In Hastings, 4/25/2015

Well, it is Saturday and we are back in Hastings. The house looks clean and tidy just as we left it except for the neatly organized piles of mail on the dining room table.  

When we left HWH the battery on the Jeep was dead, we left the lights on. No matter, we pushed it into place, hooked it up to the coach, checked lights (they run off the coach). 
About five hours later we pulled into the driveway, disconnected the Jeep and rolled it up by the shop and hooked up the battery charger. I backed the coach out the driveway, into the street and went around the block so I was lined up to back the coach in from the street, 400 ft through two 90 degree turns and right into the barn.
It took about 2 hours to unload everything from the coach that wasn’t going to get left there and move into the house.  Turn up the heat, turn on the water heater and the water.  One house to another, both  comfortable, both familiar, both home.
Susan had some checking to do on Kathy. Kathy had some doctor stuff going on the day we got home. She was fine but it did both Kathy and Susan good to check in.
So now we get back into the home front routines.  I have Habitat starting in a week.  I need a hair cut. I have 2 doctors, a dentist and an eye doc appt in the next month.  Susan has some too. The Jeep and the coach both need scheduled maintenance. I came home to two very low tires on my car, Susan had one. So we will be busy for a while.
Next up for us, Washington, Oregon, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower and the Buffalo Round Up at Custer State Park, SD. And maybe a trip to Indiana too. All of this still to come this summer before the snow flies.
We hope you have enjoyed sharing our adventures. There are more to come. While challenging at times, it has been fun to put this blog together. It is a journal that will help us remember where we have been and what we have seen and done.
Susan and Roger.

The Way Back Machine, 4/21/2015 – 4/23/2015

It is a long way across Colorado and Nebraska.  After about 400 miles we stopped at Windmills State Recreation Area just east of Kearney. It is close to the interstate and has 6 small stocked fishing lakes and a collection of old windmills.

The grass was green.  Someone was mowing, it smelled nice.  The park was almost empty.  Good to stop and get out for  a walk.

When I got back I was looking at the ForeForum, a website for owners and people interested in Foretravels.  There had developed during the day a big discussion about making/modifying cup holders. I solved this a while ago so I posted a picture on my insulated, adjustable, non-moving cup holder. I like what works.
The next morning we got up and headed off for a 370 mile day to an Army Corp of Engineering Campground east of Des Moines. 
We stopped at Saylorville Lake, Cherry Glen COE Campground.  $10/night.

A very large lake made by two dams.

And a nice campsite.  It was very windy for both of the past two days.  Mostly from the northwest which gave us a bit of a tail wind.  

Our last leg on this run to HWH Corporation in Moscow, IA was less than three hours.  HWH has hookups so we were going to get there, plug in and head for the Tipton Family Restaurant in Tipton, IA.  The food is good, the portions suitable for burley farm boys and the prices good for their miserly father.  It was indeed, good and I brought home half of my lunch.  We drove around tipton, the county seat to look at houses.  There were some beautiful Queen Annes, some Victorians, lots of four squares and several attractive bungalows.  It has a big couthouse and a grand library.  A pretty nice town.
We stopped for fuel acress from HWH, $2.49/gal for diesel.  We bought fuel near Denver so this was about 700 miles heading east.  The tail wind helps.  We averaged 11.25 mpg on that stretch.  Very nice.  
There were about 8 other coaches there at HWH from all over for service.  Another Foretravel pulled in and the fellow knew who I was from the Forum.  He was from British Columbia, a full timer and working his way back that way.
Our stop at HWH was to check for leaks.  They drive the coach around to the side of the building and on to an elevated structure so that it is easy to get underneath.

They must have 24′ ceilings or more.  Something like this at home would be nice.  Another Foretravel owner in Australia built something like this only the legs were on pivots so that it folded almost flat.  He would drive on it and then hydraulic pivots would push it up into a raised position.  I think I would rather have something solid.  Another fellow in BC built a drive over pit.  It is some work to crawl under these to work on them.

Anyway they found six leaks. One was on their equipment so they fixed that and marked all of the others with wire ties for me to fix.  There are dozens of air connections so after 15 years to only find six minor leaks is good.  And all of those that need fixing are pretty easy to get at.  Something to keep me busy.
So on towards Hastings.  Our friend Kathy has been checking the house, collecting mail, watering plants and ready for us to be home.  We are ready to be home too, although it feels almost like just the next stop for us where we will be for a while and then elsewhere.
Last year when we got back at the end of April we were disoriented for a while, so much more space.  We couldn’t find each other.

The Way Back Machine, 4/18 – 4/22/2015

We have left Santa Fe and are heading to Denver for one of two regular maintenance stops.  Santa Fe to Denver could be done in a day but not us.  We drove east and then north on I25 through Raton Pass (about 7900 ft). We have been through this pass several times and it is a relatively easy pass to go over, not too steep, not too high. Then north towards Pueblo, CO where we stopped for the night in a unremarkable RV park.  It was only $20.  The weather report had snow between Colorado Springs and Denver.  We were headed for the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, CO so stopping and waiting a bit for the weather to clear seemed prudent. In the morning we set out for Longmont, about 4 hrs away.

