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Archive for September, 2014

On Friday we did the short drive to Bandelier National Monument, one of our favorite places. When we were about 6 miles away, we started to see signs on the highway to pull into the Visitor’s Center and take a shuttle into the monument. What? We stopped and discovered that the disastrous 2013 flood had washed away a lot of our favorite spots. Because some of the parking had disappeared, people could drive in before 9 am. or after 3 pm. All other times: take the shuttle.

We continued to Juniper Campground and were lucky to get a good space; there were few spaces left that were long enough to accommodate our rig. No great views but a very peaceful place. We chose this night to enjoy our Tobin James Fat Boy, a wonderful Zin. I made chicken cacciatore and it was a great dinner. When it got dark, the stars came out and the Milky Way was visible. Very nice.

We got up early to drive the 3 miles into Bandelier’s Frijoles Canyon. It’s a narrow canyon with the gentle Frijoles Creek meandering through it and spectacular cliff dwellings that run for about half a mile. Petroglyphs? Yes, they have them. Fall was always great because the elms would change color and reflect in the quiet stream. We were shocked to find how much things had changed. The flood hadn’t reached the high cliff dwellings, but everything along the creek was pretty much gone – swept away by the flood. There is still a trail along the creek but we had to hop back and forth across the water and each large tree left alongside has debris and there were many snags. Most of the foliage around the water is gone and Frijoles Creek is color of dull, brown refried beans. Too bad.

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We once again climbed up the ladders to Alcove House, a place with a view if ever there was one. Once there, we found people could no longer enter the kiva. Another change. We were tired by the time we got back to Visitor’s Center and returned back to the rig to take it easy.

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Sunday was Dave’s 60th birthday. Unfortunately, it was also the big driving day to catch up with fall color north of Durango. So we set out on a 200-mile drive. The terrain was pretty – New Mexico bench country with nicely colored rocks. We saw a coyote lope across the road right in front of us. But the clouds took over and we had intermittent rain for a lot of the trip.

We arrived in Durango, CO at about 3:30 and tried to find the campground at the fairgrounds, but the admin buildings were closed and nobody around seemed to know anything about camping there. So we resorted to the RV “resorts”, both expensive. Alpen Rose had flooded open areas and Dave didn’t think he could set up the satellite under all the trees for the sites that were available. We moved on to United Campgrounds, a site right by the Animas River. It looked a little more open but was $49 per night. Yikes! We bit the expensive bullet and billeted there for 2 nights. The payoff occurred at 5:15, 6:00 and 7:00: we were right by the train tracks of the Durango-Silverton Railroad. The steam engines chugging back down from Silverton all went right past us.

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After listening to the rain ping, pling and plink off the trees onto our roof a lot of the night, Monday was chore day, big time. We had a long list of things to do. I started with the laundry, then went grocery shopping. We set out looking for Dave’s birthday present: a pair of trekking poles. The first two stores only had cheap ones. He finally found a pair he liked at a small sporting goods store downtown. We visited the Open Shutter Gallery, devoted to photography. The owner, Margy Dudley, is considering Dave’s work for an exhibit. What a great location: a large, airy space with an extra tiny display room set in the old bank vault.

Then Dave and I went in search of haircuts. There was supposed to be a Great Clips near Walmart but it no longer existed. There was a shop in Walmart but it had a 1.5-hour wait. We tried another salon but it would have been 7 pm before we were both shorn. We bought cheap wine that was expensive in the liquor store. We asked about propane and the RV park person wasn’t too sure where we could get any. All in all, an unsatisfactory day. But we had a nice dinner, watched a amusing bad movie (The Prophecy, starring Christopher Walken as the evil angel Gabriel) and ate large pieces of good birthday cake.

