Monument Valley

May 7 – 10

You know when you’ve arrived.  John Wayne, Thelma & Louise, and Forrest Gump all had a hand in immortalizing this place in film.  We had a perfect view right outside our front window.

On The Way

Our route was a little odd to get to Monument Valley, Utah and I take full credit for that.  It was on purpose since I wanted to see the rock formation towering above Shiprock, New Mexico.  So, we go south back into New Mexico to a lunch stop in Farmington, and then mush on to Shiprock.  To the Navajo, it’s known as “rock with wings” and some think it looks like a large sailing ship.

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I’m not sure I saw either shape, but it’s impressive at 7,178 feet surrounded by flat terrain.  I was a fan of Tony Hillerman murder mystery novels years ago that feature a Navajo policeman, Shiprock, and the surrounding Navajo reservation.  Always interesting to see things you’ve only read about and pictured in your mind.  I may just have to re-read a few of those books.

From Shiprock, we continued into Arizona for a brief drive, then turned back north entering Utah and vast Monument Valley.

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I started talking about seeing the Sydney Harbor Opera House and Pat informs me that’s really the monkey lips.  Can you see the eye?  And yes, I concede, monkey lips.  We had more fun with this than Shiprock.

The Campground

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I couldn’t believe our good fortune.  Such a view right out the front window.  We saw it morning, noon and night and it never got old.  I wasn’t sure we really needed to go anywhere else to experience Monument Valley.

The desert sunsets shined a light on the cliffs like a spotlight for a minute only, and then the soft colors settled in.

So we’re sitting out on our first evening marveling at the rocks around us and up walks Chris and her dog Wash, our new friends we met in Santa Fe.  When Chris left there, she was headed to California, so I never dreamed we’d see her again so soon.  Jackson and Wash had their little reunion and we caught up on the goings on in our travel lives for the past three weeks.  Turns out she’s headed to Moab next and so are we.  We’ll reconnect again there.

We also met a really cool couple from Germany, Klaus & Ava, parked right across from us.  Get this.  They shipped their little motorhome to South America and have been headed north ever since.  They regaled us with tales of their drive through Peru, Chile, Guatamala, Costa Rica and other exotic locales.  They entered the US from Nogales, Mexico and are on their meandering way eventually to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they’ll catch a boat back to Germany.  What an awesome adventure!

Finally we get to try authentic Navajo Tacos at the restaurant on site.  Pat got the large one which was absolutely big as a dinner plate.  That Navajo fry bread was so good that I had it with beef and gravy on the next visit.  Every culture seems to have some round bread thing – crepe, lefse, naan, pita, tortilla.  Pretty sure I like them all.

Mexican Hat & Gooseneck

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There’s a little town north of our campground called Mexican Hat, named for the prominent rock formation nearby.  Again, you know it when you see it.

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Pat’s a very good sport.  He put on the hat for me.  But just look at that face…

We wouldn’t have made a special trip to see this but it was on the way to Gooseneck State Park.  A unique place we’d read about and had to see.

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It’s described by the state park service as “the great meandering canyon carved by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below the overlook”.  Pat’s much happier in this spot and it was pretty amazing with the river folding back and forth through the rock, just like a goose neck.

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There were rafters way down below on the San Juan River.

The park also says this is “one of the most impressive examples of an entrenched river meander on the North American continent”.  The San Juan River “twists and turns through the meander, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west”.  That sounds exactly like the way we travel.  We’re a pretty good example of an entrenched motorhome meander.  One of the finest in North America.

While we were admiring the view we talked to another visitor who told us about the Mokie Dugway drive up to a point where you can supposedly get a bird’s-eye view of Goosenecks.  He was in a truck camper and not sure he could make the hairpin turns and blind corners on the six mile gravel drive.  Sounded like our kind of challenge.

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The road was as promised, but the view up top wasn’t exactly what we expected.

You can’t really see Goosenecks from up there, but we did see the distant formations and canyon.  The top was covered with light, mostly barren rock and Pat’s a tiny dot in the middle of it all.  And a raven was good enough to pose for me.  I finally finished that raven book I bought in Denali and now I’m fascinated with those birds all over again.  So smart.

The Forrest Gump Shot

If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump (and really who hasn’t?!), then you must remember his running segment that made the road to Monument Valley famous, and also aggravating.

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Aggravating because all these yahoos are standing, running, jumping and posing for pictures right in the middle of the highway.  And they wait until the very last minute to get out of the way.

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If you go down the road just a tad, you can pull off at a nice safe turnout and take a picture of the famous stretch without risking life and limb, and minus the random strangers cluttering up your shot.  Although I must admit, I’d have posed for one of those running photos if there hadn’t been so much traffic.

Touring The Monuments

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Here we are at the first stop on our tour through Monument Valley.  We’re actually in Arizona for most of this journey.  The majority of the valley is located on Navajo land, so you can’t make the drive without paying an entry fee and the route is limited.  We took an extended tour to get some behind-the-scenes views.  Sadly no hiking is allowed either, so the drive is it for seeing this location.

