About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

New Mexico Chapter 5: On My Way to the Very Large Array

San Miguel Mission
Thursday, July 28th
This morning I made my way to the Very Large Array (heh).  I exited the interstate and checked out Socorro, its gateway city, which all the way back in June of 1598, proved itself a source of aid to Spanish families traveling north from Mexico.  "As  the Spaniards emerged from the desert, Piro Indians of the pueblo of Teypana gave the Spaniards food and water. Therefore, the Spaniards renamed this pueblo Socorro, which  means "help" or "aid."  I walked around the beautiful San Miguel Mission, built in 1891 on the site of the original mission that was built in 1627. It has massive adobe walls, large carved vigas, and supporting corbel arches.  Then I stopped into the visitor center before spending the afternoon blogging and uploading photos at the library, where I had a very strange feeling like I entered a former mental institution or something, especially after taking the elevator to the empty second floor to use the restroom.  It just seemed eerie.

A HUGE Christmas Tree?

I left at 5:50pm - that's when the library closed, lol - and headed west on Highway 60 to the pleasant little eye-blink town of Magdalena, where I picked up some groceries, before heading to Bear Trap Campground in Cibola National Forest.  Huh, getting there was an adventure all in it itself.  About 10 miles west of Magdalena I turned onto Forest Road 549, a dirt road cutting through fields, over cattle-guards, and then into the forest, and that's where things got interesting, as the road became less maintained, narrow is spots, and it was a little stressful negotiating the large rocks I came upon.  Oh, and I had no idea it was such a long drive to the campground.  The ranger I spoke with over the phone, simply said it was 6 miles from Highway 60 to the forest entrance, and there I would find the campground.  Well, I did eventually find the campground, a total of about 14 miles from the highway, on some pretty rough terrain up the mountain.  Yes, it was a bit of a white-knuckle ride at times, but it sure was fun, singing to the blaring radio with the windows down and taking in the inspiring views, as I climbed up narrow, cliff-side mountain road to Bear Trap, where there was only one other set of people, who I maybe saw for a total of 5 minutes my entire stay, as they kept cozy in their truck camper.  I was able to set up my tent just before nightfall, and before the rain really set in.  I sat there in my tent with a beer, and oysters in bbq sauce, and couldn't believe how tired I was!  I was out like a light.

One of 27 Gigantic Radio Dishes at VLA
Friday, July 29th
I saw lots of cows as I passed through the fields this morning, on my to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, "one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories, consisting of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin.  The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter!"  Since its inception in 1980, it has made startling discoveries and countless "investigations of many astronomical objects, including radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernova remnants, gamma ray bursts, radio-emitting stars, the sun and planets, astrophysical masers, black holes, and the hydrogen gas that constitutes a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy as well as external galaxies.  In 1989 the VLA was used to receive radio communications from the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew by Neptune. It is not, despite depictions in popular culture, used to assist in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)."

At the visitor center I browsed exhibits explaining radio astronomy and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stepped into the small auditorium to watch the nine minute comprehensive film, "A Journey of Discovery," took a quarter mile walking tour around the VLA to the base of a working antenna (cool!), and drove to the Antenna Assembly Building to  see an antenna inside the building or on the master pad and one of the orange antenna transporters.

Magdalena Library

Heading back on Highway 60, I stopped in Magdalena for a little drive around the tiny town, and to check out the little library, located inside the old Santa Fe Railroad Station.

From Magdalena, I continued on Highway 60 back onto Insterstate 25, into Las Cruces (see next post).

New Mexico Chapter 4: Scenic Detour to The Opera

Santuario de Chimayo

Monday, ‎July ‎27th
This morning I awoke fully rested in the quiet wilderness of the Carson National Forest of El Rito. I took my time packing up the tent and having my fruit and granola breakfast, among the birds and trees, before heading though the lovely little village of El Rito, where I found a sense of curiosity and "home," though there were only farms and old buildings; nothing especially of interest to boast about. I would like to note that like many tiny towns, the townsfolk all waved as I passed by. All it takes is a simple act of acknowledgement to make a stranger feel welcome :)

After a relaxing day at Ojo Caliente Mineral Hot Springs Resort (see previous blog post), I drove back to Santa Fe, where I picked up Highway 76 heading north, as I previously did when I traveled up to Taos. This time, I was prepared with a stop I unknowingly passed by last time, and it was certainly a major highlight of the scenic drive. It was Santuario de Chimayo,"a beautiful Roman Catholic shrine adorned with folk art-style statues and other decor. In 1970 it was made a National Historic Landmark, famous for the story of its founding and as a contemporary pilgrimage site. It receives almost 300,000 visitors per year and has been called no doubt the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States."
"A small room called el pocito (the little well) contains a round pit, the source of 'holy dirt' that is believed to have healing powers. An adjacent Prayer Room displays many ex-votos as well as photographs, discarded crutches, and other testimonials of those purportedly healed. One version of the legend says that during Holy Week, Abeyta (or a friar) saw a light shining from the hillside and dug the crucifix up with his bare hands. He turned it over to Fr. Álvarez, who took it to the Chimayó church, but the crucifix mysteriously returned to the spot where Abeyta found it. After the third time this happened, Álvarez and Abeyta decided to build a chapel on the spot to house the crucifix."