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We checked into our new RV park, located behind a flock of rental trucks. Los Suenos de Santa Fe is on Cerillos Road, about 4 miles from the Plaza. Good enough for us. After cleaning up, we went to the Coyote Café to celebrate Dave’s impending 60th birthday. We have been to Coyote Café before and it didn’t disappoint. Dave ordered a Lemon Drop (We’re addicted to them after Dad’s 90th birthday party.) and he got a “Heat Wave” with a dollop of lemon sorbet along with the vodka. Good! We shared an appetizer of fried squash blossoms filled with crab. Oh my God! It was spectacular. I had grilled salmon for dinner and Dave had elk. Dessert for me was Chocolate Terrine and Dave had a banana creme pastry. And the bottle of Bucklin Zinfandel went well with everything, including dessert. We were a little less stuffed than the last time we dined there, so we took a turn around the Plaza under the New Mexico stars. A very nice evening.

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On Thursday morning we got up early and went directly to Canyon Road, where all the art galleries proliferate. What is so great about this road is that the galleries all are in adobe-style buildings and they display their larger pieces of sculpture in landscaped areas. Since the galleries aren’t open yet, we can photograph close to the windows and doors without worrying about spying on a residence. And the September light is always so wonderful on this street. It never fails to excite us.

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After 90 minutes of walking, we were less excited and drove over to the Plaza Café for breakfast. We both had Chile Rellenos omelettes. The first bite sure was spicy, but my lips settled down after a few sips of ice water. Dave managed to finish his but I’ll integrate the rest of mine into a future breakfast.

We went home, cleaned up, rested and set off again in the afternoon. We visited SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art space, and took a look at their current exhibit – Unsettled Landscapes. It contained photography, sculpture, video and some interesting installations.

 

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By the time we got out of there, the afternoon clouds were looking formidable over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We visited one more gallery – Verve – and headed up into the mountains. We had noticed broad swathes of gold up high and wanted to check out the aspens. As we ascended, the sun disappeared and soon it was sprinkling, then raining pretty good. No sun. We might be back in a future fall but we weren’t going to wait around in Santa Fe for the sun to cooperate.

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We were worn out Saturday, so we relaxed in the morning and then Cynthia picked us up to go to the New Mexico State Fair. Yikes, what a trip! Albuquerque is huge and I-25 divides east and west. There’s construction that takes I-25 down to one lane or closes it completely in the evening. It has been going on for a while and Cynthia is familiar with that issue. But the fair! There is just one gate for all attendees to get into the free parking. We sat on the highway exit to reach the fair for about 20 minutes and once we got onto the street going to the fair gate, we were still about a mile away. After we moved forward half a long block in 30 minutes, Cynthia pulled out and went to street behind the fair. There were all sorts of enterprising people charging for parking in their little businesses. We nabbed a space for $10 that was 2 long blocks away from a pedestrian entrance.

Once inside, we headed for refreshment. Cynthia got an ear of corn; Dave and I got root beer floats. Then we headed for the chicken and bunny pavilion. There weren’t many rabbits left (It was the last weekend for the fair) but loads of interesting looking chickens. Some of them are spectacular. We wandered around, checking out the petting zoo, the beef pavilion and then headed to the Fine Arts Pavilion. I found a stunning necklace that glowed with tiny iridescent blue and green stones until I read the description and found the stones were actually thread. Dave was perusing the photography and got approached by a guy who told him he had seen Dave’s camera and said he should enter a juried show. He may do that.

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Tired out, Cynthia navigated us back to her place and we whiled away the hours with drinks, dinner, two amusing cats and the tail end of the Mississippi State-LSU Football game. Happily for Jerry and Cynthia, Mississippi State won.

We rose early on Sunday and drove north to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This is one of those places I’ve heard about, but we always had other things we wanted to see more. Cynthia raved about the hike, so we headed up there. We had a great time. The 1.5 mile trail starts out nice with views of tent-shaped rocks, then you turn a corner and are scrambling through very narrow slot canyons. Nice. Then you turn a few more corners and get your first view of a few tent rocks with multi-colored stripes of color. Better.

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After some more switchbacks you reach a plateau and new views open up. Finally, you dead-end on a point that provides a 360-degree view including the trail you walked on at the bottom. Amazing!!!

