Gila Cliff Dwellings...The Rest of the Story...

As promised I’m back today, well rested and ready to recount the tale of my trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. This National Monument site lies just 75 miles from the campsite here at City of Rocks but as they say, they are “hard miles”! There are two ways to get to the Monument from this location so I decided to try one way on the trip out and the other on the way back. I set out about 9:15 am and my GPS estimated 2 hours for the journey. I knew the roads would take me over the mountainous terrain of the Gila National Forest and having experienced those mountains on my way to Truth or Consequences, I knew it would be slow going. The route I took going out was Hwy 61, to Hwy 152 south, then hooking up with Hwy 15 north. The landscape was gorgeous and I stopped often for photos. I even saw a few patches of snow at the higher elevations (7,000+ feet) but it was just a scattering under the trees at the lookout points. It was a pleasant sunny 55 degrees, the perfect day for a drive. Dexter was happy to ride shotgun and enjoyed sniffing out the local critter scents at every stop. The route was hilly with plenty of curves but not too taxing for the Ram. I was totally enchanted by the lavender scrub I saw lining the Gila River along my drive. I later learned from the Ranger that this is desert willow in winter!

I arrived at the visitor center just after noon, so it was closer to a 3 hour trip with all my photo stops. After a quick tour of the museum and obtaining directions to the trailhead, I took the short drive up to begin the hike to the caves. Dexter was ready for a nap so he was happy to snuggled down into his bed while I took the hike up the hill to the Cliff Dwelling. The trail to the site is a one mile loop that gains almost 200 feet in elevation. The $5.00 fee gained me access to the entire site and Ranger Mark was on hand to answer questions and provide information about the site. The dwelling consists of 6 main rooms with over 40 separate areas. The dwellings are built into the rocky caves along a high ridge of a sandstone rock face. Not much is known about the Mogollon people who lived here. It is believed that they occupied these dwellings for only a few hundred years and left very little evidence behind. Ranger Mark showed me two small beads that have been unearthed by packrats that live in the dwelling and a small shard of pottery that has been incorporated into the mortar of the dwelling. He also helped me locate the Pictographs on the ceiling of the dwellings. It struck me how similar this dwelling was to the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house I toured in Pennsylvania. Although this dwelling was much more crude than the house designed by the famous architect, the concept of incorporating a dwelling into the surrounding landscape is clearly not a new one! I am also captivated by the Petroglyphs and Pictographs I have been observing. Petroglyphs refer to art that has been engraved into the rock while pictographs are rock art that has been painted on the rock surface. Ranger Mark and I had a discussion about how we as humans seem to have an innate need to leave our mark behind, to be known, to be seen and heard, to shout “I was here and this is what I thought!” Is that why I’m keeping a blog? Perhaps that’s part of it! The rock art pictures are just another way humans found a way of expressing themselves. Ranger Mark also shared with me a recent observation made in this dwelling: The mortar in most of the dwelling is smooth, indicating great skill and care taken by the women constructing the walls. In one area, however, there is a small patch of irregular marks, almost like hash marks and divots in the mortar. It has been observed that these marks were made by a series of flat palm hands pressing into the mortar to make the prints. The depressions of finger and heels of hands are clear once you understand what you are looking at! This work was done by women and one is left to wonder about her motivation…was it an artistic act, an act of defiance, or was she just weary and wanted the job done? Was she interrupted before she could smooth it out then forgot to finish the job? Although this area is on an interior wall without much light, I find it hard to believe that the maker did not intend for this to be so. I’m certain that the inhabitants knew intimately every inch of this dwelling so perhaps, she just simply wished to leave her mark. We’ll never know for sure but it’s fun to ponder the possibilities.

After spending a few hours wandering around the dwelling, I made my way down the hill to rouse Dexter from his nap. Ranger Mark had told me about another small dwelling and group of pictographs located down a small trail on the way out of the park. Dexter and I hiked the ¼ mile ”Trail to the Past” at the Lower Scorpion Campground parking lot to view these two ancient sites. It’s remarkable to me that they have survived all these years intact and are so easily available to view.

