2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

Las Cruces and the City of Rocks

Las Cruces  017Las Cruces  002We camped in the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, primarily because we were interested in visiting places both on the west and the east of the city.  Las Cruces is the second largest city in New Mexico.

Las Cruces  019Las Cruces  018We toured around the city, mostly in the downtown area and also visited the adjacent town of Mesilla.  Mesilla is a picturesque town with a lovely plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark.  The plaza is surrounded by art shops and galleries.  And the entire scene was beautifully decorated for Christmas.  This was our favorite spot in the Las Cruces area.Las Cruces  021white sands  076Las Cruces  020

Las Cruces  010Las Cruces  011We also visited the local Farmers Market, as is our custom.  It’s a pretty small market, and, at least at the time we were there, was mostly an arts and crafts market, with very few food products.  Still enjoyable, and very friendly people. Las Cruces  012

And there were some food trucks at the market.  We sampled food from one of them “Luchador” with a “Lucha Libre” wrestling motif, and it was excellent!  This truck is at the library most days, and at the Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Check them out if you’re in Las Cruces!Las Cruces  009Las Cruces  008Las Cruces  001white sands  075Las Cruces  013

white sands  077Las Cruces  016Las Cruces  006Driving out of the city was quite picturesque, as Las Cruces is bordered by mountains.  The surrounding mountains also made for some nice sunset views.Las Cruces  005

Las Cruces  026Las Cruces  048We drove to City of Rocks State Park one day.   A number of rock formations were formed over 30 million years ago after a volcanic eruption and jut out from the surrounding landscape.  The state park has formal trails, great little picnic nooks, a desert botanical garden, wildlife viewing, and night-sky viewing.  There’s also a very nice looking RV campground inside the park.Las Cruces  027Las Cruces  035Las Cruces  047Las Cruces  030Las Cruces  042Las Cruces  045

Las Cruces  029Las Cruces  043We ignored the formal trails and just walked into the rocks per the recommendation of a group we met there that seemed to be pretty familiar with the place.  It was fun to just wander around climbing the rocks and making our way around them.   And City of Rocks is definitely worth another visit.Las Cruces  028Las Cruces  034Las Cruces  040Las Cruces  032Las Cruces  037Las Cruces  046Las Cruces  039Las Cruces  038Las Cruces  036

Las Cruces  049Las Cruces  050Las Cruces  055Las Cruces  053Las Cruces  054We then drove over to Silver City, the adjacent town, for a quick look. It had a few interesting buildings but was a pretty small town.

As we left, we decided to drive back to Las Cruces on a different road than the one we drove in on, going over the mountains.

After winding, turning and climbing a while, we found that the road was closed!  They’d had snow at the top and it wasn’t plowed.  This crazy winter weather surprised us once again!Las Cruces  052Las Cruces  051Las Cruces  056Las Cruces  057Las Cruces  060Las Cruces  059

Las Cruces  061So we doubled back to City of Rocks State Park and entered the park again.  It was sunset, and the rocks looked completely different, but it was pretty dark.  It seems that this is more of a morning light kind of place, so we left after a short drive through.

Las Cruces  007We returned to Las Cruces and had a chance to see a stunning moon rise from the parking lot of a pet store.  Sometimes we come across beautiful sights in the most unexpected of places!

Las Cruces  058Back on Island Girl, we prepared to leave New Mexico and continue west to Arizona.  So long for now, New Mexico, we shall return!

~ Brenda

White Sands and Missiles

white sands  042white sands  059Once again we encountered more of the contrasts of New Mexico.  White Sands National Monument is a beautiful place with soft white dunes and beautiful vistas.  It happens to be surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, whose mission is to “provide Army, Navy, Air Force, DoD, and other customers with high quality services for experimentation, test, research, assessment, development, and training in support of the Nation at war”.  In fact, the road leading to White Sands National Monument and between Las Cruces and Alamagordo is regularly closed due to due to testing of missiles and other scary devices.  The Trinity SIte, where the first nuclear bomb was detonated, is located at the far north end of the missile range (closed to the public).white sands  009white sands  002white sands  010

Interesting that when approaching the national monument, all cars were diverted to an immigration checkpoint.  The monument is about 100 miles from the border with Mexico, and we drove from Las Cruces, which is south and west of there. The guard just gave us “the look” and asked about our citizenship.  When we replied “U.S.”, he waved us off.  He didn’t ask Angel, who was in the back seat, any questions.

