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Northern New Mexico

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17 Oct 11:  Having finished our tour of the Hovenweep ruins, it was time to move on. Trying to keep a bit ahead of Old Man Winter, we continued on our generally southerly course. We hit four states today as we passed within a few hundred yards of Four Corners, USA.  Breakfast in Utah, lunch in Arizona and dinner in New Mexico, along with a few miles through Colorado.

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Hmmm - which state is most colorful? Any votes for Colorado? <G>

Tell you what - we've never seen so many beer bottles littering the sides of the highways as in the Four Corners area. Tons of 'em!

 Dominating the skyline west of Farmington is Shiprock Peak, a uniquely-jagged (for this area) mountain. It is the remains of a solidified lava core, of a dormant 40 million year old volcanic pinnacle. The Navajo name is Tsé Bit' A'í - Rock With Wings. The peak was first scaled in 1939, but out of deference to the native Americans who deem it a sacred place, climbing is now banned. nm026

 

This was mail week, with a pickup scheduled in Kirtland, NM. But uh-oh - nothing there. What do we do now, Coach? Well, we needed a major reprovisioning of supplies, so we found the nearest Wally World about 10 miles away in Farmington. We checked with management and overnight parking was allowed. In return for their hospitality, we dropped a bunch of bucks there.

18 Oct 11: After a second round of shopping at W-M this morning, we called the Kirtland PO and lo and behold they said our mail was there. That meant a 10-mile backtrack to the west and then back again, since our destination was Navajo Lake State Park east of Farmington.

We arrived at Navajo Lake about 1430 and stopped at the Visitor Center to purchase an annual camping pass. This is truly a great deal that New Mexico offers, and can save campers a bundle if they're going to be in the state for more than three weeks. The pass costs $225 and is good for 12 months from date of purchase. It waives daily entry fees and provides a hefty discount for camping: sites without hookups are free and with electricity they are only $4.00 a night. This is a nightly savings of $10.

We got a very pleasant site overlooking the lake. This morning we awoke to this sunrise over the lake.

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24 Oct 11: Time to move on down the road a bit. The weather forecast is starting to mention snow again, so we'll head a little further southward. We had a relaxing six-day stay at Navajo Lake SP - nice to loaf for a few days. It was our longest stop yet since leaving home in New England Labor Day.

It did get a little busy over the weekend and we had close neighbors on both sides. The folks on one side asked if they could intrude a bit on our site to put up a large tent in addition to their little trailer. They were nice folks and we assented; no problems - they were quiet and pleasant. They even gave us some freshly-snagged landlocked salmon yesterday as they were getting ready to leave.

Another neighbor was this arachnid that visited our site one afternoon. As long as he stays out of my bed......

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navajo lake27 The month of October is big for fishing at Navajo Lake. Everyone stands along the lakeshore "snagging" the salmon. No bait is used, just a large, mean-looking hook that the salmon go after. A quick jerk on the line will set the hook. I don't think I'd feel too comfortable standing in that line with all those hooks flying past.
Along the road this morning was this rock formation that got our attention. It very much resembles a gnome sitting on a rock, holding a box in his lap.

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6699 Our travels today took us through Chama, home to the narrow gauge Cumbres & Toltec Railroad. Unfortunately we were a week too late to take a ride on it - it closed for the season on 16 October. At least I had a good time wandering through the yards taking some pictures.

We arrived at our day's destination, Heron Lake State Park, about 1330. Lots of empty sites, so no problem getting a site.

25 Oct 11: Heron Lake was just an overnight stop, especially when we found that none of the campsites in the loop that was open had a view of the lake. Besides, the weather forecast is sounding a little wintry again, with snow expected in northern New Mexico tomorrow. Thus we'll amble on southward a bit further.

However, Gumby was with us today: we didn't make it to our planned destination down near Santa Fe. Instead we decided to stop at Echo Amphitheater north of Abiquiu. It caught our eye as we were passing by, so we pulled in to check it out. Allowing as to how there was a nice little Forest Service campground there, we decided to call it quits for the day (I mean, gee, it was getting late - almost lunchtime! <G>) and spend the night. After lunch we took a short walk up to the amphitheater - pretty impressive.

