Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hot Air Balloon Flights in Red Rock, New Mexico

Weekends are for balloon launching for tourists at the Red Rock Park in Gallup, New Mexico.  I checked with the balloon launching people the day before to be sure what time they’d be taking off, I didn’t want to miss the fun.  They told me they’d be there at 7 AM and launching at 7:30, at sunrise.  I got up at 6 AM to be sure I was awake enough and had breakfast before I left.  It’s still dark out there at 6 AM, and cold in the high desert. 
I got up and out at 7 AM so that I could see them set up the balloons.  They probably started preparing about a half hour after that.  There were four balloons going up and most of them laid out a giant tarp so they could spread out the balloon.  Since the propane flame throwers (for lack of a more specialized term) are mounted on the basket, the basket was laid down and people held up the edges of the balloon so that the hot air could be blown into the balloon’s interior with a fan.  When the balloon was full of hot air, it started to rise up from the tarp and the basket was placed in the upright position. 

Shortly after that, the pilot got in and made his last-minute checks and got his passengers in.  When everything was situated, he told the ground crew to detach the tether to the balloon.  With a few more quick blasts of more hot air, the balloon began to slowly rise.  As they gained altitude, the pilot kept adding more hot air as they drifted up and over the nearby hill.
There were four balloons launched that day, one after another, just drifting away on the air currents.  The previous day, I had hiked a trail in the direction they were headed and I know that the scenery they would be seeing was spectacular. 
The flights last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.  When they land, they notify their ground crew where they are so they can be met with the truck and the passengers get ferried back to the starting point.  Looks like a fun time, but way over my budget.  I had checked the prices when I was in Florida and it’s about half the cost there.  Still, it was a fun morning watching the liftoff. 

This is inside the balloon as it was being inflated.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bluewater State Park, New Mexico

I spent almost a week in this park and enjoyed the hiking, mostly in the canyon or around the lake.  The hike to the dam was fun, except for the part that was mushy with black water that was way deeper than I figured.  The scenery was pretty, with high rocky walls on both sides, with ponds of water formed by the slow moving river.

 At the dam, there was a very old house made of rocks, wood for the rafters and metal for the roofing material.  There was a small fireplace inside, and only one room.  Unfortunately, it was a real fixer-upper.



On another day, I took a hike up the hill near the lake and got a view of the dam, with the house nearby.


 Every morning, there was a group of horses that came through the campground, trimming all the grass.  I was told they were wild horses, but they seemed very relaxed being around humans, vehicles and RVs. 

After I got my body recharged with hiking and relaxing (and a little housecleaning), it was time to set out for some city exploring as well as another park. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

The stone arch shown above is La Ventana, Spanish for "The Window", which is located in the El Malpais National Monument.  This area covers a massive area south of Route 40 near Grants in New Mexico.  You can find rock cliffs, sandstone cliffs, caves, sinkholes and lava flows in this area.  The photo below is from the trail on the top of a mesa called The Narrows.  Across the road from this massive formation is a large area of lava flow, a stark contrast from the rock cliffs.  

Shown below is an ancient petroglyph on the face of one of the rock cliffs.  Unless you knew where it was, there was no way to find it.   Luckily, I had joined a nature walk given by one of the rangers and he pointed it out to us.  The trail to the end is about 4 miles one way, but only 4 of us out of about a dozen made the round trip.
Another overlook, you can see the dark area across the road, which is another part of the lava flow.

In another area of the Monument, there were sandstone cliffs I visited on another day and found this little tree trying to survive on the top near a pool of rainwater.


Below is a photo of one of the sandstone rock formations in that area.

This area is definitely worth exploring, allow more than one day.  There is a campground not too far from the ranger station, which is free, but without hookups. 

The Badlands - El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico

Many years ago, there was a volcanic eruption in the area of Grants, New Mexico.  The eruption created a huge lava flow to the south, in parts 17 miles wide.  The early settlers through this area came across this lava flow and declared this The Badlands - in Spanish it's El Malpais.  Some settlers tried to live in this area, but gave up, abandoning anything they had built on the land.  Other land features in this area include open fields and high stone mesas.

Today, this vast area is a National Monument and a popular destination for hikers and campers.  On a small portion of the lava flow, a hiking trail has been created with the ancient tradition of cairns.  These small towers of stone and rock are placed at intervals as shown in the above photo.  On trails like this one, you need to keep at least one in sight at all times or you can get hopelessly lost.