As we got closer, I was amazed at how suddenly the landscape changed and mounds of white seemed to appear out of nowhere.  We had arrived at the world’s largest gypsum dune field, covering 275 square miles.white sands  006

white sands  031white sands  023This area was covered by a shallow sea 250 million years ago.  Pressure from colliding tectonic plates pushed up land eventually forming the Rocky Mountain Range about 70 million years ago.  Millions of years later, part of the mountains collapsed, creating what is now the Tularosa Basin.

Gypsum, which is dissolved by rain and snow from the mountains, is normally carried out to the sea in rivers.  Since the Tularosa Basin had no outlet to the sea, this mix of water and snow carrying gypsum was trapped in the ground and also formed pools.  At the lowest point of the basin, it formed Lake Otero, which eventually became a mostly dry bed, called a playa, and now named Lake Lucero.white sands  020

white sands  054When the water that had accumulated in the lake evaporated, it left gypsum in a crystalline form, called selenite, on the lake floor.  The selenite was eventually broken down by the elements into smaller and smaller particles and ultimately eroded to sand.  This sand was then moved by the prevailing winds which eventually formed dunes as the sand accumulated.white sands  053white sands  036

As the sand continued to accumulate in the dunes, their steep edges were eventually pulled down by gravity, moving them forward.  Strong winds in the area, at their strongest in the spring, continue to cause many of the dunes to move around the park.  Some travel between twelve to thirteen feet per year, others, on the edges of the dune field, move inches to a few feet per year and are firmly held in place by a various desert plants.white sands  019

white sands  003We visited the National Monument on two different days.  The monument has a visitor center housed in a historic adobe building, and a gift shop offering authentic Native American crafts and other items. white sands  005white sands  004

white sands  013A loop road leads from the visitor center eight miles into the heart of the dunes and to four marked trails, all of them manageable in less than one day.   Getting out into the dunes reveals a different world.  The one down side is that most wildlife generally stay in burrows during the day, with the exception of lizards and some birds.white sands  001

white sands  017In fact, the only evidence of life we saw in two days was two dead crickets and some tracks.  This attests to the harsh living conditions in this area.  The (few) plants and animals that do live here have had to adapt to the conditions.white sands  018

In the case of plants, some grow extremely high so when dunes collapse they are able to remain in place, others create an anchor at the base of the dune so they can remain on the “sand pedestal” when the dune moves.white sands  039white sands  011

Many of the animals here, mostly small and medium mammals (there is not enough food source for large mammals), snakes, lizards, birds and many insects, have also adapted.  Some of the mice and lizards have developed lighter skin to blend in with the sand.white sands  052

The first day we visited was clear, cool and lovely. Although we didn’t do it, a fun thing to do here is to buy or rent (or bring) a sledding disk and slide down the dunes.  This is allowed as long as you don’t roll over any vegetation.  We saw both small and big kids enjoying this activity.white sands  032white sands  040white sands  015white sands  037white sands  045

white sands  016Another thing the park allows is pets on a leash throughout the trails.  This is because of the lack of wildlife, and the ability to see for miles around you.  Absolutely a great perk for a national park.white sands  047white sands  043

We also discovered that  “backcountry” camping is available.  The trail to the camping area is just over two miles long so it’s a short way to the sites.  This is something I’d love to do one day, to hear and maybe see some of the wildlife as they come out during the night.  And the dunes must be beautiful at dawn.  But not recommended in the summer.white sands  049white sands  035white sands  041

white sands  048On our second visit, there was a storm rolling in and some pretty interesting clouds rolled in.  I’m not sure how much (if any) rain eventually came down, but the preview was the same as if a huge rainstorm was to follow.white sands  024

white sands  008It’s interesting how this place changes its look based on the weather and time of day.  I imagine it’s just a little bit different each day, especially with the dunes moving.  The park service does have to plow parts of the loop road frequently (both days we were there).white sands  014

white sands  046I’ve never been in this type of environment, and that feeling of being surrounded by sand and nothing else was pretty amazing.  I could imagine what it must be like to be stranded in a desert with no end in sight.  This national monument is truly like entering another world.white sands  015white sands  026white sands  029white sands  027white sands  007white sands  021

white sands  012white sands  030white sands  051white sands  028white sands  060white sands  058Although we were staying in Las Cruces, which we thought was a better location for our varied interests in the area, Alamagordo is the closest town to the park.  We drove to the town for lunch one day.  It’s a pretty small town, but close to the national monument.

