Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Plaza Blanca

One of the places that Georgia O'Keefe painted was a place that is a little northeast of Abiquiu. She called it 'The White Place' but it's official name is Plaza Blanca. It is actually perhaps a little more gray than white but who am I to argue.

The area is owned by Dar al Islam: ' a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating greater understanding of Islam among Americans of all faiths in order to establish our commonalities and build stronger relationships.' Even though this is private property, they allow people to come and experience this very special space. Even better, they let dogs come and experience this also.

Miko and I were the only ones out there hiking. Perhaps it was because we drove out to Plaza Blanca mid afternoon. Mid-afternoon – hottest part of the day. Add on to this, the fact that these rock formations are white which adds a lot of radiant heat. Miko and I soldiered on though and made it.

There were lots of little tiny slot canyons and we followed a few of them. There was one slot where it got quite narrow and there was a big step up – too big for Miko to get up. I wanted to see where the slot went so I lifted Miko up and had to scramble myself to get up there. Turns out this slot went nowhere, we immediately rounded a corner and it was a dead end. I, of course, had not taken into account that we had to somehow get out of this slot – we had to get down this now giant step. Miko, being the brains of the operation, knew that she couldn't make it. I tried coaxing her and then I guess I maybe accidentally pushed her a bit. She ended up sort of splayed out in mid air with her legs braced against each side of the slot, hanging in mid air. I grabbed her harness and pulled her back up. Sorry Miko. I then got myself splayed out halfway down, reached out, grabbed her harness and then lifted her down. I ended up sliding down a bit on my butt and we walked out of that slot with our head held high as though nothing happened.

Notice that there are no Red Rock pictures. It is all about White Rocks.

Miko Ears

Proceeding down this slot was way above our abilities

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ghost Ranch

Today is Ghost Ranch day. Georgia O'Keefe bought a small plot of land in the middle of a dude ranch called Ghost Ranch. I think Ghost Ranch itself is about 35 square miles and Ms. O'Keefe spent many years painting the surrounding landscape. The dude ranch was sold to the Presbyterian Church in the mid-fifties and the church currently still owns it. There are several tours offered at Ghost Ranch – I have elected to take a Landscape Tour. This is a tour where you get on a bus and they take you to various sites, show you the picture that O'Keefe painted and then show you what she was actually painting.

I get to the ranch, walk up the steps to the welcome center and tell a lady with a name tag and a big hat that I am here for the tour. She rushes up, grabs me and gives me a huge hug. “I'm so glad you are here – you are our only client for the tour today” she says. Part of me thinks “Super”, while the other part thinks “oh geez, now I will have to really pay attention to everything that gets said”. Luckily, in the next fifteen minutes, two other women spontaneously join the tour. Now this is the perfect size tour group.

After a fifteen minute movie, we get on the mini-bus with big windows and go through a gate which keeps the plain tourists out. We are getting a behind-the-scene tour. Yay!!! It really was fun – it was more of a conversational type of tour. Kate, the tour guide would tell little anecdotes about Georgia and her life on the ranch.

Such as:
Georgia bought a Model A for $650 but she didn't know how to drive. One of her friends tried to teach her but quit after Georgia ran into a barn. Another tutor was teaching her and when he was asked if she was a good driver he said – Not really, but she is fearless.

Ghost Ranch has many hiking trails that I could take Miko on. I meant to come back on a following day and spend time doing that but it was not meant to be.

And now for more Red Rocks - I'm lovin' me those red rocks

Miko finding something interesting in the lake

Miko's friend, Jemez, trying to convince Miko to come in swimming

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Long and Winding Road

Fro me, the whole reason to go to Abiquiu was because it was Georgia O'Keefe country and I am a giant fan of her work. I wanted to see where she painted, what drew her to this area of New Mexico. I'm not sure the exact reasons that she came, but I'm here to tell you that this is some of the most beautiful country in the U.S. Of A. Wow and double wow.

I pull into Riana Campground which is run by the Corp of Engineers. Because of my advanced age, I get to camp here for half price. Eight dollars a night for a scenic campsite and I get water and electricity also. I had planned to hit the ground running but I found that sitting outside in the perfect weather, staring at Georgia's pet mountain: Cerro Pedernal which means Flint Mountain was throughly engrossing. I would occasionally turn my lawn chair 180 degrees and look over Abiquiu Lake (actually a reservoir).

