Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
U.S. Southwestern road and hiking trip
Mara here. Reporting / journaling / blogging / writing / whatever you want to call it - from the coastal town of Fairfield, Connecticut where I just got in from a beach walk.
I've been on the road now for two full days and finally have a bit of time to do some typing.
First, a little background on the preparation I've done for this trip...
After an offer in January to join some friends as they start their CDT thruhike, I started getting in shape by hiking in the nearby Middlesex Fells Reservation. At first, I just hiked the five mile Reservoir Loop with a fanny pack but I soon started carrying a 15 pound backpack and worked my way up to a 30 pound backpack which is about as heavy a backpack as I've ever carried since my AT thruhike. I also did the trail twice on some days when I had the time.
Unlike the AT where it is possible to get in shape while on the trail, the CDT, with its limited water, requires hikers to be able to start out going 20+ miles each day, carrying a full day's worth of water, and with 5-7 days between towns packs are heavy with food, too. It was absolutely necessary to get in shape before I hit the trail. In this case, while I have to be able to carry the weight and go the distance, I'm anticipating a somewhat easier foot bed than the AT so at least I won't have to deal with rough trail.
One of the nice things about my near daily walks in the Fells was watching spring come along. From hiking on some days with temps in the teens and wind chills around zero, last week, it hit the 70s for a couple of days in a row, the warmest it had been since early October. The woods were very quiet and still in the winter but have since gotten busier and louder. A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing flocks of robins come out, one of which was struggling with a huge worm. Other signs of spring include pairs of rodents starting to chase each other around. Two sightings of ribbon snakes sunning themselves were another sign of warmer weather. An Eastern Bluebird winged past one day. A Barred Owl, calling "who cooks for you" and then gliding silently through the forest. Finally, just this week, the wood frogs and peepers emerged, adding their calls to the ever louder springtime in the Fells. And now that it's warmed up, a lot more people, hiking, biking, walking, and even playing hacky sack are now making use of the Fells to get outside.
When I packed a few days ago, I almost fell over when I picked up my pack. For the first time in two months, I didn't have it laden with extra weight. At my base weight, which I estimate to be around 14 pounds, it was surprisingly light!
After leaving the house on Saturday, I was almost glad to have to drive through a bit of rain. My car had recently been parked under the flight paths of too many birds and it needed the power wash.
In Connecticut, I met my sister, Sharon, and Mom at my Mom's place in Glastonbury. Heading out to drop off my nephew at a class event he was attending, we stopped to watch a group of deer foraging in a field. Then we had a nice dinner together, and a stop for dessert before seeing my Mom back to her place.
Sunday morning, I got up and was ready to leave the house to go meet my sister when she pulled up at the house, not knowing if I had remembered about the time change, she figured better to stop by. Our plans had changed so we went together to pick up my Mom and went for breakfast at a homey diner-type place near where my sister lives.
Just a mile or so from where my sister has lived for 20 years, and just a couple of towns over from where I grew up was Dinosaur State Park. In all these years, I had never been there. So, after breakfast we went for a walk through the park. We caught a glimpse of the huge footprint field inside the dome, but since we were just there to walk outside, we only got up close to the few that they leave outside for people to touch and crawl over.
Then, we walked on trails and boardwalks through the swamps. The peepers and wood frogs were out here, too. A pair of mallards, and a pair of geese, one of which was already sitting on a swamp side nest also added to the ambience. The bugs were just starting to emerge and so were quite manageable. I imagine they may get to be a bit much in another few weeks.
After dropping Mom off, it was back to the house to repack the car and head south. The trip to Fairfield was quick and easy. My friend, Michele, and her husband, Neil, were waiting for me. Michele and I took off to go on a brisk walk round the neighborhood and on the beach, just a few blocks from where they live. We also stumbled upon an old cemetery with headstones from the early 1700s through the 1800s. Some interesting headstones reminded me of similar headstones I've seen in the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston.
