Monthly Archives: September 2014
Climbing a dangerous mountain
ABOVE: Flagstaff as seen from atop Mount Elden in this winter photo.
The campground where we are staying in Flagstaff, AZ., backs up on Mt. Elden, a popular mountain to hike because of its close proximity to Flagstaff and its many trails. Some easy, some difficult but all uphill.
Here’s how the guide books describe the mountain: “Mt. Elden is a very large lava dome that rises abruptly about 2,400 feet on the outskirts of downtown Flagstaff. The mountain has a massive trail mecca around it. It is also the only mountain in the Flagstaff area that has routes more difficult than Class 2. There are class 3 and 4 solid rock ledges and faces around the mountain that require route finding. Many people have had to be rescued from the mountain and there have been a number of deaths on the mountain.”
The description convinces us to take a G rated (probably a Class 1) trail which we conveniently joined behind the campground. Apparently others read the same trail description because there was a line of hikers heading up the mountain on the trail we had chosen. Staying on the trail was easy since we had hikers with local knowledge leading the way. It was mostly uphill with some large boulders to navigate. We hiked a total of three miles—l.5 up and 1.5 back down to the campground. Yes, we were winded and breathing heavy, forgetting that we started at an altitude of 7,000 feet and heading upwards. The trail was aptly named “Fat Man’s Loop.” Surprisingly, the trail was not muddy despite the rain from the previous day. Many fat men were enjoying the hike.
Volcano, pueblo ruins attract visitors to Flagstaff area
Landscape near the Sunset Crater, Flagstaff, AZ.
Another volcano, which last erupted almost a thousand years ago, is located about 10 miles north Flagstaff.
Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon and Wupatk National Monument are included in a 35-mile-loop drive.
The volcano left a huge black and jagged lava field that a park ranger described as Hawaii with pine trees. The area within the lava field is void of vegetation, although it was last active in the year 1080. Although visitors are not allowed to walk through the field, the road curves around the base of the volcano, allowing a close-up view.
Hopi Indians lived in this area and built pueblos that are still evident at six different sites in the park.
Vistas are spectacular from the volcano and lava field, including the Painted Desert about 10 miles to the east.
Martha in her journal wrote “…it is as though the pueblo builders had stopped half way in their work and left.” Visitors are allowed to walk the pueblo perimeter for a close-up view of the ruins.
A lot of nothingness in desert Southwest drive until Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
ABOVE: The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ., on U. S. Route 66 also known as America’s Highway. Temperatures were very cool when we left the high desert country of Santa Fe, NM and headed west for a 280 mile drive to Holbrook, AZ. We are only a week away from starting our 33 day tour of 12 national parks which begins at Parhump, NV.
Although difficult to see in this photo, a couple walks through the canyon floor of the Painted Desert.
The landscape continues rugged, dry and flat except for a few mesas and buttes penetrating the horizon. Houses are few and far between and very little vegetation which explains the lack of cows and cowboys. Well-known author Elmore Leonard described this part of the country in one word: “nothingness.” Yet for flatlanders, the view is amazing. With little fanfare, we crossed the Continental Divide at Milepost 48 on Interstate 40 West near Thoreau, NM., and arrived mid-afternoon at a very plain Holbrook campground that provided all the necessities. There are a few stunted trees growing near the campsites, the only visible greenery. No dirt–just gravel.
A wide-open view of the countryside off I-40 near Holbrook, AZ.
Heidi, our golden retriever, will have to settle for another gravel dog run. Green grass was left behind about 500 miles ago. Since leaving southwestern Oklahoma, I-40 has been frequently parallel to the old historic U. S. Highway 66 which starts in Illinois and ends in Los Angeles and passes through downtown Holbrook. The town has taken advantage of the America’s Highway popularity to lure travelers off the interstate, including an old roadside motel call Wigwam Motel. A sign beckon’s travelers “Have you slept in a wigwam lately? At least a dozen teepees ring the parking lot of the motel which also boasts of a listing in the National Registry of Historic Places.
