Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Room with a View - Apples and Turquoise

Roger here..... We have not talked too much about our campsite at Cochiti Lake near Santa Fe, but it is amazing. The first two pictures show the views from our front windshield.  Not a bad view to wake up to!  The next pic shows our covered picnic area behind the motor home.  The shaded, covered table surrounded by small, smooth pebbles makes an ideal place for the dogs to chill and for Dianne and me to read, enjoy the view, and daydream.  

From our lounging area, we also can see a paved road far down into the valley.  Soon after we arrived, I noticed that there was an inordinate amount of traffic on the road.  The Cochiti Reservation is not a heavily populated place -- 15 + miles from Santa Fe.  I wondered where everyone was going.  I retrieved my New Mexico maps to discover that the road we were watching pretty much ended in the mountains a couple miles from where we were watching.  A puzzlement? 

One morning when I was walking the dogs,  I ran into a friendly lady who said, (* see paragraph below for interesting sidebar on the woman)   "Are you here for the apples?"  I said, "Apples?"  She said, "Yeah, there is a big orchard down the road and people come from miles around when they are in season."  I thought she might be a little touched.  This is a high desert.  There are no trees here other than scrub cedars.  Apple trees don't grow in the desert.  My grandfather in Indiana owned an orchard that I played in every Sunday, so I should know. 

Well, I was really wrong.  Other neighbors confirmed that the orchard existed and that the apples were wonderful.  I googled apples + New Mexico and found all kinds of information, including an Albuquerque TV News Broadcast indicating that it was time to wait in line to buy Dixon Orchard's famous Champagne apples.  We had to go check it out.

*Dianne here:  I heard this elderly woman strike up a conversation with Roger while he was grilling our supper.  I looked out the window and saw an old woman wearing a "Little House on the Prairie" bonnet, walking her little dog.  Not the kind of person you would look twice at (except for the hat).  As they continued to talk, Roger learned that she travels alone in a small truck camper.  She said she just can't get traveling out of her blood; after all, she rode the rodeo circuit for over 40 years!!  Wow, what a gal.  Her children are all grown, out of college, and in productive careers.  People like that are an inspiration to me -- I hope she has safe travels for many more years!  Now, back to the apple saga....

Since our fellow campers indicated that the wait was two hours in your car and an additional two hours in Disney-esque queues, we decided to let the weekend pass before making the short trip (only six miles away).  That was a mistake, because on Sunday they sold out of their famous Champagne apples (not available except at the orchard), but they did still have a limited amount of their Sparkling Burgundy apples - tart and sweet.  We hopped in the car and discovered a wonderland.

The pavement ended after about three miles.  The road was dusty and rutted.  We had no choice but to continue, since there were cars in front of us and behind us, with no place to turn around.  We entered a canyon, and there it was:  Apple trees everywhere!  How cool.  

After passing the column of port-o-potties, we got in line, rolled up our sleeves, and loaded a half bushel of Burgundy Reds in a half-bushel bag (the smallest amount you could buy).  Delicious, by the way.

(Dianne here:  the half-bushel limit didn't faze the locals; they used wagons to load bags and bags of apples and gallons of cider.  I guess we really take our apple orchards for granted in Indiana!

When we emerged, we found ourselves in a carnival atmosphere.  So peaceful. So unique.  Perfect weather.  AND.....  Apple fritters for sale - fresh from the hot oil and smothered with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  We enjoyed the fritters at a picnic table under an apple tree with a Native American and his mother who make an annual trip to the Dixon Orchards.  Really nice people.  My fritters were particularly good.

The apple adventure filled our morning.  We still had the afternoon, so we decided to drive along highway 14, billed as the Turquoise Highway.  We did not go into any of the mines, but we did find some interesting places.  The town of Cerrillos, with its dirt streets and trading post covered with old glass bottles was fun to explore.  

Down the road we discovered the old ghost town of Madrid.  It has been invaded by artists and restaurants!  It was lunch time, and the effects of our apples and fritters had worn off.  We decided to have lunch at the Mine Shaft Tavern.  It was a fun place to eat, and the food was great.  Dianne had nachos.  (My happy smile is due to the fact that they had our favorite Texas brew, Shiner Bock, on draft.  -- D.)

 I had pork stew with green chili.  SPICY - made my nose run - TMI?  Before we left, I overheard our waitress tell another couple that she ended up there because that is where she ran out of gas - kinda adds an interesting flavor to the place :-)

We did not buy any turquoise on the Turquoise Trail, but......  The next day Dianne insisted that the motor home needed a good cleaning and that she wanted me gone while she cleaned.  (She does that from time to time.)  She claims that I am a distraction to doing anything productive.   (BELIEVE IT -- D.)   Personally, I don't see it, but what can I do?  

She insisted that I leave, so I got in the car and went back to the plaza in Santa Fe.  I had pizza on a terrace that overlooked the plaza and the cathedral.  I read a newspaper, then wandered down to the row of Native Americans who were selling their wares in front of the Governor's Palace.  Guess what?  I found a turquoise and silver pendant that matches a pair of her earrings.  She should send me on my way more often, don't ya think?

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!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day in Santa Fe

Hi all, Dianne here.  We've moved to another Corps of Engineers campground, Cochiti Lake, which is located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This will be our home base for visiting this area.

 So far since we've been here, we've seen our first jack rabbits, a large coyote, and Roger saw a tarantula as large as his hand crossing the road.  It must have been really big, if he was able to see it that well from the car.   Hopefully we'll have the camera handy if we see these critters again.  Still in rattlesnake country, but I hope they stay hidden from view!

Yesterday we left our menagerie behind to mind the motor home and went into Santa Fe to do some touring.  Our plan was to take the open trolley guided tour to get the lay of the land first.  We just missed one tour, and had time to kill before going on the next.  We used that time very wisely, and had a delicious breakfast in the plaza at La Fonda Hotel.  The restaurant had been recommended to us by locals we met camping at Abiquiu, and we were not disappointed.   This was one hot and spicy breakfast!

The architecture here is very unique; no buildings are allowed to be taller than this church, so it is mainly low adobe structures. 

I did a double-take when I realized this lovely building is a parking garage!

Santa Fe is a shopper's paradise -- Roger is very lucky that I don't particularly like to shop.  Traveling in a motor home saves lots of money, because there's no room for souvineers!

If you're not into shopping, there are dozens of museums and art galleries.  The best part of our guided tour was that our guide was an art lover, and made sure we saw his favorites.  The statuary all over town is amazing.

Check out the detail on this statue, particulary the individual hairs in his "do."  

This very large statue grouping depicts the end of the Santa Fe trail.

Here's another amazing statue; check out her quilt:

I had heard of the mysterious, miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel, but didn't realize it was located in the middle of Santa Fe.  We paid $3 each admission, and went in to view the chapel.  Here's a link if you want to learn more about it: 

Next to the staircase was a large photo showing how it looked before the bannisters were added to it.  That would have been one scary climb!  

We're here until October 1, so we'll update soon with our other adventures in this area.