There were many chasms in the lava flow, as shown in the above photo.  Some were just a few inches apart, but some were as much as a foot wide.  For the most part, they seemed to be only about 12 feet in depth, but it could be deeper.

The photo above shows a section of the flow that had cooled, and then portions of it sank.  The photo below shows an area where it seemed like the lava flows came together and continued on. 


This hike was spectacular, but not in the usual way.  There were trees and bushes trying to survive in the harsh environment.  There was only one type of wildflower I saw in that area, and certainly not many of them.  Certainly, this area was a major departure from my usual hikes with beautiful scenery.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Continental Divide on Route 66, New Mexico

I took a ride on Route 66 today and the portion I was on just happened to dead end just after the Continental Divide.  That seemed to be a mystical thing to me, I'd never been near it and it seemed to wander all over the area.  But, since I was in the neighborhood, I decided I wanted to actually experience it.  As you can see in the following photo, there's no mystique about it.
Since this is right off Interstate 40 and right on Route 66, the Indian population decided this was as good a reason as any to publicize it and even make a few bucks off the fact that the Continental Divide was right there!

I walked through each shop, three of them all lined up along the highway, I noticed that they had lots of similar merchandise and prices.  There was only one gas station, located at this Indian Village, and the price was higher than it usually was when it was Indian owned.  Maybe the difference is that it has to be on the reservation to be cheaper, I don't know.

I had never heard of a Navajo Hogan, so I had to ask inside this shop.  It's the name they give to their homes that are built in a specific fashion.  They're made of logs stacked up, usually 6 or 8 sides, with the door facing east, for religious reasons.  Even the roof was made of logs stacked up on top of each other in tighter circles so that the roof ends up being a bit of a dome.
It was a nice afternoon drive and I keep learning something new every day.  My mind will be full of interesting, but mostly unusable, information!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bandolier National Monument, New Mexico

This site covers over 30,000 acres and is full of 12th century cliff dwellings, as well as ruins of adobe dwellings.  There are major cliffs in this area, created by a major volcano eruption over a million years ago.  The many holes of various sizes were caused by erosion.  The Indians in this area enlarged some of the holes for their homes by carving out larger areas. 
In the main area, the cliff dwellings were quite low and reached by walking up a hill and climbing a ladder with possibly a dozen or so rungs.  There are also circular ruins in this area left over from some pueblos built in a field, along with a large Kiva, which was a religious shrine.  They may have been similar to the ones in the first photo above.
On the sheer cliff wall, there were many petroglyphs of animals and circles, although it seems that they have faded with the weather.  More evidence of former homes is nearby.

About a half mile hike through the forest area is the Alcove House.  This is a shelter high up on a cliff which is reached by multiple ladders as well as steps built into the cliff.  The sign says that it’s 140 steps up the face of the cliff.
After a bit of contemplation, I decided I really needed to climb up to the top, since I came all the way to see it.  Actually, it wasn’t that much worse than climbing ladders to a sailboat sitting in the haulout yard.  Just way more steps to each ladder, of which there were 4.  In the photo below you can see  other ladders in the bottom left. 
The view from the shelter was great.  It was up about the equivalent of a 14 story building and I was looking at all the tall pines way down at the bottom of the canyon.

The round stone structure is another Kiva, which had been refurbished since it was excavated in 1908.  There were also a few small caves carved out on the sides of the main shelter.
For anyone who might be in the area, it's a great trip.  And for avid hikers, I understand that there are about 70 miles of trails.  Some may require an overnight stay.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tent Rocks, New Mexico (aka Kasha-Katuwe)

Cochiti Lake Park is run by the Corps of Engineers and very closeby is a National Monument called Kasha-Katuwe, more commonly known as Tent Rocks. Yes, another area of rock formations, different from other areas I’ve hiked. These rocks are shaped, for the most part, like Indian teepees. Some of them have boulders perched on the top.

There are two trails in the park, the more difficult one was a mile and a half to the top. I decided to do the difficult one first since it included a canyon slot, climbing rocks and an increase in elevation of over 600’, which was mostly during the rock climbing area. The canyon slot was very interesting, a trail between boulders that are the height of buildings at least 4 stories tall. The trail through this area may be as close as 2-3’ and then it opens up into wider areas 20’ or more in other places.