A huge petrified tree at the Visitors Center of Petrified Forest National Park.
Eighteen miles from Holbrook is the Petrified Forest National Park. We took the 28 mile route through some of the most incredible landscape; painted hills and petrified wood scattered throughout the park. The logs are 200 million years old and have turned to stone but still have the appearance of a chunk of tree. The park was also home to Native Americans who built and occupied a 100-room Pueblo between 1,250 and 1,380 years ago. Near the end of the park, we drove through the Painted Desert, which displayed hills and small buttes of red, orange, yellow, purple, pink and gray layers of soil and rock. Scientists working in the park have found dinosaur skeletons more than 200 million years ago during the late Triassic Period.
A piece of artwork shows off U. S. Highway 66 which is combined with Interstate 40 for a short distance near Holbrook, AZ.
Santa Fe, another Spanish colonial city
The drive from Amarillo, Texas heading west on Interstate 40 into eastern New Mexico is loaded with colorful wide-open vistas with buttes and mesas around every bend. The landscape change is a welcome view from the plains of northeast Texas and southwestern Oklahoma. The high desert country is hot during the day but turns comfortably cool at night.
Climbing the big Sandia mountain range into Albuquerque is somewhat challenging, something we learned here last year when we drove this route and experienced the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for the first time.
After climbing the mountain we faced heavy downtown Albuquerque traffic before reaching tonight’s campground destination on the west side of the city.
We settled in and took advantage of a couple days of down-time to clean the RV, do laundry and grocery shopping before moving on to a campground in Santa Fe.
With an altitude of 7,000 feet, Santa Fe has the luxury of splendid weather—warm days and cool nights which gives us another opportunity to sleep without air conditioning and open windows on the motorhome.
Like St. Augustine, the town was laid-out geographically by the Spanish which required every town to be built around a central downtown plaza. The Governor’s Palace and the Catholic Church are located prominently on either side of the plaza, similar to St. Augustine. In the early 20th century, the city required that all new architecture adapt the Spanish Pueblo Revival appearance, requiring rough, exposed beams extending from the building and visible outside along with earth-toned stucco like old adobe exterior.
The city has many well-known artists including Georgia O’Keefe who is now based in a small village about 50 miles away and boasts at least a half dozen major art galleries and museums.
We spent almost a full-day in the downtown area, lunched at the award-winning Café Pasquals and sampled a couple of their house special beverages—a margarita made with agave wine rather than tequila. Lunch here was strictly by accident, chosen because of the line of people outside waiting for a table.
The plaza is well represented by buskers but most popular are the Native American artists selling their handmade jewelry, pottery, baskets, rugs and other items along the sidewalk in front of the Palace of the Governors Mexican History building. Vendors are all members of a native American artist association and granted a sales space daily by lottery drawing.
Downtown Santa Fe is a busy place. We stopped at a rooftop restaurant for beverages late in the afternoon while a camera crew from the Food Network was filming a local segment. Around the plaza, at least 50 antique cars were on display and gathering quite a crowd. A local band was playing traditional music in the Plaza gazebo and a newlywed couple and their wedding party marched through the plaza behind a kilted bagpiper to the cheers of visitors.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped at a local Mexican restaurant La Potrillos favored by locals. The food was excellent.
Taos Pueblo is thousand year old home for tribe
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE FROM ST. AUGUSTINE, FL—2,648
NUMBER OF CAMPGROUND NIGHTS ON THE ROAD—38
WHERE WE ARE HEADED—JOINING A 33 DAY RV CARAVAN IN DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA, TRAVELING TO 12 NATIONAL PARKS
RV travelers from Santa Fe to historic Taos in northern New Mexico, have two choices—the high road or the low road.
Temperatures were in the high 50’s when we disconnected the tow car and drove north out of Santa Fe on Highway 503, known as the high road and into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 56-mile High Road to Taos is a scenic, winding road through high desert, mountains and finally forests as the road neared Taos. The highway is recognized by New Mexico as an official Scenic Byway.
