Palo Duro Canyon

Road Trip: Denver to Dallas (and Back)

I’ve made the trip to and fro Texas to Colorado many times.  Having said that, I haven’t made too many stops along the way.  Usually, I’m destination bound.  This year, I decided to make the road trip more interesting and found a variety of places to stop along the way.

These are some of the best luxury and nature places to visit between Denver and Dallas:



Fortunately, my friend Nancy is self-employed and has a flexible schedule like me.  As such, she was able to join me for dinner and a festive night at The Broadmoor.  The luxury resort is always adorned in Christmas lights during the holidays and it is fun to see the exquisite resort decked out in decorations.

Getting to the resort Tuesday afternoon was a bit rough given an accident on I-25 that held up traffic for 45 minutes, but I suppose our day was better than those involved in the crash.  We eventually arrived around five, got a room with a lovely view in the west tower, and strolled past the lake to Happy Hour where we enjoyed a drink and snacks at The Hotel Bar before enjoying a fancy dinner at The Summit.

Nancy order the “Angry Trout”, the Summit’s signature dish.  The fish is cooked with its tail pulled through its mouth, so it looks “Angry”.  I went with two appetizers: a mushroom, truffle bisque which was very rich and tasty as well as a magnificent bowl of mussels.  We ended the night enjoying the lights around the lake.


The Palmer Trail is located in Bear Creek Cañon Park which is owned by Colorado Springs.  The trailhead was only a 15 minute drive from the Broadmoor into the foothills very near the Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

The Palmer Trail (section 16) was a bit of a misnomer at first.  We couldn’t find any trail signs that mentioned it.  We knew we were completing a loop however, so we followed the directions to Red Rock Loop which was also the most heavily traveled trail.

After about 1/2 mile we reached a trail junction with a detailed map and a post directing us up a steep slope which turned into several switchbacks.  We climbed for most of the next two miles or so before reaching a summit which afforded excellent views!

The trail, mostly a soft red dirt, led us through the forest down to High Drive, a dirt road blanketed in a thin layer of icy snow.  We took short careful steps along road before reaching the paved surface where we climbed to the car.  I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about having to walk on a paved road, but it wasn’t for very long, and otherwise the 5.2 mile hike was quite nice.



Capulin Volcano National Monument is home to an extinct volcano which erupted 60,000 years.  The national monument offers five trails which are all very short in length with the longest being two miles.  As such, the whole park may visited in an afternoon.

The most popular trails appeared to be the Crater Rim Trail and the Crater Vent Trail both located at the parking area by the cinder cone after driving the spiral road to the top.  For those who don’t like ledges like me, this was not the most exciting drive!

I hiked the Crater Rim Trail first which was the hardest in the sense of steepness.  The one-mile loop is paved, which was disappointing to me, but I can understand why as it circle the rim of the cone which rises over 1,300 feet above the plains and provides spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Next I followed the 0.2 mile Crater Vent Trail 105 feet down to the bottom of the crater and its plugged vent.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in the bottom of a volcano.

Finally, I drove back down toward the visitor’s center and stopped at the parking area for both Boca Trail and Lava Flow Trail.  Boca Trail is two miles while the Lava Flow Trail is only one mile.  I only felt like hiking one of the two paths, so I picked the longer one.  The path led me through dormant prairie grasses, scrub oak, junipers, pine trees, and chokecherry bushes for which the volcano is named.  Capulin is the Spanish word for chokecherry.

The information listed this two-mile hike as strenuous.  I didn’t find it to be difficult with the exception of stepping on small pieces of lava rock which seemed to roll on the hard surface making me slip a handful of times.

Overall, it was nice break to take from driving, though I don’t think this National Monument requires more than one visit.



I have visited this state park once before, but it was a gloomy day and I only completed a short hike.  This time, upon arrival, I asked the ranger, “How far into the park is the Lighthouse Trail?”

She answered, but then asked, “Are you an avid hiker? Because I think the Lighthouse Trail is flat and somewhat boring, whereas the Givens, Spice, Lowry Trail undulates past a variety of scenery and connects to the Lighthouse Trail.”

Having heard that, I decided to follow the trail named after runners who helped build it rather than the most popular trail in the park which is also responsible for the most heat related injuries and deaths to people and pets.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to worry about warm temperatures.  It was hardly 40 degrees when I started and the sun was struggling to peak out from the thin layer of clouds.  While I hoped the fiery ball in the sky would brightly shine on the myriad of colors in the rock striations, at the same time, I didn’t want to get too hot on the eight mile hike.

I skipped along the trail fairly quickly as I only had three hours to complete which was barely enough time to truly enjoy the hike, but I still managed to stop and snap photos of cacti, hoodoos, and canyon walls peppered in shades of purples, browns, and oranges just to name of few.

