Medora, North Dakota and Beyond

A black coal seam in the cliffs above the Little Missouri River

Medora Musical and Pitchfork Steak Fondue

The gates to Theodore Roosevelt NP were less than a quarter mile from our RV park in Medora, and the town itself was right on the other side of the gates. We heard from several people that we should not miss the Pitchfork Steak Fondue dinner and the Medora Musical during our stay in Medora. Steak Fondue evoked visions of steak smothered in cheese for Cal. The fondue part was actually a vat of oil, with steaks plunged into it by the pitchfork full. I wouldn’t normally be up for a deep fried steak, but it and the dinner was actually very delicious. They serve hundreds of people six nights a week.

The dinner was at the same place as the musical, which performs six nights a week. We had some time to look around between dinner and the show. We were on top of a plateau, so there was a great view.

These elk tried in vain to get into the show for free

The amphitheatre reminded me of the Muny back in St. Louis, but this only seats about 2,800. We had a long way down to our seats, close to the front, and there was still time to check out the set before the show started.

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, is a favored son of Medora. But there was also a Frenchman, Marquis de Mores, who founded the town and named it after his wife, Medora von Hoffman. A benefactor of the Medora Musical, and the town, was the Mr. Bubbles creator, Harold Schafer. All of these people were portrayed in the musical, which told the history of Medora. There was even a reenactment of Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill. In between all the show-stopping songs, there was an acrobatic group called “The Chicago Boyz”. They were truly amazing but, unfortunately, I was so enthralled by them that I didn’t get any pictures. We both greatly enjoyed our evening.

Hiking on the Pancratz Trail with T. Roosevelt

Medora is very proud of all the new additions that are constantly being added to the town. One such item was their new hiking trail, the Pancratz Trail. Guided hikes on the new trail are offered, you guessed it, six days a week. Three days a week the hike is a moderate 30 minutes, and the other three are a 90 minute strenuous hike. I wasn’t sure which day was which and, as luck would have it, we were on the strenuous day. At the trailhead, we waited for our guide, and who should show up but Theodore Roosevelt himself? He is actually Joe Weigand, a Roosevelt impersonator. He has speaking engagements, performs a daily show in Medora as Roosevelt, and is an all-around Medora enthusiast and promoter.

One of Roosevelt’s favorite games was something called the “Point to Point” game, in which he would pick a point in the distance and a player had to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. A player could go “over, under, through, but never around”. Jogging was not a sport back then, but Roosevelt was known for hiking very briskly and Joe seemed to have adapted Roosevelt’s philosophy. He kept up a running banter even while going up hill, while we huffed and puffed behind him! He talked about all things Roosevelt and Medora, as well of the geological aspects of what we were seeing. Joe hikes this trail 6 times a week in the summer unless he has out-of-town speaking engagements, and only twice this summer has no one showed up for his daily hike.

If I was expecting a nice concrete and boardwalk trail, I was sadly mistaken. Pancratz Trail is a narrow dirt path and at times it was precariously on the edge of the cliffs. We had to climb up and down some rocks. At the speed we were going, it was all I could do not to tumble over the sides. To which I say, using Roosevelt’s own word, “Bully!” It was great fun. I could appreciate all they had to do just to create the trail, after Joe explained about its construction.

I love holes in cliffs. When we drive by, I want to fly up and explore them. Sometimes they are almost ground level, and I want to see if there’s a cave in there. In our drive through T.R.N.P, Cal made sure to let me know he wasn’t stopping for any holes. Well! There was a hole on the Pancratz Trail, and Joe stopped. The rock in this area is in a constant state of erosion between wind, rain, and drought, he explained, hence all the holes.

A view of Pancratz trail, from Pancratz trail

I didn’t take any other pictures on the trail – no time to stop!!

One thing that Joe, and the town of Medora, are very excited about is the construction of the new Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library on a plateau near the Medora musical. The opening is slated for 2025.

The Enchanted Highway

Gary Greff had a dream: to find a way to keep his beloved town of Regent, ND, from completely dying out. He decided to build huge sculptures and place them along the 32 mile stretch of highway south of I-94 leading to the town. He learned how to weld, and used cast-off farm implements, and the Enchanted Highway was born. Regent was a 75-mile drive from Medora, but we needed to sit after our hike anyway. After we saw the sculptures, we were on the highway, and then had a 40 mile drive back.

Here are some of them:

Tin Family to get a little perspective, see if you can find Cal!
Pheasants on the Prairie
Fisherman’s Dream

The local school closed while Gary was building his sculptures. He transformed it into the Enchanted Castle, a medieval style hotel with a tavern and a steakhouse. The latter two items were closed until evening while we were there, and I still think Regent has a long way to go. But kudos for Gary for living his dream.

