Friday, October 28, 2016

Day 38 - A Few Grand Days with Family

Few people have the privilege of choosing their family.  I'm one of them.  I have an awesome son and two special cousins...and that's it.  I became an "only" child many, many years ago.  For most of my adult life I have adopted special friends as brothers and sisters.  These folks are as special and significant to me as one may feel about their own biological connections.

I mete Tanya many years ago and we hit it off from the first day.  We started claiming each other as siblings long ago.  I have another sister in Houston that I love with all my heart as well.

Tanya is a nurse.  She and her husband live in Placitas, a small bedroom community and former Hippie hangout just north of Albuquerque.  We parked the RV at a small city campground close by and spent a wonderful three days in each other's company. We visited a wild mustang sanctuary that she and Fritz support, met some great folks, enjoyed a few meals together and saw a b bit of Albuquerque.  We even got to take in the new Tom Cruise "Jack Reacher" film.

                                    She's a real beauty, inside and out!

        Our last evening together we enjoyed a great BBQ back at the campsite.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Days 31 - A Full Month on the Road - Nine More to Go!!!

Day 31 - A Full Month on the Road

Today marks our first full month in the campervan.  It’s been ten weeks since we left Anchorage.  So far we have traveled through nine states – Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  We’ve put on a bit better than 3,000 miles on the RV.  We have visited better than two dozen state and national parks and monuments.  We’re on budget.  We have seen some pretty amazing things and we are just getting started. 

Today was a driving day with hopes of reaching Canyon de Chelly in Arizona by evening.  It was slow going over narrow gravel and country roads.  We traveled through high desert and Navaho Tribal Land for most of the day and then only realized after six hours into the day that we had made a wrong turn and were literally 30 miles from where we started in the morning.  We had made a huge circle and were headed for Gallup.  So we regrouped and came up with an alternative plan.  We ended up in Gallup at a rather upscale RV park with all the bells and whistles…except for a relatable Wi-Fi signal.  We will be here for four nights now planning a few long day trips in three different directions. 

Day 32 – Canyon De Chelly National Monument – Navajo Tribal Lands
Heading back north and then west through Widow Rock (Tribal Headquaters) we were then directed due north to the park.  The park is at the city limits to the town of Chinle, AZ.  Chinle is a typical native town with lots of large public buildings and a grand school.  Lots of low income housing units are scattered and there are a few service stores and gas stations.  The park headquarters was small and as usual, well equipped with movie, displays, and good maps.  We headed out on the north road to the first overlook.  The canyon was indeed beautiful with 1,000’ high shear cliff sides and a grassy floor full of native farms.  The colors were impressive.  There were a few pueblo ruins to see as well as come really amazing rock formations.  We spent the next two hours enjoying the views from several parking areas where a short walk took us to the canyon’s edge.

We had lunch at the picnic area near the historic trading post.  The shop was well done and well-appointed with some really beautiful pieces handmade and authenticated.  Bobbie successfully purchased a beautiful ring for me and was able to keep it a secret for a few days.  We took a slightly different drive back.  It was a long day with five hours of roundtrip driving and visiting the park as well as a few native sites and shops.

Day 33 – Meteor Crater and Winslow, AZ

Another long day-drive to Winslow, AZ.  It took us 2 ½ hours from Gallup to get to the crater.  From a distance it simply looked like a small mound in the desert.  As we got closer we could see that it was a crater and from the top it was really quite interesting.  The center is run by an Indian corporation instead of the national park system.  Interesting.  From there we drove into Winslow for the ubiquitous photo “standing on the corner.”  A sweet western town, Winslow’s downtown area seemed to entirely be dependent on the song.  Several gift shops lined the main street and people were all over taking photos and buying t-shirts.