It was getting to be late afternoon and I decided to take the alternate route back to the camper, this time all the way down 15 to Silver City, then straight on down 180 to 61. I knew that 180 was a good four-lane highway and (mistakenly) thought that 15 would continue to be a good two-lane road with a few twists and turns…as it turned out, this stretch of Hwy 15 climbed steeply into the (snow covered!) mountains and became more of a 1 ½ lane road with a few inches of snow and several inches of ice on the road in some places! Yikes! I was so glad I did not have the camper hitched behind. Luckily the road had been sanded and I made it down to the valley without a mishap other than white knuckles and a jaw sore from clenching! I’m sure in the warmer weather this ride would be beautiful but I would advise you to avoid it in winter!

I hope you enjoy the photos and if you ever get out this way, Gila Cliff Dwellings are sure worth the stop!

Hot Stuff, White Sands, Amazon Goodies, Turning Back the Sun

What a busy and exciting time the past few days have been! After dealing with the furnace issue yesterday morning, I drove to the town of Hatch, just a few miles up the road, to meet my brother-in-law David for breakfast. He lives in Alaska and is visiting friends in the area, so it was a real treat to meet up with him. David and I  had breakfast at a quaint little place called “Hot Stuff” that offered Mexican curios and food. David and I had a lovely visit then he headed north to Santa Fe to meet his friends. Thank you for breakfast David!

Hatch is renowned for its locally grown chile peppers! I poked around the town a bit and visited a few of the chile markets. At Grajeda Farms I met Sergio and purchased a Listra, a string of chiles. The chiles are strung this way so they will dry naturally and last for a very long time. My mother had one that she used for years, occasionally plucking peppers off and tossing them in a pot of beans!  Listra take the shape of a traditional long rope, circles similar to a wreath, or are sometimes fashioned into crosses. I enjoy seeing all the bright peppers hanging together!

I'm fairly close to the Mexican Border here so there are US Customs Checkpoints scattered around the landscape. I have passed through these checkpoints several times in recent days. There are cameras set up and as you approach, these cameras take photos of your license plate so the agents know all about you before you even get to the stop! At one stop, they asked if I was a US Citizen and then waved me on. At another, they just waved me without any questions. My Dad was a US Customs officer and two of my brothers as well. Thank you for your service!

 

Dexter was waiting for me back at Wild Thing and after packing a snack and water we headed down the road to see the White Sands National Monument. It was about an hour drive from the campground, up and over the mountains with breathtaking scenery. Once over the mountains, a vast expanse of the desert floor made it easy to see why missiles are tested here. We drove by the White Sands Missile Range and Museum but didn’t have time to stop on this trip. I’ll save that for when DH is with me!

The White Sands National Monument is a spectacular sight,. As we approached the area I could see white sand dunes with low vegetation very similar to the dunes I’d seen at Cape Cod, but there was no water in sight, this is the middle of the desert! In the Visitors Center I watched a short film and toured the exhibits before heading out to the dunes. A $5.00 fee bought me the 8-mile drive into the dunes area and the ticket is good for 6 days making it quite a bargain.  As we drove, the vegetation became more and more sparse and the dunes became larger and larger. Before long I felt like I had been transported to the Sahara! Dexter absolutely loved this place. He has always enjoyed the sand at the beach but was not thrilled with water, so this place was absolute heaven for him! He also seemed to just love the feel of the sand under his paws…and on his nose! I too thoroughly enjoyed this tour and hope to return again in the future.

