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September 16       Hart Tree and Sunset Loop

We left camp fairly early to do a 7.5-mile hike with an 1100’ elevation change. We traversed several sequoia groves and other oddities. It was wonderful walking – cool breezes, warm sun, soft, duff-covered trails. I could smell that wonderful scent of warm pine. Haven’t smelled that in a while with the long California drought.

We descended quite a bit, trudged up a fair amount. It was pretty painless. We came to a wonderful tunnel tree that you could walk through. Too much contrast for great photography.

We came to the Hart Tree, a huge sequoia with a huge skirt. I don’t know how to explain it. It looks like a senorita lifting her skirt to show off her legs. Only instead of legs, she has a burned black interior. Most of the trees seem to have gone through flames. I guess it’s inevitable when you live for hundreds of years.

We continued to descend until we finally reached the point where we began to head upwards. I thought it would be really tough, after all, 1100 feet elevation gain. But we must have gained it somewhere else – the ascent was pretty darn mild. We got back to the car around 3 p.m., about 5.5 hours after we left. I was surprised at how good I felt after a 7.5-mile trek.

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It was sunny and pleasant, so we had Cuba Libres and potato chips when we returned. And oh! A warm shower was a wonderful thing.

 September 17   Cedar Grove Area

After a late bacon and egg breakfast, we loaded up the Rav and set off for the Cedar Grove area, 29 very windy miles away. It descends into Kings Canyon and what a canyon! It’s massive. We twisted our way down, stopping at some of the many viewpoints and pullovers. One showed a picture of a strange-looking rock formation that we wanted to find.

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Since Cedar Grove is at 4600 feet, it got warmer as we declined. Eventually, we were alongside of the King River. We didn’t have a whole lot of energy because of yesterday’s long hike, but we did stop at Roaring River to check out the falls. Dave decided later light would be better.

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Near the end of the road, we managed to circle Zumwalt Meadow, a 1.5-mile stroll. The first thought that struck both of us is that the meadow looks like a 9-hole golf course. The path crosses the Kings River, then goes through a few talus slopes, then goes into the trees, next to the South Fork Kings River. It was the perfect Sunday afternoon walk and lots of people were enjoying it.

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We eventually started to drive out in late afternoon and the light had improved. We stopped again at Roaring River Falls. The sunlight was off it, so the tripods were helpful. I didn’t get anything very good. I was driving so it was Dave who spotted the spectacular rock formation. I have never seen anything so wonderfully patterned. The forces of nature are amazing.

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We continued to rise. I wanted to see the King River Ranch but it had closed for the season. We did, however, find a clever sign advertising their ice cream.

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The light was getting lower and the shadows were lengthening. So much of the foliage was dried golden grass. It was just beautiful.

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We finally got back from a very relaxing day.

September 18   A Boring Hike

I picked today’s hike – the Sunset Trail. The good part was that it took off from the Grant Grove Visitor Center, very close to our camp. The bad part was that it was pretty boring. We descended and descended and descended through forest that looked pretty burned up. Everywhere we have been here include toasted tree trunks but this area didn’t have anything else to entrance us. We did see one charred trunk that was amazing because it didn’t look like it should be standing. Half the bottom was gone and big chunks of the upper trunk were missing also.

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One hike attraction was Ella Falls. It was a pretty little waterfall but it was difficult to get a good vantage point for pictures. After that, we were looking for the fire road that would start heading us back to a higher elevation. We found it and began a long, gradual uphill trudge. The only people we happened upon were a couple riding horses in the other direction. About ten minutes later, I saw an iPhone lying on the ground. Figuring it must belong to the horse people, I wrote a note and we left it stuck on a stick with a pile of rocks around it in the middle of the trail. When we got to the Grants Grove parking lot, we saw a horse trailer, and wrote another note for the windshield and left the phone on the driver’s side step, away from public view.

We continued our uphill trudge and reached our campsite. Our Rav was still parked at the Visitor’s Center but we figured it could sit there until we were ready to go get it. An hour later, we finished the trudge and rewarded ourselves with a couple of Mint It’s Its. We saw the horse trailer parked there and went to find the owners. They were in the restaurant and it was indeed their phone that we had found. It was our good deed for the day. It was more rewarding than the hike, that’s for sure.

Our good karma caught up with us later that afternoon. While relaxing outside in the sunshine, a young man came up to us with a large bag of stuff. He said they were returning their Cruise America RV and flying out of San Francisco that evening. Did we want the stuff they couldn’t use anymore? Sure! Our loot included yard-long skewers, a citronella candle (very effective, with dead bugs), a bag of votive candles, a roll of very long aluminum foil, and best of all, a sack of russet potatoes.