white sands  063white sands  065There is a large military presence as it’s adjacent to an Air Force Base, which is the largest employer there.  As we toured the town we discovered both a Cuba AND a Puerto Rico Avenue, and couldn’t resist getting a photo by them.

Then, as a last quick tour, we visited the New Mexico Museum of Space History, reflecting the importance of this area in space research and systems testing.white sands  064

There is an interesting space park outside with displays of rockets, missiles and rocket engines.  Inside, the museum exhibits include events across New Mexico that advanced exploration and knowledge of space, artifacts including a “moon rock”, scale models of spacefaring craft, spacesuits, a space toilet, a shuttle lander simulator (Hector crashed twice), pioneers of space, satellites, and the SpaceShipOne competition.

white sands  069white sands  070There is also a small museum, the Museum & Missile Park, at the entrance to the White Sands Missile Range Army base.  Security is tight, no photos except for narrowly defined areas, show ID, etc.  If it is pointy and rocket powered and explosive, they have tested it here.  white sands  073white sands  074

Military ordinance, space craft rocket elements, rocket science, targeting etc.  It all started after WWII when over 300 boxcars full of German V2 missile components were delivered to White Sands. These components as well as the German scientists such as Werner Von Braun and others helped start the U.S. efforts that led to the space program.

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And, once again, the desert of New Mexico continued to reveal its contrasts.  We were duly impressed.

~ Brendawhite sands  055white sands  033

My … what a Very Large Array you have there …

VLA  010VLA  001VLA  003New Mexico is a study in contrasts.  It offers beauty and culture that enchants; massive landscapes, gorgeous sunsets, diverse wildlife, rich cultural history, interesting architecture and beautiful art, and also science that fascinates and challenges: various types of scientific research facilities, military testing, a space shuttle landing strip and the Very Large Array (VLA).

The VLA is located 50 miles from the nearest town, Socorro, and 20 minutes from the village of Magdalena (population 1,200) at 7,000 feet on the plains of San Agustine.VLA  008VLA  007


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VLA  009Some of you may recall seeing the VLA in the movie “Contact”, starring Jodie Foster, about listening for sounds from alien life in space.  But that is not at all the function of these radio antennas that are spread out throughout this area of the desert.VLA  013

There is a visitor center that provides lots of information in a compact location.  The visitor center also offers a very informative and interesting 45-minute film about the VLA narrated by Jodie Foster.  And some mind numbing technical videos narrated by several geeky scientists :-).VLA  011

VLA  019VLA  083And the very best part is a short walking tour (pets are allowed!) that brings you up close and personal with one of the antennas and provides even more information.  In fact, when we walked up to the dish, it, along with all of the other radio antennas, began to rotate.  The direction that the antennas faced changed about four times during our short visit!

I’ve included some information from the VLA brochure and website in my comments below.

The walking tour begins by “The Bracewell Radio Sundial”, a large metal sphere mounted atop a slim metal post.  Ronald N. Bracewell made major contributions to developing the mathematical techniques for combining the radio signals received by multiple antennas to produce detailed images of astronomical objects. VLA  081

Concrete piers from Bracewell’s Stanford radio telescope serve as markers.  Bracewell invited his peers to sign these, and many of the signatures belong to the early pioneers of radio astronomy.

