It is a sunny morning Friday when TR, Gus and I head over to the Oklahoma City Memorial. Gus has put up with me and all my birding, Now it is his turn to do something that he really wants to do. We have been here once before and found it so moving. Now we are here once again. I think that I will still be able to count birds here, but the truth is, there aren’t many hanging around. I hear a killdeer, I see a Northern mockingbird, and, finally, 3 house sparrows on my way out. That’s it. While TR and I walk around surveying the landscape Gus is off by himself taking pictures. His photo essay will publish on the 15th anniversary of the bombing later this month.
With the car packed and the dog inside we turn our noses west and head for home. Our route takes us across I-40 and the panhandle of Texas. I am full of ideas about where to stop and count bird in Texas since we were driving so quickly through it on our way east. I find a national grassland not far off the road and wiggle with anticipation in hopes of stopping for a good bird count on our way to Albuquerque where we plan to spent the night. But as the saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men do often go awry,” well…
Route 209 New Mexico 3-20-10
The storm clouds gather, the winds pick up and the temperature drops. A check of the weather channel indicates snow storms ahead. We speed right past the grasslands with snow flurries starting to fly. At some point in this mad dash Gus and I change places. While Gus has done the majority of the driving on this expedition, I do give him a break when he lets me, and he lets me now. But here is where life takes a little interesting turn on us.
We stop to get gas and I want a cup of hot tea, but they don’t have any. So, we get in the car and head west with me driving and Gus dozing beside me. However, I am craving tea like I have never craved tea before. As the sky darkens and the snow flies I just want some tea! We cross the state line into New Mexico and I see the signs for Tucumcari ahead with several exits. I notice that one exit says it has a McDonalds and I know McDonalds sells hot tea. Though I know Gus wants to forge ahead, I vow to myself that I WILL stop and get a cup of tea, no matters what. So, when the exit comes up I get off the freeway and drive the short distance into the McDonald's parking lot. Well, right behind the McDonald's is a La Quinta Inn. We have been staying at La Quinta’s because they are clean, affordable and pet friendly. After purchasing my tea with both snow and darkness falling, Gus decides to check into the La Quinta. Good thing we did. We quickly discover that we have rented one of the last rooms of the night! Not only that, but the highway ahead of us is closed down due to the snow! If we had pressed on we would have been stuck on the highway all night long! I have never been so thankful for craving a cup of hot tea in my life!
The next morning we sleep in and listen to weather reports. None of it is good. The highway between Tucumcari and Albuquerque is still closed with a foot of snow and more expected. We have to decide before noontime, do we dare to try to get through, or should we rent our room for another night? We are so close to home and we just want to get there. We decide to leave. As Gus goes in to check out he meets a couple coming in. In a short conversation with them Gus discovers that they just got through after spending 8 hours on the highway! When Gus says he will try to get through, they tell him to look outside. From the hotel we can see the overpass on I-40. It is a parking lot! Tractor trailers are packed like pigeons in a coop. There is no room to budge, but we don’t want to lose another day of travel. We consult our maps and decide to drive down the east side of New Mexico and then head west farther south. With the decision made Gus hands in our room keys and we head south. As soon as we pass beneath the highway we feel a burden lift from us. The road before us is wide open and clear. Though the temperature is only 19 degrees, the sun is shining on the high plains before us. We are travelling at 70 mph with not another car in sight. We have the whole road to ourselves!
I gaze out the windows at the road. To my utter amazement little birds are flying up form the edges. I soon discover that they are horned larks! Snow is drifted along the edges like fine powder driven by the wind. It is so cold but so beautiful. I cannot believe this flat high land. It is laid out before us like a flaxen carpet sprinkled with silver. Overhead the soft blue sky dazzles me with puffy clouds ships sailing in a tranquil sea. What started out as a hindrance has proven to be one of the most peaceful and relaxing parts of our journey. We are so glad that we went this way!
In spite of the delays, we decide to stop at Bosque del apache NWR on our way home. Though it is almost 5 PM by the time we get there, we spend the next 2 1/2 hours birding as we drive the loop road.
Scenes from Bosque del Apache
Though the sandhill cranes are gone there were still plenty of birds to see. I counted 41 species for the day, including some snow geese that were still hanging around. Perhaps they too were delayed by the storm.
We leave the Bosque around 7:30 PM and head back down the road as darkness falls. It is well after midnight when we finally arrive home, but oh how good it feels to sleep in our own bed!