We had crackers, blue cheese and olives along with a glass of wine before dinner. After that, I needed a nap. Can’t hike and drink like I used to!

September 19     A lethargic day

We were both very lethargic on Tuesday. Around 10:45, we drove all of one mile down a steep road to the General Grant parking lot. As the primary “sight” in this area, the parking lot was almost full. Busloads of tourists were pulling in and out regularly. We did our obligatory inspection of the short trail. I had thought about doing the 1.5-mile North Grove walk, but my thighs emphatically told me “Not today!” We walked far enough up a trail to have a quiet lunch and headed back to camp.

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After a lazy afternoon, we drove up 1,200 feet to see Panoramic Point. It had some nice views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, peaks we weren’t familiar with.

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Every time I look out at a forest, the number of dead trees is astonishing. Whatever the short- or long-term causes may be (drought, pine beetles, climate change), the impact is enormous. The dead trees catch fire so easily, I think huge fires in the west will occur the rest of my lifetime. The thought is depressing.

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From Panoramic Point, we drove to the Grant’s Grove new restaurant with a very nice lodge-like atmosphere as opposed to cafeteria-style. I had ruby trout and was reminded how good Toasted Head Chardonnay tastes. Dave had beef brisket and we each had dessert. What a feast! And a great end to our stay at Kings Canyon.

September 20        Bakersfield

We packed up and descended 3,000 feet separately. It’s a pleasure to float down the curvy road in the Rav on a sunny day, watching the Lazy Daze undulating down ahead of me. We eventually hooked up and headed south to Bakersfield. We booked two nights at the usual place, the Bakersfield Palms. The WiFi wasn’t working this time and the swimming pool was empty, but we like the neat, clean sites and landscaping.

Later in the afternoon, we went up to Panorama Park. It is a nice, long park on a bluff overlooking the Kern River. It also overlooks an enormous Chevron oil field. It looks sort of like a Hieronymus Bosch scene of hell. The oil pumps look like enormous insects, ravaging the land.

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We performed the usual tasks to prepare for more boondocking. It rained a little the first night. Dave returned to Panorama Park two more times and I didn’t.

We drove over Tehachapi on Friday morning and arrived in the Alabama Hills, outside Lone Pine, around 2 p.m. The Cummings area, as we call it, was already taken, but we found an open spot with nice views all around. It’s so nice to stare up at the long line of the Sierra Nevada, fronted by the jumble of rocks that forms the Alabama Hills.

 

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September 14             Tokopah Trail, Moro Rock, Crescent Meadow

We started Thursday morning with a 3.7-mile round trip hike to Tokopah Falls. The trail was fairly level and ran next to the Marble River. Because of the all the winter snow, the river was running pretty well and the falls were quite nice. It is sad to see so many dead trees everywhere in the Sierra. The fire danger is very high up here.

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The pleasant duff-covered trail (duff is the layer of decomposed leaves and needles that gathers under trees) eventually got rocky as we neared the falls. There was only a small area optimal for photographing and we waited our turn for it. The light changed constantly, from hazy to cloudy to sunny. The Sierra Nevada is indeed the Range of Light.

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We were a little tired when we returned to camp, so we hung out for a couple of hours before driving off to see the next group of landmarks. A fairly short drive brought us to the Auto Log. We both laughed when we saw it. It was a large sequoia trunk that had been flattened on the top, wide enough for vehicles to get on for a few feet. Big whoop! We moved on.

Next stop, Moro Rock. They have built a staircase up a steep, steep granite overhang. A little hard breathing and we reached the top. The weather was overcast and the valley was hazy. Not optimal, but interesting nonetheless. I heard lots of Eastern European accents.

Our final jaunt was around Crescent Meadow. Since you can’t wander in the meadow (Restoration in progress!) we circled it. We took a picture of a foursome encircling a large sequoia and they in turn photographed us.

We continued on to Tharp’s Log, a small home he excavated out of a large sequoia. Pretty small, but you could probably get $1,000 per month in San Francisco these days.

We meandered on, photographing the interesting tree shapes and enjoying the peace and quiet.

We eventually returned to the homestead and prepared for transition day. Will we find a place to stay at Grant’s Grove? Who knows?