The road is winding and very hilly, passable but difficult for big RV rigs. Glad we drove the tow car instead of the 41-foot Green Knight. En route we stopped numerous times along the sparsely traveled highway to take in the mountain vistas before having lunch in Chimayo at Rancho de Chimayo restaurant.
The nearby community of Chimayo has a vibrant artist colony but is most known for El Santuario de Chimayo, an 1816 Catholic church that hosts pilgrimages throughout the year from parishioners seeking the churches’ healing powers.
The landscape changed significantly about halfway to Taos—from semi-arid and treeless to green and heavily forested as we passed through the Carson National Forest. In Taos we skipped the downtown section and drove a mile out of town to the Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-plus year-old adobe structure owned by the Pueblo Tribe.
A World UNESCO World Heritage Center, the Pueblo is actually two structures that housed the entire community in side-by-side rooms with common walls. Each home contained two rooms—one for sleeping and one for eating. Entry was by roof-top ladders that could be pulled up to the second floor to safeguard against intruders. It is considered the oldest continuously inhabited community in U. S.
Rooms on the first floor of the Pueblo house various artists collections that are for sale to visitors.
The Pueblo is still owned by the tribe who charges an entry fee and conducts tours of the facility. We visited the ruins in late August about an hour before closing time and found only a handful of other visitors.
Heading home we drove Highway 68, also known as the low road, paralleling the Rio Grande River which continues through New Mexico and later into Texas where it becomes the border with Mexico.
Back in Santa Fe, we marveled at a spectacular blazing red sunset as storm clouds gathered in the west.
NEXT: Painted Desert, Petrified Forest bring more hard to describe wonders near Holbrook, AZ.
Big Texas canyon played key role in Indian war
Taking a hike to a large crevice in the canyon wall at Palo Duro.
During this trip west through the Great Plains of Oklahoma and Texas, the names of long vanquished Native American tribes are plentiful today as the RV passes through one reservation after another. Most are in Oklahoma where various tribes were rounded up by the U. S. Army and resettled on reservations, providing the area with the new Indian Territory name.
One of the last battles fought between the U. S. Army and warring tribes occurred about 25 miles south of Amarillo, TX., in the huge and colorful Palo Duro Canyon. Late in the summer of 1874, some 400 members of the 4th and 9th U. S. Cavalry followed 1500 warriors into Palo Duro after they had left reservations. According to history, they had been stockpiling food and supplies for the winter when they were attacked by the Cavalry.
A big view of Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas.
After visiting the canyon this summer it is easy to understood the difficulty the Army encountered to locate and forcibly return the tribes to the reservations. The Canyon, second in size only to the Grand Canyon, is 2,828 feet high from the canyon floor and 120 miles long. In some areas it is six miles wide and walls are almost straight-up.
Although trapped by the warriors during one part of the battle, the Army managed to destroy the Indian camps and capture and later destroy almost 2,000 horses before retreating. Without horses and supplies, most of the Indians were forced to return to the reservations at Fort Sill, OK.
The drive through Palo Duro Canyon starts at the rim but winds through the canyon floor where this photo was taken.
We spent the day at Palo Duro, taking small hikes and driving through the canyon and marveling at the sights. Depending on the sunlight, the canyon walls were various shades of orange, red and tan. At least five creeks had been washed out the night before by a heavy rainfall, however, all but one had receded to a trickle by noon. One road was closed due to the downpour.
There is a great view from the canyon rim from the Palo Duro Welcome Center. Views from inside the canyon are impressive on a six mile loop road. There are plenty of parking areas, campsites and hiking tails. Among the most popular is the Lighthouse Trail, a six mile path to the most popular formation in the park.
A fat quarter for every RV traveler
One of the homemade quilts brought along on this trip to the southwestern United States.
My wife is a quilter. She started her first one about 25-years-ago while working full-time in a couple family businesses and raising our two girls then it was relegated to a closet shelf while she was a first grade school teacher for almost 15 years. It sat there until five years ago when she retired full-time teaching to become a full-time quilter.