I took in the wonderful detail of the beautiful sanctuary, grabbed some dirt from the little room with the well, took an insert that explains the importance of the dirt and how to use it (don't eat or drink it, lol), and toured the landscaped grounds and gift shop, before heading on my way.

View from Highway 518

Once on Highway 518, the scenery dramatically changed from dusty desert to green valleys and trees as I entered Santa Fe National Forest. I stopped at a few overlooks of the beautiful, tree-covered mountains and valleys below, and loved driving through the tiny towns that dotted the highway, all with their own unique, country feel. Holman's abandoned churches, the diner in a trailer in Mora, shimmering Storrie Lake, and the beautiful historic buildings of Las Vegas, will all hold fond memories in my mind for years to come :)

I hopped onto Interstate 25, arriving at the Santa Fe Opera House at 8:30pm, in time for the production of Menotti's "Mad Men"-era piece called "The Last Savage
," an over-the-top, cheesy comedic opera that "follows an ambitious young Vassar anthropologist on her journey to capture the last savage. She succeeds, they fall in love, and both discover that American 1960s suburbia is far more savage than life in the jungle." I paid $15 for a standing row seat, which was not what I expected at all - the theatre isn't huge, without a bad seat in the house, the standing row was actually quite comfortable-looking, with a nice table to rest your elbows and a bottle of water, complete with an LED screen that displays the closed captions or subtitles for the show - something that came in quite handy; even with the show sung in English, lol. Even more surprising was the fellow that came and gathered all of us in the standing rows and brought us to the seats in the balcony at no charge! Let that be a tip for you folks that might get out there one day - this was a Wednesday, so the theatre wasn't full! :) Had I reserved a seat at the opera it would have been $69! 

Opera Time!
Better yet, I scoped out an empty seat, down near the middle of the FOURTH row from the stage, and grabbed it for third act. Perfect! It was there that that I met Marla, who sat in the seat to my right, a kind, conversational woman in her older years, who was happy I moved up to the front. She said she used to do that all the time in her younger years. She's been coming from her home in Illinois to the Santa Fe Opera with summer season tickets with a friend of hers for many years now. Unfortunately, her friend passed away this past year, and her family has let her seat go empty every show. We enjoyed each other's company, and I wished I could attend with Marla every week.

Oh, and by the way, it's an interesting contrast, watching the opera one hour, and sleeping in a car the next, lol.

New Mexico Chapter 3: Taos & Ojo Caliente

San Jose de Gracia
Monday, July 25th
At around 5pm I left Santa Fe and headed up to Taos, taking the "High Road - a scenic, snaking route along 5 different byways, passing through several small mountain villages, each rich in culture and history."  The drive was an adventure indeed, with plenty to see along the way, which included a stop in tiny Las Trampas, home to San Jose de Gracia, "a mission church dating back to 1760, with impressive Spanish Mission design elements."

I arrived at The Abominable Snow Mansion in the funky, little village of Arroyo Seco, about 7 miles or so north of Taos, at about 7:30pm.  It was a pretty drive with majestic Wheeler's Peak, the highest point in New Mexico, in the distance.  I was delightfully surprised to find that the hostel allowed tenting, saving me 4 bucks, and I was able to get my tent up just before dark.

Tuesday, July 26th
This morning I took my time getting ready, had a big bowl of cereal (mixed three kinds, because I'm a rebel like that, lol) and toast with pb&j (compliments of the hostel), and was out the door.  I walked around the little village of Arroyo Seco, stopping at charming Holy Trinity Church - historic mission church dating from 1830, the quirky "Mercantile" General Store, and "Taos Cow" (named a "top 10 U.S ice cream shop" by Bon Appetit magazine) for a couple of their "famous" scoops, including Fresh Peach and their ever-popular Piñon Caramel - YUM!

Along the Main Drag in Taos

I drove south to touristy Taos, through the beautiful green valley of horse ranches, surrounded by the tallest mountain peaks in the state, and visited Taos Pueblo - "The only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years!"  The brown walls of earth, the turquoise-colored front doors, the beautiful church, outdoor drying racks and hornos (outdoor adobe ovens used for baking bread and pastries) the villagers selling their wares from inside their modest, apartment-sized homes complete with small adobe stove and the scent of burning fresh sage,  the ruins of San Geronimo Church and the graveyard so rich with history, the little river bisecting the north and south living complexes, a language unwritten/unrecorded,  passed down from the grandmother to the children - these memories will stay with me.  I felt a sense of peace strolling through the village where life moves slow.  How I'd love to return in the winter when the roofs of the cozy adobe homes are dusted with snow.  *Note: No photography was allowed.

