Tucumcari, New Mexico – The Blue Swallow Motel

Posted in On Tthe Road on August 13th, 2012 by MadDog
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I managed to skip posting for the entire month of July. Some may have fretted over my passing, but I’ve simply been in too fine a mood to complain about anything. July found Gracie and I to be wandering Gypsies. A work trip to Dallas was followed in a week by Waterloo, Illinois to visit kids and to report to supporters about my new work as a Media Arts Specialist for Pioneer Bible Translators.

Both voyages were long road trips. We bought a couple of books from Audible.com to ease the road tedium. Conversations take you only so far. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was an excellent listen. I read it many years ago. We followed that with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks. This audo book required a bit more attention, so I had to concentrate on my driving. Grace got a great deal from it, since it was right up her alley.

I couldn’t talk about our road trips to Dallas without mentioning Tucumcari, New Mexico and especially the Blue Swallow Motel. Tucumcari, whose residents number only about five thousand, is what I would call a “wide spot in the road.” Its existence seems mostly attributed to attention to the convenience of travelers. There probably would not be a Tucumcari were it not for the railroad. Here is how Tucumcari came to be, according to Wikipedia:

In 1901, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built a construction camp in the western portion of modern-day Quay County. Owing to numerous gunfights, the camp became known as Six Shooter Siding. After it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community.

Yes, the railroad was the famous Rock Island Line of folk music fame. While I’m on the subject, have a listen to a recording of the song by a group from the Italian rockabilly scene, Wheels Fargo and the Nightengale.

But, I digress. Getting back to Tucumcari, a long road trip and where to lay your head, brings up the subject of The Blue Swallow Motel. This goes on my list of amusing funky places to sleep. Built in 1939 when the idea of “motor hotel” meant that you had to have your own personal garage for the family buggy (more later), it has probably fallen on hard times more than once, but has recently been revived but not unduly modified by nice owners Nancy and Kevin to maintain the flavor of the place without excessively destroying the patina of ageless Route 66 cool.

I can’t imagine any better way to express my tribute to The Blue Swallow Motel than this shot, of which I’m rather proud, of the grand automobile entryway done in the style of the Photorealists. Yeah, I know it’s not a painting. I’m not that talented. I’m just a copycat.

If you are ever in Tucumcari and seeking culture you should consider The Blue Swallow. Frankly, it’s not a place you might want to stay for a week if you are accompanied by a lady who takes her beauty shop science seriously. Gracie was certainly amused by the ambiance, but complained that the bathroom had little in the way of “chick space.” This is not your star spangled Hilton. It is, however, immaculately clean and charmingly adorned with furnishings of the period. What it lacks in accoutrements is more than made up for by American Road Trip style.

As are many structures in Tucumcari, The Blue Swallow’s flat spaces are splashed with folksy Americana.

Everywhere you look are scenes familiar to anyone over the age of sixty. The place appeals to the jaded road warrior.

If your car is not much bigger than that of a pre-war chariot you can make use of your personal carriage house, the walls of which are illustrated with more adorable American kitsch.

If you are ever in Tucumcari, at least have a look at the Blue Swallow Motel. I imagine that there is nothing else like it left.

Well, except for the Petrified Wood Station in Decatur, Texas. It dates from the same general era, having received its raggedy coat of rather poor quality petrified wood in 1935. It doesn’t sell gas any more. The owner uses it as his private office.

On our way to Phoenix while the Gladiator Fire was at its peak I got this shot.

We were a long way from the Highway, so I needed all 300mm of lens. The air was very smoky. I had to massage the shot severely with some nice oily Photoshop.

I love wind machines. Parts of the Southwest are littered with them. We see hundreds on our trips from Sedona to Dallas. You can tell when you’re getting close to a big wind farm because the trees are permanently bent in one direction – the prevailing wind. In this shot, the wind was blowing strongly. It amused me that these two wind turbines were turning in nearly exact synchronization.

And now a picture of a squirrel, for no reason whatsoever.

We have one exactly like this living in our big walnut tree beside the garage. I haven’t managed to get a shot of her yet, so this will have to do. This squirrel lives at Montezuma’s Castle, which I hope to cover in a future post. Our squirrel is madly collecting walnuts and burying them in the most unlikely locations.

