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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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It looked like there might be more rain, so we departed Bisti on Tuesday. We drove down NM-371 to I-40. More south, it was very pretty bluff country. We ended up at the Bar “S” RV Park, in Milan, west of Grants. For $22 per night with full hookups and cable, we had no complaints. There was a lot activity with nice-looking rigs and all types of dogs around us. There was weather activity with sleet and hail that left a temporary coat of white all over.

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We had an unhappy evening. There was a problem with an unpaid bill and Dave cut his hand pretty badly on a broken wine glass. He didn’t sleep well that night.

Wednesday, March 29

When the next day appeared all sunny, I drove us out to take a look at El Malpais, a huge national monument that includes lots of lava land as well as blond sandstone bluffs and the La Ventana arch. We chose to skip the lava country because we’ve seen a lot of it and focused on NM-117 that goes past long walls of sandstone bluffs. There were lots of puddles from the rain so we got some reflection shots.

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Always suckers for cow shots, we stopped for coffee and to photograph cattle amblin’ down the trail. As we sat in the car, the cattle stopped amblin’ and turned to stare at us. Then they came closer to us and stared some more. What did they want? They weren’t lady cows waiting to get milked. Were they steers looking for love? Handsomely backlit, we got some nice shots.

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We continued south to the huge La Ventana Arch and got into conversation with a guy who had been a photographer for the Associated Press. He was also a Vietnam war vet. Because of AP, he had been in many war-torn countries. Now he was focused on getting to his bucket list and taking his girlfriend to Vietnam.

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We got about 22 miles south and found the trailhead for a 6.6-mile round-trip hike that wove along the edge of the high bluffs and finished with a view of La Ventana. After driving back to Grants, we went to WalMart to find an odd assortment of necessities: pearl onions, a bracket for the kitchen pull-up shelf, big sponges and a bathroom sink plug. We found 2 out of 4. The pearl onions were good with the Coq au vin I made that night.

Thursday, March 30

The next morning, we pulled it together and went back to the Narrows trailhead. I was ready to do a 6.6-mile hike, maybe. The 500-rise was so gradual as to be non-existent. The trail was well marked with rock cairns. But the trail was very rocky, not so bad when I’m fresh, but a twisted ankle waiting to happen when I’m tired. The trail was all along the edge of the cliffs, but what views existed were difficult to photograph and the wind was relentless. How many photos do you want to take of twisted trees in front of flat lava land?

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I was thinking of calling it quits at 2 miles, but the thought of seeing the La Ventana overlook enticed me to continue. Dave was recording his walk on AllTrails but when we reached the 3.3-mile point that should be the end of the trail, we had no view of La Ventana. We had to go 3.8 miles before we saw our sight. An extra half-mile isn’t excessive but I probably wouldn’t have gone that far and why isn’t the extra half-mile shown?

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We trudged back the 3.8 miles and I’ve certainly done longer hikes, but I didn’t appreciate doing an extra mile. 7.6 miles is a long way. Anyway, we got back in time for coffee and cookies and a pleasant air-conditioned ride home. And then……showers! Yay! I think we’re done with El Malpais.

We took off Friday and drove a gusty 70 miles to the Balloon View RV Resort in northern Albuquerque. We want to go to Chaco Canyon but we have to see what the weather is going to do. It’s expected to rain today, Saturday, and if it does, we’ll have to wait until the road to Chaco dries out. It turns into a slippery mess of clay when it’s wet.

It has been an unsettling week for us. Dave’s mom has been in the hospital for more than a week now with pneumonia and other complicating maladies. It looks like she will pull through and several of his brothers and sisters are taking good care of her, but we don’t like being so far away.

Saturday, April 1

It was a gray, heavily clouded sky that we woke up to. Blahhhhhhhh. I pulled it together around 10:30 and drove the laundry up through a rain shower to the “laundary” room in the “resort”. Balloon View’s main business is selling manufactured homes and there’s a paved area with a few little streets that I drove through to get to the office. For a Saturday, there was absolutely no activity at the exercise room, the indoor pool or the mailboxes. Boringggggg. (I have to do something to make the blog sizable.)

