Thursday, October 23, 2014

Valley of Fires

Our next three stops in New Mexico were a first-time visit for both of us and all were much more interesting than I anticipated.  The first was Valley of Fires Recreation Area.  The most recent lava flow through the Tularosa Basin was 1500 to 2000 years ago, recent in geological time.

I really liked how the campground was on a sandstone hill overlooking the massive lava field.  This is the view from our site.

This is the view off the other side of the hill.  You can see some lava on that side also.

Here are some statistics about this lava field.
Imagine, 44 miles long.

The next morning we hit the trail to take us right into the flow.  From the hilltop, there's no end in sight.  That's part of the campground on the left.

But to really appreciate it, we have to get down off our safe hill.  I was fascinated with the edge of the flow.  You can just imagine the surface lava cooling while the molten lava underneath continues to push against the crust.

We saw collapsed bubbles and lava tubes, like this one that went right under the trail.

It was much more interesting in person since pictures just don't do it justice.  

There's plenty of vegetation in that seemingly hostile environment. 

Including this juniper, estimated to be over 400 years old.

One thing that surprised me was that going off-trail was permitted.  I'm not sure how I feel about that. I love the idea of freedom to explore, but I worry about the possible damage. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Into New Mexico

Heading into New Mexico on US 285, we passed through some heavy smoke for about 25 miles.  We never did find out where the smoke was coming from, but luckily it cleared up by the time we reached one of our favorite boondocking spots.  About 35 miles south of the border, and just 3/10 mile east of the highway, there is a great spot on National Forest land (36.46601, -105.90892, at the turn.)  It's a nice peaceful spot in the middle of nowhere, but does have Verizon internet.  Here's a picture from when we were there a couple of years ago.

Past Santa Fe, we decided to continue south on state road 41. We found it to be not exactly the best road, but wanted to stop at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.  The monument is comprised of three pueblo sites and we decided to only stop at Gran Quivira because it seemed to have the most to see and was right on our way.  :-D

First we checked out the visitors center which was small, but interesting.

Then we walked around the grounds.  These pueblos were major trade centers.  Salt from nearby dry lake beds was an important commodity traded between Pueblo and Plains Indians. Gran Quivira grew from a cluster of pithouses 1200 years ago to a stone and adobe village with 2000 people.

The plaza was the heart of the pueblo.

In the 16th century, Spanish explorers came to New Mexico looking for riches.  They were disappointed.  But the Pope was not so easily dissuaded and charged the Spanish crown with Christianizing the natives.  In 1630, the first mission church was started at Gran Quivira.  The remains of the church is in the foreground, with the cemetery in the rear.

In 1659, work was begun on a new church.  Men of the pueblo carved and placed the wooden beams. How they did that, I don't know.

Here you can see more of the beams from the side view.

The new church was never completed and the pueblo was abandoned during the 1670s.  The theory is that this was due to raids by the Apaches, drought with wide-spread famine, and epidemics from introduced diseases.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Did Somebody Say Scenery?

Our next stop was on public BLM land outside of Antonito, Colorado.  We've been here before and there is something special about this spot.  All that black smoke in Antonito is a clue.

It's the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Train on its way to Chama, NM.  Here's a video of it as it passes our overnight spot.  Turn your sound up for the full effect.

But we were not here to take the train because we already did that a couple of years ago.  To see the post on that trip, click here.

It was a fantastic train ride, climbing up and over the Cumbres Pass to Chama.  As an added bonus, I was unexpectedly wowed by the bus ride back to Antonito.  Remembering that ride over state road 17, we decided to take the bus's route in the car, thinking it might be even more gorgeous with the fall colors.

The road follows the Conejos River for about twenty miles where willows and cottonwoods provided color.

After about 20 miles, the road left the river and the aspen took over.

And we crested La Manga pass at 10,230 feet.

 After the pass, we began to parallel the train tracks,

If I was my father, I would have stopped right there and waited for the train to appear.  However, I figured it was stopped for lunch, so we continued into Chama and had a nice lunch ourselves.

On our return trip, I was hoping to catch the train at a opportune spot, but we only caught a glimpse of it through the trees.  I had to settle for more pretty trees.

I think this drive is one of the prettiest I've ever seen, especially with the fall foliage.

For anyone who is interested in our boondocking spot outside of Antonito, the coordinates are 37.05389, -106.03918.  It's a little tricky because most of the area is private, but it you put the coordinates in your GPS it will take you right there.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


We go through Denver quite often on our way from and to our winter quarters in Mesa, AZ, and we try to find different routes.  This time, we headed south on I 25 to Walsenburg, then took La Veta pass over the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  It lived up to its 'scenic road' designation.  I don't know what I was doing, but this seems to be the only picture I took.