On our drive back to the campground, I stopped in Las Cruces to pick up a package of trailer stuff I ordered from Amazon. My Escape Trailer Friends Charlie and Lucy gave me some great advice when I saw them last week. They recommended an electric heater that they use instead of the furnace when they have access to electric power, as a way to save propane. Charlie also told me about a wireless thermostat that makes regulating this little heater very accurate. I placed an order for these items as well as a new water hose and water filter that my friends and fellow Escape owners Fred and Dora recommended. The hose I’ve been using has been a real struggle to wind up if it’s at all cold, so I’m anxious to try this cloth hose. The water filter will help keep my fresh water holding tank clean. I also ordered a 30 amp power extension cord. I don’t want to get caught short again and have to re-hitch to reach the power source.  I placed the order on Amazon with a shipping address of a local UPS Store. The package arrived in just two days and the UPS store didn’t even charge me for the service. Nice!

Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat

Nashone Wireless Thermostat for Heater

Zero-G 5/8" Water Hose

Camco TastPure Water Filter

Camco 30 Amp Electric Extension Cord

This morning I tidied the camper and truck, then hitched up and moved to site 17…two sites down from where I was. It was worth it to be able to spend an additional night and enjoy the winter solstice program.  I'm going to stay hitched up tonight since I'm leaving tomorrow. This afternoon I enjoyed the “Turning Back the Sun” program sponsored by this state park. I ate buffalo stew (very yummy and spicy!) and pizza and bread baked in a Horno, a traditional adobe oven of the Pueblo People. I watched a presentation by Dr. Jawor about how animals adapt to the changing seasons and light and the Native Dances of the Pueblo People. I attended a presentation about the petroglyphs and the solstice, enjoyed traditional Navajo storytelling around the campfire, then gazed at the stars through powerful telescopes. It was a rich and rewarding day. I hope you enjoy the pictures and videos.  Tomorrow I will move on…somewhere down the road yet to be decided….

https://youtu.be/tjpgDuLgN98

https://youtu.be/putlXP27NNs

https://youtu.be/LV9zGvZxd5c

 

Leasburg Dam State Park, Chachis, Dos Equis Cerveza

Leaving Van Horn behind in the rain this morning, I headed further down I10 West. I had only a 3.5-hour drive today and gained an hour entering Mountain Time. The rain and fog continued through El Paso and then the skies began to clear as I entered New Mexico. I turned on the I25 and headed north out of Las Cruces toward the Organ Mountains. The landscape is a beautiful desert terrain ringed by majestic mountain ranges. The little settlement of Radium Springs has only a few small houses, trailers, and a Family Dollar Store and a Post Office. The Leasburg Dam State Park, on the other hand, is a diamond in the rough! The park is very well maintained, the campsites are large semi-circular pull-throughs with a concrete pad for the camper and a lovely shelter over a picnic table, water and electric with a fire pit for $14.00 a night!

When I arrived, the camp host asked if I was staying for the program on Saturday night, "Turning Back the Sun". I had only made a reservation through Friday night and did not know about the program at that time. He told me it is quite an event, a celebration of the Winter Solstice with many cultural activities running from noon until 8pm : Pueblo Indian social dances, Buffalo Stew, Hot Coco and Adobe Horno baked Pueblo Bread and Pizza, Traditional Winter and Coyote Stories from Dine', Apache, Pueblo, and Blackfeet Peoples, as well as Stargazing with the Astronomy Society of Las Cruces who will bring their big telescopes. As soon as I had my rig parked in space #21, I got on my smartphone to extend my reservation. Someone else had already reserved my campsite, #21 for Saturday, but I was able to reserve campsite #17 for Saturday night, and it was the only spot left available! Later, I was speaking with the ranger at the Visitors Center and we found that #17 had also been booked for Saturday but the folks had canceled their reservation just an hour before I made mine. What luck I have! I'm so excited that I can stay and enjoy this traditional festival on Saturday. The visitors center had much to offer:

Dexter and I took a short walk after setting up camp. It's still cool, in the upper 40's but the wind has calmed.

I went out for a taste of local Mexican food in the neighboring town of Dona Ana at a quaint place called Chachis. I knew I was in for a treat when the only folks there were local Spanish folks and a couple of Border Patrol agents! The food was delicious but spicy hot! I have forgotten what real traditional Mexican food tastes like... An ice-cold cerveza helped cool my taste buds!

