Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The final 5 days of our Great Winter Road Trip were in Albuquerque with our friends Peg and Dave. They've been living there for 10 years already, so they know the good spots to visit! Since they both had to work during the week, we spent the first few days exploring on our own. The city is at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. Peg and Dave live just a few miles from the Rio Grande River as well. We enjoyed lots of hiking, geocaching and bird watching in the bosque. Bosque (bahskay) is the name for oasis like areas found along the flood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern US. The most notable is a 200 mile bosque along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico. The neat thing about that area is that although the trails are used for walking, biking, running and horseback riding, nothing is paved and it's all really rustic. It reminded me of playing in the woods at the end of Clarence Street when I was little! The area has a bunch of geocaches - which was fun - but the highlight for me was spotting a small Western Screech Owl sitting in a juniper tree just off the trail. I was able to get a bunch of pictures of the little guy. Screech owls are about 8 inches tall. Unfortunately, he spent the whole time squinting at us and never really opened his eyes - but I know he was watching!!
Another day we took a 2.7 mile tram ride to Sandia Peak. The view was spectacular - the only downside was the wind. Gusts up to 50 and 60 mph in the afternoon put the tram on "standby". Fortunately, we went in the morning and got up and down just fine. That afternoon we braved the gusty weather and hiked up and down the trails in the Petroglyph National Monument.
Over the weekend, Peg and Dave took us to see a few more places. Old Town Albuquerque was a great little spot for local shopping. We also drove north of Albuquerque to the Jemez (haymess) Mountains and hot springs, the Valles Caldera, Bandelier National Park and Santa Fe. In the caldera is a large meadow (12 to 15 miles wide) formed in the cone of the volcano. There we saw several huge herds of elk, they come down to feed in the winter. We figured there must have been nearly 1000 elk in each herd. It was amazing - but they were so far away that if you didn't stop and use the binoculars, you wouldn't even know they were there!
The Bandelier Mountains are the location of Frijoles Canyon and a major site of an old pueblo village and many cliff dwellings. By the late 1400's about 700 people lived in the canyon. The really cool part was that you could hike to and climb the ladders into the pueblos. We did lots of climbing and hiking -- but saved the final climb for our next trip. At the very end of the trail is the ceremonial kiva or gathering area. It is located in the cliff 140 feet above the trail - reachable by climbing several ladders! next time.....
In addition to Peg's wonderful home-cooked meals, which we really appreciated, we ate at several great restaurants. El Pinto is a popular area place that has pictures and autographs of some of their famous customers, including Barrak Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, Mel Gibson, and Clint Black. The Range displays their famous autographs on fiestaware plates - Will Farrell, Ben Kingsley and Mary Stenbergen to mention a few.

So, we are now almost home. We are driving through thick fog in southern Iowa, watching the weather in MN. The predictions look like thick fog, rain and maybe some ice and snow as we get into Minnesota. Welcome Home.
57 days 8703 miles 18 states

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grand Canyon National Park

Amazing, awesome, incredible, extraordinary, I can't begin to tell you how spectacular this canyon is, so I won't even try. We got into the park about 11 AM and spent the afternoon walking a mile or so on the Rim Trail and even did a bit on the Bright Angel Trail, which is one of the popular trails for those hiking all the way down into the canyon. That trail did have quite a bit of snow and ice, and we weren't prepared for that kind of hike, so we only went in a short way. These walks take a long time, beacuse around every turn there is another amazing view that you really need to stop at. We ended the day climbing the Watchtower at the east side of the park (only 84 easy steps!) and then settled down at a lookout called Navajo Point to watch and photograph the sunset...then the clouds blew in! It was cold, windy and drab - but we were there!
You should never go to another national park the day after you've been at the Grand Canyon - we stopped at the Petrified Forest on the way into Albuquerque on Tuesday. It was pretty, and the petrified wood is amazing, but I couldn't get all the vast, spectacular views of GC out of my head and I'm sure we didn't appreciate it as much as we might have on another day.
So, we're on the last leg of our trip - here in Albuquerque, NM with Peg and Dave. We've been enjoying the mountains, the river (I didn't know the Rio Grande went thru this city!) and the good company. We'll leave for Oakdale on Monday....