September 15       Grant’s Grove

We took off pretty early on Friday, after dumping. I was on my own, going 25 miles to Grant’s Grove to see if we could get a first-come, first-served campsite. Dave, finishing dumping and filling up with water, was about 15 minutes behind me. The personal connection worked once again. After perusing some sites, I talked to some ladies who were departing and signed up quickly for their campground. I then waited for Dave to arrive which he did about 10 minutes later. By the time I showed him our prospective residence, it was no longer prospective. The ranger had already recorded it and it was ours whether we found a better one or not. It worked out well. Dave leveled the motorhome as well as it went and we had a home for the next 5 days.

After settling in, the most we did that afternoon was go for a walk around the campground. It was full. Then we watched “The Scent of a Woman” with Al Pacino. Meh.

 

September 9         Presentation 50th High School Reunion

Our trip departure was delayed a little bit by my 50th high school reunion. I’ve only attended one other of the Presentation reunions. They are always in the fall and we are almost always on vacation or trips in the fall. More than 70 classmates were planning to attend this one, including some of my best friends from high school. A couple of days before the reunion, my college friend Kevin Hanley, lost his brother. Terry’s funeral was the day before the reunion. Kevin’s wife Sue, my closest high school friend, was going to the reunion with me. I called to see if she still wanted to go, saying we could leave the 5-hour party whenever she wanted. She agreed.

Other high school friends, Cynthia McAlpin and Donna Vetromile, were going to be there. When we arrived at the El Rancho Inn in Millbrae, we could tell where the party was by the amount of noise coming from the Terrace Room. The banquet room is pretty unique: it has a long picture window that gives us a view of the swimming pool – underwater. So you get to peruse the legs and bottoms of the swimmers. That’s sometimes nice, sometimes not so nice.

After a lot of staring at name tags that had first names and graduation pictures, I had established who was who to some degree. We had lunch, sang our school song and took a class picture. We also took a picture of our Saint Anne’s Elementary School class who had gone on to Pres. There were about 12 of us.

This is a picture of my brownie troop in 1957.

I’m standing on the far left with my eyes closed

One of our classmates had started a collection earlier in the year for the Presentation Sisters who had taught us. Interestingly, the Catholic Church doesn’t support the sisters in old age – it’s up to the community. By the end of the day, she had more than $5,000 for the order. Most of us 68-year-olds were getting tired, so six of us repaired to Cynthia’s room at the El Rancho, to hang out there in air-conditioned comfort including Kathy Perata and Jeanette Gojny. We went on to have dinner together. I hope the companionship provided a pleasant distraction for Sue at a tough time.

It was a fun day. The two organizers, Janet Rydburg and Debi Paul, who have organized the many Pres reunions, will be organizing a 70th birthday get-together in 2019. I hope I can make it.

September 11         Visiting Jeff and Betty

Sunday was RV-loading day. It was another hot one, in the high 80’s. (I know, I know, that’s nothing to many of you. But that’s hot for San Francisco.) The week before, San Francisco hit 106 degrees, a city record. It’s pretty miserable because most city people don’t have air-conditioning. We got a tiny bit of cross-breeze by opening out east and west doors and windows and running a small fan. The following day was almost as hot.

I started hauling stuff downstairs and into the rig fairly early. The morning of takeoff, all of the refrigerator and freezer went in. I figure we make a total of about 80 or 90 trips up and down the stairs to complete loading. Some stuff always stays in the Lazy Daze but we need to add our many creature comforts and technologies. Our niece, Jen, is staying at our place while we’re gone so we don’t need to be concerned about leaving it empty. Dave, of course, received his jury duty notice a week before we left and changed it to Thanksgiving week. We know we’ll be home then!

We left on 9/11 and plan to return on Friday, October 13. What could go wrong with those dates! The drive to Merced was actually pleasant. Traffic south to Gilroy was fairly light and the trip over Pacheco Pass is always pretty. It was a typical fall day at the Denno’s – about 95 degrees, too hot to hang out in their wonderful back yard. So we caught up with each other, talked to Mac, their 17-year-old Cockatiel, chomped appetizers, guzzled drinks, ate a wonderful dinner and gabbed until we wore out and went to bed. While there, we had a rare experience – a long (90 minute) thunderstorm, with almost continuous lightning. When we saw the bolts, they were horizontal! We had never seen that before. It provided one heavy, short rain shower that refreshed the air a little.

The next day, Jeff made us a great breakfast and we made our farewells. Before high-tailing it to Kings Canyon, we had to do a final shop in Fresno and gas up the LD and Rav4. That took longer than we expected. We finally headed up 180 through orange and grape fields. Then we began a long ascent up 5,000 feet of windy road. We finally reached Sequoia National Park and then had 25 more very curvy miles to go. We arrived to a very nice site at Lodgepole Campground, set up camp, and enjoyed an hour or two of sitting in our camp chairs, enjoying the quiet environment. Late that night, when I opened the door to take a peek outside, the dark sky was full of stars and the Milky Way was very milky.