Day 34 – Hopi Pueblo, Gallup, Jerry’s Café

The pueblo was only 30 minutes south so we decided to include it in our “day in Gallup” itinerary.  The village was pretty sad…old adobe styled public housing surrounded by a lot of dilapidated mobile homes and a lot of closed up shops.  The number of indian jewelry stores was overwhelming.  The museum was closed as was the mission.  We drove around the village a bit admiring all of the adobe bread ovens and then headed back to Gallup.
Downtown Gallup was similar, although in much better shape.  Curios and gift shop after shop lined the main streets.  There was little to remind one of the “old west.”  The highlight of the day was an amazing Nex Mex lunch at the famous Jerry’s Café.  Tasty, hearty, full plates make for big smiles and full tummies.

Day 35 – Gallup to Carlsbad Caverns

Long drive, our longest yet, all 450 miles of it to the southeastern part of the state.  We traveled through many small farming towns, lots of hay fields, and the occasional pecan orchard.  Where ever the water is hiding, they did a good job of finding it!  Lots of natural gas and oil wells too.  Carlsbad is a big town, aobut 60,000 people so there was sure to be a Walmart, Home Depot, and Safeway.  We found a nice RV park on the south end of town and settled in for two nights.

Day 35 – Carlsbad Caverns National Park

It had been 25 years since I was here and a first time for Bobbie.  We drove the short distance from town to the national park and then into the visitor’s center.  There we arranged our tickets for the tours and headed off to the natural entrance of the cave.  It was a long, steep downward trail into the cavern.  900 feet below the surface the light disappeared and the walkway lights, as dimly lit as they were, created an eerie yet spectacular mood to the magnificent formations.  It was cold, all of 56 in the cavern, and we were glad to have taken jackets.  We had lunch in the great room before touring the other half of the cave.  You’d think as a captive audience, we would have been charged a huge amount for a chef’s salad and sandwich.  Surprise, surprise...with drinks only $12 for the two of us. 

We were not able to book spelunking tours online and by the time we got to the park all had been sold out.  There were openings for the next day but that was not in our plans.  We headed back to camp in the early afternoon and enjoyed a lazy day doing nothing.

Day 36 – Roswell, NM to Sumner Lake

We left Carlsbad early and heading back north through Roswell for a stop at the famous UFO museum.  It was a fun experience, well done with lots of documentation and reading, photos, newspaper articles, a long movie, and an kitschy gift shop.  It was a fun thing to say we had done and we got some great photos.  Afterward we stopped at the local Hobby Lobby store to get some craft supplies.  Gotta keep busy on those down days when idle hands need to be kept active.

A few hours later we were in the town of Ft. Sumner and looking for a campground for the night.  The lake was a short drive from town and offered a great spot with wonderful views of the water.  The $10 per night camp fee was a nice change too.

Day 37 – Ft. Sumner National Monument to Bernadillo, NM

This morning before returning to Albuquerque we visiting the Ft. Sumner memorial.  What a nice museum and display to remember the atrocities committed by the US Army against the Navajo and Apache Indians.  We spent a few hours at the site before heading to Albuquerque.  We arrived late afternoon and settled into a local RV park for the next four days.  Tomorrow we hook up with my sister Tanya and her husband for a few special days.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Days 28 - 30 - Another Wifi Free Zone

Day 28 – Aztec Ruins and Angel Peak

We got things together early today even though we have less than 100 miles to travel.  Our destination was the town of Aztec, NM and the pueblo site there followed by finding a suitable bush camp for the night.  The Aztec Ruins were not originally on our plan but after listening to our guide in Mesa Verde we decided to stop by and see the park.  We were not disappointed.  This pueblo site had a fully reconstructed great kiva as well as many intact rooms and chambers.  The little museum at the visitor center was terrific as was the film.  We had lunch at the site and then headed further south in search of a spot for the night.  Twenty miles down the road we spotted a sign for Angel Peak Recreational Area and decided to give it a try.  Six miles down a gravel road found us at a campground overlooking the badland canyons.  We had our pick of sites and decided on one that was right on the canyon rim.  Our picnic table literally on the edge of the canyon proved to be an awesome dinner table and the campfire that night was outstanding thanks to Bobbie’s pyro-maniacal skills.  The stars were bright, as was the ¾ moon…so no Milky Way tonight.

