Monday, May 25, 2015

Last Stop on the Way Home--Ute Lake State Park

We didn't get to see everything around Albuquerque, but it was finally time to make our way back towards Oklahoma.  Our oldest son, Luke, is graduating from medical school at the end of this month, and we wouldn't miss that for the world.  So we looked for a spot half-way between Albuquerque and Oklahoma.  Ute Lake State Park near Logan, New Mexico, was the spot.  They have pull-thru water and electric sites that are the longest we have ever seen.  They also have a picnic table protected on two sides with walls, and a row of trees to protect us from the storms that were predicted for our stay.

It was pretty weather when we arrived, so we took advantage of that to take a nice long walk around the park.  We discovered an old paved road that now leads into the lake and is completely shaded with brush and trees.

That made a fun walking path, as well as a good place to ride our bikes.

There was also a playground not far from the campground, with some pretty old kids playing there.  Denisa prefers the swings, but she also likes a good slipper slide too.

Ute Lake is 13 miles long with lots of coves and fingers--the perfect kind of lake for kayaking.  So on the prettiest afternoon of our stay, we inflated the kayak and put in at the Rogers Park about 3 miles from our camp site.

It was a nice day to be on the lake.  The night before, we got rain that fell all night.  As you can see from the clouds, we were forecast for more rain today.

Last night's rain had muddied the water and brought more of the red clay from downstream of the Ute River.  It was a very red water paddle!

The largest metropolitan city in this area is Tucumcari--population 5500.  We drove in to check out the sites, and found another town using its location on Route 66 to its advantage.  There are murals painted on buildings all over town, and we found this one on the side of the local grocery store.  Its claim to fame is that it is the largest Route 66 mural in the world.  It even took two pictures to capture all of it.

We stopped in at the Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory, because we love factory tours.  Through a window in the lobby, we could see a room full of guys in white shirts putting fresh cheese into stainless steel squares. But they no longer do official tours.  

In order to purchase this cheese, you have to drive several blocks to the local Ranch Feed store. This was a unique store filled with everything from musical instruments to horse halters to jewelry to clothing to food.  They also served barbecue in the back. While there we purchased some of that Tucumcari Mountain cheese and a loaf of raisin bread that had been baked that morning.  Both were delicious!  But the favorite part of the stop was the piano at the front door.  It had a sign that read "Play Me" so Denisa sat down and did just that.  She really misses having a piano.
The rain and the wind stopped long enough for a camp fire one evening.  We have read different blogs that give cooking directions complete with pictures.  Since we aren't traveling as much this week, it seemed a good time to try a cooking blog segment.  

First you must have a handsome frontiersman start a campfire using only wet wood.  He will find that a tumbleweed makes the driest kindling available in an area that got 3 inches of rain yesterday.

Have this handsome frontiersman toast four large marshmallows at a time, rotating them over the hot coals until the mallows achieve toasty perfection. These warm marshmallows are then laid between graham cracker squares in such a way that the heat starts to melt the milk chocolate between the crackers.  

Squeeze the graham cracker firmly, so that most of the marshmallow oozes out of the edges; then nibble it away with just a bit of the cracker and chocolate.

Now comes the secret part of this educational cooking segment. Where most novice smores eaters would settle for the dry chocolate and graham cracker in the center, experienced campers like us know it is time to reload.  Back to the campfire, we toasted more marshmallows to lay between the crackers and chocolate.

You keep repeating--toasting more marshmallows and eating the gooey edged with just a little graham cracker and chocolate.

We reload until we eventually run out of graham cracker (or marshmallows in the bag).  It's not an easy recipe to follow, but it is the yummiest smores we have ever eaten!

In between eating indulgent recipes, we also checked out the bird life at the lake.  We loved these bright yellow birds, especially when they were flitting around the yellow wildflowers at our campsite.
 Where we had walked the first afternoon, a new pond appeared after the first night of continuous rain.  We thought it was interesting that ducks were swimming at a water hole that didn't even exist 12 hours earlier.

The rain also brought out a turtle traveling to higher ground.  He was close to a foot long.  Denisa attempted to put her hand close to the turtle to give it some scale of size.  But she kept thinking of stories of snapping turtles that latch on to appendages that get too close.  Since she was on this nature hike by herself, no appendages were available for this picture.

We've been moving about as slow as this turtle as we make our way back to Oklahoma.  But now we're zooming through this last portion of road that we have seen many times before.  We arrived in the panhandle of Oklahoma for Memorial Day weekend.  We are spending our time visiting with relatives rather than exploring new adventures.  So there will be fewer travel blogs (and even fewer cooking segments) for a short time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Santa Fe and Bandelier National Park

We had been in the Albuquerque area for almost a week, and we hadn't driven north to Santa Fe yet.  So Sunday morning we picked out a church to attend in Santa Fe, and then did some sightseeing around the city afterwards.  

We drove by "The Roundhouse," the informal name for New Mexico's state capitol building.  It's the only round state capitol in the United States.  We then walked the Historical plaza area downtown.  We walked by San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure still standing in the United States.  The original adobe walls and altar were built in 1610.