This morning, I saw Michele off to work but will be meeting her for lunch. Then, I changed and went for a long walk on the beach. I hadn't occurred to me to check the tides, but the tide was way out compared to yesterday afternoon. The tide-exposed mudflats along the beach and some long spits of land that were submerged yesterday jutted out well into the Sound. I walked out one almost to the end, but realized that since I didn't know if the tide was going out or coming in, I didn't want to get stuck on the far side of a fairly shallow section of the spit.
Along the way, were quite a few variety of gulls but since I didn't bring along my Peterson's guide, I could only positively identify the Herring Gulls. I think I also saw Ring-Billed Gulls. There were also a couple of smaller, almost all white (winter color) gulls. I didn't see their beaks so can't really figure out which they were. Also in the mix were some Semipalmated Sandpipers and a lot of Brants (geese). There was a bit of beach art there, too... Someone balanced shells on sticks they stuck in the sand and at one end, put a whole horseshoe crab shell. Figures, I didn't bring my camera along. I've got to remember to start carrying that with me. I didn't have it at Dinosaur State Park yesterday, either. Argh!
I'm headed for lunch with Michele, now. I will continue sending updates as email access permits.
After a nice long walk on Fairfield beach in the sun on Monday morning, the forecast saw fit to come true and it clouded over and started raining as I was leaving Michele's house on the way to meet her for lunch.
I met Michele at the bank where she's working and we walked around the corner to a great little sandwich shop next to the firehouse. The sandwich selections reminded me of the options at the Hi Rise bakery in Cambridge, MA. The prices also reminded me of the same bakery, often called the High Price. But my grilled chicken with avocado, bacon, and pesto mayo was delicious. In Fairfield, I was not at all surprised to spend over $10 for a sandwich, chips, and soda.
After lunch, I got in my car and was about to leave when I realized I had forgotten my cooler in the house. So, it was back to the bank to get the keys from Michele, then back to the house, and then I finally hit the road.
Mapquest gave me a good route to Dublin, PA from CT. I followed I-95 to I-287 to Route 202 to Route 313. Going through Stamford was interesting. As I approached the area, I could see smoke and it didn't look like it was coming from a smokestack. Sure enough, when I got close, I realized there was an entire building fully engulfed. I could even see flames shooting out. An hour or so later, I even heard a radio report of the blaze which was still visible from the interstate. Later, when talking with my sister who lives in Connecticut, I found out it had been a six-alarm blaze. I guess I'm not too surprised. It's not often that you can see flames from a fire that far away.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. I had a good view of New York City in the distance as I crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge and even remembered to fill my gas tank in New Jersey just before I crossed into Pennsylvania. At $2.38, it was a good $.20/gallon cheaper than the gas in eastern Pennsylvania. As I go west through this state, I know it will get a bit cheaper as western PA doesn't have the same emissions standards and uses a different formula of gas.
It was great seeing Mule. We caught each other up with news from the trail and trail family members we had each been in touch with. I can tell I'm not in Fairfield anymore. Dinner at the local diner with a full meat and potatoes plate and all-you-can-eat salad cost just $7.50.
This morning (Tuesday), Mule and I went for breakfast in Quakertown at a little place called Sundays. Two eggs, homefries, and toast (two slices) for $.99. Mule had coffee. Our bill for the two of us: $3.00. We left $5.00.
A quick stop at George's house to see a project Mule was working on, and then it was time for a walk at Nockamixon State Park. All morning, we had seen Great Blue Herons whenever we passed waterways so it was no surprise when we saw more at the park. We had a great walk along a paved trail, and then went past the end of the trail to explore the site of an old mill. We bushwhacked a bit and managed to cross two of the three dams built to retain water to ensure flow for mill operations. On the way back to the car, I had a chance to meet yet another friend of Mule's named George who works at the park. Then, it was time for lunch, back to Mule's place where I grabbed a quick shower and hit the road.