Eventually, I reached “the end” of the lighthouse trail, but I recalled the ranger mentioned I could climb up to the rock formation.  In addition, I saw some people scrambling on the rocks.  The climb was steep, but not too difficult, and completely worth the effort!

I walked out on a plateau “book-ended” by two towering formations which provided fantastic views of the expansive canyon below.  I noticed the couple I had spotted earlier continued up a steep path to the top of one of the formations…so cool!  I’m so glad I followed them up.

I didn’t spot any wild life while hiking, but passed a deer on my drive in and flushed a bevy of dove hidden in the thick brush as I turned the corner.  That made me jump!  I suspect the desert topography would be quite pretty in the spring when the cacti are blooming.  I’ll definitely have to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park again.


I was pleasantly surprised by this park.  With Palo Duro Canyon State Park being only an 1.5 hours away and being the second largest canyon in the United States, I believe Caprock Canyons State Park might get overlooked.  In addition, it is a little out of the way.

I arrived at this park on a very cold, overcast day, maybe 23 degrees.  While the weather muted the lovely colors of the canyon, I certainly kept cool while hiking and had the trail to myself!

The park offers a variety of trails.  I wanted to see the natural spring at Fern Cave, as such I connected three trails (Canyon Loop Trail, Upper Canyon Trail, and Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail) for an approximate 6.5 mile loop.  The trails are also named Trail D, C, and B, respectively that was helpful to know while following the trail markers.

This hike was fantastic!  At the beginning, I was lulled into a false sense of security while following a wide, smooth red trail past a variety of rock formations.  The information had suggested this was a strenuous hike, but at first this was not the case.  Soon, the wide trail turned into a single track which led me through a variety of vegetation.  All I could think was I’m glad I’m not here in the summer heat and bugs!

Soon I was following a wash and then I found myself climbing.  The climb was gradual up until I reached Fern Cave.  A small amount of water trickled over the rocks as I admired the ferns and ice-cycles at the same time!  From Fern Cave, the trail became a little confusing.  At a trail junction, a marker pointed with a large arrow to the left and a small arrow to the right but it didn’t indicate a trail letter.

As I climbed up, I remembered a split in the trail, and deduced the large arrow to the left that I was now seeing is just pointing to a return way back on the same trail C.  This turned out to be right, but I was certain until after referencing the map which suggested I needed to climb 0.2 miles to the highest point of the park before connecting to the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.  Fortunately, I had my Fitbit on and watched the mileage as I bounded to the top and found several trail signs.

This trail offered fantastic views and if it weren’t so cold, I likely would have meandered rather slowly.  Having finished the climb and being exposed to the wind, I fought off a chill by running portions of this flat section while stopping occasionally to admire the multi-colored cliffs.

Soon I reached the descent which seemed much steeper than the climb.  I followed several rock stairs down to the trail from which I began.  This would be a very challenging hike in the Texas heat.  While I wasn’t enthusiastic about the cold weather, only having to carry a couple bottles of water was far better than what would be needed in the summer as indicated by the countless signs warning hikers to turn around if they didn’t have water.  I really enjoyed the landscape changes and variety on this path.

I would definitely come back to see other trails, the bison and the bats which are all part of this park.


The Mansion is a famous, luxury hotel in Dallas where many of the stars stay.  Its dark, traditionally decorated bar serves of course serves pricey cocktails, and I couldn’t imagine how my friend, Phil Pritchett’s rock band would fit in, but it did.  He put on show, dancing, playing the guitar, and belting out English cover songs along with his bass and drum players.  The British Are Coming plays there about twice a month where several regulars come to see them.  In fact, the people watching is worth the price of admission!


Well, most people say the stadium itself is worth visiting, and I believe a tour may be arranged, but we went to see the Cowboys.  Unfortunately, they did not have a very good Christmas Eve.  Regardless, it’s fun to go to a game!



Adventure in ABQ…Green Chili, Balloon Fiesta, and the World’s Longest Tram

I don’t even know where to start. Our adventure in Albuquerque began well before we ever crossed the Colorado/New Mexico border. After Kristin and I piled our gear in my Outback Thursday afternoon in Denver’s southern suburbs, we joined the masses in traffic. Denver is the only city I know where rush hour seems to be finished by 5:30 instead of beginning. Torrential rains didn’t help matters either as we skidded along the pavement more than once. I suppose the best way to start and end a good, old-fashioned road trip is with a song of the day. When I drove around the USA for a year, I always posted a song of the day, and this trek reminded me a bit of those days. Sometimes I wish I still had my Eurovan.

