January 2005


January 1, 2005 found us back at our old stomping grounds, El Paso, Texas, and Fort Bliss, from where Larry retired in 1988.  El Paso was our home for seven years back then – what differences we saw in 2005 – growth everywhere!  We stocked up on groceries at the commissary, taking advantage of the lower prices.  We ‘forced’ ourselves to eat at our favorite steak place, the Great American Land and Cattle Company, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal.  Our friends, and Lucille’s former employers, Jim and Betty, long time residents of El Paso, were still on a holiday cruise, so we’ll return to El Paso later in the month to visit them.

Monday, January 3rd, saw us heading northwest to the small town of Williamsburg, New Mexico, home of Desert Haven Animal Refuge.  Williamsburg is located just two miles south of Truth or Consequences.  T or C is the town that in 1950 changed its name from Hot Springs after Ralph Edwards, of the game show Truth of Consequences, looked for a town willing to change its name temporarily to help celebrate the anniversary of that game show.  The name stayed and T or C got on the map.  People since then have come to enjoy the natural hot springs, either as permanent residents or as snowbirds.

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Rustic Desert Haven Animal Refuge is a no-kill animal refuge in Williamsburg, New Mexico.

Desert Haven is a no-kill animal refuge, affiliated with the Sierra County Humane Society.  It is a non-profit organization, dependent upon support from the local community and volunteers.  The refuge is five years old and a work in progress, one board at a time.  Eliana, the refuge’s director, has designed the facility to be rustic, to blend in with the southwestern desert.  Buildings are constructed from old wood and other distressed-looking materials, with bleached skulls, rusted pots and pans, pottery, scattered throughout to build on that rustic theme.  The refuge houses over two dozen cats, about fourteen dogs and puppies, three peacocks, several rabbits, roosters, chickens, two species of doves, and a lot of guinea pigs, thanks to an accidental male among the females.  The caretakers thought they had separated the two sexes after guinea piglets started to be born but one very happy male, nicknamed Romeo, managed to evade capture.  Twenty-three females started having litters of two and three ‘piglets’ when Romeo was finally apprehended and put in with his fellow males, who supposedly gave him a hard time, probably trying to wipe that big smile off his little face.

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Photos from top left: Lucky is the resident watch dog; the resident watchrooster guards the guinea pigs.  Puppies know how to put on that "cute look" while waiting for adoption.  Russell, the resident peacock has two hens to keep him company.  A free-flight area provides the doves with an area protected from hawks common in the area.

Only the dogs and cats are adoptable; all other critters are permanent residents.  The cats have a huge indoor-outdoor fenced in area, complete with climbing and scratching posts, hideaways – a cat’s idea of a five star hotel.  The dogs have indoor-outdoor runs, with a play yard under construction.  There is a pet cemetery, named Rainbow Bridge, part of which is styled as an old-timey western cemetery – piles of rocks covering a grave, identified with a crude marker. There is also a traditional burial area – numbered and outlined plots.  The cemetery occupies about an acre, with meandering paths, statuary, wind chimes, and benches throughout.  It is a great exercise area for the dogs as it is totally fenced in.  It freaked us out at first to be parked across from the pet cemetery and to let Shelley and other dogs run free in there, but the idea of this area being used to provide a playground for our furkids and a place for those that have passed on to their final home grows on you.

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The pet cemetery provides a place for the dogs to play as well as a place for local animal lovers to bury their pets.

There are six Workamper families this winter season.  Larry and Mavis are from Indiana; Walt and Sandy from Michigan; Barry and Judy from Virginia Beach; Christy is a fulltime RVer, as are Richard and Linda, and of course, the two of us.  Bryan is the caretaker who lives on the premises full time, as does Freddie, the operations manager. 

The Workampers commit to working 25 hours per couple, 20 hours for a single, for a full hookup RV site with a monthly electric allowance.  Eliana prepares a weekly schedule so that the work is shared amongst us.  Everyone works on Tuesdays, the only day the refuge is open to the public without an appointment.  Local volunteers come in that day also.  After a 9 am planning meeting, we head out to our respective projects, then meet again for a potluck lunch at 1 pm.  Work resumes after lunch, with quitting time around 4 pm.  Some of the projects may be redoing the roof on one of the dog condos, sprucing up the pet cemetery, helping with the paperwork, helping with the lunch preparation and cleanup, walking the dogs and puppies, giving the kitty condos a good cleaning – the work varies according to your skills and energy levels.  A second day on our weekly schedule is animal care, with a third day helping at the Paws and Claws Thrift Store, which helps to pay the refuge’s bills.

