Arizona Adventuring (or How to Avoid Rattlesnake Encounters)

The last time I posted we were just leaving New Mexico and heading for Arizona, so I have a  LOT to catch up on!  I’ve been a little lazy about posting every night or so since we have been very busy during the day and I can’t stay awake too long at night.  Just think–hours of very hot, arid, busy outdoor sightseeing almost everyday, traveling in the interim,  and you can see why getting back to our nice, cool RV each night is heavenly.  We have seen some amazing things so here goes!

By the way (this is for you, Sammy!), one amazing thing we HAVEN’T seen are the RATTLESNAKES.  We see warnings everywhere, flyers, movies of these evil creatures slithering though the grass, pictures (just in case we don’t know what to look for), and scary stories, but so far that’s one kind of wildlife we haven’t encountered.  Hopefully, it will stay that way!  This is especially miraculous since after your Pappaw had rattlesnake for lunch that day I thought the whole rattlesnake family would be after us.  And according to what we hear there’s a whole bunch of those critters in Arizona.   But maybe it’s just the New Mexico rattlers who are a bit perturbed!!  In the meantime, we are being very careful when venturing outside!

Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park.  I had no idea exactly what this national park had in store for us but it was a winner—and the name says it all!   Our base for visiting this park was Holbrook, Arizona– just a few miles from the entrance to the park.  Ashley thought the phrase “petrified forest” sounded a little ominous, and it does if you think of scary witches randomly flying around doing nasty little tricks to innocent trees.  But the actual truth of the matter is that what really happened was even more improbable.  It all started long ago in the Triassic period (let’s think dinosaurs here) when the quiet but astonishing desert and mountains we encountered were teeming with wildlife like we have not and will never see again.  There’s a lot of science and research ongoing here that people like paleontologists can spend their entire career studying, but let’s just boil it down and say that water washed a BUNCH of trees into the plains where they were covered for many thousands of years with silt and a wide variety of minerals which resulted in a miraculous event where the trees became petrified.  And when I say petrified, the trees actually turned to stone–beautiful colors and swirls and glistening stone that captures your attention in the intricacy and variety of each fallen tree.  Covering roughly 147 square miles, even after years of being vandalized and stolen prior to the area’s designation as a National Park, that is a lot of trees.

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And this is the most significant area in the world where this particular event occurred–thus lots of excitement from the scientists and an awe-inspiring walk through the petrified forest for us!  In addition to the petrified wood, there are fossils, petroglyphs from long ago native tribes who lived in that area, and ruins of their pueblos to be discovered.

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At Puerco Pueblo, one of the largest prehistoric sites in the park, we saw amazingly descriptive petroglyphs left by the Indians. This one of the bird with what looks like a human baby in its beak looks to me like a stork delivering a baby but most likely has a much more historically accurate explanation.
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These are the partially excavated remains of Puerco Pueblo, an ancestral Puebloan village abandoned about 1380.

And then we drove through the Painted Desert where the colors and rock formations are spread out as far as you can see and looks like a giant Van Gogh went a little crazy with the paintbrush.  But this is real–and deserved a lot more time and contemplation than we were able to give it.  Perhaps another time!

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The palette of colors in the Painted Desert defies the eyes–from soft muted pastels to fiery reds and yellows.
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Can you see the pinks reflected in the clouds?
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Long dormant volcanoes can be seen in the far distance.
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Does this even feel real? Yes, it is real! I took the picture but it looks almost like a painting from a fantasy world.
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This photo was taken around midday. I would have loved to have stayed there and watched the colors deepen as the sun went down.

After our day in the National Park we went back to Holbrook where we were camped.  I did find a super place to stay if we ever give up on camping.  It’s on the strip in Holbrook which at one time was part of the historic HWY 66 before I-40 bypassed it.  Don’t you love it??!!

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The Wigwam Hotel, in Holbrook, AZ just off I-40 must have been quite popular back in the HWY 66 days.   As you can see from the age of the cars some folks just came and never left!

Grand Canyon National Park (Williams, AZ).  Leaving the Petrified Forest behind, we headed for the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, AZ.  We had decided to forego the grueling drive up to the Grand Canyon and relax on the train, sip our drinks and nibble on cheese and crackers while the reliable steam engine took us through the ever changing scenery into the Park.  And to make it even more convenient, the very luxe and comfortable Grand Canyon Railway RV Park was just next door to the train station.

Williams is a hopping little town with fun restaurants, and even more fun people (picture Elvis dressed in full regalia white rhinestone jumpsuit washing the windows in one of the HWY 66 retro shops on the main thoroughfare of Williams).  Yes, Williams was also one of the towns left behind when I-40 fast-tracked people past small town America.  But they have embraced their past and appear to have thriving businesses, undoubtedly assisted by their location as a gateway to the Grand Canyon.

The next morning we headed for the train after being momentarily delayed by a shootout among a bunch of ornery cowboys near the train station.  Apparently they are ornery quite often–about 9:00 am every morning!

The train ride was relaxing, the snacks/drink service handy, and my little nap very refreshing.  Which was good because as soon as we arrived at the Park we loaded onto a tour bus and headed out to see the Grand Canyon from several fantastic viewpoints–each one seemingly better than the last one.  I have to say I was blown away.

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The quintessential Grand Canyon view!
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People either hike or ride mules down the paths cut into the hillside–all the way down.
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Our tour guide kept saying “Back up a little more.” I said “Uh, Uh–no way” –I read that book—stupid mistakes people make as they fall off the cliff into oblivion. As our tour guide also said, “There are no rescue operations at the Grand Canyon–just retrieval.”
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Brrrrreathtaking…!
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A new view every foot you take. You can’t take too many pictures. You can’t look at it too much. You have no words to describe it. Just look and soak it up
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One small guardrail. So MANY feet down. Most areas have no guardrails.

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There is a reason why they call it the “Grand” Canyon–grand is an apt description.  Overwhelming, incredible, “am I really seeing what I am seeing?” kind of a place!  To understand America, to understand ANYTHING, you’ve got to see the Grand Canyon–it puts everything else in perspective.  Again, I would have loved to stay there much, much longer but after having a quick lunch in Grand Canyon Village (south rim) and walking along the rim promenade, we headed back to the train for our trip home.

