To Albuquerque and Back Again, Part 1: Acoma Pueblo

No matter what the calendar may say, spring always arrives in Las Vegas in February, bringing with it two contradictory impulses:  plant the home garden and see the world beyond the city.  I indulged in both activities, leaving this poor blog to fend for itself, but now there’s time, dear readers, to catch you up with my stories before I take off again at the end of March for a trip to the East Coast.

February’s travels took me to Albuquerque, and I took this opportunity to explore Native American culture and history. One highlight of this trip was my afternoon at Acoma Pueblo, and it turns out that the Sky City Casino along Interstate 40 is NOT the most interesting attraction of this locale. Taking the highway exit designated for the Haak’u Museum, I found the Sky City Cultural Center, debarkation point for the guided tours of the historical Sky City atop a nearby mesa.


Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico – Images by Jennifer Nelson

My traveling companions and I joined a tour group of about 25 people, and we were taken to Sky City in a small bus.  As we walked along narrow, rutted and rocky dirt streets, our guide explained the origins, history, and culture of the Acoma people.  Sky City contains a large number of multi-story stone and adobe houses, as well as a centuries-old Catholic mission church and its cemetery, both still in use.  Photographs were permitted of anything not associated with the church’s interior or the cemetery entire:  the Acoma people maintain a firm commitment to their culture’s sacred teachings and traditions, which include preserving the sanctity of ritual spaces.

Even though the church and the cemetery were off limits, I found many interesting subjects to photograph.  Today’s posting shares the highlights of my visit and, hopefully, helps you imagine Acoma daily life at Sky City.  For instance, when you notice all the stone blocks used to build the houses, consider the weight of each one and the fact that all had to be transported to the mesa top from a quarry site in the valley below.  The tall logs comprising the ladders people still use to get into their houses also had to be brought to the mesa top from the pine forests of Kaweshtima (what we call Mt. Taylor), many miles away.  What I could not photograph at Sky City were wells or aqueducts that supplied the community with water: they don’t exist!  Although wooden drains in the church walls suggest that rain water could have been harvested, the people’s daily water needs could only be supplied by the laborious carrying of water up the cliffs from springs in the valley below.  Despite these difficulties, Acoma people accepted (and still cherish) their mesa-top home and its way of life as gifts of the Creator.

When I look at all the problems of the modern world–from global warming to community violence and government dysfunction, to name only three–I begin to wonder whether we could learn some life-saving lessons from the Acoma people.  You can explore Acoma Pueblo for yourself, now offering daily tours from March through November 2013. If you’re interested in purchasing Acoma pottery direct from the artists, touring the Pueblo is a great way to accomplish this goal.

Praying Mantis eggs: Really?

One good thing about the recent deep freeze in Las Vegas is that the cold temperatures slowed the development of buds on my backyard apricot tree and gave me time for much-needed pruning.  The day after the cold snap broke its grip, I got busy with my loppers and shears.  Pruning helps me get reacquainted with the tree.  I not only assess its overall condition and shape but also study each branch’s health and sturdiness.  This year, my intimate examinations were rewarded with this unusual discovery.

Why would praying mantises in Las Vegas make egg cases so different in appearance from egg cases made by mantises elsewhere?

Unfortunately, this egg case was deposited on a branch that required pruning from the tree: sticking straight up from its parent branch, it had crossed and was rubbing against another, better placed branch. I was about to add the severed branch to the waste pile when I reconsidered discarding the egg case. I wasn’t thinking “praying mantis,” but I didn’t want to destroy the next generation of some other beneficial insect.  After all, the point of buying beneficial bugs and setting them free in the yard is so that their population will become self-sustaining.  I needed to discover more information about this strange, yellowish attachment.

Fortunately, I found the Xtremehorticulture of the Desert blog and its feature article, “Praying Mantis Eggcase Confuses Reader.”  No, not me: count me happy, though, that I am not alone in failing to recognize local mantis eggcases.  The “Reader’s” photo (posted at the blog) and comment about finding the eggcase on a different variety of apricot tree reassured me about my own mantis find.

As a result, the offending branch has been woven back into the apricot tree’s canopy.  Hopefully, the mantid nymphs will hatch on schedule and find my yard a happy home.  I’m happy that gardening provides so many opportunities to learn something new about the world around us.

Would I rather be in Corkscrew Swamp?

This weekend, with daytime temperatures in Las Vegas hovering in the 40’s (F) and nightly temperatures falling into the 20’s, my answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!”  Alas, I am not flying to sunny southwest Florida any time soon, so reminiscing about my January 2010 trip to Naples and the Audubon Society’s sanctuary there will have to help me imagine I am keeping warm. Good thing I took a few photos.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Images by Jennifer Nelson

If you can’t visit Corkscrew Swamp in person just now, why not enjoy the vicarious experience of finding your way to the solution of this online jigsaw puzzle featuring a tricky image of ferns, trees, and sky reflected in still water? Your computer needs Adobe Flash player, and you need patience and persistence for this 250-piece labyrinth!

» More free online jigsaw puzzles at TheJigsawPuzzles.com

Come Dine with Me?

Working on my primary New Year’s resolution—(re)organize my photo archives—I (re)discovered this image of a Mexican primrose and the goldenrod crab spider using one of its petals as a dining table.

Goldenrod Crab Spider / Misumena vatia – Images by Jennifer Nelson
Taking this photo, I was experimenting with using the low-voltage landscape lighting in my front yard to backlight the flower for a stained-glass effect. Finding the spider and the fly about to re-enact the drama of Mary Howitt’s classic poem was only a happy coincidence. Finding this photo again gives me an idea for another resolution: spend more time with the camera in my garden at night. What new fascinating wildlife encounters might I discover?

Lions and lions and lions, oh, my!

This weekend I discovered lions in Las Vegas!  Lion Habitat Ranch, 14 miles south of town, is open to the public and, for a limited time, is selling “up close and personal” encounters with the seven newest additions to their lion exhibit.  Born in two litters at the end of November, the one female and six male cubs are being hand raised due their first-time mothers’ inability to care for them. They are adorable, but don’t take my word for their cuteness: see for yourself in the slideshow below.

Lions at Lion Habitat Ranch – Images by Jennifer Nelson

The ranch’s adult lions are impressive, too, but it’s truly amazing to see that cuddly cubs of about 18 pounds at six weeks’ age will eventually become big cats of 400 to 500 pounds or more.   I also learned today that these big cats have big appetites: the ranch spends about $20 thousand each month on food.  I used to imagine, ever since seeing the movie Born Free as a child, that I would like to live with lions.  In reality, I am happy to live with their smaller domestic cousins and not only because their monthly food costs are not nearly so high.  How nice to know, though, that I can satisfy any longing to cozy up to a big cat with a quick trip down the highway to Lion Habitat Ranch!

For those of you who enjoyed assembling my December online jigsaw puzzle, here’s another to help you feel closer to lions, too: only 100 pieces this time. If you need Adobe Flash to run the puzzle, click here for the free download.

» More free online jigsaw puzzles at TheJigsawPuzzles.com

Enjoy!

"Show and Tell" from Changing Woman Photography