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Since it was Sunday, there were loads of people hiking this short trail. I heard German, French and Japanese. There were older couples, younger couples, large families, college kids. This place is popular and I understand why.

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On the way back, we stopped at the Cochiti Lake Campground to check it out. We wanted to go back to Tent Rocks and this campground is only 7 miles away and looked nice. The campground is perched on a bluff overlooking Cochiti Lake. The lake seemed low and Jerry explained that the Corp of Engineers built it and then found out it leaked so they could never fill it to capacity. The earthen dam is enormous and I find it a little intimidating to drive along the bottom of it.

We had a final dinner with Cynthia and Jerry. I made my special, easy dishes: Bar-be-cups and Cuernavaca Casserole. Cynthia roasted vegetables and made a luscious pecan pie. The evening took a sad turn – Cynthia’s mother passed away in Reno, NV. Cynthia knew it was going to happen soon, but it’s still hard to lose a parent.

After doing laundry on Monday morning, I checked out Coronado Historic Site, the site right next to our campground in Bernalillo. The ruins have been reconstructed and aren’t all that impressive, but the artwork is amazing. The docent in a rebuilt kiva said that Cororado came, saw and conquered, and when he pulled out, the Pueblo became deserted and collapsed. When it was excavated in the 1930’s, they found 84 layers of paintings on the kiva walls, one under the other. Copying techniques from the Italians, archaeologists managed to separate and preserve many of the paintings. Then they got an Indian artist to recreate some of the paintings in the reconstructed kiva. Some of the originals are preserved in another building in a darkened room, but they are very faint and no photography is allowed. What really struck me was how the human figures were formed – no stick figures; they had shapely legs and torsos. More sophisticated than the other pictographs we’ve seen.

We took the short trip up to Cochiti Lake (pronounced COACH-iti) and got the pleasant surprise of getting a primo campsite with electricity and water for $5 per night. Thank you, Senior Pass! We had a relaxing afternoon and watched the clouds gather. Boy, did they gather. After dinner, they turned pink, salmon and golden. What a show! Unlike Patti Gardner, who takes a few great sunset shots every night from her home in Maui, we take a whole lot when we’re in a good spot.

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On Tuesday morning, we returned to Tent Rocks to reprise our walk with tripods. It was a little sunnier and there was only one other car in the parking lot. We progressed slowly up the Canyon Trail. Soon there were lots of people on the trail but many of them turned back, not willing to scramble up the rocks or afraid of heights. We didn’t go all the way to the point, but we did do the short Cave Trail that led to an unprepossessing cave. Back towards the parking area, the trail improved, winding around smaller, weathered tent rocks. We retuned to camp around 1 pm and crashed for the rest of the day.

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Bupkis! That’s what we have. Bupkis! Monday was good – we did an itinerary revision when we found our planned road was closed because of flooding last week. That meant we would have a chance to see the Catwalk, a metal walkway through a narrow canyon, near Glenwood. We got to the not fancy, but free, Bighorn Campground. Good. It was sunny and hot (to us) and we could watch the pretty clouds peeping over the hills. We heard the first peal of thunder around 4 pm. By dinner, it was lightening, thunder and rain. All night, on and off, it was rain.

Tuesday morning, it was rain. So we waited for the afternoon to see if it would stop. It didn’t ever stop for long. In the afternoon, without much hope, we got in the car to drive the short 5 miles to the Catwalk. About 10 yards south of our campground, the sign pointing to the Catwalk had an addendum: “Temporary Closure”. The road to the attraction had washed out during the night. We returned to camp and whiled away the rest of the day doing things we rarely do unless we have a lot of time on our hands with few communication distractions available. I organized my photography files, selecting and processing the ones I liked most. I identified all the locations, names of the sites, and indexed each image if the focus was on water, trees or flowers. It takes up more time than you might imagine. Dave started playing a game I had downloaded onto the iPad, Device 6. The ditch right next to our site was dry when we got there, but started running Tuesday afternoon. It was a deep ditch and wasn’t running that much when we went to sleep, but I worry and lost some time pondering what we would do if a wall of water came down the canyon we were in. Useless, but its hard to turn my brain off.