There indeed was snow.  The roads were clear so off we went.

It was an OK drive but getting through Denver is always crazy.  Lots of traffic slowdowns on Saturday? And accident that put everything to stop and go for 30 minutes didn’t help and a 5 mile backup to exit to the High Times Marijuana show at the Merchandise Mart really didn’t help.  Better to go by there before the event than after.  Apparently it was sort of like a cook-off to crown the best of the best.  I guess they must have had samples. 

But we managed to get to the Boulder County Fairgrounds.  These are usually pretty nice, pretty cheap. This one was just fine. Not planned, just a good spot to head for.  And like most of these stops there is always something to see.
There was an auction going on.  A couple of classic old cars.

Both Edsels.  Lots of art work, old guns, and other old stuff.  We bought nothing.

There was also a horse show going on. Young folks all dressed up riding their horses. Straight ahead stop, stand, then forward turn right, stop, turn 90 degrees right, stop, move forward one step, stop, move backward two steps, stop, turn 90 degrees left, trot in a a half circle, stop, back up a step, stop, move forward back to the line of horses side by side where you started, stop, turn 180 degrees and then back up into line.  Way cool!
This gal won first place in her age/skill group.

I think she was second place.  Her horse had a very long tail.  We think they were all about 13 years old or so. This is a rider/horse sort of thing where they both have to learn how to do this.  It was fun to watch. The horses were sort of glammed up, saddles were fancy, saddle blankets were the glitzy ones and the riders were in their finest performance wear.

The next day we moved about 8 miles east to St. Vrain State Park.  The camp sites have paved RV pads and we were expecting rain.  Our service call was at our camp site the following morning so we figured dryer and seven miles in the right direction.
In the morning, John Carrillo, an Aqua Hot specialist stopped by to do an annual maintenance on our heating system.  It is fairly simple to do, I have all the parts to do it myself but John can get it done in about 1/4 the time it takes me.  It was a good thing we had him do it. He found a fuel leak and had the appropriate parts to fix it and get us back on the road.  I would have found it, had no idea what to do, made some calls, ordered some parts, spent the same amount of money and spend 6 hrs and several days doing what it took John about 2 hrs to to.  And John is a nice guy.  There are three people in the whole country that get to work on my Aqua Hot, John, Rudy from Houston and me (Rudy showed me how to do what needs to be done).
So we are off by 10 AM, heading for somewhere in Nebraska.

Santa Fe, 4/5-4/17/2015

Part 4, Art and Museums continued.

Up on Museum Hill we visited The Museum of International Folk Art. This is mainly one person’s collection of folk art from around the world gathered on his travels.  There is something about collecting hundreds of thousands of folk art things that would make all of those museum gift shops happy. I think you would have to be a little off plumb to be so compulsive a collector.  One interesting feature of this museum is that the collection is displayed in every direction.  There is plenty at eye level and then things near the floor, high up on walls and on the ceiling. There are dozens of diorama like displays and then on the back side, a small opening to look in on them from an unexpected angle

Dolls at dinner.

A last supper sort of thing.

A Day of the Dead band?

A Mexican Village.
And hand done Samplers from the 1700’s and 1800’s.

Also on the Hill is The Museum of Indian Art and Culture.  This was a wonderful place.  There was a pottery section that described the many different techniques for making and decorating pottery not only from different groups but also families within a tribe.  There was a section on jewelry as an art and turquoise as a material, how it was formed and how where it was formed changes its look and color and how those can be used to date and grade stones.  There was a section on Native music and music making instruments.  Lots more than just drums.  And a section on clothing.  There were dresses, moccasins, leggings, war shirts and ceremonial wear.  And paintings and lots of sculpture from very small icons to monumental sculptures outside in the sculpture gardens.

The metal fringe on this sculpture moved in the wind.

Another museum on the Hill is the Wheelwright Museum.  It is the legacy of an unmarried only child of a very wealthy Boston family who came to appreciate the SW Native American culture and religion and sought to collect and preserve the religious and ceremonial aspects that were closely guarded and passed down by example and oral history.  And as the native population was decreasing there was concern they would be lost.  She collaborated with a Navajo man who knew many of these ceremonial and ritual traditions and shared her concerns and put aside the protective traditions to help her preserve them.  This is a small museum, mostly showcasing one artist at a time.  The display in the main gallery now is a photographic journey of the artist from discovering the post nuclear age impact on his people through their struggle to survive and into a new sense of hope for the future.  Navajo Indians were used to mine raw uranium for the Manhattan Project. The had almost nothing in the way of protective gear and almost all of them suffered from the dust and radioactive residue that clung to them both inside and out. It was decades before any help was made available to those made sick doing this work for the war effort.

