Monday, October 5, 2015


September 17, 2015

I got up and made myself coffee in my little kitchen and ate the last of my bagels and cream cheese.  I spent a little bit of time dealing with personal business and then hit the road about 10:00, after another fruitless search for block ice.  From Santa Fe, I headed south on Highway 285.  New Mexico’s slogan may be, “Land of Enchantment,” but I call it the Land of Post Offices.  There is a post office trailer in every little hamlet in New Mexico.  It is very rural and they must not have home delivery.  Living in California where they are closing post offices right and left, it was strange to see so many of

My campsite at Oliver Lee State Park
                                                                      them.  There was not a whole lot to see between Santa Fe and Alamo-gordo.  The scenery changed gradually, but was all open spaces.  I was driving through Billy the Kid Country.  I stopped for lunch in Tularosa, forgetting that here, red sauce is the very spicy one.  I ordered a smothered burrito and got meat and potatoes wrapped in a tortilla and smothered with fiery red sauce and lots of cheese.  There were no vegetables in sight.
Dust Devils on the Way to White Sands

From Tularosa, it was not far to Alamogordo (which means fat cottonwood) and the Oliver Lee State Park was twelve miles past Alamogordo.  I arrived about 2:30.  The campground is set on a hill overlooking the surrounding desert.  It is primitive, but I had no trouble finding a site and couldn’t complain about the $10 fee.  I pitched my tent, blew up my air mattress, and set off to explore White Sands National Monument.  

Dunes at White Sands
Interdune Boardwalk
White Sands was about twenty miles away.  From Alamogordo, I turned west on Highway 70 and drove towards Las Cruces, passing through the missile test site.  Fortunately, there was no testing going on and I was not delayed.  I arrived at the visitor center about 4:00.  After watching a short film about the park, I drove out to the interdune boardwalk and followed it out into the sand, stopping to read all the plaques about the local plants and animals.  The sand at White Sands is made of gypsum.  The gypsum was deposited when the area was covered by a tropical sea millions of years ago.  Later, when the surrounding mountains were uplifted, the gypsum washed down into the basin which has no outlet.  The water evaporated and formed gypsum crystals, which were broken down into sand by the action of wind and winter ice.  There is still quite a bit of water in the area, which keeps the sand moist enough to prevent it blowing out of the basin.  It is very white and they plow the roads with snowplows.  The resulting berms contribute to the illusion of being in a snowy wilderness.
The Sand Looked Just Like Snow

I drove around the loop road and then took a short hike up the Alkalai Flat trail.  Walking up and down the soft dunes was very strenuous and slow, so I didn’t have time to go far.  I did take a lot of photos, which got more interesting as the sun sank lower.  At 6:00, I joined the ranger led sunset stroll.  She walked us a short distance through the dunes, showing us animal tracks and telling us about the local ecology.  Finally, we gathered on top of a dune to watch the sun set behind the mountains.  The clouds turned fantastic colors all around us.  As it got darker, we could see lightning striking under some of the thunderheads.
Ripples in the Dunes
Late Afternoon Shadows

Alkalai Flat Trail

Sunset at White Sands
Dramatic Clouds at Sunset

White Sands by Moonlight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                It was quite dark by the time I got back to Alamogordo.  I didn’t feel like cooking in the dark, so grabbed some fast food and drove back to my campsite where I enjoyed my dinner at the picnic table with a persistent kangaroo rat for company.  At one point, he tried to run up my leg.  He really wanted a bit of my taco.  Oddly, I had a good cell signal for the first time in days, so I spent the remainder of the evening writing and texting with Scott.

September 18, 2015

Hot Air Balloon Over Alamogordo
Texas Canyon
                                                                                                                                                              I got up and out of the campground by 8:00, but wasted half an hour driving around Alamogordo looking for the McDonald’s to get my morning coffee.  The upside of the detour was that I got to see a number of hot air balloons returning from their flight.  After I got my coffee and tried, unsuccessfully, to buy block ice, I jumped on Highway 70 and headed for Las Cruces where it joined the 10 Freeway.  The road passed through some spectacular scenery with fabulous cloud formations and then climbed up through Texas Canyon before dropping down into Arizona.

Saguaro National Monument
I stopped for lunch in Deming, AZ, and then pushed on to Tucson.  I reached Tucson about 3:00, so decided I had time to visit the Saguaro National Monument.  I got off the freeway at Houghton Road and followed the park sign to the right.  Then I drove to the end of the road and never saw the park.  It turned out that the park is to the right, off Old Spanish Trail, but there is no sign when you are coming from the freeway.