I explored more of Taos, including The Plaza (which "has the distinction of being the first place in the United States, by tradition, to fly the United States Flag both day and night"), and nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, followed by the immaculate San Francisco de Asis Church - "one of the best known and most photographed churches in New Mexico," and what Georgia O'Keeffe described as "one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards."

 San Francisco de Asis

Then I started heading over to Ojo Caliente, about an hour's drive west of Taos, making a couple of stops in between, one being the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - "the fifth highest bridge in the United States" and spanning 1,280 feet.  Then I stopped for a walk around "Greater World Earthship Community," which a guy at the Abominable Snow Mansion told me about over breakfast this morning (he's going to do a month-long internship here).  "The Greater World project is designed to create an ideal condition from which a sustainable community can grow and flourish.  Using recycled materials from Taos County; the homes make their own electricity from solar panels; catch their own water from rain and snow melt; contain and reuse their own waste water; and provide their own heating and cooling without the use of fossil fuels via passive solar and thermal mass architecture.  I've never seen anything like it - with walls of recycled bottles, cans and car tires, the place kind of looked like a post-apocalyptic dump, or the movie "Waterworld" (only on land, lol).  Very interesting indeed.  I love their mission and I hope it sees much success.

I arrived in Ojo Caliente around 5pm, and blogged a while, before heading about 20 miles away to pitch my tent (just before complete darkness fell!) at El Rito Campground in Carson National Forest.  Other than a few occurrences of passing trucks in the night, I had the whole place to myself, and oh, how I loved the drive there, especially the tiny town of El Rito, with its farms and old buildings lining the road near the ranger's office.

At Greater World Earthship Community

Wednesday, July 27th
This morning I enjoyed a quiet morning and fruit & granola breakfast in solitude within the Carson National Forest, before heading over to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs for a day of rest and relaxation.  "Deemed sacred by indigenous Native Americans of Northern New Mexico, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs has been a gathering place and a source of healing for hundreds, even thousands of years, and is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water including lithia, iron, soda and arsenic. Our ten pools are filled with different types and combinations of these waters with temperatures ranging from 80-109 degrees."  From 8:30am-3, I let 6-1/2 hours slip away, wandering between the different pools, lounging in the steam room, having a little picnic (bbq wild salmon on triscuits, lol), basking in mud (loved it so much I had seconds, lol), and talking with a very kind, friendly woman from Pennsylvania (also traveling solo).  The hours went fast make no mistake.

I left the springs around 3:15, taking a long, scenic drive to Las Vegas (not the one in Nevada, lol) on the 518, touted by my friend and favorite author Ron Donaghe as "one of the most beautiful drives in all of NM."  He was right!  I took 518 up into the mountains, through national forest, down to the meadows and ranches and little towns that dot the side of the road, stopping for photos of the beautiful scenery and old buildings along the way.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Hot Springs Resort

Upon reaching Las Vegas, a charming old town, I hopped onto Interstate 25 to Sante Fe, arriving at the Opera House at 8:30pm, in time for the production of Menotti's "Mad Men"-era piece called "The Last Savage," an over-the-top, cheesy comedic opera that "follows an ambitious young Vassar anthropologist on her journey to capture the last savage. She succeeds, they fall in love, and both discover that American 1960s suburbia is far more savage than life in the jungle."  

Oh, and by the way, it's an interesting contrast, watching the opera one hour, and sleeping in a car the next, lol.


New Mexico Chapter 2: Santa Fe

Santa Fe International Hostel

Sunday, July 24th
From Albuquerque, I drove an hour north up to Santa Fe, arriving in the evening, and checked into the humble international hostel for the night.  It's a not-for-profit organization, which I haven't heard of for a hostel before, and they get lots of free food from Whole Foods, which they in turn allow the guests to eat!  I haven't cooked for months, so this was a real treat.  I made a whole wheat penne pasta dish with pesto, cheese and tomatoes - excellent!  If I do say so myself :)  Then went into Downtown Santa Fe and had a drink at Rouge Cat (Chambord & Sprite, yum!).  It was pretty dead, but I actually stayed a little longer than I had planned, due to a very friendly, very drunk, very stubborn girl a little older than me, who insisted we be friends, lol.  I didn't get back to the hostel until about 11pm.  Wow, what a full day.

Monday, July 25th
I had a huge bowl of leftover pasta from last night, a cup of blueberry yogurt and a raspberry danish for breakfast, compliments of the hostel via Whole Foods.  I WAS STUFFED!  I did my chosen chore required by the hostel (cleaned bathroom #5), got all cleaned up and headed out for another very full day.

I started my day in Downtown Sante Fe with a visit to St. Francis Basilica - the FOURTH church built on the site (1887), since the year that Santa Fe was founded in 1610.  "The only part of the third church, built in 1714, still existing is the small adobe chapel dedicated to Our Lady La Conquistadora. Brought from Spain in 1625, the statue is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States."  I marveled at its beautiful interior, then took a walk in the little "Stations of the Cross" Sculpture Garden out back, before wrapping up my visit.