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The Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories and consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, tuned to a kind of light, radio waves, that is outside the range of visible light.   Each antenna is 82 feet across, over 90 feet in height and weighs over 230 tons.  The signals from each antenna are combined electronically to act as a powerful telescope.VLA  016

Radio waves reveal previously unseen activities of stars, galaxies, and planets and map the chemical workings of the gas and dust clouds that create them.  Optical telescopes cannot see into these places, because those same clouds block their view.VLA  023

The VLA is an interfermometer; it operates by multiplying the data from each pair of telescopes together to form interference patterns.  The scientists take these patterns and use a mathematical technique called the Fourier transform to make maps.VLA  021

Unhindered, radio waves can travel for billions of years across the vastness of space.  They provide the VLA with the data that help construct a timeline of the Universe – from its ancient past to its possible future.  Since it first began watching the skies back in 1976, the VLA has observed nearly 43,000 different cosmic objects.VLA  012

Discoveries of the VLA have ranged from the surprising detection of water ice on Mercury, the nearest planet to the Sun, to major contributions to our understanding of active regions on the Sun, the physics of superfast “cosmic Jets” of material pouring from the hearts of distant galaxies, the mysterious central region of our own Galaxy, and the atmospheres of other stars.

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Every four months, the configuration (separation between the antennas) is changed.   The different separations yield different views that can be combined.  At its widest separation, the merged observations of the VLA have the qualities of a giant telescope with an eye 22 miles across.  There are over 40 miles of railroad tracks and multiple giant transporters used to relocate the antennas across these tracks.VLA  017

Most of the astronomers who are awarded observing projects on the VLA are located elsewhere around the globe.  On their behalf, a telescope operator controls the VLA as it observes the sky for 5,000 hours every year, both day and night.VLA  022

In 2012, the VLA was transformed by a new suite of receivers, a supercomputer, and the replacement of its old wiring with nearly 3,000 miles of fiber optics while maintaining the external antennas to save on costs.  At that time the VLA was rededicated in honor of the father of radio astronomy, Karl G. Jansky.  VLA  015

It’s quite a sight to see all of these antennas in the middle of nowhere and such a great learning experience about the tools scientists use to learn more about the Universe.

~ BrendaVLA  082

The Birds of Bosque del Apache

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Bosque del Apache is Spanish for Forest of the Apache or Apache’s Forest.  Hector and I had never heard of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge until I read an article about the refuge in Escapees Magazine.  With such an intriguing name we couldn’t pass this place up.

Church, San Antonio, N. M.

Church, San Antonio, N. M.

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The wildlife refuge is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.  But the biggest draw for us was the fact that tens of thousands of birds including ducks, geese and Sandhill Cranes winter there.  We were especially interested in seeing the cranes.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Bosque  069Bosque  061This used to be the land of the Apaches, and it’s hard to erase their tragic story from our minds as we travel around this area.  But the wildlife refuge is one success story:  the refuge has restored much of the previously depleted habitat, succeeded in attracting wildlife back to the area, and continues to protect the habitat and wildlife.

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Ross Geese

Ross Geese

As we’ve traveled around the country and discovered wildlife refuges, we’ve really grown to appreciate birds more than ever before.

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Ferruginous Hawk

During our visit we camped at the Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, in San Antonio, New Mexico, which I also read about in Escapees magazine.  Bosque  003

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The campground is basically a plain gravel parking lot with hookups, but we had a corner to ourselves, a great view of the mountains and the owner was extremely nice to us.  And the best part is that it’s only ten minutes away from the entrance to the wildlife refuge.

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Northern Harrier

The wildlife refuge straddles the Rio Grande, which was once a powerful river.  The river overflowed during heavy rains and sometimes changed its path as the waters rose.  This produced lush vegetation and food sources for wildlife and birds.

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When people inhabited the area they eventually decided that they needed to control the river to protect their livelihood.  So they built dams and irrigation ditches to manage the flow of water and divert it for crops and livestock and to protect their properties.Bosque  052

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Eventually, the river became just a stream and much of the plant life was unable to survive the drier environment.  This in turn caused much of the wildlife to leave the area in search of food elsewhere.

Bosque  008Bosque  065Then, in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps began work to restore the floodplains and in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge as part of a national system of lands dedicated to wildlife protection.Bosque  068Bosque  071

Bosque  064Staff at the refuge manages water to create wetlands, using gates and ditches to move the water from the river through fields, marshes and ponds, emulating the time when the Rio Grande flooded.  This creates habitats that support both year-round and migratory wildlife once again.Bosque  097

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

They also grow crops like corn and even mow the cornfields to create a more open area for the birds.  This makes the birds feel safer as they are feeding as it allows them to see if predators such as coyotes are approaching.  All of these efforts have paid off with many birds returning to the area.