View out the front of the RV

View out the back - this is Cerro Pedernal - Georgia's Mountain

My Site

I probably sat there for a day and a half before I decided I should do more in the area besides walk Miko when she became insistent. I thought that since it was Easter Sunday perhaps I should go visit the local Benedictine Monastery of Christ In The Desert. The chapel was supposed to be special and every couple of hours, the monks file in and half sit on one side of the chapel, half sit on the other side of the chapel and they chant back and forth. This could be interesting, I looked at their prayer schedule and found a time when the chanting was only going to be ten minutes long. Keep in mind I am not a religious person at all.

Now the monastery is back in the mountains about thirteen miles off of the main road. I left home about a half hour early figuring that was plenty of time to go thirteen miles. Probably take me about 15 minutes? What I didn't take into account was that this thirteen mile road was a single lane, dirt washboard road that at times hung precariously to the side of mountains. Let us not even mention what happens when you meet a car. Forty five minutes later I arrive at the monastery, it is hard to see my car, it is covered with about fifty tons of red dirt. I missed None(the ten minute long prayer session) but I was going to be in time for Vespers.

The parking lot is a ways down the road from the monastery and as I'm walking up the road, I met a young woman in her twenties coming from the monastery. She stops me and says how much visiting this monastery has meant to her, how it has reaffirmed her faith. It was such a very intense spiritual experience for her. She said “I wept”. She then gave me a huge sprig of sage and hoped that my visit would move me as much as it had her. I thanked her and walked on.

The Monastery of Christ In The Desert

Mountains Behind the Monastery

I had a few minutes before Vespers so I went into the gift shop. There were monk made candles and monk made carvings. Lots of monk made goods. I wandered along until I came to a rosary display (nun made, not monk made). I was raised Catholic and I remember my Great Gram teaching me to say the rosary. I suddenly realized that I no longer remembered anything about it. I walked up to Brother John, a very young monk and asked him if he could help me remember how to say the rosary. He became very excited, in a very quiet monk-like way and said “You want me to say the rosary with you?” Not quite what I had in mind, but ok. He started to show me and I don't know what happened but all of a sudden I had tears streaming down my face. I felt very overcome with emotion. I don't know if it was remembering Gram or the spirituality of the place but I could not stop weeping.

So Brother John and I are praying together, rather Brother John is praying and I'm crying and saying words. He says "Hail Mary..............Full of Grace............" etc. Meanwhile I'm going "HailMaryFullOfGrace" etc. I think perhaps my spiritual lesson here is that I should probably slow down and reflect a bit more.

It is now time for Vespers. Brother John has to leave me quickly to get in line with the rest of the monks. I go into the chapel and it is beautifully simple. There are windows above the alter in three different directions where you can see the mountains pressed up close to the monastery. There are four rows of pews for the faithful or spectators and on each side of the aisle, there are only two or three seats. I think the audience could be about 12 people and I was one of them. I was definitely the only heathen there.

The Chapel

The monks file in down the center aisle, followed by the incense swinger and a priest (officiant) and alter boy (monk). Turns out Vespers is not any ten minute deal. Over an hour later, the service is done. It was interesting watching the monks and even more moving to sit there and look at the mountains outside the window.

I thanked Brother John for his spiritual guidance before I left with my rosary in hand. It was now 6:30 and I was a little concerned that I might have to drive down that dirt road in the dark so I hightailed it out. I need not have worried, I got home before dark. Must have been cause I had that rosary watching out for me.

Pictures on "The Long and Winding Road":

Monday, April 17, 2017

Heron Lake State Park

I actually spent three nights here at Heron Lake. There is nothing to do, nothing really to see. But it was quiet. When I got there on a Wednesday, there were only a couple of other campers there. One 80 year old guy who had a big old yellow dog named Girlfriend. Just him and his Girlfriend.   He volunteered on an antique railroad that ran during the summer months. The other was a seventy year old woman Named Cory. She lived in her small little Toyota station wagon with two rescue Jack Russell dogs that people had abandoned in campgrounds in Arkansas and Mississippi. She had been doing this for years and loved the life. She had no tent or anything, it was just the car. Lovely lady.

Miko and I just pretty much vegged out – did some baby hikes, did some chores.