This time, the mapquest directions to Camo's place seemed designed to be ignored. So, I did just that. Construction forced me to take an unintentional detour on the way to Camo's place but it wasn't too much of a problem and not anything that would have been solved by the mapquest directions. Then we hung out, caught up, and went out for Thai with Camile, a friend of Camo's.
Camo works nights so I've plenty of time to write my journal entry and be on-line tonight.
That's all for now... I'll try to get at least one more update out before hitting the trail on Thursday.
P.S. Don't miss 01 02 03 04 05 06 tonight (or tomorrow morning early). At 01:02:03 o'clock on 04/05/06. It'll be the last time this occurs for 1000 years - at least using the typical American way of looking at the calendar. If you're in Europe, this doesn't really happen until May 4.
Written at various times, sent April 8:
[After two days of hiking in the rain, I know my body is in shape and had no problems with my equipment, so I bagged my shakedown hike one day early and hitched into Harpers Ferry. But, here are my journal entries up to yesterday... -MF]
Well, it's now Thursday evening on a beautiful April day. I'm enjoying it as best I can given that the forecast for the next three days calls for showers and maybe a thunderstorm.
I had intended to send out another email before starting my hike today but library hours conspired against me. I wasn't too surprised to find the West Chester library wasn't going to open until 9:30 am. It was only shortly after 8:00 when I got there and too long to wait. But I was disappointed at noon to find the Fairfield library didn't open until 2:00. Also, too long to wait.
Camo works night shift so my last update went out after he went to work two nights ago. Only I forgot to "approve" it so it really didn't get sent out until the next day. I slept that night while Camo went off to work. The next morning, he had a pre-surgery appointment for some upcoming knee surgery so I went with him to keep him company during the inevitable waits. A couple of hours later, we left the hospital, drove through some very nice neighborhoods, and went to Michael's for brunch. We were surprised while eating to look out the window and see multiple snow squalls come through. Never enough to stick to pavement, but a few times, the earth around the plants started turning white. Back at Camo's place, I took care of some emails and phone calls and then left Camo to get a good afternoon and evening's sleep.
I had a few hours to kill before meeting my friend Tony so I ran some errands. First, I went to the tall shop but having just bought jeans and khaki's at the shop in Boston, I wasn't really in the market for anything. Nothing jumped out at me so I was about to be on my way when I started talking with one of the employees. That netted me a contact in Taos should I head that way after my upcoming hike. Then I went shopping for my AT shakedown hike and for a couple of Passover goodies. Because I'll be hiking without a stove in New Mexico (drought is likely to bring on fire restrictions), I decided to do this hike without a stove as well.
After my errands, I went to Valley Forge and took a nice 4.5 to 5 mile walk. It was very cold and very windy so I bundled up with hat and gloves. Much of Valley Forge is open and I was glad to have bundled up. But, in the areas protected by trees, the gloves came off, the hat came off, and at times, the jacket came off, too.
I finished the walk and headed straight for West Chester. With more time to kill, I did some more shopping and bought some more loose leaf notebook paper that I use for journal paper. Staples seems to be everywhere now. I met Tony at the apartment he has literally just moved into. I was suitably warned not to expect furniture and sure enough, there was none. But, my cooler sufficed for a chair and my sleeping pad made a good couch. Indian for dinner and gelato for dessert were both delicious. Tony lives in a great neighborhood and is walking distance to all sorts of nice looking stores and restaurants.
I slept pretty well using my sleeping bag and pad but realized my pad had a slow leak. I went to the store to pick up some dishwashing liquid to help find the leak and a patch kit to fix it. Back to the apartment to find the leak, leave the dish soap, and then I was on my way. A quick stop at the AAA office confirmed my suspicion that the longer way via the turnpike would indeed be faster than taking the shorter route 30.
I started my walk on the AT going south from Blue Ridge Summit, PA on route 16 after having lunch at the diner there. I realized that was the same diner that accepted neither credit cards nor traveler's checks in 1999. A trusting patron finally took my travelers check so I could pay my lunch tab. And that was after ordering two meals to eat there and one more to go.
