Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap

We arrived back in Arizona the beginning of November for our usual routine, but a shorter variation. In the Phoenix area for only a couple weeks this time and then down to Tucson to work/volunteer at Sabino Canyon.

Here is the 2015 route map. The 2016 route will be much longer.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hubbell Trading Post and Window Rock

We stayed a couple nights in Gallup, NM so that we could do a day trip to a couple of places that I've wanted to go to for a long time. Being an avid reader of old west books, the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is a must see for me. It also should be for anyone who loves history.

The trading post has been operated since 1878, and it still functions today. It is in the Navajo Nation and is a fabulous source of authentic Navajo and Hopi creations like rugs, baskets, pottery and jewelry. The buildings are authentic and well maintained for a great opportunity to experience a genuine western trading post.
Rug room

On the drive between Gallup and the trading post we passed through Window Rock, AZ. This town is also a place that I wanted to go to since reading a lot of Tony Hillerman's books with Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Window Rock is the Capital of the Navajo Nation and seat of it's tribal government. You can call me crazy but it was fun to see the town, the buildings and the actual Window Rock so that I can have a visual. It was the same when we went through Ship Rock a year ago, another mainstay in those books.

Code Talker Memorial in
Window Rock Park

Code Talker Memorial and
The Window Rock

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bandelier National Monument

From Taos we headed south to Santa Fe. It's a relatively short drive so we had time to get settled into our RV park and go to the Capitol and historic district. We had been here before so we just walked around for the exercise and to refresh our memories. The Capitol is modern but nicely done. It seems there is art on almost every square inch of wall. Walking from the Capitol to the plaza has a lot of old buildings that are redone and contain either shops or restaurants. It's a pleasant walk. The plaza is mostly modernized so it doesn't really have much of an old feel. The most interesting things (to me) are plaques on the sidewalk giving history lessons such as, in 1598 the first formal plots of land being granted to people.

Foreground - typical pueblo structure
Cliff wall - dug out cliff rooms
The next day we went on a road trip in the car to Bandelier National Monument. The drive from Santa Fe is pretty as the roads weave through the mountains. It was an hour drive to the visitor center. Although the monument is 33,000 acres the main attractions to visitors are the cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. To see all of the dwellings there is a trail that is about 1 mile plus another optional mile (round trip). We have been to many cliff dwellings and ancient pueblo sites all over the southwest and this one was definitely different and interesting. The difference is that this site has hand dugout rooms in the very soft rock walls versus rooms built into large existing caves as seen at other sites. There are typical stone built rooms also but the "dug out" cliff dwellings were a unique experience for us. It is worth a visit.

 When we left Bandelier we drove a route that took us to Los Alamos. This town was built almost overnight during World War II to house the secret laboratories of the Manhattan Project which invented and built the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The existence of the town was just as much a secret as the lab. We went to the Bradbury Science Museum which provides insight into Los Alamos National Laboratory. It discusses the history of the lab and the atomic bombs as well as its purpose and research since then. The Los Alamos National Laboratory consists of over 2,000 buildings at over 40 sites around the Los Alamos area. We drove by many on our loop drive to Bandelier and through Los Alamos. This museum gave us a great insight into the significance of this national lab.
"Little Boy" - exact replica of bomb
dropped on Hiroshima

"Fat Boy" - exact replica of the bomb
dropped on Nagasaki

Monday, October 26, 2015

Taos NM

Our granddaughter (why we stay in
Denver so long)
Staunton State Park CO on Staunton
Ranch Trail
We had a wonderful two month stay in Denver visiting our daughter and her family. We volunteered at Cherry Creek State Park so that we could stay there as long as we wanted and be as close as we can get. We ended up not doing a lot of exploring while in the area. We made only one day trip into the mountains to Staunton State Park because we wanted to spend as much time with out sweetie as we could on our days off.

