Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's not them, it's us

Arches is popular with the mountain bike crowd, but we recommend it for boldering. Concern of dusty butts or twisted ankles could not slow our scrambling. Aslin, in a skirt, prompted comment from a teen boy far below. "Do you see that little girl?!?" He would not let his daughter climb "up there." Clearly, he's never had a daughter to try and stop. Overhearing, Brad assured him of her experience and self-confidence plus her mother's assistance if needed. Half an hour later, the boy was asking us for the best footing up, calling to his friend that he would rate the climb a "4". Aside from the heat, we give a solid 9.5.

We didn't hike to the historic ranger station/tea room a few miles from Lake Louise. And we were just 5 hours from Yosemite when the transmission failed. The Grand Canyon is one the 7 wonders of the modern world, but we missed it. Along with Havasu Falls where life may have originated. Everywhere we go, everyone we meet has a suggestion. Not just a passive, "if you're going this way..." but a firm belief in a site that should not be missed. And we respect these opinions. To that point that we're keeping a journal on destinations for future trips.

But it's a big country. With big western states. It might be an entirely different adventure in a another car, but it's not. And our '84 Westy isn't the only member of our party who doesn't take well to the heat. By noon it's too hot to climb rocks that haven't been shaded since the evening before. So, we're doing what we can. And that's all right with us. Because we plan to travel in the future.

On the other hand, we did meet some women from Georgia who told of the bluegrass festival at Tulluride. And we have fond memories of the two weeks we sang Pete Seeger songs along with Mendel. And before that, we spent a couple afternoons trying toanswer Fabian's questions about our branches of government, specifically the question of Bush's re-election. Then there was the time we helped Gene orient a "juvenile delinquent" for his community service project. Experiences we'd never find recommended in a travel book and couldn't have been directed to, even by locals. Please recognize this as a convoluted justification for our missing the surely magnificent, Canyonlands.

(look closely)

This time around, we needed elevation, the water and cool that come with it. Little did we know that cool becomes cold some time after 10 pm. Not Joshua Tree in February cold, but freezing none the less. It seems unrelated, but Scofield Reservoir is home to about 3 billion prairie dogs. The kind of critter who was cute before we learned the potential nightmare of rodents in the van. With no door handle, we opt to keep the slider open as much as possible. We left the four inch gap to watch dragonflies at the wetlands and would have been back sooner if we hadn't lost shoes in the stinking, tar-pit, quick-mud around the lake. This gap comes to mind as I wake every 15 minutes, freezing to the soundtrack of all-night semi-truck traffic. A plague-ridden critter could be hiding in the van, looking for granola. The 9am sun finally brought comfort.

I'm not sure anyone (Luther?)specifically recommended Utah's Manti-La Sal Mountains, but we appreciate them all the same. Serene lakes, flowing streams, and a dozen shades of green have me considering taking up fishing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

hot hot hot

At Arches, we met some travelers who just left 113 degree Phoenix. Which makes us sympathize with our Tucson friends...

Here in Moab, it's closer to 100. The freezer at The Lazy Lizard Hostel is ancient. Our ice cream liquefied but still made decent root beer floats. Rotary Park on Mill Creek has shade trees and green grass to bring the temperature down a bit. An array of outdoor instruments by FreeNotes makes it even cooler.

Another source of inspiration to carry home with us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

hovenweep +

Cortez is more than the sad story we shared earlier. There's a charming Saturday morning farmers market, great coffee at the Spruce Tree House and easy access to rivers and rocks, some of our favorite natural wonders. Thanks to Micheal, Rani and Griffen for sharing their home and great travel tips.

Back roads out of Cortez took us through farm and range land, where a couple of renegade/entrepreneurs have planted vineyards. In her kitchen/tasting room, we chatted with Ruth Guy. Water rights, the neighbor's habit of dumping his tractor oil and the "kiss of death" that comes with labeling your wine organic and their hope to grow sustainably with out being marginalized. We recommend the Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Of the ruin sites in the four-corners area, Hovenweep remains the only excavated site. At Little Ruin Canyon, we camped with the host, rangers, ravens and lizards. The 11 sites still standing in and around the canyon feel like a neighborhood. Everywhere you turn, another 700 year old building. Square tower sits alone on the canyon floor, as if directing the the seep and run off waters. Above, the sage and juniper grow from patches of dark earth, the only mesa top soil I've seen that actually looks farm-able. The larger Hovenweep site extended for miles, with clusters of D-shaped, oval and right-angled structures. Best estimates show the community thriving for 20 years before traveling south.