This sculpture had a button you could press, and the whirli-gigs would spring into action
North Dakota country

Next time – we arrive in Duluth, Minnesota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Coming north from Wyoming, we went through a sliver of South Dakota, giving Sturgis a wide berth. It was the day after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ended, but I wasn’t taking any chances. We did see a lot of motorcycles – and vehicles carrying motorcycles – heading south, so our timing and location was good.

Well, there it is, we have offically entered North Dakota. After taking our pictures, I turned around, and there was the South Dakota sign, shot full of bullet holes. Great target practice on those faces, I suppose. There was a big pullout by the signs, which was a perfect place for a lunch stop. Then I noticed another signpost:

We were sitting smack dab on the Great Western Trail, which was a famous trail that herded millions of cattle from Texas to Canada between 1874 and 1893. Because of the trail, the ranching and livestock industry received a huge boost, and the trail also was a big part of North Dakota heritage. I tried to picture all the cattle and cowboys coming through as I ate my lunch.

It was still a long road to Medora, our destination for the day, and the hills were shrouded in forest fire haze.

I have seen pictures of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but I was totally awestruck by our first glimpse of it. This picture is of Painted Canyon, which also includes a park visitor’s center and rest stop on the highway.

It’s hard to understand why this park was given Theodore Roosevelt’s name without understanding the history of his involvement here. He originally came out to North Dakota to hunt bison in 1883. He invested in cattle operations – the Maltese Cross Ranch. Then, in a terrible double whammy, he lost both his wife and his mother on the same day – Valentine’s Day of the next year – and came back to heal and to find solitude. He started the Elkhorn Ranch, but ultimately lost a lot of money on the investment. He witnessed – and actually had a small part in – the threats to the environment caused by overgrazing and overhunting. Conservation became one of his major concerns, and as US President he created parks, forests, and federal reserves with over 230 million acres of protected land. In Medora, the town bordering the national park, he looms large.

“I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my .experiences in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

We started our day in TRNP early, with a hike, on the hopes of seeing more wildlife and less people. The visitor center at the South Unit wasn’t open yet, and neither was T. Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin, but we checked it out upon our return. This is the original cabin, but it was moved here from another location.

On our way to our chosen trail, we saw a flock of turkeys and many prairie dogs. Prairie dogs have huge “towns” in several areas of the park. There was a turnoff where some young ladies were saddling up for a horse back ride. This prairie dog was irate that they were near his turf, and was “barking” up a storm. The comical thing was that, every time he barked (which sounds like a chirp) his tail would go up and down. I’m sure he thought he was being very fierce!

We hiked through fields of sage, and along and through the (mostly dry) small canyons created by Jones Creek. Then we saw them – bison!

We thought this was exciting, until we realized there was a herd, and they were commencing to cross our path. There was no going forward. This created a little bottleneck of hikers: two who had been ahead of us, and then some others came up behind us. We all oohed and aahed at first, taking lots of pictures. Mainly it was enjoyable to watch the herd just going about their day. We then discussed our dilemma: at what point would we be able to go forward?

The baby bison decided to have breakfast right on our path

This large male seemed to be the gatekeeper for the herd and stood on the path for quite some time, eyeing us and chewing on what looked to be dirt and rocks. He did slowly move off. Cal and I were the first of the hikers to move past. We decided he was not really interested in us unless we proved to be a threat to the herd.

When we saw a second herd off in the distance, possibly intersecting with the trail ahead, we decided it was time to turn around. This ended up being a 5 mile hike.

There is a scenic drive in the park, so we spent the rest of our time exploring in the truck, with a few short hikes at points of interest.

We climbed to the top of Buck Hill – it was windy!
Lunch with a view

We had an additional treat in store – wild horses!

It didn’t look like the colt had been long on its legs
A TRNP-style traffic jam

Next time – Medora, ND happenings, and a visit with Theodore Roosevelt

In the Footsteps of the Pioneers

Photo Credit: Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne

I am a huge fan of any book having to do with pioneer stories. It probably started long ago with the “Little House” series by Laura I. Wilder, which I read several times over, although I remember reading others. I no longer see these stories through rose-colored glasses. The last one I read recently was a sad diary by one woman whose family had been killed by Indians. I know that the story of the development of the frontier is a complicated one and can be looked at through several lenses, but it is still very interesting to me.

So, I thought it might be fun to see Oregon trail ruts. My interest was piqued on this idea several years ago when we were horse riding in Estes Park, Colorado, and the picture above is from that time. Our trail guide casually mentioned that the trail that you can see at the top of the mountain in the center of the picture was made by wagons going west. Fact or fiction, it made me wonder what else I would be able to still see.

My search led us to Guernsey, Wyoming. This picture was our first sighting of wagon ruts. The area is a state historic site. We walked down the trail for awhile and found more. The ruts were in rock which had been worn down by so many wagons going through. Nearly 400,000 people traveled the trail, an approximately 2,000 mile trip to either California or Oregon.