Then, suddenly, you exit the canyon slot into an open area with more rock formations towering over even the highest pine trees. The trail continues with a slight incline and a few rocks to climb over. Soon, the trail is littered with boulders to climb around or over and it becomes steeper.

When the trail finally levels out, it’s on the top of the mesa with mountains on all sides. The day was clear, so there was a great view of the mountains.


The downhill hike was so much easier since gravity helps. It took me much less time coming down than going up, besides I had already taken most of my photos. By then, the light had changed and I got a different perspective on the formations.

I hiked the other trail, a very easy walk through the lower part of the park near some of the rock formations. It was not as dramatic or impressive as the other trail, but way less strenuous. Great exercise for the day, with both trails, I walked/climbed about 4 miles. 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Riding the Rails - Cumbres & Toltec in Chama, New Mexico

While I was staying at Heron Lake State Park in northwest New Mexico, I visited Chama, about 10 miles north of the park. It’s a small tourist town with the main draw being the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad. This is a narrow gauge railroad that was built in 1880 and in 2012 was designated a National Historic Landmark. I walked around the train yard, took some pictures of the trains in the yard and picked up a brochure. I’d never been on a train and I had been told the trip went through some beautiful country.

The next morning, I drove up to Chama and got my ticket. It’s a one way trip on the train, so they drive the passengers up to Antonito, Colorado to start the trip. Everyone had assigned seats, but the train was not crowded and we could stand in the open car to take pictures or just see the scenery. It was a beautiful day, so I spent most of my time in the open car. It was a bumpy ride and I wasn’t sure how the photos would come out, but I was surprised that they were decent. The locomotives are run with coal, chunks larger than a softball, which creates black smoke out of the smokestack.


We started the trip in Colorado and on the way down to the depot in Chama, we crossed the state border 11 times, yes - eleven. The track snakes around the mountains and each time we crossed the state line, there was a sign stating "Enter New Mexico" on one side and "Enter Colorado" on the other. There were many dirt roads through the desert part and each time they crossed the tracks, there was a railroad crossing sign. It was near one of those signs that we saw a herd of deer run across the tracks in front of us. Unfortunately, the only photo I got was of the back of them running away.

When we got to the mountainous area and we had to pass through the narrow openings they blasted through the rock, the train slowed so that the vibration of the train passing through the rock walls would not dislodge any of the rocks. In some of these areas, the rock walls were so close we could have reached out to touch them. In other areas, trees were also close. There were two tunnels, and after the second one, the track came out right on the side of a large gorge that dropped 600’ - a very dramatic exit from the darkness of the tunnel. There were numerous trestles, the highest one was 137’ over a creek. The highest elevation the tracks reached was over 10,000’.

Halfway through the trip, we stopped for lunch, which was included in the trip, and served cafeteria style. We had a choice of turkey dinner or meatloaf turkey for me!  After that, we boarded the train for the second half of the ride back to Chama. 

It was a fun day and I’d recommend the trip to anyone who is in the area. The scenery is gorgeous with rolling hills, rock formations, valleys far below us and open fields with little rivers coursing through them.

One of the men working on the train as a docent was a volunteer and said that anyone could be a volunteer by becoming a "Friend" of the railroad. Details can be found on their website at


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Abiquiu Lake Park

I just spent a week in a park run by the Corps of Engineers.  This park has some of the most gorgeous scenery, both inside and on the roads leading to the park.  This is red rock country, an area made famous by the paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived in the area for decades.  There is more information and photos about this area in my two previous blogs.
The camping areas all have views of the lake, and I had a great view, especially sunsets.  


The little town, about 8 miles away, consists of an all-purpose store/restaurant/gas station, a tiny post office, some art galleries and an old adobe church, founded in the 1800s, that has been kept very nicely. 
The most famous formation in the area is Cerro Predernale, can be seen from all over, and is very visible from the park.  It has appeared in many photographs and various other art work. 
Although the lake is cold, since it’s about 6300’ up in the mountains, I did see a brave person water skiing on the lake.  I met quite a few people who had been fishing, but no one admitted to catching anything worth keeping. 
 It was a great place to spend a holiday weekend, and I definitely would visit that park again.