I eventually found the park and, after a quick stop at the visitor center, I took the eight mile loop drive through the saguaro forest, making frequent stops to take photographs.  The park was founded in 1933 to protect the saguaro forest, but in the 1960s there were a couple of hard freezes and many of them died off.  Saguaro lovers became concerned because no new cacti were growing to take the place of the ones that had died.  A saguaro grows very slowly and takes 150 years to mature and 70 or 80 years before it starts to branch.  Finally, the park service bought out the grazing rights to the park and eliminated cattle from the property.  With no cattle to trample the seedlings, the saguaros began to make a comeback.  While there aren’t as many as there were in the 1930s, there are a lot of young ones that will eventually be impressive.

Forest of Saguaros
I left the park at what I thought was 6:00, but turned out to only be 5:00 because Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, a fact which I seemed to be incapable of grasping.  I used my GPS to find the Red Roof Inn where I had a reservation and it directed me to take surface streets for about ten miles before I reached the freeway.  Along the way, I passed an immense graveyard of old military aircraft.  I couldn’t really stop to take a picture, but I snapped one out the window as I passed.
Military Airplane Graveyard

Friday, September 18, 2015


September 14, 2015

I woke up just after 6:00 and got up, thinking I would make some coffee and wash my dishes from the night before.  As I was hiking to the restroom, it started to rain.  Thinking about the wash I would have to cross to get out of the canyon, I abandoned all previous plans, packed up my tent, and got out of there by 7:30.  I made tracks down the nasty dirt road and got over the wash while it was still dry.  I hadn’t had time to look at a map or plan my route, so I turned south on 550, planning to stop at the nearest diner to eat breakfast and regroup.  Ha!  I drove for 65 miles to the town of Cuba, NM, before I found anywhere to eat.  By then I had already passed the road to Taos.  Actually, the shortest route would have been to go NORTH on 550, but it was much too late for that.  I got coffee and breakfast at McDonalds and then turned back and retraced my steps to Highway 96.  The drive was pleasant enough and, although the road looked mountainous on the map, it wasn’t particularly curvy.  I eventually made my way across to the Rio Grande Valley and headed north into Taos.  I was very tired and just wanted to go to my hostel and take a nap.

The Abominable Snowmansion
I had a reservation at the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel which is located in Arroyo Seco, seven or eight miles up Highway 150 towards Taos Ski Valley.  When I got up there just after 1:00, I discovered that the hostel did not open until 4:00.  I wasn’t in the mood for exploring Taos, so I decided to get something to eat and look at my guidebooks.  I had some very tasty chiles rellenos at the Taos Diner and drank about three diet cokes, which returned me to some semblance of consciousness.  I decided to spend the afternoon driving the Enchanted Circle, a loop through the mountains above Taos.  The scenery was pretty, but I failed to be enchanted.  Maybe I was just tired or maybe I was jaded by a lifetime of mountain scenery.  I did get rained on in Red River, which washed off most of the dust I had picked up on the drive in and out of Chaco Canyon.
Enchanted Circle Scenery

It was 5:00 by the time I returned to the Abominable Snowmansion and checked in.  I was assigned a private cabin, although I had to use a communal restroom.  This saved me about $70 a night over hotels in Taos, so was fine with me.  While I was too far from the main building to get the hostel’s internet, I got a good signal from a nearby restaurant.  Being a hostel, there was a communal kitchen, so I was finally able to wash my dishes from the night before.  I had some business to attend to and a blog post to write, so I spent the entire evening in my cabin and just had a cheese sandwich and a banana for dinner.

My Cabin at the Abominable Snowmansion

September 15, 2015

Despite having been the last person in the hostel to turn out my light the night before, I was the first one up.  I awakened to the sound of rain on my roof, which was much more welcome without the prospect of crossing a flash flood prone wash.  I got up and took a shower before anyone else was stirring.  Since the refrigerator in my room had frozen all my food solid, I drove into Taos and got breakfast and coffee at the McDonalds there.  I knew I needed inspiration if I was going to get into the spirit of Taos, so I decided to take the historic trolley tour.