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Ross Geese at dawn fly out

Ross Geese at dawn fly out

We witnessed the “shows” that occur each dawn and dusk.  In the morning, the birds are in the water, having spent the night there to protect themselves from predators. When the sun comes up, Snow and Ross’s Geese geese all fly out in unison out to the fields to feed. Shortly thereafter the Sandhill Cranes fly off in smaller groups.

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It’s incredible to see and hear thousands of birds taking flight and flying over your head.  In fact, I had an “incident” of bird poop falling on my head one day, fortunately I was wearing a hat (see photo of hat with bird poop above).   And I wore my bird poop hat religiously after that.

Bosque  011Bosque  094In the evening, the reverse occurs.  As the sun goes down, large groups of geese fly towards the water.  You see long strings of them in the sky, and slowly the water fills with birds.  The birds spend the night in the water, then, the next morning, the show begins again as they fly back out to the fields.

Curve Biller thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

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Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

There is a loop drive in the refuge that allowed us to get a different  perspective of the geese and cranes.  They were all busily feeding throughout the fields of the refuge. And we saw lots of   other birds, especially raptors.

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Sandhill Cranes after all the geese flow off

Sandhill Cranes after all the geese flew off

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We got up before sunrise every day to witness the bird “flyover”.  Although those early mornings meant braving some colder temperatures, it was well worth it.  Even without the birds, this place was just beautiful, especially in the morning and evening light!  And we were fortunate to be there until the day before the full moon.  The moon was spectacular.Bosque  098Bosque  034

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Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

We also joined in one of the ranger programs – a raptor tour.  A ranger and some volunteers, all experienced birders, amazed us with their knowledge and skill at spotting raptors.  Our sightings included Northern Harrier, Red-Tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Kestrels.

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American Kestrel

Bosque  029Bosque  063Once back on our own, we spotted more raptors plus Blue Heron, more ducks and mule deer.  It’s great to see that the work the refuge is doing has been so successful.

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

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Bosque  032I will never forget this place and the incredible birds.  If you love birds, wildlife, and/or nature, you should plan on visiting this wildlife refuge.  But do wear a hat!

~ BrendaBosque  010

Merry Christmas!!

Bosque  050Bosque  101We’re now in Tucson, Arizona, having finally reached a warm spot, just in time for Christmas!  It’s a stunning background with enormous Saguaro cacti, more on that soon …Bosque  102Bosque  104

We want to take a moment to celebrate this holiday and thank all of our friends and readers for sharing our journey.  We hope you are having a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season.Bosque  103Bosque  106

These photos are from the “Luminaria Beach Walk” in Elephant Butte State Park by the town of Truth or Consequences (look it up), New Mexico.  I happened to read about this event while we were in the town of San Antonio, New Mexico, about an hour away.

Bosque  043Bosque  044Bosque  046I love luminarias (sometimes called faroles), and this sounded like a unique event and an opportunity to see the largest reservoir in New Mexico.  So we drove down to check it out that evening.

As we approached the state park, we started to see the luminarias, literally thousands of them, lining the park roads and every walkway, impossible to convey by photograph, but just beautiful.

Bosque  049Bosque  048Once at the park, there were food booths (all free … just neighbors sharing holiday cheer), decorated vehicles, hayrides for the kids, and huge bonfires everywhere.  This event benefited the Make a Wish Foundation, and each booth was accepting donations for the organization.  There was lots of great food, the folks here obviously all worked really hard to cook all of the homemade goodies.

We walked around, sampled the great food, watched a beautiful boat parade, went right up to a hot air balloon whose owners were lifting kids up onto the basket for photographs and sampled more food.

Bosque  047Bosque  045The people of Truth or Consequences (referred to as T or C by locals) really know how to put on a great event, impressive.   And it truly exemplified the spirit of Christmas, which is about giving and sharing.

May you experience the joy of giving today and always.