echo amp04 This natural theater was eroded out of the sandstone cliff. It's very interesting to notice that there is virtually no rock rubble below the bowl.
As for the red stains, here's what Wikipedia says: In the spring of 1861 a group of settlers from Iowa who began farming in northern New Mexico were set upon by a band of Navajo who had ventured into the region. The settlers were taken to the top of the natural amphitheater and executed. Their blood spilled down from the top of the amphitheater staining its walls. Three years later, when the Navajo were being forced on the "Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo by the U.S. Army, ten of the strongest Navajo men were taken to the top of the amphitheater where they were killed in retribution for the earlier deaths. Once again, blood spilled down the walls of the amphitheater. The blood of all the victims seeped into the pores of the rock and dried. It is still visible today as a reminder of the fragility of life. It is said that in the echos returned from the cliff's walls one can hear the anguished cries of both the settlers and the Navajo. echo amp23

30 Oct 11: I was chastised today by Don M. for getting behind in my posting, so here ya go. Thanks to the second winter storm warning of our trip, we decided to forego Santa Fe and after our night at Echo Amphitheater we headed on down to the FAMCAMP at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque on the 26th. A stay of several days gave us the chance to do a few errands: we needed a new electric heater, our printer died a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to schedule my semi-annual dental cleaning at the University of New Mexico Division of Dental Hygiene. It turns out some other LD'ers were in town this weekend - Mike & Elizabeth Coachman from Florida paid us a visit. Great to put faces to familiar names.

1 Nov 11: Ah, time to leave the big city and head back out to the boonies. My dentist appointment yesterday went very well; I can recommend the UNM Division of Dental Hygiene for anyone traveling through the area who may need some dental care. I called on Friday and was given a 0900 Monday morning appointment - can't beat that.

Before hitting the road, we dumped our grey and black tanks and filled the fresh water tank, so we once again have the ability to rough it for up to nine days, if desired or necessary. We filled the gas tank yesterday - wow, gas is down to $3.01 in Albuquerque!

As we left Kirtland AFB, we were on Gibson Blvd, once part of the fabled Route 66. Left over from those glory days of yesteryear was this tiled car perched atop an arch in front of an old diner. An old Chevy Bel Air? nm050

Then we were off, west-bound on the dreaded interstate, to the El Malpais National Conservation Area south of Grants, NM. Along the way, Liz proved her prowess with the camera: as we came around a corner and under a railroad bridge, a train suddenly came whizzing by in the opposite direction. She grabbed the camera from the floor, got it turned on and snapped a pretty good photo of it. Good job, Liz!

nm054 Arriving at El Malpais about noon, we had some lunch and then set off for a little exploring. Our first stop was at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook. From this elevated location one can look out over the lava field, now pretty much covered with vegetation. Across the valley is the Chain of Craters, a 30 mile length of former volcanoes. You can easily see the crater of this one.
About 8 miles south of the Visitors Center is La Ventana Natural Arch, the second-largest arch in New Mexico. Below are some of the other formations in the La Ventana area.

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Then we returned to the Joe Skeen Campground which is just south of the Visitors Center. It's a nice little no-fee campground operated by the BLM. It looks like today may be the last warm pleasant day for a while - a cold front is due through tonight lowering daytime temperatures by 20 degrees. Tomorrow night's low is forecast in the teens.

2 Nov 11: In anticipation of the cold weather, we decided to move to Bluewater State Park, northwest of Grants, for a few days to take advantage of its electric hookups. With temperatures forecast down into the teens it seemed like a good idea. The drive to Bluewater SP was only about 45 miles - just our kind of day. We paralleled I-40 on what was once the old US-66 highway.

nm062 The road back up to Grants follows along the edge of the lava field. This is typical of the appearance of El Malpais - lava flows from ancient volcanoes. The most recent is thought to have occurred about 3000 years ago.

We arrived at Bluewater shortly before noon to find the campground completely empty, leaving us a full choice of sites. Later in the afternoon one other camper arrived for the night. Although the forecasters were close, it got down to only 21 this morning.

Along one side of the campground is Bluewater Canyon. After lunch today we went for a hike down to the floor of the canyon and along the creek. The path crosses the creek twice and we were stymied at the second crossing by beavers, one of whose dams had flooded the crossing; we had to retrace our steps back to the campground. At the top of the canyon is an 80' concrete arch dam, built in 1925, which contains Bluewater Lake.

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bluewater36 5 Nov 11: The weather guessers were right - just before daybreak today the cold front passed, bringing with it a drastic drop in temperatures, high winds and snow! The temperature dropped 20 degrees in 2 hours, winds gusted to 42 mph and we looked out to find white ground. We're comfy, so we'll enjoy a quiet day; perhaps we'll start to watch the 8 hours of Lonesome Dove that we DVR'd before leaving home.

6 Nov 11: Time to head for warmer climes! Enough of this snow and cold - more forecast for tomorrow. We scrapped our plan of heading down to Pie Town and instead made Elephant Butte Lake State Park down near Truth or Consequences our destination.