The tour left from the visitor center south of town and proceeded to the plaza where we picked up some more passengers and listened to the guide give us a short history of Taos.  Then we made a quick circuit of central Taos and headed out to Taos Pueblo.  Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for 1,000 years and is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the country, if not all of North America.  Today, the people of the pueblo also have modern homes, but they inhabit their pueblo homes when the weather gets too hot or cold because the adobe is a very good insulator.  No electricity or running water is allowed within the pueblo, but some propane appliances are allowed because they require no modifications to the structure.  All water comes from the creek that runs through the pueblo.  The tribe owns the watershed and can make sure that the water remains pure.  They test the water quality weekly.
Bell Tower
When the Spanish first arrived in Taos in the late 16th century, they got along well with the natives.    Unfortunately, by 1680 they had begun to try to tell the natives what to do, so the natives ran them out and chased them all the way to El Paso.  The Spanish government would not be dissuaded from colonizing the area, however, and by the early 18th century, they were back.  Things went better this time and another period of peaceful coexistence followed, during which the majority of the natives accepted Christianity.  The church of San Geronimo was erected at the pueblo.  Things got out of hand, however, when the United States took over the New Mexico territory and sent a new governor who, once again, tried to tell the people what to do.  The natives dragged him out of his house and killed him.  Then the U.S. government sent the cavalry, who turned their cannons on the church of San Geronimo, not knowing (or perhaps not caring) that 150 people were hiding within.  The church was destroyed and the people inside were killed.  Today, all that remains of the original church is the bell tower.  The site of the church is now a graveyard where the victims were buried.  A new church was constructed nearby.

New Church of San Geronimo
Taos Pueblo consists of two great houses, North House and South House, and some smaller surrounding buildings, all of adobe.  Because adobe is constantly eroded by sun, wind, and rain, they must all be re-mudded every year.  Men were busy working on North House during my visit.  Many of the homes have been turned into shops and restaurants, which were surprisingly spacious and pleasant inside.  Skylights have replaced some of the original doors, which were always in the ceiling until the 19th century when the tribe felt secure enough to add ground level doors.  If you want to take pictures at Taos Pueblo, you must buy a camera permit for $6.
Taos Pueblo North House
Fresh Mud on North House
From Taos Pueblo, we drove out to the Mar-tinez Ha-cienda, which was a major center of trade during the 18th and 19th centuries.  The priest who converted the natives was the eldest son of the hacienda’s founder.  Today, it houses a museum, which we did not get a chance to visit.  Unfortunately, we didn’t even get to look at it much because it began to rain heavily just as we got out of the trolley.

St. Francis of Asisi Church
Our last stop was the St. Francis of Asisi Church in the suburb of Ranchos.  This is the famous church frequently photographed and painted.  The congregation re-muds the church every June, but this year has been especially rainy, so they will be re-mudding it a second time in November.  It is very carefully maintained and looks lovely.

Rear of St. Francis of Asisi
Not wanting to eat a big lunch, I grabbed a couple of tacos and visited the ATM (There is no Bank of America within 50 miles of Taos.)  Then I made a brief survey of the shops surrounding the plaza and ducked into the Harwood Museum of Art just as it began to rain.  The museum is on Ledoux Street, which also houses many galleries and some of the homes of the original members of the Taos Society of Artists.  Taos became an art community when, in 1898, painters Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein passed through Taos on their way from Denver to Mexico on a painting trip.  They were intrigued with the culture and the light and Phillips stayed permanently,  Soon, they attracted other artists.  By 1915, a number of these early artists founded the Taos Society of Artists.  To be a member, an artist had to have been working in Taos for three years and be accepted by the existing membership.  The Harwood Museum was originally the home of Burt and Elizabeth Harwood.  When Burt died in 1922, his wife and other artists of the society established the Harwood Foundation in his honor.  Today, the museum belongs to the University of New Mexico and displays work from the original artists as well as more contemporary Taos works.

Bridge Over the Rio Grande
It was late afternoon when I left the museum and still threatening to rain, so I decided that it was a good time to do a little wine tasting.  I dropped into the Black Mesa Tasting Room and spent a pleasant couple of hours tasting New Mexican wines and chatting with the winemaker and a couple I had met earlier on the tour.  When the live music started up, it got too noisy for me, so I left to drive out the bridge over the Rio Grande, which I wanted to photograph at sunset.  I parked at the rest stop on the far side of the bridge (which was locked up tight) and walked down towards the perimeter fence to take pictures of the bridge.  While I was fiddling with my camera, something walked into my viewfinder and I was astonished to see a large bighorn ram.  He wasn’t the least bit disturbed by me and I got several pictures of him and, eventually, a second ram appeared behind him.  The bridge was forgotten and I never did got my sunset shot.