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The Paws and Claws Thrift Shop provides Williamsburg residents a place to find bargains while providing a source of income for the animal refuge.

Animal care consists of feeding all the animals in the mornings, followed by walking all the dogs and puppies, cleaning out both the indoor and outdoor dog kennels, cleaning the cat area (not the most pleasant task as the few feral cats among the other cats do not use the litter pans but bury their surprises throughout the graveled yard), chopping up fresh fruit and veggies (bruised but still edible that are donated by the local grocery store) for the rabbits, peacocks and guinea pigs and putting out bird seed and scratch for the doves, chickens and roosters.  The most challenging has been the small animals as we’ve had to learn what their likes and dislikes are and which fresh produce they can safely eat (potatoes, onions, avocados are forbidden).  But they are also the most fun to be around.  Late afternoon, the dogs are fed and walked again.  Evening duties consist of picking up food bowls all around, making sure there is adequate fresh water, and securing all the pens.

Working at the thrift store involves checking all appliances and electrical gadgets that come in to make sure they work, sort thru the clothing and put on hangers, and try to keep the store in some sort of order.  The thrift store has become a popular place for both donations and for shopping so our three-hour shift there goes quickly. 

As you see, our days are pretty busy with the animals.  The work is not difficult but time consuming.  But it is very rewarding to be able to provide these animals a great temporary home and to help make the dogs and cats adoptable so they can find their great forever homes.  It is very easy to become attached.  In fact, several of the past Workampers have adopted pets from the refuge before they left the area. 

We have also been blessed with a wonderful crew.  Everyone is willing to pitch in whenever they are needed, even on their days off.  We enjoy going to breakfast together as well as seeing the local sights as a group.  One of the refuge’s board members, Jane, loves to take groups on outings – more on that later.

The weather has been a challenge.  We haven’t gotten the snowbird concept right yet.  We are at 4200’ elevation here in Williamsburg.  Most nights have been below freezing, so we’ve had to watch that our water hose and lines do not freeze.  The days are usually quite sunny and by mid-morning, we’re seeing mid to high 50 temps.  We’ve had rain, which has been welcome, as the area has been hit by a drought for at least the past five years.  We face the Saddleback Mountains and can sometimes see a dusting of snow on its peaks.  We’ve learned to layer our clothing and shed layers as the day starts to warm up. 

There is so much to see and do in this area and within a couple hours’ drive.  We’re hoping to be able to visit as much as we can until we leave here mid-March. 

What we’ve seen and done so far:

We’ve experienced soaking in the local hot springs by renting a private room at the Artesian Bathhouse.  This was a first for us and hopefully the first of many visits while we are here.  Most of the bathhouses were built in the 1930s and the Artesian is no exception.  However, the rooms are clean and the tubs spotless and sanitized after every use.  For $5 per person per hour, we thoroughly enjoyed the 115-degree natural mineral water.  After our hour of soaking, we wobbled our way out of there, like limp noodles, very much relaxed. 

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The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is a winter haven for the Sand Hill Crane, Lesser Sand Hill Crane, Snow Geese, Canadian Geese, and several species of duck.

One day we drove up to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, about 70 miles north, near Socorro.  We took the self-guided driving tour of the refuge, using the CD we’d purchased telling us about the stops along the way.  The refuge lies along nine miles of the Rio Grande in the desert of south-central New Mexico.  Established in the late 1930s, the extensive water impoundments provide an ideal winter habitat for ducks, geese (both Canadian and snow), sandhill cranes and wading birds, with several accessible viewing platforms along the route.  368 different species of birds have been observed at the refuge.  The fly-outs and fly-ins, when the geese and cranes leave in the mornings and return in the evenings, is something to be seen, for which we’ll make a return trip.

Another day we drove back to El Paso to visit with friends Jim and Betty, enjoying lunch again at the Great American Land and Cattle Company.  They drove us around part of the city, showing us some of the areas that had changed.  We took advantage of being in a big city again and shopped at WalMart, Lowe’s, the commissary, and Camping World.  Luckily, our campground neighbor Walt walked Shelley for us while we were gone as it was a long day before we got back to our home on wheels.

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The Percha Bank in Kingston is now a museum.

On another of our free days, we headed south to Kingston, Hillsboro, and Lake Valley.  In the 1800s, Kingston (pop now 30) was the largest town in the territory, and one of the wildest in the Wild West.  It had 22 saloons, 14 groceries, gambling halls, a brewery, three newspapers and a brothel.  Very little remains today.  The Percha Bank building is a museum open only by appointment, which we hadn’t made. 

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Hillsboro is yet another town that traced its existence and demise to the value of silver.