We were more than ready to take off on Wednesday. The New Mexico road conditions were all okay so we headed northeast towards Socorro. It was easy driving, with lots of showers but no heavy rain and no road puddles. Since we were driving past the Very Large Array, a series of radio telescopes that scan the galaxy and beyond, we decided that clouds would make a nice backdrop for the huge telescopes. Indeed they did.

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We continued on to Socorro and camped at a utilitarian campground. I was thinking of going to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but their premiere months are Nov-Jan (when the Sandhill Cranes come in) and the dirt roads would be slick and muddy the Rav after Dave had rinsed it off. The other attraction here is the Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway, 24 miles of dirt road going through colored rock formations. The key word here is “dirt”. Wet backcountry dirt – bad. Weather prediction for the next week: mostly wet. So, after dawdling around for another morning, we headed towards Albuquerque.

We got to the nice Coronado Campground in Bernalillo. It’s right next to the Rio Grande River in a pastoral setting, considering it’s 2 blocks from the main drag. We had an unexpected, sunny afternoon to catch up on the little we hadn’t already caught up on.

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On Friday, Dave and I headed over to the McAlpin homestead. Cynthia is a friend from high school and college. She moved out of the Bay Area after marrying Jerry and we’ve seen each other exactly once in 43 years. But there’s been communication via Christmas letters and Facebook. We found their lovely house in the hills, got the tour from Cynthia and then headed off to the Sandia Peak Tram. This is one of the primary tourist destinations in Albuquerque, and though we’ve been here several times, we’ve never done it.

It was warm at the bottom and very pleasant 5,000 feet up. The peak is over 10,000 feet. This is the longest tram ride in the world and though I’m not afraid of heights, we were very high above the steep, craggy terrain. We saw a tram employee riding on the roof of the tram going downhill. Our guide said he was thoroughly linked to the tram so he wouldn’t fall to his death and he looked a little bored. We lucked out: there were clouds, but they weren’t totally obscuring the spectacular view from the top. Albuquerque was at our feet!

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We wandered around a little. There is skiing at the top when snow is around but what we had was grassy meadows with wildflowers. There are several trails going in all directions but they have one thing in common: they all descend the mountain. So if you go down a ways, you must go back up. Instead, we decided to have a late lunch at the High Finance restaurant on the top. Cynthia introduced us to the idea of putting green chili sauce on anything we might want to order, and we had a great meal at 10,000 feet.

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We made our descent and after buying some good spirits (who knew you could do that?), we repaired back to the McAlpins and said hello to Jerry, who had just returned from a trip to Houston. We enjoyed happy hours in their back patio that faces a deep arroyo and the Sandia Mountains. The reward for dealing with the heat of the day is relaxing with friends as the sun descends and the mountains glow.

We went for dinner in Placitas Café. There are many artists of all kinds in the area and the café and art gallery next to it displayed a variety of work. In fact, we sat on some artwork. Jerry had Elvis, Cynthia had a blond, I had an old cowboy. I can’t remember who Dave had on the back of his chair. The empty chair at the table was a tense-looking Captain America who stared at me throughout the good meal. The café had some Friday-night entertainment, a nice little 3-man combo who played and sang country-bluesy music. Excellent!

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When we got back to the McAlpins, the stars were out in force. They are out in the hills and it is dark, so we could see the Milky Way. It was great. We spent another hour or so and then returned to our campground. More rain is predicted, so it will be difficult to solidify any outdoor plans for the next week.

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On Thursday, we said farewell to City of Rocks and returned north to Silver City. Our first choice of campground didn’t turn out – no spaces available for 3 nights or more. So we ended up at the Rose Valley RV Park, a large, nicely done campground that is off of Memory Lane; we are right next door to a cemetery. Haven’t visited it yet, but will before we leave. Thursday afternoon was devoted to chores.