It was such a thrill for me. Once again, I had that “history beneath my feet” feeling. I could hear the heavy snuffling of the horses, the bawling of the cattle and oxen, and the clanking of the pots and pans inside the wagons. I could see people walking, on and on down the trail, because there wasn’t room to ride in the wagons unless one was very young, old, or infirm.

This picture shows the countryside around the trail, looking much as it did 150 years ago.

Despite the latest book I read, Indian attacks were rare. Many people died of cholera or some other disease. In the Oregon Trail computer game of the 90’s, which my daughters played constantly, their characters frequently died of dysentery – true in real life as well. People also drowned in river crossings. Below is a picture of the Platte River near the ruts, which would have had to have been crossed. It still runs swift and deep.

In my prior post I added a picture of mastodon bones from the Wyoming Welcome Center on I-25. Here is a fully loaded wagon from that same museum.

The emigrants were not the only ones on the trail. The first to come, besides the natives who were already here, were the explorers and fur trappers. There were miners seeking gold in California. The emigrants were lured by free land in Oregon, but many stopped along the way and made their home where they were. Others, such as the Mormons, were seeking freedom from religious persecution. A little further down the road from the ruts, some of the passers-by left their names on Register Cliff. The natives were the first to leave their mark, but many of these have been obliterated either by time, or by the newer visitors who also left their names. Many times the travelers wanted to let family and friends know that they had made it thus far. There are over 350 names on the cliff.

Some of the markings are right next to newer ones.
Swallow nests in the cliff above the signatures

A rest stop for the travelers was to be found at Ft. Laramie, which was just east of the ruts and Register Cliff. This was a major stop for bathing and washing clothes, replacing worn-out draft animals, and making repairs to their wagons. They could find replenishment for supplies, letters from home, and protection if it was needed. It also became a dumping ground for overweight wagons. After Ft. Laramie was decomissioned, many of the buildings fell into disrepair and are lost to time. It was a much bigger fort than I had thought it would be. Eleven structures were restored and furnished to the way they had been.

The building directly to the left of the wagon was the post trader’s store, where everyone would have loaded up on provisions, and the residents of the fort could add to their home furnishings.
Typical supplies that would have been available. There is actually no one strung up from the ceiling – those are just new boots for sale!
The enlisted cavalry barracks
It seemed like everyone would be returning momentarily, with beds made and all of their personal items on the shelves and hooks
Time for dinner!
One of the officers’ homes can be seen on the far left.

In between the sight seeing, we took time to drive through Guernsey State Park. We had a picnic lunch in an old CCC shelter. It was a very hot day, so we were glad for the shade.

Our modern-day Conestoga

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a site at the state park. The RV park we stayed in was just a little farther down the road and in Wyoming farm country. We enjoyed some walks nearby.

These cows were way off in the distance when we started walking, and then we realized they were all coming to greet us!

When I was searching for an RV park, the one we stayed at received negative reviews for the frequent trains that go by across the road. To make matters worse, it is near an intersection, so the train whistle blows several times as it goes by. It is a well-known fact that many RV parks are built near train tracks, but the whistle just added an extra dimension. We rather like the sound of trains going by, and the lonely sound of the whistle, but on the second night the whistle volume seemed to increase by several decibels. I was glad this wasn’t more than a two-night stay!

The trains have been a common sight for us so far, both in our stays in southern Wyoming and now here, where I’m writing this in North Dakota. Mostly they are loaded with coal from mines in the Gillette, Wyoming area and are headed to power plants that are fueled by coal to produce electricity. The trains run frequently and constantly. It amazed me that so much coal is still being used.

I found the Platte River again about a mile and a half down a country road from our RV park, and it was beautiful on one of my early morning walks, so I’ll leave you for now with that view.

Next time – Medora, ND

Cheyenne, Wyoming

I’ve been singing the old Willie Nelson song, “On the Road Again.” As happy as we were to be with our grandchildren and their parents, we are about as happy to be on another journey. This one will be a month in duration, with our last destination to be Duluth, Minnesota before turning back in a southwestern direction. I’m going to try (the operative word here being “try”) to post our travels a little more timely. Of course, I’m also at the mercy of the foibles of the internet wherever we go.

For being a capitol city, Cheyenne’s population is only roughly around 63,000 souls. It has the feel of a small town, and getting around was relaxed and easy. Either that, or we have been in Denver too long. It was great to not fight the traffic everywhere.

I took this picture from the rail depot in Cheyenne at high noon on a Friday, looking down to the Capitol building. In the picture it looks closer than what it is; the distance is about a half mile.

There was a time long ago when I thought it would be fun to visit all of the capitols in the US. I’ve since lost that ambition, but I have been inside many. As capitol buildings go, Cheyenne’s architecture wasn’t overly ornate and there wasn’t a large amount of art pieces. Wyoming has the lowest population of any state in the Union, so I suppose that follows. Their legislature only meets 40 days in one year, and 20 in the next.

