what she was doing. The woman replied "When the tide goes out it leaves these starfish stranded on the beach. They will dry up and die before the tide comes back in, so I am throwing them back into the sea where they can live."

The traveller then asked her "But this beach is miles long and there are hundreds of stranded starfish, many will die before you reach them - do you really think throwing back a few starfish is really going to make a difference?"

The woman picked up a starfish and looked at it, then she threw it into the waves. "It makes a difference to this one" she said.

Considering this, the traveller continued his walk along the beach. After a while he arrived at a place where a river ran into the sea and he turned back inland, walking alongside the river. He was still pondering the words of the starfish woman when he noticed a group of people wading about in the river trying to catch floating objects and throwing them safely onto the river bank. When he got closer he saw that the people were rescuing kitties which were struggling in the water and floating downstream towards the sea. Though many of the kitties were thrown to safety, many others were washed out to sea, never to be seen again.

The traveller thought about this and thought about what starfish-woman had told him. He knew that it made a difference to every kitty saved. He also knew that he could not stop the sea from washing up starfish, but he knew that there was a way to make a bigger difference to all the kitties being washed away in the river so he called out to the people who were fishing out kitties. "Why don't some of you go upstream and stop people tossing them into the river in the first place?".

The traveller had learned an important lesson from starfish woman. When you face impossible odds you do the best you can and helping just one or two creatures. But he also had the wisdom to know that sometimes you can make a bigger difference. And this is the moral of the starfish woman story: sometimes you have to do whatever you can, however little it seems; but sometimes you have the chance to make a bigger difference. You just need a little wisdom to see when you have a chance to make that bigger difference.

And this is what rescuing animals is about. Sometimes you have to do the best you can and treasure every life saved. But sometimes you get a chance to make a bigger difference and instead of making a difference to just one, you can make a difference to many.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Desert Haven Animal Refuge, located two miles south of Truth or Consequences, NM, is the only animal refuge in the US with an RV park. Even before we left CT, we planned to stay at Desert Haven because the site fees are used to help cover operational expenses of the Refuge. The RV park is small, currently seven sites with six more scheduled to be added within the next year. Many of the volunteers here at the no-kill sanctuary are workampers; that is, they are RVers who donate their time and labor in exchange for an RV site with hook-ups. This arrangement generally involves a commitment of 2-3 months at Desert Haven. But animal lovers like us can stay at the RV park for the bargain rate of $10.00/night or $40.00/wk, plus electricity. It makes a great base camp from which to explore southwestern New Mexico. This is our view at sunset.

More about Desert Haven and their wonderful work later.

A lot of people ask, "What's up with the name 'Truth or Consequences' anyway?" From the city's web site, here is the explanation:

How Hot Springs Became Truth or Consequences
Courtesy of Herald Publishing, The Chaparral Guide, January 2000

Just off Interstate-25, midway between the thriving metropolitan cities of El Paso and Albuquerque, is one of the most publicized and unique health resorts in the United States. Originally named "Hot Springs" and now called "Truth or Consequences", this city has received more national publicity via television and radio than any city of it's size in the United States. So naturally, one of the first things people who come here ask is, "How did the town get it's name?"

In 1950, Hot Springs New Mexico, was plodding along slowly and fairly comfortably, much the same as hundreds of other small resort cities. Tourist trade, practically speaking, was the city's only industry. The majority of visitors here sought the town's health facilities and found the little community offered more for their money than they found almost anywhere else under the sun. The cost of living was, and still is, extremely reasonable, and visitors and residents alike did, and still do, relax in the healing, naturally hot mineral baths, bask in the almost ever present sunshine, fill their lungs with the fresh, pure air that envelops the city and surrounding areas, fish a little, and play dominoes and shuffleboard at the Senior Citizens Recreation Center.
Another pastime years ago was sitting in groups on the sidewalk benches to watch a few travelers as they passed on the highway, usually without stopping. Recreation then was undeveloped to it's full potential and the town was lost among hundreds of other " Hot Springs" scattered all over the United States; the name indicating nothing more significant than the likelihood that some hot springs were located in the area.

Then in 1950, NBC television and radio producer Ralph Edwards, on the 10th anniversary of the Truth or Consequences radio program, called his staff together and said, "I wish that some town in the United States liked and respected our show so much that it would like to change it's name to 'Truth or Consequences.'" On hearing the proposition, the New Mexico State Tourist Bureau relayed the news to the manager of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and the news spread like wildfire. Here was an opportunity to advertise the city and it's resources free of charge! Better still, no longer was our city to be confused with that "other one" in Arkansas and the others throughout the nation (California alone has more than 30 towns called "Hot Springs"). So, in a special city election, 1,294 of the town's residents voted for the change to "Truth or Consequences." On the other hand, 295 area residents opposed the change and a protest was filed, so the city returned to the polls and again voted- by a margin greater than four to one- to go ahead with the name change. Almost 14 years later, in January 1964, the question went to the people again and they voted to keep the city's unique name. A fourth election was held on August 18, 1967, and once more a majority voted to keep the name Truth or Consequences. Ralph Edwards and his entire NBC production, acting and show crew came here in 1950, aired the first live, coast-to-coast broadcast of Truth or Consequences from the city of Truth or Consequences, and the residents of his adopted home are very pleased to say he has been coming back every year since- with his Hollywood friends- to celebrate the anniversary of the name change, and to help spread the news about this oasis of hot springs, two of the state's best lakes and many other recreational opportunities throughout Sierra County.

So, now you know, they didn't want to be confused with that 'other' Hot Springs in Arkansas. Ed & I are thinking, we didn't take advantage of the hot springs in the 'other' one that we just visited. Let's see what they have here in New Mexico. It turns out, we liked the baths here better. Why? We found Riverbend Hot Springs - in their own words, a budget resort and spa.

Located on the bank of the Rio Grande River, Riverbend has a motel, RV spaces, public outdoor hot baths, and offers other spa services such as massage. But for only $15 an hour per person, we rented a private outdoor hot bath, enclosed with wicker walls on three sides, affording privacy and views of the river and mountains beyond. The tub is lined with native colored stone tile and is fed by a hot mineral spring with an average temperature of 102-103 degrees. The hot water almost instantly relaxes all your muscles while the river flowing below and the mountain views soothe the soul.

It's rustic and down to earth, not glitzy nor glamorous. That's more our style!