Saturday, September 28, 2019

Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico. A Bonus Report "Starry Starry Night"


Clayton Lake State Park
(A Bonus Report)

clear skies, no pollution
remote location NE New Mexico 

An Awesome night
Starry starry night…..

After returning from Clayton this evening having spent the some time in town listening to a group of singer/song writers I was filled with pleasant thoughts. The sound of guitars being played to their top potential, listening to newly created songs. Hearing a bit of the background behind the inspiration for each song. Being surrounded by creative folks, many with voices at their peak of perfection doing what they enjoy.

Watching the remnants of the sun descend below the horizon, shades of red and orange highlighted the clouds and Rabbit Ear mountain.  Arriving at the campground just as darkness set in, I came inside the camper for a short while, reading, reflecting on the day, then wondering about the night sky. This region of the north eastern corner of New Mexico is recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as being one of those rare dark sky locations. Where we are able to "see the night sky as our ancient ancestors once did".

So with that in mind I bundled up and with a small pen light walked out onto the road behind my camper. Only a few campers had lights in their windows and I was able to position myself so they weren’t a distraction. The few street lights in the park are dimly lit and only shine a small pool of light directly below the light pole. Once I turned off the pen light, I could not see my hand in front of me.

image acquired from internet, I did not take any photos
with my camera/not compatible 

I looked up into the pitch black sky, on a moonless night, as I have done often when out west. The stars are the brightest, most brilliant I have ever seen. The Milky Way shone across the entire sky from horizon to horizon, with not a single cloud to disrupt the view.

Constellations literally screamed at me for attention and the big dipper was so bright directly over my camper, I thought it might start pouring stardust onto the roof of the camper.

I slowly circled around to see the sky from every angle. Marveling at how clear the Milky Way streaked across the sky and how bright each star was. Remembering back when I would look up at the sky in other parts of the country, or near a town or city and how so many stars would be dimly lit. Not tonight. Each one, even the smaller stars, were as bright and clear as the largest stars in the heavens. Overwhelmed would be an accurate way to describe it all.

Milky Way image, provided by internet
I was not able to capture any images with my camera.
but yes, this is what I saw

Talk about an experience that fills a person with wonder. Tonight was one of those nights. And hoping to see it again tomorrow night as well.

If you ever have a chance to visit Clayton Lake State Park, in the very NE corner of New Mexico, in the high desert country, make sure you walk outside and look up at the stars… WOW. What an experience. Yes the dinosaur tracks are pretty awesome as well, but the night sky is the attraction.

Part 2
Dinosaur Tracks

There ‘s a second part to this little gem of a state park and that’s the dinosaur tracks. The story goes that back in 1955 The New Mexico Game and Fish Commission decided to build a dam as a bird refuge and fishing lake. During construction they created an emergency spillway, blasting away layers of basalt and shale. Many years later, 1982, Clayton Lake would finally overflow into the spillway. The force of the water would expose the final few inches of sandstone and debris and reveal the 500 tracks that were created along the edge of a vast inland sea. Now the story become even more interesting when I found out that the park rangers are not the ones to have discovered the now revealing dinosaur tracks. The tracks remained exposed for some time, with no one noticing them after the waters receded from the overflowing of the spillway. A Teacher from Colorado, who was camping at Clayton Lake, was exploring the shoreline and found the dinosaur tracks along the spillway. He then started to cut and dig out specimens of the tracks clandestinely when no one was around. He was a bit late in his nefarious endeavors late one day, when a park ranger came across the earthen dam and saw the teacher lugging a specimen out of the spillway. 27 years after the spillway was constructed, excavating only inches away from the hidden dinosaur track the teacher would be caught, the discovery of the tracks became known to the public and internationally.