Friday, we got up early and headed into the mountains to go to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It’s only 44 miles away, but it is all winding roads going up and down mountains. I was surprised at how green it is – lots of grasses and wildflowers. We reached Gila Cliffs around 10:30 and after making sure we had water, but no food (they actually have a receptacle for you to dump your gum) we were sent onto the half-mile trail up to the cliff. They warned us about “aggressive” rattlesnakes which makes you apprehensively look at all the rocks nearby. It was a beautiful trail, protected from the sun by trees and running by a little brook. Then you begin to climb and get the first view of the caves.

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We happened to arrive when a guided tour was starting, led by Megan, a park volunteer. We spent the next hour with her, learning a lot about the caves. For all the cliff dwellings we have seen, Gila Cliffs was home to the Mogollon people, with no connection to the Ancestral Pueblans that inhabited Bandolier, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, etc. Unfortunately, between looters and inept archaeologists, not much is left in the way of artifacts that might help define this group of people. Megan told us that rodents digging at the site have actually revealed a few artifacts (mostly corncobs). To top it off, someone set fires in each of the five caves and destroyed everything that would burn. It is sad. But the caves and remnants of the buildings are spectacular, one of the most impressive that I’ve ever actually walked through.

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After spending two hours peppering Megan with questions and photographing, we finally headed back down the trail. The few little puffy clouds had grown into large thunderheads and we could hear thunder in the distance. Megan had told us that there were good pictographs near one of the campgrounds, so we ate lunch there and then walked a short way to see some nice images of frogs, of patterns and something that looks like a confused squirrel. Meanwhile, much of the sky was now a threatening deep gray and the thunder was getting closer.

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The rain and lightening began as soon as we were driving those 44 miles back, through crests and valleys in the Gila National Forest. The lightening was amazing. I saw one flash that made a U curve and another where 3 diagonal strikes happened one after another. The rain varied from a light pitter-patter to very heavy hail. I began to worry about flooding after we crossed 3 small streams of muddy water, but there was only one big puddle we had to cross.

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Silver City’s special weekend attraction was Pickamania, a bluegrass (sort of) festival in their small city park. We decided to go over on Saturday afternoon. We brought several layers of clothing and our chairs. It was one of the best music festivals I’ve been to in a while. The size of the crowd was ideal (maybe 200 or 300) and the music was eclectic, to say the least. The two groups we heard were hONEyhoUSe and the Fishtank Ensemble. hONEyhoUSe is a group of women soul singers, who harmonize nicely and write a lot of their own songs.

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Fishtank Ensemble is a quartet that started in Oakland, CA. They mostly play electric violin, guitar and double bass. Ursula Knudson, the lead singer, plays the saw, theremin and other instruments. Her voice is quite an instrument, occasionally going into the stratosphere. Their music is almost indescribable; a mix of gypsy, jazz, klezmer and I don’t know what. Songs veer from one thing to another. They must go through dozens of sets of strings per show. What was really fun to watch was the area by the stage that the dancers took over. I haven’t seen a Deadhead event in years, but a lot of this group was dressed like a 60’s pipe dream. Long skirts, gypsy shawls, bare feet and the obligatory guy in a sky-blue sarong. What was really amusing was watching the dancers try to syncopate to Fishtank Ensemble. Their music could start out slow and gradually speed up to Nascar velocity. The dancing varied from shit-kicking to belly dancing, but on a few songs, everyone eventually gave up on the beat and were reduced to watching.

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We ate some okay truck food and didn’t try a delicacy new to us: ribbon fries, that look like small potato chips all glued together willy-nilly. The alcohol setup was weird: They checked everyone’s ID and glued on a wristband to get into a fenced off area where the two options were to buy and drink your booze (no food stands there) or use the only 3 PortaPotties in the park. There was a raffle but we didn’t win the electric guitar, the handmade mandolin or the Google tablet (an odd prize for a music festival). It was a nice afternoon in a small town.