Heron Lake

The lake is really low - all the brown area is lake bottom

Quarter mile Nature Trail - somebody worked very hard laying stones the whole length of the trail

For some reason, Miko refused to look at the camera - this is the best we could do

Laundry Day at the ol' homestead - did it all by hand with a bucket and my washing machine plunger

Finally got me a New Mexico sunset

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bandelier National Monument

I leave Las Vegas which is about 70 miles northeast of Santa Fe, drive around Santa Fe and head for Bandelier National Monument about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe. I had planned to stay a night at the White Rock Visitor Center (water, electricity and a dump station) because it was supposed to drop down to about 32 degrees. It was basically a parking lot with a wonderful view of the main drag through White Rock. I just couldn't face that – and Miko would have been very disappointed also. I decided to put my big girl pants on and head for Juniper Campground which is located right inside the National Monument. No hookups. I've really only not had hookups maybe a couple of times and I needed to learn and remember how it is done. All in the pursuit of becoming self sufficient and not beholden to anyone.

I found myself a pretty nice site #39 in Coyote Loop. I barely fit and there was not much room for the Cooper but it was level. I had some issues with my refrigerator. Since I had no electrical hookups, it had to run on LP. For some reason it would all of a sudden stop running and when I tried to get it started again, it would just putt putt putt and then give up. If I waited a few hours (8), it would start up again and run for about 10 hours and then die again. Don't know what is the problem, but my frozen stuff seems to be staying frozen with this type of schedule.

Bandelier National Monument is in the Jemez Mountains. It only has three miles of public roads within its 33,750 acres, but there are 70 miles of trails. I did not do 70 miles of trails, in case anybody thought I might. The big draw in this monument is the Frijoles Canyon. Most of these three miles of paved road is a narrow road on the edge of a cliff that drops into the canyon. In the canyon are ruins from the ancestral pueblo people who inhabited this area around 1200s.

The trail I really wanted to do was a four mile round trip trail that went from from the mesa top down into the canyon. It was called the Frey Trail. The problem is that I just wanted to do the downhill portion of it, going straight uphill for two miles was really going to be too much for somebody like me. When I say straight uphill, I am not exaggerating much.

Fortunately, I met a guy named Neill (two lls in his name, don't forget). Neill was camped across the street from me. He had already been in the area for a few days and had all the down low on the trails. He very generously hatched a plan whereby we would drive both our cars down into the canyon and then he would drive me back up in his car to the top so I could walk down, pick up my car and then drive back up. I could never have done it otherwise. The downside to this was that now I was committed to having to actually do this trail in order to get my car back. And we all know how I feel about committing to anything.

The majority of National Park facilities do not allow dogs on their trails so I bid Miko farewell and started off down the trail. The first half of the trail was flat and it was a lovely walk. Weather was beautiful, scenic with the mountains in the background. Someplace along the trail, there was an actual bench and I had internet access. In the middle of nowhere, I was online. Ok, I know it is sort of sad that I had a small rest stop for the sole reason to get online.

I then came to the part of the trail that descends 600 feet down into the canyon. 600 feet!!! I'm talking steep switchbacks. I'm talking cliffs. The trail is about three feet wide – no guard rails, nothing to stop you from plunging over the edge. I have to admit that for the first part of the trail, I was hugging the cliff wall as far away from the edge as I could. I think that according to the brochure, this trail was supposed to take you about an hour to get down. I think it took me maybe three hours. Good thing there was nobody else on the trail, it might have been embarrassing to have others hear me whimpering. Actually after I got past the very top portion of the trail, the drop off edge was a little more sloped and I realized if I went over the edge I would come down on the next switchback and I probably wouldn't die. It was touch and go for a while.

I'm part way down

I'm almost at the bottom - these are some of the ruins

I'm down to the bottom

I am extremely proud to say I did the Frey Trail. It was a huge accomplishment for somebody who is afraid of heights. I came down the mountain. I walked on the edge of the cliffs. I am powerful. I am a mountain goat. I will probably never do that again, but it was way cool. Thank you Neill.

When I got down to the bottom, I walked the Main Loop and saw the ancestral pueblo ruins. I watched a movie and got my Deputy Ranger Patch. For people over the seventh grade level, they don't have a junior ranger badge, you become a deputy ranger.