A docent who was eager to talk to us was proud of a renovation that was done not too long ago. It was the first one since the building was completed back in 1888. They don’t rush into things in Wyoming. There were 4 niches built into the walls for a statues, and these were finally added in 2019. Together, the 4 statues are “The Four Sisters” and they are Truth, Justice, Courage, Hope. Courage is pictured below. I guess it does take a lot of courage to hold a snake.

Here is Hope, and this picture shows some of the fresh renovation as well.
The ceiling in the House of Representatives

When we first crossed over into Wyoming, we stopped off at the Welcome Center off I-25. It was probably the nicest Welcome Center I’ve ever seen, with a beautiful building that reached up and over the prairie, and a museum. This mastodon skeleton greeted us as we entered.

Wyoming has a lot of prehistoric fossils, and there are dig sites all over the state. After we were finished with the capitol building, we ambled over to the Wyoming State Museum. The first part of the museum was an exhibition on the excavations of the fossils. Since I had taken a picture of the mastodon bones earlier, I had to take another one in this museum. This one was a Camptosaurus, which lived 150 million years ago. It was 23 feet long and was a plant-eater.

Another exhibit that caught my eye was native embroidery and beading. I like to do embroidery work, so I could appreciate all the detail on this Lakota vest.

THE way to get around Yellowstone National Park, back in the day.

Painted boots are quite the thing in Cheyenne, and we saw many of them around town.

This boot was in front of the train depot
A statue at the train depot called “New Beginning”. Maybe she just stepped off the train from back east?

The train depot had a museum that was interesting, but the thing that got my attention was a huge model train set on the second floor, one man’s 35-year labor of love. He constructed all the buildings and hand-painted the backdrops. This picture just shows one small part of it. The train was running through the whole thing.

We walked quite a bit through F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which feels more like a living museum than a base. Officers still live in the historic original red brick houses, and any new construction has to also be done in red brick, in the same architectural style. There was a cemetery on base, which was a little unusual, but many graves went back to the air base’s early days. In 1867 the base was constructed as Fort Russell, an Army outpost on the Great Plains. There were a lot of pronghorn antelope lounging about, mostly on the green grass of the officer quarters. I guess that is a lot more cushy than the brown tall grass of the prairie!

Next time – moving on up to Guernsey

A Steamboat Springs Interlude

In June we left our RV resting comfortably in the state park, and took an overnight trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. All I knew about the town was that it is a very popular winter skiing destination. We headed out on I-70, turned off, and took state route 40 all the way up. It’s a two-sometimes-three-lane road with some mountain passes, and part of our plan was to see if it was OK to traverse with the RV on some future trip. The interesting thing is that as I am writing this now, a portion of the I-70 highway is currently closed because of mud slides due to a large forest fire. Route 40 northwest, and another road back south, is the designated detour for the highway. It adds 4-plus hours to a trip. I’m sure we wouldn’t want to be on Route 40 now!

Berthoud Pass, on the Continental Divide, was the gateway inside the beautiful Rockies.

There was amazing scenery to behold around every turn. The picture below shows our very scenic lunch spot.

Steamboat Springs got its name, so the legend goes, from 3 French trappers who found the spring. As it was spouting, it made a “chugging” sound, which reminded them of the sound a steamboat makes. Ironically, although the town carries this name, you can no longer hear the spring. When the railroad was built, changes to the area around the spring obliterated this sound. The spring is still there, though, along with a sulphur spring, and both feed into the nearby Yampa River.

Steamboat Spring
Black Sulphur Spring was a little bit stinky
It looks like the sulphur spring flowed directly into the Yampa at one time, and may even have come straight out of this big rock.

Far from being a sleepy town in the summer, Steamboat Springs was bustling. We had a difficult time making our way down the main street at the dinner hour because of all the traffic. Tourist shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and breweries were all doing a brisk business. Maybe it was because of all the pent-up isolation from Covid. But also, there is so much to do here. In the picture above, you may see a bridge on the upper left side. That is a biking and walking trail that went all through town alongside the Yampa River. There are trails up in the mountains for hiking as much as anyone would want. There are also fishing and other water sports in the river. The town has a couple of interesting-looking museums, but we didn’t get to those in the short time we were there.

An evening stroll took us to Fish Creek Falls, which descends at a height of 280 feet.

A stand of aspen trees in a glade on the walk to the falls

We paid a visit to the Yampa River Botanic Park. For a small town with a short growing season, the garden was beautiful with many blooming flowers.

I know, I can go a little crazy with the flower pictures. But the lupines are my favorite, always.
I was very tempted to join this yoga class as we walked through the park. Maybe another day.
This osprey nest could be seen from the gardens. I had to use my longest zoom on this one.
I didn’t know ospreys would attack drones. Good for them, I say.

We enjoyed a short walk on the trail before heading home. I love Steamboat Springs’ bike culture-there were numerous bikes parked outside of the garden for the yoga class, and many on the trail. People were using them to get from one place to another instead of cars. I’d love to live in a town like that, but I wouldn’t like the winters here!