September 13             General Sherman Tree and Congress Trail

On Wednesday morning, we lounged around in bed, enjoying the quiet and being way out from civilization. Then we leapt into action around 9:30 or so. I filled up water bottles near our neighboring campsite. There, I saw an older fellow combing his long beard as he sat in the tiny doorway of his teardrop trailer. I’m sorry I didn’t get a shot of that!

Our first target: the General Sherman Tree and the Congress Trail. You get to the General Sherman Tree by a half-mile, pretty steep descent. When you finally see it from a viewpoint, it’s like “Huh? This is it?” At 275 feet, it’s not the tallest. At 2,200 years of age, it’s not the oldest. It’s circumference is 103 feet but it’s not the widest. By “biggest tree in the world”, they are talking about volume. Its volume is 52,500 cubic feet. Its weight is 1,385 tons. People were lining up to take their pictures with the tree. It’s kind of funny – all you can get is the person and one small part of the bottom of the tree but it still seems important to them.

We made a few images of the pink-barked Sherman and then starting hearing the word “bear”. Looking about 25 yards away, we saw a black bear with a green tag numbered “24”on her ear, browsing. It was pretty close to the paved path where about 20 people were lined up against a low fence, photographing. It started heading towards the fence. Dave and I backed away; we didn’t want to be the ones closest to the bear. One guy was getting closer to the bear’s path. Then too close. We heard a huff and luckily, the bear bluff-charged him. He backed off and the bear crossed the paved path and continued down a slope. Lucky guy! Black bears don’t look that dangerous but they are.

After that, we repaired to the Congress Trail, a 2.5-mile trail that goes by several sequoia groves. It was a warm and beautiful afternoon on the trail. There was dappled sunlight and a haze in the air that made an interesting backdrop for anything I focused on.

We ambled along, then heard people in the near distance, clapping their hands and yelling “Get away, bear!” As we approached them, we saw the bear they were yelling at. It was paralleling the trail but about 60 yards downslope. It had a green tag in its ear and seemed to be the same bear we had seen earlier. I became uneasy that this bear was so adapted to humans in its vicinity. I started to turn back, but Dave said he was going to continue up the trail. After I saw that several groups of people were headed the same way as Dave, I turned around and caught up with him.

The Congress Trail got its name from two groups of sequoias called the House and the Senate. I immediately noticed the trees stood tall and didn’t do much. Remind you of anything? We had a lot of fun photographing in the lovely afternoon light.

It wasn’t a long trail but we were tired by the time we had ascended back to the parking lot. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are mostly around 6,800 feet, so it takes a day or two to acclimate.

We got ready to depart Chaco on Saturday morning. We are taking the southern route home and so wanted to head south. Dirt Road 57 goes 16 miles south before hitting paved BIA-6. A man had told me that he had no problem driving his sedan in on 57 so we thought we’d go out that way. A check at the Visitors Center scotched that idea. An Indian woman told me that some of the cowcatchers are so buckled up they could scrape the bottom of the RV. “And you’re on your own if you break down out there” she finished. Darn! That tacked on 80 extra miles to go out east, north to Farmington and then south to I-40. We ended up at a nice little place in Holbrook, Arizona and it was warm enough to sip our wine outside. Now for several more days of heavy duty driving.

I woke up early on Sunday. Arizona isn’t on daylight savings time so we fell back an hour. That’s okay because we match California now. But I woke up early and was sleepy and lethargic all day. I napped as we headed for Kingman, Arizona and managed to drive about 75 miles out of the 225 we went today. Thank you, Dave. We pulled into a very nice Blake Ranch RV Park 15 miles east of Kingman. I did some laundry to get us through the week and we had my homemade Mac ‘n Cheese for dinner with the fabulous Tobin James Chateau le Cacheflo. (Get it?) A perfect match. Although it was a little windy, we managed about 20 minutes outside, sipping our fine vintage. We are hoping to spend a night next to Tobin James when we get to Paso Robles.

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Next day was more of the same. We drove and drove and ended up at Calico KOA near Barstow. Nice enough place but $46 is too much. It was warm and windy so we sipped Jeff Denno’s Limoncello for about 20 minutes outside after dinner. Yum, yum, yum. Alcohol seems very soothing at the end of a long driving day.