So in honor of awesome roadtrips, my songs of the day for Thursday and Sunday plus a bonus track for all the rain we had to endure are: “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye (this song played twice in twenty minutes as we flipped the channels), “Animals” by Maroon 5 (I think this song played twice an hour…luckily Maroon 5 is one of my favorite bands), and “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher (I wanted to see him when I was in NYC last month but missed him, so it was a nice oldie but goodie I listened to at the end of the day when I broke out my ipod). I finally switched to Verizon and had to get a new phone, so my music isn’t hooked up to my car yet, thus the old ipod and old playlist.,,

Our long dark, wet drive was going to land us in Albuquerque late at night, so with no hurry to get to the Days Inn, a last-minute hotel reservation, we stopped in Trinidad for dinner at Bella Luna Pizzeria for wood fire pizza. We stuck out in the small town and got a few stares from the locals, but I have to say our server, Marybeth, was fantastic. She explained, “My nephew asked me if I was pregnant, and I said, no, it’s all that pizza and beer!” I must say, we enjoyed tasty salads and pizza and Marybeth steered us in the right direction for the correct size pie.

If we were to judge Days Inn on our first impression, we may not have set foot in the room. Upon arrival, a police officer hung out in his car across the street, the office door was locked, and the desk clerk with no sense of urgency eventually strolled to the bullet proof glass window and asked if we had a reservation. After responding yes, I expected him to let two innocent girls into the lobby and out of the cold night air. Not so. He replied, “just a minute” and disappeared for a while as he searched for our reservation that he couldn’t find. Lucky for us, his mother came out and told him to let us in!

After I exchanged my credit card for plastic room keys and asked a question about the balloon fiesta that they couldn’t answer, the mother handed us the remote controls to the televisions. That was a new experience. I looked at Kristin and apologized in advance of climbing the stairs to our second story room. Much to our surprise, each queen bed had four pillows, the bathroom was remodeled with granite, and we had a refrigerator and microwave…all for $76 a night. And, frankly it turned out to be a perfect location for the weekend. I’d actually stay there again!

Friday morning’s original plan called for hiking 10 miles to the top of Sandia Crest and riding the tram down, however, the weather had a different idea for us. The mountain range was engulfed in clouds and the sky to the east was pitch black most of the day. Instead, we made up our own culinary tour. First, we crossed the street and tried out The Grove, a restaurant I read about on a T&L tweet. It is known for its burrito with green chili which didn’t disappoint. My sinuses cleared instantly! From what I understand, it is also a stop for “Breaking Bad” actors.

From downtown Albuquerque, we traveled on to Old Town, a historic area founded in 1906, which was home to plazas surrounded by adobe buildings full of shops, restaurants, and churches. We window shopped, looked at the typical southwestern pottery and art, and stopped in at the Candy Lady who makes the blue rock candy which is supposed to resemble crystal meth on “Breaking Bad”.

Soon it was lunchtime and we had already scoped out our spot, Quesadilla Grille, situated on a patio off the main plaza and home to the best street taco in town according to its sign. I might have to agree. My chicken tacos were delicious, and Kristin’s were tasty too. She washed her tacos down with Marble Brewery’s Double White IPA which won the best IPA in the country at the Great American Beer Festival just last week! The good news for us was that the brewery was just 3/4 of a mile from our hotel, so after we visited the Rattlesnake Museum, guess what made our next stop on the list!?!,

So who can pass up a rattlesnake museum with only a $5 entry fee. Little did I know how many different types of rattle snakes there were, WOW! And believe it or not, snakes live longer in captivity, so I suppose I can’t even feel sorry for them being enclosed in an aquarium. The museum also housed some tortoises and a snapping turtle and provided countless statistics about snakes that I never knew.

After a short break at the hotel and a stop at Marble Brewery, our culinary tour continued at Hotel Parq Central’s Apothecary Lounge. This hotel was conveniently located just down the street from the Days Inn, and I’m guessing by its fanciness, it is where the Breaking Bad actors might stay. The Apothecary Lounge is the hotel’s rooftop restaurant which offers a splendid view of the sunset when the weather is better than what we experienced. We enjoyed a nice olive plate with our cocktails as the storm clouds rolled by.

From here, we moved onto Nob Hill, just further east on Central Street (also Route 66). We felt like we had eaten enough New Mexican for the day, so chose Thai food. Thai Cuisine II was packed with locals and supported a healthy take out business. We scored a ten on meals today and are looking forward to a fun day at the Balloon Fiesta tomorrow. Lucky for us, we never planned to see the balloons on Friday as they weren’t flying with all the weather.