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These formations are called the mittens and you can see other tour trucks headed out on the dirt road.  By the time you are done, you’ve got a nice film of red dust everywhere.

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You can pay $5 to sit on this horse for pictures, but I preferred taking pictures of everyone else.  Looks just like the westerns filmed here.

 

There was more to see than just big monuments.  Red sand dunes sculpted by the wind, long-toed lizards and delicate white flowers in bloom.

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Drew, our tour guide, said these are likely wild horses.

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This particular hole in the rock was my favorite.  We were able to lay back on the curved wall at the base and feel the cool stone on our backs and look out the top at the sky above.

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Anasazi Indians lived here 1500 years ago and carved these petroglyphs in the rocks.  We kept waiting for more history on the Navajo who inhabit this land, but they weren’t very forthcoming.  In fact, most of what we heard was from the perspective of the “White Man”.  We did stop at a hogan along the way and a Native American demonstrated spinning and weaving, but no details on much else.  They appeared to have a very close-knit society, retaining their traditions and language, but not particularly interested in showcasing anything to outsiders.  I can respect that.

A few more favorites shots from the tour.

Next up – Moab and more red rocks.  See you on the way!

 

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Durango

April 29 – May 6

Ahhhh, Colorado.  Back to the land of abundant trees and green grass.  Pat picked this spot.  Our last trip here was 16 years ago on a summer vacation with Ethan.  Needless to say, a very different trip, but happy to report that we still love Durango.

On The Way

It’s been a while since we’ve played “what’s that noise?!” on the road.  Honestly we thought we’d ferreted out every odd noise there could possibly be in Alaska.  During this drive we had a weird rattling somewhere in front of Pat’s feet behind the dash.  And then there’s Lucy’s transmission.  She complained mightily getting back into real mountain driving.  I admit that worried me, but she took us right where we wanted to go with no issues.

The good part of that drive was the impromptu stop for lunch in Pagosa Springs, CO.  They had parking on the roadside even big enough for Lucy & Bitsy.  We had a lovely lunch on the patio of a sandwich shop, and the owner insisted on bringing a menu out to Jackson and me.  Jackson was served a bowl of water and we were greeted by a bunch of people.  Very friendly place.  They have a river walk and we took a stroll before continuing our drive.  Pagosa Springs in now on our list of places to return to and stay awhile.

Durango Walkabouts

We were looking forward to retracing some of the steps we took with Ethan back in 2002, but finding new things, too.  Probably our favorite was the Animas River walk in downtown Durango.  A paved trail for miles with bridges to cross back and forth and no bad things to irritate the paws.

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This was our daily morning routine.  Jackson got a cool drink and we people watched.  We identified two kinds of “hikers” here.  There’s the REI outfitted bunch with hiking poles, fancy boots and designer outdoor clothing.  Then there’s the free spirited bunch that could be homeless or just Bohemian – so very hard to tell.

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We did mix it up one day and ventured to the edge of town to hike the Animas Mountain Trail.  This one climbs up and overlooks the town of Durango.  The big overlook was out of reach for Jackson, so I had to settle for this view.  When the tongue is approaching the ground and he sounds like a freight train, we know it’s time to turn around.

Honeyville

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Honeyville is still in the same spot as our 2002 visit, but it’s expanded to include more shopping space and a beehive distillery.  We ended up making the trek here twice after we bought cinnamon honey spread the first time.  On fresh baked croissants, that stuff is to die for.  Pat looks at me and says “What are we going to do when this runs out?”.  That can’t happen, so back we go to buy a bunch more.

That second visit found us doing a tasting of their Colorado Honey Whiskey, Red Cliffs Spiced Honey Rum and Hex Vodka.  Of the four things we tasted, the Honey Whiskey was the best, but there’s a reason I don’t do hard liquor.  Each sip sent me into spasm as if I’m swallowing Nyquil.  Needless to say, we didn’t make an alcohol purchase since I wasn’t sick and didn’t have any open wounds to sterilize.  Just to clarify, we didn’t do any drinking when we were here with Ethan.  He just watched the active beehive and we bought regular honey.

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How idyllic is that view?

Alpacas

As is our custom, we went to the visitor’s center to arm ourselves with brochures.  I found one listing Pleasant Journey Alpaca farm.  I just can’t resist cute animals and we had the chance to tour a working farm.

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These are the ladies and the ones wearing blankets are heading to a show in Denver the following day.  We drove up and all these curious faces came to the fence to check us out.

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I thought this little cutie had the sweetest face of all.  A teddy bear wearing eye make-up.

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Pat had an admirer and Dahlia, one of the brown alpaca gals, nibbled on my ear and sniffed my neck.

This farm raises, breeds and boards alpacas.  They also have the fleece processed into luxurious yarn.  Alpacas come in 16 natural colors and are related to camels and llamas.  They love the climate here and the only thing they don’t care for is the high winds.