On my way back to the hostel from the bridge, I stopped at the Taos Brewing Company because everyone had told me the food and beer were good.  I had a tasty pulled pork sandwich and a pint of their Fall Down Brown, which was actually the least alcoholic beer they served at just 4.6% alcohol.  By the time I left it was pitch dark and I could barely find my way out of the parking lot.  It seemed I hadn’t seen a moon since I left Benicia.  I drove back to Arroyo Seco with my high beams on most of the way.  It was 9:00 when I returned to the hostel and, unlike the night before when a large group had been partying around the firepit, the place was still as a tomb.  I headed straight for my cabin and settled in to chronicle the day.

September 16, 2015

I didn’t have far to drive, so I took my time and cooked breakfast in the hostel kitchen before driving back into Taos to get a cup of coffee and go on a fruitless search for a block of ice.  Eventually, I learned that the Taos ice company had stopped making blocks of ice, so there were none to be had.  I filled my car with gas and drove through a car wash to remove the dirt road dust that had become mud in the rain.  Then I headed south through town until I picked up the high road to Santa Fe, which is marked as the high road to Taos, even in the opposite direction.

High Road to Santa Fe Scene
The high road to Taos passed through pretty scenery.  By noon, I was in Santa Fe.  It was too early to check into my hotel, so I went straight downtown to visit the Georgia O’Keefe museum.  Unfortunately, the museum was closed for the next week.  That was disappointing.  I settled for visiting the New Mexico Museum of Art.  The building, which was built in the second decade of the twentieth century, was a fabulous example of pueblo revival architecture.  The collection was also impressive and I was happy to see that there was an exhibition of Georgia O’Keefe pieces.  I was impressed by some incredibly detailed chalk pastel pieces and some Daughtery pieces that looked like Van Gogh had visited New Mexico.  The collection was large and it was 3:00 by the time I finished touring the museum.
New Mexico Museum of Art

My Favorite Painting

Did Van Gogh Visit New Mexico?

After the museum, I walked across the street to the plaza and ate a green chile cheeseburger at the Thunderbird Bar & Grill with a deck overlooking the plaza.  The plaza seemed very Mexican, although overrun by gringos.  Interestingly, the gringos were hanging out in the plaza just like Mexicans do.  Santa Fe requires that all buildings be in the pueblo style.  On one side of the plaza is the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States, which dates back to 1610 when it was the home of the first Spanish Governor of New Mexico.  At the far end, was the St. Francis Cathedral.  This Romanesque cathedral was built with money donated by a local Jewish merchant who had befriended Bishop Lamy on their way
St. Francis Cathedral

Palace of the Governors
across the country.  He made a fortune providing saddles and uniforms to the Union Army and helped his friend the bishop finish the cathedral when he ran out of money.  Later, he forgave the debt.

 Since I felt like I was in Mexico, I did what I would do in Mexico and bought an ice cream while I window shopped around the plaza.  I was very tempted to buy a pair of fancy cowboy boots, but knew I would never be able to walk in them since I have lousy feet.  When things began to close for the evening, I repaired to the Santa Fe Suites where I had reserved a room.  The Santa Fe Suites was a great value.  For the price of my tiny cabin with a communal bathroom in Taos, I got a hotel room with a kitchenette.  It was nice to relax and spend an evening watching TV.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


September 13, 2015

I got up fairly early and headed straight down to the showers, which were located in Morefield Village, near the store and café.  I had a nice shower and then purchased a cup of coffee from the café.  It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was appreciated.  I drove back to my campsite and sat in the car, drinking my coffee and using the WiFi while I ate breakfast.  Then I packed up my gear and headed out.  I stopped at the store for a bag of ice and hit the road before 9:00.
The Road to Chaco Canyon

My Campsite
After exiting the park, I took Highway 160 east to Durango and then headed south on 550.  In Aztec, I stopped at the Safeway where I was able to find a restroom, block ice, and a Starbucks all in one place.  Then I filled up with gas and continued south into New Mexico.  The best road to Chaco Canyon is
county road 7900.  The first nine miles or so are paved and the next five miles are decent gravel.  After that, the county stops maintaining the road and there is another five or six miles of unpleasantly corduroyed dirt road before the road enters the park and becomes paved again.  It was nothing I couldn’t handle in the Mini, but I thought my teeth would get rattled out of my head.  There is one wash that it is unwise to cross if there is ANY water flowing, but it was dry when I passed.