Day 29 – Chaco Culture National Historic Park

We slept in a bit and enjoyed a morning bicycle ride around the canyon rim.  We set off further south toward our next historical park.  From the main highway we traveled 20 miles on a paved road followed by 14 miles of a really rutted dirt road until reaching the park boundary.  We were amazed that a national park would have such unimproved access until we got to the actual entrance to the park.  It was warm and dry, high desert at its best and our campsite for the next two nights was right near the ruins.  We settled in for a late lunch and an afternoon of “doing nothing.”

Day 30 – Biking Chaco Culture National Historic Park

With trail map in hand we headed out on our bikes to ride the ten mile loop road through the park.  The canyon is neither very wide nor very deep and the ruins are all within a short hike of each viewpoint and parking area.  The sky was clear blue and the 80o temp helped make the ride one of the most enjoyable so far.  The ruins were huge.  The Chaco culture was the largest of the pueblo people and some of the sites had as many as 500 rooms.  We wandered through five of the nine pueblos on the canyon floor.  There were few people; probably due to the location and limited access to the park.  One of the trails followed the cliff walls and we were able to walk right up and view many interesting petroglyphs.  It was a short day.  All in all we biked about ten miles and hiked another three.  Back at camp we settled in for a relaxing uninvolved afternoon in the dry desert.  We had a nice campfire this evening under the star-filled sky and full moon.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Days 23 to 27 - Four Days in Durango, CO

FINALLLY, after five days we have a decent WiFi signal....ah...this must be the getting used to it part of living on the road!

Day 23 – On to Durango, CO

We stayed in Blanding yesterday and enjoyed an unplanned day of leisure. We drove up to Monticello to visit the ABC store and replenish our bar, and then we stopped at the grocery in town for some veggies and supplies.  Back at camp we lounged, surfed the web, caught up on email and correspondence, and played a few games of Scrabble.  We have now established a daily routine of at least one, more often two games before dinner. 

We headed out Thursday morning and pointed our RV toward Colorado.  The drive was an easy two hours through Navaho and then Ute reservations reaching Cortez at noon.  The information center once again proved to be a great stop and we were able to purchase tickets for the Mesa Verde pueblo site tours as well as get some great ideas for how to spend the next few days.  After lunch we headed to Durango, CO to find an RV site for the night.
We settled in at a KOA campground a few miles southeast of town.  Full hookups and cable TV helped to make the decision to stay four nights.

Day 24– Back to Cortez and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

The gal at the information center planned today out for us with a drive back to Cortez and then up to Douglas and the Crayons of the Ancients National Monument.  The visitor center was awesome with a great movie.  And here’s some advice.  Whenever there is a film showing at a visitor center, take the time to see it.  We have learned over the years that no matter where we go and what country we may be in, if there is a movie playing, it’s a good idea to take it in.  From these films you are able to get an overview of the site and surrounding area, get further help and ideas on how to plan your day, and there’s the opportunity to add in things that you may not have known about.  After the movie we always take our map back to the information desk and get their help on how to include these new found secrets.

After visiting the museum at the center we included three additional planned stops we would have otherwise overlooked.  The first was a huge pueblo that had been reconstructed.  It was a small site but worth the time and narrow gravel road to get there.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering the artifact field reading all of the informative placards and going inside a lot of the structures.

From there we headed to Hovenweep National Monument.  Hovenweep contains several pueblo towers and houses build around the rim of a small canyon.  The two mile rim trail allowed up to get up and close to them and that was a special treat.

From there we crossed back into Utah and then back into Colorado as we headed back to Cortez.  Along the way we saw a winery sign so out of place in the desert that we had to make a stop.  The semi-retired couple bought the place 20 years ago, planted the vines, built the house and winery, and welcome guests between 12 and 5 to their kitchen to sample their wines.  The market to the local southwestern Colorado market and from the looks of things are doing quite well.  We chatted for quite some time, Bobbie sampled their blends, and we purchased a couple of bottles.

On the way back over the pass to Durango, we stopped at the Old West town of Mancus (pronounced Men-Cus).  A bit of Main Street 1880 still was intact and it was fun to see the old buildings full of galleries, cafes, and gift shops.  There was even a saloon in the “saloon.”