A backyard on the trail with a ski fence
More aspen trees, and a bike basket flower garden

Next time – we head off on a journey north

Summer in Denver

We have been in Denver for over two months and it’s been eventful and fun. Of course, one of the most exciting events has been the birth of our cute and adorable granddaughter, Josie. She is loved by her mothers, her big brother Teddy, and of course, us! We have also assisted with their move to a new house.

Denver’s commercial RV parks did not work out for us, so we have been residents of two different state parks for the summer: Cherry Creek and Chatfield. There is a two week limit to a stay, so after two weeks, off to the other park we go. It seems crazy, and it’s been interesting telling people I live in a state park. But it has worked for us. Each time we return to the parks, we go to a different site, and we’ve liked having that changing perspective all summer.

Cherry Creek State Park

Cherry Creek is very close to our family. It’s also closest to the places we have established for medical and dental care, and all of the associated places one needs to go. It’s an urban park, with the Denver suburbs all around it. This is very handy on the one hand, but on the other, it makes for more noise and less of an “out there” natural experience. On our second rotation to the park, it began being populated by lots of bugs – mostly miller moths and mosquitos. I was very happy I was staying at my daughter’s house, waiting for the birth of her daughter. A medical technician I talked to one day had this to say: “I tell my friends that if they are new to camping, or have new equipment to check out and set up, Cherry Creek is good for a night or two”. It’s also great for bike riders, boaters, walking, being close to the city of Denver, and to have a place to stay for the summer. We’ve seen animals – mostly deer, but also coyote, squirrels, rabbits, and different birds.

We had a flock of chattering magpies at our second site. I could hear them hopping around on the top of the RV.
These flowers came into bloom along the roadside and stayed in bloom for the summer.
On a hike through the wetlands area, this burn area had its own beauty.
Another hike, this time along the dam.
Our grandson enjoyed the beach.
Our second site at Cherry Creek

Chatfield State Park

We’ve come to look forward to our stays at Chatfield. It is a half hour away from Cherry Creek and closer to the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies. It’s also a half hour away from our family, and just about the same distance from anything we need to do, but we relax and feel like we’re more in nature. On our first stay we were overlooking the lake and the marina. It was fun to watch all the activity on the lake from a distance – boats launching in and out of the water, sailboaters readying their sails and doing evening laps around the lake, and waterskiers having a grand time. But we have come to prefer the sites on the back loop, in the pine trees, looking at the foothills. We see deer going through our site so often that I no longer run for the camera when I see one. One day, we came back after being out for a bike ride, and a doe and her two fawns were calmly having their lunch, unperturbed that we had arrived. Chatfield is a great place to head out for all kinds of excursions into the foothills and mountains. It’s a very photogenic place – I have way too many pictures!

The “natural” part of our view from our first site
Chatfield Dam is connected to the South Platte River and protects the area from flooding.
We took a bike ride up to the top of the dam…
…got a great view of Denver from there…
…and were able to see look over at our site and the marina for a rare view.
The evening skies are ever changing
Our second site at Chatfield, one of our favorites for the summer
Chatfield has a hot air balloon launch and the balloons have become a regular sight.
One of the visitors to our site
Some of the residents of the prairie dog village outside Chatfield’s gate

We have also enjoyed having several human visitors this summer:

Kris, Rusty and Bailey were our first visitors. Bailey had a lot of fun chasing sticks in (the very cold) Cherry Creek.
We had a quick but enjoyable evening visit with my sister and brother-in-law, Gloria and Chuck.
Our daughter-in-law’s brother, Emmett, came to visit during the longest hail storm ever

Next time – one of our excursions. Which one? Hmmm…

To the Great Sand Dunes and Beyond

Our first stop in the state of Colorado. Look at those clouds!

I was excited to arrive in Colorado. We were both happier than I thought we’d be to put arid New Mexico behind us, and get a first glimpse of the Rockies. Every mile was taking me closer to my grandson in Denver, who I couldn’t wait to see, so there was that. We do love seeing the Colorado mountains, though.

First of all, we had to negotiate a Colorado-style traffic jam.

We were on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the southeastern portion of the state. They are the tallest sand dunes in North America, breathtaking to look at with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as their backdrop. Over thousands of years, sediment from the mountains blew down into a valley which contained several lakes. When the lakes receded, the sand was left behind.

The tallest dunes are 750 feet in height, and the entire dune area is about 30 miles wide. Standing and looking at them, or even hiking them, it doesn’t seem like they could be so large. On the morning we planned to hike the dunes, we woke up to snow. The soft white layer sat on the top of our truck and we could see snow on the dunes as we departed for our visit to the park. It was only 40 degrees and I really wasn’t sure about getting some outdoor time. There was no doubt in Cal’s mind that we were keeping our plans, so I layered up and we headed out.

