Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Visiting Friends

For the past week we've been visiting friends in the hills east of Show Low, Arizona. Several of our fellow RVers have bought their own little piece of heaven in Show Low Pines, about 20 miles from town. This area is not for the weak or timid. Fresh water is at least 800 feet down, so instead of a digging a well, they have it delivered. Electricity has not reached this area, although the good news is that a septic system can be installed. Oh, and I almost forgot about the wind in spring and bugs in early summer, followed by the monsoon season. However, this is the third year that Ron and I have visited the area in the fall and it is paradise. We've been here a week and every day has been sunny with the high around 70 and the nights in the 40s. While other areas of Arizona are still in the 90s, here at almost 7000 feet it's nice and cool. Maybe one of these days we'll join our intrepid friends and buy our own lot.

Here's our good friend Carol who has been so hospitable, showing us around in her new SUV (great for traveling the unfinished sections of road.)

One day she drove us into the mountains and even found me a few aspens that still had their beautiful fall color.

We met some other good friends for lunch at this beautifully decorated Mexican restaurant in Show Low. From the left are Taylor, me, Ron, and Ted and Mary Ellen who have a brand new blog. Check it out at

I couldn't get over the beautiful chairs - this was my favorite.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Els

We spent the last couple of days exploring a couple of national monuments in northwest New Mexico. We, and probably a lot of others, have passed close by these parks many times without stopping and thought it was time to check them out. Like I always say, there's a reason these places are designated as national parks (or monuments.)

El Morro, Spanish for The Headland or Bluff, is a cuesta - a long formation with a gentle upward slope that drops off abruptly at one end. This is that end. If you look closely at the lower right, you can see some hand and foot holds left by the ancestors of the local Zuni Indians 700 years ago.

Okay, maybe a closer shot would be easier. The ranger in the visitor center told us where to look. His directions were something about to the left of the big tree. Humm.

El Morro was visited by many travelers over the course of several centuries and this pool is the reason. It is filled with rainfall and snow melt, never goes dry, and holds 200,000 gallons of water when full. (It's hard to capture in a picture - I like this one of Ron's better than mine.)

El Morro is also called Inscription Rock because of the many carvings. I thought it was fascinating to see signs of people of various centuries mixed together. Here is a petroglyph of bighorn sheep from the 13th century right under a Spanish inscription from the 17th.

A lot of history is recorded here. This carving from 1692, documents the reconquest of New Mexico after a revolt in 1680.

In 1849, two of the U.S. Army's topographical engineers recognized the value of the inscriptions and copied them for posterity. I wonder what happened to the copies.

Others who left their mark included emigrants to California, Union Pacific railroad surveyors, and an Army caravan conducting an experiment to use camels in the Southwest desert.

Ron and I continued along the trail as it wound its way up to the top of the cuesta where we could view this lovely box canyon.

It looked so pretty and green, that I wondered if the Zuni Indians had lived in the canyon. But once we worked our way around the canyon we came to Atsinna Ruins. Although only a small portion has been excavated from the years of covering dirt, Atsinna had more than 850 rooms! They had quite a view from up there.

We stayed in the cute little campground in the park, only nine spaces and we were in the only one level enough for a motor home. But that one space couldn't have been nicer.

We also visited nearby El Malpais, which you can probably guess means The Badlands. It seems this area has had multiple volcanic eruptions, the last one only 2000 years ago. I wasn't about to walk through this section of a lava tube, but as I stated before, Ron is surefooted as a goat.

In almost the time it took me to walk the overland route, he scrambled over all those rocks. Here he is climbing out the other end.

We also saw lots of collapsed lava tubes and hiked to El Calderon, a large cinder cone that erupted twice - once with black lava and once with red. It was too big for a picture, but we liked the red bushes mixed in with the lava. It looked like they were on fire from the heat.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Black Tie & Blue Jeans

Catchy title, isn't it? We are still in Farmington, NM. "Why?" you ask. For the past few days, we have been at the 25th Rocky Mountain Ramble, a regional rally for members of FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association.) There are almost 500 RV's here at the Farmington Fairgrounds - all with electric and water hookups. The rally was very well organized with fun activities, vendors, and lots of seminars (which Ron attended.) We only bought one thing - inside sun screens for the front window. I LOVE them! Now we can see out while blocking out the worst of the sun.

One of the reasons I don't usually attend these huge rallies is the way they pack the RVs in. Besides the fact I don't like to be that close to anybody, I don't feel it's safe. We know too many people whose rigs have burned. I realize it's necessary for these events, though, so I just toughed it out. Here's a very small section of our row - we are actually in the shade on the left. Out of the whole fairgrounds, we were unlucky enough to get one of the few shaded spots. If I had thought fast enough, we should have driven back out and returned a couple hours later when they were back in the sunny spots. It was cold inside until the afternoon every day.

