Saturday, June 30, 2007

Visiting Albuquerque

We're just about to end our stay in Albuquerque at the American RV Park and head north to cooler (we hope) locations. It's been hot here, high 90s the last few days and so we've had to curtail our exploring since many of the sites are outdoors. We've had fun visiting some of our favorite places, and after Silver City, the quantity and quality of restaurants has been a welcome change. There's nothing like a huge, sloppy burger from Red Robin or the smoked duck at County Line, and this is one of the few locations where I can find real New Mexico green enchiladas -stacked like pancakes with a fried egg on top. Old Town Albuquerque is one of our favorite shopping areas, and a place I used to visit each time I was here on business to fetch Brenda a "trinket". During the summer months, mariachis and other types of groups play each night on the gazebo; it's a neat place but it was just too hot to spend much time there. We took a day trip to Santa Fe and the Plaza, but quickly realized that this time of year the area was overrun by tourists - no parking, huge crowds, and miserable traffic. We cut our visit short and instead explored the Pecos river valley, where we saw this spooky tree. On another day, we drove up to Sandia Peak, high above the city at 10, 678' , where the views are spectacular and the temperature was in the low 70s. We drove rather than take the tramway, a truly scary ride that at one point is over 600' above the ground. Brenda started screaming just looking at it. The tram ends at a restaurant appropriately named the "High Finance", and it isn't named that because of the altitude. It's about a 1 1/2 mile hike to the restaurant if you don't take the tram, and all of the supplies and the staff are brought up by the tram each morning. Interestingly, there is no water on the mountain , so the tram has a 1000 gallon tank in the bottom that is used to supply the restaurant and acts as ballast if the passenger load is light. We've enjoyed our stay here, but are anxious to see the Chama area and meet our friends, Joe & Susan. Finally, I'll close with a picture of this baby Scott's Oriole that was pushed or fell from it's nest. Talk about a picture of someone having a bad day!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Exploring the Gila, Part 2

We've had a great time here in Silver City, and before we leave wanted to share some more of the places we've explored. One of the most well known sites in this area are the Gila Cliff Dwellings passing through canyons, forests, and descending into a beautiful valley of the Gila River where the visitor center and trail to the cliff dwellings beings. Getting there is not half the fun, as the trail climbs over a mile up a small canyon and then up the cliff into the dwellings. Fortunately, our stylish yet functional hats kept us from sunstroke, and with lots of water and patience we arrived at the dwellings in time for a tour given by one of the volunteers. This is a fascinating place and you're able to walk inside the rooms and see some of the artifacts, such as small petrified corn cobs and the wooden support beams, all over 700 years old. Not much is know about the Mogollon (Mug-ee-own) Indians who lived here or why they left after only a few years, but it's easy to see why they chose this location. Overlooking a year long stream high above the heat of the valley, this was also an easily, located 35 miles north of town on a paved, winding forest road. The road itself is an adventure, defensible area and view provided an advance warning of an approaching enemy. The caves stay cool in the summer and we enjoyed the escape from the sun, but knew that sooner or later we had to head back down to the valley. There, we stopped at the visitor center, which offers a lot of information on the ruins and an informative movie. The cliff dwellings are remarkable and it is truly worth the trip to see them. Lodging and meals are available on the way at the Grey Feather Lodge (great green-chile cheeseburgers), and the Spirit Canyon Lodge and Cafe (good German food on Saturdays). The cliff dwellings has a volunteer program and furnishes RV sites; but after considering it decided that the remote location and lack of cell phone service was not something we'd be interested in for now. Our next trip was to the catwalk in Whitewater Canyon, the ghost town of Mogollon, and a drive into the high mountains. The catwalk, constructed of metal, follows Whitewater Canyon for almost a mile into the mountains above a clear running stream. The climb is fairly easy, shaded by trees, and we could see trout in the stream below. It's a beautiful place to visit and picnic and not far off the main road. Traveling up a road a few miles, we turned off on a nasty paved road to Mogollon, a sorta-ghost town with lots of mine ruins and run-down houses with yards full of rusting cars and appliances (where did the miners get all of those washing machines?) It was here that one of the worst-ever spaghetti westerns, "My Name is Nobody" was filmed, somehow starring Henry Fonda. Today it's a mix of semi-restored buildings and decayed ruins, with abandoned mines along the road. Continuing past Mogollon, the road turned to dirt and started to climb. Our goal was to reach a lake high in the mountains, but the road was washed out and instead our 25-mile backroad trip to us to the fire lookout at Bear Wallow Mountain, 9950' up and with fantastic views. Throughout the trip, we were amazed at the deep forest and beauty of the green meadows; wildflowers were everywhere, and the fields of Silvery Lupine were in full bloom. Along the way, we saw elk and heard wild turkeys in the canyons - what a great day! A few days later, we decided to take another long trip into the mountains, this time from the other (sorta east) side. This was an especially long backroad trip, 40 miles on way through some very rugged country. The road followed a pattern; straight along a ridgetop, then switchbacks down into a narrow canyon, then switchbacks up out of the canyon......repeat seven or eight times. Our destination was Wall Lake, which turned out to be worth the trip. Just past the Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, this little lake sits at the end of a green meadow surrounded by sandstone bluffs. If you wanted to see the one perfect representation of the beauty of the Gila, this is the place. On the way home, we stopped by historic Fort Bayard, now owned by the State of New Mexico and housing a veterans cemetery and hospital. We toured the historic buildings and grounds, and I found the Golden-spurred Columbine in full bloom that beings this blog. There has been so much to see and do here, and not enough time or space to tell you all the places we've visited; but it's been a month and we're getting "hitch itch". We'll be moving north tomorrow, and will keep you updated on our adventures. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Exploring the Gila