Saturday, we arose at 4:30 am and arrived at the Cliff’s Park N Ride just 5 miles north of our hotel on I-25 by 5:15. The parking lot was filled with school buses, lined up and ready to cart us off to the launch field for the bargain price of $12 for the morning session. By 5:45, we were settled in the dark on the edge of the field waiting on the dawn patrol. The dawn patrol goes out first to determine whether the mass ascension may take place. A green flag is raised if the mass ascension is “a go”. There was hardly a gust of wind and the temperature was simply divine this early morning, so all the balloons launched.

IMG_6636 orange

As the sun rose, ballooners laid out their balloons and filled them with gas. The first one to launch carried the American Flag. Slowly, more and more filled the sky and slowly floated away from us. I was surprised we could stand in the middle of the chaos. We stood so close to one team, Air Rocky Top, that they gave us their trading card. They came all the way from New York.

I was like a kid in the candy store watching the different colors and shapes raise up from the ground. I was trying to decide which balloon was my favorite, but I’m not sure I could decide. I loved the shapes, but some of the regular balloons really light up. I enjoyed being in the thick of it. At times, we were encircled by launching balloons. I think it would have also been interesting to stand on the raised pathway at the north end of the field to look down at the masses as the balloons passed overhead.

Hundreds of balloons launched within a few hours. I thought all of them would, so I was surprised to find a few remained anchored when we wandered off to check out the wood carving competition with chainsaws. After strolling by the variety of food and trinket vendors, we waited in the long line for the park n’ ride. We could have stayed all day for the music fest that took place in between the morning and afternoon sessions, but that would have been some day.

Instead, we took short afternoon nap, investigated downtown, watched some college ball at the Library Bar, revisited Marble Brewery and made our way back to the park for the glow that was to begin at 5:45. I don’t think it was necessary to arrive at the park n’ ride at 4:30 for this event, especially because none of the balloonists began the static glow at 5:45. I’m not sure why they would, given it wasn’t dark. I was looking forward to seeing all the balloons anchored down and glowing in the 300+ acre field, but a storm was brewing in the west. By the time some of the balloonists got their balloons up, they were getting blown over by the gusty winds. We decided the glow was going to be a bust and headed to the bus line…an excellent choice. I felt sorry for the families that planned to stay for the fireworks at 8pm as we made it beneath the cover of the tents just before the downpour!

Quite a few folks got drenched while our timing and luck seemed to continue all weekend. The storm was brief and the fireworks show did go on, but we were already headed back to the hotel and preparing to go to the Route 66 Casino to see Kristin’s brother who happened to be traveling through. What a coincidence! We threw a $20 at the slots expecting to lose it. I came home with $20.94. What a good day!

Our luck continued Sunday morning. We planned on riding the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram on our way out of town for our final tourist attraction in Albuquerque. It was another good choice as the mass ascension didn’t take place due to wind. I’m glad I didn’t get up at 4:30am to see a failed launch! Instead, we made sure to arrive at the tram site by 8:30…BRILLIANT! We were the last to join the 9am tram ride 2.7 miles up the mountain, and by the time we left the line was out the door and down to the parking lot.

The world’s longest aerial tram rises from 6,550 feet to 10,378 feet in about 15 minutes. During that time, the tram operator provides a variety of information about the rock formations and history of the area. At the top of the mountain there are a few trails to choose from, though we hadn’t planned to hike. It’s a good thing as it was rather windy. After a short time at the summit to enjoy the lovely views, we took the tram back down and waved good-bye to Albuquerque.

Thanks to the weather and being a neophyte at the balloon festival, I think I could go back again, especially since it is a such an inexpensive weekend. I could get in a hike, shoot for sunset drinks at the Apothecary Lounge again, and ask the ballooners a few more questions about their lifestyle. At the same time, there are many other places in the world to see, so I’m completely content with checking this off my bucket list too, as I got to see the mass ascension which was my main purpose of going! Next stop…Big D…looking forward to seeing my fellow Texans in the days to come. ETB

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Adventure in Albuquerque



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Big Arsenic Trail, New Mexico

August 2012

Today we broke up a 20 mile bike ride through the BLM Wild Rivers Area in New Mexico into approximately two ten miles parts with a short 2 mile hike.

Big Arsenic Trail led us past junipers from the rim of the gorge down 800 feet to the Rio Grand River, a spring, and petroglyphs.  Thank goodness the trail was very well maintained, as we hiked down in bike shoes!

Further up river, at La Junta Point, is the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande.  After a short stop here, we spun back to the car on an undulating road.  A great morning ride! ETB




Columbine Creek Trail Toward Lobo Peak

August 2012

The August morning in the shaded Carson National Forest was at bit brisk at the start of our hike toward Lobo Peak.  The Columbine Canyon Trail followed the Columbine Creek, complete with a delightful waterfall, beneath the pines as it gradually climbed from 7,800 feet to 8,400 over a 4 mile stretch before it led us an open meadow home to several chipmunks.