The Gallo Campground is a mile before you reach the visitor center.  It is nothing fancy, but set in a pretty box canyon and does have flush toilets, although no showers.  The only site I was able to reserve was a walk-in tent site.  It was a bit of a pain, but quiet.  I set up my tent and blew up the air mattress.  Then I munched the last of my leftovers for lunch and set off for the visitor’s center. 

Rear Wall of Hungo Pavi
At the visitor’s center, I paid my $12.00 entry fee and watched a movie about Chaco Canyon.  Then I took off to drive around the loop road and visit the ruins located along the way.  My first stop was Hungo Pavi.  When it was discovered in the late 19th century, it towered three or four stories high.  By the time the Antiquities Act went into effect in 1906 and the site became a park, much damage had already been done.  Today, not much remains except the impressive rear wall of the greathouse.
Kiva at Chetro Ketl
Further down the road, I stopped at Chetro Ketl, which was somewhat better preserved and had a very large kiva in its plaza.  From there, I walked the Petroglyph trail to Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses. 

Pueblo Bonito
Pueblo Bonito once covered three acres.  It is notable in that it appeared to have been built according to a plan, rather than expanding over time.  Chaco Canyon was at the center of the Puebloan world.  Architectural innovations appeared there first and then spread to other sites such as Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde.  While the structures there were impressive, they did not seem to have housed many residents.  Store rooms outnumbered living spaces.  This makes me think that it was a place of trade or possibly that tribute was paid there.  There is evidence that the society was hierarchical.  Burials within the greathouses included many ornaments and possessions, while those in the outlying villages were much simpler.  Many different pueblo groups and even the Navajo, who are not a pueblo people, have legends of Chaco in their distant past.  It may have been a place of pilgrimage.
Casa Rinconada Community
Wanting to come back later to hike, I skipped the Pueblo del Arroyo stop and drove straight to Casa Rinconada.  The small villages there are nothing but piles of rubble, today, but a great public kiva remains in good repair.

Kiva at Casa Rinconada

Path to the Top of the Mesa
Pueblo Alto Loop Trail
                                                 After finishing the loop road, I circled around again and parked at Pueblo del Arroyo.  I didn’t spend much time looking at the ruins, having seen a lot of very similar structures, but set off immediately to hike the 5.4 mile Pueblo Alto Loop.  It was 4:45 when I started and the park closed at sunset, so I needed to get moving.  The trail climbs straight up the side of the cliff following a route used by the Chacoans.  The route follows a cleft in the cliff and is so narrow that at times it was difficult to squeeze one foot past the other as I climbed.  Quickly, I found myself on the top of the mesa, with nice views of the surrounding canyons.  The trail was difficult to follow across the bare stone, but was marked at intervals by stone cairns.  It led first to an overlook of 
Pueblo Bonito from Above
Pueblo Alto
Pueblo Bonito and then up to the ruins of Pueblo Alto and Nuevo Alto.  The exposed locations of these pueblos had eroded them far more than the pueblos down in the canyon.  They loomed eerily in the overcast evening light.  I loped around the loop as fast as I could go, disturbing cottontail rabbits.  The sandstone was marred everywhere by fossilized shrimp burrows.  As the sun got lower, it became increasingly difficult to see the rock cairns.  I was relieved when I found the cleft in the rock and started back down to the valley.  As I
Fossilized Shrimp Burrows
emerged from the crack, I startled a group of sheepish young men who had stopped at that point, reluctant to climb any higher.  For a few moments, as the sun set, the cliffs glowed orange and I managed to capture one photograph before the light faded.

Cottontail Rabbit
Path Down the Cliff

Sunset Lit Cliff
By the time I got back to my camp-site, it was nearly dark.  A fierce gale 
began to blow as I was cooking my dinner.  The back of my stove made a fine windbreak, but it also made a good sail and I was afraid the whole thing was going to fly off the table.  Bites of food blew off my fork as I was trying to eat and there was no way I could boil water and wash dishes.  Sand was starting to fly and fill my eyes.  I locked the dirty dishes in my car and retreated into my tent by 9:00, where I waited out the storm until it calmed enough to make a trip to the restroom before hitting the sack.  On my way back to my tent, I saw a kangaroo rat in the trail with a long tail terminating in a tuft like a lion.  He wasn’t the least bit concerned about me and I literally had to step over him.