We are on our way back to Arizona now and making a few stops. We stayed a couple nights near Colorado City just to wait out snow in the La Veta pass on US 160 in southern CO. We then spent a few days near Taos NM to explore. A few miles west of town is Rio Grande Gorge which is part of one of our nation's newest National Monuments, Rio Grande del Norte.
Rio Grande Gorge

Sunset shining on Sangre De Cristo
mountains east of Taos
The next day we got a late start waiting for the rain and clouds to move out. We drove up to the Taos Ski Valley. There was massive construction going on in the ski village so I didn't get any pictures. The valley is pretty narrow and the ski runs are pretty much out of view of the village. There was fresh snow starting at about 10k feet. I didn't get any good pictures due to the narrowness of the valley.

San Francisco de Asis Church
The next couple days we explored things in the town of Taos. We walked around the Taos Plaza which is all fixed up with modern shops. We liked the lobby of the Hotel La Fonda de Taos which was built in 1820 and has been well maintained. We visited the Kit Carson home and museum, which was underwhelming, and then the cemetery where he and his last wife are buried. We visited the San Francisco de Asis Church built in the 18th century. It has been restored and is a registered National Historic Landmark.

Our next visit was the Hacienda de los Martinez (Wiki). Construction of the Hacienda began in 1804 by owner don Antonio Severino Martinez with 4 humble rooms. By 1827 the Hacienda had grown to 21 rooms. It is interesting to tour (self guided) and read about the history and use of each room.
Hacienda de los Martinez

Hacienda de los Martinez

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument - Nebraska

About an hour north of Scottsbluff, NE is the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. This monument protects the sight of a rare deposit of fossils. This deposit consists of mammals that date to about 19-20 million years ago. It is believed that the large number of animals died of malnutrition at the site of a water hole during an extended drought. The exhibits at the visitor center are minimal as all of the bones taken are held at various museums around the world. There are a few exhibits made from casts.

There is a one mile trail that we walked to see fossilized burrows, call Daemonelix (pronounced dee-mon-ee-licks), of prehistoric animals that are believed to have been much like today's Prairie Dogs. The Daemonelix are spiral, or cork screw, shaped. Settlers called them "Devil's corkscrews".

The visitor center also has a room with a collection of American Indian artifacts that were donated by James Cook. James Cook owned the land that is now the monument. He was friends with the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes of the area and they gave him gifts which he kept and now make up this display.

Daemonelix sign

Daemonelix protected
by case

Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, NE

We pulled out of the Black Hills and pointed ourselves toward Denver. Two years ago, when spending time in Scottsbluff, NE, I had noticed two sites north of there that looked interesting but we just didn't have time to drive up to them. They went on the list for future things to see. This trip they were on our route from the Black Hills to Denver.

The Museum of the Fur Trade is near Chadron, NE at the sight of the Bordeaux trading post which was built in 1837. There is a very authentic, reconstructed trading post outside the museum but that isn't the main reason to stop. The museum opened in 1949 and is operated as a non-profit. It is outstanding! The price of admission is low and worth much more.

Great Lakes exhibit
There is an amazing collection of artifacts that I'm sure the renowned Smithsonian would love to have. The experience begins with a short film about the history of the "world wide" fur trade to get you into the right frame of mind. The exhibit cases are jam packed with amazing artifacts dating as far back as the early 1700s. Each exhibit has an excellent overview narrative as background for the pieces within it and then each piece has a description. Many of the item descriptions are very specific as to exactly who owned it and when, and sometimes have little stories. There was obviously a lot of research and verification done on every piece displayed. This museum may be the best we've ever visited. Yes, it is that good.

Canoe Cups that a voyageur
would clip to his belt. He
could dip into the stream for
a drink during long stints
of paddling.
I took a few pictures but without being able to read the the narratives and item tags they have minimal value but they at least give a little feel for the museum exhibits.

The broken rifle was found in the
Black Hills along with the skeletons
of a man and a bear 

39 ft Birch Bark Canoe like
those used by fur traders

Far left: one of 90 guns
surrendered in 1877 by Sioux
and Cheyenne warriors. Next
one to the right was captured
from the Cheyennes in January
1879. Standing on far right is a
Sharps captured at Wounded
Knee in 1890. The pistol is a
Colt Peacemaker captured at
Wounded Knee by a newspaper
correspondent that was there.