A few more shots – the group of babies, one of the “boys” with a hole in his ear from a recent fight, and finally super stud Neversummer’s Manchester.  Manchester is a top breeding male, but he also yields 12 pounds of fleece when they do the shearing.  Most alpacas only product 9 pounds of fleece at a time.  Yarn spun from his fleece was the softest of all.

Getting Our Theater Fix

The visitor’s center also turned us on to local live theater productions happening during our stay in Durango.  We do love plays and were thrilled to attend not one, but two great productions.  On Thursday night we went to Durango High School for the year-end production of Godspell.  Those kids were dynamite, and we were happy to support the high school troupe.  On Friday night we went to the local playhouse for the musical Man of la Mancha.  We’d seen this one before back in Florida and were looking forward to an encore.  Mom & Dad had the album soundtrack and I remember listening to it on the record player as a kid.

The Creek is Dry

Our stay in Durango was creekside in the Lightner Creek RV Park.  We paid extra for this spot so we could hear the babbling stream in our site.  Well, there’s a drought you know, so the creek was dry when we arrived.  Nothing but hot rocks in that creek bed.  We were bummed, but fortunately the weather changed everything.

We woke up one morning to snow!  It was that heavy wet snow and covered the car, picnic table, and dusted the trees up the hillside.  By mid-morning it was gone, but the creek finally had water flowing along for the rest of our stay.

This Place Is a Contender

Along the roadside are natural hot springs bubbling up from the ground.  We remember making this same stop to check them out with Ethan.  There’s also a hot spring spa where you can go from hot pool to cool pool.  Back and forth to your heart’s content.  We went there with Ethan and intended to go back for nostalgia’s sake, but decided not to.

Truthfully we blew the budget here with dining out and two theater nights.  I had my mother’s day dinner a week early at the Ore House where we enjoyed delicious steaks.  The guy at the next table ordered the 32 ounce hunk of meat and ate practically the whole thing.  We enjoyed our modest cuts with a stop at Cold Stone Creamery for dessert.  Pricey, but so worth it.

Durango has now made the list of possibilities for places where we might like to settle.  A contender if you will.  We hope to add a few more places to that list before this travel season is over.

Next up – iconic Monument Valley and back to the desert.  See you on the way!

Abiquiu

April 25 – 28

We made nine camping stops in New Mexico and this one was my hands-down favorite.  Probably being last had something to do with it along with the fact that we’d been in “cozy” town parks for the previous three weeks.  This was back to nature.  Mostly I think it was the peacefulness, the fact that we didn’t feel the need to “do” much, and Pedernal.

Abiquiu Lake

For our last taste of New Mexico, we tucked into a very nice Corp of Engineers campground on the bank of Abiquiu Lake.  COE parks are typically at reservoirs, and this was no exception.  The Rio Chama is the water source that’s dammed up to create the pretty setting.

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I snapped this picture with my cell phone during our first reconnaissance hike with Jackson, and it remains my favorite.  Prominently watching over the area is Cerro Pedernal, Spanish for “flint hill”, but locally known simply as Pedernal.  That hill spoke to me.

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The view the other direction.

We’re here because of Lonely Planet’s ‘Southwest USA’s Best Trips’ book.  This is stop #1 for Georgia O’Keeffe Country and her home.  I prefer more realistic paintings, but I do appreciate Georgia O’Keeffe’s distinct style.  You see one of her’s and you know it.  When Ethan was in first grade, he studied her work in art class and painted a flower still life much like hers.  Yes, first grade!  That was in Texas.  Then we moved to Florida for second grade where they had him doing macaroni art.

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Ms. O’Keeffe’s painting titled ‘Pedernal’ from 1945.

And my montage of the many faces of Pedernal.  If I could find that hill in the distance, I took a picture of it.  The Pedernal Society credits Georgia O’Keeffe with the following quote:

“It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me.
God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”

She painted Pedernal 28 times over the years.  Apparently I’m not the first person to be caught up in the spell of that mountain.

Ghost Ranch

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This is Pedernal taken from Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, stop #2 on the scenic drive.  It’s now a Presbyterian retreat center, but you can see some of the original buildings and hike to some pretty good views.  Also gives you an idea of the size of Abiquiu Lake with the little island in the middle.

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On the gravel road to Ghost Ranch with those striking red cliffs.

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Lots of movies were filmed here, including City Slickers.  This cabin is leftover from that movie, and yes, Pedernal is in the distance.

According to Ghost Ranch history, “Arthur Pack, one of the country’s first environmentalists, bought the Ranch and sold a little piece of it to Georgia O’Keeffe. Scientists took respite time here from the stresses of building the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos. Famous guests have included Charles Lindbergh, Ansel Adams and John Wayne.”

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Quite a beautiful place.  We took a short hike so I could take a picture of Chimney Rock.

Pat checking out the Chimney Rock view, a twisted tree we admired for its fortitude, and Carl.  He’s in charge of the outgoing mail.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

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This location is a detour on the scenic drive and involves a 13 mile ride down a dirt & gravel road.  Add another side trip to Bitsy’s list of ‘where the pavement ends’.