That night my fridge went out again and when I woke up the next morning I decided I would move on. I had a couple of other hikes that I wanted to do, but my fridge was worrisome – I had a lot of food that I didn't want to spoil. I want someplace where I can hook up with electricity.

I was going up to Abiquiu, where Georgia O'Keefe hung out. It was a beautiful drive – the mountains were incredible. I tried to take a lot of pictures out my front window as I drove.

I am heading for Riana Campground which is a Corp of Engineer campground. As I approach the campground, I am super excited because I see one of O'Keefe's favorite mountains getting closer and closer. I have seen so many paintings of this particular mountain and there it is, right there. I pull into the campground and it says Closed – Opening April 15. It is now April 12th. I guess I forgot to check that important little detail. I go into the ranger station and plead with them to let me in. Just give me a little corner, I don't need anything special, just a little corner to park. No go.

I end up driving another hour to Heron Lake State Park. Nice sites, I have water and electricity – there is hardly anybody else in the park. It will be a nice place to hang out until the 15th cause I am going to go back to Abiquiu. It is too important to me to miss.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Land of Enchantment - Finally

After a grueling drive through the wilds of Oklahoma, I made it to the “Land of Enchantment” - New Mexico. Northeastern New Mexico looks a lot like Oklahoma except the roads are a thousand times better and every now and then a volcano pops up in the landscape. It also seems to have many more miles of fences. Can we all sing "Don't Fence Me In"? 

I made it to Clayton Lake State Park – known for it's world renowned dinosaur tracks. I came down a steep hill and managed to score a prime spot on a cliff overlooking the lake. There has been a drought in New Mexico and the lake is down to a 19 foot level where normally it is 25-30 feet or so. The ranger told me I was very lucky to get into the campground because they are always really full. I felt sort of bad for him because for the two nights I was there, there were only a couple of other campers besides myself. Wishful thinking on his part?

First off, Miko and I head over to see the dinosaur tracks. I was seriously under impressed until I watched the little short film about them in the visitor center. I guess it is true that the more you know, the more you can understand and appreciate whatever the subject is. Now I'm thinking these tracks are amazing. One of the reasons that they consider these tracks special is because there are actual tail prints where some dinosaur walked and swished it's tail back and forth.  It was sort of awe-inspiring actually to walk on the same ground and imagine these creatures here.

I thought these were just eroded depressions but no - dinosaur tracks!!!!

This was made by a large plant eating dinosaur

We decided that we should walk around Clayton Lake. I asked the Ranger and he told me that when I get down to the far end of the lake, I will see a small game trail that I should follow to get back going down the other side of the lake. They hadn't made an official trail down the other side of the lake so I should follow this game trail. Mr. Ranger figured it was about a two mile trip. Ha!   I, of course, did not find the game trail, I could not find a way to cross the creek that fed into the lake, we were getting farther and farther away from the campground  – Miko and I finally jumped the creek and started bushwhacking our way back on the other side of the lake. The Gilligan's Island theme song kept going thru my head. According to my Fitbit, we completed a six mile jaunt. I was rather impressed with myself – this was my first hike after hibernating all winter up north and there was no way that I thought I could do that in my current out-of-shape self.

My next door neighbor, who calls himself the Traveling Texan(aka Richard), made a huge pot of potato soup and invited me over.  Nice guy, excellent cook.  I thoroughly enjoyed dinner on the picnic table overlooking the lake. 

View Out My Front Window

My RV site - cool, eh?

There is no cell service at this park which means I have no online access. It really disgusts me how tied I am to my electronic devices. I actually was getting a little bit of the heebie jeebies not being able to connect.

We are in for a few really windy days – I decided to make a run for Las Vegas (New Mexico, not Nevada). I desperately need a dump station and Storrie Lake State Park had one. Of course when I got here, I found out that the dump station was closed and they don't turn on the water until May 15. I'm sort of stuck here for a couple of days because of the wind which is now supposed to gust up to 50 miles per hour. No way am I going to drive in that. Did I mention that Storrie Lake is know for windsurfing and other windsports? The wind comes swooping off the mountains in the west and makes the lake perfect for these sports. Excellent spot for someone as wind adverse as I am.

It is all ok – I have internet, I have shopping close by to replenish my supplies and I heard a rumor that there is a laundry in town. I also have a little picnic shelter that is all mine where I can hunker down out of the wind and look at the mountains.