"It's kind of an unappealing name for a town. Don't you think?" Checking the map a few days earlier, Ukiah commented on Blanding, Utah. I defended it too soon. From our tour of the highway and a few side streets, it seems to be an aging mobile home community with more recent cookie-cutter with brick facade garage in-fill. To be fair, we only passed through the town. Appreciated the outdoor sculpture garden, but didn't even pay the $6/family fee to look inside Edge of the Cedars State Park/Museum.

We didn't stop for Hole in the Rock and its road-side attraction "zoo"- but the sheer size of Wilson Arch had us pulling over along side tourists from at least six states. Past the mountain of trash at the edge of the pull-out, red rock aims for the sky. Along side a German family, we climbed, crawled and scooted our way the the hollow. Ukiah swore the view from the other side was not to be missed. With bare feet on hot rock, I passed him the camera.

FYI- Thinking of relocating? Please don't consider the new subdivision seizing this immediate area. Sure, from your traditional stucco southwest style or modern-rustic log cabin you'd have a geologic wonder for a back yard, but...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

versions of history

The Hohokum, Mogollon, and Anasazi. Before our time in the southwest, we weren't familiar with these ancestral people. Traveling through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, we've collected the stories told by art books, park rangers, catholic priests, native elders, anthropologists, historians and hippies. It's an incomplete education. Some claim the disappearance of the ancients. That drought or depleted resources or war lead to their demise. That by about 1300, the basketmakers and potters and farmers and hunters who migrated through and eventually settled the area, vanished.

Wait. Not true. They moved south, away from agriculture in a return to hunting and gathering. There were no Anasazi anyway. That's a Navajo word- something akin to "others" or "enemy". Why should people who showed up just before the Spanish name the Puebloan ancestors? Puebloan? Those are Hopi and Zuni ancestors, not just Puebloan.

The cliff dwellers are some of "the most peaceful people ever to walk the earth." But there is some evidence of cannibalism. And, for the record, they're "alcove communities" not cliff dwellings.

The carvings along Petroglyph Trail are interpreted as a linear story, the histories of the people who made them is anything but.

For now, the certainties tell us that approximately 800 years ago, some 50,000 people lived in the greater 4-Corners area. Climate, threat, advancing architectural skills, the Creator- something- led them to take residence in the alcove beneath the mesas.

Some lived in single family units while others lived in communities with streets and 100+ rooms.

The round, sunken kiva structures were ceremonial, not typical family units.

Windows and doors were aligned to allow for the light of specific stars or planets.

Planted above the cliffs, dry farmed (non-irrigated) corn, beans and squash comprised 70% of the food sources with 15% gathered and the rest hunted.

Water from the mesa top took 20-30 years to filter through layers of canyon sandstone, eventually delivering up to 6 gallons/minute to alcove seep springs.

There are about 600 dwellings at Mesa Verde. We had access to three, saw more across the canyons and are awed by the presence of the rest. The sites have been protected by the federal government for 101 years. Not long enough to stop the Swedish archaeologist who exported dozens of artifacts or locals who used dynamite to remove walls blocking their access to pottery. There's speculation that ranchers may have pulled juniper beams from the roofs, for firewood.

For all the unknowns, Mesa Verde remains spectacular. Grounding.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

the 100 pictures

we took at Mesa Verde do not capture the ingenuity, architecture, power or history of the cliff dwellings or their people. They can't answer our questions of society, nature, spiritually and where they intersect. Still, I can't imagine our images from inside Cliff Palace and Balcony House or cross-canyon views of other alcove communities will gather much dust.