I attended a luncheon for the 'Red Hat' ladies which was open to non-red hatters. The best I could do was a red shirt, but just look at these adorable hats!

One lady even had this umbrella with a hat on it. Too cute.

There was a classic car show - small, but with some very nice cars.

And a pet parade. This is Andy who is a Welsh Terrier. We had a Welsh Terrier when I was young so he made me feel nostalgic. Andy was nothing like our dog Brandy who was a terror! When I asked his owner if I could take his picture, Andy promptly sat and posed!

One night we had a Sock Hop. I took this out our side window of our next door neighbors George and Suzanne and other new friends Elaine and Dick. Suzanne and George came in second in the 'best dressed' contest. I think the pink glasses are what really put them over the top!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aztec(?) Ruins

For the past few days, we've been parked at the Farmington, NM, Elks lodge. Being members, we often stay in the parking lot of Elks all over the country, usually for a voluntary nominal donation. The members are invariably welcoming and helpful. This lodge has four water and electric hookups for visiting Elks, but they were all full when we arrived. Imagine our surprise when we were informed that the 'donation' here is a required $15 a night, even though there were no hookups available. As fulltime RVers know, that is an outrageous amount just to sit in a parking lot. If we had known beforehand, we would have stayed at the local casino. Enough complaining.

Farmington is a larger city than I expected. It has everything you need and even two super Walmarts. We've been doing those necessary chores - laundry, vacuuming all that sand from the three days of wind, and repairs. The furnace quit one day so Ron took it apart and diagnosed a bad circuit board. Unbelievably, the first RV sales place he called had one in stock. He replaced it and it's working fine. What a genius! Of course, nothing ever goes that smoothly and the process was much more involved than it sounds. I was certainly glad he fixed it since the nights here have really been cold. One morning it was 28 outside and 33 inside. I wonder if the fridge works in reverse then.

Today we went on a field trip to the Aztec Ruins about 15 miles east of here. When I read about the site, I thought, "Aztecs in northern New Mexico? How amazing!" But no, it seems it was named erroneously and was occupied by ancestral Puebloan people like so many of these places in the Four Corners area. From what I saw and read, there were two things that I found unusual. First, the original inhabitants of Aztec in the late 1000's were heavily influenced by the civilization at Chaco Canyon - in architecture, ceramics, and ceremonial life. But Chaco's influence waned after 1100 and Aztec became more like Mesa Verde to the north. Like Mesa Verde, Aztec was abandoned by 1300.

The second thing I noticed was that it was massive. The West Ruin is still being excavated and preserved. It had at least 400 rooms and three stories. Although I would assume that the rooms were family units, the experts are saying it was a public building. I'm not convinced, but what do I know? This is a model of how it looked in the 1100's.

That large round structure is a Giant Kiva, but more on that later.

Here is just a small part of the ruins.

There is an interesting line of green sandstone on part of the wall. I thought it was very decorative, but was told the outer walls were actually covered with mud. So what's the point?

We were allowed to pass through some of the rooms - those doorways were low! You can see some grinding stones in this one.

On to the Great Kiva. Kivas are believed to have been used for religious ceremonies and there were many smaller ones in the ruins. This Great Kiva was reconstructed in 1934.

The inside looked like a church. They had found remnants of plaster clinging to the walls during the excavation, so the walls were plastered. I was amazed.

After all that exploration, I was in the mood for a root beer float, so we went to the local A&W. Don't we look cute in our Sunday best?

I didn't think you'd believe that, but I thought the picture was cute. Here's Ron ordering for us. I know I've led a sheltered life, but I don't think I've ever used a phone at the table to place an order.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Monument Valley

Love it or hate it. I do really love it and the fact that you can boondock with an awesome view, but I'm afraid it won't be that way for long. They are building a huge hotel and a new RV park with full hookups. You know what that means - no more boondocking. I'll be sorry to see that end, but I still won't hate it - that was just to get your attention.

I had to capture my first sight of Monument Valley as we drove in last Thursday. (This is another shot out the front window.)

The entrance fee was $5 each and $10 to 'primitive camp' in what is basically a parking lot with a few picnic tables and fire rings. Great for us! Especially since we could park facing the nearby 'mittens' formations. The West Mitten seemed to fill our windshield but was really about a mile away. We immediately took the Wildcat hike which left from our camping area and was three miles around the West Mitten. Everything was going really well until about mile two when the wind started blowing. And it blew! All the rest of the day and into the night. Even with all the windows shut, we have grit everywhere.

At sunset, I drove up the road a bit and got this of the West and East Mittens (why not left and right?) and nearby Merrick Butte. I guess it would be clearer if there wasn't all that sand blowing around.

As I was turning away to leave, I noticed Mitchell Butte was looking pretty fine.