This time I was well prepared with cash though I stopped after just one lunch. I took time while at the restaurant to patch my pad, repack my pack, and reorganize my car before driving to the trailhead to start my shakedown hike.
I don't remember some of the rougher stretches of the trail from my '99 hike. I know there were some reroutes so maybe the trail got rougher as a result. I do know the Maryland section is .9 mile longer than it was in '99.
Much of the trail however was flat and easy as I had remembered. I suspect I'm through the roughest stretch until the descent off Weverton Cliffs.
I woke up at 5:00 to the sound of rain. Figures it couldn't have waited a couple of hours - until a bit past daylight when I could've been on the trail. So, with off and on showers, I did my best to pack up and get underway keeping most of my gear dry but loathing having to pack a wet tent. At least my groundsheet was completely dry - ever a sign of having picked a good spot to pitch my tent. All morning, I walked with rain gear - opening and closing my jacket, unzipping and zipping the side zips on my rainpants - as the wind and rain warranted. It's nice to be on the AT in these conditions where the conveniently spaced shelters offer periodic refuge from weather on days like this. I had a long and early lunch at the Ensign Cowall Shelter, a shelter that didn't exist in '99. Then I packed up and headed back into the rain. Packing while cold and wet is annoying but walking in this predominantly light rain isn't too bad. But, the rain finally stopped, the sun came out, and I'm taking a break at the Black Rock Cliffs.
Hey! One thing I've noticed... All my training hikes have paid off big time... This is the first time when I've gone backpacking after an extended break and woken up after the first day to not one single ache, pain, or overuse complaint from my body. Woohoo!!! Of course, I'm still not carrying the 35-pound pack or going the 20+ miles that I expect to do in NM. But, at least when I get out there, I'll likely feel the extra effort but won't be likely to injure myself doing so.
After the rougher stretches in northern Maryland, this afternoon I finally got to the extended flat old woods roads that I remembered. The easy hiking got me thinking...
A few weeks ago, a friend asked why I kept doing the exact same hike, day after day. I had longer, shorter, easier, and harder options. On the practical side, the hike I was doing represented the best approximation of what I felt like I would need to be able to do once I hit the CDT. Also, by doing the same hike, I could better gauge my fitness level day by day. By comparing the time it takes me each day as other variables such as weather and the weight of my pack, I could see how I was improving. Each time I added weight to my pack, my pace slowed but it would eventually improve. In the end, I was doing the five-mile loop with a 30-pound pack in the same amount of time as I had initially started my training hikes with a lightweight fanny pack.
I realized, however, that the practical reasons for using the same loop weren't the only reason. I also like the familiarity of the loop. I didn't have to think about where I was going or how far I had left. I could judge my progress at almost every point along the way. But, even though spring was changing the trail every day by the time I left, I realized I was bored with the trail during the last week or so. Or maybe, I wasn't enjoying sharing it with all the folks who rediscovered their hiking shoes once the weather got warm. Both, most likely.
Plus, even though I like the familiar at times, I still have to feed the adventurous part of myself. So, I was glad when April 1 rolled around. I turned over the keys of my apartment to my subletters and hit the road.
Back to this afternoon...
After writing for a while, I looked up and with some alarm, noticed the sky had once again turned ominous. I could see it raining not too far away and all my stuff was spread out to dry in the sun. I quickly packed up my stuff and managed to get it all in my pack before the first drops fell. It was time to start walking again. A small shower came through but stopped my the time I got to Annapolis Rocks. I left my pack at the trail junction and went down to see the view. yet another view of fields, houses, roads, and traffic below. But, I could see the allure for those looking for a short hike with a good view.
While I managed to get most of my stuff dry at Black Rock, I was able to finish the job a Pine Knob Shelter. The weather had cleared again for the evening. It'll be nice to stay in the shelter and know that I'll be able to start the day tomorrow completely dry.