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The drive did not disappoint.  Those cliffs look life ice cream layers to me.  Orange sherbet anyone?

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Most of the drive follows the Chama River, is narrow and cliffside.  Stopped here for a photo op and met a fellow Floridian.

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Our destination.

This Benedictine Abbey has a stunning backdrop.  You can make your own retreat here and stay on the grounds if you like.  I’d love to do that.  We settled for browsing in the gift shop, seeing the Brothers in their full robes, and stopping for a quick prayer in the church.

Echo Amphitheater

We’re on a roll and decide to head up the road just a little bit farther after the monastery stop to see Echo Amphitheater.  We ended up visiting this place three times!  Yep, it was that cool.

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It’s hard to capture the size of this thing, a natural amphitheater carved in the cliffside by water eroding the sandstone.

Pat poses for me for scale, and hollers into the opening.  Mr. Lizard sat still for me, too.  We had the place to ourselves during this visit and yelled things just to hear them echoing back at us.  Single words worked best and it was amazing to hear those words clearly repeated back overhead.

On the second visit, we took Jackson along.  He’s so confused hearing our voices coming from the rock, and not sure what to make of it.  During this visit, we shared the place with a Boy Scout troupe.  So much fun hearing the voices of children enjoying the echo, too.

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Perfect trail for puppy and us.  Easy on the paws.

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Finally on bug-out day, we go back a final time to use the parking lot to hook up Bitsy.  It was a flat spot and better than anything in the campground.  Driving along behind gave me the unique opportunity to take pictures of Lucy lumbering down the road.  Now that’s the scale I was looking for.

Hasta Luego New Mexico

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On departure day, we’re all connected up at Echo Amphitheater and ready to rumble.  One last parting shot of my beloved Pedernal and those ice cream cliffs.

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I loved this view of Lucy headed out, and Pat’s pleased to see he’s centered in his lane.  Normally I’m really happy on leaving day, since we’re looking forward to a new location.  This time, I’m a bit sad.  Abiquiu was good for the soul and I’d come back here to do it all over again.

Next up – Durango, Colorado and a definite change of scenery.  See you on the way!

 

Taos

April 21 – 24

Taos is a free-spirited kind of town.  Lots of artsy folks, some good restaurants, and surrounded by stunning views.  We drove through years ago, but finally we have the chance to explore the area.

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We took the low road to Taos and Lisa & Al took the high road in their rental car.  Their route was supposed to be more scenic, but less RV friendly.  Turns out our route was more scenic and more direct.  Oh well.  Here’s the view as we neared Taos.

The Town

Lisa found some good restaurants for us here and we started out with a grand Mexican lunch upon arrival.  Pat had a delicious chicken quesadilla and was pleasantly surprised to find that he could actually eat it.  Not spicy at all!  We also had a pretty good bar-b-q meal for dinner on another day with yummy ribs.

The old downtown area had art galleries and shops for tourists.  We did some strolling so Lisa & Al could finish their souvenir shopping.  I found a necklace and earrings with the New Mexico state symbol that I really liked.  Not quite in budget, so I had to pass.  The shopkeeper was a wealth of knowledge, however, and gave me a handout that explained the Zia Sun symbol.

Of course we had the most fun with one of the street musicians.  This gal strummed her guitar and sang, while her young son blocked the way of passersby demanding the password.  When we went by the first time, he pointed to the yellow flowers beside the path and asked me what they were.  “Dandelions”, I answered.  “That’s the password”, he says.  On the way back to our car, mom was still strumming and little man blocked our path and that of a family of four, asking for the password.  “Dandelion”, I said again.  “You can go”, he tells us, and continues to block the other family.  Funny kid.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

We saw lots of great stuff in this area, but this was my favorite outing.  I love bridges and this one is pretty spectacular.  In fact, it won “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge – Long Span” in 1966, presented by the American Institute of Steel Construction, Inc.  Who knew?

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Can’t beat this place.  Rio Grande gorge, most beautiful steel span, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.

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Lisa & Al, the Bridge, and that Zia Sun. The four rays left signify the day – Dawn, Daylight, Dusk, Dark.  The four rays up are the seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.  The four rays right are for life – Infancy, Youth, Adulthood, Old Age.  And finally, the four rays down are for direction – North, East, South, West.  I always liked the New Mexico license plates and now I do even more knowing the significance.

On the day of our visit, their were artisans with their wares set up on tables by the gorge picnic area.  We came armed with sub sandwiches, more pop-in-your-mouth potato chips courtesy of Lisa, and cold drinks.  A great place to sit and soak in the scenery.  And we managed to buy a few souvenirs, too.

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At the edge of the gorge.  Photo credit goes to Lisa.  We’re happy to have quite a few pictures of the two of us at this stop without resorting to handing our camera to random strangers.

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A trail led off from the picnic area running along the edge of the gorge.  One of the vendors told us that the bighorn sheep were out and about, so we went to investigate.

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We went all the way to Alaska and never saw one this close up.  An unexpected bonus for the day.