Day 25 – Mesa Verde National Park

The gem of the national park system, Mesa Verde is home to over 600 pueblo cliff dwellings.  As such it is heavily visited and that’s why we needed to get tour tickets ahead of time.  Only one pueblo can be viewed without a ranger.  We left camp very early for the two hour drive to the park and then to the visitor center and museum for some orientation.  At 10AM we joined the group for a two hour tour of Balcony House.  The trail to the site was steps and ladders, one ladder over 30 feet high.  Our ranger guide was well informed and the site was awesome with the stone masonry and architecture.  We stopped at the park café for a coffee before heading over to the other side of the park for our next tour, this time of Long House…126 rooms and 21 kivas.

We were early so we enjoyed our picnic lunch and then self-toured Step House on our own.  At 2PM we met our guide Spencer, who we discovered really enjoys an audience.  He was an archeologist as well as a park ranger and knew a lot about the site.  The 1 ½ hour tour ended up being well over two hours with a two mile hike to the access point to the site.  We spent a great deal of time at the site itself and took a lot of photos.  Probably our “most photos” day so far.

Day 26 – An Unexpected Free Day

It stormed, heavy rain and wind, all night and in the morning there were no signs of it lessening so our planned day exploring Durango turned into a project and rest day instead.  We visited the Walmart and Home Depot for materials to build a charging station in the RV for our electronics, we stopped at an RV store for replacement parts for a faucet and the toilet overhead fan, and we took in a movie at the local theater.

Day 27 – Durango, CO

Today we explored downtown Durango, mostly Main Street.  We visited and toured the railroad museum, and shopped a bit.  It was a bright sunny day and the streets for very quiet for a Monday morning.  The local ACE hardware store caught our eye as did an artist supply shop.  Time to stock up on some art supplies.  We had lunch at the Irish Pub and then took in a matinee at the theater.  Back at camp we cleaned out the refrigerator with a leftover night dinner.  This happens to be one of our favorite weekly meals and we always look forward to mixing up the flavor palate with all the different tastes we’ve had all week long.  It’s also a great way to be efficient with our grocery budget.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day 21 - Natural Bridges National Monument

Bobbie has a secret agenda.  She is determined to get me to hike five miles a day.  Today I staged a revolt...or so I thought.

We departed a bit later since the park was only 40 miles away.  The drive was outstanding up and down canyons and washes.  The Manti-LaSal National Forest was alive with juniper and Pinyon pine trees.  It was so green we forgot for a moment we were still on the high desert plateau.  The national monument was beautifully maintained.  The entire park road system had been repaved and it was an amazingly bright and sunny day.

I agreed to hike down into the canyon to see the first bridge from close up.  It was a crazy hike down, about 1 miles in total, across narrow paths at the cliffs edge, down ladders and steps cut into the rock.

When we got to the bottom, we were at the canyon floor.  There was a cool stream running through the middle with loads of cottonwood trees, cactus, bushes of varying sizes and species, and loads of wildflowers.  It was enticing enough that we decided to hike the canyon floor to the next bridge.

It took us two hours to reach the next bridge and then a climb back up the canyon walls to the lookout point.  From there we discovered we had hiked an additional two miles from our car.  We took the over-mesa trail and headed back.  All in all we hiked the five miles anyway.  It seems as hard as I try to avoid exercise, it always seems to find me!!!

Day 20 - Monument Valley Tribal Park

This morning we got up early and headed south to the Arizona border.  It was an hour drive through some pretty awesome landscape.  The juniper and pine forests disappeared and we found ourselves in traditional desert.

The Navajo have occupied this land for eons and the tribal park and the landscape were breath-taking.  We drove around the park on rocky gravel roads admiring the formations and buttes before driving back to camp late in the day.

The visitor center was large and limited.  The focus was the gift shop.  There were hundreds of foreign tourists and tour busses using the tour provider converted pickups.  At each of the turnouts and viewpoints were make-shift jewelry stands.  Have to admit that we visited a few.  Bobbie bought some fetishes to serve as zipper pulls on her shoulder bag.