I was having a really LONG nap when the train was attacked by those same ornery cowboys we saw earlier that day.  They ran down the train on their horses, robbed all the tourists (whatever just happened to be laying on your table), waved their guns around and took off right before the sheriff showed up.  The timing was just lucky for them I guess!

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Horses outrunning the train!
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He better get his robbing done quick—the sheriff is hot on his trail!
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Leader of the gang! What big guns they have….!
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Here comes the sheriff–a little late but hot on the critters’ trail!

Montezuma Castle (Camp Verde).  The next day we headed to Camp Verde to the Distant Drum RV Campground.  This is our staging ground for heading to California tomorrow.  But in the interim, just a few miles from our campground is Montezuma’s Castle.  NO–I don’t mean Montezuma’s Revenge (this was Bob’s question–of course), but a National Monument that again is much more fascinating than the M. Revenge thing.

Montezuma’s Castle was built by an Indian tribe of southern Sinaguan farmers in the early 1200s.  It was a five story, 20-room dwelling and stands in a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley floor.  The people came down to the valley floor to farm and gather supplies.  It is still in remarkably good condition probably due to the arid conditions of the climate.

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The homeowners climbed up to their homes on ladders. Probably didn’t get too many door-to-door salespeople.
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At one time they allowed people to climb up to the cliff houses, but due to the deterioration close contact created, they removed the ladders. That’s OK with me, since there are probably some new homeowners who have moved in by now. Did I say rattlesnakes?????

By the way, I read in Trip Reviewer that our current campground is very nice (all 10s!), but that we should watch out for rattlesnakes.  Bob asked the Park employee about that and she said “Oh yes, you have to be very careful. ” She said they come out at night, and love the smell of food.  They also dig into the sand and wait for “food” to walk by so they can pop out and get it.  She said a rattler even tried to get in the door to visit with her in the office one day.  Friendly sorts–they just want to have fun too.  Since that conversation, Bob has curtailed his outside excursions after dark.

Verde Valley (Cottonwood, Jerome).  We went exploring around the Valley the first day and hit the Historical Society in Camp Verde.  Two very pleasant ladies gave me loads of information and also said that a fellow Virginian worked at our campground every winter for several months as a Work Kamper.  Wonder if he is as friendly with the Rattlers as the lady working there now….  We drove around Cottonwood and up a very high mountain and found Jerome, an artisan village.  I also found the quaintest bookstore at the top of the mountain within the village–it was painted periwinkle blue and was in a triangular chalet style–very tiny with the cutest deck out front.

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A book store in Jerome I would like to visit and stay a while. so charming….

It made me want to go in and browse around, but unfortunately it was closed that day.  According to the owner, a very nice lady (who was sitting outside reading a book!), they open Thursday through Sunday.  Another “I wish I could have done that…” to put on my wish list if I ever get back this way.

Sedona.  Finally—Sedona!  I could have spent at least two weeks here absorbing this place!  It has a self-acknowledged mystical  quality to the atmosphere that may or may not be reinforced by the amazing red rock formations that inhabit every angle, every perspective, every thought.  Peeking from behind a building, growing larger then smaller with every turn in the road, Sedona is red rocks—and it rocks in its own particular way that intrigues me and makes me want to get to know it better.  Bob wasn’t nearly as entranced as I was, but he did consent to get a manicure-pedicure the night before so maybe some of the relaxing quality of the place was rubbing off on him–well maybe a little.  And shopping–oh my goodness!  We found a most unusual shopping location called Tlaquepaque, which showcases Navajo crafts and artistry.  I was delirious and wanted to explore but unfortunately they close early so didn’t make it to all the shops.

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Amazing sculpture in the garden.
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Didn’t make it to this shop but I loved the teaser hanging from the balcony!
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Simple and beautiful.
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Centerpiece in the courtyard. It looked like the Sedona folks just like to sit in the courtyards and soak up the calm elegance and relaxing atmosphere.

I am sure there are many magical places in Sedona that would take some time to get to know.  Some refer to the town as a tourist town, but I think it is much more than that.  Just look at my pictures and see what you think!

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I loved this little shop filled with whimsical bells and doodads….
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And what a perfect location! Is there a BAD location in Sedona?
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What an astounding drive!
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Crazily beautiful wildflowers on the side of the road.
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Impossibly beautiful.
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Chapel built into the red cliffs.
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Each one different–each one beautiful!
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Mother Nature’s watercolors.
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Perfection.
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Doesn’t this look like a bunch of ladies sitting and having tea while enjoying the view?

Our very brief time in Arizona is almost over and I definitely know where I would like to re-visit!  So on to California tomorrow.  Will keep you posted!  Happy trails dear friends and family!!

Getting Around ABQ (Albuquerque)

Albuquerque is known for transportation of a very specific kind–hot air balloons!  We have all seen those pictures of hundreds of colorful, unique, fabulous hot air balloons floating through the air with desert plains, rocks of every size and shape, and formidable mountains hovering in the not so far distance.  Well, that is one mode of transportation we did not explore in ABQ over the past few days, but I do know now why it is such a popular pastime.  Our pedicab tour guide (we will get to him soon) told us ballooning is popular here because the air patterns move in a square, so that once the balloon rises and begins its wanderings, it is pretty much assured that the balloon will find its way back close to where it took off–kind of a weird boomerang effect.  Now I don’t know if this has been scientifically proven but it sounds reasonable to me, especially since ABQers would be chasing balloons all over the place trying to sort them out if there wasn’t some kind of rhyme or reason for the multitude of balloons that fly here frequently.  In the many years we have lived in VA, I have only seen one hot air balloon float over our house.  In ABQ, it is a common occurrence; in fact, when the balloon festivals are ongoing, you can see hundreds at one time.  I think it would be great fun to come back to see that!

So, OK, we didn’t do the balloon thing, but we did hit almost every other mode of transportation that I can think of.  But let me back up—our last few days in ABQ were centered mainly around taking the coach to the repair shop in the morning and bringing her home at night.  Poor Baby!  She has been through a lot!  So although I had a long wish list of things to do in ABQ, we had to do what would work time-wise each day.

On our first day we drove in from Santa Fe and went directly to the repair facility down the street from our campground.  We left Baby there to be “assessed,” then parts were ordered and we had to take her over for repairs as parts came in.  So on  Day One, we headed to Old Town ABQ for a pedicab tour of Old Town.  We were tired and not totally energetic after driving in from Santa Fe and then doing the repair shop shuffle, so being driven around looking at stuff for a little while sounded like a good plan.  At the last minute I called Mike, our driver, and asked if we could move our tour up by almost an hour, since we had arrived a lot faster than expected.  He said of course–he would just be 30 seconds–and sure enough about 20 seconds later he rounded the corner of the Plaza in his canopied pedicab.

