Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day Five

Here are our early morning pictures from Storrie Lake.

You can see an RV in the background on the right. One of many.

Unfortunately, I think that may be all the pictures I have of Day Five. Julia will probably have more. We spent most of the day driving. New Mexico is a huge state. Huge. The fifth largest. We had to go from Las Vegas, in the middle of the state to Carlsbad, waaaay down in the south of the state. Google maps tells me it's around 260 miles, and I believe it. We must have driven 6 hours that day. And what did we see? Not much. A lot of desert with its low scrubby vegetation, and tall dried up yucca blossoms. Roswell was pretty depressing. Everything had to be dressed up in some kind of martian gimmick. I spared you the pictures.

The good news is that we made it in time to see the bats leave Carlsbad Caverns, an occurrence that takes place nightly during the summer months. We got to the caverns around dusk, and waited in the Bat Amphitheater which looks onto the mouth of the famous caverns.

We waited. And waited. I didn't mind the wait, but it was a struggle for the families with small children, or impatient adults, to wait quietly without the distraction of their cameras or cell phones. Too much noise will throw the bats off their mojo as will the collective sound of everyone's electronics. We can't hear it, but if you're practically blind and fly by sonar, I guess it's pretty disruptive. So I don't have pictures, but I was able to cadge one from the Carlsbad National Park site.

About 300,000-500,000 bats leave the caverns every summer night. They can fly as far as West Texas for their nightly insect meal. They left the cave in a rush of wings, nearly soundless, that lasted for about an hour and a half. And they were tiny, tiny! Maybe the size of a sparrow, with delicate wings. If you got very close to the cavern entrance, you might hear a susurration like the rustling of leaves. Seeing them leave the cave left me with such a special feeling for them. They're so tiny and delicate and harmless, and really beneficial to us humans, and they've been so reviled for being ugly and creepy. I recently read a New Yorker article about a fungus that was killing bat populations all over the world. Realizing how precarious their survival is made me feel even more protective of them.

Here's a picture of a little guy called a javelina, native to New Mexico. We didn't actually see one, though I had my eyes peeled for them while we were there.

After the bats, we grabbed a Sonic Burger (ok, I grabbed a Sonic Burger, Julia grabbed some Sonic tater tots)

and went back to our hotel, the Stagecoach Motel. Don't ever *ever* go! Our room was so infested with roaches (3 killed in 20 minutes. And Julia did none of the killing), we had to set up the tent on the bed in order to feel okay falling asleep. The weird thing about the motel is that it had a beautiful, well-maintained pool, nicely screened from the highway with decorative plants and trees. Go figure. A hilarious picture of Julia on the bed with our tent.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Suddenly Wien

Here I am, in Vienna a few months earlier than I had expected to be. The plan was to come visit Tante Gerda over Christmas, but when she passed away on the 19th of September, my mom and I flew out immediately. It's been a heavy fortnight, but working our way through Tante's belongings, accumulated in the elegant apartment that she lived in from 1958 until just a few weeks ago, has allowed for a sense of intimacy that was pretty intangible for me while she was alive.

Tante spent the last few hours of her life with her incredibly sweet cousin Elfi at her side. This woman is an angel. They held hands as Tante took her final breaths. The last time I saw Elfi I was a small child, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better during this visit.

Claud and Matthias flew in for the funeral, which was beautiful. My mom and I went out for another visit to the grave a few days later. My great grandmother, grandmother, great aunt, and great uncle now all lie there together, in the Baumgartner Friedhof.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day Four

We bid a fond farewell to Sandia Mountain Hostel and our donkey friends. Here's Bambina looking to start the day with a crust of bread or a melon rind. The sign on the door, aptly enough, says "please close the door to keep animals out of the hostel."

The day before, a gallery/shop owner in Madrid had told us about a national monument about 45 minutes away that was her favorite place to send people—one of her favorite things to do in the area. We figured we would trust the locals and visit Kasha-Ketuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. After a short coffee stop in Madrid, we drove out to Cochiti Lake, on the Pueblo de Cochiti Reservation. Pictures aren't allowed on the Reservations, but this is what our drive was mostly like:

The "tent rocks" are these enormous rock formations that are formed from different layers of rock and ash and tuff (volcanic ash). They settled over time and then were eroded away by wind and water. Since the layers all erode at different rates, the rock has striations with different colors. The giant rocks almost look like curtains (or tents, I guess), billowing in the hot wind.

Sometimes the path leads you through a narrow, twisty canyon with tent rocks on either side. It could be really dangerous to be here during a heavy rain. The summer months in New Mexico are notorious for flash floods. The weather can be clear one minute, blue skies and all, and then a huge storm will roll up out of nowhere and dump enough water to cause a flood in one of these "arroyos" or dry river beds. The lady who recommended Tent Rocks to us told us we wouldn't want to be there in the rain, but being Easterners, we thought she meant because there was no cover. Only when we got there, did we interpret her words to mean "it would be dangerous to be there in the rain."

It was quite a steep path near the top. The Canyon trail took us up to 630 feet up. Nearing the top:

At the top, though, we were rewarded with a great view of Tent Rocks below as well as the Rio Grande Valley, and the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, and Sandia Mountains in the distance. This kid in the red shirt scared us half to death by playing along the edge. His dad didn't seem too concerned, but I could barely look long enough to take a picture. The boy (who was also sporting a grown-out mohawk) assured us that there was a ledge just 1o feet or so below him, but I couldn't even gather the courage to look.

After our Tent Rocks adventure, we had to put some distance between ourselves and the Sandia Mountains. We drove about 100 miles to the east to pull into Storrie Lake State Park just north of Las Vegas, NM. We blew through Las Vegas pretty fast, but we still managed to find the Fort Union Drive In Movie Theater. The drive-in experience got two thumbs up,

even if the movie itself left something to be desired.

Storrie Lake proved to be a bit of a disappointment. The lake itself was small and stagnant, with a large perimeter of boggy marsh surrounding it. Then, there was the management of the park. It's totally cool with the rangers, accepted park policy I guess, for everyone to drive their cars and giant RVs onto the grass and all over. So everywhere you go, the grass (not lush to begin with because of the dry, dry climate) is criss-crossed over with muddy tire tracks. Add on top of that the most unhelpful pair of rangers ever, and this campsite ends up with two thumbs down!! A side note: they actually have quite passable showers that smell nice and woody like a sauna, and have hot (though a bit sulfur-smelly) water. If you go and find a giant hairball sticking to the wall, though, don't blame this halfie. All this notwithstanding, I managed to take a picture that made it look gorgeous. It's all in the light and strategically cropping out the RVs.