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One more with a better river view.  There are teeny tiny kayakers going through the rapids below.

Wild Rivers

The gorge bridge wasn’t the main event this day.  Our final destination was Wild Rivers Recreation Area residing within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  (National monument courtesy of President Obama in 2013).  We were all looking for a good hike and to see the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red River.  The La Junta point overlook was touted as “one of the most dramatic views in the state” according to the Bureau of Land Management.  With a description like, we just couldn’t resist.

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The steep La Junta trail complete with ladders, yes, ladders, to descend to the rivers below.  We got past the first ladder on our 800 foot descent and decided we’d rather find something a little less punishing.  So back up we went.

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The ‘Little Arsenic’ trail seems more like it and the “moderate” one I had originally chosen.  Me and my cousin Al.  Lisa and I always joked that we were like sisters, but there was no actual family relationship anywhere in our past.  That is, until she married Al.  We figured out the surprising connection years ago talking about a place in Tallahassee that I used to visit with my parents.  “You mean Mary Maud’s place”, Al says to me?  Why yes.  Seems he is related to my Aunt Maudie and we’ve referred to each other as “cuz” ever since.

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You know those picture within a picture scenes that have no end?  Well here’s my photo of Al taking a photo of Lisa taking a photo of Pat.  I’m already lagging behind on this hike.

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Stopping for a water break when we finally reach the bottom on the gorge.  I wish I had some of this cold water on the way back up the steep switchbacks.  This particular trail kicked my butt and I got overheated on the way back.  A lot of rest and water breaks later, we all made it back to the top.

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Chiflo Trailhead viewpoint.  I actually liked this spot better than the point where the rivers converged.  Our Little Arsenic hike took us all the way down to that water below.

Park of the rock wall pulled away from the rest of the cliff forming a window to the Rio Grande below.  After one more view point, Sheep’s Crossing, we’re headed back to Taos for that BBQ dinner I mentioned before.  Definitely got our exercise for the day.

Taos Ski Valley

Lisa wanted to see the Taos Ski Valley, so we took one more road trip.  After the very hot day at Wild Rivers, we weren’t quite prepared for the weather we got at the end of this drive.

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As we drove, we went from a light rain, to sleet, to magical snow!

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Always the naughty one, Pat is threatening to pelt our friends with a snowball.

Snow machines parked for the season, the big lift and  Pat attempting to get on the lift chair.  He and I both were foiled by water puddles and deep sucking mud from the melting snow.  What a day to wear open-toed shoes.

But the fun isn’t done….

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Lisa rounds a corner and we come face to face with about six bighorn sheep.  I swear that big daddy was posing for me.

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Al and I both jump out of the car for photos, much to Lisa’s dismay.  Fortunately these guys seemed pretty laid back and just kept grazing and moving along.

San Fransico de Asis & Other Views

I give Lisa credit for finding this next gem of a stop.  Just down the road from our campground and their hotel, is the San Francisco de Asis Church.  According to the church’s literature it’s “an 18th century adobe National Historic Landmark… constructed of mud and straw sun-dried adobe bricks” with unique beehive shaped buttresses.  The Taos Chamber of Commerce touts this church as “one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world”.  Georgia O’Keeffe painted it and Ansel Adams photographed it.  You don’t get much better than that.

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San Francisco de Asis in all its glory.

The weathered welcome sign, Holy Family statue, a peek into a back window and the patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi from the courtyard.

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My artsy attempt.  Rosaries swinging in the breeze from the gift shop across the way.

A few other sights I found appealing…

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Lisa & Al have to fly back to Florida and we’re moving on to our final stop in New Mexico.  What fun it was to have old friends to help us explore two great New Mexico cities.  We’re lobbying hard for them to join us in Seattle in the Fall.  If not then, hopefully we’ll figure out another rendezvous before too long.

Next up – Abiquiu Lake and my VERY favorite stop in the state of New Mexico.  See you on the way!

More Santa Fe

April 14 – 20

Our Sante Fe touring continues with the historic downtown, waterfalls, mountains and, of course, eating out.  This time we have our pals in town to make it more memorable.

Old Town Santa Fe

I visited a few of these places before with my good friend Wendy, but they were definitely worth seeing again with Pat.  There’s no shortage of historic churches in the Southwest, and we’re on a mission to see as many as possible.

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First up, the Loretto Chapel, home of The Miraculous Staircase with a simply gorgeous altar.  This chapel dates from the 1870’s and was built for the Sisters of Loretto.

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The story of the staircase goes like this, according to the chapel brochure.  “…the Chapel had a design flaw: there was no way to get to the choir loft from the chapel!  Many carpenters were called in for advice, but all came up with the same answer…..It was a question of using a ladder or rebuilding the balcony.  Seeking divine guidance, the Sisters made a Novena to their patron saint, Saint Joseph the Carpenter.  As legend has it, on the ninth and final day, a mysterious carpenter arrived to design and construct a circular staircase to the choir loft.  The tools on his donkey were just a saw, carpenter’s square, a hammer and tubs in which to soak the wood.  His ‘miraculous staircase’ contains 33 steps in two full 360-degree turns.  Their staircase has no center support, nor is it held from its sides.  When the staircase was complete, the carpenter disappeared without seeking payment.”  Amazing to think this structure essentially holds itself together with no nails.  Oh, and the railing was added later since the Sisters found it scary to climb without one.