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Pedicab-ing, while maybe not quite as exciting as ballooning, was just our speed on this beautiful day in Old Town ABQ.

The next hour or so was a low-key combination of the history of ABQ, especially as it was in the old original section now known as Old Town, with a sprinkling of humor thrown in, as well as some special insights into why the world is as it is.  And as part of the tour Mike pointed out all the places that would give discounts if we mentioned we had taken his tour.  Old Town itself was a lovely lady, with many of the same families from the founding families still in possession of their family homes.  Shopping wasn’t bad (especially with my pedicab discounts), and lunch in a hacienda-style restaurant finished off a long morning just in time for the call to come pick up Baby for the day.

After settling Baby in for the night at the campground, we headed to Sandia Peak Tramway for dinner.  I have to say that dinner was good, but the sunset over ABQ was one of the most memorable sunsets in my immediate (and that’s about all I can remember!) memory.  It took my breath away, especially as the sunset changed minute by minute so I would have to hop up from my dinner and take my camera over to the balcony for another shot.

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I haven’t downloaded my sunset pictures yet but these roses located at the foot of the tramway were beautiful and unexpected. You will see the beautiful sunset on my next post.

We got to the Tramway so late we decided to come back the next night to take the ride to the top–at one time the longest tram ride in the world at 2.6 miles up over the rocky peaks.  Now they believe there is a longer one in Eastern Europe.

The next morning, after dropping Baby off at her RV doctor, we headed west to see the Acoma Pueblo, called Sky City on the signs leading us there.  The Pueblo, or village, sits on top of a 365 foot mesa, about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.  Not until modern times was there a road leading up the mesa; all travelers had to walk up a very steep and rocky path to reach the village.  Due to its isolation, the Pueblo was sheltered from invaders for more than 1200 years.  Founded in the thirteenth century, the Acoma Pueblo (one of 19 different tribes in New Mexico) is the earliest of the continuously inhabited communities in the United States.

You can read those words but it doesn’t hit home what that really means until you visit this community.  No water on the mesa, no plumbing, no electricity–they have to do everything as it has always been done–the very hard, painstaking way.  Whether it was hauling water and supplies up the steep and torturous path, caring for crops and animals, discouraging warring tribes or Spaniards from approaching their hideaway, or the lure of leaving the hard life behind–it had to be done with no modern conveniences or outside support.

The drive to see the Acoma Pueblo was amazing in itself.  Once the historical land of the Acoma Pueblo totaled about 5 million acres; now only 10 per cent is in the hands of the Acoma community.  Still, as we stood atop the mesa talking with our resident tour guide, we could turn in a circle and look for miles in every direction.  She said that everything we were looking at was Acoma land, about 850,000 acres.

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Once we arrived, we first went to the Acoma visitor center and signed up for a tour.  Our shuttle bus took us up a very steep hill to the top of the mesa.  The tour guide explained that there was no road until a movie production team filming a movie up there (a John Wayne film called “African Sunset”) asked for permission to build one when they realized they would have to haul their equipment up the steep rocky foot path that was the only means of access at that time.  Since then the community has improved the road to accommodate the school buses picking up the school children.

The village itself made me feel like I had stepped back in time.  Gusts of sand blew in my eyes, camera, hair, clothes and shoes.  Even my Indian fry bread Bob and I tried (delicious!) tasted a little sandy after a while.  But the feeling of the place was like another planet–I could not fathom such a place ever existing in the United States.  But it was also deliciously mystical and peaceful.

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The mission church in Acoma Pueblo.
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The only tree in Acoma Pueblo. Our tour guide referred to it as the Acoma Forest.
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This is how the Acoma villagers bake their bread.
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Bob eating Indian fry bread with cinnamon and sugar.
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Toilets on the outskirts of Acoma Pueblo, hanging on to the edge of the cliff. Could make for an exciting evening.  Although there are about 300 homes in Acoma Pueblo, only 30-40 people live there at one time.  The other villagers live close by but in more accessible homes for work and school–but they all come back to the mesa for festival days.
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This is the main plaza of the village where festivals take place with 300 dancers all dancing in this space. The tribal elders sit on this bench during the many festivals each year.  Below are pictures of some areas in the Pueblo.  Notice the ladder access–if invaders threatened the women would pull up the ladders to discourage entry.

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We returned to ABQ after a long, dusty day at the Acoma Pueblo.  I have to say that after that experience I will never forget the Acoma.  Hardy, mystical souls who truly understand the pull of home. And sand–lots of sand.

We picked up Baby and settled her in for the night and headed back to the Sandia Tramway.  Once on the tram, I began to wonder if this was such a good idea.  Bob looked a little green and I tried to focus on taking pictures and not worry about how old the tram is, how far down to the ground (piles of rocks) we were–and then as we neared the top at 10,000 plus feet, the wind began to blow rather fiercely shaking the tram around so that it slammed into the side of the nest it was aiming for.

In a nutshell, here’s our ride up:

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And here’s Bob, happy he is still alive (me too!) after reaching the top and stepping onto solid ground:

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It was very windy–got to hold on to your hat in those 35 mph winds!

After having a nice dinner at the top in the High Finance restaurant, we faced what I knew I was dreading—the trip down:

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Finally to the ground we go.  Slowly.  I was so happy to see those little yellow flowers growing out of the rocks. Bob looked pretty happy to be near the ground again too.  And back at the campsite, Baby had never looked so good!

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Well, today we think is our last day in ABQ so we dropped Baby off (again!) and headed to the New Mexico Native American Cultural Center to learn about all 19 Native American tribes in New Mexico.

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The Cultural Center was once a part of the American Indian School (AIS). The original building was designed and built by AIS students to a large extent.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit each of the pueblos in person–maybe next time!  But the museum gave us a great understanding of the challenges each of the Pueblos have faced and how their individual lives were affected.  So much history and so little time to learn just a little of it!

We then ate lunch in the Cultural Center restaurant.  Huge portions so we donated some of our leftovers to the folks at the table next to us.  And they ate it!