Brought from Spain in 1625!

Next I took a peek inside the Palace of the Governors adobe building (1610), located on the popular town Plaza.  "It is within the Santa Fe Historic District and it served as the seat of government for the State of New Mexico for centuries. The Palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States."  I took some time to inspect the beautiful wood-beam ceilings, small doorways, building materials (adobe is a mixture of earth, straw and water) and recreation of the modest governor's office.

I took a little stroll around The Plaza, taking special note of the Spanish, Mexican and Native American people selling their wares on the wooden sidewalk at the palace entrance, as they have for many, many years.  Looking around at the pueblo and adobe houses, shops and galleries around the neighborhood, one can't help but feel a strong sense of the past, the long history of Downtown Santa Fe and its people.

I then stopped into beautiful Loretto Chapel, "a former Roman Catholic church that is now used as a museum and wedding chapel.  It is known for its unusual helix shaped spiral staircase (the "Miraculous Stair"), that may have been created by French carpenter Francois-Jean "Frenchy" Rochas, although the Sisters of Loretto credit St. Joseph with its construction.  It has been the subject of legend and rumor, and the circumstances surrounding its construction and its builder are considered miraculous by the Sisters of Loretto and many visitors."

A Look Inside Loretto Chapel

Next I drove pretty much around the corner to busy Canyon Road, boasting "over a hundred art galleries in a mile stretch.  These include world class Native American, Contemporary, Historic, and Internationally recognized artists.  Great original historic architecture, sculpture, and gardens abound on this fantastic little street."  While I really appreciate art, my favorite part of poking around inside the beautiful little historic buildings was taking in the unique architecture.  Whether you're interested in art or not, this gives you a free tour of homes :)  What does a one bedroom rental cost in the area?  Well as couple of the For Rent signs were listing them at 1,000-1,200 bucks!  Ouch.

My next stop was at the beloved Georgia O'Keefe Museum, where I watched a couple of introductory videos; I loved the 20-minute film about this wonderful artists' career and personal life, and how she became known as the most famous painter of the American Southwest.  I walked around the museum, which had not only many of her works on display, but the diverse works of many different artists as part of its current exhibit, "Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph."

I wrapped up the day with a visit to the alleged "Oldest House" (1646) and museum, and "Oldest Church" (San Miguel Chapel - adobe walls constructed around 1610).

Great day in Santa Fe!  =)

Pre-Show Tailgate Party at the Santa Fe Opera

At around 5pm I made the trip up to Taos, where I stayed the night at The Abominable Snow Mansion hostel, lol.

Wednesday, July 27th
I spent another evening in Santa Fe, arriving at the Opera House at 8:30pm, in time for the production of Menotti's "Mad Men"-era piece called "The Last Savage," an over-the-top, cheesy comedic opera that "follows an ambitious young Vassar anthropologist on her journey to capture the last savage. She succeeds, they fall in love, and both discover that American 1960s suburbia is far more savage than life in the jungle."  I paid $15 for a standing row seat, which was not what I expected at all - the theatre isn't huge, without a bad seat in the house, the standing row was actually quite comfortable-looking, with a nice table to rest your elbows and a bottle of water, complete with an LED screen that displays the closed captions or subtitles for the show - something that came in quite handy; even with the show sung in English, lol.  Even more surprising was the fellow that came and gathered all of us in the standing rows and brought us to the seats in the balcony at no charge!  Let that be a tip for you folks that might get out there one day - this was a Wednesday, so the theatre wasn't full!  :)  Had I reserved a seat at the opera it would have been $69!  Better yet, I scoped out an empty seat, down near the middle of the FOURTH row from the stage, and grabbed it for third act.  Perfect!  It was there that that I met Marla, who sat in the seat to my right, a kind, conversational woman in her older years, who was happy I moved up to the front.  She said she used to do that all the time in her younger years.  She's been coming from her home in Illinois to the Santa Fe Opera with summer season tickets with a friend of hers for many years now.  Unfortunately, her friend passed away this past year, and her family has let her seat go empty every show.  We enjoyed each other's company, and I wished I could attend with Marla every week. 

Oh, and by the way, it's an interesting contrast, watching the opera one hour, and sleeping in a car the next, lol.

New Mexico Chapter 1: Gallup and Albuquerque

Hardly Camping at USA RV Park

 Friday, July 22nd
I left Petrified Forest National Park around 5:30pm, and headed east on I-40 into New Mexico, arriving in the busy little city of Gallup around 6pm.  "Route 66 runs through Gallup, and the town's name is mentioned in the lyrics to the song, Route 66, but most importantly, it's the center of commerce for the Navajo people," with trading post after trading post of authentic Navajo art, rugs, jewelry and souvenirs for sale or trade.

I grabbed a bite at Applebee's (it was the first thing I saw, but I should've supported a local business!), then headed to USA RV Park, the only place in town where I could camp legally.  After checking in at the registration office for $20, it was a shirt walk right across the road to my site, lol.  There was another tent there too, so that made it less of a slap in the face that I was in RV City! 