I've seen many rabbits hopping around the campsite. They are normal sized and brownish grey in color,  but have exceptionally large white fluffy tails! I also saw a covey of Gambel's Quail. I hope to get some wildlife photos while I'm here. The birds and wildlife are quite abundant here on the desert floor. I also plan to get out to the White Sands National Monument. Tomorrow is forecast to be chilly and rainy so it may be a crafting day. Friday and Saturday look sunny and clear so I should be able to get out with the camera then. My brother-in-law David from Alaska will be in Hatch, NM on Friday morning as he travels through the area to Santa Fe so we have made a plan to meet for brunch. What a nice surprise that is! It will be great to see him.

I leave you tonight with a video of my campsite at sunset.

https://youtu.be/ok-rEbBhc4Y

 

 

Amazing World, Emerging Beauty, and Enchanted Hike

What an amazing world we live in! Yesterday I had an opportunity to photograph a chrysalis and watched a new life as it emerged into the sunlight. Today I was graced by a visit from a lovely new friend and shared a spectacular hike up an Enchanted Rock. There is so much beauty to be found in the world, but it can be easily overlooked as we try to navigate our challenging and changing times. I believe that in the face of these challenges, it is more important than ever to draw on the beauty and order of the natural world as a means to balance and strengthen our hearts. I encourage you to spend an hour or two each week in a place of natural beauty and see what a wonderfully positive impact it will have on your life! This morning started with a bit of rain so my friend Sandy and I decided it would be best to wait a while before heading out on our hike. I took advantage of these few hours to work on sewing the binding on a quilt I brought with me.

By mid-morning the rain was moving out so I jumped in my truck headed for Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg. Sandy was already on her way there from Driftwood, TX, just southwest of Austin.  Sandy and her husband Don were the very first RV folks I met in the very first campground I stayed in with Wild Thing, all the way up north of Seattle, WA in a little town called Bothell. Now, what are the chances that I would meet such a great couple so far from home, and what are the chances that we would be able to meet up again so soon! Life is an exciting adventure and I am frequently in awe of its elegant unfolding. Sandy and I "clicked" right away and so I was happy when she offered to drive the hour and a half to meet me while I'm in the area so we could spend this time together! She suggested a hike at Enchanted Rock which is a massive pink granite dome that rises up out of the landscape of the hill country. The summit trail was 0.67 miles and was moderately challenging but the views were spectacular all along the trail. The dark clouds moved off shortly after we arrived and we were left with beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds to augment the rugged landscape. We both enjoyed the hike and our visit.

 

 

Here's a link to a little video I took of the 360 degree view from the top!

https://youtu.be/e98nL5QLhSM

 

This evening I downloaded the photos I took yesterday with my Nikon of the butterflies and chrysalis in the flower garden in Fredericksburg. I was completely enamored with the chrysalis. It is amazing to me that a butterfly as large as the monarch fits in something so small. I was also curious about the shimmering gold spots and found this article that helps explain the phenomenon.

As I was photographing the chrysalis, I looked down and saw a monarch crawling up a leaf directly below. When I looked closer, I saw that this butterfly had actually just emerged from his own chrysalis! Although I didn't capture the moment he emerged, it was pretty exciting snapping these pictures of him next to his empty chrysalis!

Tomorrow Dexter and I will hitch up and head north up I10 towards New Mexico. I plan to stop for the night in Van Horn, Texas, the little town I moved to when we left Vermont. The past few days in Texas has been quite a trip down memory lane. I have years of memories scattered all around this state and it has been good to travel back and touch some of them again.

 

 

 

Recipe for Friendship, K9 Sport Sack, Dreaming of Sedona

Recipe for a Fun and Lasting Friendship

Mix two parts fun-loving adventurers from New Hampshire, two parts warm-and-wonderful adventurers from San Antonio, one part wacky Wild Thing from Massachuestts.  Toss them gently together and sprinkle liberally with wine!