After resting on a fallen tree for a few minutes, we followed some cairns to a trail that led us toward Lobo Peak.  Over the next 3.5 miles the terrain turned from flat to steep, with multiple switchbacks traversing the mountain to control the grade, as the trail gained 3,000 feet to a mountain top where we stopped for lunch.  This climb definitely got our heart rates up!  From the no-named peak, a few miles away from Lobo Peak, the Taos ski area came into view as well as scars that the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range bears from gold mining blasts from a century ago.


At 11,800 feet we quickly cooled down and broke out the jackets before eventually backtracking to the trailhead, finishing the 15 mile hiking in 6.5 hours including our lunch break…fast!   ETB


Day 294 – National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Day 294 – National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Before I began a long drive from Albuquerque to Wichita
Falls on an extremely windy day;
tumbleweeds bounced across the highway as dust filled the sky; I stopped
at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  The museum included exhibits on WWII, the
Manhattan Project, nuclear scientists, the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis,
the falling of the Berlin Wall, and a variety of weapons, some still in use

Not having been interested in history as a teenager, the
exhibit on the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, and World War II were truly
mindboggling, especially the numbers of people in multi-millions who were
killed.  It’s hard to imagine everyone in
the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex plus millions more being murdered by a government.

The exhibits included information on how nuclear fission and
fusion was discovered, the names of the scientists from all over the world who
recognized the power, and how the decision was made to drop the atomic
bomb.  It also included prototypes of the
bomb and it casing as well as the Packard limousine that transported the

The Cold War area of the museum included a list of Broken
Arrows which is the military code name for nuclear weapons accidents.  There have been 32 accidents involving
nuclear weapons owned by the United States since 1950, all of them occurring prior
to 1970 except one.  The weapons are
designed with safety features, thus none of the weapons detonated.  Two of the accidents occurred in New Mexico…the
state in which this museum presides.

It was interesting to see the difference in the size of the
missiles that are launched from a nuclear submarine versus the size of missiles
launched from planes.  I’m told it is
because the missiles from the submarines are designed to be launched from
anywhere in the world while the ones launched from a plane are flown to a
nearby area.  Another thing I learned is
the missiles launched from a plane (perhaps others as well but I don’t know)
are designed with a parachute.  The
parachute slows the missile from 1,000 mph to 150 mph in two seconds!!  The parachute is made of Kevlar.

For some reason, the falling of the Berlin Wall struck
me.  I think it is because it is one of
the view events I lived through that was included in the museum, yet seems so
long ago, and it wasn’t.  With all due
respect to those who suffered under these conditions and probably feel like it
was just yesterday, it was an event that I had forgotten about, and I even have
a piece of the wall.  I felt bad having
to be reminded of it.

In addition to the exhibits on war and weapons, the museum
also included old hospital equipment, archaic TV’s, and an ancient 1984 MAC computer
complete with a floppy disk drive!  After
an hour or so in the museum, I crossed the entryway that was designed like a
periodic table and spent the rest of the day driving 600 miles to my home state
just as my book on CD is getting very gripping.
I’ll be reaching Dallas before it is over.  I might have to go find the paperback to
finish it.  Only a couple hundred more in
the morning!  ETB



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Day 194 – Highway of Legends

Day 194 – Highway of Legends, June 9, 2011

Sugarite Canyon State Park is an interesting place as it
encompasses the abandoned mining town of Sugarite which was established in
1912.  Sugarite was one of seven towns in
the Raton area built by the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific
Railroad.  People from twenty different
nations came to live in this coal camp.
The camp included housing, a ball field, a school, a clubhouse, the
company store, and a doctor’s office; not to mention the mines, related
buildings, and a railroad.

Sports were the focus of coal communities, and many of the
miners at Sugarite were talented baseball players.  Professional teams courted several men.  Soccer was the game of choice in the
winter.  The Sugarite team often played
Dawson and later shared tea.

Schooling was a boon to immigrants from other countries
where only the wealthy were educated.
Students up to eighth grade attended the two-story school house until it
burned down in 1939.  Teachers and
students rescued books and a piano and attended classes the next day in three
empty houses.

The company built a clubhouse in each town which provided a
social center and boosted morale.  An ice
cream parlor, a beer parlor, a cigar room, and pool tables could all be found
at the clubhouse.  In addition, the
clubhouse hosted several activities such as a sewing club, housekeeping
demonstrations, and dances.

