Going underground at Carlsbad Caverns


With the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service this month, I’m pleased we were able to visit two National Parks on our recent road trip: Mesa Verde in Colorado and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We’d visited before with our eldest when he was little. This time we saw it with our youngest.

Bats live in the cave, and you can come at dusk to watch them emerge like a fluttering black cloud to begin their nightly hunt for flying insects. Bat flights are a common occurrence for us Austinites, however, and instead we spent several hours hiking through the cave.


I say hike because we entered, for our first time, through the natural cave entrance rather than taking the elevator down, and while not strenuous, it does involve a lot of walking down a slippery, steep trail in the semi-dark.


On the way down, I spotted this prickly pear clinging to a crevice in a rock wall. Life finds a way…


The cave mouth is huge, and you can’t help looking back at the shrinking blue sky as you descend.


Walking down the serpentine path toward the dark throat of the entrance feels like being swallowed up by Jonah’s whale.


You get some nice views of cave formations on the way down. But once you reach the main floor, 75 stories below the surface, you see the biggest and most fantastical ones, created by the slow drip drip of calcium-rich water over millennia.


Afterward, emerging into the sun-washed desert landscape, it’s amazing to think about the magical world hidden 1,000 feet below.

Up next: Skygazing at McDonald Observatory in the scenic Davis Mountains of West Texas. For a look back at mountain views and a steam train ride from Durango, Colorado, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Adobe walls, secret gardens, history & art in Santa Fe


Our western road trip earlier this month took us through Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and the oldest capital city in the country (dating to 1607). The compact historic district is a walkable several blocks of terracotta-colored adobe and adobe-style buildings, beautiful old churches, art galleries, restaurants, and tiny gardens half-hidden behind walls, like this frothy courtyard of Russian sage I spotted outside a realtor’s office.


Simply lovely


A trio of agaves in speckled white pots stood in place of a foundation hedge.


I got up early to explore one morning, when only the early walkers and runners were about.


After the shops opened, we strolled around town and window-shopped. A carved angel cloaked with real dollar bills caught my eye in one window. What does it mean?


My daughter and I did some actual shopping under the arcade of the Palace of the Governors, where Native American jewelry makers display necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. I bought a pair of inlay earrings, and my daughter chose a turquoise necklace.


Here’s Doris from Kewa Pueblo, who made the jewelry we bought.


Around the block is the colorful Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.


Across the street stands the rose-windowed Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, its Romanesque architecture contrasting with the adobe buildings around it.


On the church plaza, a bronze Kateri Tekakwitha, “a Catholic American Indian who became known as the Lily of the Mohawks,” sculpted by Estella Loretto, clasps faded offerings of corn and roses.


A closer look


Tall bronze doors depict scenes from the church’s long history.


Inside, arches and glowing light and stained glass


Next we explored the grande-dame La Fonda hotel. Every detail, down to a green-painted bench and Our Lady of Guadalupe mosaic in a hall niche, is lovely.


We’d spotted this from the street below: a rooftop patio garden, with long-necked sunflowers standing tall against stuccoed walls.


A tiered fountain in one corner has been converted into a flower planter.


After an enchilada lunch outdoors on the colorful patio of The Shed…


…we passed a bear holding his arms out for a hug, surrounded by a riot of wood-shaving flowers.


A pretty street garden outside Worrell Gallery stopped me in my tracks when I caught the sweet scent of these blazing yellow flowers.


I darted inside to ask the salesperson what they were, and she knew! But then I forgot. Anyone know the ID? Update: It’s Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), which is unfortunately invasive in parts of the U.S. Thanks for the ID, Allison and Barbara.


In the afternoon, my daughter and I explored dozens of art galleries on Canyon Road, and I discovered a new favorite artist: New Mexico sculptor (and one-time Austinite) Kevin Box, who makes stunning origami creations out of bronze and stainless steel. This one is a visual pun of the game rock-paper-scissors.


We admired several of his works, including these origami cranes, at Selby Fleetwood Gallery, where a shady garden out back made a perfect display space.


Kevin’s origami horses — marvelous!


When we were too tired to walk anymore, my husband picked us up, and we drove around the neighborhoods, admiring the organically shaped adobe or stucco walls that shelter many homes, like this one just off Canyon Road. That peek-a-boo stick screen in the door offers a glimpse of…what? A garden courtyard?


I kept saying, Stop!, and my obliging husband would pull over so I could snap a photo.


This one, my favorite, is classic Santa Fe with that rosy-tan stucco wall and turquoise door.