Tonight my laptop charger crapped out on me!  With the battery out of life, looks like I need a new one, but instead I should just get a new laptop all together, since I've gone through a few of these chargers already - the computer gets so hot it eats away the plastic ends of the cable!

One of Many Colorful Murals in Downtown Gallup

Saturday, July 23rd
This morning I explored Gallup's popular, little downtown district, along a little stretch of historic Route 66 and neighboring side streets to the East.  Colorful murals painted on the walls of several of downtown's buildings line the streets, and I snapped photos of 12 of the 15 of them listed in the visitor guide, along with a few unmentioned and a couple of the beautiful, over-sized, painted pots placed throughout town.  The murals depict and memorialize several different facets and history of life in Gallup, with names such as Gallup Community Life, Pueblo of Zuni, The Long Walk Home, Coal Mining Era, Navajo Code Talkers and Hispanic Heritage.

I paid a visit to notable "Richardson's Trading Co. - World Famous Traders since 1913," I marveled as I walked through the large store, with multiple rooms of "hundreds of one-of-a-kind Indian art pieces" on display for sale or trade, and some not for available for purchase at all.

I printed a lot of public lands/camping information, courtesy of the down-to-Earth woman at the Chamber of Commerce, which was surprisingly open 'til 4pm on a Saturday.

I hit the road, continuing eastbound on I-40 to the large, pueblo-style Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center, a fantastic stop for boat-loads of useful travel information, and where I took advantage of one of over 30 different informational films of various topics one can opt to watch.  I chose the hour long video about Route 66, which joins the narrator as she travels to highlights of the journey from Chicago to Santa Monica, and which explains the history of the "Main Street of America."

A Peek Inside Richardson's Trading Co.

I left the visitor and continued on my way on I-40, detouring for little stretches of old 66, before entering Albuquerque, where I got a tent site for a whopping $29.40 (ouch!) at KOA RV Park, one of possibly only two RV Parks/"camping" spots.  Can you believe there's not a single campground with 30 minutes or so of Albuquerque?!  *Sigh.  After registering and checking out the site, I went and got myself a new computer.  It's a cheap, $300 Compaq Presario CQ57, which doesn't have good reviews, lol, but it'll have to do after paying a total of $1500 for recent car repairs.  I also bought a new laptop charger that's compatible with my old laptop, so that I can start it up and move all of the files on there to my external hard drive, before retiring it.  I'll just have to return the charger all nice and neat in the packaging when I'm done.  

When I got back to KOA it was extremely windy, and it was an adventure in itself setting up my tent, but I finally did, and then I spent the next few hours at the Rec Hall familiarizing myself with my new computer, before blogging a little before bed.

Route 66 Diner

Sunday, July 24th 
This morning I ate a big breakfast of cinnamon apples with granola in syrup, before exploring Albuquerque.  I took to Route 66 for about 7 miles, especially enjoying a very popular one-mile stretch through the hip neighborhood of Nob Hill.  I stopped at Route 66 Diner, "dedicated to preserving the spirit of the roadside diner along Route 66."  As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I stepped back into time, and was completely transported to the malt-shop era and reminded of the movie, "American Graffiti" as I opened the doors and stepped inside the wonderful time capsule, filled with kitschy signs, hundreds of pez dispensers lining the ceiling, the stools, the tables, even the napkin holders - a wonderful memorial of yesteryear.  The waitresses (in full doo-wop uniform) chatted me up as I sipped my coffee and snapped pictures.  I LOVED THIS PLACE.  They gave me a complimentary souvenir pin "I saw Elvis at the Route 66 Diner" before heading on my way :)

I drove through the funky district of Downtown, paying a visit to the historic KiMo Theatre, "a Pueblo Deco picture palace, opened on September 19, 1927. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the exuberance of Art Deco.  Native American motifs appeared in only a handful of theaters; of those few, the KiMo is the undisputed king."  I oohed and aahed at the wonderfully crafted decor throughout the theatre, admiring all the work that must've gone into it.

"Old Town" Albuquerque

Next I went to Albuquerque's Old Town, "the focal point of community life since it was founded in 1706 by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez. Centered around the plaza, Albuquerque's Old Town encompasses about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings, looking much like it did when it was built centuries ago. Its Pueblo-Spanish style architecture with flat-roofed buildings and soft contours of adobe mirror the Southwestern landscape. Long portals (porches) line the fronts of most buildings offering shade from the New Mexican sun. Bancos (benches) are often found built into the back walls of the portals, providing the perfect place for weary walkers to sit and watch the world go by."  Only a few steps from the parking lot and you're stepping into a living scene from an one of those old Spanish movies (then add some tourists and take out the subtitles, lol)!  There was live music throughout the area, lots of art galleries and gifts, the landmark church on the square, and unexpected alleyways leading to hidden surprises tucked away for curious visitors to stumble upon.
I walked through the sculpture garden at The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, before going inside to find a wonderful exhibition on Clara Driscoll and a brilliant collection of Tiffany lamps her and the other "'Tiffany Girls" came to create.