Also, just because I can, I’ll show you Datura or Angel’s Trumpet, a psychotropic plant that will put you into medical care if you try to get high by eating it. It’s a member of the family Solanaceae, many species of which are toxic and some of which are tasty, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant.

I suppose it is called the Angel’s Trumpet because that is what you may hear if you eat it.

While we’re at it we may as well see a House Finch (a few of which I hear tweeting now through the open patio door) sitting on a still folded blossom of a Saguaro cactus.

The House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is by far the most common bird around our feeder. What they lack in spectacular colors they make up for in numbers.

Finally, a bee feeding frenzy. When the Prickly Pear cacti are blooming the bees get busy.

I count three inside the blossom and one waiting impatiently to dive in.

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The Back Yard Birds

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 9th, 2011 by MadDog
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Whoa, it’s been a while since I posted anything. I’m getting lazy, I guess. I’m in Phoenix at the home of Grace’s son and his family. It is hotter than the hubs of Hades here today. Last week the temperature in the Phoenix area topped out at 118°F (48°C). If you’ve never experienced heat such as that, please let me inform you that if you do, you will wish you had not.

The only time I have ever been fricaseed by temperature as hot a that was on a motorcycle ride from Crouch, Idaho (who thought of that name?) to Eagle, near Boise. I was riding behind a friend on her big Honda Shadow. The expression “Billy blue blazes” kept running through my mind. My friend was still wearing her leathers. I was in a tank top and I was dying. It was not unlike riding into the mouth of a blast furnace. I remember looking up in the gullies on the nearby sides of the beautiful mountains and seeing snow. It occurred to me that it might be pleasant to crash into it. I distinctly remember seeing 114°F on a thermometer sign in front of a bank. She claims she saw one reading 118. I don’t dispute that. I was delirious, anyway.

It feels peculiar to be in a place which makes Madang seem frigid by comparison. It’s simply impossible to stay outside for long. We went today to look at new cars, a pleasure I have not enjoyed for decades. What caught my eye was a Nissan Juke, a cute little crossover between a hatchback and a SUV. It’s small and it gets very good mileage. It comes in a all-wheel-drive version which gives it good rough road capacity. It would be very cool to have one in Madang. Dream on, MadDog. I could stand to be out in that car lot for only about ten minutes before I began to think that I might possibly succumb to the heat. Keep in mind that I really wanted to fiddle with that car for a while. It was simply too hot.

I see that I have yet to get to the subject of today’s nonsense. Fortunately, at least in Sedona, nearly a mile high in the desert, it cools off dramatically at night. In fact, it sometimes gets downright cold. It would not be unusual for the daytime and nighttime temperatures to differ by more than 60°F (16°C).

Hmmm . . . I’m still digressing.

A few days ago, in the cool of the morning, I decided to drag out my ancient Olympus SP-590UZ ultra-zoom camera for a little bird watching in Grace’s back yard. There are many species of dove here in Arizona. Some of them are very pretty. This is a White Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica):

This shot was taken at about twenty feet (6 meters) on full zoom. The Olympus has a “bird watcher’s” setting in the Scenes mode which sets the camera up perfectly for snapping our feathered friends. The only down side is the slight softness of focus at the extreme zoom. I hope that later generations of super-zoom cameras have fixed this. Really though, it’s too much to expect super sharp focus from long zoom lenses on camera which cost less than $500. These are equivalents of 35mm lenses of 400mm or more. Those lenses can cost thousands of dollars. You get what you pay for.

For fun to watch, you can’t beat the homely little House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus):

They are very fussy and spend most of their time chasing each other away from the food. Grace is very generous with her flighty little neighbors. She feeds them every day. I am amazed by how much food the birds in her back yard consume each day. I would estimate at least a couple of pounds of wild bird seed. Fortunately, large twenty pound bags of this feed can be bought at Ace Hardware for as little as five dollars.

Here is a close-up of two of the little House Finches:

They are not very flashy. They look a bit like a common sparrow, but the big, sturdy finch beak, made for cracking seeds, is a give-away.

I had a bit of trouble identifying this Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):

I finally found it on the Cornel Laborotory of Ornithology site. This is a very good place to go if you want to identify North American birds.

I have heard several people say that the Mountain Bluebird is a feisty critter. I think this image demonstrates that pugnacious nature:

I have no idea how I insulted this bird. I did not speak a word or make any rude gestures.

Sometimes bird photography does not go as planned:

I was too slow.

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