After recovering from doing the laundry, I did the major grocery shop to get us through Chaco except we probably weren’t going to Chaco yet. By the time I got back, it was 4 p.m. We soon left to meet my high school/college friend and her husband, Cynthia and Jerry McAlpin for dinner. They moved out of California soon after college and have lived in various places over the years, including Austria for 2 years. They are settled north of Albuquerque now, enjoying their daughters and grandchildren.

We met them at El Pinto, one of the largest restaurants I’ve ever seen. It’s built like a large, one-level ranch house with about 8 rooms. I almost got lost trying to find the bathroom. We had great Margaritas and good food. After a noisy family reunion sat next to us, Jerry and Cynthia invited us back to their lovely home for some quieter conversation. One of their normally-aloof cats, Indy, adopted Dave and me for the night and plopped right in between us. (I think it was because she could shed light fur on our black pants.) It was a pleasant reunion.

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Bisti Badlands

Wednesday, March 22

After a noisy night next to busy Highway 160, we spent a boring couple of days at the Mom & Pop RV Park in Farmington. It’s the only RV place in town as per our various directories. The city is a sprawling conglomeration of typical neighborhoods and businesses. Because the Animas and San Juan Rivers run through it, it’s a farming town (who would have guessed?) and there are many businesses related to that.

When we arrived at Mom & Pop’s place, there was another couple waiting to check in to the run-down “park”. Like them, we went up to the door of the office and rang the doorbell. Peering inside, we saw a totally empty room. It seems there was nobody around. They called the parks phone number and managed to dig up “Pop”. He said that apparently, the doorbell wasn’t working, unlocked the office door and checked us in.

We did our chores. My first was doing 4 loads of laundry in the largest, nicest laundromat I’ve ever been to. The next day, more chores. I went to the BLM office to get more info about Bisti. (pronounced “Biss-tie”). They didn’t know much, but did give me a very general map and said the gravel roads to the place were kept in pretty good shape because school buses used them. Then I did the grocery shopping to keep us going for 4 or 5 days. By the time I got back, it had started to rain, but not too heavily. The weather report wasn’t looking too good for the weekend, but we hoped for the best.

Friday, March 24

We needed propane before we left on Friday and I spent a lot of time in the Rav, trying to find a gas station with propane. Most of the gas stations in town are affiliated with convenience stores (e.g. 7-2-11) and did not have propane. One Conoco I stopped at had propane, but the woman working there said “Well………..I guess I could try to give you propane. I’ve done it once before.” That is not what I wanted to hear. Finally, one gas station told me about a Sinclair station on Main Street that had propane. I collected Dave and the LD, we got our propane and headed south on NM-371.

It was an easy 40 miles down the road, then 3 miles east on a good gravel road till we reached the parking lot. There were quite a few vehicles there, but we found a nice level spot where we could watch people entering and leaving through the narrow, barbed-wire gate.

Bisti is wilderness. There are no real trails. All the resources we found warned that you should know how to use a compass and keep careful track of your bearings. I was practicing with my compass, but couldn’t really make any sense out of it. Then I found our other compass. I laid them next to each other and was dumbfounded. The two of them declared north as being in opposite directions. As the sun descended into the west, it was obvious which one was incorrect. How does a compass get north wrong? At least I wasn’t crazy.

We took our first walk around 3 p.m. Because various topo maps, books and online trail guides have different names for the washes, we weren’t sure which wash we were in. We only knew it was huge. Dave climbed up some mud hills and found an area with interesting formations, but they didn’t do much for me. We were harassed by a constant, miserable high wind, probably 20 or 25 miles an hour. It made walking miserable.

We continued down the wash passing some of the orange-iest hills I’ve even seen. The landscape was typical desert wash but every so often, weird formations would show up. The erosion process here does things differently.

I was tired after about a mile and a half and it was around 6 p.m. so we turned around and trudged home. I hope the weather improves.

Saturday, March 25

The weather report for Saturday was high winds and possible showers arriving in the afternoon. So we woke up early and prepared for a 6-mile hike. We departed at 8:10 a.m. Dave had found AllTrails.com, a website where people can track their hikes and record them. When you call up an existing trail, you can keep track and record your movement against the trail. You can even add pictures that will have the GPS location and appear where on the trail you took it. It’s great! I still did bring my compass and I had identified a couple of tall landmarks yesterday. It never hurts to have a backup system.