We also went up to Los Alamos with our friends, Ed and Barb to see the Los Alamos History Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum.  The History Museum was very interesting, it covered the period from when that area was a private ranch school for boys from wealthy families to the start of the Manhattan Project and the growth of Los Alamos.  There was quite a bit about life in Los Alamos during the war and the period after.  This was a secret place during the war.  People would arrive through a store front in Santa Fe, get their credentials, leave through the back door for a four to five hour ride through some rough terrain to the main gate.  Once past the main gate most never left until after the war.  Mail was carefully censored in a way to prevent anyone from knowing it was censored.  If the censors didn’t like something they would send it back to the sender with instructions how to fix it. There were men and women there as well as babies.  Birth certificates of babies born in Los Alamos during the war give a PO box number in Santa Fe as the address of their birth place.

The Bradbury Science Museum was more about the Science Lab today.  There was a section on the kinds of problems they had to solve to make nuclear weapons but most of this museum is devoted to things that have been done since the war. The development and advances in super computers and programming and the medical advances that have been made.

Everywhere you look there is something interesting.
This is the Research Office for the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.  It was originally an Army Officers quarters in the 1800’s, remodeled to the Territorial Style late in the 1800’s and back to this look in the mid 1900’s.
Really, everywhere.

I have no idea what this was but it was very nice.

Even a tree.

It was a lot of work.  When Ed and Barb were there we were extra busy.  But there was always time for a sit down break, a cup of coffee or tea or hot chocolate.

I suppose I could go on and on, Oh wait, I already have.  

Santa Fe is a great place to visit for many reasons.  We have been here ten times in seven of the twelve months.  Winters are much milder and summers are never as hot and much dryer than Minnesota. It is not as green and there aren’t many trees but the colors and textures of the high desert are very captivating. Come see for yourself.  For all the time we have spent here we keep discovering new things to see and do. If you only have a few days treat it like a fine dinner, do just a few things and take in all they have to offer with time to savor and enjoy.

We are leaving Santa Fe, heading towards Hastings. But not in a straight line.

More later,  Susan and Roger

Santa Fe, 4/5-4/17/2015

Part 3, Art and Museums

Santa Fe and New Mexico have long been an artist’s community. They come for the weather, the scenery, the quality of light and color and for the freedom to pursue their art as they wanted. Santa Fe recognized this early on and worked hard to attract artists.
They were successful. Today there are more than 250 art galleries in Santa Fe where art is sold. There are museums too, too many to list them all but here are some.
The New Mexico Museum of Art *
The New Mexico History Museum *
The Palace of the Governors *
The Museum of International Folk Art *
The Museum of Indian Art and Culture *
The Georgia O’Keefe Museum
The Institute of American Indian Arts
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

And many more.

We have been to all of these at one time or another except for the last one. the museums with a * are part of the New Mexico State Museums. You can buy a pass that gets you into each one of them one time. Or you can become a Museum member and get into all of them as many times as you want in a year. Many of these are big enough and exhibits change so that more than one visit is helpful to absorb all they have to offer. And you get 10% off at the gift shop in every museum and at museum cafes.  

In 1912, the New Mexico Museum of Art was built in Santa Fe just off one corner of the Plaza. It was a modern building (for 1912) but it is built in a Pueblo/Spanish Revival style which is the preferred architectural style for Santa Fe. All buildings built after 1912 have to comply with this style model or the Territorial Style which was popular as New Mexico worked towards statehood. Every building built before 1912 is considered an historic building and has to be maintained as it was.

There is an interior courtyard. The building to the right is an auditorium. The posts, beams, corbels, lintels, vigas, scuppers, color and rounded shapes are all part of the style.

This piece was done with feathers, bark, moss and many other bits of more than 250 natural materials. We both thought of Suzie Schulze when we saw this and remembered how she incorporated natural materials in her work including the one we have in our coach.

This painting looks like spring going up toward Chimayo. The white blossoms on pear trees were everywhere. A blue door on your home is to insure good luck. Color is everywhere. No Santa Fe art visit would be complete without some Gustave Baumann, one of our favorite artists.

This is his 1918 original painting of Day of the Deer Dance. From this painting he would carve a wood block to make the final reverse image woodblock print.

The interior of the Art Museum follows and is an example of the architectural style.

The county court house and council room do too.

The wood work and fresco paintings are quite stunning

The New Mexico Museum of Art attracted many artists from the eastern US when it was opened because they had an opportunity to display their work without the judgmental east coast attitudes.  It is not surprising then that New Mexico became an early center of modern art.  Today’s exhibits showcase many of New Mexico’s most admired artists and photographers.
The New Mexico History Museum is relatively new but incorporates an amazing walk through time from the ancestral Puebloans through the wild west days and the push towards statehood and the days since.  We are seeing more of this type of museum layout done chronologically along a path that leads you through the story.
I’m going to stop here.  Google Blogger is up to it’s old tricks.  The rest of this just disappeared and appears to be unrecoverable.
I’ll start over on the rest of it.
More later.
Susan and Roger

Santa Fe, 4/5-4/17/2015

Part 2, Great Food

Santa Fe is known for art, art of all sorts, I’ll talk about the non-edible art next time.  This time I want to remember two great spots for their really good food.
These feature great New Mexican cuisine, not really Mexican, not really Tex-Mex, not really what Minnesotan’s think of as Mexican but more the cuisine that has evolved here over hundreds of years blending the flavors and ingredients of Mexican, Spanish, Native American and the last to the table, the Americans moving west.  What ever you want to call it, it is very good. These two places do a particularly good job of it.
Cowgirl BBQ