We're hoping for an early start tomorrow, a visit to Spruce Tree House, fingers in the steep springs, time to breathe and consider.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

continental x4

Past the earthships, deep into the dry mesa lands, lies a different sort of "off the grid" community. The houses are built of old dryers, crates and partially buried cars. Scrap materials from who knows where. Inside information tells of a division "out there"- artists on one side and gun-toting, tattooed-face bikers on the other. If we go out, we might be invited to visit with someone. But we should be careful. And we probably shouldn't try to take the Volkswagon out, unless we have 4-wheel drive. We don't. That would require a Syncro and surely even more repairs than a standard Westy. So north we go, though Carson National Forest, a majestic back drop for our drive-time entertainment tale of witches, scholars and other worlds.

On our way towards Pagosa Springs, the town claiming the largest, deepest, hottest spring in world, we took Buttercup across the Continental Divide for a fourth time. Unfortunately the renowned spring is fenced against trespassers, preserving the source for an expanding resort community. If there are undeveloped pools up in the hills, the town isn't telling. Centuries ago, the Spanish battled the Natives for control of the spring's healing waters. We made space for a man with a 7-11 cup, collecting water from a tiny river-side spring. If I hadn't been watching the rafters while explaining to Aslin that we were not going to the theater across the street and watch Shrek, I might have asked if he planned to drink the sulfer-smelling water.

Past the archaeological site at Chimney Rocks we toured the privileged town of Durango. Set below the mountains along a river with a historic rail line running though, Durango's well aware of it's position in the western-town hierarchy. Historic buildings, successful mining, an art community, wind-powered brewery, the bed and breakfasts here might out number the residents. Just outside town, we camped at Lightner Creek where a 24 acre camp ground is for sale. Priced just under three million.

Three cheers for the 1,100 residents of Mancos! Residents of this mainly dirt road community sponsor an annual Renaissance festival and a fantastic bakery. Vegetarian, wheat-free and organic meals and treats are available at The Absolute Bakery and Cafe, across the street from the river.

Outside the charming river-rail town of Dolores, where the single grocery store stocks bulk grains and local produce, we've camped out with another great family. We really appreciate the wisdom of their ranger years and lessons they've shared of the Anasazi people, lands and ruins. We're currently praying that we have not passed on Ecoli or cryptosporidium or any other contaminated well water germs we may have picked up. (We were fine when we arrived, and three of us still are... fingers crossed.)

I'm feeling better at the moment. All most well enough to write the sad story of Cortez. Legend has it a well drilled in the center of town found no water. And a century ago town officials opted to pass on the rail option for fear of introducing "liberal elements" to the area. Eventually, The McPhee Dam and Reservoir Project, aimed at bringing more water to town, sparked a 7-year archeology project, uncovering 1600 sites in the immediate area. At the Anasazi Heritage Center, we visited two.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


It seems like you'd feel the effects of drinking bad water pretty quickly, say within 24 hours. So we should be in the clear. It was Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the community pot-luck, when Jeremiah mentioned that flooding of the acequia brought water in to the well-house, contaminating the water. He'd never found animals or their droppings in the house and thought we should be fine. Just wanted to inform us.

Much of our work here at New Buffalo has been dedicated to building the two wonders of the composting world. Thursday morning, in the shadow of the first pile, the walls of the second collapsed as we tried to square it. Wood chips. Their thirst requires endless time with the hose. Time which could be spent shoveling manure and bringing over the next wet bale of straw. I went to the acequia for buckets of water. There'd been some trouble and plenty of talk about the water. Water rights are a hot topic, a point of conflict that has sprouted books and major motion pictures. Here, the acequia didn't start running the day it should have. The ditch walls need repair. No, the ditch needs widening. The water flooded a corner of the greenhouse. A break in the wall creates a wetland for a young grove of drought tolerant trees. Yesterday's wall retrofit protects the adobe that sits five feet from the irrigation ditch, on lower ground. Maybe we should turn the water off. No, better to let it run over the land. If we don't use it, they'll take it away. The people in Seco will be really mad if we just let the water go back to the river, wasted. Five-gallons at a time, carefully, I pull water from the channel to the compost until it's time for planting.