View from our living room, the foothills covered in snow

The only way to visit the dunes is to first cross the sandy Medano Creek. There is no bridge. The fresh mountain water was a bit cold on the toes, but not as bad as I thought it would be. And I was already starting to shed layers.

Hiking the dunes was pure fun.
We blazed new trails–
–and took a lot of breaks just to enjoy the view.
Some people like to surf the dunes, and sleds can also be rented.

It warmed up to an amazing 48 degrees by the time we were off the dunes and enjoying our picnic lunch. We were at a high altitude so the sun felt good, and we were heated up from the hike, so a cool picnic was not an issue at all.

We enjoyed the views from all sides and at different times of day during our two-night stay near the dunes. On an earlier trip, we had passed this park up due to a shortage of time. I’m glad that we were able to give it a good visit!

In the same day, we visited Zapata Falls. The drive up the side of the mountain was 3 miles on a treacherous boulder and rock-strewn road. Our truck did the job just fine. We saw just one or two smaller vehicles at the top and weren’t sure how they could have done it – or what they did to their cars in the process.

Zapata was our second creek crossing in one day, but much higher on a scale of difficulty.

There were rocks, flowing deep water, and a small ice field to traverse
Then, a passageway between the cliff walls
First glimpse of the iced-in portion of the falls
Success! There’s the rest of the 25 foot Zapata Falls – a sight to see!

At this writing, it has been about 2 months since we visited Zapata, and looking back, it was one of the highlights of our trip so far. A slightly dangerous adventure that leads to success is always a cause for celebration!

Next time-Summer of 2021 in Denver

Traveling through New Mexico

Roswell

Traveling through New Mexico, our route and an overnight stop put us squarely in Roswell. It was midafternoon by the time we were set up in our RV site and Cal didn’t want to bother with aliens. I thought it might be interesting to at least pay the International UFO Museum and Research Center a visit, so off I went.

In the summer of 1947 a rancher found some debris and reported it to a local sheriff, who contacted Air Force intelligence. The debris was determined to be the remains of a weather balloon sent up from a local air force base. Reports spread, however, that what really crashed was a flying saucer with 3 aliens inside and that the whole thing was a massive coverup by the military. The museum was full of “eyewitness” accounts from people who said they’d been sworn to secrecy at the time of the incident and, now that they were elderly/sick/pick another reason, wanted the truth to come out. And there were accounts of other alien sightings to round out the room. It was a lot of reading. By the time I was done, I, too, was sure there had been little green men in Roswell. At least, pictures of them were all over the museum, as well as in the shops and signs around town.

Even our RV park for the night got in on the fun, with an official alien burial site. And we were parked right next to it. I slept well, even knowing that, and no aliens disturbed my sleep.

Albuquerque – Sandia Peak Tramway

We stopped for just a weekend in Albuquerque. My nephew Mike and his wife Emily live there, so on our first evening in town we met them at the Sandia Peak Tramway for a ride up the mountain plus dinner at the top. Emily’s Mom and brother were also in town and were with us for the trip. It’s billed as North America’s longest tram ride, at 15 minutes, and took us 2.7 miles to an elevation of 10,378 feet. It was a great ride with a good view of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains. I had been up here once before, years ago, around the holidays and remember snow blowing around the tram car in the dark as we went back down. This time, the weather was quite different.

Once up at the top, we had to wait on a table in the restaurant, so we took a little hike. There were several trails to choose from. On the hike, there were times where we were right on the edge of the mountain – a dizzying feeling!

The restaurant at the top is called Ten 3. Our table was ready by the time we were finished hiking, and dinner was delicious. Mike and Emily are at the left in this picture. By the time we were back outside, the sunset was casting a soft glow over the mountain and the city. After riding the tram all the way down, we were treated to a view of Albuquerque by night.

Albuquerque – Petroglyph National Monument

We had only a short weekend in Albuquerque, and much of it was taken up with errands and chores. We did find ourselves with a bit of time on Saturday afternoon, but it was pretty hot. The native petroglyphs can be seen in three different trails on a 17 mile long escarpment. We chose the shortest and the closest to the visitor center, the Boca Negra Canyon trail.

The escarpment was formed when lava flowed from a large crack in the Earth’s crust, flowing over the existing landforms. The end result was basalt boulders that broke away from the lava caprock. Natives discovered that chipping away at the rocks revealed a lighter gray beneath. Most of the images were made 400 to 700 years ago, but some may be much older.

Boca Negra Trail at Petroglyph showing the basalt rocks
The largest petroglyph here shows the yucca pod, important for many uses for natives.
There are petroglyphs on this boulder, but its smooth curve served as a grinding surface for tools, corn and seeds, and pigments.

I’m almost sure I saw this petroglyph in the Roswell UFO museum. They would have you believe that natives were seeing aliens long ago, by looking at some of their petroglyphs. Well, there are logical explanations for everything. I was impressed at how many were to be seen in just this little area, and I’d love to come back some time to check out the other trails.