I was honored today by a visit from two exceptional couples (and fellow Escape Trailer owners)! I met these terrific folks this past May at the Escape Trailer Appreciation Rally in Osoyoos, BC. We became fast friends during the wine tour portion of the rally and have stayed in touch since. I was fortunate to visit Lucy and Charlie on several occasions at their home in New Hampshire. They live just 2 hours from me in MA! I was also lucky to meet up with Dora and Fred again on one of those trips to NH while they were also visiting Lucy and Charlie. Dora and Fred are full-time RV’ers and they hail from San Antonio, TX. Lucy and Charlie just happened to be visiting Dora and Fred in San Antonio this week, and so they all drove to Kerrville to see me and Dexter today! What fun we had. It’s such an amazing thing to meet people who have the same passion for travel and adventure that you do! We all missed you, Steve!

We enjoyed a  spectacular lunch at a local gem called Grape Juice. Our server, Lanette, was a delight! She's from Ohio and a fellow traveler! Thank you for the excellent service today Lanette, and thank you, Janice, for introducing me to this great restaurant! Everyone loved the brussels sprouts!

I love these people and am so fortunate to have had an opportunity to share a meal with them and to give them the grand tour of Wild Thing. They were all so helpful and supportive of me during the trailer build process, giving me tips on which supplies to bring on the trip, and coaching me on the fine points of handling the rig. Today they provided even more helpful pointers and equipment suggestions. I’ll soon be investing in a new hose, a space heater, and a water filter as soon as I can find a Camping World!   Lucy and Charlie will also be heading for Tucson in a few days and will also be staying at the Catalina State Park over the Christmas Holiday! Jingle Bells!! It will be an Escape Christmas in Tucson! They will then join Dora and Fred for a guided tour down the Baja Peninsula. That trip is on my wishlist, but not feasible for this year! I'll be following their journey closely though and wish them safe travels Maybe they will catch up with Glen in Baja!

Dexter was happy to see everyone, after his initial barking-fit-intruder-alert-moment. He is my protector and showed it today! After he calmed down, we modeled his new backpack for everyone. I purchased this dog backpack just before I left for this trip and am thrilled with the product. It’s a K9 Sport Sack and allows me to carry him comfortably on my back. I will be taking some hikes that will be too long for his little 2” legs to keep up with, so this will give me a way to carry him in a way that’s comfortable for both of us. I tried carrying him in a cross body bag, and a purse-like bag, but both were too hard on my back. This pack sits high up so he can see over my shoulder and it’s very comfortable.  He won’t be in it for more than an hour or two but it will be a lifesaver when I need it!

After my visit with the Escape gang, I lay down with a book and promptly fell asleep! I realized that I have been on-the-go for several days and a bit of downtime was in order. I ’m feeling refreshed tonight and glad I took a little time to recharge

Dexter and I have taken three good walks today, so we are getting plenty of fresh air, exercise, and sunshine. I saw this lovely creature on the path…is it a butterfly or a moth?

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This evening, I spent a few hours researching places to go after my stay in Las Cruces, NM,  and before Catalina State Park in Tucson. I have 10 days between those two stops and I’m considering a trip to Sedona, AZ. Steve and I loved the area when we visited briefly last fall and I have been itching to get back there.  I found a campground where I can stay 7 nights on the 50% off Passport America rate of $20.00 a night. Not bad at all for the area. I’ll call them tomorrow to see if they have availability.

I’m planning to take a ride to Fredericksburg tomorrow morning and visit the St. Mary’s Cemetery where my parents are buried and depending on how crowded it is, I may poke around the town a bit. Fredericksburg has grown into quite a top-notch tourist destination with shopping, vineyards, and wineries. There were plenty of Holiday shoppers out when I drove through the town on Friday and I’m not too interested in fighting crowds so I’ll play it by ear tomorrow. Maybe I can sneak in early....