The company coal towns paid their miners in scrip which was
only good at the company store; thereby keeping their “money” in town.  Groceries, doctor’s bills, rent, work
materials, and explosives were all deducted from a miner’s paycheck, leaving a
meager balance.  Despite these hardships,
no one went hungry.  The butcher gave
away free liver and tongue and the families kept gardens and chickens and
shared their food.  Those of different
nationalities traded recipes.  Italian
families even ordered grapes from California and produced wine which was kept
in the store’s cool basement and consumed throughout the year.

The town doctor was paid by the company and got a bigger
house.  The doctor treated most of his
patients in a dentist chair and the remedy of choice to cure illnesses was
alcohol.  Seriously injured miners were
transported to the hospital in Gardiner.
With no sick leave, miners generally returned before they were fully
healed, and if any miners died, it was considered the miner’s fault.

Women of the camp baked bread for fifteen cents a loaf and
earned money cleaning house and doing laundry.
The bread was baked in an outdoor wood fire oven.  Once the wood burned down to coals, the bread
was placed on the bricks that retained the fire’s heat and baked the bread.

The most productive mine at Sugarite, was mine #2.  In 1916, the mines produced about 650 tons of
coal per day.  Eleven miles of tunnels
extend horizontally into the mountain behind the entrance of mine #2 which is
blocked off by an iron gate, though the entrance tunnel has also
collapsed.  The coal was mined by the
room and pillar method, whereby rooms cut into the coal seam were secured up
using vertical and horizontal timbers.
Miners were not paid for completing this dead work which would sometimes
be rushed through resulting in tragic consequences.

In order to mine the coal, during the day miners had to hand
drill holes into the coal face.  At
night, workers called shot fires would locate each hole, pack each one with
explosives, and blast away the coalface.
If the powder was damp, the shots would “hang fire” or smolder, a
dangerous situation that had to be resolved quickly.  As a safety precaution, the explosives were
stored in a building far from the entrance of the mine.

Another safety precaution included checking for methane gas
prior to each shift.  Fire bosses used a
special safety lamp to ensure workers would not succumb to the odorless
gas.  In addition to the check, an above
ground structure housing a giant fan was used to ventilate the tunnels and the
tunnels were watered down to control flammable coal dust.

After wandering around the park and mine camp, I turned
toward Trinidad.  I’ve driven nearly
35,000 miles and it turns out I was only about an hour ahead of my
sister-in-law who was driving from Dallas to Denver over two days.  I stopped in Trinidad, the beginning of my
next scenic drive and had lunch with Marti and my nieces and nephew, Elizabeth,
Molly, and Jack.  What fun!

The Highway of Legends led me west to Cokedale National
Historic District, another mining town, much more intact than Sugarite.  The Gottlieb Mercantile Company, which was
not built as a “company store”, as the miners were paid in cash, not script, is
now the City Hall.

We continued to Stonewall clearly named for the looming wall
of sandstone that rose above the river and pasturelands, before we finally
reached Monument Lake where we camped for the night.  I found a spot at the north end of the lake
around 5 pm.  While sitting on the step
of VANilla by the sliding side door taking advantage of one bar on my cell
phone, Petey jumped up remarkably quickly given he can hardly walk, raised
the fur on his neck, and growled while staring off in the distance.  I jumped to grab him, looked toward the
forest and saw nothing.  While his
reaction seemed like it was wildlife induced, given I couldn’t spot any
visitors, I presumed he must have seen a dog in the passing car.  Regardless, after finishing up my
conversation, we hopped in the comforts of VANilla to blog for the evening.

Both of VANilla’s side windows were open, the right that slides
backward and the left that rotates out and upward with a hand crank.  My Fig Newtons were resting on the stove
beneath the left side screen.  The cover
of the stove was raised up blocking my view to window.

As I was downloading my pictures in the back of VANilla, I
heard a guttural grunt coming from the mid area of the van.  I thought to myself, was that Petey?  It didn’t sound like his usual high pitch
whines from his dreams.  I looked toward
him when I heard another grunt and felt VANilla jiggle gently, though less than
it jiggles in a windstorm.  Petey wasn’t squirming
or grumbling in a dream so I knew it wasn’t him.  Plus it sounded like it was coming from
VANilla’s left side window, about three feet from Petey’s head.  I got up and slowly turned down the stove
cover to see a bear!

It immediately lumbered away, so I leapt to the back,
grabbed my camera, jumped to the front seat, rolled down the window and shot an
absolutely terrible picture of the mama bear rumbling down the road with two,
tiny baby cubs following behind.  It was
simply amazing to see how much distance they covered in what seemed like ten
seconds.  While they appear like they are
laboring, they were fifty yards from VANilla in a flash…and so quiet!  I didn’t hear them until they grunted for
food and Petey was just snoring away…some guard dog he is!