See the mountains?  See Storrie Lake?  See Miko hiding in our shelter?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Git Along Down The Road

Abilene Kansas – the home of the Chisholm Trail, land of cowboys and cows. It is a tiny little town, I didn't see any cowboys or cows. I did talk to a guy who had 200 head though – don't know if that counts. Lucky for me, the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library had just opened a new exhibit about the Chisholm Trail and the cattle drives. One year, 600,000 cattle came through Abilene. Wild Bill Hickcock was a sheriff here and John Wesley Hardin was a deputy sheriff.    I learned all about cowboy fashion, a subject that I guess I was woefully ignorant about. This was an exhibit well worth viewing.

I have a fondness for Presidential Library. They have a tendency to make men very big and wonderful no matter how little they might actually be. I, in no way, mean to imply that Dwight David Eisenhower was one of those little men. We all know who I am probably referring to and we will just leave it at that.

I watched the obligatory movie about Eisenhower's life and then I toured his boyhood home. He was one of seven boys and since there were no girls, Ma Eisenhower made sure all her boys could cook, clean and sew. Eisenhower wanted to go to the Naval Academy but ended up at West Point where he fell in love with tanks. He was an infantry guy through and through. The museum was really heavy on Eisenhower's war experiences, I suppose rightly so as he was the Supreme Commander of the Army and was in charge for the D-Day invasion.

This house was actually considered to be on the wrong side of the tracks in Abilene. I think it is lovely.

I found the exhibits about his Presidency to be much more interesting. Maybe that was because I lived through those presidential years and the war was before my time. Eisenhower's years were the Cold War years, the fifties. The years where we all learned that in case of nuclear attack, we huddle under our school desks and put our hands over our head. The museum touts the fact that one of the primary accomplishments of his term was the fact that he kept the peace.

I found the exhibits on Mamie Doud Eisenhower to be eye opening. Who knew that she was named one of the ten best dressed women in the nation not once but ten times. And those bangs – don't get me started on her bangs.

Picture from the web

Across the street from the Eisenhower complex was the Greyhound Hall of Fame museum. As you enter this museum, you are greeted by Gary and Ginger, the two resident greyhounds. Such sweet, gentle creatures. The museum was almost totally about greyhound racing – sort of a soup to nuts discussion about racing. They showed the greyhound breeding farms, the training and then the actual racing. I would have liked to see something more about the greyhounds themselves – their temperament, how they do as pets – the day to day type of things.

Old Gary is in the back - he really couldn't be bothered.  Ginger was much more the socialite

So far on this trip, it has been three days of rain – solid rain. I can travel in the rain, but winds – not so much. The forecast was for gusts building up to 40 miles an hour during the day. I got up at 6:00 AM – yes, you read that right. My one troublemaker tire was low again, but luckily I was right across the street from Bob's Tires. I swung over there and they diagnosed my issue – my stem extender was loose. Tightened it up, filled with air and I'm on the road.

My site at Covered Wagon RV Park - charming......not - but great wifi.

I drive for three hours and get to Larned, Kansas. I am really glad that I didn't have to drive any further than that – the winds were getting strong enough to knock you over. I had planned to stay at Camp Pawnee, a small county park, but with the three days of rain and parking on the grass, I was worried that I would sink in and have to be pulled out. Besides that, there was only one other camper there and first impressions was that I would not be comfortable there. So, I ended up at an overpriced parking lot in the Rodeway Inn. It was good for the night, although totally lacking in charm.

I was here to visit Fort Larned. Fort Larned is a national site – a fort from the late 1800's. It's sole purpose was to guard the Santa Fe Trail. Typical Fort, Typical Junior Ranger Book. The rangers were wonderful here – when I told them I had a dog with me, they said I could bring her in to all of the buildings. They were breaking the NPS rules!!!!! They were Alt Rangers!!!!! They were fun to talk with about a variety of conversations everything from Fort Larned to Nazi war trials and prisons.

Check out those clouds

I wandered on down the road. Perhaps I should say that as of right now, Oklahoma has my award for having the worst roads in the nation. I've been down the east side and also the west side of the state and the roads are atrocious. Although, I do have to say that there is not much to see in Oklahoma so it became a great sport to weave down the highway avoiding the massive potholes that occur every few feet.

Yup - this is Oklahoma folks