Next we walked over to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

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There’s Pat walking right over and using the crosswalk, too.

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The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is one of my favorites.

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The cathedral was constructed of locally quarried rock beginning in 1869.  This chapel is the only remaining part of the original adobe church dating back to 1714.  The statue of the Blessed Virgin in the altar panel is the oldest one of Mary in the U.S.

 

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Signs of Spring outside in the prayer garden.  I almost caught this lovely bird on one of the statues, but the church bells started chiming the hour and scared him away.

Hardly a bad day for stained glass in this town with the seemingly perpetual sunshine.  Favorite windows from the Loretto Chapel and cathedral.

Nambé Falls

There’s really a waterfall near here?  Seemed hard to believe given the extreme dry conditions.  We needed a hike, so we drove 20 minutes or so north to Nambé Falls to see for ourselves.

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Not the most impressive waterfall we’ve ever seen, but there was indeed water cascading over rocks.  Practically a miracle in this desert area.

The sound of flowing water was music to ours ears though, and the views of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains weren’t bad either.

Atalaya Mountain

Let’s talk about a “real” hike shall we?  I read about a trail that offered “absolutely gorgeous” views at the top of Atalaya Mountain, at an elevation of 9,121 feet.  Supposedly 4.5 miles and rated as a moderate trail.  Sure, we can do this I say.  It’ll be fun, I say.  Well it was fun, but turned out to be 7.5 miles from where we parked (oops), with an elevation change of more than 1700 feet.  That means steep switchbacks on the way up that feel suspiciously like climbing and toes mashing in the front of your boots as your try to break your fall on the way down.

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Yes, it was gorgeous at the top with a view of Santa Fe waaay down in the distance.

We took a little time to rest at the top and enjoy the view.  I’ve since read reviews of this trail with the true distance from St. John’s College where we started and rated as difficult.  That made us feel better since it sure seemed longer and harder than advertised and took us four hours.  Good cardio day.

Tent Rocks – Take 2

Our friends Lisa & Al from Florida did indeed join us for part of this week and they agreed that Tent Rocks looked like a good place for a hike.  About 30 miles south of Santa Fe, but so worth the drive back.  It’s one of my favorite spots for this whole area, so was happy to re-trace our steps here.

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I think our friends were equally amazed at the surroundings here.  Lisa & Al posing for me in the slot canyon.

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We got there early enough to make it to the top this time, and Lisa was able to take our picture together.

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Just the coolest rock formations here.  Pat points out the obvious, as if you could miss these babies.

The rest of my pics since this place is just irresistible if you have a camera in hand.  This is what a yucca about to bloom looks like (finally!), view from the top of the trail and the close up with the ant-sized people below, the distance view, more tent rocks and the clusters of yellow flowers now in bloom.  Those flowers just appeared since our last visit the week before.

All The Other Stuff

We had some great meals out with Lisa & Al.  I just had to have those sopapillas again, so back we go to Tomasita’s.  We also went back for our second round at Joe’s Dining with them.  The place is decorated like a diner, but is truly upscale, complete with a nice wine list.  And they have a nice array of gluten free options.  We may have corrupted them with our fast food habit, however.  We talked them into Jimmy John’s subs for a picnic at Tent Rocks, but Lisa returned the favor by awakening our latent Pringles craving.  You simply have to pop them in your mouth whole.

The other epiphany we had about food here is the heat factor.  Everything is hot, spicy hot.  Pat and I learned our lesson about ordering salsa and queso on the side.  No matter what you ask for, it’s too spicy for the man and mostly too hot for me, too.  When your lips burn, I’m out.  Of course the question is red or green, meaning chiles, and Christmas is the answer if you want both.  I couldn’t touch red, but could manage to eat green, in moderation.  Lisa & Al are going to try their hand at growing the famous Hatch chiles when they get home to Florida.  Al has an amazing gardening gift, so I’m sure if anyone can make a go of it there, he can.

We also took them to the Railyard (my way of getting close to Tomasita’s again), so we could browse the shops and visit REI.  Our friends like the cycling gear, and Pat is in the market for hiking equipment.  He used to backpack before we were married, and always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.  After reading a book by a guy in his 50’s who hiked the AT, the dream is alive again!  Actually taking up that hobby is perfect since we’ll be going to quite a few places with great trails.  I can drop off, pick up and re-provision as needed, and he gets good “me” time all by his lonesome.  (And I don’t have to sleep on the ground.)

Next up – We relocate to Taos and Lisa & Al do, too.  See you on the way!

Santa Fe Skies

April 5 – 13

Two weeks in artsy Santa Fe!  There’s so much going on at this stop that I’m breaking it up into two posts.  Even Jackson had a grand time at this location, and we had friends join us on their vacation, too.