This is pretty much what the name says and much more.  Every kind of BBQ and whatever can be done on a grill. An entire sub-menu of Cajun/Creole foods including a wonderful seared scallops dish (Susan’s favorite, see her checking the board?) Great burgers from plain to the Mother of all Green Chili Burgers (really, it was spectacular). Breakfast (way beyond scrambled eggs) on the weekend and everything SW as well.
The inside is rustic bunkouse. The walls are covered with pictures of cowgirls, all authentic, most signed, many of those in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and of course Dale Evans.
This was the nice dining room. We have eaten here many times and always enjoy it.
It is almost always busy, this is a very popular spot for the folks who live here. It is hard not to be discovered by visitors so they show up too.  Music on the weekends and one or two nights a week.  And it is right on the bus line from our campground.  
Rancho de Chimayo
Rancho de Chimayo is on the High Road to Taos between Santa Fe and where else, Taos. The road follows the old road to Taos through the mountains.  Chimayo is a small town about 1/3 of the way to Taos and is the home of several prominent weaving families, sculptors and other artists and the Rancho de Chimayo, a generations old family hacienda and ranch turned into a restaurant in the 1960’s to preserve New Mexican food and hospitality that the same family has owned for decades.  They have done well.
We first found out about Rancho de Chimayo in 1980 talking to some folks we met at Zion National Park.  They were traveling much as we were at the time.  No particular path, no particular time line.  They told us about the best New Mexico restaurant they had been at and said we should try it.  We got there twice in 1980 and back every time we have been anywhere near since.  We ran into the same people twice more, the last time in Calgary, Alberta.  We were on our way to Jasper, they were returning from Alaska. A chance encounter.  We were glad they told us about Rancho de Chimayo.

There was still snow in the higher elevations.

It is hard not to really appreciate this drive.

It is an unassuming place, nestled in the hills. The rooms of the house make up smaller dining rooms, each in a different color with original furniture and local art.

There is a bigger dining room that was a back porch.

And out in the back, several terraces for outdoor dining when the weather is appropriate.
The food is always good especially with best friends.
Prickly Pear lemonade and a tastey enchilada.

And a sopapilla with honey.

It is a very pleasant meal in calm, familiar surroundings with wonderful people helping you to enjoy the meal and the moment.

So that’s the food part.  Some folks may not appreciate as we do.  You should come for a visit and sample life and food here.  The desire to come back gets stronger with more visits and the need to stay longer each time seems more important.
Next, art and museums.
I want to thank Susan for her expert editorial part in puting our blog together.
Susan and Roger.

Santa Fe, 4/5-4/17/2015

Part 1

Santa Fe is one of our favorite places to visit.  We first visited in 1980 and have come back every few years ever since, this visit is our tenth as best we can remember.
We like the high desert (7,000 ft), the location, the colors, the really nice people, the art and don’t forget the food.
Santa Fe is about 60 miles north of Albuquerque. Going towards the north the elevation rises toward Santa Fe and then descends  further north. From Santa Fe heading east or west you will generally go up.  So, Santa Fe is in a sort of geologic saddle.
There are three campgrounds in or very near Santa Fe.  One is on the south end of town in a rural area.  We stayed there two years ago.  It was nice but it was about 10 miles into the heart of old Santa Fe, the Plaza. Four years ago we stayed at Trailer Ranch on Cerrillos Rd.  It has been around since the 1950s as a place for early travelers with RV trailers to stop. Today it is about 1/2 mobile homes for seniors and 1/2 an RV park for adults, no kids. The third is Los Sueños RV Park right across the street from Trailer Ranch.  We tried this one this time.  None of these are fancy.  They have the basics.  Los Sueños was back from the road so it was quiet at night.  Most of the time we were there it was less that 1/2 full.  The best part of these two campgrounds on Cerrillos is that they are on the bus line.  And the #2 bus goes right to the Plaza.  And it is $1 for a senior all day bus pass.  The bus ride to the Plaza took about 20 minutes.  It would have been nearly impossible to drive to near the Plaza, find parking and walk in the same time and it would have cost far more than $1.  Riding the bus gives you time to look at what you are going by.
Cerrillos Road back in the 1950’s was a two lane New Mexico highway leading to Santa Fe.  Today it is a busy major N/S route, 3 lanes in each direction, from the older part of Santa Fe to everything that has been developed since then to the south. There are major shopping centers, every imaginable big box store, auto dealers and more.  And houses everywhere.  
When we first came to Santa Fe 35 years ago most of this was still rural with scattered homes and small acreage sites.  Land was reasonably cheap from our MN perspective then and housing was affordable. We thought about moving here but there were a lot of strings still attached in Minnesota.
So here we are once again in a place we find engaging and fun and feels very comfortable to visit.  We have been here enough that it only takes a day or so to remember how the streets run and how to navigate in the historic old part of town.
Many Bus Stops have historical markers that talk about the roots of the people and the places they mark.  Across the road the Trailer Ranch bus stop talks about the early visitors that came on Rte. 66.
As in many SW towns the Plaza is the center of town, the center of life in town and the gathering and meeting point in town.  Early in the morning the Plaza is a pretty calm place.  By mid day, everyday, it is full of people, full of the life and spirit of Santa Fe.