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A Tewan Taco made on Indian Fry Bread. Delicious but very spicy (for me). And huge! Four people could have eaten this and been very satisfied!

That’s all for tonight!   Hopefully we will be ensconced in our campsite in Arizona by this time tomorrow.  We are watching the forest fires however, just in case our route crosses over their path.

Hope everyone is doing well.  Happy trails, family and friends!

 

Taking the High Road

I do not want to bore you with tales of woe back home in Virginia and here in Nevada, but, without being overly optimistic,  things are moving along!  As far as the Virginia abode, repairs are being scheduled and everything is on track.  Now if we can keep those pesky squirrels out of our house long enough, we can continue to make progress! As far as our adventuring on the road, we have had some unexpected challenges but we are trying to stay calm and have some fun when we can squeeze it in between visits to repair facilities.  The food is an adventure in itself–I just can’t get enough of this southwestern fare–yummy!

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Yes! It is TOTALLY as good as it looks!
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We have found such charming places to dine—each one of them with a special ambiance of their own.
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Bob got really adventurous one night and chose the rabbit-rattlesnake sausage for his meal. Don’t know why.  He did say afterwards that it was a little bland and…well…chewy. He said he just felt like something different. Ash said it looked like a snake lying on his plate and wondered if the snake ate the rabbit and then they cooked the “snake a la rabbit” inside. No, Ash, that’s not the way it worked but it makes me a little queasy to think about it…

In between our dining experiences, we are currently in and out of the repair shop in Albuquerque.  We could almost unhook the RV in our sleep by now!  However, the folks at Myers RV are fantastic and are working hard to get repairs completed so that we can get back on the road.   We dropped the coach at the shop early this morning and we plan to do the same thing tomorrow.  They ordered the replacement parts today for overnight shipment so we count that as progress! So early morning again tomorrow–but a positive way of thinking about it is that we will have more time to see some of the things we want to see!

So far, RVing has been a mixed bag of fun and, well–not so fun.  But the fun parts definitely outweigh the negatives–and we are learning to try to have fun even if we are tense about the latest challenge.  Trying to stay positive!

Since we have been in Albuquerque we have done some fun things that I will get to eventually–but for now I’m going to back up and tell you about our last day in Santa Fe–or in that area anyway!  And that is, of course, our trip on the “High Road to Taos.”  This route encompasses huge mountains, isolated mountain towns, remote artist colonies–and gives you a better understanding of how the early Spanish settlements are still reflected in the little towns today.  We saw much of this influence in the mission churches along the way.

The scenery on the way to Taos makes this very short distance between Santa Fe and Taos an extended trip.  I had to jump out of the car every time we rounded a curve to take more pictures! The scenery can go from stark, dramatic desert to heavily forested mountains in just minutes. DSCN7256DSCN7244DSCN7240DSCN7366 We finally made it to Chimayo’, famous for the Santuario de Chimayo’.  With its quiet and peaceful gardens, beautiful artwork, its numerous chapels and sanctuary areas, and the stream of devoted visitors, it is clear how important this sanctuary is to the community.

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Bob having a quiet moment in the Santuario de Chimayo, a beautiful mission church known as a center for curing the sick.  Or maybe he’s asleep?
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Santuario de Chimayo’ located in Chimayo’

A star attraction in this little village is the Rancho de Chimayo, a restaurant in a 19th-century hacienda-style building.  More fantastic food in an awe-inspiring setting.

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The food, the huge portions, LOTS of guacamole and salsa, the sopapillas and honey—I was in heaven!
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The is the outside of the hacienda where we had lunch. Notice the strings of peppers drying from the roof. The belief is that hanging strings of peppers bring good luck–and of course it’s a great place to dry out the pods.

After eating such a huge meal in the middle of the day, we got back on the High Road and headed toward Truchas, where Robert Redford filmed the The Milagro Beanfield War. Unfortunately, our minds must have been very muddled since we wound up miles into a back country  road that reminded me of the peaks and valleys of the Sound of Music.  The dirt roads had ruts that took every effort of our mighty little jeep to get us turned around and back on the right track.  Nevertheless, I did convince Bob to stop at one of many artist showrooms nestled in the nooks and crannies of this beautiful countryside.  Bob had a nice mini nap and I got in a little shopping. Then we went into the forest and circled through miles of beautiful scenery until I drifted off to sleep and awoke just in time to see the San Jose de Gracia Church in Trampas, a colonial-era church that sits in the middle of a very small community.

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The San Jose de Gracia Church in Trampas, a colonial-era church.

But the highlight of the church sightings was the San Francisco de Asis, the 18th-century mission church that was a subject of many of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings.  And beautiful it was–after we finally found it in Rancho de Taos.  Following GPS on this treasure hunt dumped us into a private road, and lead to some “intense” discussion of the merits of GPS.  Finally, the good old fashioned method won out, and we stopped at a couple of places until we found someone who could give us directions.  It was well worth the extra trouble!

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The front doors of the San Francisco de Asis. Beautifully simple in adobe.
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This 18th-century mission church was regal in its peacefulness.

Miraculously, behind the mission church I found an art studio that also carried used books by local New Mexico authors.  I walked away a happy camper with a bagful of books for less than two of the books would have cost brand new.  Can’t wait to dig into them! On to Taos, our last stop on the High Road.  We found it to be a charming, tidy mountain town with interesting adobe architecture and buildings that have made it through hundreds of years.  We saw the home of Kit Carson and was given a short summary of his accomplishments.  We explored the streets and buildings and alleyways, shopping a little and soaking up the ambiance.  A few young street performers were on the Plaza and appeared to be singing for their supper.  Before we left for Santa Fe, we decided that we were actually hungry enough to eat again so headed to the restaurant in the Taos Inn for dinner.

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That’s our dinner at the beginning of this post–you know–my blue corn enchiladas and Bob’s rattlesnake!  Interestingly, we sat in a little alcove where we could look through this little cubby window into the bar.  I loved the wooden ceilings and unique little dining areas sprinkled through the main floor.  And some nice soft jazz followed us as we walked out the door.

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Peeking into the bar from our dining alcove. Note the antique wood covered ceilings.

On the way back to Santa Fe we traveled through the gorge along the Rio Grande.  I’m sure it was beautiful but I soon passed out and was not much company until we arrived back to the Baby, waiting faithfully for us.