We revisited the areas we had liked yesterday. Now we had morning light so things looked different. The light was a little harsher.

A little past where we had gotten Friday, we found the “Egg Factory”. From a distance, it’s just another discrete group of rocks like others, but when you get close – oh my gosh! They are simply amazing. I couldn’t even guess what make them erode into their shapes.

We eventually continued on, trying to follow the online trail since there was no physical one. When it led us into a group of mud hills, we’d trudge up and down to stay on the trail. We would veer off as we saw something interesting and then try to connect again. We found some great formations.

“Stonehenge” was a great formation and we spent a lot of time there. I was beginning to get tired, having already hiked around 4 miles. Then the online path got us scrambling up and down some high hills and we still couldn’t quite get “on” the trail. And both of our iPhones were running out of juice; Dave’s at 30% and mine at 20%. I didn’t want to be in a bevy of unfamiliar hills with nothing but our compass to move on.

So we cut across a chunk of the online trail and eventually caught up with it in a broad wash north of the wash we took off in. All this time, we were occasionally seeing people hiking at a distance away. The Bisti wilderness area is very large. We reached the gate at 1 p.m., five hours later. I think we hiked around 7 miles.

We were happy to get back to our little home and shower. A group of about 12 boy scouts, supervised by 4 adults, had set up a tent camp across from where we were. There were about 7 or 8 tents of various size and shape. There was a dark green, skinny, 6- or 7-foot-high tent set up that Dave thought was the porta-potty. There was a “kitchen” on legs and a barbecue. They looked set for a weekend of fun.

As the afternoon progressed, clouds were moving in from the west. We could see virga and rain in the distance. It looked like it might miss us, moving northeast. It did not. The wind picked up just like yesterday, only kept getting stronger. Our mobile solar panel blew over. Some wind gusts produced short-lived sandstorms. People began flocking back from their hikes. One girl wearing short shorts had to have sore legs from the stinging sand.

We watched as the scout tents started to flap and pull up their stakes. Everyone ran around, trying to batten down everything. By this time it was around 6:30 or so. It did not look like the scouts were going to have a fun night. There was no cooking. The “porta-potty” had collapsed. The wind gusts were so strong, I was worried that the tents could blow away with their occupants. Then it started to sprinkle. Another bout of wind and rain started around 8 p.m. and was still going when we went to sleep. What a miserable night for the scouts.

Sunday, March 26

Sometime during the night, the scouts decamped. They were gone. We woke up to a windless morning with a pure blue sky above. The rain had left small puddles in the parking lot. There were puffy clouds way off to the west. There were puffy clouds to the east. Quite a few people drove in to hike, but most came back fairly quickly and departed. We decided it would be quite messy traversing wet mud hills and washes, so we stayed in. By 11 a.m., all the puffy clouds reached us and the wind was picking up.

After lunch, Dave decided he wanted to drive over to the De-Na-Zin area, east of Bisti. I decided to stay in the rig and off he went. I had a pleasant 3 hours or so until he returned. He had no trouble reaching it via 12 miles of dirt road. He didn’t see a lot of formations but the hills had nice color in them.

It was quite nice out so we decided to try for sunset at the Egg Factory. Easy, since we had found it on Saturday, right? Not right. We pretty much bee-lined to where we believed the eggs to be. We didn’t find them. We wandered around, finding many groups of rocks in the nice light, but not the Egg Factory. I had recorded part of my Saturday trail on the AllTrails app but the few pix I tacked on the trail didn’t look like the distinctive rocks. We could have reviewed Saturday’s pix to see when we found the eggs, but we had both deleted our downloaded pix. Oh well.

A little later, I looked again at the pictures I recorded on my alltrails map the day before and realized I had taken a picture of the Egg Factory and we just hadn’t gone far enough east. But it was too late to go there; we would have been finding our way back in the dark. Oh well. If you can’t photograph the site you love, love the site you’re in. (Or something like that.)

We found a very extensive rock formation area and avoiding a couple who was erecting a tent in the middle of it, enjoyed the low light.

The sunset was nice and we got to enjoy most of it as we walked back to the LD.

