Sunday, September 26, 2010

Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera

Roger here....  During our time in New Mexico, we have somewhat fallen into the routine of exploring one day, then resting the next.  Saturday was definitely a full day of exploring.

  To begin, the mountainous picture (taken from our picnic table) that you see is where all of our explorations took place.  The Jemez Mountains are only about six miles from our campsite, as the crow -- raven in this neck of the woods -- flies.

Unfortunately, we were not able to fly.  Getting to them involved traveling beside Santa Fe, then taking an hour-plus drive.  Since we did not get started until around 10:00 a.m., we were starving by the time we arrived at Los Alamos.  We made a quick stop at a Panini place for lunch before really getting a start on the day.   

First stop (after lunch).... Los Alamos, and the Bradbury Science Museum.  Growing up at the beginning of the atomic age made this a fascinating stop for us.  My background as a science teacher (in another lifetime) added to my interest.  It was here in the 1940s during World War II that the Manhattan Project played out - resulting in the development of the first atomic bomb. 

  Watching the twenty-minute film in the visitor center, The Town that Never Was,  brought a surreal look to the scientists and their family members who were sequestered at Los Alamos (a former youth camp) during that secretive time.  The young scientists reported to an address (109 Palace Ave.) in Santa Fe, where they were transported to the remote location of Los Alamos, which did not exist on any map.  All their mail was received and sent through the Santa Fe address, where everything was censored.  For all practical purposes, they had dropped off the face of the Earth. 

 The film showed footage of them working hard, and also playing hard, on the remote mesa that was separated from the rest of the world.  At the end of the war, after the detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of the scientists (whose average age, incredibly, was around 25), left the compound.  However, Los Alamos National Laboratory remained and is still a very active and expanding scientific community - lots of new facilities emerging in this still remote area.  

The free-of-charge museum was filled with hands-on interactive displays -- too many to examine in one visit.  From my perspective, the most riveting document on display was a typewritten letter to President Roosevelt (FDR) from new immigrant Albert Einstein, in which he discussed recent advances with atomic energy, and cautioned the president to develop nuclear weapons as quickly as possible, due to the fact that the Nazis were already doing so.  

The entire town is still monitored by security.  It was a very odd feeling when Dianne and I were channeled through a multi-lane checkpoint as we left the city. 

Second stop....  Bandelier National Monument, just ten curvy miles down the road.  What an intriguing and busy place this was!  Our most visited national monument was busier than usual because admission was free --  part of the nation-wide program of free admission to our national parks.  There was also a festival at the visitor center and no place to park.  We patiently waited in a line of cars where a ranger only let people enter after someone else left.  Honestly, the wait was not too bad.  The ranger was friendly, and what we were soon to see in the park made the inconvenience meaningless.  (Getting in free wasn't such a bad deal either -- D.)
Bandelier was the home of an extensive complex of native american dwellings during the twelfth to sixteenth centuries.  The complex consisted of more than 200 ground floor rooms (which originally were two or three stories high) in the valley, and numerous cliff dwellings that were only accessible by climbing ladders.  I felt like a little kid as I clambered up and over the narrow trails and climbed up the ladders to explore the cave dwellings.  Dianne took the camera away from me (telling me I was taking too many pictures) and patiently photographed the fun.  The cliff wall was covered with hundreds of holes and caves in the volcanic rock.  Petroglyphs covered the spaces between the holes.  An added bonus to our visit were the many native americans who came to pay respect to their ancestors at this amazing place.  

Dianne here:  We learned that many of the Native Americans in Cochiti Pueblo, near where we are currently staying, are descendants of those who once inhabited Bandelier. 

  The adobe structure in the above photo is a reconstructed building to show how the cliff dwellings originally looked.  The cave openings were actually second or third rooms back, inside the adobe structures.  The straight-line holes show where the wooden timbers were inserted into the rock and formed the roof of the adobe structure.  What was interesting to me was that most of the petroglyphs we saw appeared to have been done by people standing on top of the roofs of the adobe structures; they were all about the same height.

Another thing I found interesting was that some of the interior walls appeared to have been plastered or whitewashed, with decorations painted on it.  One especially well-preserved area showing this is now covered in glass to protect it.  It also appeared that shelves and niches were fashioned into the wall.  My mind wondered what items were stored in these niches and on these shelves -- tools?  food?  weapons?  

Here are some of our favorite petroglyphs.  Can you make them out?

We listened to a volunteer guide explain that the rooms were small because the inhabitants didn't have many possessions, and spent most of their time outdoors.  Sounds like Roger and I!!

He also said that many of the lower rooms were used for food storage.  The upper rooms were entered by a hole in the roof.

This was our first visit to a national park (monument) in the west since we started our full-time travels.  (Until now we've been stuck east of the Mississippi, where national parks/monuments are few and far between, at least in the midwest.)  Dianne celebrated by buying a National Parks Passport Book.  Stamping stations are set up in each national park and monument.  Dianne intends to have her passport stamped many, many times.  

Third stop....   This was really just a drive-by, but it was different than anything we have seen thus far.  Instead of driving back through Santa Fe, we decided to take a slightly (distance-wise) longer route through the Jemez Mountains and through the Valles Caldera National Preserve. 

 The first stage of the trek sent us up, up, up through pleasant alpine scenery on a switch-back ladened roadway.  We eventually topped out at 11,000 feet and dropped into an amazing, high altitude, valley.  The expansive grassland, completely surrounded by volcanic peaks stretched for miles.  (It was so huge that we couldn't get it all into one photo.)  

Hundreds of elk, visible as specks to the naked eye (and not visible in our photos) dotted the sea of grass.  The first view of the valley was one of those jaw-dropping moments.  In reality, the valley is the caldera of a super volcano that collapsed thousands of years ago creating a hidden Shangri-la.  Too bad that we were pressed for time at this point (time to take the dogs, patiently napping at the motor home, for a walk).  We reluctantly bypassed the entrance to the preserve and headed down, down, down through a ravine.  Homeward bound.  

The boys were happy to see us when we returned.  Big Chuck, the cat, even raised his head to give us a look. 

 We and the boys spent some quality time on our patio.  Doesn't Jasper look nice in the Purdue chair?  He thinks he's "above" using a dog bed.  Chaplin prefers grass, but in this terrain the dog beds are preferable to cactus, yucca, and rocks!  We also discovered some new wildlife on our patio - a lizard and a scorpion.

  Now that we know there are scorpions on our site, we won't be leaving shoes out or the boys unchaperoned!

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