Calculating that there'll be plenty of time to get to Milnesand, we sleep in a little. There is enough vegetation and trees around that we notice a few birds, so we do a little birding before heading out. An adult Western Kingbird follows its fledgling baby around. After picking up some other nice birds, we take off, first grocering up at the local Walmart.
Where I-10 turns right, we head for El Paso, then take U.S. 70 northeast, towards Alamogordo.
A little after 10 am, we're on the road, heading east on I-10. Within half an hour, we drive into the White Sands Missile Testing Range. Or maybe we pass the turnoff that goes to the range. At any rate, we drive past some fairly spectacular white sand dunes.
In Alamogordo, we fill up at a tiny service station, then are back on the freeway. Thirteen miles later, we cross the city limits of Tularaosa. The road climbs a bit, and takes us over the Apache Summit, at 7600 feet, by my GPS, 7591 by the sign on the road.
We're into mountains, with grass and pine trees again. No cactus. We're into the Apache Reservation when we pass a sign for fry bread, but pass by, breadless.
At about 1 pm, we stop in the parking lot of an Apache casino where we have a break and eat lunch. Cleaning up the crumbs, we head east on U.S. 70 again. To minimize the betting losses we would have made had we stopped to gamble, I throw a $20 out the window as we head back out on the highway (No, I didn't).
Soon, we drive past Ruidoso Downs, reminding me of my horse race betting days. Those days are well over, you bet.
Sharon takes over driving about 2 pm so I can have a nap, and about fifty minutes later, I wake up in time to snap a few photos in Roswell, as Sharon drives straight through. Sharon doesn't seem to be too worried about all the alien references, but I remember the movie and I lock the doors.
We drive past Planet Storage and Roswell Saucer Parts and Service. Then, unbelievably I spot an alien vessel poorly disguised as a grain storage bin.
Don't they KNOW? Can't they SEE?
I take over driving again, and Sharon reads a book to pass the time. But her mammal sensor is alert, as she raises her head in time to point out the first pronghorn antelope of the trip. We pass oil wells, then get a raptor on a tall pole. Light colored chest, no belly band, dark from the belly up through the neck. It's a Swainson's Hawk, as are most of the raptors we are seeing now, rather than the more common Red-tailed Hawk in California.
By 4 pm, we are in unusual territory. There are absolutely no power lines of any kind, no phone lines, only the two lane highway. We are reminded of northwest Australia, where each town, perhaps an hour separated from the next, has its own power generating station, not connected to outside electrical grids. But here the power lines may just have been pulled in straight lines and happen to be out of sight of the highway.
At 4:30 we are five miles from Tatum, where we will turn straight north. There are power poles now, and every fifth or sixth pole has a horizontal crosspiece attached with a triangular brace attached. Every single one has a raven's nest on it.
Two miles from Tatum, next to a circular irrigation system, we encounter perhaps 50 pronghorns of all sizes, some lying down, some standing. What's up with these antelope, camped out right on a farmer's field? Are they waiting for a close encounter?
We turn north and immediately get one of our favorite birds - a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We pull off and watch it for a minute or two, then head north again on the 206. Twenty-seven miles north of Tatum, we come to Milnesand, which it turns out is only a country intersection, with a fire station, country store and a few other buildings. A sign declares that it's the Lesser Prairie-chicken Capital of New Mexico.
What am I pointing at? I don't know.
Easily locating the parking lot across the fence from the fire station, we set up there. As directed, we find electrical ports in the metal pipe fence, and connect up to one of them. We'll have electricity tonight.
We are all set up by about 5:30 pm, and decide to bird the other three quadrants that surround the intersection. We get a couple of nice birds, but the store is closed, so we'll give the $25 check to the proprietor tomorrow, after we visit the prairie-chicken lek.
After dinner, I set my iPhone alarm for 4 am. Grant Beauprez (say Bo-PRAY), our guide, will pick us up at 4:50 am tomorrow.
Read some, watch a little TV and go to bed, hoping to dream about prairie-chickens.
Traveling Birds: Western Meadowlark, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Northern Harrier, Lark Bunting.
Milnesand Intersection Birds: House Wren, Lesser Kestrel on a TV Antenna, Stupid Starling in a tree, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, House Finch (not all of these are trip birds)
Stayed At: Milnesand parking lot adjacent to the fire station. $25 by previous arrangement
Miles Today: 299
Total Trip Miles: 1655
When I set my iPhone on the small dresser next to my bedside, and it goes off in the morning, it rings AND vibrates. The vibration through the flat dresser surface is quite loud, the surface acting as a sounding board. We hear this sound at 4 am.
We get all our gear together. Luckily for us, we believe, the weather has warmed up a bit, so we apparently won't need long johns, as we thought we might, based on earlier predictions of temperature.
Grant pulls up next to our trailer at exactly 4:50. The moon is very bright, but is beginning to set.
We load into his Ranger(?) and he drives us south on the highway, then we turn off onto a prairie road to the east, if I may call a path a road. After another five minutes, he stops. Our instructions are:
Whisper, no talking.
Don't stick arms, legs or head through the openings of the blind he has set up for us.
Flash is ok!
