Christmas at Muleshoe

One Christmas a couple of years ago we decided to take the entire Tucson clan (Devin was not yet with us) to Muleshoe Ranch for Christmas. We had a suite which we shared with Donna, Robert and Caitlin and a small apartment shared by Julie, Rob, Emily and Hannah. There was a tiny kitchen in the suite (no more than two people at a time, one cooking and one serving). Unfortunately Donna had an ear infection which made this time less pleasant for her. Robert brought his mountain bike to explore the jeep road.

We spent our days walking the nature trail with Emily and Caitlin while Rob carried Hannah in a carrier on his back. We watched the winter resident birds including some rufous sided towhees who scratched away in the underbrush just beneath one of our windows. A kildeer had moved into the wettest part of the Hot Springs streambed and he put on his broken wing show for us each time we got too near. The kids found the horses in the stables and visited them daily with apples and carrots. There were easily visible hummingbird nests from last summer in the trees in the courtyard. On the opposite side of the courtyard was the shell of another building that had burned down, leaving only melting adobe walls standing. The girls were still too small to hike very far but they really enjoyed being so far away from the city. The hot tub under the big old cottonwood tree was also a big attraction.

The last day was really special. During the night we were awakened by the crashing of thunder. Steve and I were in a hide-a-bed next to a big picture window and could see the flashes of lightning. In the morning we awoke to a true winter wonderland. The high desert landscape was covered by several inches of fresh snow. Steve and I headed out early with our cameras to hike into Bass Canyon. We crossed the riverbed and were just turning into the bosque toward the trailhead when a sharpshinned hawk flew out of the trees right in front of my face, a truly incredible experience. The countryside was magnificent and even quieter than usual, if possible. (Actually it was; our own footsteps were muffled by the snow cover.) When we returned we found that the kids had made snowmen in the courtyard and had visited the horses again. In the afternoon Robert took his mountain bike on the jeep road and rode about 7 miles in. When he returned he had a mud stripe up his back; actually he was covered with mud but the central stripe was evident.

The next day everyone was to leave but me. Robert checked on the road conditions with the caretakers: muddy but passable by a careful driver. After lunch the kids said goodbye to their melting snowmen and gave the horses their last carrots and apples. The cars were packed and we said our goodbyes. I stayed for one more night. Steve went back with Robert so he could work in Tucson for a few days before flying home. After they left, I watched the car until they were out of sight on the road across the river. Then I walked back down to the nature trail and down the streambed to visit the birds again, especially the kildeer. I stayed until it started to get dark. When I got back to the room, I made a quick dinner, organized my belongings and took what I could to the car. I was reading when I was told that there was a phone call for me (the only phone was in the caretaker's quarters). It was Steve, anxious to let me know that they made it out, only failing to make one hill on the first try. He wanted to give me a detailed reading on the condition of the road and to make sure that I reported in the next night.

In the morning it was bright and sunny. I put the last things in the car and drove across the riverbed. The road was indeed muddy but I had no trouble getting out. In fact, I drove on much worse roads later in the day as I wandered across southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico on my way to the Bosque del Apache for the first time. I had a couple of weeks until my next observing run at Kitt Peak. It was during this period that the message seen in my .plan file was sent by Rob to one of the telescope operators.

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