We also walked by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.  We thought it was interesting that there were tents set up in the basilica courtyard, selling arts and crafts.  We pondered what Jesus would think of the  sellers in the market place so close to the church on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Santa Fe is known for its art community, and the area around the plaza is saturated with shops and galleries.  There were tourists going in and out of those stores.  But Mark is saving a lot of money now that Denisa has no room in the motorhome.  We walked right by all those stores without even looking

Tucked amongst the shops are trendy restaurants.  This is the only type of shopping we are doing these days.  So we stopped into a little French Bakery and Creperie for a treat.  We had a savory crepe for Sunday brunch.

Our last stop before leaving the historic plaza area was the oldest house in Santa Fe.  Denisa is standing in the doorway, which is barely tall enough for her 5'3" frame.  She would have been taller than the average homeowner of the 1600's.
 But our real destination of this beautiful Sunday afternoon was Bandelier National Park.  It takes about an hour to drive northwest from Santa Fe to its location.  As we drove closer to the park, we spotted some changes in the mountains.  We commented that they looked like swiss cheese.  We found many more of these swiss cheese rocks once we got inside the national park.

We walked the main loop trail, that led us right up to the canyon walls.  These walls are made of volcanic ash that compacted into soft rock called tuff.  Tuff will erode in the wind and rain. The ancestral pueblo people used tools to speed this erosion process to enlarge some of the natural openings into doorways and windows. 

There were ladders propped up against the canyon walls that allowed visitors to get a closer look inside, as well as to look back outside.

The pueblo people that lived here a thousand years ago certainly had a beautiful view of the canyon out of those windows!

  After living in a motorhome for four months, we think we could adapt easily to being cliff dwellers.

The little stream that runs through the center of the canyon is Frijole Creek.  It is literally translated as Bean Creek.  The day we visited it was about three feet wide and less than a foot deep.  It could be characterized as a babbling brook.  But in September 2013, rains turned it into a raging flood that swept through this canyon.  It took out hundred year old trees that formed log jams in the floor of the canyon and tore out bridges and picnic tables.  The piles of logs are still found throughout the floor of the canyon.

We also hiked the trail to the Alcove House on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Since we are spoiled with getting to sight see on week days, it was hard for us to get used to the crowds of the weekend.  But most people stay close to the visitor's center on the shorter trails.  This trail took us further up the canyon to a larger opening high up the canyon wall.  You can see some of the ladders we will use to climb up 140 feet to the opening visible on the left.

 These ladders are considerably taller than the ones closest to the visitor center.  There are three different ladders to climb ever higher to the entrance of the alcove house.  Denisa is on the first ladder,

and Mark is on the second ladder.

There was another great view down the canyon from the entry of the alcove house once we got up all those ladder steps.  This side of the canyon was shaded from the heat in the summer, and got the best warm sunshine in the winter.  There were hundreds of cliff dwellings and pueblos built on this wall of the canyon, and it looked like a beautiful place to live.

The space inside the natural cave opening was large, but was probably a group gathering place with the round kiva behind Mark.

What goes up must come down, so we hit the ladders for the return trip to the canyon floor.  To the left, you can see two of the ladders, with the third and longest ladder out of the picture and further below.  Denisa is on the top ladder, waiting on some shaky visitors that were wishing for an elevator at that point.



On the right, Denisa is half way down the second ladder, and Mark caught a picture of a bird soaring overhead.

We made it back to the canyon floor, still marveling at the size of the old pine trees that made it through the flood of 2013.  We also noticed that most of the really tall pines seemed to form a fork way up on their trunk.  Not sure why that happens, but we tried a panorama shot up the trunk to document it just for fun.

Mark is always offering to climb trees, and this seemed a good time to encourage him to climb one since it was parallel to the ground already.  Even though it was a dead tree caught in the log jam from the flood, it was ten feet above the path and looked like fun to Mark.  The people walking down the path under the tree looked a little startled at someone hanging out on a tree so far above them.  Or maybe they were a little startled at the age of the kid climbing trees.

Or maybe they were just surprised at how handsome this tree climber was.  That's what Denisa thinks, and she just had to add the next picture because she liked it.

We continued down the path, and found this doe munching on the  dense greenery in the canyon.  This mule deer seemed to be quite comfortable with sharing the path with humans, but we couldn't help but notice she was sticking her tongue out at us hikers.
It's now 5:30.  The visitor center is closed and most of the Sunday crowd has gone home.  We've already hiked the two most popular trails and experienced the best of Bandelier National Park.  But the park trails are open until dusk, and the trail to the upper falls is just another three miles.  How could we leave without seeing the falls?

So we headed down the trail with the sun lighting up the canyon wall.  After the crowds of the day, we didn't see anyone on this great trail that took us down to Frijole creek, and then up the wall of the canyon.
We made it to the end of the trail with plenty of sunlight to enjoy the falls.  It was beautiful and peaceful, and reminded us that this was yet another of God's wonders. 

