Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015-11 Chama New Mexico


poppies in Chama New Mexico

Northern New Mexico

Heron Lake State Park

Campground:  Heron Lake St Pk.  Water and Electric (30 amp).  Numerous campgrounds along the lakeshore.  No over-air TV stations.  Weak Cell phone signal.  Cost:  $4 for elect. As I have the New Mexico Yearly camping pass.

Distance Traveled:  93 miles

I’ve left the plateau and mesas tops behind me as I head out on Memorial Day for my next campsite.  Along the way, I stop in the small town of Espanola to pick up a medication from Walgreens.  It was the closest Walgreens drugstore from where I’d been staying.  Though Los Alamos is a wonderful town, built around much history and the Los Alamos National Labs, there are virtually no commercial/chain stores or restaurants in the town.  Except for the one McDonalds and a very large Smiths grocery store.  I’ll miss this perfect little town with nary a vacant store anywhere.  Clean streets well maintained shops and office buildings and not a homeless person in sight.  Good museums and tons of paved biking trails and hiking trails along the edges of the mesa tops and down in the deep canyons.

My backyard view this week
at Heron Lake state park
I’m traveling along hwy 84 a well paved two lane country road with many sections having very wide paved shoulders.  The scenery keeps changing with dramatic mountains and large uplifts of red rocks, chalk and multi colored layered rock formations.  Forest are more prevalent up here as well as a number of reservoir created lakes many being filled by the Chama River.

Heron Lake after years of drought

My destination is Heron Lake State Park.   Some call it Heron No-Lake as the water level has dropped dramatically over the recent years of drought.  Heron Lake is about a 25 minute drive to the little town of Chama, home to a great scenic train ride, The Chama and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  One that I’ve taken in the past and will probably do again.

I’m thinking of this as my little monastery retreat for a week as I expect it will be a quiet experience having arrived after the holiday weekend.  Weather is expected to be in the 65-70 degree range during the day and 40 degrees at night.  Cool for this time of year and this location.   One of the decisions I need to make is, which direction to head in over the next couple of months.  Usually I have a basic plan for the summer but things have conspired to make me want to possibly go in a different direction this season.

After enjoying a few days of quiet-tude, hiking along the old Heron Lake rim, going into the town of Chama for a visit with a shop owner that’s friends of a friend of mine, having lunch and just enjoying the drive through this high country, I’ve signed up for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad ride.

Antoinette at Cruces de me Corazon
Gail's friend

one of her creations

Artist from Santa Fe

Antoinette's truck, the true Chama experiance

Travelers hint:  Go to the Visitors Center to sign up for the train ride and get a 15% discount.  It’s the best deal available. Even with the discount on the upgraded ride it cost around $120.00

train ticket

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad 

Chama train station

I’ve done this trip in the past, approx. 9 years ago and since it has been a while, I thought it would be a great ride to take once again.  It’s a narrow gauge train meaning the distance between the rails is only 3 feet.  It’s the longest and highest in elevation narrow gauge train in the U.S.  and is a quite spectacular train ride.  Hugging the edges of the mountain passes, winding around canyons and deep gullies, crossing bridges and going through mountain tunnels I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a day.  The train winds it’s way back and forth across the New Mexico and Colorado boarder numerous times climbing to a height of 10,015 feet.  I took the ride that starts at 8:30 in the morning with a bus trip to the other end of the line, with the return trip taking the majority of the time as it returned to Chama New Mexico.  Completed in 1880 the train was originally use for hauling mineral ore, timber, cattle and sheep and even had a first class passenger car.  The train stopped operations in 1967 after years of struggles to keep afloat and became a tourist ride in 1970.

2nd class seating, pretty nice

I enjoyed a train car that had dining seating with snacks and light breakfast fair, a full turkey dinner awaited midway along the trip at one of our rest stops.  Large windows in the cars provide great views from inside and an open air car is available for outside viewing which I took advantage of off and on throughout the train ride.  Glad I wore my heavy leather winter jacket as it was pretty chilly way up there in the mountains.