The tracks were created over 100 million years ago. The majority of the tracks belong to the plant-eaters of the Cretaceous area, the ornithopods. A few tracks belong the sharp-clawed, meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Imagine if you will the spillway which contains the 500 tracks that are currently visible and how many more tracks are still buried in the shale along the once ancient shoreline surrounding Clayton lake and it’s spillway. Waiting to be dug up and explored.

digging down all these layers for the spillway
revealed the dinosaur tracks
removing more from this area would reveal even more tracks

overlooking the spillway

Needless to say, Clayton Lake State Park holds some spectacular scenery from night star gazing to dinosaur tracks, fishing and bird watching in season along the migration paths. Even their visitor center is an exploration in environmental architecture hay bale construction. Needing little to no heating or air conditioning during the summer. For an out of the way place, it’s a favorite of mine.

more photos:

Friday, September 20, 2019

2019-19 Kansas through the Oklahoma Panhandle to New Mexico


Grain Elevators every couple of miles
Nebraska and Kansas (the Cathedrals of the Prairie)
(PS, no those are not my tire marks screeching to a halt to get this shot)

Kearney, Nebraska
North Platte, Nebraska
Oakley, Kansas
Ulysses, Kansas

Liberal Kansas (just to pick up meds at Walgreens)

Panhandle of Oklahoma
New Mexico, Clayton

Campground: Cody City Park. $5.00. paved pad, no hookups. Water and dump station available. And restrooms. Large city park, campsites are net to a double fenced in pond where they have large animals/zoo type operation. Deer, a couple elk, and a half dozen buffalo. All in relatively close quarters. Most of the park is for humans.


Campground: Kansas Country Inn, Oakley. $21.50 + tax. Full hookups on side of parking lot. Rut filled dirt lanes between well defined camper utilities. Swimming pool, very nice. Free breakfast for motel guests only (they pay $75 a night)

Campground: Frazier park, Ulysses Kansas. It’s part of their community golf course so if anyone plays golf, this would be the place to be. $15 full hookups, 30/50 amp service. A couple over the air TV stations and excellent Verizon signal.

Campground: Clayton State Park, Clayton NM. $14.00 30 amp electric and water. Remote NE corner of New Mexico. A favorite location.  Dinosaur tracks!

Distance Traveled: 158 miles

North Platte Nebraska

Buffalo Bill Cody's North Platte Ranch

Repairs completed (3rd time). So of course I had time to see the few sites worth seeing in North Platte, NE. That being the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Ranch. The Tower overlooks the world’s largest classification rail-yard and should be on any train enthusiast’s bucket list. It’s a very active rail yard where trains arrive 24 hours a day, the cars are sorted for their journey east via an automated Hump rail sorting set of tracks. The yard covers 2,850 acres, managing 10,000 cars daily, of those 3,000 require sorting. The views of the active rail yard from the 8th floor of the viewing tower are well worth the couple of dollars elevator ride to the top. Did you know that a diesel engine train isn’t actually propelled by the diesel engine? The diesel engine is used to produce electricity which then is used to run the electric motors which move the train. The rail yard is owned by the Union Pacific.

Golden Spike Towera rail road enthusiast must stop 
rail cars get sorted here 24 hrs a day

and train engines get serviced hear as well

great viewing spot from the tower

This has been an adventure in discovering all the places Buffalo Bill Cody has lived. In North Platte, you’ll find the Buffalo Bill State Park, Scout’s Rest Ranch. The ranch originally covered 4,000 acres. I was able to tour the 1886 Empire mansion which cost $3,900 to build back then. The 4 story huge red barn and out buildings including a sod covered log cabin. Buffalo Bill Cody lived in the era when the wild west was being tamed. He was an Army scout, buffalo hunter, and eventually an entertainer, providing historic representations of a fast vanishing cowboy way of life. His Wild West Show’s were seen throughout Europe and America and included famous people including Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley. He saw the trains arrival out west, the automobile, telegraph, all quickly replacing a wild west way of life. It’s a great site to learn more about Buffalo Bill.

back of house was for servants

the word "show" never appeared
in any of Buffalo Bill's adds

and his wife, three children died young
only one survived beyond adult hood

inside the 4 story barn

the sod roofed log cabin belonged to Cody's good friends
and fellow ranchers

Buffalo Bill kept this ranch
even after moving and being
instrumental in building Cody Wyoming

Cody with daughter Irma

Cody lived large, spent large leaving
very little upon his death....