~ Brenda

Bandalier National Monument

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We waited for the warmest day (in the 40’s) during our visit to Albuquerque to drive out to the Indian Pueblos again, this time to visit Bandelier National Monument.   Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677 acre U.S. National Monument preserving the homes and territory of the Ancestral Pueblo People. ABQ  068

ABQ  058ABQ  060Adolph A. Bandelier, a self-taught historian and anthropologist, first visited this area of Frijoles Canyon in 1880, guided by some men from Cochiti Pueblo.  He was so Impressed by the beauty and distinctive cave-room architecture of this site that he made it the setting of his novel, The Delight Makers, which depicted Pueblo life in pre-Spanish times.  Bandelier continued his work in Peru and Bolivia and also studied early Spanish records of the Americas in Seville, Spain.  Bandelier’s pioneering work is one of  the foundations for much of southwestern archaeology.ABQ  066ABQ  062ABQ  070

Archaeological surveys show that there were at least 3,000 sites in Bandelier, but not all were inhabited at the same time.  For generations the Pueblo Indians lived in scattered settlements of one or two families each, but as the population grew, larger groups came together in these settlements. By the mid-1200s, villages had grown to include up to 40 rooms.ABQ  067

For the next 250 years, the settlements continued to grow.  The villages of Tyuoni and Tsankawi and their adjacent dwellings sometimes exceeded 600 rooms. After over 400 years, the land here could not support the people any longer.  These difficulties were compounded by a severe drought and by the mid-1550s, they left this area and settled into new homes along the Rio Grande River.  Even though no written records exist, the memories of the homes where the  ancestors of the Pueblo Indians lived continue in their oral traditions.

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The Pueblos of Cochiti, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara and Zuni all have strong connections to Bandelier.  Representatives from each of the Pueblos work closely with park staff when decisions affecting their ancestral homelands have to be made.  

The park has only three miles of public road and the rest is an extensive trail system.  We hiked the Main Loop trail, which takes you to the Tyuoni dwellings.  There are dwellings on the valley floor as well as cliff dwellings, and visitors are allowed to enter those that have ladders.  Toward the end of the trail, we saw a number of petroglyphs and some pictographs.

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ABQ  073The Main Loop Trail connects to another short trail to Frijoles Canyon and the Alcove House.  This part of the trail is more primitive and because it’s in the shade, it still had snow on it.  And it felt pretty cold on this section of the trail, but it was beautiful with the ice on the river and the snow on the ground.ABQ  080

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Several fires in the area deforested the area at the top of the canyon and now floods have become a major problem.  There was lots of evidence of the most recent flood (last September) on our trail in the form of overturned trees, large branches on the ground and other debris.  The state park has a lot of work to do.

ABQ  071Alcove House, an elevated site once home to approximately 25 Ancestral Pueblo people, is now reached by four wooden ladders and a number of stone stairs.  There is a reconstructed kiva, viga holes (for the posts that held the roof up) and niches of former homes in Alcove House, and it’s one of the most spectacular sites in the park.

Unfortunately, the ladders had ice on them so the area was closed at this time.  Such a drag, but we enjoyed the short hike and were able to look up at the impressive site.  We must return during warmer weather, but for now, we have to say goodbye to this beautiful place and head to an area that is just for the birds.

~ Brenda

Shaking Bad

ABQ  075We continued our journey south, hoping to escape this harsher than normal early winter weather, with Albuquerque as our next destination.

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A quick tour of Albuquerque reveals that Route 66 runs through the heart of the city.  It’s now called Central Avenue, but its history is still evident.

ABQ  041We had snow on our first day here, fortunately just a dusting, but I’m really getting pretty tired of this cold weather.  And we are really testing Island Girl.

ABQ  011ABQ  012One afternoon before sunset, we took the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram to the top of Sandia Peak.  The gentleman in the entry booth told us that this was the perfect time of day to ride up the mountain since we would get to see “the Milky Way” – the lights of Albuquerque – light up.  It’s 2.7 miles to the top of the 10,378 foot mountain, with beautiful views along the way.

And lo and behold we discovered a ski area on the other side of the mountain with lots of snow on the ground at the top.  Fortunately, we bundled up before taking the tram, since we certainly know how weather can change as you gain altitude.