Santa Fe Skies RV Park

We were delighted to find lots of amenities that we actually used and enjoyed at this RV park.  They had an inside sitting area complete with couches and were totally dog-friendly.  Jackson quickly got into the routine of going to the clubhouse to get dog treats and sit on the couch with us.  The bowls of M&Ms by the door for the humans didn’t hurt our feelings either.

There were metal sculptures all over the property, a walking trail around the entire place and bunnies galore.  Three of them routinely grazed right outside our door every evening.  But the best part?  Well two best parts actually – the huge dog park and the sunsets.

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Santa Fe is known as the place for painter’s sunsets and we had a different show every night, right outside our side window.

Oh, but the dog park ranked right up there.  Jackson became fast friends with Wash, a newly rescued pup.  We hit it off with Wash’s mom, too.  Chris is traveling solo and is a huge Firefly fan, just like Pat.  The dog’s name is from one of the characters on the TV show.  I personally never warmed up to it, so it was good the Pat had a fellow fan to discuss the finer points of the show.  Don’t get a true fan started on the Firefly cancellation!

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Jackson and best buddy Wash.  They romped, they played, they tried to figure out the alpha thing.  (Not sure they ever really got that straightened out.)  It was so exciting that Jackson was practically a dead lump for week two after Wash and Chris moved on.

About the only thing we didn’t like here was the wind and the dust.  There were several huge wind events while we were there, and I’m still trying to clean out the dust that was blown into every crevice of the motorhome from the 70 mph gusts.  Needless to say, no grilling out at this stop.

FIRE!

On one of our first nights there, a lady came running up in a panic yelling for help.  We had the screen door open, so Pat jumped out to see what she needed.  The plume of smoke coming from their RV a few spots down told the tale.  He popped back in to grab the fire extinguisher by the door and I grabbed the other two mounted in the coach.  By the time we got to the trailer, their next door neighbor had the fire out, but horrible smoke was still billowing out the doors.  Turns out their refrigerator caught fire.  The propane/electric fridges are notorious for catching fire if not kept perfectly level.  In fact, we swapped ours out for a residential fridge so we wouldn’t have that worry.

Consider this my public service announcement.  Get yourself working fire extinguishers, know where they are, and know how to use them.  I think this is every RVer’s worst nightmare aside from a wipe-out on the highway.  But it can happen in an instant in your sticks and bricks home, too.

And the rest of the story.  This couple only had the trailer for 6 months, just replaced the refrigerator, and just left Dallas the day before for a week-long trip to the Grand Canyon.  I give them great credit for resilience.  They put the trailer in storage so they could continue on with their travel plans, and will pick it back up on the way home.  Talk about making the best of a bad situation.

Santa Fe Railyard

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We headed down to the railyard on a Saturday to stroll through the farmer’s market.  We did find the market, but spent most of our time with the artist vendors.  The work here is so unique.  I stopped to point out a necklace to Pat since it looked like the all-seeing “eye” from Lord of the Rings.  The artist uses museum quality taxidermy animal eyes in his jewelry artwork, and the necklace I admired was made with a python “eye”.  I also found several photographers displaying pictures of the same tree I photographed at Tent Rocks.  And, our favorite?  The beautiful hand blown glassware.  We decided it was time to retire the McDonald’s Shrek tumblers we’d been using and replace them with two gorgeous glasses.  Read on below about our glass-blowing adventure for the rest of that story.

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Fun little touches in this artsy town.  What a good way to re-purpose those unused newspaper vending machines.

Lunch was delicious at Tomasita’s.  Instead of chips and salsa, they give you free sopapillas with honey butter.  I don’t have a real sweet tooth, but these were to die for.  We’ll be back for more.

Bandelier National Monument

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Time to get out there on a hike.  The trip to Bandelier was an investment, but well worth the 40+ mile drive.  A look down Frijoles Canyon.

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Bandelier is the home of the Ancestral Pueblo people and the village ruins on the grounds are quite extensive.  Up on the trail, we had this view of the village of Tyuoni (QU-wen-nee).  The pueblo (around 1200 AD) had multiple stories and entrance to the individual rooms was by ladder through holes in the rooftops.  That explained why we weren’t seeing doorway openings.

A few more views from our hike.  You could clearly see the holes in the cliffside that once held beams to support multiple stories of cave dwellings.  We climbed up the ladders to peer inside.  Nice and cool in the caves.

A word about National monuments.  Before going to White Sands National Monument, we had the mistaken idea that they were nothing more than a spot for a plaque or perhaps a small structure on the side of the road.  A ranger set us straight.  A national park designation requires the approval of Congress while a national monument only requires the approval of the President.  National monument oversight is still with the National Park Service and the places cover quite a bit of land, so they look and feel pretty much like a national park.  Presidents often designate national monuments as part of their legacy as they depart office.  Herbert Hoover did just that with White Sands, Bill Clinton gets the nod for Tent Rocks, and Woodrow Wilson gets credit for Bandelier.  Now you know.