Get ready to be amazed! The next morning, I got up before dawn to watch the sunrise. Although I guess I shouldn't be too impressed with myself since it came up about 7:20 - not exactly the wee hours. I did step outside instead of taking this out the front window, but this was our view.

And remembering my lesson from the night before, I took this out the side window just as the sun hit.

Although everyone tried to talk us out of it, we decided to take the Saturn on the loop road. We figured if the road was too bad, we would just turn around. We did learn that the worst part was at the beginning, so once we crawled over that part, we felt pretty confident. I always forget how funny we must look in certain locations. I thought people were looking at us because we took a car with 2 inches of clearance on a high clearance road, but maybe it was the kayaks. Ya think?

This is John Ford's Point (the famous western movie director.) For a small fee, a local will pose out on the point with his horse. It would make a cute picture, but it's a nice view even without him.

About halfway around the loop, the wind picked up again and the rest of the pictures are pretty hazy.

Once again the wind blew and blew - the rest of the day and all night this time. The next morning we decided to get out of that sandy parking area and moved 22 miles south to Kayenta. The Burger King in Kayenta has a very nice display on the Navajo Code Talkers who were so important to our efforts during World War II. I knew Ron would be interested and they also have a huge lot for RV and truck parking. Since the wind was still bad after lunch, I suggested that we stay the night and even had an idea for the afternoon. About 20 miles west of Kayenta and 10 miles north is Navajo National Monument. The monument protects three of the largest cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people. It's really something to see and once again I knew Ron would be interested. So I sent him off with instructions to take pictures, not remembering how impossible a task that is.

This dwelling, called Betatakin, is bigger than you can imagine from a photo. Because of the sun's angle, I had to lighten it and if you click on it, you might be able to see some of the structures inside the shadow. Good luck.

This morning the wind was still blowing and, although I was against driving in 60 mph gusts, Ron was chomping at the bit. So we moved 125 miles east to Farmington, New Mexico where the wind finally died down about 8 this evening. Whew! I can see why the pioneers went crazy from the wind. At least I think I heard that someplace.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

WIN Houseboat trip

Just a note to any WINs who are reading this - Richard Sturtz posted an entertaining account of the recent houseboat trip on his blog. I really enjoyed reading it and he has some great pictures too. Click here to read Richard's posting. You'll love it!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Goosenecks and Natural Bridges

Yesterday when we left our parking spot outside of Needles, I had to take a picture of Church Rock with the snow-capped La Sals in the background. Those two days of cold and rain that we endured had a benefit - first snow on the mountains. Now's the time to hike up to Delicate Arch at sunset and get that perfect picture.

But we are heading south. When we stopped for groceries in Blanding, I took this for Diana. She just loves rusty stuff. (I had to crop the heck out of it because of background signs.)

We continued south to Goosenecks State Park. As soon as we arrived, Ron went to work on the rocks in the road. He has his job cut out for him.

Rocks notwithstanding, Goosenecks is one wonderful place. The San Juan River has cut a thousand foot canyon in this area and winds back and forth in what the fanciful call 'goosenecks.' Ron captured one of the 'necks' this morning so you can get the idea.

Besides being a geological wonder, it is also a boondockers' paradise. You can set up camp anywhere you want, even right along the rim, but we saw what happens along the rim. Luckily the rocks just seem to break away instead of rolling 1000 feet down to the river.

The two guys in this car must believe in living life on the edge. This is where they parked and slept overnight. They did put rocks behind the wheels, but that still wouldn't make me feel secure.

Today we took a day trip to Natural Bridges National Monument. We drove up the side of the mesa on what is called the Moki Dugway - six miles of 10% grades and 15mph switchbacks. Very exciting even in the car!

The area around Natural Bridges is rich in human history, having been repeatedly occupied and abandoned from 9000 to 700 years ago. The monument consists of three major natural bridges which are some of the largest in the world. When we arrived, our plan was to hike down to each bridge. We started with Sipapu - 220 feet above the (now) tiny stream that formed it, with a span of 268 feet. It's only 6/10 of a mile down from the canyon rim, but with a 500 foot elevation change. We climbed down three ladders, all made with authentic tree branches and ancient bolts. (Those bolts really looked shiny for being that old and who knew prehistoric people had iron railings?)

When we reached the bottom, we realized you can't take a picture of this huge bridge from under it. So we worked our way back up lots of steps trying to find the perfect spot.

We must be getting close.

Well, this is the best of the lot. It's hard to imagine the size and they don't allow people to climb on the bridges. :-)

With the second bridge, Kachina, I just gave up on getting a good shot. It sits at a junction of two canyons and is pretty hidden from the overlook. We decided to pass on the trail down, figuring it wouldn't get any better. Later, we heard there was some nice rock art on the bridge, so I don't want to discourage anyone else from doing it.

The third and final bridge called Owachomo was the easiest to access with the most incentive - the sun was on the other side. I think it was only 1/4 mile down and the elevation change was a lot less.