Hillsboro (pop 135) developed as a mining community in 1877, following the discovery of gold and silver in the surrounding hills of the Black Range Mountains.  It is said that the local mines produced more than $7 million dollars in precious ore.  Hillsboro is now a retirement and summer vacation center, with gift shops, antique stores, restaurants and a bed and breakfast.  We ate lunch at the General Store Café.   Built in 1879, the building has housed a bank, post office, general store and drug store.  It still retains its 1800s ambience, with an assortment of early general store items interesting to peruse while awaiting your meal.   We did a walking tour of Hillsboro, which included seeing the courthouse ruins and jail, built in 1896. The jail purposely was not built with a roof overhead – it wasn’t felt necessary for the inmates, providing natural ‘air conditioning’.  Most distinctive was the Miller House, built in 1898 in classic Victorian style of black slag bricks made from smelter waste. 

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Lake Valley also tied its fortune to the silver standard.  What remains today is entrusted to the care of the Bureau of Land Management.

We enjoyed Lake Valley the best.  Lake Valley was named for ancient lakebeds nearby, founded with the discovery of silver in the area in 1878, and the site of the Bridal Chamber Mine which produced silver ore so pure it was shipped unsmelted to the mint.  A true ghost town today--the last permanent residents left in 1994.  The schoolhouse, built in 1904, is open to the public.  A chapel and several old homes still stand.  We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of the dozen or so buildings/ruins left on the premises. 

We met the caretaker, work campers that had just pulled in two days earlier.  He joked that he and his wife are the sole residents of Lake Valley and are its mayor, chief of police and entire population, all two of them.  

In 1893, when President Cleveland replaced silver as the monetary standard, in favor of gold, silver prices plunged overnight and caused the demise of all these old mining towns we’ve visited.

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The Chloride Pioneer Store retains the products that were sold during its business years.

Another day, Larry, Mavis, Walt, and the two of us all headed up to Chloride, about an hour away.  Chloride was named after the type of silver ore found there.  By 1882, it had eight saloons, three mercantile stores, two butcher shops, a hotel, boarding houses, an assay office, livery stables, a candy store, a drug store, a law office, a Chinese laundry, a millinery store, a post office, newspaper, and at least one brothel.  We had a fascinating tour of the Pioneer Store, now a museum, by the curator/owner, who also showed us the oldest house in Chloride, being renovated for use as a rental cabin.

The Pioneer Store was particularly interesting. Because Chloride quickly met its demise when the US changed to a gold standard, the proprietors just locked the doors, walked out leaving the stock behind.   What a find for the current owners who have lovingly restored the establishment to what it was back in the late 1800s.   We saw so many fascinating items – scales and weights; clothing apparel; medicine; an old dental chair which doubled as a barber chair; a battery-operated credit/cash register that kept records of the miners’ credit purchases. We huffed and puffed our way up to the cemetery and saw the grave of Raymond Schmidt, dubbed Mr. Chloride, the town historian who died at 99 years of age.  This old cemetery very much resembles the western-style theme of the animal refuge’s pet cemetery, only on a people-sized scale.

Not too far from Chloride is the St. Cloud Mine, from which silver was mined.  It now is being mined for natural zeolite, used for kitty litter, drying agents, cattle feed supplements, air filtration products.  We’ll return there for a tour when they are open.

One Saturday, we enjoyed a birding hike at Paseo del Rio, part of Elephant Butte State Park.  We spent about two hours wandering around a path less than a mile, identifying several birds with the help of expert birder and our guide, Patty, from Hillsboro.  We will have to return and identify some more on our own.

Jane, one of the refuge’s directors, led a caravan down to Palomas, Mexico, about 2 hours away, just south of Deming.  We rode with Barry & Judy.  Walt & Sandy, Larry & Mavis, Jim & Clovine (guests at the campground), Dixie (a local volunteer on Tuesdays) also went.  It was an interesting ride down looking at the beautiful scenery.  We spotted a field full of lesser sandhill cranes feeding.

Palomas is very small, one main street with a few side streets, very poor, very border-town looking.  The Pink Store has not only a restaurant but a mini-mall of Mexican goods – pottery, leather, weaving, silver, etc…All prices are fixed.  After walking around the rest of the town, we found nothing compared to the items the Pink Store carried.  None of us had any problems walking back across the border. 

Friends Ron and Donna paid us a surprise visit on their way to Quartzsite.  They’ll be joining us and friends Karen and Galen in Alaska later this summer.  Their visit was too short but we’re glad they took the time to stop by.

We will be at Desert Haven and in the Williamsburg area till the middle of March.  We’ll try to get pictures of some of our residents with our February update. 



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