Following Machei's lead, we planted cucumber and squash in a double square pattern, gardening French-intensive style. Until we noticed water flowing into the sunflower bed. We grab shovels. Our work to contain the too rapid current is interrupted by down-stream David of the straw bale mansion. Do we know that we're creating too much dirt in the water, hurting his fish pond? The acequia gate isn't supposed to be open all the way. He gestures, laughs angrily. Our ditches aren't fully operational. For thirty minutes he talks as the three of us who know nothing of the water system continue shoveling. He, semi-long term resident now being negatively impacted by too much water, doesn't go up the hill and correct the flow himself. We later learn that a day earlier he told Aslin and the Buffalo girls they couldn't play on his trampoline. Because even if they did play with his kids, it wouldn't be in their hearts.

Plenty of characters around. We hiked to some hot springs along the Rio Grande with a kinder, more interesting person. Between wild roses and river willow, carefully avoiding nettles, we walked along the Rio Hondo, eyes open for petroglyphs. A waterfall, not there when we walked a couple days ago and never before seen by the locals we accompanied, thundered down the cliff. Could it be the mismanaged water? Five of us worked our way across the branches littering the base of the falls. One of us, who against advice opted not to wear shoes, lost his right flip flop. Had we known it was another two-miles to the springs, we'd have turned back. The warm pool was swarmed by little green flies, the cool by mosquitoes. We relaxed none the less, resting before the steep path of lava rock up from the gorge followed by a long walk home.

We'd given in to our need for rest and were headed for a shade tree when Manzie thumbed a ride from three fisherman. Seven of us piled in the back of their pick-up, counting our blessings. A fine story to narrate over dinner shared with the family who welcomed us here.

It's been great. Thanks to Nyna, Machei, Madrone, Manzie, Magnolia, and all at New Buffalo.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I'm not sure what the Virgin Mary has to say the topic; didn't ask when we visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the oldest representation of the Madonna in the US. The statue came to Santa Fe from Spain in 1625, was saved during a Pueblo revolt against the mission in the 1680's, and over the years has been called the Queen and Patroness of the ancient kingdom of New Mexico, Our Lady of the Rosary and La Conquistadora. (So now we've seen the oldest Marian shrine and that with the highest number of representations of Mary.)

After hours exploring the city- church and grounds, plaza and antique car show, library and countless gallery windows, we began a quest for the refreshments that would see us through the evening- ice cream and coffee. A little deli advertised both- Haagan Dazs and espresso but disappointed with their selection and clientele. Another tour round the city center and we found a well-pulled, single, iced americano at the Father Sky-Mother Earth Gallery where we shared an enlightening political/history conversation with a guy who recommended a gelato shop back across the plaza. We passed on the black sesame and strawberry-habenero in favor of lemon-basil, raspberry and the classic vanilla. Thumbs up for the shop I can't name. It's across the street from the library, several blocks from Georgia O'Keeffe's Grey Blue and Black- Pink Circle. Still processing O'Keeffe's blue sky as seen through pelvic bones, we would have bypassed the Museum of Fine Arts if it we're for the busker. "It's free and we have snacks. Let me say it again, it's free and we have snacks." She pointed the way to the cheese and grapes and we did an abriviated tour of the How the West is One exhibit.

"I'm not sure I can handle a hostel," Ukiah warned us. After camping a few nights in the hard wind, the comfort of a hostle, if it's anything like the horrid Eugene hostle, is nothing to look forward to. To our relief, the Mercedes shrine/SF hostel surpassed our expectation. Three meals culled from Whole Foods and Trader Joe's rejects, a gift of Channel sun glasses for Aslin, directions to hot springs and an multiple cups of J Garcia cherry tea made for an entertaining stay.

It's no small miracle to find a brewery that does root beer. Eske brewpub in Taos isn't concerned with sugar ruining their lines for future beer production. It's not quite as spicy as the kids would like and we found the chili beer a bit muted too. The vegetarian green-chili stew carried the flavor of the afternoon, a recipe we'd like to recreate. A second mixed review, Cafe Tazza serves a fine short americano with an unfortunate double shot of attitude. And since I left my brand-spanking new sun hat, I have to go back. At least they serve Cafe Vita, helping me feel at home!