Loved the ride through pine and aspen forests, following the narrow ledge along the mountain rims.  The views were like seeing the world from the highest of vantage points.  The broad valleys with mountain streams running through them, the Cumbres gorge with it’s rushing river cascading and tumbling through it.  The alpine pastures throughout the valleys dotted with cottages in remote secluded locations with no utilities except for what the home owners provide in the way of propane, generators or solar for electric power.  Some the valleys being completely isolated without a single sign of human habitation.  Patches of snow remaining between many of the forests and northern slopes of the mountain range.

it's way, way down to the bottom

the train is so high up on the mountain
that the cottages look like tiny toys

all these cottages are off the grid, they
must provide their own fuel, solar or generators

Well, that was enough excitement for one week all rolled into a ride that started at 8:30 and ended at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Back at the campground, I invited Jodie and John over for a little happy hour and we were able to celebrate Jodie’s birthday.  A couple very much in love having gotten married about 5 years ago.  They kayak on the lakes in the area and have started camping in their new travel trailer.  Life is good when your retirement years arrive, especially when you have so much to look forward to and new adventures to experience every day.

I’m heading up to the visitors center this morning (Saturday) for coffee and muffins with a camp host, ukulele lessons, nature hike, a class in nature inspired art and later in the evening they are going to have a movie night.   This state park knows how to put on some entertainment for the campers on weekends.

young family home schooling their child

our ukulele teacher

coffee with the camp hosts

crafts at Heron Lake state park

A few notes on Chama New Mexico

Two trails go through Chama, one is called the Old Spanish trail, it was added to the National Trail System in 2002.  Originally described as the longest, crookedest and most arduous pack mule trail in the history of America.

The second trail called the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail was so designated in 1978 by Congress.  It is 3,100 miles long and goes from the Mexican boarder to the Canadian boarder and travels along the Rock Mountains.  Many hikers and horseback riders travel this route.  Many hikers taking all  summer to complete the trip.  The Chama post office informed me that many hikers receive “care packages” from family members as the hikers (often just out of college) travel this route.  I’ve also seen long distance bikers traveling through this area as well.

Snowmobiling is a major winter sport in the area as a number of the log cabin motels and even one Rv campground are open year round.

Enjoy your day, where ever the trail leads you.

more pictures on PICASA

Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015-10 Los Alamos, White Rock New Mexico


Northern New Mexico
White Rock
Los Alamos
Bandelier NP

white clouds billowing up before sunset

Campground:  White Rock City Rv Park.  Next to the visitor center.  Most web sites still list it as free.  Now costs $20 per night, 14 limit.   16 rv sites with Elect.  Water and dump available.  This is a paved parking lot style campsite.

Campground:  Ohkay Casino.  Dry Camping.  Free.

I’m ending up my stay in the Cochiti Pueblo and Santa Fe area.  I’ve discovered that while I travel during my 8 months on the road, that staying at a campground for 10 days or more is ideal for exploring an area and having some down time to just enjoy the area before heading on to the next site.

Cochiti Pueblo
One of my camping neighbors also owns an Open Range 5th wheel camper.  Theirs is about 10 years old and is holding up quite well.  The wife had to come over to see if I liked my Open Range.  This is something Rv-ers often do when meeting other campers with the same manufacturer.  It’s a way to compare any issues and check on the satisfaction level.  Well after they’re owning an Open Range for 10 years  and my owning mine for 2 years, the satisfaction level hovers around a 10 for both parties.  We compared the improvements made to the Open Range in those ten years and reveled in the quality of the product.

But I was more interested in the story behind their getting a camper.  As it turns out, the wife was diagnosed with celiac disease caused by a reaction to gluten found in wheat, barley and rye.  Not a good thing for the wife who was a pasty chef.  It seemed like her life was crushing around her all at once.  Having to change careers and her diet overnight.  Her husband came to the rescue by getting her interested in camping…. Showing her the Open Range camper they now own and a whole new life opened up for them.  What an inspiration.

Ekk, disaster, what to do?  You know we all seem to rely on our computers, smart phones and other electronic devices for just about everything these days.  Well, the other day I was going to check on a few things and suddenly all of my icons on the front screen of my computer disappeared.  You know the ones you use to click to open a program like Explorer or Google Chrome.  Gone.  Then I went into my folders looking for my Excel Spreadsheets and the whole folder was gone, gone, gone.  Well, to make a long story short and one that has nothing to do with camping or Rv travel, I had a brilliant idea a couple days later.  Check the “recycle bin”.  Somehow, those items all ended up getting deleted.  Fortunately, Microsoft Windows puts everything deleted in the recycle bin and it has an ‘UNDO’ button.  Yippee!  I got my computer back to normal.  How that all happened in the first place is a real mystery.  Guess I have to blame it on happy fingers dashing across the keyboard and hitting some combination of keys that caused the disappearance of all those files.