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Next day varied a little from the past three days. It was raining in western California. We hit the clouds crossing Tahachapi and got sprinkled on.

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We were hoping to see the last of the wildflowers in the Paso Robles area but didn’t see much driving in from the east. Mustard and a few poppies were all we saw. We drowned our sorrow at Tobin James winery, sipping their fine vintages. Since they are providing free camping, we reciprocated by buying a half dozen of their finest.

Went to Joe’s Other Place in Templeton and filled up with the petite version of their enormous breakfasts. As always, the hash browns were perfect. Afterwards, we headed out to find the flowers. It is so green here, it lifts the spirits. We spent most of our trip in high desert country, so visually, it’s like a rich dessert here.

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We saw many large patches of dark purple-blue-violet that is lupine, a few flashy bits of poppies, but not much in the way of yellow flowers, other than mustard. We got out to Shell Creek Road, famous for it’s blooms and there were some nice patches but nothing dazzling. Oh well, we were too late. Maybe we’ll get out to the Sierra foothills in a week or two.

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We spent our last day at an RV park, cleaning the inside of the Lazy Daze. It needed it. Lots of sand and grit everywhere from all the warm, windy days. Also, there’s the smell of spaghetti on the kitchen rug (luckily dark blue). Who knew it would slip off the plate so easily? Not me! We got it clean and relaxed during the warm, sunny afternoon.

Friday we got home around 2 p.m. and found the entire side of our street car-free. We parked the Lazy Daze right where we wanted and began unloading. It’s the end of another great trip.

Sunday, April 9

We checked to see if the dirt road into Chaco was okay for the Lazy Daze. It’s 17 miles of gravel and washboard with a pretty good-sized hill to traverse. The Chaco park person I spoke with said that we were lucky, the road had just been graded and was in great shape. Feeling optimistic, we took off from Ghost Ranch, heading as directly west as we were able. The road went over the Santa Fe Forest and we saw a lot of full-size trees for the first time in weeks. When we reached the end of the paved road, we separated the Rav4 and proceeded separately. The road was as good as a gravel road gets.

We sailed into camp and found our reserved space for the night. I had put together 3 separate reservations to give us 5 nights at Chaco. We were going to have to move 2 more times because I couldn’t get 5 nights in one RV campsite. I was trying to figure out which campsites were first-come-first-served and which could be reserved. If we could find a non-reservable site, then once we were in we wouldn’t have to move. There was a park ranger consulting with various campers who had or wished for sites. He had the master list of who had reserved sites. When I explained we didn’t want to have to move, he put us in Site 017 which was open Sunday-Thursday. That was weird because my online investigation hadn’t found any RV site available for that long. Bottom line: there is no consistency whatsoever among the online reservation system, the Chaco reservation check-in desk and the park ranger. I later found out he had put us in a first-come first-served site.

Monday, April 10   The Pueblo Alto Trail

We would have started the Pueblo Alto hike earlier, but the temperature in the rig when wewoke was 36 degrees. That meant it was even colder outside. We put on the heater and let things warm up. It was around 10 a.m. when we started up the trail behind Kin Kletso. And when I say “up” I mean UP! The initial rise to first level of the mesa rises about 150 feet or so. There’s a pile of boulders that lead up to a crack between the main part of the cliff and the part that’s separated from the cliff.

The mesa is full of odd things, one of which are marks left from ancient shrimp burrows. I doubt whether the Chacoan people (present here from about 850 to 1150 AD) knew what shrimp were.

A short while later, we reached the Pueblo Bonito Overlook. Bonito is the one of the largest excavated great houses in Chaco. It is amazing.

We continued onto the trail to Pueblo Alto. The trail has several stops to show evidence of the extensive number of trails that lead to Chaco. A ranger told us that even if a road to Chaco could easily go around a mesa, they built the trail to be totally straight, so it would go up and over the mesa.

As we got closer to the Pueblo, I began searching around in one of the washes. On a previous trip, I had been told that broken pottery shards would be found in washes because the water exposes and transports them. Sure enough, I found a few and Dave found a big, patterned piece. After photographing them, we put them back where we found them.

There are several ruins up on the mesa. Only Pueblo Alto has been excavated. The policy in the Park is to not excavate anything that hasn’t already been dug up. Leave something so future archeologists can have their fun. We went over to New Alto first. The walls that were already exposed have been stabilized, but nothing underground has been exposed.

Suddenly, Dave saw a long line of people heading for New Alto. It turned out to be about 30 German students on a class tour. Lucky them! Dave and I walked over to Pueblo Alto, only to have them follow us about 5 minutes later. So we walked back to New Alto for a quieter lunch.