I will catch you up on our travels over the next couple days.  There’s so much going on, I feel like I am living in multiple universes. So farewell for now, dear family and friends!  Happy trails!

Back on the road again!

It seems like a month since I last posted on my blog, but it has actually been about two weeks!  Ahhhh…. how time flies when you are battling the monsters of the universe (squirrels) on one hand, while vicariously continuing our westbound trip.  Most of you already know that when I went back to Virginia for a few days I discovered that we had the Invasion of the Squirrels at our brick and stick house– and it wasn’t a pretty picture!  Actually, it was a disaster–chewed electrical wires, flooded rooms, A/C not working since the Squirrel Family (from you know where!) that had moved in decided the wires leading to the upstairs air conditioner were pretty tasty–I had to roll up my sleeves and do battle along with an army of repair people.  So I was back in Virginia twice as long as anticipated and am still keeping an eye on repairs from afar, thanks to the assistance of family and friends!

Meanwhile, back at base camp in Colorado Springs, Bob was fighting his own battles.  A sneak attack of snow, ice and deadly cold hit the I-25 corridor where we had set up our base camp while I was in Virginia, which forced Bob to discover just how well insulated our motorhome actually is under adverse conditions.  After this unexpected experiment, Bob said the INSIDE was “snug as a bug in a rug” with the fireplace, 2 furnaces, and the heated floors going full blast.  However, RV life requires a few excursions outside relatively frequently to attend to tanks, make sure all is well, and ensure nothing has blown off overnight.  Well, between plucking icicles off the Baby every morning, scraping snow with a broom (who knew to bring a snow shovel?–after all this is our summer trip!), and trying to stay warm in freezing temperatures with less than heavy duty winter clothes, Bob completed his survival challenge with flying colors.

The day before the storm hit, Bob was still enjoying very pleasant weather when he visited the Garden of the Gods on a mission–get some great photos of the amazing rock formations.  I have to say the picture below was a great example of the wonders of this very special place!  (If you don’t mind being bopped on the head, you can ask Bob someday what happened to all the other pictures he took.)

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Amazing monoliths seemingly dropped from outer space in all kinds of fantastical formations, the Garden of the Gods is a registered National Natural Monument in Colorado Springs planted within walking distance of our campground.

With my instructions that he get some great pictures in mind (I suppose), Bob decided to tackle 14,000 plus feet Pikes Peak.  No–he didn’t climb it!  Well, actually he did, but he was in a cog train going about 7 MPH, which is much more efficient than walking!  He was able to get some super pictures, even though it was snowing and visibility was not the best.  I did Pikes Peak a few years ago and let me tell you–even taking the train up is a challenge!  As you get closer to the top the lack of oxygen makes you think seriously about every next breath.  So taking pictures takes second place to breathing…  So here’s Bob’s Pikes Peak adventure in pictures:

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Bob took the cog train out of Manitou Springs, CO heading for the top of Pikes Peak. At 7 mph, slow and steady wins the race. This little train attempts the Peak every day of the year although there are times it doesn’t happen. It didn’t make it all the way up the day before Bob went up, and the people working at the Visitors Center at the top were taken down early in the day.

DSCN7166DSCN7157DSCN7051 The trip up starts with wooded hillsides, boulders, and a few snowflakes.  As this “little engine that could” chugs on up the mountain, you begin to wonder if it can really make it.  And it starts getting colder and colder.

DSCN7049DSCN7070DSCN7062DSCN7102DSCN7105DSCN7107 The train trip takes well over an hour and the scenery gradually unfolds from treed forests to lunar landscape–with MUCH snow for this time of year!  The trees become sparser until you realize you are looking at Arctic tundra!  Then you start dreaming of another jacket, more socks, a thicker hat…..

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Hikers sometimes hike up to this level and catch the train to the top–or vice versa.

Windy Point is an apt name for this lonely outpost!  there is nothing up here (almost at the top–just 2000 more feet!)  to break the force of the frigid winds that blow on this Martian landscape.

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Workers live up here in the tundra area to help keep the tracks cleared and the train moving.

 

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You are looking down on the other peaks in this chain of giant mountains.

 

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Moon rocks, anyone?

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The train has arrived–and in one piece! Now if you could only breathe you can walk up to the  Visitor Center and get something good and hot to eat and drink!  And if you are really doing well–a little shopping.  Suggestion: A t-shirt with the statement “I survived Pikes Peak!”

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All aboard! A mad scramble for homemade doughnuts made at the top with a special recipe adapted for the altitude–and something HOT–VERY HOT–to drink!

 

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Glory be! We are going to make it safely down to Manitou Springs! Trees in sight once more.

 

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Home sweet home!  The Pikes Peak train station comes into sight again.  You done it!

While I was dealing with a continuing series of squirrel-related challenges, Bob was also multi-tasking, trying to keep our trip on schedule while ensuring the RV didn’t freeze into a solid chunk of ice.  Remember a few blogs ago that we had a slide out roller awning quit working after going through a particularly windy stretch of the road in Kansas–and we had to order another part at the repair facility in Denver?  Well, the “just a few days” to arrive turned into a “Mission Impossible” due to the VERY SLOW delivery folks who used everything from snow to ingrown toenails for not delivering the part across town–in fact, the part didn’t arrive until the day after I returned to Colorado over two weeks later.

We were a little unglued about that, especially since Bob picked me up at Denver Airport on Wednesday, rushed back to Colorado Springs where we hooked up the RV and then headed back to Denver in evening commuter traffic—yuck!  Visions of Northern VA traffic jams endured during 25 years of commuting to DC and environs gave me the heeber-jeebers, which was not eased at all by my jet lag–so it was a good thing Bob was driving! The next day the repairs were finished late in the afternoon, and we headed down the road toward Taos, New Mexico.  Since it was so late we stopped at Rotan, NM.  The next morning, we went on to Santa Fe for a couple of days camping on a mesa overlooking Santa Fe.  Great, heavenly views, with a quirky, comfortable campground (called Santa Fe Skies RV Resort) I would love to visit again.  Art sculptures, a display of antique farm equipment, solar power panels, great walking path–it is very appealing. Unfortunately, while setting up camp yesterday one of our 4 slide outs got stuck so we had to start the whole rigamarole again.  So tomorrow–off to a new repair facility in Albuquerque!  Wish us luck!