I hopped back into my car and traveled a few miles to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, whose mission is preserving the culture of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, and "advancing understanding by presenting the accomplishments and evolving history of the Pueblo people of New Mexico."  I caught some Native American dancing in the courtyard, and browsed the museum's three galleries, including its current exhibition, "Gathering the Clouds - a gallery of Pueblo textiles and pottery that expresses the deep interconnection between Pueblo spirituality, art and nature."  The most touching experience during my visit was found in the South Gallery, where I explored the exhibit, "Indivisible: African Native-American Lives in the Americas."  "A part of the American story has long been invisible—the story of people who share African American and Native American ancestry. Over centuries, African American and Native people came together, creating shared histories, communities, and ways of life. Often divided by prejudice, laws, or twists of history, African-Native Americans were united by a double heritage that is truly indivisible."  I was so thankful for the in-depth look into a history and perspective I was completely oblivious to.

San Felipe de Neri
I drove a few miles more to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which provides venues for visitors to learn about Hispanic culture throughout the world, dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities."  On Sundays it's FREE - lucky me!  I explored the wonderful galleries of the Art Museum, including a current exhibition on the work of three different, emerging artists (Robb Rael, Jocelyn Lorena Salaz and Vicente Telles), and strolled through the beautiful Roy E. Disney Center for performing arts, where I snapped a couple photos of some Santana memorabilia, poked my head into the History & Literary Arts building (a fiery group of musicians played in the courtyard).  Certainly without a doubt, the highlight of my visit was the "monumental 4,000 square foot work, largest concave fresco in North America - Mundos de mestizaje: A Vision of History through Fresco by Frederico Vigil; a mural depicting "over 3,000 years of Hispanic history in the broadest sense, from Europe to Mesoamerica and into the American Southwest, illustrating the complexities and diversity of the Hispanic experience."  I must have sat there at least 10 minutes looking up to the top of the tower, completely mesmerized.

 I drove an hour north up to Santa Fe, and checked into the humble international hostel for the evening.  I had a drink at Rouge Cat bar (Chambord & Sprite, yum!), before turnin' in for the night.  Wow, what a full day.  And tomorrow might be even MORE full!


Arizona Chapter 7: Meteor Crater & Petrified Forest Nat'l Park

Thursday, July 21st
I left Canyon de Chelly and took to Highway 191 S to Interstate 40 W;
arriving at Meteor Crater just a few hours later. With the highway speed limit at 65 mph and the interstate at 75 mph, it seemed lightning-fast!

Meteor Crater prides itself on being "The first proven, and best preserved meteor impact site on the planet, due to early research and the area's arid climate." "Meteor Crater is the result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep."

Meteor Crater

I spent the entire two hours they told me to allow, seeing the fantastic, 10-minute video, browsing through the comprehensive, interactive exhibits in the museum, attending the ranger-led talk and of course seeing the crater and it's several features from the 3 different viewing platforms on the rim.

Meteor Crater PROS: Plenty to see and do during your visit; even the gift shop has a ton of different rocks and fossils to look at or purchase.
CONS: It's $15 to get in, and its Subway restaurant is selling sandwiches for $8-9.

Around 7pm I arrived at KOA RV Park in Holbrooke, the only place to legally pitch my tent within a relatively close proximity of Petrified Forest National Park, which I'm seeing tomorrow. It was $22.20 with tax, making it one of the most expensive campgrounds I've stayed at so far, and it's right next to the interstate, but there was only one other tent there, you get plenty of amenities like a good-sized pool (I floated around in my tube for while watching the lightning storm in the distance), internet access, electric outlets and water faucets at every site, and it was the cleanest campgound I've ever seen in my life!

"Giant Logs Trail," Petrified Forest Nat'l Park

Friday, July 22nd
I arrived at nearby Petrified Forest National Park via the south entrance at around 10:30 this morning, and spent FIVE hours walking thr trails and stopping at all the scenic overlooks.  "With one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, native grassland, and displays of over 200-million-year-old fossils, this is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science."  The park is relatively small in comparison to say Yellowstone or Yosemite, and the ranger at the visitor center told me I could see everything in 2-3 hours - man, was she wrong, lol!  If by "everything" she meant just driving though and stopping at all the scenic overlooks, she's right.

After talking with the ranger at Rainbow Forest Museum, I watched the informative orientation video and was on my way - right out the back door, where there was the first walking trail (all the walking trails in the park are paved).  I grabbed a trail guide and walked the 1/2-mile "Giant Logs Trail," which features "some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park.  'Old Faithful' at the top of the trail, is almost 10 feet across the base."  The logs were beautiful - "coming from minerals in the silica-saturated waters.  Iron, carbon, manganese, ans sometimes cobalt and chromium produced patterns and blends of yellow, red, black, blue, brown, white and pink."   As old as 225 million years ago, these wonderful creations are truly remarkable.  I can't believe I got to touch them.