We continued the hike, twice letting the Germans pass us. (I later was sorry we had dawdled so much; there was a lot of trail in front of us.) We quickly reached the Jackson Stairway, named after William Henry Jackson, a photographer with the U.S. Geological Survey of 1877, He did not build the staircase, the Chacoan people did. I’m pretty sure he didn’t use the stairway. So why the heck does it get named after him? I guess because he’s the first white person to photograph it. If that’s the case, I should have quite a few rocks named after me.

We had to descend several times on the mesa. One descent involved a very narrow crack. There wasn’t even room for one foot on the ground. I had to take off my pack and drag it through behind me.

We continued around the mesa until we came to the welcome view of Pueblo Bonito. Not too far to trail’s end. “Wrong” Dave said. “That’s not Pueblo Bonito.” And so it wasn’t. I now flagged because I knew we weren’t going to get back in time for coffee. If I drink coffee after 4 p.m., I don’t sleep that night. It took us another hour to reach the final descent off the mesa.

I was dog tired but cheered up when we saw a herd of about 18 elk lazing away by the Chaco Wash running down the center of the canyon. Apparently they hang around, knowing that hunters can’t get them here.

Tuesday was a down day, hanging around and catching up on the blogs. It was very pleasant. We did do a 1-mile afternoon hike to another ruin, Una Vida. I don’t believe we have ever seen it on previous trips. We have our favorite places to go and skip the rest. Being here for 5 full days lets us experience some unfamiliar areas.

There was nothing outstandingly different about Una Vida, but it did have some nice petroglyphs. A good way to get a little walking in.

We had an early dinner and went on a moonlight walk at Pueblo Bonito. We were a little early so we walked around Chetro Ketl, a nearby pueblo.

I sat down on a boulder by Pueblo Bonito, the busiest of all the Chacoan pueblos and darned if I didn’t find a couple of pottery shards just by looking down. The ranger showed up and gave an elaborate demonstration of how the sun and moon interact together. When he took us into Bonito, it was getting dark but the moon was rising behind clouds. It certainly wasn’t going to be a star-viewing night. But we crowded into a large dark room where we could look up at the sky and he told us stories about how the stars were created, including the Milky Way. We were standing still for quite a while, but he did a good job. Heading back to the car, I tried a few handheld shots.

Wednesday, April 12

We rose around 7:30 and drove out to catch the early light at Pueblo Bonito. There were a lot of high clouds so the light was softened. This is our fifth visit to Chaco and it seems like each time, there is less access to the sites. There are now ropes and signs all over to keep out the riffraff. It limits the photography unless you’re willing to use Photoshop to erase the signage. But there were still lots of wonderful walls, glowing in the golden light.

A portion of the Pueblo has been destroyed. Titled “Threatening Boulder”, a huge portion of the wall above Bonito had been splitting away for ages. Early Navajos tried to prop it up and placed a prayer stick in the crack. That did the trick for a few hundred years. A park ranger said that the youngest ranger had to jump on the boulder every day to test its ability to hang on. In 1941, the Threatening Boulder dropped 4 inches in one day and later fell, crushing a portion of the Pueblo. Nobody was injured.

Wandering through the labyrinth of inner rooms, warm light bounces off the golden sandstone bricks.

Afterwards, we walked over to Chetro Ketl to view the walls in morning light.

That afternoon, a huge entourage from Colorado set up in the group camp. It looked like 40 kids who were 10 or 11 years old. The adults mostly migrated to individual campsites which was why I wasn’t able to make reservations after Thursday night. We debated going to the Chaco astronomy presentation that night but figured it wouldn’t be that great with clouds, the moon and lots of kids.

Thursday, April 13    The South Mesa Trail

Dave wanted to do a 7.2-mile trail. I did not. So we hiked solo. I chose the South Mesa Trail, one that was new to us. I kissed him goodbye at the Penasco Blanco trailhead and wandered around the Great House there: Pueblo del Arroyo.

Soon I drove over to my trailhead. The trail takes off behind Casa Rinconada, so I checked it out before beginning the 350-foot ascent.

Almost the first thing I squeezed through was a very narrow cleft between two boulders. After that it was a gradual, easy ascent. I soon reached the mesa top and trekked along a sandy path through typical desert brush. Saw a couple of cottontails and that was about it for critters.

Since most of the Chaco complexes were built according to a master plan, Tsin Kletzin doesn’t look very different from the rest. But the detail work and smoothness of the walls continues to amaze me.