We enjoyed a very peaceful wander back to the parking lot, now almost empty of cars.  It was another good day and we're so glad we got to experience another park that we didn't know existed--Bandelier National Park!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tent Rocks National Memorial

 We found another national park that we had never heard of--Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.  But now we are great fans!  Even though it was cloudy with chances of rain, we made the 38 mile trip through area Indian Reservations this afternoon to get to Tent Rocks.  

We have to say that this is an instant gratification national monument--as soon as you arrive you see awesome teepee-like rock structures that are amazing in size and color!

The swirls of color in the canyon walls are the products of volcanic eruptions that left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits.  Because of the layering of this different volcanic material, there are bands of different colors in the canyons.
It was so much fun hiking through the canyon that continued to get narrower and narrower until it formed a tight slot canyon!

There is a 1.7-mile "Cave Loop hike" that is interesting, but the best formations are found in the adjoining "Slot Canyon Trail".

We made our way through the winding slot canyon with its swirling stripes. We knew that we had found another of God's wonders!

Once through the narrowest slot, the canyon again opens up into huge tent formations that are up to 90 feet tall.  

We found that most of these tent rocks used to have a hard caprock on top that resisted the effects of erosion.  Denisa is standing under a smaller tent rock with the caprock still in place.

But throughout the hike we found most tents without their cap, or some with tiny caps fashionably askew.
The area was so unusual to look at, but at the same time majestic in size!  We kept saying, "This is so cool!"  Perhaps the reason we had never heard of this little park is because it is relatively new. It was designated as a national park in 2001.

Through out the canyon there was a sprinkling of trees.  Mark has always been a tree climber.  Wherever we are hiking, he'll pick a tree and announce, "I could climb that tree!"  Most of the time Denisa can convince him that it is not in the best interest of time (or health insurance) to climb that huge tree.  But today Mark climbed not this tree trunk, but the tree root.

The Slot Canyon Trail winds around the canyon, and then there is a steep section that takes you to the top.  Half-way to the top, you start to see the pointy tops of the tent rocks.

But the very best view of all is when we climbed to the top of the 630 foot canyon wall, and could even see the grassy top of the next canyon wall.  It's hard to capture that view in a picture, but it was awesome looking down on those tall canyon walls, and the tents below.

This was a fast view, however, because the impending storms that had been threatening all afternoon, let loose in a violent gale of winds.  We were the only people on the narrow ridge of the canyon wall when the rain came, complete with the wind gusts of the storm front.  It was raining hard sideways, and we were a long ways from any shelter!  Denisa started running for cover down the path that led back into the canyon, while Mark attempted to take some pictures from the top.
In the national park brochure, the pictures of the tent rocks and the canyons look white.  In fact the full name of the park "Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks" was named  because it means "white cliffs" in the traditional Keresan language.  We were treated to darker lines and more stunning colors in the canyon today because of the moisture of the rain soaking into the rocks.  It was beautiful even in the rain!

We had on rain coats, so we ran back down the steepest part of the trail to find a little protection under a tree.  We waited out the rain, and then started our descent back to the parking lot.  We were still exclaiming about the beauty of this canyon.  We knew we must return on a blue sky day, because those white tent rocks against a blue sky would be amazing.

By the time we had walked half way through the canyon, the skies cleared and we saw glimpses of blue sky on the horizon.  We really felt like we hadn't finished this hike since we had to make such a speedy retreat from the summit.  So right then, we decided today would be a great time to see this canyon for a second time.  We turned right around and started the trip to the top again.

There might not be a lot of blue sky showing, but we did get a kinder sky picture from the top of our favorite part of the canyon on our second trip to the top.

We also had the time to look down into the adjacent canyons to see the rock formations that we hadn't seen before because of the rain.  This second canyon was wider, but still beautiful!

We also had the opportunity to talk to several other hikers that had waited out the rain to get to the top.  We always enjoy meeting new people, and we usually share common interests with fellow hikers.  This group was from Seattle, and they made the trip to Santa Fe to participate in a 50-mile bicycle race tomorrow.  This was their day off from bike training, so they opted for this hike.  It's a small world, as he was raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and graduated from OU.  We must have visited too long, because another storm front  started to build.  We took the last picture of the dramatic sky, before we made another hasty retreat from the canyon ledge.

We didn't stop for many pictures this time through the canyon, as we were seeing most of it for the fourth time today.  But there were some interesting shadows developing in the tightest curves of the slot canyon.

It was truly one of God's wonders to see the swirling path that the water had taken to carve this slot.

We were hurrying back to the parking lot to beat the next rain storm.  But we were still a half mile away when it hit.  We knew that there was a cave on the cave loop, so we ran there as fast as we could, thinking that it would be a great place to wait out the storm.

The park brochure never mentioned that the entrance to the cave was eight feet off the ground!  Denisa couldn't climb up that slick wet rock into the cave entrance, even with a boost from Mark!  So we found a little shelter in the canyon wall, and got wet for the second time today!
It's always an adventure, even when the weather doesn't cooperate with our plans.  And we feel like we've been blessed to get to wander through another of God's wonders (twice)!