Slice of Petrified Log 
Then I stopped into a souvenir shop, which showcases all kinds of slices of the petrified wood, all polished up, for sale.

Next I combined two walks for a total of 2.5 miles, starting with the "Long Logs" trail, which features one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park.  I connected up to the trail to Agate House, the ruins of a small pueblo occupied for a short time about 700 years ago. its walls made of the blocks of agatized wood!  Remarkable!

Next stop was Crystal Forest, where I walked the 3/4-mile loop through the field of fallen trees, where "despite more than a century of collecting, a few beautiful crystals hide in the petrified logs."  And even though I saw plenty of signs that forbid disturbing or defacing of anything in the park, I saw people young and old alike, grabbing the pieces of wood to get a closer look.  Pathetic.

"Painted Desert"

I continued driving north to the scenic vistas - Jasper Forest, Agate Bridge, Blue Mesa (where I walked a little bit of thr trail through the beautiful badland hills of bluish bentonite clay), Newspaper Rock and Puerco Pueblo (tons of cool petroglyphs!), Route 66 pullout, and then into the Painted Hills of red and orange at overlooks Lacey Point, Whipple Point, Nizhoni Point, Chinde Point, Kachina Point, a peek inside historic Painted Desert Inn, Tawa Point, Tiponi Point and a little visit to Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance.
Painted Desert PROS: A fascinating walk through time, through colorful, fallen forests from 225 million years ago!
~ No campground.
~ No real "hiking" trails, per se.

I left the park around 5:30pm and headed east on I-40 into New Mexico, to the touristy little city of Gallup, the center of commerce for the Navajo people.


Arizona Chapter 6: Monument Valley & Canyon de Chelly

Tuesday, July 19th
So last night I got my blog 100% up-to-date, and out of nowhere I somehow lost a week's worth of entries!  Ugh.  So this morning I went back to McDonald's and retyped them, then I went to the library and uploaded some photos onto the blog, which took me 'til about 2:30pm to complete (so much for speedy internet there - wasn't good yesterday or today).  I felt SO FREE getting it all done - it's the worst part of my trip, feeling stuck in a place until I get my "chores done."  I just want to play!

At about 3pm I reached nearby Horseshoe Bend, "a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, reached via a 3/4-mile hike through thick sand (totally worth it).  Mid-afternoon provided much better lighting conditions for photography than last time when I went at sunset.  This time I could actually see the beautiful, bright green color of the water.  I explored the rim and climbed around the ledges and whatnot for different viewpoint.  I picked up a few memory cards in Page, then finally got the hell outta dodge!

On the Way to Monument Valley

Oh, I almost forgot, before I went to the library it was time for lunch.  I went to the Chinese "Gourmet" Buffet, grabbed a plate, saw they had only two islands of food, all of which only one dish was vegetarian-friendly.  I looked down at the little group of noodles on my near empty plate and knew there was no way I would get my money's worth eating here, so I politely explained the situation to the stern-looking lady (probably the co-owner with her husband standing nearby) and let her know I would be going, and to my surprise she told me no, I couldn't leave without paying for the buffet, of which not one scrap had yet touched my mouth!  I repeated that I was leaving and grabbed my things from my table and headed for the door, turning around to shake my finger at them, as they should have been ashamed of themselves.  Unbelievable.  How can people be so greedy and cold?  Like in Sedona when I asked the lady at a motel close to Slide Rock Park if I could park my car in their huge lot that was nearly empty, because the parking lot at the state park was all full.  She said "No, sorry."  How can a person like that live with themselves everyday?  Does it give them some kind of power-high to refuse someone a simple kindness?

The Most Beautiful View I've Seen from my Tent

Anyway, after Horseshoe Bend I drove a couple hours east to Monument Valley (witnessed a dog herding sheep right in the ditch of the road a couple miles from the entrance - cool!) in Navajo Nation Tribal Park, where for $10 I pitched my tent in their primitive, dispersed camping ground - on the most AMAZING spot, perched on a ledge overlooking a perfect, unobstructed view of the "world-famous" Mittens and Merrick Butte formations.  I was overwhelmed by these massive, solitary rock formations that are still left standing after 50 million years of erosion.  It was absolutely beautiful and without a doubt the most breath-taking place I've ever set up a tent.  Basically you get to camp on a scenic vista overlooking what may be considered the most "landmark" formations in the park!  By sundown the the ledge behind me was full of tents.   Their are no designated sites, so people can set up camp wherever they wish, but most did so within about 20 feet of their vehicles.  I couldn't possibly help but snatch up the spectacular spot I got, and was totally worth the couple of trips I made, hauling my essentials from the car.   Once finished setting up, I kicked back in my camping chair and soaked up the view, as nightfall descended on the valley floor.