Since the weather was a little cooler, we went on a Sunday hike to view some dragonfly petroglyphs. We had to finagle somewhat to figure out where the trailhead was (3 miles west of Silver City on NM-180 didn’t get us anywhere). But Google came through and we found a more precise set of directions. The Dragonfly Trail is almost totally flat, passing over grasslands with a few cacti thrown in. After passing the petroglyph area, we backtracked a little and found rock art spread all around the Gila River (dry right now). We arrived there just as another family did. There was a teenage couple, suitably grouchy at having the old folks around. They had music going, but not too loudly. I had to laugh, they snuck downhill from Mom to smooch in private. Only their location was right below the Dragonfly petroglyphs. I chose not to capture their amorous moment.

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We trudged back towards the car but had a few exciting moments. At one point I looked up to see an elk lunging towards me. She was enormous! Then she saw me standing there and did a very clumsy, noisy 180-degree turn and shot off. A little later on the trail, Dave found a little snake (a garter, I think). It stood still for us a while. And we saw some iridescent beetles, suspiciously close to piles of horse dung.

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Finally, we stopped at the cemetery right next door to our RV Park. We stopped in for a survey and found many highly decorated gravesites. But the winner was the one with a white Teddy-Bear angel with wings, a little bedraggled, but his intentions were pure.

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On Sunday, we took it easy, recuperating from the White Sands hike. A nice breakfast with a lot of bacon and an omelet. After lunch, we headed up and east to Cloudcroft, a village over 8000 feet high. The clouds thickened and it began to rain lightly. A pleasant change, then back to our warm campsite. We stopped at the only supermarket in Alamogordo for a few things and by the entrance I thought I passed by a guy doing barbecue, but no, he was roasting chiles. Inside the market there was a huge area where tortillas were being made by hand. This town takes its dinner seriously! So did we. We had a great bottle of Tobin James Sangiovese with warm potato salad and Polska Kielbasa. I’ve also learned how to cook corn in the microwave, saving a lot of water. We finished off the bottle outside, watching the clouds move around.

We decided to do a part of the Dog Canyon trail on Monday morning. There was a lot cloud cover at first, but the sun popped out as we rose up 800 feet or so. There was a surprising number of wildflowers. After a heavy high-rose trail, the bench on top went flat for quite a while. We turned back before it started to climb again.

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We hung around in the muggy afternoon, then headed out to White Sands for a long evening. Correction: we headed into Alamogordo to pick up dinner at Keep on Smoking Barbecue, then realized Dave didn’t have a bottle opener for his beer, stopped at the market for that, then headed out to White Sands. We reached the picnic area around 4:45 and ate a delicious dinner, then licked our fingers and headed out in the dunes. What a difference from Saturday: the dunes were covered with footprints and there were people everywhere. It was a late night at White Sands; because of the full moon, the monument was going to stay open until 10 pm.

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We hiked out about 1/3 mile into the dunes. The heat was still hot but the light got progressively softer and softer. Finally, the sun went down and about 20 minutes later, the moon popped over the eastern hills. Lovely. We got our shots, trudged back to the car, opened the windows and moon roof and followed the moon east, back to our camp. We finished the night with sips of Glenlivet. This is the good life!

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Tuesday was the long drive back west towards Silver City. We reached City of Rocks State Park around 3 pm. What a great place! There is a nice little Visitor Center, a working windmill, a neat botanical garden and of course, a jumble of rocks. The campsites either face open country or are tucked away in the rocks. Each site is named after a planet or star formation. We’re in Pluto and next door to Xena. It was still hot but cooled off nicely after dinner.

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The next morning, after heating up some coffee, we walked around the campground that encircles a large part of the boulders. I had obtained a guide as to where the five petroglyphs/pictographs are located in the park and we went on a treasure hunt. One of the pictographs is a tiny Kokopelli painted in a crevice that is covered by a small stone. There is a larger Kokopelli in another area. (You would love this, Don and Dorothy.) We ambled back an hour later and settled down for the day – we’re not budging today.