My heart pounding and my mind racing, I sat in VANilla for a
few minutes waiting and thinking.  Darn,
I wanted a picture.  I wondered, are
there any slow people nearby?  As long as
I’m with someone slower than me, I could snap a photo.  I sat a while longer and the more I thought
about it, I rationalized that the bears ran off with hardly a movement on my
part, so I slipped out of VANilla, tip-toed to the road and poked my head out
around the bushes to see down the hill.

The bears were visiting my neighbors.  I found two more people, mostly because they
were fishing, and I didn’t want them to be startled by the bears, and the three
of us, shooting photos of the mama and her cubs, hid behind trees on the
hillside a safe distance away with VANilla in sight.  Oh how I wished I got their photo near VANilla
instead of them eating my neighbors trash; though it was funny to see them
startled by the trash bag flapping with each gust of wind.  I briefly considered scaring them away from
my neighbor’s camp, but given mamas tend to be protective of their cubs, I
decided that was my neighbor’s problem, not mine.  It was SO exciting, scary, and cool!  I’m certain I won’t be sleeping with my
windows open tonight.  ETB


Day 193 – New Mexico North – Part 3

Day 193 – New Mexico North, June 8, 2011

After a quick stop in Red River for some one-day old donuts and
coffee, VANilla weaved through the mountains and sped through the meadows to
reach red granite cliffs Cimarron Canyon State Park.  At mile marker 292, we found what would have
been a seven mile roundtrip hike had we completed the entire walk along Clear
Creek Canyon Trail.  Instead we took about
a two hour stroll along this Cimarron River tributary.

The creek was extremely over grown with bushes and trees, as
was the path in some cases.  We climbed
over a handful of fallen trees and crossed a number of bridges before we came
upon a patch of violet butterflies.  They
flocked to the ground between the trail and the river like a swarm of bees on
honeycomb.  As we walked by, they flew
around in a frenzy only to rest in the same area just seconds later.

Just past the butterflies, we reached a ten foot waterfall
and a steep part to the trail.  We
climbed the stair-stepped path supported by logs, followed the trail down
toward the river, and then came face to face with a large, rock
outcropping.  From the down river side,
scaling the boulder looked quite ominous to Petey.  I had to set my backpack and camera down,
straddle the obstacle, and lift my 60 pound mutt over the two foot monster!

Much to Petey’s liking, the path leveled out and for the
most part remained shaded by pines and firs as we continued up river spotting orange
butterflies patterned with white dots and black stripes resting on white and
yellow wildflowers.  We passed by several
more small waterfalls (or perhaps large rapids) beneath the smoke filled sky,
when we finally reached a forty foot fall which became our resting spot and
turn around point.  On our return trip to
VANilla, the two foot monster no longer seemed impassable to Petey.  He dutifully turned part mountain goat and
navigated the difficult terrain.  He even
took a dip in the creek up to his belly instead of following me across the
bridge…as my shadow this was an unusual breach of character.

After our hike, we briefly tooled around Cimarron, once
ruled by Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp, before finding the Lake
Alice Campground in Sugarite Canyon State Park northeast of Raton.  This campground was a bargain.  It only cost $10 and a free shower house was
only one-mile down the road at the visitor’s entrance.  I know where my first stop in the morning
will be.  ETB

Day 192 – New Mexico North – Part 2

Day 192 – New Mexico North, June 7, 2011

At the suggestion of Kelly and Buck, I took the “High Road
to Taos” from Santa Fe through several old Spanish towns.  On the way to Taos, I stopped at El Santuario
de Chimayo, a USA National Historic Landmark since 1970.  The shrine is built on the site of what many
believe to be a miracle associated with the crucifix of Nuestro Senor de
Esquipulas.  Different beliefs associated
with the crucifix can be found at

It is also the site of “el pocito”, a small pit of dirt
which is considered holy because it is in the spot the crucifix of Our Lord of
Esquipulas was found by Bernardo Abeyta in 1810.  Thousands of pilgrims and visitors have come
to El Santuario de Chimayo in search of spiritual, emotional, and physical

The grounds surrounding the shrine include several crucifixes,
graves, and small worship areas decorated with colorful beads, mosaics, flowers,
holy figures, and candles.  Inside the
shrine, a small adobe room decorated with statues of Jesus, statues of Mary,
and religious paintings, surrounds the square of sand holding two plastic
spades that visitors may use to shovel the holy dirt for healing.  The room is attached to a larger chapel
filled with pews and one of the most colorful pulpits I’ve ever seen.