Or not, hmmmm.  The following day and I’ve discovered that I’ve lost all my photos for the past 5 months that were stored in my “pictures” folder.  A big loss especially since it contained the full size images.  I at least do have copies on Picasa, but they are smaller versions of the originals.

Distance traveled:  73 miles

exploring an old section of route 66

We’re coming to the Memorial Day weekend and I have no reservations.  But after driving the 73 miles to White Rock, I was able to easily get a spot at the White Rock City park as it’s a first come- first served type park.  A credit card payment station lets one pay for one night at a time.  White Rock is half way between Las Alamos and Bandelier National Park (approx. 12 miles) so it’s a great location to explore the area.

views leading into Los Alamos

I had not planned on staying in this area for more than two days, but after finding out that I can stay at the city park for up to 14 days, I’ll most likely be here for 4 full days.  What a stunning part of New Mexico as Los Alamos, White Rock and surrounding communities are all on top of mesas and plateaus with deep canyons surrounding each section.  The drive over to Bandelier also traverses the top of mesas eventually descending dramatically down into the mile deep canyon.  Los Alamos National Labs is actually interspersed throughout these mesas and canyons with the largest concentration of labs in the town itself.  As I drive over to Bandelier, I see a few of those Los Alamos Lab outposts doing research into nanotechnology, super computing, space sciences and even climate change.  What a contrast between the atom science labs and the history of Ancestral Pueblo People who have lived in this region for over 10,000 years.

looking into the canyon, Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier is one of those sites that brings awe to the visitor.  Realizing the complex society that had developed in this canyon.  The large 400 room circular adobe structure with a couple kivas inside the large central open area.  An 800 foot stretch of stone adobe homes hugging the sides of the canyon walls.  Reaching 3 and 4 stories high.  A good water source, farming became a way of life including the raising of turkeys…

Tuft, a soft volcanic rock formation


part of a circular pueblo

During busy times of the year, one picks up a shuttle bus for the drive into the park from White Rock.  I was able to drive into the park as it was the day before the Memorial Day weekend crowds would arrive.  I particularly enjoyed the numerous National park building that were built in the 1930’s by the CCC’s at which time the road was first built into the park.  One of the Rangers called it Park-a-techure.  A most appropriate name for the wonderful architecture in our National Parks.

reminds me of the Flintstones

notice the horizontal post holes, that's where adobe structures and floors
were built up to 3 stories high against the walls

Valles Caldera National Preserve

Just down the road another 15 miles or so I went to another stunning site.  In 2000 the U.S. Government purchased Valles Caldera National Preserve.  It is one of 7 of the largest extinct volcanoes in the world.  As of October 1st the transition to the National Park system will be complete.  It’s noted for having a large elk herd within the caldera though the day I drove over there, I did not see any.  After all it covers over 95,000 acres of caldera pastures, forests and surrounding lava domes.  I took a guide tour of just a small portion of the preserve, learning about the geology, ancient history and ranching development through the years.  It was awesome just to see the expansive scenery, original ranch houses and that great caldera so visible from highway 4 and the interior dirt roads that we traveled on.  The present caldera was formed after a final massive volcanic eruption blew and then the center collapsed forming this shallow bowl landscape with rounded dome mountain ranges formed by lava domes being pushed upwards.  Fishing is permitted in the back country of the preserve, with a limit on the number of people and vehicles permitted to travel the single lane dirt roads through the park.

Valles Caldera

Ponderosa Pines

On the way back, I took the shortcut (501) through the Los Alamos National Laboratory property.  I had to show my ID before being permitted to drive through this restricted area and then into Los Alamos.  If you come here on weekends, be aware that although all of the museums are open, many of the restaurants are closed.  Only remaining open when the labs are open for business.  It’s a great place to visit and only 35 miles from Santa Fe.  The Bradbury Science Museum is a must and I understand they are working on opening some of the National Laboratory buildings as museums as well in the future.

a portion of the caldera

caldera valley, once was a lake as well

remains of a movie set for "the Buffalo Gals"

This area would be a great place to visit during the summer months as it is between 7,500 and 8,000 in elevation.

What a grand area to tour.  Enjoy your travels where ever they may lead you.

More photos on Picasa