I don’t want to exhaust you trying to catch up two weeks in one blog.  So Installment 2 will be posted tomorrow.  The highlight for today was the High Road to Taos we drove today and the places we stopped to “mess around” and explore along the way.  And what amazing scenery–tune back in tomorrow! We have some great pictures!  Good night, family and friends!  Happy Trails!

Moving On: Colorado Springs or bust

We untethered Baby 2 today and let her get some air under her wings.  She had been stuck in that campground in Estes Park with deer and elk running circles around her for days–so she looked happy to hit the road.  We took the Peak to Peak road out of Estes Park and headed to Lyons where we hooked back up before continuing our trip to Colorado Springs.  I planned to take some pictures along the way and then meet Bob in Lyon, but I had never driven very far behind Baby and she looked so happy to be free, I just watched her go.  Her freedom was short-lived, however; she was back to being the workhorse again on down the road when we plugged in the Jeep behind her.

DSCN7026DSCN7005DSCN7004 Some of you are a little curious about the mechanics behind RVing.  Others of you know more than we will ever know!  But I want to introduce you to Pinky, our pink monkey, who is our assistant driver in the tow vehicle.  This is the way it works–when Baby 2 is pulling the Jeep she is so much bigger and stronger than the Jeep that if something awful were to happen–let’s say a flat tire on the Jeep–then Baby 2 would continue to pull her along unknowingly–which would definitely not be a good situation.  In our class we were told to put something bright (such as a scarf) on the top of the steering wheel and watch it in the rear camera.  If it starts bobbing furiously around, you will immediately know if something is out of sorts.  I didn’t like any of the scarves I saw that day so the brightest thing I could find was this pink monkey.  So if you see a large RV going down the road and you see a pink monkey driving the tow vehicle, then you can be pretty certain it’s us!! DSCN7030 Driving a tow vehicle is tough work.  As the RV makes turns, the wheel of the toad (tow vehicle) also turns.  So Pinky can sometimes almost wind up standing on her head.  But she holds on tight and does her job with style!  Hold on there, Pinky! DSCN7031DSCN7029DSCN7033 Well, between Baby 2, Pinky, and–oh yeah–Bob, who drove the RV today, we made it to Colorado Springs with only one minor surprise.  (Can we ever do ANYTHING without something popping up that we didn’t expect?  Or popping off?  Ok–you get the message!) Well, today’s surprise as we were heading down I-25 south of Denver was a large piece of steel and rubber tread lying in our lane of the road that must have blown off of a large truck .  Since there was no where to go to dodge the big chunk of rubber and steel, we (of course) ran over it but didn’t think anything of it since everything seemed fine.  As we were checking in at our campground, a fellow camper came in and asked if the Phaeton was ours and mentioned that we had some extra tire hanging on the back dual axle.  He and Bob tried to pull it out to no avail–so it wound up being another call to CoachNet.  They were here within 30 minutes and yanked that thing right out of there with no damage to the Coach.  I love happy endings!  Look at the smile on Baby 2 below–she’s so happy to have that yucky thing gone! DSCN7034 The ladies in the RV office recommended a little bistro in Old Colorado City (4 miles down from us) for dinner tonight.  The atmosphere was a little funky, with what Bob refers to as “California-style” (i.e., healthy) food on the menu.  We both found something we liked and all was well. I enjoyed checking out the house (that’s really what it was), with an old wooden chandelier, stained glass, and a guy sitting in the front bar area looking grumpy and wondering how/why he wound up there for dinner.  Oh yeah, that guy was Bob–and he survived!  In fact the BLT he had looked pretty darn good! DSCN7035DSCN7039DSCN7037 We were walking back to our car tonight after dinner and this singing couple in a shop window caught my eye. DSCN7044 I would love to know what they are singing, but I can only imagine it’s “Happy Birthday” on the belated side.  After all, the picture below it just happened to get on the blog today so there had to be some magic somehow!

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Two of my favorite granddaughters sharing a birthday moment at Mikaela’s 6th birthday celebration. I can’t believe that was 4 years ago! Birthdays have always been big in our family and the girls are carrying on the tradition!

Well, that’s it for tonight folks!  I will be back on duty Monday night after I get back to Colorado from my trip home.  But Bob has promised to get out and do some exploring without me, so more blog fodder is coming!  Cheers to all!  And to my dear grandsons, I will sneak you on my blog in the very near future, so hang in there!

NEWS FLASH! Rocky Elk go on strike!

Before we get to the big news of the day, just in case you are interested, here’s an update on my convection oven battle.  We (it took two of us) successfully baked biscuits this morning and very tasty pork chops tonight!  Applause, everyone!  Goodness knows what we will attempt next.  Ashley wants us to demonstrate on Facetime.  Come on, Ashley, this is not a cooking show!  Anyway, I would have to have a personal hairdresser and where would he/she sleep????

On to the BIG NEWS….  I kept looking out the windows this morning waiting for our friends to appear.  But not a sign.  So around noon we drove down the hill to exit the campground and what did we see?  Elk on strike!

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OK–either they were on strike or they were intensely involved in their noon siesta.  I have been suspecting that this campground pays the local elk to stroll through this campground for the guests’ entertainment.  Unfortunately, they probably heard about the minimum wage going up and decided that a pay increase would be nice.  Well, there were some strikebreakers–turning their backs on their friends–well, OK, their BUTTS.  But aren’t they CUTE butts?  I’ve become very fond of these local elk, so when I see Elkburgers on the local menu it makes me feel kind of sad and, well, nauseated.  Maybe this was a strike after all–some big issues here!

I didn’t sleep too well last night thinking about the ghosts at the Hotel Stanley.  I think they felt cheated since I didn’t show you any pictures of their (permanent?) home.  So here goes:

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Do you notice anything odd?  Well the picture in the middle is not the Hotel Stanley but a dollhouse replica of it used in the movie, “The Shining.”  And did you know the first “Dumb and Dumber” movie was also filmed here?  Odd combination, don’t you think?  The hotel was owned by the same Stanley fellow who built the Stanley automobile.  Anybody remember that?  If you do, you’re probably one of the Hotel Stanley ghosts.  I’m sure the ghosts get a kick out of riding this car up and down the lobby every night.  There is a picture in the lobby of the Emperor Hirohito from Japan behind the wheel of the car as it sat in the lobby.  He must have had a difficult time getting a taxi that day.