An extra window is nice too.


This one has a fortress-like doorway roofed with small boulders and spiny prickly pear!


I love this tiny house, with its turquoise door, warm stucco walls, and cloak of what looks like Virginia creeper.


It must be electric when it turns red in the fall.


After the grandeur of the St. Francis Cathedral earlier in the day, we stopped that evening by humble San Miguel Chapel. Said to be the oldest church in America, the adobe-walled mission was built in the early 1600s. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the interior, as it had closed for the day.


A visit to Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which includes 140 of her oil paintings and hundreds of watercolors and drawings. Standing before her monumental flowers, like Bella Donna (aka datura), a nature lover can’t help feeling moved.


Ghost Ranch Landscape, a scene we’d go looking for the next day.


Although our Santa Fe visit was brief, it was filled with beautiful moments.


Chile ristra

I’ll carry it around in my head and my heart, as I do every visit, for a long time to come.

For a look back at my visit to Santa Fe Botanical Garden, click here. Up next: looking for Georgia O’Keefe at Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

High desert in bloom at Santa Fe Botanical Garden


Two weeks ago today we drove west on a spontaneously planned, cutting-it-close-with-the-first-day-of-school, two-week road trip through West Texas, northern New Mexico, and western Colorado. One of our early stops was Santa Fe, New Mexico, a beautiful old city we once regularly visited but hadn’t seen in 16 years. One of its newest attractions, opened in 2013, is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Sited close to town on Museum Hill, the garden — still in its infancy, with only Phase 1 open at this time — makes for a pleasant hour-long meander under china-blue desert skies, with the rugged folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains visible in the distance.


Although the terrain is high desert (Santa Fe’s elevation is 7,199 feet), the sun-washed garden appears surprisingly lush with roses, lavender, switchgrass, agastache, and mullein.


Sparingly used as accents, cacti like eye-catching ‘Snow Leopard’ cholla (Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’) stand out beautifully, especially against the wine-colored blossoms of Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and reddish-pink sandstone walls.


I love that peachy-pink color echo!


Low walls create small garden rooms furnished with benches.


My daughter tries one out next to a stunning Mojave sage.


Any chance this can tolerate the Gulf of Mexico humidity and drenching rains of Austin? I wish! (See High Country Gardens for its listing, which suggests annual rainfall of 10-20 inches.)


Sometimes you have to get low to get a shot of a cool plant.


Here’s her quarry: a little prickly pear with valentine-like pads.


Warm-hued paths of decomposed granite edged with sandstone lead in straight lines through the main garden. Stone blocks add extra seating and natural accents.


Mullein and switchgrass


Agastache


Straight-line gravel and flagstone paths divide the main garden into a grid, with an orchard of fruit trees and an eco-lawn of native turf grasses anchoring the center.


Peach tree


In long borders on each side, shrub roses and lavender add color and fragrance.


Bees were working the lavender.


Roses and lavender, a treat for the nose


Another view of the orchard and lawn


Geranium ‘Rozanne’…


…and hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) seem right at home here too.


Bluestem ephedra (Ephedra equisetina) caught my eye with its slender, upright, blue stems that are reminiscent of horsetail. Although dry loving, it’s clearly a spreader.


Several contemporary sculptures were on temporary display during our visit, including this one by Bill Barrett.


A wider view, with boulder-like sculptures by Candyce Garrett, part of the garden’s permanent collection


‘Radiant’ crabapple (Malus × ‘Radiant’), laden with rosy fruit against green and gold leaves (turning already?)


One more


We just missed by a couple of months the opening of Phase 2 of the garden, Ojos y Manos: Eyes and Hands, “a place to explore ethnobotany – the shared history of humans and plants in northern New Mexico – through hands-on experiences and observation.” Just across the red bridge — the 100-year-old Kearny’s Gap Bridge, relocated from Las Vegas, NM — workers were busily moving soil and stone and preparing planting beds for the projected October opening.


Back at the entrance, we rested in the shade of a tall-backed stucco banco, next to a trickling wall fountain.


Across the patio, a stylized ramada of rusty steel poles and bundled sticks crisscrosses over benches, offering little shade but creating interesting shadows.

Landscape architect W. Gary Smith, who designed the family garden at Austin’s own Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, designed Santa Fe Botanical Garden “to demonstrate environmentally sustainable gardening.” I’m sure it must already be inspiring locals to plant many of the beautiful plants on display here. I look forward to visiting SFBG again one day to see how it has matured.

Up next: Sightseeing in Santa Fe.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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