Down at my next stop, Oakley Kansas, I’m in the small prairie town where the legend of Buffalo Bill started. Here he was a contract buffalo hunter feeding the crews laying tracks across Kansas. Another person William Comstock was also being referred to as Buffalo Bill. To settle who should have the title, they had a contest to see who could kill the most buffalo in a day. Folks came from all around to watch the show. Cody of won the title.

the larger than life bronze statue marks the spot

About 30 minutes south of Oakley surrounded by miles and miles of flat prairie is Monument Rocks formation. Filled with fossils from an ancient shallow sea. The ride through a mix of natural prairie, dry farm crops of withered corn stalks and cattle ranches, I turned east onto a dirt road. Leading further into the rugged country for about 6 miles. The rock formations with interesting shapes and arches rise out of the flat land. A fun day trip. Only two other vehicles early in the morning. One, drove around the rock structures as the wife took pictures out the car window. The other vehicle, a younger couple got out and walked around as I had. So much more enjoyable to walk around the structures and get a feeling for their size and shear beauty of the area.

quite the site in the middle
of miles and miles of prairie

chalk formations from an ancient seabed

in the middle of a prairie landscape 
about 6 miles of good dirt road driving

Distance Traveled: 131 miles

many grain elevators and
lots of petroleum/gas wells

I’m heading south/west towards New Mexico and found a little place called Ulysses Kansas with a very nice campground/park and golf course. Lots of farming, large grain elevators in-town and a few Mexican restaurants. There appears to be a large Spanish speaking population as well. Many folks may think that Spanish is only spoken in the southern U.S. but I can assure you, many of the small communities throughout the U.S. contain many Spanish speaking communities. Where ever there is a need for cheap labor. They are hard workers and fill a huge need.

Did I mention the wind. Lots of windy days recently. Needless to say, my fuel mileage has decreased dramatically. The open prairie may be nice, but this particular area of the country also has to deal with the wind. We’re talking average winds in the 35-45 mph range.

an excellent museum for
such a small town

love all the historic photos

Kansas was once under 5 different flags

great exhibit of all the local ranchers

Distance Traveled: 240 miles

What a day. I headed back east then south to Liberal Kansas just to pick up meds from the only Walgreen's close by. About 60 miles. Then with a bit of back tracking I drove SW into the panhandle of Oklahoma. With plans to stay at a state park in the very western region of the panhandle. All good intentions being what they are, I drove along hwy 56 and eventually hwy 412. Now these are truly two lane county roads. Black strips of asphalt creating a straight line across wild prairie. Dotted with 3 and 5 thousand acres farms and ranches.

Now I had multiple options to stop along the way for camping including Liberal, Hugoton, Elkhart, Keyes and the a fore mentioned Black Mesa State Park and Nature Preserve. Plan A, Black Mesa almost worked out. Got there and almost set up, but looked at the post and saw the site was reserved for the following day. Checked out a few others and realized most of the park was reserved for the coming weekend. Yes there were a couple site open, so I drove back towards the entrance to check out a couple sites lined up against a rock wall. Darn, they were reserved. Well, that’s ok, I can find a place to turn around and come back to the previous sites that were still open.

Do you think that’s what happened. As I continued towards the entrance to the State park, I couldn’t find a turn around. Not at the entrance, not back up the road a mile or two or three or four. Yup, I ended up heading the 30 minutes back into the Boise City. Only found one campground. Pulled over to check it out. Wish I had gotten a picture of it. As I pulled up to the building, which would have made a great backdrop for an abandoned town scene, except for the large plastic sheet advertising the new park and a couple phone numbers to call. The sites were all empty except for one older camper. Called the number and was told, sure they’d have someone down in minutes to collect my $35 or $45 for the dirt campsite. My choice, 30 or 50amp among trees or over in an orderly row of electric posts in dark brown dirt. I didn’t stay.

Since I’d had lunch, wasn’t going to drive the 30 minutes back to the state park, I called ahead to Clayton Lake St Pk in New Mexico and an hour later, I was there and set up in a pretty if remote state park. And at $14 a night, you know I was a happy camper. Yes it was about 4 o'clock. Much more driving than I usually do in one day, but it all worked out fine in the end.

Happy to be officially out west in the 4 Corner region once again.  Some journeys are short, some are long, but all are filled with some kind of adventure... 

Collections, things...
One man collected souvenir pencils on all his business trips
yes, your collections could end up in a museum too 

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