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Sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Stanley, the Stanley automobile as it once looked upon arrival in Estes Park, CO.  The automobile quickly replaced many of the horses and buggies used by Estes Park folks.

Ashley, what do you think?  Isn’t this staircase remarkably similar to the one at the place where you and Justin were married?  The museum downstairs has videos taken of ghosts flitting up and down the stairs.  Or perhaps it was some old film.  Who knows?

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Squint your eyes just a little and you may be able to see a Hotel Stanley ghost. Oh yeah, just now, did you see that????

So today we headed back into Rocky, and found this valley near Horseshoe Bend.  During the Depression, 200 men from the Civilian Conservation Corps lived in tents on the valley floor, working to preserve and protect the wilderness areas.  I don’t know if you girls remember me telling you this, but my grandfather on my mother’s side worked in the Corps and helped to build the Blue Ridge Parkway after the war.  These men left their families and lived in camps for months at a time in a last ditch effort to work so that they could feed their families.  Efforts like this helped a lot of families survive the Depression era.  As a side benefit, Roosevelt’s initiative to create the Corps helped place more focus on wilderness preservation for future generations.

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I asked everyone yesterday if they knew what kind of bird this is.  Lisa said it was a magpie and that they have a lot of them in Utah.  Interesting!  I don’t know too much about magpies, but aren’t they the birds who like shiny articles and will steal it in a heartbeat?  So I guess the bears aren’t the only scavengers in the campground.  Maybe a few CAUTION: MAGPIES IN AREA next to the bear warning signs?  Hmmm…

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I thought you guys would like to see this sweet doggie I met in the RMNP visitor center.  He’s a sweet and fun dog who happens to be a support dog.  He had his national certification tags on his back and was happy to be out of the car so that he could get his shopping done–he was busy selecting a new t-shirt when I walked up.  His owner said he is her constant companion and helps her tremendously.  He gave me lots of kisses before he left with his owner.

We are moving on to Colorado Springs tomorrow and leaving this very interesting place behind.  Probably very timely, since Estes Park is almost into the flood season.  Bob has been getting the scoop from the guy down at the gas station where he gets his coffee every morning.  (Yes, he has a coffee pot but I think he likes to hear a little local gossip at the same time he has his wakeup coffee.)  They had a bad flood last year but it didn’t beat the one in 1982 which was catastrophic.  I talked to a lady in the bookstore I visited today about the flooding and she said they are holding their breath that it doesn’t warm up too quickly–which would send torrential meltwaters down the rivers and streams ultimately slamming into Estes Park.  They are still cleaning up from last year.  The devastation from these floods is overwhelming for such a small isolated community.

Just one more note: to save myself from further embarrassment, I finally bought some hiking shoes today and the lady in the shoe store swore I could walk on ice, rocks, anything–without sliding.  She even had me running up a rock ramp in her store to prove her point.  I think she must have been talking to the Park Ranger from yesterday.  Word gets around in these small towns.

So on to the next adventures!  I will be back in Virginia May 7-12, so Bob has instructions to take lots of pictures while I’m gone and have lots of GOOD adventures, so that I can send out a “catch-up” blog when I return.  So never fear–these intrepid explorers are still on the job–but will be taking a blog break for a few days!  Take care friends and family–all our love!

 

 

 

Lazy Day at “Rocky”

Hi everyone!  We had a lazy morning today while I studied the convection oven cookbook trying to figure out how to make cinnamon rolls in a convection oven.  To tell you the truth I’ve been a little shy about tackling this project but when I woke up this morning a little bird said “cinnamon rolls” in my brain.  So since I have no idea how to make cinnamon rolls in a skillet, I decided that perhaps I should read the instruction manual for the newfangled (for me) convection oven.  Ugh!  A half hour later Bob was getting hungry so he decided to take over that project.  I scrambled eggs and we finally winged it on the rolls.  They turned out pretty good except the one in the middle which was a sodden mound of dough.  So next time a few more minutes cook time and a little lower temp–or maybe the other way around….   At least I tried it and I’m not so scared of it any more!  Sure beats standing on my head to light the pilot light in the oven as I often did in the previous RV.  Or maybe not.  Hmmmm….

Well with that behind us, we set off to see our friend, Rocky, again today.  It was a stunningly beautiful day and we decided to hike Bear Lake.  Unfortunately, we were once again wearing the wrong clothes, shoes, etc.  I have hiking boots at home BUT I thought my Keens sandals would be just fine….and it was so warm at the campground…  Little did I know that Bear Lake is close to 9600 feet elevation—there I go (again!) not reading all the details in the guide book.  I have to say that we were wondering as we walked up to the trailhead why all the people in the parking lot were putting spiky crampons on their shoes and boots.

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Rocky was looking good today.

Well, when we saw the packed ice and snow at the trailhead we asked the Park Ranger if our attire–especially our shoes– would be OK.  She was very kind–she took a picture of us under the elevation sign (to help us remember) and sent us down the road to Sprague Lake, where she pointed out the path was at a lower elevation and no longer had snow and ice covering the trail.

At almost 9600 feet, Bear Lake trail had not yet shed the snow and ice.  The RMNP Park Ranger gave us another option since we were not prepared to slip and slide around the lake.
At almost 9600 feet, Bear Lake trail had not yet shed the snow and ice. The RMNP Park Ranger gave us another option since we were not prepared to slip and slide around the lake, i.e. no crampons or boots..

And she said that Sprague Lake had almost the same view–just a little further away.  She was mostly correct–except for about 50 feet in the shadowed end of the lake that was covered in—yes, you guessed it—snow and ice.  After slipping and sliding across that I was so glad we opted out of the Bear Lake expedition.  And the hike was exceptionally beautiful–with the climate/view changing several times as we circled the lake.

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We then drove around scouting out wildlife (more elk and an unusual, beautiful bird–I have to buy one of those bird books since I have no idea what it is) until we ran out of steam and headed back to the RV.  I made lunch and then stretched out for a quick nap and woke up four hours later–best sleep I’ve had in a very long time.  After being retired for over a year, I am actually beginning to feel RETIRED!

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Does anyone know what kind of bird this is?  We found it in one of the RMNP campgrounds. It looked almost like a parrot at first glance.  I guess that’s not too likely in this climate…

We then drove into Estes Park and visited the Stanley Hotel–the slightly haunted, still elegant historic hotel where they filmed “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson.  Although I had visited the hotel before, I just finished reading Stephen King’s book the movie was based upon so I began to see ghosts in every corner, staircase, sneaking in the old brass elevator–and it was still daylight outside.  No wonder their ghost tours of the hotel are so popular!

