Saturday, May 31, 2014

Black Mesa State Park

We drove north out of Santa Fe and into the panhandle of Oklahoma. I had picked out the Black Mesa State Park from the information in my "RV Camping in State Parks" Book which I had bought at Camping World this spring. We found the changes in the landscape as we drove along very interesting. From red rocks to flat open land. "Is that the last mountain we see in the distance?" 

When we travel we trade off driving frequently, but don't stop for longer than it takes to switch seats.

As we approached the general location of the park, I couldn't imagine where it might be. It seemed there was only flat open land, as far as you could see, on both sides of the road. I was looking for trees in a park with a lake... I had seen pictures of interesting rock formations. Where was it?

At last we came to a turn off and wound our way around some rough mesa land and spotted a mass of trees in what appeared to be a small canyon. It was the park.

It was well after five when we arrived so we picked a site and dropped the self pay envelope into the box. By the time we set up and had dinner we were both quite ready to call it a day and go to bed.

We both slept quite late the next morning. A change of two time zones in four days, and no urgent reason to get out of bed, encouraged us to stay snuggled under the covers until well past nine. 

After lingering over breakfast and coffee, I did some stitchery and Craig spent some time on the computer doing his own things.

About noon he asked if I would like to go for a little walk.

Sure, we knew there was a lake just down a little hill but couldn't actually see it. The night before we had heard a group of teenagers splashing and frolicking in the water. A short walk to see it was just about all I had the energy for.  

It really did not look much like a lake. We could see from the shore line that the water level was way down.

We started to walk along the edge. The day was warm, but there was a nice breeze. After we had gone a short distance, Craig said "Lets walk around the lake."

O.K. it didn't look like it would be very far.


The small lake kept getting longer as we walked a ways, grassy field with group cabins and a baseball diamond. 

Then we noticed a nice path that led down to the lake. It didn't last long and we found that to go on we needed to climb some rocks. I had a few reservations, but figured we could turn back at any time.

As we climbed, the day got hotter. I pointed out that we had neither water, nor hiking boots or poles. I had no hat.

The lake kept getting bigger.

And bigger! I don't mind climbing rocks when I'm prepared for it and know how far we are going. Here there was no path, although with the lake in view it was impossible to get lost. I was concerned that we were climbing thru snake country. So many places for a rattler to hide and we both had low shoes and bare legs.

I was starting to get very hot and thirsty. I wanted to turn back, but Craig wanted to go on, so we did.

At one point we had to climb down a rock wall and across a field of cactus and grass. 

Just beyond the cactus field there was a nice shady grove of trees along the shore. It was so nice to get out of the sun for awhile, but we still did not have any water.

The shade didn't last long, and we had to climb back up the rocks if we wanted to continue around the lake. Craig kept assuring me we were more than half way around and it would be harder to go back than to continue around. We could see a road and open grassy banks on the other side, but I knew we were not half way yet.

We finally made it to the dam which was the beginning of the other side of the lake.

The water was very shallow and full of slimy muck and algae. No matter how hot I was, I was not at all tempted to take a dip and cool down in it.

On the other side of this dam was a road. I wanted to stay there, rest in the shade and let Craig go on to the campground alone. I was hot, thirsty, and feeling disoriented. But Craig wouldn't leave me and did everything he could to keep me going. We were too far to turn back, and it was unlikely anyone would come this way for a long time.

At this point, I was no longer in the mood to take pictures. All I wanted was to find some shade and drink some water. I later learned this lake has six miles of shoreline. We had probably gone about four by this point.

You know I did survive, because I am writing this post, but there were moments that I was sure I would not.

We finally got to a primitive camping area with concrete picnic tables. This was the first one with shade.   

I wanted to stay there, but once again Craig urged me to keep going. He was sure we would find our campground around the next turn of the shoreline. We followed the road to a loop and there it dead ended. Our way along the shore was blocked by an impassible rock wall. Craig might have been able to climb it, but it was beyond me.  

At this point he did what I had asked him to do. He left me at a shaded camping site and went on to get back to the Alfa and get the car. There was a park road. 

I was so out of it I was able to curl up and fall asleep on the stone bench of the picnic table. I did wake once, notice the shadows had moved and dozed back off.  

I woke up again after what felt like fifteen minutes, just before my knight in a shiny white Accent drove up to save me. He brought water, and said it had taken him an hour and a half to get to the Alfa, access a map, and drive back.  

