Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Southern Colorado

In southern Colorado we stayed in the Elks parking lot right in downtown Monte Vista - a tiny, but thriving town.  Not the most scenic spot to stay, but fun because we could walk to breakfast, the thrift store, and even the visitor center.

One day, we headed up to the mountain mining town of Creede through some pretty country.

We were lucky enough to be there for the

Unlike the Lumberjack competition we attended in Washington, I think you have to be really into the  mining industry or know a competitor to fully enjoy it.  Although we certainly were impressed by the strength required to compete, after watching a couple of guys pound a spike into a piece of granite for five minutes each, we were ready to leave.  They need to rotate events and have people compete simutaneously like they do at the Loggers Jubilee we attended last year.  Instead they featured one event each half day of the competition.  It was an amazing thing to watch, but my attention span wasn't up to hours of the same event.

Creede has a real mining history and backs up to some rugged scenery.

We got a chuckle out of the fire department.

Another day we scouted out a couple of hikes in the national forest.  With only a little driving on roads that we had no business taking our low-clearance car on, we found this natural arch.  From the parking lot, it's obviously an afternoon shot, but since we were there in the morning, I had to get to the other side.

It didn't look like that hard of a climb, but making it to the arch involved a bit of huffing and puffing.  Voila!

Then we went to Penitente Canyon.

It's very popular with climbers.

But this little tree managed to climb the cliff without the assistance of rope or harness.

Once again Ron's imagination saw things in the rocks.  I'm sure you'll all agree this is a camel.

Although I found this pair of rocks - two orca whales leaping into the air.

The trail ended up climbing out of the canyon, luckily not straight up a cliff.  Oh, I forget to mention, as soon as we crossed into Colorado, we could pretty much count on clouds and/or rain every afternoon.  Not a bad thing since we just planned all our outdoor activities for the mornings.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cumbres & Toltec

For years I've heard good reviews of the Cumbres & Toltec scenic train ride - America's longest and highest narrow gauge railroad.  It leaves from Antonito, CO, and goes to Chama, NM, or vice versa, with a bus ride back to your origin.  It's a little pricey at about $100 each, but considering we had been on the road for 3 weeks and had only spent $30 in 'camping' fees, we thought we could splurge a little.

Is this the engine?   Seems kind of small.

Now, that's better.

We stayed overnight on BLM land right next to the tracks.  Hmmm, that might have been a mistake.

The beginning of the trip out of Antonito is a slow climb through high desert.

We had to laugh when he blew the whistle at every dirt road crossing.

I began the trip in an enclosed car, but soon I braved the smoke in the open air car.

As we continued to climb, the scenery improved.

And the little engine kept on chugging.

Until it seemed like we were on top of the world.

We went though a couple of tunnels.

And places where the rock walls seemed way too close for comfort.

We had a bit of excitement when the engineer 'dynamited' the engine and all the air brakes immediately stopped the train.  (Are you impressed with my terminology?  I was in the open car when it happened and the docent explained the significance of the loud bang.)  It seems there was a large rock on the track.  The crew removed the rock and after the air brakes were re-pressurized, we continued on our way.

Soon we arrived at the halfway point and joined the passengers who took the train from Chama.  We were served a tasty lunch with unlimited desert bar!

After lunch, both trains continued on their way, but we again had an obstacle on the track.  Boy, did those cattle run when the train approached.  Unfortunately, it took them awhile to decide to run off the track instead of down it.

We followed a pretty river valley.

And crossed two trestles.  This is the Cascade Trestle which is 137 feet above Cascade Creek.

Soon we were back in the pine trees - cough, cough.

Then through some grazing land to Chama.  I love to hear a steam engine whistle so captured it with a video. As a bonus, you might be able to see the cattle running from the train.  I didn't know they could run so fast.

The trip was definitely worth the money and as a bonus, the bus ride back to Antonito was beautiful.  Even if you don't take the train, be sure to drive 17 anyway.

The next morning, I took a video of the train as it passed where we were parked.  I love the chug-chug sound it makes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Northern New Mexico

After just one night in Albuquerque, we moved up to Santa Fe, running from the heat.  We stayed in the Elks parking lot in Santa Fe, which is my favorite Elks.  It's on a hill, near old town, and has a great view of the mountains.  There always seems to be a nice breeze too.

First we walked around Old Town with its distinctive adobe structures.  Here's the Palace of the Governors which houses the state's history museum and where the porch overflows with vendors.  Built in 1610, it's the oldest continually occupied public building in the United States.

Although I guess it shares the honor with St. Miguel Church, built the same year and the oldest Church in the U.S.

Loretto Chapel is famous for its 'miraculous' staircase.

Give me a break.  There's nothing miraculous about it, just good construction technique.  They charge $3 a person to see it and I object to the practice of charging to enter a church, so I refused to go in.  Ron, however, wanted to see it and was willing to pay the price.  He did a good job taking the picture.
I must admit it looks cool, though.

We spent a day in Los Alamos where Ron met Robert Oppenheimer, often called the 'father of the atomic bomb' for his role in the Manhattan project.
The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos is very interesting and FREE!  I embarrassed myself by asking if the museum is named after Ray Bradbury (the famous science fiction writer.)  The short answer is, "No."

We took a day to drive up to Taos which also has a picturesque Old Town square.  Ron found a bakery there, so he was happy.

And I made a new friend.

Whoa!  What's this?
And I thought this was a family-oriented place.

The hollyhocks out front were very impressive.

About 10 miles west of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, 1272 feet long.

If you're not acrophobic, you can walk out to the middle and view the Rio Grande 650 feet below.

.Which created this 'Grand Canyon of New Mexico.'

On our way back to Santa Fe, we passed the Camel Rock Casino.  Actually we passed it a couple of times before noticing this unusual rock formation which inspired the name.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave

Continuing east, we left I 40 and entered New Mexico on NM 53 driving through the Painted Cliffs of the Zuni Reservation.  Not something that they advertise, but it was on my map.

We stayed in the tiny campground in El Morro National Monument.  We had visited El Morro and nearby El Malpais in October of '08 and I blogged about it then.  Heaven forbid I should repeat myself so in case you missed it, click here.  However, this time we went the private route and saw Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave.

I usually avoid the privately-held natural attractions.  My thought is that if it's that good, it would be a national park. However, this was worth the $10 fee especially since we were lucky enough to meet and talk to the lady whose grandfather originally bought the land.  He was a real self-made man and her stories about him were very interesting.  Realizing they had something special, his daughter and her husband opened up the site as a tourist attraction in 1946.  It's very well run and the trail guide is informative.

The trail winds up the Bandera Volcano providing great views of the many surrounding volcanos and lava flows.  In this picture, you can see a collapsed section of the 17.5 mile main Bandera lava tube.  (A lava tube  is formed when the surface of the flowing lava cools and hardens while the lava continues to flow below.)

It was really pretty thrilling to look down into the caldera of the volcano.  It erupted about 10,000 years ago.
(It was much more impressive in person.)

Next we went to see the Ice Cave.  On the way, we had a close look at some of the collapsed lava tube.

Down, down, down

to the ice cave.  The ice in here is over 20 feet deep and the temperature never rises above 31 degrees.  Needless to say, we took a quick look and left before we froze too.

Back in the Trading Post, we admired the museum quality artifacts that were found on the property.  It's hard to imagine people could have lived in this harsh landscape, but at least they had a natural refrigerator.

I bought a postcard with the aerial view of the volcano.

And right from the RV, I snapped this sunset picture of the cliffs.