On one side of the Plaza is the Palace of the Governors.  That building has been the seat of government in one form or another for about 400 years.  Santa Fe has been a Capital City for more than 400 years.  The only city older in the US is St Augustine in Florida but only about 20 years.
One corner of the Plaza has a Five and Dime that is famous for Frito Pie. It is a bag of Fritos cut open and filled with Chili served with a spoon. Most everything is this store is much tourist oriented
On the other corner the La Fonda Hotel offers very nice accomodations, a variety of shops and three spots to eat from fine dining to one of our favorite spots, the French Pastry Shop.  The La Fonda has been there since 1929 and was part of the Fred Harvey hotel system for a long time.  It is now privately owned but retains all of the color and texture of a familiar SW hotel.
Over the years we have had breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, late lunch, coffee and a pastry or just coffee here. This bakery was part of the original hotel and has been owned by the same family for more than 40 years.

The Plaza comes alive during the day. There are food vendors cooking fajita, lots of folks selling jewelry in front of the Governor’s Palace and across the street, usually somebody playing a musical instument with a hat out and lots of people to watch.  We were there on a Saturday, it must have been Prom day at the High School since there were quite a few young ladies in lovely dresses trying to walk in extrodinarily high heeled platform shoes and constantly adjusting this part or that in what were obviously not their normal clothes.  Lots of posing for pictures.  A big white limo full of one bunch, a big black limo full of another.  Not sure if that means anything.  There was a fire truck there too.  The firemen were giving out plastic firemens hats to little kids who were getting their pictures taken next to the fire truck.  A police car was there too and the two cops were taking off their bikes from the rack and suiting up for a bicycle patrol.

The Plaza is a place where people meet and relax, take some time out and savor the day.  There is so much to see, places to visit, museums to absorb, art to imagine owning and life going on here in Santa Fe and the Plaza helps us to remember to slow down and enjoy the moment.
We stayed in Santa Fe for 12 days, our longest visit yet and when we left we knew there was more to come back for.
More later.
Susan and Roger

Cochiti Lake, 4/1 – 4/5/2015

Cochiti Lake is a reservoir created by damming up the Rio Grande River. This area is part of the Cochiti Pueblo reservation. The US Army Corps of Engineers built this earth filled dam starting in 1965. It was completed in 1975. The dam is more than 5 miles long and is the 10th largest dam in the US. As with most COE sites, providing recreation opportunities is an important part of the development. At most COE sites there are very nice campgrounds with electrical hookups. Many have water at each camp site, some have waste connections. And with our Senior National Park Pass these sites are $8-$13/night.

Apparently being nice to the people who lived there was not so high on the COE agenda back then.  The Cochiti people lost significant areas of agricultural land and sacred areas flooded as the waters behind the dam rose.  And a lot of farm land was flooded below the dam due to seepage through and under the dam. And then there were developers who wanted to take over large areas of land near the lake to develop a new town for recreation and vacation.  They envisioned as many as 40,000 people.  The current population of the Pueblo is less than 600.  The Pueblo has worked to stop private development and to restore downstream farmland.  The Pueblo now owns a gas station and store and laundry and a small housing development for members of the Pueblo.  No other private development has been allowed.  In an agreement and cooperative effort with the COE drainage and irrigation canals have been built downstream of the dam to help restore traditional agricultural lands.

We (the coach) are near the middle of this picture.

I was surprised the dam was as long as it is. The spillway to let the Rio Grande continue south is about in the middle of the dam. The water level seemed just below normal. The top of the dam was about at the height of the campground, 251 ft. above normal river level.

The campground was about 200 ft elevation higher than the lake. It was another 300 ft climb to the Visitor’s Center. It was closed but scheduled to open in another week or so. I rode my bike up to the Visitor’s Center (about a mile away) and then down a bit and out on to the dam road.  I had to go through two locked gates so I didn’t go very far. Homeland Security sort of thing I guess.

This was a very nice stop for a few days to slow down after the Grand Canyon and before we get to Santa Fe where we will be for almost two weeks. Our friends Ed and Barb will be stopping for a 3-1/2 day visit on their way to California. It will be nice to see good friends.
It was Easter weekend when we left on Sunday for the grueling 35 mile drive to Santa Fe. 😜 The campground and the picnic areas were full. The boat launch area was busy. There were sail boats and fishing boats and kayaks out on the lake.  
A helicopter was flying over to a small inlet way on the other side of the lake and dipping a firefighting bucket into the lake and then flying off a ways to dump it and back again and again. It was a reminder of the very high fire danger that exists in most of the areas we have been in over the past two months. Water is scarce here in the best of times. For now most of this area and Texas and California have been in a severe drought for the last four years.
This is a place where we would return.
More later.
Roger and Susan