1. Never assume a lake is small until you see a map of it.
2. Listen to your own body and turn back when it tells you to.
3. Don't hike for miles in 90 degree weather without water or a hat.

The next day was our planned day of rest and recovery. Craig said I had slept like a rock! Surprisingly I felt fine in the morning. I had slowly downed three two-cup glasses of water in the evening, so I guess I rehydrated.

We saw a sign by the ranger station giving the directions to the place to see some dinosaur tracks.

Wanting to be better prepared, I packed my water bottles and a snack, we put on our hiking boots, and took our hats and walking sticks in the car.

We followed the driving directions, getting lost only two times, and found the trail head location.

Guess what?  

The dinosaur tracks were only 20 feet from where we parked. No hike needed!

On the drive there and back we saw this interesting building. It looked new, but the side of it was falling down. We think it might have been a movie set.

We spent the rest of the day just relaxing.

Saturday will be a travel day. Life is good.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Los Alamos, New Mexico

We both really like the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, and are looking forward to exploring the entire state more thoroughly next spring. 

We enjoy going to local museums and learning about places where history happened. On Tuesday we drove the fifty miles from Santa Fe up to Los Alamos, where the final development of the atom bomb took place. Local museums give an in-depth and personal view of the area and events. We were not disappointed by the two free museums we went to in Los Alamos.

The first was the Bradbury Science Museum. It is the chief public facility of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This is a good museum if you like to read. The room displays included:

"History" was mostly about the Manhattan Project.

"Defense" included history of both European and Pacific WWII action, as well as models and explanations of the two atom bombs that were dropped on Japan.

There was also information about nuclear weapons in general and the stewardship of the current stockpiles.

"Research" discussed radiation as well as 
development of peaceful applications of nuclear power and alternative energy sources such as wind and algae.

Another display was the "Tech Lab" with some hands on exhibits that appeal to the button-pushing and game-playing younger generation.

We retrieved our lunch from the car and enjoyed it on a nice bench in the shade just outside of the Museum door. I'm trying to keep our expenses under control. Eating a homemade lunch whenever possible helps a lot. Besides, a sandwich, a fruit, and a couple of cookies has to be healthier for you than most fast food meals.

The free local history museum was only a few blocks walk away. Not large, but packed full of interesting information and insight into the daily life, the feelings, and the hardships of the people who lived and worked on the project in 1943 through 1946. They were scientists and workers from all over the world. Both military and civilian, and while they were there they were not allowed to tell anyone, including their families, where they were or what they were working on. In fact many of the non-scientists did not know what was being made there until after the war ended.

Another exhibit at the history museum was about a lady called Edith Warner who moved to the Los Alamos area from the East.  She worked at a boys' school that preceded the bomb effort, and later fed some of the scientists at her home, which doubled as a tea house.  We bought a book there called The House at Otowi Bridge which mixes her story with that of the author, who was the daughter of the man who founded the boys' school.  It's starting out as a great read!

The drive to Los Alamos and back was quite scenic. Good road and very little traffic. One of our stops on the way back was at the bridge crossing the Rio Grande River, well upstream from where it serves as part of the US-Mexico border. It was running fast and brown from recent rains. 

We also saw three houses near the bridge, in varying degrees of decline.  After starting to read the book, we think that one of these was, in fact, Edith Warner's House at Otowi Bridge, where famous atomic scientists had dinner many times.

We also stopped  to try and get a picture of the distant mountains that still have snow on them. Unfortunately there was a white cloud right behind or over the white snow cap, but if you look hard you can see it. 

By the end of the day we were once again happy to be able to go home instead of to a hotel or motel. 

Seeing new places is enjoyable but exhausting. I was looking forward to our next few days because they were to be in a slightly remote, low-key park.  

Wednesday we traveled.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Santa Fe New Mexico

Saturday morning we decided to drive up to Santa Fe, New Mexico, by way of Albuquerque. A new air filter for the Alfa was on our list of must do's. Craig changed it the last time about two years ago, and it was not an easy job for him. The air filter is a big cylinder that is about 24 inches long. I know Karen's Steve can do a brake job in a parking lot, but most RV parks discourage DYI on-site repair work. So we decided to take the easy way and have it done at the Albuquerque Freightliner shop. We called ahead, drove in, and they did the job while we went to lunch and then waited in the lounge for a little while.