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The amount of wildlife in this small park is amazing. We’ve seen closeups of ladder-backed woodpeckers, hummingbirds, a turkey vulture (perched on a boulder, stretching out his wings), and a lot of birds (thrashers?) we haven’t identified yet. We’ve also seen a squirrel eating flower buds off of a pretty little bush, a blue-tailed lizard and a lot of cottontails. Most of them move too fast to try to capture an image, so we just sit back and watch the life around us. It is so quiet here!

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We arrived in Silver City, NM, 6000+ feet high and it’s still hot. Not as hot, but hot. We had an uneventful day of driving yesterday down a pleasant road. We reached Silver City around 3:30. (Somewhere there was a time change.) It’s supposed to rain for the next 3 days, possibly heavily. So we decided the cooler, showery weather might be great for White Sands. That meant getting closer to White Sands (that doesn’t have a campground we can stay in). More driving.

We woke up early on Thursday and decided to check out the historic downtown area and the Big Ditch. The Big Ditch occurred around 1895 when a 12-foot high, 300-foot wide wall of water destroyed Silver City’s Main Street. Ten years later, it did it again. So as from lemon to lemonade, they created a nice little park along the harmless looking Ditch. Mostly dry this September. Downtown is only a block away so we ambled down the empty streets. Apparently this was once a 2 theater town, but one is half a Barber Shop and the other one is empty, as are many of the storefronts. Charming, nonetheless.

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We got back to camp around 8:30 and I stopped at the office for a dozen, made-on-the-spot mini-donuts. How much, you ask? Well, in San Francisco, I’m guessing they would sell for $6 per dozen. In Silver City? $2 per dozen. Thank you, New Mexico. After licking our fingers, we ate a peach to finish breakfast, showered, packed up and headed east again for 180 miles to Oliver Lee State Park, about 14 miles south of Alamogordo, NM and 30 miles away from White Sands National Monument. It’s still in the 90’s here but electricity at the site allows for air conditioning and the views are wonderful, especially with all the clouds.

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It was quite an exciting night. The Thunder and Lightening Show was amazing. It lasted most of the night, along with the rain, that started around 7:30 and lasted almost until morning. The next day was a quiet one. We lounged around all day and never drove a vehicle. That was very nice after driving 900 miles in 5 days. That may not sound all that much but we usually drive the motorhome around 55 mph. If we drove faster, our gas consumption would drop from the 8 mpg we usually get. The campsite has tiny red ants but so far they’ve kept out of the vehicle. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday morning, we were trying to capture the fog hanging in Dog Canyon. Friday night, the cameras came out again to try to capture the rainbow. The clouds here are just wonderful. They evolve from thin little wisps into puffy cumulous into dark lemon-yellow, malicious layers. What a great spot this is!

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On Saturday, we got up early and were at White Sands National Monument by 8:30. We started our 5-mile hike with lots of clouds casting variable shadows on the dunes. By 9:30, we were in a bowl of sunlight. Luckily, the dunes varied in their shades, so they had darker and lighter gradations. And the surrounding mountains were covered with clouds.

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The hike was pleasant, with a small, cool breeze refreshing us whenever we were at the top of a dune. We ate lunch at the halfway point and saw the only other hikers on the trail that day, going barefoot in the sand. Then we saw a small, albino hiker out for a stroll. After that, we kept seeing even smaller lizards skittering over the sand.

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I really pooped out during the last mile of the hike. It was so hot, the sweat running into my eyes was irritating my contacts and I had to take them out. It was lucky Dave was with me because I couldn’t make out the trail posts in the distance. The nice little breeze disappeared and I finally dragged myself back to car and turned on the air conditioning. Oh blessed relief. Further relief was obtained at the Visitor Center, where a cold Coke was liquid manna from heaven. I’m not crazy about Coke but oh baby, was it good! On the way back to camp, I was sufficiently recovered to want to stop to photograph the Alamogordo neon rocket sign. Old and abandoned when we first saw it years ago, it somehow survives.

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