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At one of the RMNP displays, there were pictures of climbers heading up the Tyndall Glacier. It is interesting to note that at least one of the climbers is a woman–and she’s wearing a skirt! It appears not to be uncommon–one of the early explorers I have read about since we’ve been here was also a woman–and she climbed one of the tallest peaks in a long skirt. They named one of the mountains after her.

Then after dinner at our now favorite Mexican restaurant (2 times already this week), we drove back to the campground.  As we drove into the campground the biggest elk I have ever seen stepped in front of us and posed–almost as if he was waiting for a “please” from us to let us go by.  He was majestic and I would have loved a picture of him–but it was too dark so you will have to take my word for it!  Since we are only one of three motorhomes in the campground tonight, I expect the wildlife will roam freely all night.  Few people, no dogs, no interference–as they roam our little area looking for choice morsels.  Our neighbor over the weekend said he saw bear scat in the campground, so just hoping one of the choice morsels is not the VA folks!

Greetings to all!

 

 

Rocky Mountain NP: Estes Park, CO

This is our second day in Estes Park, CO and I am still in awe of the views!  Although the park (the natives call it “Rocky”) is not completely open to park visitors (they still have massive amounts of snow blocking the park roads) we were able to drive 11 miles into Rocky today.  We have seen herds of elk and deer, and some smaller mammals.  We didn’t have to go far to  see elk and deer since they stroll through our campground frequently and even down the streets of Estes Park.  We heard that a bighorn sheep was recently seen in the downtown city park nursing her twin babies.  Hey, when the kids get hungry, they gotta’ eat….!

Below are some images from our day.  The altitude requires a little adjustment so we came back down to Estes Park after our adventuring, had lunch, and indulged in an afternoon siesta.

I’m planning on waking up early tomorrow to see how many special guests come by for breakfast.  We want to check out Bear Lake later in the morning, hike around the lake, and explore some other areas of the park.  Also want to stop by the local bookstore–I’ve found a great way to get to know an area is by discovering the local authors.

Hope all is well with all of you–we are thinking of you as always!

This is the View from our RV at a campground in Estes Park, CO, just one mile from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
This is the view from our RV at a campground in Estes Park, CO, just one mile from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

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Bob is trying to count how many unexpected dinner guests have arrived.  Bowl of grass anyone?

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More elk! We never get tired of watching these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.

 

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Just a little chilly. Capris, sandals….and down jacket!  What was I thinking???
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Road closed. Darn!
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This is the end of the road for us today. I was here in late June a few years ago and although they had 30 feet of snow hanging over our car at this lookout point we were able to drive into the alpine region of the park at 12,000 plus feet. Maybe next time!
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Heading back down to Estes Park. The trees are struggling to free themselves from that heavy snow. I can’t say I blame them–we had more than enough of that stuff this year too!

Weathering the storms…

Family and friends have been checking in with us to see how we are faring on our trip westward with all the storms hitting the Midwest.  Since we left Virginia, we have stopped in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.  We were supposed to reach our final destination (for this week) today, but fate intervened.  Let’s just say our trip westward has been somewhat challenging.  Or maybe we should just refer to it as being our “breaking in” period.

My friend, Anne, and I managed to make it to DC to see the cherry blossoms this year.  They were the best ever!
My friend, Anne, and I managed to make it to DC to see the cherry blossoms this year. They were the best ever!

When we left Virginia it was a beautiful spring day with the azaleas beginning to bud out and the cherry trees still holding on to their blossoms.  Heading into Indiana our second day out, we ran into lots of rain but no big deal since it was quickly followed by beautiful spring days.   We had several pleasant days in Indiana visiting family and then headed for Missouri.  We ran into a lot of rain throughout the state and by the time we reached Columbia, Missouri much of the U.S. was being assaulted by heavy rain and tornadoes, with a focus on the Midwest.  When we checked into our campground that night, we were given instructions on what to do and how to get to the shelter if the warning sirens went off during the night.  It wound up being a quiet night, but our daughters at home were not reassured.  So the next day (for their peace of mind as well as our own) I purchased an emergency weather warning signal device to keep in the RV.  Haven’t heard a peek from it, BUT we sure ran into some more challenges.

As we drove through the Kansas plains yesterday and into Colorado, we were buffeted by very strong winds.  I slowed the RV down to 20 miles under the speed limit (75 was the speed limit although we would not go that fast even under ideal conditions) and fought the strong gusts of wind for several hours.  Trucks and cars continued to move at the speed limit and above, passing us as we poked along.  But then we started to see trucks lying on their sides along the Interstate, obviously succumbing to the wind shear that can quickly make you airborne.  A fellow at a gas station said they had 24 trucks go down on that strip of the Interstate that day.  I was just very happy to pull into the KOA in Limon, CO for the night without any incident.  Guess I thanked our stars too soon, because when we rolled out the slide-out the roller cover above it was pulled loose.  When we tried to roll it back in this morning it just bunched up and refused to cooperate.  It was icy cold and still windy but Bob climbed on the ladder and tried to tuck it in to no avail.  We finally called CoachNet (a service similar to AAA but for RVs) and they sent out a young fellow who climbed on top of the coach and tucked it back in until we could get to a place that could repair it.  And that’s where we are tonight–in the back lot of the repair facility in Frederick, Colorado dry docking it.  We have an electricity hook up but no water so we are parsing out the water and taking very brief showers!  They will begin repairs tomorrow morning.  And our wonderful campground we had reserved for tonight in Estes Park is only 45 miles away!  But I’m not complaining–we were lucky to get through all the challenges over the last few days with such a minor issue.  There’s a lot of people out there across the U.S. who weren’t so lucky!

Well, if you have been faithfully following our blog, then hopefully by tomorrow evening we will be ensconced in our campground at the gate to the Rocky Mountain National Park–and with any luck I can start posting some close-up (but not too close) pictures of the wildlife and fantastic scenery. We were told we will be the first campers in the campground for the season, so we hope to see lots of wandering wildlife.  No cookouts for us this week since we don’t want to attract the attention of too many hungry critters! You are probably already very tired of my weather reports, so hold on!

Take care, everyone–we miss you!