Glass Blowing

When we purchased our glasses, we asked Bob about his upcoming studio time.  He told us to show up at the Jackalope pottery studio on Wednesday and we could watch him work.  That’s just what we did.

Just as we arrived, he was setting up to make the identical glasses that we bought.  Representative pictures of the process – taking out the initial blob of glass, rolling it in the colored chips of blue, white & copper, shaping the glass, and torching the copper specks to make them gleam.

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The finished product being tapped off the punt to go into the cooling oven.  I love my new glasses and drink from them every day, but I couldn’t quite part with the Shrek glasses.  I’m sure they’re collectible.

The Boots

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These boots were made for walking.  Jackson ended up with tender feet after the wild fun week with Wash.  Even the gravel roads seemed to hurt him.  But, the boots don’t thrill him either.  See how he snubs us?  Now that we’re putting them on every day for hikes, he’s better with them and seems much for comfortable walking about.  He knows it’s for his own good, but that doesn’t make him happy about the footwear  He’s like a toddler.  He’ll grudgingly let you put them on, then presents each foot so you can take them off when we get back to the motorhome.  In between, he prances like a pony.

Next up – the rest of Santa Fe and fun times with Lisa & Al.  See you on the way!

Cochiti Lake

April 2 – 4, 2018

If not for a wrong turn, or should I say a failure to turn, our travel from ABQ to Cochiti Lake would have been about 30 miles total.  Call it a navigator failure.  At least we knew for sure we missed our turn when the pavement ended and a barricade blocked the way.  Fortunately, Pat could turn us around with Bitsy in tow and that made our travel day a whopping 40 miles.  We’re out of the city again and that makes us happy.

Cochiti Lake Recreation Area

This stop was at a Corps of Engineers park on Cochiti Lake formed by damming up the Rio Grande.

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From the overlook in the park, you can see the brown water of the Rio Grande meet the greenish water in Cochiti Lake.  Lucy is parked on the left and you can tell by the empty places that we’re a little head of season.  In fact, you can’t reserve spots here yet.  They are strictly first-come first-served, or FCFS in RV lingo, but we were lucky to score a spot with electricity and water.  The short drive and early arrival helped since those spots were all taken by 2pm, and on a Monday no less.

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The rest of Cochiti Lake with the dam on the right.

We came prepared to be self-sufficient, cooked all our own meals and did our Jackson walks in the park.  It was nice after two weeks in town to get off the beaten path again.  Of course we had a few ‘wind warning’ days that required Pat to put up a tarp as a wind break for grilling out.  We’ll just say it was a partial successful, since it required him to go out around 10pm one night to take it down.  A corner came loose and the whole thing was making an awful racket in the night.  Yes, still terribly windy well past 11pm!

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On the last day we discovered this little lovely down by the boat dock.  Amazing find in the desert.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

This National Monument came highly recommended by our new friends we met in Alamogordo.  It was just down the road from Cochiti Lake, so thought we’d scout it out to see if it would be a good place to visit with our friends Lisa and Al.  Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language and you can guess from the rest of the name what rock shape is favored.

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We’ve seen a lot of rock formations this past year and weren’t sure we’d be impressed with more hoodoos, but these were completely unique.  This is the first cliff you come to with all the little tent hoodoos up and down the rock face.  They look like cement tee-pees up close, but are made up of volcanic ash and rocks sculpted by wind and water.

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This landscape makes for some amazing hiking.

I just couldn’t stop taking pictures of the cliffs and the “tents”.

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About halfway along the trail, you enter a slot canyon.  Even here, nature finds a way.  Since taking this picture, we’ve seen more than one photographer’s work that includes this same tree.  It apparently fascinates most everyone on this trail.

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And when I say slot canyon, I mean slot.  Parts of the trail are only as wide as your foot and you have to be cooperative with other hikers to pass along the way.

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Looks like frosting, but really showcases what the rock “flow” must have looked like a million years ago when the canyon formed.

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Then you pop right back out on the other side of the canyon to continue the hike upward.

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Another amazing tree.  Now that, my friends, is a root, and looks like it just might snatch Pat off the trail.

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We almost made it to the top of the ridge when the ranger turned us around.   If I hadn’t stopped to take so many pictures we’d have made it all the way.  This view was good enough for the day and hopefully we’ll get to return when our friends arrive.

 

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I can’t help but see whipped cream turrets in the landscape.  The Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance make a lovely backdrop.

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Remember spying shapes in the clouds as a kid?  On the return hike we start spotting shapes in the rocks and trees.  Pat’s showing where he thinks the ground used to be before erosion exposed the base of this tree.  Of course I was looking at the opening below.

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Momma’s in the “doorway” holding the baby.

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And can you find Lincoln’s face in this rock?

We complained about the high winds during most of this camping stop, but without that same howling wind, this place wouldn’t exist.  Powerful evidence of things unseen.

Next up – Santa Fe with one of our shortest travels days yet.  See you on the way!