Since that time we have invested, very well I might add, in three sewing machines and she has faithfully ground-out about a dozen quilts for family and the house. Two were huge king size quilts that took almost six months each. She has commandeered a guest bedroom to house her sewing stuff which has become more of an addiction than a hobby. There are always three or four quilts in the hopper in various stages of completion. She meets total strangers in RV campgrounds and invariably finds another quilter to compare notes. Her day is consumed with quilting.
I’ve learned that husbands with a quilter in the house become sewing machine mechanics and rejuvenate long-lost algebra skills to help determine how many yards of various materials is needed to get another quilt in the assembly line. The rest of the time, smart husbands will stay out of the way.
I jokingly figure her monthly quilting expenses just about equals her monthly social security check. It is not a cheap hobby. One of her sewing machines cost as much as our first house. Sure, we bought that first house in 1967 and it didn’t really amount to much by today’s standards but at the time, it was pretty snazzy. That also describes this new “house’ that came home one day in the back seat of our car–“pretty snazzy sewing machine.”
For our RV travels around the country, she brings a portable sewing machine to fill-in days when we are trapped indoors due to bad weather. When internet connections allow, she’s up early listening to internet “how-to” quilting classes. This quilting things never ends.
We stop at every little quilt shop in every little town we pass just in case they have something new and different. There is seldom new and different things to buy, however she always emerges with something in hand and can’t wait to share her new finds. These shops are usually packed with over-eager quilters just like my wife.
You see, the quilt industry today is really big business. It is not a bunch of little ole Lutheran Church ladies getting together on Wednesday morning to make a quilt out of old rags for the shut-ins. And they’re not packing 25-year-old Singer Sewing Machines, either. This is a bunch of baby booming women who worked their entire lives and are finally pursuing a long hidden desire to make homemade quilts–quilt after quilt after quilt. And, they use fancy, computer operated sewing machines that can almost drive themselves down the street. The one we brought home came with an embroidery attachment that turns out fancy computer generated logos, emblems and do-dads that she programs into the machine’s computer memory. It runs by itself while she’s cutting material or fixing dinner.
The quilting business continues to grow. Even during the recent economic slowdown, sales of quilting materials and supplies grew 9%, helped along by my wife, I might add. It has not slowed a bit and despite the presence of big box stores, small mom and pop quilt shops are springing up in every town in the country.
And we are visiting every one of them. Well, it just seems that way.
For those less fortunate to be without a quilter in your house, let me tell you about the Shop Hop. Some smart marketing person came up with this campaign several years ago where a car load of women travel to quilt shops in neighboring communities just to get fat-quarters (don’t ask me what that is) which is about a quarter of a yard that when matched with fat-quarters from other shops, might eventually get turned into a fat-quartered quilt. Sometimes these hops last two or three days.
Shop Hops are so popular that the concept has expanded nationally into a “buy it here and there” campaign called Row-by-Row that last a couple months. Some 1250 stores throughout the country participated in one last summer.
The promotional literature lures them in with free patterns for a row in a quilt that can be combined with rows from other shops to make a quilt. In addition, some stores are selling a unique cloth state license plate with a catchy phase that can be combined into a quilt.
Row-by-Row has travelers like my wife on look-out every time we pass through a new town. So far on this trip from Florida to the southwest, we have gone through eight states and she has collected cloth license plates for each one.
n tiny Hennessey, OK., at Oklahoma’s largest quilt store, we park the RV alongside a wide downtown street and my wife emerges from the quilt shop with a fat-quarter and her prized Oklahoma cloth license plate. We drove half way across Amarillo, TX., to get a Texas cloth license plate and another fat-quarter. This program is so popular that she has to place an orders to have some plates shipped to our home address because stores are sold-out.
“Cowgirl Quilt Shop” reads one license plate from Texas, another reads “Sew Blessed,” there’s “Stitchy Women” and the one I like called “Big Texas-Stash.’
She says there will be a finality to this row-by-row thing when she makes a quilt of license plates of states we have visited.
But then she insists, there doesn’t have to be a reason.
