Friday, August 7, 2015

And More Adventures....

We came to The NRA Whittington Center this year for John to participate in Practical Pistol I.  This is a two-day defensive sidearm course that John has wanted to take ever since he learned about it.

We discovered this facility three years ago when we spent a couple of days here.  The Center was founded in 1973, and is one of the nation’s premier shooting, hunting and firearms training facilities.  Located on 33,300 acres, the Center has seventeen gun ranges for shooting everything from pistols to shotguns to rifles and black-powder weapons.  When we arrived, the campground was teeming with youngsters.  They were participating in the International Youth Hunter Education Challenge taking place on several of the Center’s gun ranges.  This young lady and her family were camped across from us.  She was out walking Henry, their great dane, and stopped to visit. 

John earned his Practical Pistol I certification, then took a break from shooting for a day.  We loaded up the dogs and headed down one of the Center’s back roads to the site of an abandoned coal mine.  Established in 1901 and 1902 there were eventually six Van Houten mines.  Their history is described on this marker.

There were several settlements associated with the mine, but we were told that most of the buildings were demolished when the mine shut down.  There are signs for several, including “Coon Town,” “Greek Town,”   and “Cunico Town.” (Cunico is a region in Italy, so I suppose it was inhabited by Italian mine workers.)  

The structure above was near a sign that identified it as “Soup Bone.”  We couldn’t find anything that explained its purpose.

However, this building was identified as the Doctor’s Office.  A bit farther down the road were the ruins of several buildings, but we weren’t sure of their purpose.

The little canyon ran past the gated entrance of one of the mine shafts.

Of course, Kota slipped between the bars of the gate intending to explore the shaft.  Then she had trouble finding an opening large enough to exit.  After trying several, she finally found one opening that was larger than the others and squeezed out.

But the most exiting part of the mine trip occurred just before we reached the gated shaft.  I was walking along, enjoying the view and trying to keep the dogs in view when I almost stepped right on this three-foot rattlesnake.  My foot was literally in the air above the snake when I saw it and jumped back.  In researching the varieties of rattlesnake that are resident in northern New Mexico, I think this one is called a prairie rattlesnake.

He/she was stretched out in the sun, warming up after the night’s 57-degree temperatures.  The dogs and John walked right by on the other side of the road and never even saw the snake.  It was very still and not at all afraid.   And, stretched out on the sandy road, it was perfectly camouflaged!  I grabbed my camera (which fortunately has a zoom lens) and started photographing.  

The only movement was its shiny, black tongue flicking in and out.  The eleven rattles and a button identified it as a snake that has survived for some time.

We watched it for a time, making sure the dogs (still clueless) didn’t get too close.  After a bit, it very slowly made its slithery way off the road and into the weeds.  We were very glad none of them, or us, stepped on it and was bitten!  

I will say that, in addition to having received rattlesnake inoculations to protect them if bitten, each our dogs has gone through “rattlesnake avoidance” training.  We were told at the time by Harlan Winters, who administers the training, that the dog must see the snake move or hear it rattle to detect it.  He said that the snakes have very little scent, and that dogs rarely detect a snake by its smell.  This one was very still, and it never rattled, so they were blissfully unaware of its presence.

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