Velarde

,We had an overnight stay here and that is a story for another time. The little town is off the beaten path on a state route north of Albuquerque. There is nothing much in the town itself, and on the surface it looks pretty run down, but quite possibly there is something I missed. I needed an evening walk and had seen a rushing river so I set out to find it.

I’m guessing the state route once included this bridge, but nature is totally reclaiming it.

An orchard, with a vineyard behind it

Here’s another view of the vineyard. I was astonished to find the area was flooded. From Austin west, lakes had been well below their normal levels and the land had been dry. The hills here certainly did not seem like they’d seen an overabundance of rain!

No bike riding today; it’s a little wet
On the back wall of an abandoned pottery store
Mickey Mouse cactus

Not too bad, as far as evening walks go. It goes to show you can find pictures anywhere, although I never did find that rushing river!

Next time – Moving on in to Colorado

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

“It’s got all the cathedrals of the world in it, with half of ’em hanging upside down.”

Will Rogers, 1931

Years ago I flew into Las Vegas after Christmas break to help my friend Peggy drive her new-to-her car from her uncle’s house in Vegas back to Ft. Hood, Texas. Along the way we picked up another Ft. Hood friend, Rick, in Albuquerque and the three of us explored Carlsbad Caverns. It made a huge impression on me. Part of it was that we did not go in with a typical guide and tour group, but instead had an audio “phone” that we could listen to whenever we came to painted footstep indicators on the ground. It was so extensive that it took several hours to go through, all on our own, and there was even a cafeteria in the cave where we had lunch. I’ve always wanted to go back with Cal, so this was the day. Now, after seeing it twice, I still wouldn’t mind doing it again! I’m a person who enjoys cave exploration very much.

Carlsbad Caverns lies underneath the northern end of the Guadalupe Mountains, on the New Mexico end. The park was our destination for the day after our Guadalupe hike, and was not too far from our camping site at Chosa. We had to make reservations for our time slot and because it took less time than we anticipated to get into the park, we stopped at a “point of interest” along the way. It was a little trail to a rocky overhang used for millenia as a shelter for humankind. The roof of the overhang was blackened by multitudes of campfires over the ages. From the overhang, we could see across the road to more shallow caves.

On the trail to the overhang, all of the different types of plants were labeled, which was very helpful for someone like me who always forgets the names of things. In the southern Guadalupes, I had seen the yucca in bloom. Yucca is often used in landscaping back in Missouri, where I used to live, but it does not bloom there until at least August.

There are two ways to get into the cavern: by hiking to the natural entrance of the cave, and by taking an elevator down to the Big Room Trail. We opted for the natural entrance.

The park literature will tell you that “Carlsbad Cavern is one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea about 265 million years ago. Twelve-to-fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains.” Spanish and European settlers may have entered the cave, but the first credited exploration was by Jim White in 1898. Jim was a cowboy who found the cave by accident; he thought he saw a wildfire in the distance, but upon closer examination saw that it was thousands of Brazilian ring-tailed bats exiting the cave. He returned later with some wire, wood, and a light source, and began exploring it. You can see his ladder in the picture below. Jim spent the rest of his life exploring the cave and guiding others through it. In 1923 he guided the General Land Office for surveying and mapping the cavern, and it became a national park in 1930 after first becoming a national monument.

My parents took me on cave tours from a young age and I loved to go. We lived not too far from one in Ohio, where I grew up, and I loved exploring deep under the ground and looking at huge cave formations. I learned that stalactites “hold on tight” to the cave ceiling, and come down from above, and stalagmites grow from below. Both are formed from drips of water over millenia, and are easily interrupted in their formation by the simplest human touch. Back in the day, the cave formations were given cute little names, like “Bacon and Eggs” or “The Pipe Organ”. Most of the cave tours I’ve been on recently focus on the scientific and conservation aspects of cave growth and preservation, and that’s a good thing. However, I noticed that Carlsbad couldn’t help but sneak in a few names for their formations. The sweeping panorama in the picture above was called “Fairyland” and the one below was a “Whale’s Mouth”, with cave formations of draperies and flowstone.

So, I came up with a couple of my own. Here is “The Hobbit”, or “Li’l Abner”. You have to look at the black space in the middle to see it.

And, do you see my cute little cave cat?

Just when I would think there couldn’t be anything more awesome to see, we would round a corner or go through a passageway, and there would be something else. The picture above was the entrance to the Big Room, and its soaring heights really could be compared to a cathedral as Will Rogers did back in the 30’s.