Durango, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, 3/29 – 4/1/2015


Durango is about 40 miles east of Cortez so we took a day and drove over there. This is another place we have been to in the past. We thought we might take the narrow guage train up to Silverton but that run had not started for the season yet. There was a shorter trip but it left a 9 AM. So we just drove over, spent a few hours walking around, had lunch and drove home.
I am sure if we had stayed in the area that we would have found much more interesting stuff to do but Durango for a few hours was just like Prescott, a nice old town converted into a tourist oriented town. At least this helps to preserve the old buildings and to some degree the look of the old town.  We walked quite a ways up and down the main street of old Durango where the old business buildings, the old stores, the banks the train station and all of the other early buildings were.  Virtually every one is now a restaraunt, a store selling new age trinkets, sandals, an extraodinarily high priced mountaineering store, unusable antiques stores, crystals, beads and Sedona wanna-be stuff, probably a dozen shoe stores, some very high end clothing stores, t-shirt shops and every other thing you can imagine to milk every possible dollar out of the tourist who comes to Durango hoping for that old west experience.  
I don’t think that in 10 or 12 blocks on either side we saw a single store or restaurant that any ordinary resident of the the area would have shopped or eaten at.  I am sure some blocks away there is a real hardware store or places where people who live there shop.  It is too bad that what we remembered about Durango is gone at least what we saw way back when is gone.  We contrasted that to Cortez where the main street is where all of the commerce of everyday life seemed to go on.
But like so many towns Durango has adapted to changing times and survived. The Durango, Pagosa Springs, Chama area has always been a favorite place we remember.
The train depot was old with a silver mining past. Part of it is now a museum which was interesting.
This old Curtis airplane was the first airplane to fly into Durango, or so they claimed. There was a big model railroad sort of depicting Durango, old cars and trucks and lost of other old stuff.
The model of the drive-in movie theater had a modern day tablet for the screen. The museum was in the old roundhouse, a building where locomotives and rail cars could be maintained or repaired.  The tracks leading into the roundhouse were like spokes on a wheel fed by a big turntable in the center. Buildings like this have rarely survived. I would have put in a picture but none that I took would have helped you understand.

We left Cortez and drove south towards Shiprock, NM and then a bit east through Farmington, NM (the fourth largest city in NM) and just a few miles more to the San Juan County Fairgrounds where they have cheap RV camping with electric and water hookups.  The fairgrounds are immense.  They have barns for many hundreds of horses and cattle and sheep and what ever else they show at the fair, room for 560 RVs with electric and water hookups and a dump station, a casino/race track for gamblers/horses and room for thousands of cars. The County Fair must be a really big event.  They also have other events there as well.  While we were there the Passion Play was being presented each evening.  Several hundred cars showed up each evening and then left.  As far as we could tell there was only one other RV there and they were quite a ways from us.

This is what road graders used to look like.
We stayed there so we could drive down to Chaco Culture National Historic Park. It was about 30 miles south from Farmington and then more than 20 miles west on a rough dirt road. Chaco Canyon is another World Heritage Site. From about 800 AD to 1200 AD Chaco Canyon was a cultural, ceremonial, religous and learning center for the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in much of the Four Corners area, some several hundred miles away.  It was also a major trading center for other indigenous peoples from Mexico to the south, the great plains to the north east and from Nevada and California to the west.

Chaco Canyon is a shallow canyon among the mesas and buttes of this region. There is evidence of a small river that ran through the canyon although it would have been dry at most times of the year. When it rained (about 10″ per year) water would flow off the mesas that made up the sides of the canyon. This water was caught in catch basins where evidence of small dams has been found. At the head of the canyon is Fajada Butte. This along with some of the surounding peaks formed sacred alignments marking the canyon’s significance. The top of Fajada Butte has many monuments and structures that are used for marking solar, lunar and cardinal directions and events.

Unlike the great cliff houses of Mesa Verde, Chacoans built their great houses on the canyon floor mostly near the south facing canyon wall. There were dozens of Chacoan Great Houses built throughout the canyon.  There were massive stone structures with hundreds of rooms in mutliple stories.  The appear to have definite plans from the start but some took centuries to complete.  Each is shaped like a D with the straight side facing towards the mid-day sun and precisely aligned with the rising sun on the spring equinox.  Researchers have found markers on the canyon edges, sometimes several miles apart that mark the exact alignment of the spring and fall equinox of the sun as well as moon alignments.  All of these markings were used to align buildings and roadways s well as to signal planting times and other seasonal events.

All of these dozens of great houses were built so that they could see and communicate with each other.  Prehistoric roads led from Chaco in precise alignment to more than 150 other distant Great Houses in the region.  These roads were essentially straight lines from Chaco on which many other distant Great Houses were located.  Where cliffs or other obstructions blocked the way, stairways and ramps maintained the alignment.

The biggest of the Great Houses is Pueblo Bonito. Obviously, this is not what the Chacoans called it. Actually no one knows what the Ancestral Puebloans called themselves or this place. There are no written records of any type and only oral histories and legends give any clue as to what Chaco Canyon was called.

This is a painting of what Pueblo Bonito likely looked like around 1100. It had several hundred rooms and more than 20 Kivas of different sizes at different levels. They were built over hundreds of years, the designs evolved, the construction methods changed and they were likely for different clans visiting from distant pueblos. No way to really know.