Hear: Crickets and lots of noisy, French tourists
Smell: A campfire from the people upwind of me
Feel: A cool, gentle wind
Taste: My dinner of baby clams and red wine
See: A shooting star!  Lightning on all sides of me, in the distance.  The orange moon ascending from behind East Mitten Butte.

I love this place.  There's a peaceful solitude about it.  I may make it a late night!  I can always sleep in tomorrow :)

A View from "North Window" Overlook

Wednesday, July 20th
This morning I went to the Visitor Center to get cleaned up, and was surprised to find a wonderful little museum of Navajo artifacts, jewelry and dress, as well as a sizable gift shop.  Then I hit the road, "Valley Road" to be exact, for the 17-mile scenic loop drive down the rough, dirt road, for up-close views of these monoliths, some towering as high as 1,000 feet, with numbered posts for names like Totem Pole and Three Sisters.  Before leaving the park, I checked out the "male-style Navajo hogans, with stoves made from 55 gallon drums."

Monument Valley PROS:  Cheap camping with unparalleled views, and a spectacular scenic drive.  I said "WOW" a LOT.
~ The locals come right up to peoples' tents to solicit their wares and try to sell needless, overpriced tours.
~ The endless hoards of tour drivers tear through the rough road at obnoxious speeds, with a move-it-or-lose-it mentality.  

I grabbed a shower at Goulding's Campground about 6 miles away, before taking the two-hour drive to the beat up, eye-blink town of Chinle (where I saw cattle grazing right next the shoulder of the the main highway - neato!), arriving at Canyon de Chelly National Monument at 4pm.  

First Overlook in Canyon de Chelly, North Rim Drive

"Canyon de Chelly preserves spectacular ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, and reflects one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America.  Canyon de Chelly also sustains a living community of Navajo people, who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance. Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park service units, as it is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that remains home to the canyon community. NPS works in partnership with the Navajo Nation to manage park resources and sustain the living Navajo community."

"Most park visitors arrive by automobile and view Canyon de Chelly from the rim, following both North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive. Ancient ruins and geologic structures are visible, but in the distance, from turnoffs on each of these routes.  Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide.  The only exception to this rule is the White House Ruin Trail."

With no entrance fee and a peek at the free campground (Yes, really!) I got a map at the visitor center and hit the ground driving with enthusiasm.  Of the two, thirty-mile (round-trip) drives through the monument, I opted for North Rim Drive first, stopping at Antelope House (talk about starting off the experience with a bang, wow!), Mummy Cave (another jaw-dropper!) and Massacre Cave overlooks.

Thunder started roaring and I could see huge bolts of lightning in the distance; lucky for me, I was finished with the overlooks before it started raining cats and dogs.  The storm apparently hadn't made it to the campground.  I set up my tent while fending off the biggest population of ants I think I've ever seen in my life - certainly the biggest I've ever seen at any campground.  Is this why it's free?  Lol.

"Antelope House"

After some seriously slow (11 Mbps! - but complimentary thanks to the generous fellow at the front desk) internet at nearby Holiday Inn, I got back to the campground at Canyon de Chelly around 10pm, to find a huge RV parked in my space.  Are you kidding me?  Could they not see my bright red tent sitting directly in front of it?!  I approached the door of the RV to find an able, elderly woman, with a smile on her face saying she knew what I was there for.  She told me someone had taken their space, so they took me mine, and she said they were getting ready for bed and asked if there was a problem.  I laughed, and said "Well yeah, I'd like to park in my space, but I suppose (because you're old and I'm kind) I can park in the big space next door (that you apparently liked less than mine)."  This is a reminder many people don't operate on logic or even common sense, for it would suggest that if someone did something I didn't like (i.e. taking my parking space) I wouldn't then turn around and do the exact same thing to someone else.  This was a reminder that for many, consideration and wisdom does not come with age. 

Thursday, July 21st
This morning I packed up the tent and took South Rim Drive to the Seven overlooks: Tunnel, Tsegi, Junction, White House (and I did the 2.5-mile round-trip hike down to the canyon floor for a much closer view; the only hike in the monument that can be taken without permit and Navajo guide), Sliding House, Face Rock and Spider Rock (how they came up with the names for the last two I have no idea; they didn't look like faces or spiders to me or the other people).  I conclude that North Rim Drive has more spectacular ruins; South Rim is a good introduction to North Rim.  Antelope House in my opinion is no doubt the most impressive jewel in the park, and certainly worth the drive.

"White House" Ruins

Canyon de Chelly PROS
~A wonderful glimpse into living history - the land and dwellings of an early people who occupied the area as early as A.D. 300, and the lifestyles of their descendents, still living on and working the lands to this day!
~Free entry and campground!
~ Unless you hike down to the White House Ruin, you can see the dwellings only from a distant, bird's-eye view.  My binoculars were priceless!
~ Locals desperately peddling their wares at every overlook.

I took to Highway 191 S to Interstate 40 W; arriving at Meteor Crater just a few hours later.  With the highway speed limit at 65 mph and the interstate at 75 mph, it seemed lightning-fast!

Photo Albums