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!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Westward Ho!

It's exactly two weeks ago that we left Crater of Diamonds and drove about 260 miles southwest to Dallas, Texas. As I mentioned in a previous post, we spent nearly a week in Dallas at Pilot Knoll Park. The campground, on Lewisville Lake, was only five minutes away from the home of my very dear friends, Cathy & Dom. For my family and long-time friends who have met them, here's a photo of Dom, Cathy, their niece, Ava, and Ava's friend, Justin.

We had a wonderful time visiting, eating great meals, losing (me!) at Scrabble, and Dom was a superb computer guru, spending days helping us choose a new computer and getting all our software installed and data transferred. We truly hated to say good-bye.

Over three days, with stops in Lake Colorado City (at a great state park) and in Pecos (at the ugliest Escapees park we have ever seen, and we've seen 15 out the 19) we cruised through Texas. Somewhere around Abilene, the landscape of green grass and trees gave way to arid, scrubby desert. It really hit us - we were in the West! We saw miles of cotton fields and oil fields and the highway passed by Midland, hometown of George & Laura Bush. We picked up Interstate 10 beyond Pecos and soon saw mountains in the distance. As we drew closer, I realized that we were getting close to the Rio Grande River and the Mexican border. This point was driven home by the sight of a few green & white vehicles belonging to the U.S. "Border Patrol." We were surprised by the size of El Paso - probably 15-20 minutes of exits for truck stops, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, car dealerships, and finally downtown and the highway that would lead to crossing into Mexico. Instead, we crossed into the state of New Mexico. Our stay in Las Cruces at the KOA was thoroughly enjoyable. Here's a sunset view of the Organ Mountains from our camp:

Historic downtown Mesilla, just a few miles away, was well worth a visit. We picked up a few southwestern themed gifts and admired the adobe structures, including the oldest known brick building in New Mexico. Our friend, Dale, from Camping World, was staying in Deming, about 60 miles away. He came to see us with a friend of his, Myrna, who is also a fulltime RVer. We had a wonderful Mexican meal at Peppers in Mesilla, shopped some more, and compared notes about RV travel. Dale is spending the winter at the Slabs in California and Quartzite. Myrna was heading the opposite direction, to visit friends in Ft. Worth and Dallas and then winter in south Texas. So yesterday, each of us headed in a different direction. We pointed the motorhome north toward Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Yes, this is the town formerly known as Hot Springs, NM, that changed its name to that of the game show back in the sixties, I think. We are staying at Desert Haven Animal Refuge. Tomorrow, I'll take some photos of the cats and dogs, birds, guinea pigs, chickens and peacocks, and the kind volunteers who care for them. This morning, I was in my glory, petting any of the 23 kitties that would allow it. Most of them loved it! We'll be here for at least two more nights and hope to spend a day helping out here at the refuge and another day visiting the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, about 75 miles north in Socorro. With nighttime temps in the twenties in Santa Fe, we're rethinking our plans to go that far north.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Crater of Diamonds State Park

Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfeesboro, Arkansas is the only diamond mine where the public can dig for diamonds and keep any they find. The mine resembles an inverted funnel from the surface down into the earth. Sifting through a 37-acre plowed field reveals diamonds that were brought to the surface of the earth by volcanic uplift.

Over 500 diamonds on average are found each year by park visitors. So we stayed at the campground for three nights so we could try our luck for a couple of days. Here's Ed ready to start digging...

The sluicing method invoves washing shovel-fulls of dirt through a coarse screen, then a finer screen.

Diamonds are relatively heavy. They fall to the bottom of the screen with the gravel as the dirt is washed away. So the next step is to turn the screen over like flipping a pancake. Then, search through the remains for metal-like reflective chunks. A magnifying glass helps.

If the sun is shining, another method is to examine the surface of the earth carefully. It's less arduous, but the sluicing method processes a greater quantity of dirt much more quickly.

I knew before I got there that the idea of digging for diamonds was better than the actual work of digging through the dirt. But hey, you never know! Here's our diamond we found!

OK, not really. But this flawless diamond WAS found here. From the park web site, here's the lowdown on it.

"The 1.09-carat “Strawn-Wagner Diamond” (3.03 carats in the rough before its cutting in 1997 by Lazare Kaplan International of New York) was found by park visitor Shirley Strawn at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in 1990. This D-flawless gem, a stone that nature formed and then man transformed to the cut and faceted diamond you see today, is the highest grade a diamond can achieve. A diamond this perfect is so rare, most gemologists and jewelers never see one. This diamond from the park is on permanent display in the Crater of Diamonds visitor center."

Although we didn't find a diamond, we learned a lot about the process. Most diamonds found here are worth between $10.00 and $100.00. People next to us found a crescent shaped 6-pt. brown diamond. I have no idea what it was worth, probably not much, but we were happy for them.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is the only national park that we have visited that consists of two distinct entities. As expected, the park includes driving and hiking trails over two mountains, as well as a campground.

On the mountaintop, an observation tower overlooks the city and affords long range views of the countryside.

An elevator whisks you up six stories to a glassed-in deck at the top of the tower. This level includes a museum with exhibits about the life of Bill Clinton, who graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1964. But the museum also explores the history of the therapeutic mineral bath industry which once made Hot Springs a top destination for vacationers and medical patients.

And that is where the other half of this unique national park takes center stage. You can tour the downtown area where opulent bath houses once bustled with visitors. In the 1800's and early 1900's, bathing was reputed to cure all sorts of diseases. But by the 1950's, the bath houses fell out of favor as modern medicine, particularly the use of antibiotics, effected real cures for many diseases. In the 1980's, the federal government stepped in to save the buildings and incorporated the magnolia tree-lined "Bath House Row" as part of Hot Springs National Park...

The government completely restored Fordyce Bath House, made it the official Visitor's Center, and opened it for self-guided tours.

Here's the lobby...

and the "bath"...

the cooling room...
the ladies' lounge...
and the men's gym.
Only one bath house, Buckstaff Baths, still seves the public.

Their web site describes the treatment and services available.For $47.00, you get an 1 1/2 worth of bathing treatments and massage. Sound like heaven to me!

Fortunately, our government continues to restore a number of the other bath houses. They are seeking private businesses to come in, take long term leases, and offer modern spa services to reinvigorate Hot Springs tourism.