Monday, March 27

We awoke to a sky crowded with puffies. While variable weather isn’t so desirable, variable clouds have been a great addition to our photography. We set off early to explore the northern side of whatever wash we’re camped by. This time, I started recording our trail on Alltrails.com and it worked perfectly for me. When we found spots we wanted to return to, I just took a picture, titled it and in the future we can follow the recorded trail to get back to it. This changes the whole face of hiking for me. There is no way to get lost now. Furthermore, the pictures include the GPS coordinates.

The hike was based on a photography book description and the first thing described in it was a boulder field that “looked like you were on the moon”. Maybe it was the soft light but I was not impressed.

Tall hoodoos were the next thing and they were nice. I was still not particularly excited. The hills we were traversing were interesting shades of olive green and browns and then, Boom! We found a nook that had white mushroom-shaped rocks along with mudhills of pale green. Much better. The way to find neat-looking areas in this country is to investigate anything that looks interesting. Much of the best stuff is concealed among the hills or is high up, out of sight or is far off, in the distance. A lot of it isn’t that great but you never know.

From there, we spotted another area that looked like it had many “winged” formations, where erosion has eaten away the lower part of a formation, leaving a long, slender piece of hard cap rock “flying”.  The area was made more interesting by the fact that the mud hills were shaded from pale gray to dark charcoal. We climbed up into it and it was chock full of fascinating shapes.

It was about 11 a.m. when we moved on from that area and wandered east a bit and found a protected spot for an early lunch.

We saw one hill with some large caves and took a look. I don’t know what type of rock allows caves to exist – they weren’t the usual mud. Eventually, we looped back to the boulder field and back to the wash. The wind was picking up as the next storm moved in and the clouds were no longer pretty little puffies. We were in for the rest of the day.

 

 

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Saturday, March 18

Page, Arizona was our destination on Saturday, an easy 100 miles or so. We reserved at the Page Lake Powell RV Resort, a pleasant place at a convenient location. The main downside is a lot of highway noise when we’re sitting outside, but we did see our first bat of the trip here. We are trying to figure out which slot canyon to tour. Antelope Canyon runs around 32 miles and various Navajo families own the land. Some families run their own concessions, others allow commercial concessionaires to run the tours. It is one of the biggest businesses for the Navajos in this area and this time of year is popular with tourists.

Sunday, March 19

We decided to forego the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon Tours because they don’t offer photographer tours this time of year. That means that no tripods are allowed and you have very little time to stand around making images. Canyon X is 15 miles further down Antelope Canyon and is run by the family and a network of others. It does offer a Photographer’s Tour that lasted 3 hours for $64 each.

After a 2-mile ride from the parking lot to the top of the canyon, one young man escorted us down a steep, sandy path to the slot canyon entrance, told us he had to leave to “rope steers” and handed us off to another young man. A group of 3 photographers were already at the entrance. The guide said the light was perfect, knelt down and started throwing the fine sand into the air, revealing the light beam that shone down into the narrow canyon. Dave and I were behind them, so weren’t well positioned to capture it.

The guide changed my camera to what he said was the best settings to capture light in the canyon. I tried a few that way and then set it back to what I usually use. Familiarity is important in extreme light conditions. He escorted us in a ways then departed to take the other 3 men to another slot canyon about 100 yards away. We were on our own, just as we prefer.

X Canyon wasn’t as dramatic as Upper Antelope but it still had beautiful swirling walls and we were totally alone in there for about an hour. The only exception was a young Navojo woman with two little kids, Hannah and Cole. She said they had never seen the sunbeam strike the floor of the canyon before and was taking pictures of it.

When we were done shooting, there was nobody around, so we walked ourselves to the other canyon and spent some time in there. The sun had moved and was not optimal for lighting up the walls, but we managed anyway.

Predictably, I got a few silly shots done.

Because these slot canyons are so narrow and because we’re often shooting straight up on a tripods, we really have to twist ourselves into contorted positions. After 2.5 hours of this, I was tired. Another guide brought a couple to the slot as we were leaving. Walking back through the more open part of the canyon, we began photographing the gorgeous stone.

We took so much time that the guide and husband and wife emerged and I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation as they came up behind us.

“Oh, billy goats smell so bad.”

“When we butcher them, we clean out the stomach really good and save the blood.”

“Do you use hominy in your goat stew?”