With over 5 million acres, the Gila National Forest and Aldo Leopold Wilderness are larger than many northeast states. This huge area of forests, mountains, and year-around rivers and streams is one of the most beautiful and interesting places we've visited. The drive from Silver City into the forest to the north begins with the old mining town of Pinos Altos, where we stopped for lunch at the Pinos Altos Ice Cream Parlor, a must for Brenda once she found out that they served black walnut ice cream. Homemade soups (the green chile and beef barley was tasty) and hot dogs are the lunch of choice, followed of course, by ice cream. The building is an eclectic blend of cafe, gift shop, information center, and also serves as the town post office. We chatted with the owners who told us that the building, built in the 1860s, has been a store, saloon, and bordello. You've got to love a place that has such a great history and decor! The owners are nice folks & we'll be back for more ice cream before we leave the area. Continuing up NM 15, we entered the forest and began exploring the campgrounds and took a dirt road that headed...up. After seven miles, the road ended at the Sentinal Peak lookout tower, where we met John, who staffs the tower five days a week. John's been working at the tower for nine years, starting in late May each year until the fire season is declared over by the Forest Service, usually in October. He's supplied with a vintage "Fireball" travel trailer, propane, and an outhouse equipped with framed picture and wooden seat. He mentioned in a story published in the local paper, you can read it here. He took the time to show us around and as we were getting ready to leave, presented Brenda with a Smokey the Bear scarf which we now use as a cover on our steering-wheel table. This of course triggered a response from the Cheesecake Goddess, and soon we were on our way back to the tower with a "lemony cream" cheesecake, much to John's appreciation. Since Brenda was reluctant to climb up the rickety, windy and creaky 1940s tower, John took the time to show her the view using panoramic photos. The area around the base of the tower is decorated with the only pink flamingos I've seen in New Mexico. John denies every having anything to do with them (or the framed picture in the outhouse) and sticks to his story that a female-type fire tower person is responsible.
On another day, we explored the west side of the Gila, and the towns of Gila, Cliff, and Glenwood, small towns that provide access to the forest and mountains. We headed west along the Gila River, which flows year around from the heart of the wilderness. The river creates a beautiful valley, with large cottonwoods and sycamore trees along the banks. These areas are bird watcher havens, and we've seen some beautiful birds, like the Scarlet Tanager, Golden Eagle, and rare Black Hawk for the first time. We can't begin to describe the beauty of this region and how much we've enjoyed it - stay with us for part 2!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Silver City Blues

We've always been intrigued by Silver City during our brief stops, and wanted to spend more time here exploring the town and nearby Gila Wilderness. We're staying at the Rose Valley RV Ranch for a month, and have been amazed at all the things to see and do. The RV ranch was a pleasant surprise; each site has a fenced patio area made of boards from old buildings and rustic logs. The office, laundry, and cabins are all built to resemble ranch buildings, and each site is large and is spaced well away from its neighbor. Our hummingbird feeder has been well visited; Black-chinned, Ruby-throated, Broad-tailed, and Costa's hummingbirds are keeping Brenda in the nectar-making business and are a delight to watch. The Costa's (pictured) is especially beautiful with its iridescent green coat.
Silver City is the most interestingly diverse place we've been. There's a small university and an upscale housing area, sizable cowboy contingent and rodeo arena, and a group we haven't seen in years - ever wonder what happened to the 60's hippies? They're here! This area must have the highest number of surviving VW Microbuses left in the US.....and they all come together downtown, especially at the Silver City Blues Fest held in late May. Although we're not really fans, we visited the park, listened to the music, and looked at the many different vendors; most of which were geared to the biker crowd. The festival is a biker destination, with hundreds of Harleys parked along the street and lots and lots of tattoos on display. The music was good and everyone seemed to be having a good time, especially the guy I photographed dancing by himself - he sure was enjoying himself! After visiting the Blues Fest, we walked "downtown" and had lunch at a great restaurant called Issac's, an upscale eatery in one of the old, restored storefronts that had a great menu and reasonable prices. It was an indicator of the eclectic nature of downtown that across the street was the Buffalo biker bar, with it's requisite line of Harley's parked outside. Later in the week we had lunch at another downtown restaurant; Shivek & Mi, that had a truly unusual menu. Who would expect the soup of the day in a Silver City eatery to be "chilled fresh blackberry pinot noire"? (it was delicious!) Other downtown business reflect the local population; coffee shops like "Java the Hut", and "Java Lina", gift and speciality shops, an old theater, and thrift shops also fill the street. There's a lot of old west history here and you can't go anywhere in this part of New Mexico without running into some type of Billy the Kid history. The "kid", who's real name was William Antrim, lived here in his teen years until his mother died of tuberculosis. Markers in town commemorate his escape from jail after being arrested for theft. His mother's grave is located right next door to where we're staying (the RV park's address of "memory lane" should have been a giveaway).
While old silver mines are still present throughout the area, the real mining success and still the main employer is copper mining. The Santa Rita or El Chino mine, one of the world's largest open pit mines, is still being worked, even on a Sunday, the day we stopped at the overlook and took this photo. The history of the mine is impressive; Spanish explorers were given copper items from indians who worked the mine in the 1500s, and although its growth over the years has slowed, it still employs over 1200 people. So, in Silver City we've got miners, educators, bikers, hippies, cowboys.....and a Super Wal-Mart for shopping! We've plenty of adventures ahead here, so come back soon and share our experiences!