Arroyo Seco is home to Taos Cow, maker of a remarkable version of a standard flavor. Strawberry. Aslin opted for a berry-malt-oreo cone and Brad and I recommend the cafe ole- with a touch of cinnamon and chocolate. Sitting by the river, we ate, played and considered how similar this little town feels to Makawao, Maui.

The Rio Grande doesn't serve coffee, beer or frozen treats. We love it all the same.

Driving through the earthship community, we saw all too many Range Rovers parked next to the tire and earth walls. And then there was the stretch Hummer. Really. Passive solar, water harvesting, grey-water reclaiming and it we found ourselves in the midst of an upper-class subdivision. Word from the inside tells a story of concerns with tires leaching energy and potential toxins while the developer borrowed against homes with out informing buyers. If you'd like to learn more for yourself, a half-hour consultation is available for $100. The bubble was burst but reblown in meeting a home owner/builder who took 8 years to build a hybrid-ship. A spectacular kitchen that I'm sure could brew fine coffee.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

here we go again.

Yet another fantastic place we could easily see ourselves spending a stretch of time. It seems that beauty and friendship are around every corner. Reports on the garden, earthships, ice cream and --New Buffalo tomorrow.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

touring new mexico

North of Ruidoso Downs, we made a quick stop in Capitan, home of Smokey the Bear. I thought this fire or the carbon of a similar forest incident was behind the Valley of Fire. Nope, lava flow dates to well over a thousand years before the little cub was rescued.

Driving into a thunderstorm towards an unknown destination can cause clenched fists. Which was all for the best as gale force winds aimed to transform Buttercup into the hot air balloon she's always dreamed of becoming.

Two personal recommendations, a listing in the tourist book and it's the Owl Bar and Cafe. We had to stop. It's a diner of another era, small-boothed, wood and dollar paneled with an eight item menu. The green chili burgers are the attraction. The grilled cheese, not available with the home stewed chillies, are not. Our waitress unloaded a week's worth of stories. The credit card machine is down. Last time this happened, they lost power and the boss made them stay 3 hours past closing. The same boss who just earlier today called her "stupid"- you see what she has to put up with?

Kenny warned that the house was dirty, that the place was a mess. First in an email, next over the phone. This fact wasn't mentioned a couple weeks ago when we were initially arranging to visit. Over the historic rail tracks, across the Rio Grande, a few miles down a distressing dirt road, past the remains of ranches long divided, along a pile of trash not burned, and into the Saltcedar. Kenny says they were brought in for erosion control, maybe in the late teens? The wispy flowers require more water than the Bureau of Land Management would like to share with the first welcome immigrant, now invasive species. The first official letters came years ago, when Kenny and his 7 acres were still housing an old ranch hand who at 85, had been turned off the land he worked for half a century by the heirs of a long established estate. These are pueblita lands. In an empty Folgers plastic-gallon, Kenny's collected shards. Concave bits of pottery, decorated in black and white. The ghosts of the silver and turquoise mining days are alive and well, booms carry over the sands. Letters from the BLM spell an alternate plan for the area. No more amature archeology or small scale farming. The Rio will flood someday, and it'd be in everyone's best interest to guide the flood waters away from the city. With the cedars removed, the land should return to it's swamp form, closer resembling it's pre-dam state. So maybe this threat of removal contributes to Kenny's allowance of the "mess".

The government hasn't moved in yet. This spot just north of
Socorro is still home to chickens, a small garden, budding orchard, an old bottle-filled Blazer perfect for target practice, and free-range peacocks. One loud peacock who calls in the night, lonely for his mate and/or the egg his neighbor duck is fostering. Insects hold a collective memory of this former wetland and after decades in the desert, continue to refuse relocation.

Old Route 66 runs through downtown Albuquerque. We fed the meter $2.05 and took a few hours to explore. At the downtown library Aslin read Oddly Normal and we found that high speed internet does not mean the same thing to all people. JC's NY Pizza offers a "Joey's bag of doughnuts" calzone, ricotta, mozzarella, pepperoni and mushrooms or, as we selected, a double slice lunch special.

Last night we settled just outside Santa Fe where Friday nights offer free museum hours. Two words. Georgia O'keeffe. Assuming we survive another night of New Mexico winds searching for their long lost ocean, we'll head into town tomorrow.