I had not made any reservations in Santa Fe, so as we headed that way I called several RV parks looking for a spot. Since it was Memorial Day weekend they were all full!  No problem. One of my new resource books is Casino Camping. I had checked it a few days earlier and saw there were a couple of casinos near Santa Fe where we could overnight.

We parked at the Camel Rock Casino on US-84/285, where we were the only RV in a large sandy lot, and had a peaceful night. 

Personally, I don't mind an overnight at a casino, but we wanted to spend several days in Santa Fe and I am not comfortable boondocking and leaving the rig all day.  It was OK in Los Algodones because we were only there for a day and there were a lot of other RVs there too. But at this casino we were away from the building, just off the freeway, and our Verizon reception was weak.

So, Sunday I got back on the phone and found a regular RV park that had a spot for us. We drove over to the Santa Fe Skies RV Park, got settled and went to downtown Santa Fe for the rest of the day. 

We wandered thru several galleries and gift shops. The downtown area is a big step up from many of the "gift shop and tee shirt store rows" in some of the other places we have been. Much of the artwork was original and priced in the thousands. 

This quartz and stone sculpture was at least six feet tall.

Even though we had a tourist map of the old town area, we felt a bit lost and overwhelmed. We were happy to find an information desk at the  Palace of Governors and picked up information about the guided walking tour offered every morning by a POG volunteer.

The fact that it rained overnight and was quite cool worked in our favor, because instead of the usual group size, there were only two others wanting to go on our tour, which lasted over two hours and cost a reasonable $10 each. 

I highly recommend this type of guided tour. They are often much better than commercial tours on busses where the guide rattles off a canned patter. 

Our guide told us a great deal about the history of Santa Fe as it is shown in the existing architecture.  

Most of the buildings, and homes all around, are of the Santa Fe pueblo style. They are all stucco, painted in one of 40 approved adobe colors.

Our tour started at the Palace of the Governors and the main Plaza.

We were taken into a typical court yard that is now a shop that sold colorful yard sculptures.

Another courtyard was a wildly growing garden.

As the walk progressed we hardly noticed the sun was coming out and the streets were getting more crowded. 

Our guide pointed out several places we might want to come back to on our own. We learned a lot and enjoyed it very much.

After the tour we took a break for coffee at a charming little restaurant, and then went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

This was one of Craig's favorite pictures of Georgia and a friend.  

What a smile!

On the way back to our car we visited a few more galleries and went into the Saint Francis Basilica Cathedral. A typical, but beautiful old church. 
We were both very happy to go home to the RV at the end of the day. I love having my own bed to sleep in.

One of the things I noticed all over Santa Fe was the amazing lack of graffiti. All those stucco walls and fences and not a single tag to be seen.  Come to think of it, there were no beggars at the intersections, or homeless pushing shopping carts either. 

Where are they?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Petrified Forest / Painted Desert

On our second day in the Petrified Forest National Park we visited the part north of I-40. It is called the Painted Desert.

But before I share what we saw there, I want to respond to a few of my recent comments.

Karen in The Woods said her mother had been disappointed when she saw the petrified wood because she had expected the trees to be still standing. I think this must be a common misconception, because thirty-five years ago, when we first visited this place, I thought the same thing. They should have called it the Petrified Logs National Park!

Judy pointed out the logs did crack into segments due to natural causes.  I knew that, BUT after so many years of helping cut and collect our winter supply of firewood this place reminded me of all that work.  I'm sure there must be a dynamic tension involved to cause the petrified logs to split so evenly into rounds. Fresh wood never would split like this. Rounds are cut and splitting goes with the grain.

I have a good imagination, and had fun speculating about the aliens collecting firewood and leaving a ruined forest behind.  Roswell is not so far away!  :))

An answer to my Florida friends Karen and Al, the RV park we stayed at was in Holbrook. It was a KOA. There was also a Good Sam Park on the same road that look fine, called the OK RV park. Who wants to stay at a place that is just OK?  We usually avoid KOA's because they can be a little more expensive, but our first choice that had been found in the Passport America book was an absolute dump. It was called the ROOT 66 RV park, and we pulled in, took one look and left. I really have to start looking at the reviews and not just the book listings.  The KOA was fine. Clean and convenient, but not spectacular in any way.