When Chaco Canyon was discovered all of these Great Houses were buried under hundreds of years of blowing sand and dirt.  The early explorations excavated and exploited what they found.  It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that scientific efforts took over and preservation became a prime motivation.

An arial view (not my picture) shows what Pueblo Bonito looks like today. We have always wondered if any of the cliffs ever collapsed and here we saw where the entire cliff face collapsed around 1960 and crushed the upper section of the Great House.
Trails through these structures are pretty organized, you can only go where they go.  Here we climbed over the fallen cliff face along the back wall.

We have never seen Kivas this big.  These were three or four times bigger than any we had seen before.  

These Kivas had high walls and were covered by a complex roof system. The inside walls would have been plastered and decorated.  Each Kiva had four foundations for the vertical wooden columns holding up the roof. The fire pits and Sipapu (the portal from which their ancestors emerge to the present world) were very similar in all Kivas no matter when they were built. Present day Navajo believe they are now in the fifth world. Kivas were used for ceremonial, ritual and religous purposes by both men and women.

The Chacoans used stone and a clay based mortar to build with.  They had no metal tools to shape stones just stone tools.  And yet their stone work is precise.
This is an older building style with bigger stones, still cut precisely.
Later styles used smaller stones tightly fit together as bigger stones were getting harder to find.  These walls were all covered with a smooth plaster.

There were few windows, doors were of different styles which evolved over time.  Floors were made with wooden poles embedded in the walls and covered with layers of bark and plaster. The ends of the original wooden poles are still in the walls.

There was room in Chaco Canyon for many thousands of people and yet archeologists think that less than  2000 lived there as permanent residents.  People came from long distances to be there at special times.  Many people came and stayed for a summer or a whole year to learn and to build.  They would take the latest building techniques back to thei home pueblos for use there.  There was clear Mayan influences from Mexico that are unique to Chaco which indicated a very wide influence.
There wasn’t enough agricultural areas to grow enough food for all of these people so it is assumed that visitors brought their own food, goods to trade and their own tools.  Groups from different clans would build a Kiva for their own use perhaps, maybe the reason for so many.  They would return with new trade items, new skills and building techniques, maybe new tools or ideas about ways to make tools.  It must have been almost like a college town with a transient population and a fixed population.
We visited about a half dozen sites.  There were many others to see as well and hiking trails to more. They quit digging up sites long ago now that thay have ground penetrating radar to see what is underground and map out what is there.  Leaving them buried is the best way to preserve them.  Even in Pueblo Bonito most of it that was excavated has been reburied after damage to the walls was repaired.  The exposed walls are carefully cataloged and there are teams there continually repairing and  restoring the walls.  They use hand cut stones to fit as exactly as they can and mortar made in the original way but with additives to make it last longer.  
This entire canyon remains a sacred place to Native Americans who still come here every year.  This place is in their history, ritual, culture and myths and beliefs.  All of this long before any Europeans arrived.  I am not so sure about alien visitors though.  
While we were there the sun was bright, hats were good.

When we were in this area in 1980 we visited Canyon de Chelly, another Puebloan site about 50 miles west.  It was in a deeper canyon with a river, a very nice site with cliff houses and much easier to get to.  On our way back from Chaco Canyon there were big black clouds on the horizon. It looked like rain.  Lots of wind but it never rained and by the time we got back to the fairgrounds the sun was out again.
Next up, Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande River near the Cochiti Pueblo, about 40 miles south of Santa Fe.
More later.
Roger and Susan

Cortez, CO, Mesa Verde National Park 3/26-3/29/2014

We were hoping that the weather would be OK so that we could get up to Mesa Verde National Park.  It is another place we visited in 1980 and haven’t been back to since. The long time weather averages suggested it would be OK, cold at night but warmer during the day. The campground in the Park was not open yet nor were the two campgrounds near the entrance to the Park so we chose the Sundance RV Park in Cortez, CO about 10 miles to the west. It was a very nice RV park with a huge city park across the street. The park was almost full with a lot of trailers and RVs that looked as if they were set up for the long haul. I talked to the owner and he told me that a very big natural gas deposit was found just to the north and that a company from New Mexico was doing the development work and had rented about 2/3 of the park for nine years. He thought that was good and had spent money on the laundry, showers and bathrooms, They were very nice. He said the best thing was that almost everyone who was working at the new gas site were local people as well as most of the subcontractors  It was a big deal for Cortez which is regional center for the Four Corners area.