Back on the loop, I headed across a different part of the mesa, eventually reaching the western edge and the South Gap. Chacoans entered Chaco from the south this way.

Things got interesting at the edge. There were incredible shrimp burrows where a couple of them looked like they were launching into space.

Then I began the descent into the South Gap. Like the pilgrims to Chaco, I was going to walk into it.

I began trudging up the unshaded center of 3 canyons before I turned into the one leading back to Casa Rinconada. I finished off the hike with a few shots of the Casa Riconada kiva,

Friday, April 14   Wijiji Trail

One more trail – Wijiji. Do it for the name if not the trail. Taking off from the camp, it’s a 3-mile trip down an old Jeep road. Far enough from the bottom of the mesa to be boring, but it’s exercise. Wijiji is another unexcavated pueblo but there are some neat petroglyphs nearby.

It looked like an gargantuan portion of the cliff had fallen at some point. There were huge boulders, some precariously leaning against each other.

The petroglyphs were faint, but neat. The negative handprints (created by putting your hand on the wall and blowing colored powder over it) were made by the ancient Chacoans. The red paint figures were added much later by Navajos.

Wednesday, April 5

It was a 17-mile drive to Santa Fe so we sat around for a while before we took off. It was a beautiful sunny day. Dave spotted a roadrunner dashing across camp and we “beep beep”ed for him. We selected the Santa Fe Trailer RV Park across the street from the one we stayed at before. It was close to busy Cerrillos Road but that was okay. We had dinner reservations at the Coyote Café, a venerable Santa Fe restaurant that I love. We shared an interesting duck appetizer, then Dave had elk and I had a very large pork chop. The accompaniments to the meal were as good as the meat. For dessert we had this hollow chocolate globe with something in it and a sauce poured over it along with a fruity port. (Not too descriptive, I’m afraid.)

The next morning, we planned for more food – breakfast at the Plaza Café that has been serving food since 1912. We both had Chile Relleno omelets, although I had the chile sauce put on the side, thank heavens. It was very spicy. Stuffed to the gills, we waddled over to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. O’Keeffe is right up there with Monet, in my estimation. I love her work. The admission price includes a tour you can download onto your iPhone and we struggled with that for a while. Dave managed to get it onto his phone and it provided a lot more information than the signage does. The museum came into being because the foundation that inherited O’Keeffe’s estate bequeathed a lot of her household to the museum after her death. Each time we’ve visited the museum, the exhibits include more of her works and artifacts from her life, work and travels. After the museum, we took a short desultory walk around the center of town, doing a little bit of gift shopping. It was warm and we sat in the sun for a while. We decided to go back to the RV park. We still had to do laundry and shopping for the next week. The drop-leaf hinge that holds up my tiny meal prep counter failed a week ago. It just wore out.

Friday, April 7

Another 65 miles to Ghost Ranch. We’ve been there before but never did a hike. We checked into an okay campground and went for a walk on Matrimonial Mesa. I wasn’t expecting much but it was very nice, away from the road and Ghost Ranch buildings. The trail begins at the cabin built for the 1991 movie “City Slickers”. It’s decrepit in a very authentic way. I took many images of the Pedernal, a formation that Georgia O’Keeffe painted many times. This country is her country, where she spent the second half of her life. As we headed down the trail, the late afternoon light got very nice on both the eastern and western bluffs. We ambled along, having a good time. We finally retraced our steps and got back to the cabin. I checked out the back part of the extensive Ghost Ranch property and we found a cute yurt nestled under the cliffs. Saturday, April 8

Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm. We took off around 8 a.m. on the Chimney Rock Trail that starts near enough our campsite to walk. I’m not sure if the tiny, labeled adobe houses strewn about the property are for guests or particular activities. One was named “Bodywork” and another was “Control”. Chimney Rock Trail rises 600 feet and it’s 1.5 miles one way. I wasn’t sure how high that was but our view continued to expand as we ascended. The high clouds softened the light and made photography a joy. Everything was beautifully lit. We saw our first Indian Paintbrush dotting the slopes.

We reached a spot I thought might be the end of the trail, but it continued around the mesa, bringing us closer to the rainbow-colored cliffs.

A final short, steep rise brought us to the mesa top. Instantly, the wind picked up. We wound our way along the top for a spectacular view of everything. The dropoffs were straight down about 800 feet. With the blustery winds and our thin hiking pants flapping like crazy, we were very careful on the edges.