For some really good pictures of the Grand Canyon: http://www.nps.gov/grca/
And for better information and pics of the Petrified Forest: www.nps.gov/pefo/

Monday, March 2, 2009

Highways and Byways

As we headed out of Tucson last Sunday morning(2/22), bright blue skies led us through Phoenix. Just north of Phoenix, we stopped at 2 old pueblo ruins – the Tuzigoot National Monument and Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. Both places were fascinating, examples of housing built and used by Sonaqua Indians in the 1300s. We had no idea we would be passing near them, but my friend Pete recommended them and we were glad we stopped.
The next stops were in the Sedona area. What a spectacular drive! I’ve always heard about the red rocks of Sedona, but we were absolutely amazed by these spectaculars mountains. We all decided it’d be great to spend a few days exploring the area more. Almost by accident, we found two great places to take pictures. We stopped at a “Tourist Information/Souvenir Shop” to ask where we might get some good views of the surrounding areas. The clerk gave us a little map and suggested an airport road and a chapel in the hills. The airport road overlooks the city and had some pretty terrific views. Then we headed up a little side road, which was under construction and quite narrow. When we finally got to Chapel Road and turned the corner we were amazed!! The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built into the hillside in 1957. It was a really neat spot and we are so glad that we found it!!

Traveling up Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff brought cooler temperatures and some pretty views of this small creek. And snow!! Yes, first we saw it in the distant mountains, then it got closer and closer until it was right beside the road to welcome us to Flagstaff. It was about 40 degrees when we pulled into our hotel – they had the fireplace going in their lobby.

Monday’s drive brought us to the Hoover Dam and then into Las Vegas. We took the dam tour and walked the grounds there marveling at the dam and the new road being built to help bypass the dam. Next it was into Vegas and checking into The Flamingo. We spent the evening wandering down the strip and gawking like a bunch of tourists - it was great! A couple of the hotels have music/light/water fountain displays going all evening so we watched that and then spent some time watching people play Texas Hold 'Em -- none of us had a clue about how to play that game. On Tuesday morning we walked the other half of the strip. The M & M store was interesting - but we didn't buy anything. M&Ms went for $11.95 a pound!!! We stopped at the CVS on the way back to the hotel and bought a bag there... We did see a replica of the M&M car that Kyle Busch drove when he won this weeks' NASCAR race - in Las Vegas! At the end of the day, we said our goodbyes and dropped Larry and Sue off at the airport. We sure had fun with them and will miss them on the rest of our adventures.
From the Las Vegas Airport we drove south to visit our friends, John and Grace, in Lake Havasu. They were having a Fat Tuesday Party at their house - we missed dinner, but they saved us some yummy gumbo and jambalaya. During our week in Havasu we enjoyed beautiful weather, toured the city, including the Colorado River as it goes thru town and under the London Bridge. We spent a day traveling on old Route 66 to the little mining town of Oatman. It is about 4 blocks long and the big attraction in town each day when the wild burrows come into town. They were pretty funny - acted like they owned the place! Another highlight was driving out to the Desert Bar near Parker, AZ. It's about 5 miles off the highway on dirt roads in the middle of the desert - Great music, cold beer and spectacular views. I do believe I need to get back to this area when the desert is in bloom!!! We had a great time in this little town and I'm sure we'll get back there again someday.
This morning (Monday, 3/2) we bid goodbye to John and Grace and headed the car to the Grand Canyon; tonight we find ourselves back in Flagstaff, AZ. The Canyon was absolutely awesome - I'll have to write about it in my next blog... for now, enjoy the images I have here. In the morning, we will drive over to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I can't believe we've been on the road for 7 weeks already! We'll be home a week from tomorrow - whew!!