Now on to the Painted Desert:

Although there are many square miles of wilderness in this part of the park, the paved road only goes along the southern rim and is viewed at a number of pull out overlooks. If you were just driving through, pulling a fifth wheel or driving a large motorhome with a toad would not be a problem. There are no steep grades or hard curves. I debated suggesting we drive the Alfa around the north segment in the morning and then continue on our way, but decided we could just as easily stay an extra night at the park we were at and pull out Saturday morning. 

Looks like a postcard!  We have so many great shots it was hard to choose which to include.

One of our stops was at the Painted Desert Inn, a restored cafe and hotel. It is no longer used as such, but one does get the feel for the route 66 experience. 

Thanks to these guys who did so much work building our National Parks and doing restorations of many places like this. The CCC provided work for many during the depression in the 30s. 

There was one trail along the rim that we walked. It was about a mile long and had some very good signage marking the plants and explaining what the Native Americans had used them for.  Once again the weather was very mild. 

There were a few other people and a couple of bus loads of school children in this part of the park, but we managed to play leap frog from pullout to pullout with them.  The kids were all well behaved and enjoying themselves. I think many of them were special education students and they were very closely supervised.

At the last pullout we stopped at we saw this delightful rig.

The couple who built and are pulling it have a blog called 
Tiny House Giant Adventure I haven't read any of their posts, but will be following it. Looks like fun!

Finally we have been having fun looking at the clouds and seeing things in them just as we did as children.

Winged Dragon

Flight 370?

I am composing this post as we drive toward Albuquerque New Mexico on I-40.  The day started with clear skies and no wind. We watched the cloud change and have just driven thru our first rain storm with lightning, thunder and small hail. The Alfa did well.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Petrified Forest National Park

Most tourists see the sights at the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona in only one day. It is often a quick stop on the way to or from other attractions. There is one well-paved road that runs north and south through the park. There are no campgrounds within the park, and camping is limited to backpacking into the wilderness area. Although there are some short (2 miles or less) hiking opportunities, most of the park is seen from roadside pullouts or short paved walks. Being full timers allowed us the luxury of spending two days there.

On our first day we started at the 
south entrance on Hwy 180. When visiting a National Park, we always go to the visitors center first and watch the video.
It usually gives very good information. 

In this case there was a self guided walk through an area with quite a few large hunks of petrified wood lying about.

We left our car parked at the Visitor's Center and went down the road a short way to the Long Logs Trail. We were pleased that there was no one else on this trail. I guess it was because it was more than a few steps away from the parking area! Many of the logs were still all there.  I stood at the far end of this one to give a perspective as to how long they were.
In the morning the temperatures were in the mid 70's with a pretty stiff breeze. This part of Arizona is quite high so it doesn't have the blazing hot weather like the more southern parts of the state. 

We had our little lunch sitting on an ancient log. 

We spotted a Collared Lizard along the side of the path.

O.K. The picture above was taken off a sign. This is the picture I took. He was the first Collared Lizard I have ever seen, and I wish the picture had been a better one. 
Our next stop was at the Crystal Forest, an area that was ravaged by collectors. The logs in this area had a lot of crystals within the logs. In the past collectors shattered the logs with dynamite in order to remove the crystals.

These are some of the pieces in this area:

This log was down a slope and has separated as it was revealed by erosion. The separation into segments is natural. But I had fun imagining some long-ago woodsman cutting them up with his chain saw for firewood.  

As the day progressed, the wind picked up, and by mid afternoon it was blowing so hard it became uncomfortable to stand to near any cliffs or drop offs.  The clouds became thick and darker on the horizon, and I saw a few flickers of lightening in the distance. But it never did rain, and we continued our drive through the park.

The Petrified Forest National Park is not just about petrified wood.  There are also fantastic land formations all around.  The same minerals that permeated the wood are in the soils and have colored the residual soil.

After stopping at the Jasper Forest and Agate Bridge we drove around the Blue Mesa Loop. 

One would never know these formations exist  when driving along the flat desert lands just a half mile or so away.

We could have walked down to the bottom of this canyon, but were tired from our earlier walk and leery of the weather outlook.

We returned to the main road and not far to the north we came upon these formations which were called the Teepees.

Our last stop for the day was at the site of a pueblo ruin.  In this area there were many petroglyphs visible on the rocks.

Messages?  Magic?  Or ancient graffiti?

This post is getting way too long! I will write about our second day in the Painted Desert area soon.