Don't get out of the blind (not even to go to the bathroom) till the birds finish their morning displaying. They will all fly out when they're done.
He walks us to our blind, a camouflaged dome. He unzips the back and we can see two camping chairs inside. He opens the flaps to the front opening and the two side openings. Grant wishes us luck and zips up the back of the blind. Then he walks back towards the car about twenty feet, where he has set up a similar blind for himself.
I have both my digital video camera and digital still camera. We each have our binoculars. I also brought my tripod, thinking I'd set up the video camera on it, point it out the front, and mostly let it run.
THERE'S NOBODY HERE BUT US PRAIRIE-CHICKENS
The first bird flies in within five minutes of Grant leaving us. It's about 5:30 am. We can hear its calls as others fly in to join it. It's still very dark. Sharon spots the first bird, but I can't see it out the front. It's over on the left side. Chalk up another first bird for Sherilee.
Still more fly in as it begins to get lighter.
Then, there, right in front, maybe ten feet away is a displaying male Lesser Prairie-chicken. Awesome. The sun's not up yet, but he's very impressive.
He has two head feathers he can raise to display, or fold back and down, so they lie flat against what you might call his shoulders.
A blink of an eye later, the sun is up.
There are two reddish air sacs the prairie-chicken can inflate, sort of on the back/sides of his neck when the head feathers are raised, and he has two bright yellow eyebrows that it appears he can raise or inflate or somehow make them very prominent.
They have three or four different sounds they make. First there is the cluck-cluck-cluck that sounds like a chicken. Then there is a kind of cackle. Next is the "bloop" sound he makes when he inflates the air sacs. At the same time of the bloop, he sharply bows his head, and at the same time, he widens his tail feather arrangement. The last sound he makes is with his feet. He stamps them rapidly on the ground, and you can feel this in your chest, like a rumble.
It's pretty cool and we're nicely blown away.
The birds move around so much that I abandon the tripod. We take turns on the video and the still camera part of the time. Other times, Sharon is on her binocs and I'm on one of the cameras. And still other times, we're both on binocs.
Over the next two hours, we get about 40 minutes of video, and snap off upwards of 100 photos. But the binoculars are the real fun.
The activity gets lighter and lighter, and finally one bird flies out. Then very quickly, the rest fly out. Five seconds later, we hear Grant's tent unzip. "Show's over," he says.
Grant estimates that there were about a dozen males and two or three females, there to watch the boys perform.
He folds up the two camouflage blinds,
packs them and the chairs into the back of the Ranger, and takes us around the area for what local migrating and permanent resident birds we can find.
He takes us back to the trailer, and we pay him the agreed upon fee to which we add a small tip. Grant is well worth the money.
He says goodbye and takes off, as we begin to prepare for travel, but within minutes, he returns with a souvenir poster, left over from the prairie-chicken festival last weekend.
We could never have found these birds, or if we could have, we would never have gotten the great experience Grant got for us, in the blinds. We go over to the store, leave the $25 check for using the parking space and purchase a couple of souvenirs.
Stamp your feet, Sharon.
TRAVEL TO SANTA FE
By a little before 11 am, we are on the road, headed north on the 206. At Elida, we turn north on the 330, which we take to Melrose. There we turn west on the 84 and drive to Fort Sumner. We stop for a restful lunch at a memorial sign at the turnoff to Sumner Lake State Park, then are back on the road. Here the 84 turns northwest, where it intersects I-40 near Santa Rosa.
Sharon calls our destination RV park to make sure they have a space for us. She asks when we will get there, based upon our location, and between the two of them, it seems that it'll be at least 45 minutes, so I ask Sharon to drive so I can get a nap. I'm getting sleepy from the early morning. We switch and I tell her to wake me when we get to a town called Lamy. She says ok, and I fall asleep in about five minutes.
About one minute after I fall asleep, Sharon says, "Bob, we're at Lamy!" Well, my first estimate was that it was very close, but the RV park lady somehow convinced us that it was further away than we thought.
Sharon drives us on in to Santa Fe, and we locate the Trailer Ranch RV Resort, for guests 55 and over. The back half of the park is permanent mobile homes, and the front half is for overnighters and temporary stayers like us.
We will be here seven nights, and it turns out if you pay for six nights, at $33.10 per night, the seventh is free. Whoo Hoo.
The area where we are is a gravel parking lot, but with lots of trees around. We have an option to move to the back, but I have checked out the WiFi, and as opposed to every other place we've stayed on the trip, this one is fully functional, so we stay put.
Jerry and Shirley will fly in tomorrow, and we call them. They did have a plan to take the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe tomorrow, but decide to come straight to their hotel, the El Rey Inn, about two miles from our RV park, and come to us, after they unpack. Then we'll make plans and go eat lunch.
After we get set up, we relax and watch a little TV, read a little, check out what's to do in the area, where to eat, and so on.
Milnesand Area Birds: LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN, Loggerhead Shrike, Hermit Thrush, Ferruginous Hawk, Horned Lark, Mallard.
Today: 1 (Lesser Prairie-chicken)
RV Park: Night 1 of 7 at Trailer Ranch RV Park. $33
Miles Today: 272
Total Trip Miles: 1927