After visiting the church, we continued on to Taos where we
stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge. Perching 650 feet above the raging Rio Grande,
is the fifth highest bridge in America which quakes with each passing truck.  The cantilever truss bridge spans 1,280 feet
and in 1966 was awarded the Most Beautiful Steel Bridge in the Long Span
category by the American Institute of Steel Construction.  The bridge has appeared in several films
including Natural Born Killers, Twins, and She’s Having a Baby.

On the other side of town, we visited the Church of St
Francis of Assisi. The church was constructed between 1772 and 1816 and is
located on the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, a historic district.  While I visited, it appeared to be under
renovation, but it is said to have inspired among the greatest number of
depictions of any building in the United States.  It was subject of four paintings by Georgia
O’Keefe and photographs of Ansel Adams and Paul Strand.

We moved toward the east following 522 to 38 through what is
known as the Enchanted Circle.  The
scenic drive passes pine covered peaks, picturesque valleys, and alpine
lakes.  Just before reaching Red River, a
popular ski resort, we found the Junebug Campground in Carson National Forest
where the river skirted the edge of the southern campsites.  The gurgle of the waters flow made for a peaceful
evening.  ETB

Day 191 – Jemez Mountain Trail – Part 3

Day 191 – Jemez Mountain Trail, June 6, 2011

I met up with Buck and Kelly in the late afternoon yesterday
and got to take advantage of the laundry room and an untimed shower before
going out to Terra for dinner and drinks at the bar while watching the third
game of the NBA Finals.  Our poor
Mavericks lost by two points in the final four seconds…dang it!  I’m told Terra, which serves outstanding
truffle french fries, is also supposed to provide a lovely sunset view.  The smoke from the Arizona fires, however,
masked the landscape and concealed the falling sun.  I was so content to just relax for the
evening with friends, I didn’t feel like I missed a thing.

Kelly was one of my horse trainers when I was a kid.  She was one heck of a rider and showed me the
ropes as a youngster.  We traveled all
over the place with those crazy ponies and horses.  Her husband Buck is an avid cyclist.  In fact, I


missed them by a few hours in
Durango last weekend as they left Durango shortly before I arrived, after he
competed in the Iron Horse, a cycling event that attracts riders from all over
the country.  The Bike Classic and the
third stop on the NATS National Circuit includes several events including a
road race, criterium, and time trial in which Buck competed.

The next morning, Kelly and I took a hike which followed a
creek to a picturesque waterfall.  The
trail, lined with wild rose, pansies and geraniums, criss-crossed the creek
that gurgled beneath the shade of tall pines and impressive rock outcroppings.  Petey followed along slowly as a variety of
butterflies flitted from flowers to overgrown bushes.  The cascade splashed between large boulders
into a shallow pool of ice-cold, ankle deep water.

We worked up enough of an appetite to meet Buck at Tesuque
Village Market for an enjoyable lunch on the patio before spending a quiet
afternoon at home attending mostly to computer maintenance items.  Dinner time led us to a Mexican food diner
where I ordered chicken and pork tacos topped with green chiles – at least that
is what I recalled from the menu.  After
a few bites, my lip, mouth and throat were on fire, and as I guzzled my
margarita, I commented, “I’m about to have to order some milk…these chiles are
hot!”  Kelly looks at my plate, snags one
of the peppers and before she takes a bite says, “These are jalapenos”.  About a minute later, she gulped down the
rest of her wine.  Buck comments, “Kelly
never does that”, as he takes a baby bite of the pepper.  He emptied his beer.  We ordered another round from the waiter, who
reminded me that they were Serrano peppers…HOT!
While we were enjoying the cool weather on the patio, the wind started
blowing in the smoke from Arizona.  The
sun burned fire red and the crescent moon glowed bright orange as ash floated
toward the ground.  ETB

Day 190 – Jemez Mountain Trail – Part 2

Day 190 – Jemez Mountain Trail, June 5, 2011

After another night in the forest, I was bound and determined to get to Jemez Falls.  The only way I knew how was to walk through the closed campgrounds or go to the East Fork Trailhead.  I thought the walk through the campground would be shorter for Petey, so I chose that route which ended up being at least 1.5 miles on a paved road before we got to the short trail.  Coming from the East Fork Trailhead probably would have been only slightly longer and much prettier.  Oh well, that’s how it goes with limited knowledge of the area.  The falls were of the peaceful type as the Jemez River gracefully splashed between jagged rocks.

After visiting the falls, we made a short stop at Battleship Rock where I chatted with three young girls working as rangers for the summer educating visitors on the nearby water shed.  One of the girls had graduated school while the others were still attending college studying environmental science, Spanish, and adventure activities.  The young lady who was attending school in Prescott, Arizona is spending next semester in the Grand Canyon and getting credit for it.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Petey and I are off to visit Buck and Kelly in Santa Fe for a few days before heading back north into Colorado for the next month.  ETB