ABQ  014ABQ  015The visitor center provides information on the flora and fauna on the mountain, hiking trails, and conservation efforts.  With canyons, forests, bear, bobcats, mule deer, eagles, hawks, ravens and lots of other wildlife, this mountain is worth exploring.  But that is for another much warmer time.

There’s a restaurant at the top, and appetizers and wine while watching the sparkle of the city lights against the sunset was much more our speed.  The food was good too, although expensive.  But the view is stunning.  It was getting colder so it was time to get off the mountain. And the ride down was just as scenic.

ABQ  016ABQ  017ABQ  018The next day we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  Today, the Pueblo people are located primarily in New Mexico, although at one time their homeland extended in to Colorado and Arizona.  There are 19 Pueblos, with three distinct language groups, five separate languages and many discrete dialects.ABQ  034ABQ  020ABQ  021ABQ  023

The museum exhibits contain historical information about each Pueblo, objects of different mediums including jewelry, textiles, baskets, photographs, prints, paintings, murals and archaeological objects, and an extensive collection of pottery, both contemporary and historical.

There’s an exhibition that reflects upon the human experience behind enacted policies and laws on Pueblo communities by other governments and how they have dealt with all of those challenges.

Another exhibit shows the history of the Albuquerque Indian School, a boarding school which gave Native students a place to integrate cultural diversity while learning trades and skills that could be used in their home communities or within surrounding towns.ABQ  022

ABQ  033ABQ  032And yet another exhibit displays retablos – small folk art paintings depicting religious, historical or everyday events.  These were on wood and were created by renowned santero (carver and painter of images of saints) Charles M. Carrillo.  The Franciscan fathers who missionized New Mexico in the late 16th and 17th centuries named each Pueblo for a different Catholic saint.  It’s believed that each of the patron saints was likely chosen for any of several reasons, including proximity to a specific date, the patron or devotion of the founder of the mission or the Franciscan friar, or the usurpation of a Pueblo ceremony.

ABQ  082These retablos depicted the patron saint of each Pueblo and each was bordered by a design from pottery made in that specific Indian Pueblo.  The art is an interesting mix of the Pueblo’s traditions and the imposed Spanish religious traditions.  And they were lovely.

ABQ  025ABQ  027Dances are also important traditions in the various Pueblos and the museum has a different dance every weekend.   We saw three dances: a corn, buffalo and eagle dance all performed by members of the Laguna Pueblo.   The nephew of the drummer/singer/narrator, a tiny dancer, was just beginning to learn these traditions but was out there for every dance.  Cute!ABQ  029ABQ  030ABQ  028ABQ  031

ABQ  010One evening we met our friend Linda who traveled here on business and her friend Marion for dinner.  It’s so nice to meet friends in unexpected places and catch up.  A quick, but fun visit.

ABQ  004ABQ  009ABQ  008More driving around Albuquerque revealed more neon and other interesting signs on Route 66.

The city has become more well known since the show “Breaking Bad” (which we’ve not watched) aired on TV.  But we heard about the show because it has been a big deal in Albuquerque and tours of the city now include where the show was filmed.  Breaking Bad is about a science teacher who’s been diagnosed with cancer, and in desperation and to support his family starts a meth lab.

Definitely the dark side of the city, but Albuquerque has much more to offer, as we discovered.

Our timing, we also discovered, left much to be desired as the temperature dipped to five degrees one night, very unusual for Albuquerque at this time of year.  Fortunately, we were in a park that has full hookups and were able to run the heat at max.  We also have a propane heater that we use while we’re in the coach, with a window cracked open of course.  And we run a small electric heater in our bathroom, since it never seems to get warm enough because it has a skylight and a fan which let in cold air.

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ABQ  045ABQ  044ABQ  042ABQ  001After this extreme cold we had a bit of a scare when we realized that our fresh water tank was frozen, and, according to Hector, “water was sprouting from places where it shouldn’t sprout from”.  Oops.  A heater vent goes to the tank compartment, but apparently did not generate enough heat for this level of cold.  And the fresh water tank was near empty, as we’d been drawing our water from it rather than the hose (not sure if it would have helped if the tank had been full or near full).