Reconstructed Bordeaux
Trading Post
Trading Post interpretive

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Black Hills SD

We hung out in the Black Hills for a couple weeks to sight see and hike. We didn't do Mt Rushmore, or other high profile things, this time. We opted purely for scenic drives and hikes. Therefore I don't have a lot of exciting things to write about so I'll just include a few pictures. The Flume Trail has historic significance. In the mining boom of the 1880s the Flume carried water 20 miles from Spring Creek to the placer diggings near Rockerville. The trail mostly follows the Flume bed so it is a pretty easy hike. We hiked a few miles from each end and found the Sheridan Lake end is prettier and two miles in has a tunnel which you can either go through or over.
Horsethief Trail

George (Mt Rushmore)
from the side

Sheridan Lake from Flume

Flume Trail - old retaining
wall for Flume bed

Flume Trail

First tunnel on Flume Trail

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jewel Cave National Monument

From Medora we moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We visited Jewel Cave National Monument. The monument contains Jewel Cave which is currently the third longest cave in the world based on mapped passageways (currently at about 175 miles). The cave is still being explored and, based on measured air volume that is breathed through the natural opening, it is estimated that only 3 percent of the cave is currently mapped. Based on that estimate there are thousands of miles of passageways yet to be discovered.

We've toured caves with a lot more formations and more colorful formations than this one but we still enjoyed this tour. The highlight was the "cave bacon". A ribbon formation that looks exactly like a huge piece of bacon. We've seen cave bacon in other caves but never even close to the size of this one.

Bottle brush stalactite

Cave Bacon

Monday, August 10, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

South Unit view
Another place of interest from our base in Medora, ND was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park (wiki link) was named after the man who first came to the area to hunt but fell in love with it so much that he built a ranch and used the area as his retreat. He first had a log cabin (he called it the Maltese Cabin) which still exists and has been moved so it's right next to the Medora Visitor Center. He later built Elkhorn Ranch which no longer exists other than building foundations. The park is home to the North Dakota Badlands which we think are more interesting than the South Dakota Badlands. The park has multiple units rather than being one large park. The South Unit is just off of I-94 in Medora.
South Unit - Little Missouri River
flows through the park

South Unit view from Buck Hill

Maltese Cabin

The North Unit is about 50 miles (70 miles driving) north of Medora on US 85. The North Unit of the park has some very interesting and unique rock formations called Concretions. Most of them are round so they call them Cannonball Concretions. Much of the park is similar to the South Unit but there are more narrow canyons and a lot more majestic, long distance views of the Little Missouri River which flows through both parks.

Cannonball Concretions at
North Unit
Mother Nature's handy work. Made
us think of a Cave turned inside out
(North Unit)

Bentonitic Clay Overlook at
North Unit

A view of the Little Missouri River
 Valley in the North Unit

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Fort Union Trading Post
View inside Fort Union Trading Post
Next stop - Medora, ND. The town itself is nice, and actually kind of cute, but the objective of this stop was to have a base to park the RV while sightseeing. One of our plans was a day trip to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. This was a 2.5 hour drive north from Medora. It is right on the Montana/North Dakota border. Fort Union Trading Post was a major fur trading post (non-military) of the American Fur Company handling business for the upper Missouri River region. It was built on the Missouri River near the confluence of the Yellowstone River giving the best access of the entire northern waterways. The fort dominated the fur trade for 39 years from 1828-1867 and was an important part of American history. The current partial reconstruction was built on the foundation of the original fort and is very well done. The fort was built right on the edge of the river for easy loading of furs. However, the river has changed course so the fort is no longer right on the river.
Picture of the Fort when it was
in its prime. Note how close the Fort
is to the Missouri River.
Just a few miles away is the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. We enjoyed seeing the confluence and contemplate the importance that this point meant to the Corp of Discovery. The journals of the men made it very clear that they camped at this point and celebrated the milestone.
Picture of the Missouri River from
the Fort.

Panoramic pic of confluence. Missouri comes downstream
from right, Yellowstone coming downstream from the top
and the Missouri continues downstream to the left.