After a half hour or so, a girl joined us. She was the first person we saw on the trail. I had expected more people, but was pleased with our solitude. We ate lunch next to what I call a “Georgia O’Keeffe Juniper”, a wonderful, twisted tree like many of the ones she painted.

We started down and the light got even softer.

The wind was picking up and we had to hold onto our hats. We began to see more groups on the trail and were happy we had so much of the hike to ourselves.

 

 

Tent Rocks

The bad weather wasn’t over yet. With more rain and snow due, we decided to go north to Cochiti (COACH-iti) Lake. It has a pleasant Corps of Engineers campground next to a lake that can never be completely filled due to CoE construction error. Its other enticement is that it is only 7 miles from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.

We didn’t get a fantastic view spot, but we can see a big chunk of the lake from our campsite. After setting up, we went down to the lake and walked around a little. I got this lake mixed up with Lake Nacimiento in California but Dave straightened me out. We never remember when we camped somewhere but both of us are pretty good (mostly at different times) remembering where we camped. After walking around a little bit, we discovered that we were warm and returned to the LD.

Monday, April 3

The next day, rain was due around 3 in the afternoon. We woke up to clouds, drove over to Tent Rocks under clouds and started hiking around 10 a.m. under clouds. Clouds and slot canyons don’t always mix so we went to the Visitor Center. They said not to be concerned. The rangers would collect and expel us if it looked like heavy rain. Thus assured, we started the 1.5-mile hike. So did many, many, many others. The trail was amazingly crowded. Multi-generational families with grandpa and grandma limping along, parents yelling at their kids to stay away from the cliffs, teenagers and college kids enjoying spring break.

The slot canyon begins around a half-mile onto the trail and is about 3 feet wide for a 100 yards or so.

The clouds were bad – flat light on the landscape, but oh what a background they created. The sun was bad – harsh light on the landscape, but also livened it up. Then there were short periods of soft light that was perfect. That was usually when someone walked into the shot. But that’s the challenge and it’s fun to try to capture something wonderful.

A short while after emerging from the slot, you come around a bend and get the first clear view of the tent-shaped formations. I have never seen such a large group of these shapes anywhere else. To me, it looks like middle eastern architecture.

The climbing gets serious at this point and pretty much goes straight up at least 400 feet. The view keeps expanding and improving as you rise. With so many people and narrow trails, it makes for great people-watching. All the older ones (us included) are out of breath. Some are scared of the rock clambering required. One guy was wearing sandals and his girlfriend had on loafers – not optimal for this trail. Some little kids wanted to go back; others were running up the trail full-tilt. Two couples headed uphill with 2 babies in backpacks (with their mothers) and two toddlers being carried by their fathers.

We reached the mesa top and decided to have lunch on the first outcropping. We were the only ones at that point. There is a larger viewpoint a quarter-mile further but we could see so many people on it we didn’t want to fight our way through the crowd to the edge. This viewpoint provides a view of the trail and slot canyon 500 feet down. It’s amazing.

We started back down and made more images. The light just kept changing every moment. Hikers were still flocking up as we were heading down.

We reached a point I love. A small tree peeks out of a short, narrow slot. In the afternoon, the light glows in the narrow groove. The light wasn’t on the tree today but it was still a nice scene. Except that was a point at which people had to scramble up or down a steep part and lined up to wait their turn. I tried my best and got a decent shot.

When we reached them, the light was golden on the slot walls.

After exiting the slot canyon, there is an opportunity for another .7-mile trail that returns to the parking lot. There are a few caves that are mildly interesting, then you reach a flock of short teepee rocks. It’s very weird.

We got back to car and drove home. When we downloaded the day’s images to the laptop, we were both astounded. I had about 265 images and Dave had a little over 300. Part of the number was due to the fact we kept trying to capture subjects in the best light. I certainly hope it isn’t a trend. Our poor overworked laptop won’t be able to handle it.

It had never rained; just a few drops here and there. It was supposed to start raining around 2 a.m. And it did. It was totally overcast and dim on Tuesday morning and started to snow. It was wet snow that didn’t stick but it was snow. We decided to stay here another day. If it was snowing here, it was not going to be warmer in Santa Fe.

It was a very quiet day. It just kept showering and was very chilly outside. By mid-afternoon, my butt was sore from sitting all day (Who would think that’s possible?) so we bundled up for a short walk around the campground. After about 5 minutes, it started to shower a little. We turned around to go back and saw a long, low, very clear rainbow stretching across the misty mountains. Did we have our cameras or phones? Of course not. The rainbow disseminated just as we got back to the rig. But it was nice to see it.