We made it home pretty quickly and relaxed outside as the two neighboring Boston Terriers eyed us suspiciously.

Wednesday, March 20

We decided to attempt the Cathedral Wash hike near Lee’s Ferry. It went through a wash with interesting rock formations. I was daunted by tales of a 30-foot dry waterfall that was tough to descend but brought a book in the car if Dave forged on and I didn’t. Because it was still hot at mid-day, we left pretty early for the 40-mile drive to the trailhead.

In the Rav, we crossed the Navajo Bridge that spanned the Colorado just before we reached the hike. I parked at the visitor’s parking lot and we ambled out on the pedestrian bridge. The emerald green Colorado was far beneath us. There were a number of people on the bridge, grouped around a woman with what appeared to be an antenna. They were all focusing on the Navajo Bridge. Then we saw the birds perched on the girders under the bridge.

“Vultures.” Dave guessed. Nope. Condors. Every time we visit Pinnacles National Park we look for condors and have only seen them once. This mating pair were comfortably ensconced and we did not get to see them exercise their 9-foot wingspan. It was still neat to see them so close.

We soon progressed to our departure point. Cathedral Wash was probably 30 feet wide where we dropped into it but it narrowed down after a half-mile or so. There were many different configurations of rocks and mud from one turn to the next. The wash walls were so steep that the majority of the trail was in shadow, which was nice. We hit one or two short drops where we walked on ledges above the wash and then clambered back into it.

We passed an older lady who said she had reached the big dropoff but decided not to try it because she was hiking alone. We soon reached it ourselves. I was dismayed. Dave looked around for a way down but I certainly didn’t like the looks of anything I saw. Then, miracle of miracles, a couple came up the wash and we got to watch how they got back up. It looked doable, so we did it.

There were 4 or 5 more dropoffs that weren’t always easy to traverse but I managed it. The wash continued downward and the banks of the Colorado River were our goal. When we reached it, we were immediately rewarded by a bevy of boats getting back into the flow just upstream from us. There was a little rough water right by us so we got to watch Zodiacs and kayaks bouncing around as they went by.

We had lunch on a hot rock and then started the trudge back. Now we were climbing up all the drops we had done earlier. A few of them involved edging along a narrow ledge ten to twenty feet above the wash floor.

Then we got back to the big one. The way we had descended didn’t look so good now, but investigation didn’t reveal any better alternatives. Balancing on a small, unsteady boulder, Dave heaved himself up into a small pocket. Then he managed to scramble onto his feet, found fingerholds about 5 feet up and shallow foot holds and pulled himself up. I passed up the packs and his tripod and then it was my turn.

I was afraid. Without too much trouble, I hoisted myself into the pocket. I was on my butt facing outward. I had to get one leg up into the pocket, stand up and face inward, all without a place to grab onto. Dave couldn’t reach me until I stood up. I sat for a moment, gathering my resolve and then made the move. I got a firm grip on Dave’s hand. Now I had to find a foothold to raise me enough so Dave could help heave me up. He was bending pretty far over to hold my hands. “Take my other hand” he urged. That meant I had to let go of the rockface with my hands and hope my foothold would support my weight enough so I could help him pull me up. It worked. I was up. Phew! I hugged him as adrenalin coursed through my veins. This is probably another hike I will not be doing again, but I’m glad I did it.

We slogged back the last half-mile or so in the sun. The adrenalin had faded away and I was exhausted. But icy air-conditioning, lukewarm coffee and cookies, and flip-flops instead of hiking boots refreshed me for the 40 miles home. Then a shower improved things more and we had a nice dinner.

Tuesday, March 21

Takeoff day. It was more than 200 miles to Farmington, New Mexico, so we decided to only drive halfway there and camp somewhere. In the middle of Navajo country, there are few campgrounds near our route. Dave found Round Top Mesa, a BLM campground, using the Ultimate Campground application. The app only showed that the camp was near AZ-160 and gave GPS coordinates. I tried to confirm the coordinates on the Garmin and it looked like it was close but neither info actually showed a road.

After a pleasant drive through beautiful red-rock country, we passed the small town of Dennehotsu and looked for a likely turnoff. We found a large pullout off 160, unhooked and Dave went looking for the elusive campground. No luck. We ended up camping by the highway, hoping nobody rousts us.

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