I’m happy for her. On these cool summer nights in the New Mexico high desert country there’s nothing better than sleeping with the Winnebago Aspect windows open under one of her homemade quilts.
Life is good, so far.
Riding along the Chisholm Trail in western Oklahoma
Eischens Bar in Okarche, OK., is famous for their fried chicken and fried okra. Okarche is about 48 miles south of Enid off Highway 81.
ABOVE: Familiar landscape in southwestern Oklahoma where the largest buildings are always grain storage elevators.
The RV campground lifelines (water, electric, sewer and cable television) were unhooked (for about the hundredth time on this trip), in a drizzling rain this morning and now we are leaving Enid, OK., heading south and west to Amarillo. We traveled part of this route last year to Wichita Falls, TX and know that we can’t pass through Hennessy, OK., without another visit to Oklahoma’s largest quilt shop.
We are driving south on Highway 81 along the historic Chisholm Trail. My grandfather was among the cowboys who herded cattle from huge Texas ranches as far south as the Rio Grande to railheads in Abilene, Kansas. He might have been only about 16-year-old. In Kingfisher they have a Chisholm Trail Museum which pays tribute to the greatest cattle trail in the world. It’s almost a certainty that my grandfather passed through Kingfisher.
A road sign at the city limits proclaims Kingfisher as the birthplace of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. We wondered out loud the reasons Walton left here for Bentonville, Arkansas.
A coyote pup makes a brief unexpected appearance in an Amarillo Campground.
It’s barely 11 a.m. when we find an off street parking spot in front of the Post Office for the RV and tow car in little Okarche, OK., where relatives have encouraged a stop at Eischens Bar for lunch. It’s never too early for Eischens chicken, they said. It’s 10:45 in the morning.
Most every person who walks in the front doors orders the fried chicken and okra. It’s dark in here, really dark; blue sawdust-like grains are scattered on the floor, a tradition that dates back to 1893 when the bar first opened, said the waitress. The place looks more like a bar than an eatery.
She said, “I guess you want the chicken and okra,” a statement more than a question. We were the first customers through the door this morning.
A few minutes later a cut-up whole fried chicken and more fried okra than four people could eat appeared piping hot at our table. A few other side items could be ordered but just getting through the chicken and okra would be enough of a challenge. Also served was a tray of pickles and sliced onions. My, my.
Eischens was established in 1896, was serving customers until Statehood and Prohibition then opened later as Eischen’s Bar.
The massive centerpiece bar was hand carved in Spain during the early 1800’s and during the Gold rush was shipped to California and lost in time until it was brought to Eischens in the 1950’s. It was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1993, however a small part of the original bar was rescued and now occupies a prominent space in the main dining/bar room.
The chicken and okra arrived in plastic baskets but no plates–just wax paper. No forks or spoons–just your fingers. “Dig in,” says the waitress. And that’s what we did although we only finished about half the chicken and okra which we wrapped in aluminum foil and carted back to the RV.
Heidi, our golden (shoe) retriever, welcomed the new smells as we walked through the RV.
NEXT: Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, TX.
On the road and dodging storms in east Texas
At a Texas Welcome Center on Interstate 40 in northeast Texas
From the Texas-Oklahoma state line we proceeded west to Amarillo, wishing we had stayed longer at the Texas Welcome Center. About a half hour down the road our NOAA weather station phone app broadcast a severe thunderstorm warning for the area ahead. Storms miles away are plainly visible because of the flat country-side. It was fast moving and in our path as we headed west on I-40 to a campground in Amarillo.
That’s when we remembered the Welcome Center had a designated tornado shelter. Why didn’t we stay longer?
Dodging thunderstorm in northeast Texas.
bunnies were forming in the fields on both side of the highway ahead of the storm and the wind was buffeting the RV. We followed a long line of semi-trucks pulling off the interstate and into a truck stop. For some shelter, we parked between semi-tractor trailer rigs and hunkered down.
Despite high winds and rain the worst part of the storm seemed to pass a few miles west. A half hour later, we followed a line of semis back onto I-40 and proceeded unharmed to Amarillo.