We were at the Caverns when things were just starting to open up after COVID. You can still tour the cave on your own without a tour group, and can rent the audio tour in the visitor center book shop. We neglected to do that this time but we were still down in the cave several hours even without having audio to stop and listen to. There were plenty of descriptive signs along the way, though. Before we arrived in the Big Room, there were many stretches where we were all by ourselves. It looks like it still may be possible to have lunch down in the cave, but all of that was closed for COVID. We rode the elevator up when we were finished seeing everything. We did both the natural entrance and the Big Room trails and walked about the same distance as the day before, in our Guadalupe Mountains hike, but without all the rock climbing, so it seemed much easier! The bats still do fly out of the cave at sunset, something I would have liked to see, although their numbers are diminished from Jim White’s day. They hadn’t returned yet from their winter migration, so we’ll have to save that for another visit.

Next time – Exploring New Mexico

Boondocking Near Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Currently, we are in the Denver, Colorado area and will be for most of the summer. Now that we are here, life has intervened in the form of RV and truck repairs, appointments, and, most importantly, time with our grandson and helping his mothers through their recent move and his brief illness. Not all of life on the road can be a permanent vacation, as we are finding out! The internet where we’ve been staying has been slow and spotty, not exactly conducive to loading up a raft of pictures. But we had two weeks on the road between Austin and Denver, and they were event-filled, so that will be what the next few blogs will be about.

In previous travels, I always loved that feeling when I finally arrived “out West”. On this day, it happened in west Texas as we swung off the I-10 and headed north on to a narrow but well-maintained and quiet road to the New Mexico border. We stayed just inside the border for several days.

If you do a Google search on the least-visited US national parks, Guadalupe National Park comes up as number fifteen. And in front of it are nine Alaskan and American Samoa national parks. That sounded good to me! Although it covers about 47,000 acres, much of it is wilderness. We parked Sam in New Mexico, but had to backtrack into Texas to see it. There is a small campground, but the main thing to do and see here is hike. There are numerous trails. El Capitan, shown in the picture above, greeted us at the southern end of this mountain range as we were driving through. If you were to hike up to it, it would be about 11 miles round trip. The rock has been a landmark for centuries for the Nde people and later for US Army troops, explorers, pioneers, and the Butterfield stage coach.

The El Capitan trail was a bit much, so we chose instead Devil’s Hall trail, which was 4.2 miles round trip and was rated to be “moderate”. It started out innocently enough as the Chihuahuan Desert gave way to the Guadalupe foothills.

Pretty soon, the trail went into a wash and it was hard to pick out where we were to go as we clambered up, down and around huge rocks and boulders, using hands, knees, and elbows. It was as if the devil himself had thrown them down.

II

I’m not certain how I got myself into that spot! We worked at the trail for a couple of hours and I think we were near the devil’s “hall” but the day was getting on so we had to reluctantly turn around and go the same distance back.

The title of this blog, besides the part about Guadalupe, includes the word “boondocking”. To the uninitated, “boondocking” means to settle in a spot without any utility hookups. You bring in your own water and provide your own power, or don’t use any at all. Campers and RV’ers like this idea because they can go off and camp anywhere by themselves-versus a crowded RV park- mostly on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. This is “dispersed” RVing; you can stay on the land for free and, if you know what you’re doing, you can be all alone with no neighbors. There are also many campgrounds, run by BLM or the Forest Service, with no hookups, often with no camp fees. It sounded interesting and fun to us, so before leaving home we purchased a generator to be able to do this. I was hopeful that our 5th wheel could run for a night just on its own battery power, but we really didn’t know how long the batteries would run without using the generator.

For our first time boondocking, we thought we’d make it easier on ourselves and found Chosa, a free BLM campground out in the desert, on the northern end of the Guadalupes. There were no conveniences, just a big, rectangular fenced lot.

I desert and

I loved the open, windswept desert and the luminous clouds, especially at sunrise and sunset. At sunrise, it was as if a bright lamp had suddenly been turned on each mountainside in turn. And how is it that flowers can bloom in the middle of dry, sandy rocks?

This little fellow was the only critter we saw at Chosa, besides the birds, and his home was very close to ours. For the first couple of days, we had Chosa almost to ourselves, but as the week progressed it got busier. “Nomadland” had just won the 2021 Academy award and on our last night, I felt like I had been dropped into the movie set. There were more people and the mood was positively celebratory. Our new neighbors from North Carolina had their own happy hour going. People were out visiting and some kids were playing Frisbee. Not entirely my idea of boondocking, really!

What we learned about boondocking with Frodo and Sam is that Sam can only survive 5 hours on the battery. We have a residential refrigerator that needs power, plus a lot of other little things that are constantly running. Cal didn’t want to leave the generator out and running while we were at Guadalupe NP, so we were watching the time while there. When out hiking, we were worried about the batteries draining below 25%, so that is why we cut the hike short. We need to run the generator all night, and I worry about anyone parking too close to us being annoyed by the noise. We’d probably have to invest a lot more cash into an upgraded power system such as lithium batteries or solar energy, not something we’d like to do at this point. In the end, we do feel that we have an array of different types of parks we can go to that have power wherever we go, some where we don’t even have to be close to our neighbors, so boondocking might not be something we do often or at all.

Next time – Another national park!