In any case, Hector placed our little electric heater in the wet bay that next morning.  The temperature was rose to (just) above freezing, so several hours later the tank thawed out and there was no sprouting water.  We were lucky, things froze but nothing broke.

We checked the RV forums (love the forums) and found out that placing a work light in the wet bay helps keep the area warmer, so we bought one and placed it there the rest of our stay.  And continued to enjoy the city.

ABQ  074I, of course, was not amused by this unexpected extra cold weather, and thus OUR “tour” of the Breaking Bad city will be forever known as “Shaking Bad”.

ABQ  046ABQ  048On to the more fun stuff; we visited the Albuquerque Art Museum.  It’s a small museum, but very enjoyable.  Collections include “Albuquerque along the Rio Grande”, “Common Ground:  Art in New Mexico” and “African American Art”.ABQ  052ABQ  053ABQ  051ABQ  050

One of my favorites was a photographic exhibition “Bob Christensen:  Vernacular Architecture of New Mexico 1973-2013″; about 50 black and white photographs that of a variety of buildings such as garages, barns, gas stations and bars.

There is also a fabulous sculpture garden outside the museum.  At $4 per person ($2 for seniors over 65), the Albuquerque Museum is a real bargain.ABQ  049ABQ  054

ABQ  035ABQ  037In the evening we happened upon the Christmas Parade in Corrales (a village now a suburb of Albuquerque).  Santa arrived in the town fire truck.  I love these small town parades, they are such fun.

ABQ  036ABQ  039ABQ  040ABQ  076ABQ  081ABQ  078Last but not least we met some friends from Taos and Albuquerque, Sharon and Norman, for dinner at a great sushi restaurant in town.  I would not have thought that you could find good sushi in Albuquerque, another nice surprise and a really fun evening.

We just loved Albuquerque and hope to return for the Balloon Fiesta next year.

~ BrendaABQ  056

Thankful for Santa Fe

santa fe  090santa fe  005Our first stop on the way south from Denver was Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It probably would have been smarter to continue driving south and get further away from the harsh winter weather we’d been experiencing but we love this city. And we really wanted to spend Thanksgiving in a place that was special to us.  Santa Fe was that place.santa fe  001

My plan was to eat out.  The restaurants in Santa Fe are fabulous and had very interesting Thanksgiving menus.  But most of the nicer restaurants’ reservations were booked, and Hector really wanted to cook.santa fe  002

So we went shopping to two of our favorite places:  Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Someone at another store had “warned” Hector that the aisles would be clogged at the grocery store not only because everyone was out shopping but also “everyone here knows each other” and they would all be hugging.  And, indeed, there was tons of hugging going on!  And these were not one armed hugs and air kisses either.  They were the long squeezing and stroking kinds of hugs.  It was really fun.santa fe  003

Thanksgiving arrived, and Hector prepared his menu:  braised short ribs, sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows, broccoli with pancetta and apples and a beautiful tangerine jalapeno and avocado salad.  It was a lovely dinner and a perfect Thanksgiving!

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We spent most of those first couple of days inside Island Girl.  It was still pretty cold, in fact it had snowed in Santa Fe the day before we arrived.  Slowly the weather started to warm up, I never thought I’d be happy with temperatures in the low 40’s!  But the warmer temperatures created a mud pit at our campground.  As we (gingerly) walked out to the car one day, we met Katie, one of our blog’s readers, who was staying at our same campground and was nice enough to introduce herself.  She and her husband have been full timers for ten years!  Impressive!

santa fe  009santa fe  006santa fe  007Thanksgiving weekend is when the “Lighting of Christmas Decoration on the Plaza” takes place in old town Santa Fe and we headed over to see it.  It was a pretty informal event with some nice live music and a warm festive crowd.  The mayor and the city council arrived to kick off the actual lighting of the plaza.

Mercifully, the presentation was brief, and then the plaza became aglitter with a rainbow of lights.  It was really quite beautiful.

Afterwards, we had some tapas and cocktails at a Spanish restaurant nearby.

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santa fe  019santa fe  014The next morning we headed to the local Farmers Market in the Railyard District.  This market had a nice mix of produce, meats, breads, salsas and other great foods plus natural skin products and soaps and a small arts fair.santa fe  015santa fe  012santa fe  017