We followed the route of old US-66 from Prewitt (near Bluewater Lake SP) down through Grants and beyond before getting on I-40 for a few miles. At San Fidel we passed the remains of an old Whiting Brothers gas station and motel. All that is left of the motel is a large expanse of grown-over pavement. At one time the four Whiting Bros. owned about a hundred gas stations, 40 of which were along US-66. The coming of the intersate highways followed by the gas crisis of the 1970's spelled the demise of the Whiting Bros empire.

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We cut down across NM-6 from I-40 to I-25. At San Antonio (no, not Texas), we were able to escape the interstate by traveling south on NM-1.

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Most of the old windmills one sees out here are nothing more than rusted towers, but today we passed a complete, working one.

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North of Truth or Consequences on NM-1 we came across this old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe RR sleeping car. It probably was once part of the famous Super Chief, flagship of the Santa Fe RR. Not sure how it got here - the nearest railroad is now miles away.

We arrived at Elephant Butte Lake SP about 1430 and found a nice site with a great view of the lake. The only problem is that the lake is a lot farther away than it ought to be - the water level is down 120 feet! Between drought and politics, the Rio Grande River can't keep up.

13 Nov 11: Here we are, a week later, after a relaxing week at Elephant Butte Lake SP. With a mail pickup awaiting us in Hurley, over near Silver City, it's time to head over that way. Our route followed the Geronimo Trail from Truth or Consequences to Caballo and then west along NM 152 through the historic towns of Hillsboro and Kingston, over Emory Pass at 8200' and then southwest to City of Rocks State Park.

nm073 Heading west from Calballo on NM 152, one finds fairly level terrain with lots of ranches. At one we spotted this interesting arrangement of three horses up on the roof, as well as that neat cab from an old pickup truck. Apparently folks out here seem to hang on to old, out-of-service vehicles - in front yards everywhere one sees old junked cars and trucks.

A little further westward the road begins winding upwards, mostly rather gradually. It looks level, but one can sense the engine working.

Hillsboro, once a bustling mining town, is now a bit run-down.

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West of Hillsboro the highway begins the climb up to Emory Pass, elevation 8200'. This is NOT a gradual climb such as we had enjoyed east of Hillsboro.

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As we neared City of Rocks State Park, we saw a glimpse or two of sun on the distant hills, even though there were sprinkles of rain hitting the windshield.

14 Nov 11: What an amazing place City of Rocks State Park is. There are 45 primitive campsites nestled around and among a massive "city" of stone pillars, eroded from the hardened ash of a huge volcanic eruption 35 million years ago. A trail winds across, over and between the rocks - being thin helps.

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15 Nov 11: Today we drove through Silver City northwestward to Glenwood, where we found the USFS's Bighorn Campground at the edge of town. It wasn't much to write home about, but it would provide a good base-camp for investigating the Cat Walk, an area that several people had tiold us we shouild not miss.  Turns out they were right - it was an incredible place to explore.

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Back in 1880's, gold and silver were discovered in the Mogollon Mountains. By the early 1890's the town of Graham had sprung up as home to an ore-processing mill. The mill needed water to run its generator, so a 4" pipeline was built three miles up through Whitewater Canyon to bring the water down. Only 4 years later, a new, larger generator required the building of a larger 18" pipeline. By 1908 the mining came to an end and the mill and pipeline were dismantled. In the 1930's the CCC built a wooden walkway using the supports that held up the pipeline. In 1961 the US Forest Service replaced the wooden walkway with steel. There is a 1.1 mile trail up through the canyon.

Here are more pictures from our trek through the canyon.

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17 Nov 11: After our hike along the Cat Walk, we drove up to Datil Well BLM Campground on US-60 west of Sorocco. A simple little campground, but pleasant enough. The weather, however, could have been a little more pleasant. Skies were perfectly clear when we arrived at sunset. With no wind and the clear skies, the temperature started falling like a rock as soon as the sun disappeared. By 8 PM it was down to 29. How low did it go, you might ask? How about 17 degrees! Needless to say, we turned on the furnace when we woke up, and then crawled back into bed to wait for it to warm up a tad. After some hot oatmeal for breakfast, we were on our way. About 20 miles east of Datil Well is the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) radio telescope complex.

The EVLA facility consists of 27 large, moveable radio telescopes that "listen" to radio emissions from deep space. They are so sensitive that they could pick up a weak cell phone signal on the planet Jupiter! Come along with us on a self-guided tour and learn how these 230 ton dishes are moved.

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 Ahead is yet more of our winter visit to New Mexico.