Nice trees, starting to leaf out. We would go back there.
We packed snacks, hiking shoes and a bunch of water and set off for Mesa Verde. The weather was warm in the morning and upper 70’s forecast for the afternoon.
The Mesa Verde area covers 520 sq miles of high mesa areas cut with deep canyons. Mesa Verde was named by Spanish explorers and means green table. The Park today includes 81 square miles of land and canyon with more than 600 cliff houses, many mesa top archeological sites and many more undiscovered sites. It has been designated a World Heritage Site.
There is a new Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park. It explained how the Ancestral Puebloans lived here on top of the mesa and in the cliff houses in the canyons. They lived there from about 550AD until about 1300. The early dwellers lived mostly on top of the mesa in an evolving building style of pit houses. These gradually got deeper and larger. Their influence lasted to the Kiva designs of the later inhabitants of the cliff houses. At Mesa Verde’s peak there were 35,000 Puebloan people living on the Mesa and in the valley just to the north. Today the population in the same area is only about 20,000.
This was not here in 1980, just opened a couple of years ago. The original Visitor’s Center was 25+ miles into the park.
This sculpture near the entrance to the Visitor’s Center depicts the way the Puebloan people got to their cliff houses. They climbed up and down the steep cliff sides carrying bundles using just small hand and foot holes pecked into the stone face. They had no metal tools, only stone to make hammers, chisels and axes. Life was hard and short.

From the Visitor’s Center at 6,500 ft elevation a steep winding road leads about 6 miles to the campground and then 8 miles of more winding roads, a tunnel and some steep sections to Park Point Overlook where at about 8,600 ft elevation there is one of three fire lookouts in the park. These are important places for the park. Since 2000 there has been three major fires which have burned well over half of the mesa.

Technically it is not a mesa since it is not flat. It is called a cuesta since it has a consistant slope of about 3 degrees towards the south. The south facing slope gives the land more sun and increases the growing season on the mesa top by as much as 21 days compared to the lower elevation valley.

Another 8 miles out on the Mesa and you come to the Far View Sites. These are a collection of more than 50 farming villages from 900 to 1300 AD. These villages evolved from pit houses to pueblo style building sites with extensive dry land farming areas. There were reservoirs for water but the fields were generally not irrigated. They were more likely used to supply household water needs. Preservation experts have added a compatable cap of mortar onto the top of the remaining walls to keep them stable.

The road goes on and splits. One way heads down the Wetherhill Mesa which was not open at this time of the year. There are many cliff dwellings out at the end of this mesa and when it is open the only way to see them is by tram. Car traffic was stopped long ago to reduce the impact on the area. We rode the trams in 1980.

The other road heads down the Chapin Mesa. There is the original Visitor’s Center and an interesting archeology museum, gift shops and a small restaurant. The museum did a great job of depicting everyday life over time. It showed the development of tools, building materials, plant materials used for making clothes and sandals, the use of pottery, the beginning of the use of cotton and other materials for weaving and quite a bit of archeologists best guesses at family and cultural structure. Culture, the seasons, daily work, traditions and rituals and their spritual life were closely linked. Most of this is not really known since there were no written records but it is inferred from the oral histories of many Puebloan communities that exist today.

Lunch was a shared Frito Pie.

Chili on Fritos with cheese.  Tasty.

Spruce Tree House is a cliff dwelling that has been excavated and stabilized. There are trails down to see it today. There were no trails when several hundred people lived here. Rangers were there to answer questions and to suggest appropriate behavior as needed.

There were several Kivas, places for ritual, ceremonial and religous events and three to four story buildings going back many rooms into the cliff openings. This particular cliff house had been opened up by looters before archeologists and historians got to it but even still their restoration and stabilization work is only about 5% of what is there today. The Puebloans closed most of the openings into these structures when they left. Much of what was left was buried under windblown sand and dirt. So careful excavation reveals what survived and what was left behind.

The Square Tower House had some modern day supports while stabilization work was being done.  The square tower was unusual.  While structures were more or less square cornered, towers and kiva were round. There is no explanation for this other than it was an adaptation of earlier buliding techniques or something learned from visiting other Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area.

Openings in the cliffs were formed by parts of the face collapsing and then more of the ceiling collapsing because there was no support underneath. Some of the openings in the cliff face were huge. We saw no place where the cliff had collapsed on a cliff house but it has to have happened. We saw a huge section of cliff that collapsed on a community built next to the cliff face in Chaco Canyon.

This is the Cliff Palace as they call it today. Likely something else back then.

This is Navajo Canyon, several miles long and a few thousand feet deep. There was no easy way to go from one side to the other. From these communities to the communities in the valley to the north of Mesa Verda it was a 30 mile or more trip. And yet they did travel far and wide.  

There is evidence of trade for things like sea shells, turquoise, bird feathers, even pipestone from MN.  The Puebloan people had a very wide spread cultural reach into New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Nevada and Utah and traded with other cultures from thousands of miles away. But it was more than goods they traded, they learned from each other about everything including building techniques, pottery making, weaving, medicines and more.
No one knows why but the Puebloan people of Mesa Verde moved south around 1300. They brought everything they knew and believed with them.  Many settled along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. Today those Puebloan cultures are still there surviving the early Spanish explorers and all of the diseases they brought, the Mexicans, the Catholic missionaries, the western movement of America and the American government.
Their past and present, their history and culture and the people thenselves deserve our respect and understanding. They are the original people of this land and part of our heritage.
Well, lots of rocks and stuff, I know.  One more stop on this part of the journey at Chaco Canyon, another World Heritage Site. This was the center of the widely spread and diversified Puebloan Culture.
More later.
Roger and Susan.