Tuesday, June 02, 2015

New Places in New Mexico

New Mexico has always been one of our favorite states to visit.   There’s so much diversity; from forested mountains to desolate desert, and each time we come here we discover something new.
We spent a few days in Alamogordo, our jumping off point for the Sacramento Mountains.  We’ve written about our visits here before, but a drive up to Cloudcroft and Sunspot is always a must for us.  Sunspot, a location operated by the National Solar Observatory, is the home of  the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, said to be the finest of its kind in the world, even after half a century of use.  Sunspot Visitor Center
From 20 miles below on the desert floor, as a young airman I  could look out the window of the control tower at Holloman AFB and see  the white dot of “Sunspot” on the the crest of the mountains.  The interesting thing about the instrument is that while it’s over 165 feet tall, there’s another 220 feet underground.  We were able to enter the building and walk around as technicians monitored computer displays and tweaked buttons.  SunspotWe nodded sagely when they glanced at us, although we had no earthly idea what was going on.  There’s a description of how it works here, and now that we know that it uses a Universal Birefringent Filter and Diffraction-Limited Spectro-Polarimeter it makes perfect sense.  Well, maybe not.
From Alamogordo, we drove north through Albuquerque to just south of Santa Fe for a stay at the Cochit Lake COE park (review here).   We wanted to visit Santa Fe before the crazy tourist season started, and had never been to Bandelier National Monument or Los Alamos.  Santa Fe is a town that twenty-five years ago was charming, authentic, and easy to get around in.  Since 1990, the county’s population has more than tripled and many of the things that made Santa Fe special are gone.  Traffic is bumper to bumper throughout the town, and the attempt to make everything from Wal-Mart to McDonald's look like a “pueblo” makes the place look like a Disney theme park (imagine “Puebloland”).  Santa Fe PlazaStill, the old town area is worth a walk around, and there are still some shops that offer affordable products – in between the high-priced  galleries and jewelry stores.  Santa Fe MarketNo visit is complete without a picture of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the iconic building on the old square.  So here it is.  On one corner we found this open air market with colorful purses, jewelry, and scarves, which made it feel more like the old Santa Fe.
Rubber ChickensIf you’re like so many of us, your cherished rubber chicken has probably been getting stale from hanging around the house – well, not to worry!  Here in Santa Fe you can buy fresh rubber chickens!  A little pricey at $22/pound, but you can’t spend too much on quality!
We moved north from Cochiti Lake to Roadrunner RV Park to be closer to our next destination.  We’d never been to the area around Los Alamos, and were fascinated by the Pajarito Plateau, an elevated area with deep forested valleys.  It’s easy to see why the secret town was built here for the development of the first atomic bomb; it’s remote and isolated up on top of the plateau.  We didn’t have a chance to visit the museum, and other than the high number of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) facilities, the town didn’t hold much interest for us.  But Bandelier National Monument sure did. 
Bandelier ValleyLeaving the plateau, the road curved downward into a verdant valley with towering cliffs on one side.  At the visitor center, we learned that the porous, soft-looking rock has been used for habitat for over 10,000 years. 
As we began walking down the trail, the rock walls turned  from a solid to Swiss-cheese like texture.Rock Wall
The path up the valley was paved and easy to walk.  Soon we came alongside some of the lower structures that were built against the cliff face.Cliff Face
Structures and WallTourists and Wall
Petroglyphs are noticeable on the walls as you walk along.  One of the best preserved is this, which is described in the park guide as a Macaw.   We agreed it looked more like a Coatimundi……Petroglyph
What struck us as remarkable was the level of access to the cliff dwellings.  Ramps and ladders led up to some very high areas without any apparent restrictions to age.  Climbers
 At the end of the trail we came to Alcove House, a cliff dwelling 140 feet above the valley floor that was home to about 25 pueblo people.  To get there involved climbing flights of stone stairs and four ladders.  If you click on the image you can see someone climbing up the ladder.  It’s not one of us.  High Cliff DwellingThat’s it for now, we’re heading for South Dakota to renew our driver’s licenses and visit friends from our volunteer time there.  Check back, we’ll be posting another update soon!

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