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Percha Dam State Park

May 14, 2006—After an overnight stay at the Escapees "Dreamcatcher" park in Deming, we left around noon on Wednesday the 10th, planning to go to Caballo Lake State Park. I was glad to be leaving. While the people at Dreamcatcher are very nice, the park itself is little more than a dusty flat place in back of the Holiday Inn, right off the freeway. The scenery is uninspiring to say the least, the highway noise kept me awake, and worst of all, the wind swept endless clouds of dust and grit across the park, until everything in my rig was coated with it. I wish I could say nice things about this park, because I liked the people very much... but why would I stay here when for less money I could have a spectacular view, no noise and no dust at City of Rocks State Park a few miles away? Well, the answer is "to do the laundry"—that was our main reason for coming to Deming.

On the way to Caballo Lake we stopped in Hatch, where Kate and Terry bought several pounds of frozen chilis in a local chili store—one of half a dozen chili vendors on the main street. The colorful interior was festooned with ristras of peppers of every size and shape, as well as garlands of garlic and bags of other spices.

Chili shop

By this time I was feeling hungry, so while my friends headed northward to Caballo Lake, I strolled across the street to the Pepper Pot Café for lunch. I thought about getting southwestern food, which ranks with Indian as one of my two favorite cuisines. But Hatch being the chili capital of the US, I was afraid the food might be too spicy for me. My tolerance isn't what it used to be. So I ordered a crispy chicken salad, which was quite good. Yes, I know: it's unthinkable to eat in Hatch and not have chilis! But then I've spent two months in Maine without touching a lobster. What can I say? I eat what I feel like eating.

After a leisurely lunch, reading some of E.E. Smith's classic "Skylark" while I ate, I picked up a few groceries at the supermarket up the street, then headed back to Gertie. (One of the great things about Gertie is that you can drive into a tiny town like Hatch and park anywhere.)

But just as I was about to pull out, Kate called to say that they had decided Caballo Lake wasn't shady enough and were moving to Percha Dam, a few miles up the road. Time was when a last-minute route change like this would have been very stressful for me, but now that I have "Mabel" the GPS navigator, it's no big deal—I have full confidence that she'll get me there. I shrugged and changed Mabel's destination setting, then headed out to drive the last thirty miles or so.

Percha Dam indeed turned out to be very nice, with lots of trees shading the sites. There's a nice breeze, but no dust. I parked in front of Kate & Terry so I could share their satellite internet connection via WiFi.

Getie and Cholula Red

The first thing I noticed after settling in was a peculiar bird's nest under the eaves of my site's picnic shelter, which as it happens is only about eight feet from my rear window. With some digging in my reference books and online, I identified the nest as a barn swallow's, constructed of mud pellets and lined with grasses—yes, even the birds out here build with adobe!

But these birds were clearly not swallows. I finally concluded that they were house finches who had taken over a barn swallow's nest. I set up my camera in the window and was able to get some good photos of them over the next couple of days. I've never been a birdwatcher, but this was kind of fun. It's a pity that Marie is blind, because she'd enjoy watching these birds even more than I do!

Nesting finches

Early in the morning, just before sunrise, I walked over to the dam. It's actually visible from my campsite, but much more impressive close up, as you're washed by the sound of water roaring through the spillway.

Percha Dam

On the other side of the dam is the lower end of Caballo Lake. On this particular morning the water was placid, the surface barely ruffled by a light breeze. Only an occasional bird call broke the stillness.

Caballo Lake

Indeed, there's no shortage of birds here. I've become interested enough to order a set of Audubon Field Guides from Amazon, after seeing Kate's copy of the Southwestern guide. These exceptionally useful books pack into a slim, heavily illustrated volume concise information about regional wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, mosses, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, butterflies, mammals, geology, wildlife habitats, ecology, fossils, rocks and minerals, clouds and weather patterns, the night sky, parks, preserves, mountains, forests, and wildlife sanctuaries (I'm paraphrasing Amazon's description here)—in short, everything you'd want at your fingertips—and all for less than thirteen bucks. I ordered the Southwestern, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest guides, figuring that's where I'm most likely to be from now on.

Bird on a wire
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