Once over the pass, we stopped in tiny San Luis for lunch and were very surprised to find an amazing attraction.  On a 7/10 mile trail up a mesa overlooking the community, are two-thirds life-size bronze statues depicting the stations of the cross.

The bronzes, created by Huberto Maestas, can best be described as powerful.  Some were just too disturbing to photograph.

At the top of the mesa is the Chapel of All Saints, which was built by local volunteer labor and donations.

Quite a feat for a town with a population of only about 600.

From the top is quite a view of San Luis and the surrounding mountains.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Denver Outings

Most of our time in the Denver area was spent with family, but Ron and I did go on a couple of day trips while we were there.  (And yes, I am again running behind on my posts.)

The first was to Colorado's newest state park which opened just last year.  Staunton State Park is located off US285, about six miles west of Conifer.  At 8100 feet in elevation, we chose an easy two-mile trail.  But, fortunately, there are no bad trails.

The soaring granite cliffs are spectacular.

Another day we went to Rocky Mountain National Park to see and hear the elk.  Late September is prime time to observe the big bull elk . . .

Gathering up their cow harems.  This guy had about 30.

And he made sure none of them got away.

We didn't see any skirmishes between the males, but we did hear them bugle.  It was pretty cool.

For those of you familiar with Old Fall River Road, the one-way, unpaved road to the Alpine Visitor Center, I have sad news.  Due to over 12  inches of rain in six days of September 2013, the historic road is closed indefinitely.  So far, they're just saying it's closed for 2014, but just look at this picture of the damage.

On our way home, we saw some of the other damage caused by that same deluge.  There were sections of the road that had been rebuilt or were still being rebuilt, and places like this where it was obvious that there had been massive flooding.

But somebody had fun decorating for autumn.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Family Time

Since both Ron's daughters and their families live in the Denver area, he had plenty to keep him busy while I spent a week in Florida with my daughters.  When I returned, we stayed another week and Ron's son from Salt Lake City also flew in for a few days.  We had quite a time.  I know I should have gotten more pictures.  Ron would have loved a group shot, but we never managed it.

The day after I flew back from Florida, Ron and I babysat Kelli's two children for a few hours.  Little Elsie is pretty laid back.  We were there for her 1 month birthday which almost coincided with her original due date before she decided to make an early appearance.  At one month, she was already 6 1/2 pounds, up from the 4 pounds, 13 ounces she was at birth.

Kelli brought Elsie and her big brother Harper (I can't call him 'little Harper' any more) to visit us in the campground.  Harper remembered Grandpa's bus and wanted to drive it again.  Since he's quite a talker, it's only natural that he should try out the CB.

While Grandpa had his chance to hold Elsie.

We also enjoyed spending time with Kim's two.  We had a chance to see one of Adam's soccer games where he scored TWO goals.  It was pretty exciting.  Adam said he could hear Ron yelling encouragement.  And Shannon certainly impressed us with her gymnastics when we observed one of her practices. At one point in the floor exercises, she did 10 back handsprings in a row.  Geez.  I told her I even had trouble with a somersault,  Sorry, no pictures of them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Toadstools and Footprints

In the far northwest corner of Nebraska, in Oglala National Grassland, lies Toadstool Geological Park.

The stark landscape is the remains of an ancient shallow river which, 30 million years ago, supported miniature horses, humpless camels, gigantic tortoises, pigs, and rhinoceroses.

The 'toadstools' were created by wind and water which eroded the soft clay faster than the sandstone rock on top.

There is a poorly marked 1-mile trail that enabled us to roam among the interesting formations.

Now we have seen places like this before, most notably Goblin Valley in Utah and Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico, both of which I loved.  But Toadstool Geologic Park had something that they lacked - fossils!

According to the trail guide, we should have seen bones in the rocks.  Well, either we just don't know what we're looking at, or we weren't looking in the right place.  But we couldn't miss the footprints!

These were made by the rhinoceros of the time, the Subhyracodon.  Here's a closeup.  I wished I had a whisk broom to sweep out the sand.

Across the way was a slipped cap rock with prints from an ancient migration.

It's fascinating to think of the mammals that roamed here 30 million years ago.

The other thing that really made our day was this sighting of an owl in a tree right along the road.  Not the best picture, but you can see his inner eyelids.