I wish I knew if the Inn a few miles up the trail offers brunch or not on Saturdays. Maybe I'll just get there hungry just in case. I had a great dinner there in '99.
There have been lots of sign of deer today but no sightings. Squirrels seem to be digging up the trail to get at the acorns that hikers have pressed into the trailbed. I saw a turkey out beyond the spring at the shelter. A small mouse ran into the dead tree opposite the shelter.
Traffic noise from the interstate is loud here. My concerns about my neighbors camping nearby with a boombox were unfounded. I never heard a peep from them. Late night (10:00pm) arrivals woke me with errant sweeps of their flashlights but it was all good. I got to watch a lightning storm nearby but never heard thunder. Rain had passed by shortly after I had gone to sleep and more seemed in the offing.
Wouldn't you know it, I woke up to more rain. But at least this time, all my gear was dry so packing wasn't bad. Plus, it was warmer than it had been the previous morning so that made life easier, too. I got on the trail about 7:45 and quickly found myself going over I-70. It was easy hiking on those old woods roads that I had remembered from my thruhike. But, it was raining all morning and I was walking in fog the whole time. I didn't even bother going up to the Washington Monument (the first one was built in Boonesboro) because it was completely shrouded in fog.
I had hoped that the Inn on route 40A may be offering brunch but when I got there, the restaurant didn't open until 11:30 and it was only 10:00am. I knew that route 40A was my last likely bail point and reconsidered my options. I could keep hiking another 8 miles in rain and fog to get to the Ed Garvey shelter or I could hitch to Harpers Ferry and get dry. I decided to give hitching a try. I figured if I didn't get a ride, I could always keep walking.
Well, it didn't take me five minutes to get a ride. So, I hopped into the bed of a pickup truck and had a very wet and windy ride west to route 67. My ride was stopping there so I got out to continue hitching. As I was waving good-bye to the truck, I realized that my hydration hose was spouting water. I realized only too late that the bite valve had come off my hose in the back of the truck. So, now I need a new bite valve. In the meantime, I did my best to drain the water bag of water so that I wouldn't be pouring water into my remaining hitches. Then, I started hitching again. Once again, it took only a few minutes before my next ride came. He gave me a ride all the way to route 340 but was going east, not west. So, I walked down the ramp to route 340 and hitched once again. I didn't even notice when my next ride pulled over but quickly realized I had gotten yet another ride. He not only brought me to Harpers Ferry, but also brought me all the way into town and dropped my at ATC headquarters. Three hitches, all easy, especially considering I was looking like a wet rat.
But, in reality, I wasn't all that wet under my rain gear so I'm pretty satisfied with how everything worked.
At the ATC headquarters, I was quickly made to feel right at home again. As a matter of fact, Laurie Potteiger, my friend who was also my manager last year while working here at the ATC, called on me a few times to help answer some gear questions.
I ended up spending the rest of the day at ATC, catching up on email, doing some more trip planning, and talking with some of the visitors that came in. I went out to eat with Laurie and then back to ATC to work on some more odds and ends for the evening. I crashed at Laurie and Dick's place.
This morning, I got my journal from the previous days typed in and then made my way to the outfitter to pick up a bite valve. Unfortunately, while they did have one that would work on my hose, it wasn't the one I was looking for. So, I walked back up the hill back to ATC and remembered some of the many times I had walked that hill last year.
Around lunchtime, Tony came around. We had planned on hiking but he looked beat and sure enough, he had only gotten three hours sleep the night before. So we ended up just going out to eat before he brought me back to my car. Then, the trouble began. I started driving away only to realize, when I looked back and saw stuff flying, that I had just left my open wallet on the top of my car as I had driven off. So, I put on my blinkers and rather than pulling all the way off the road, parked to that I was partially blocking the right lane, hoping that would force traffic into the left lane and give me a chance to collect everything that was flying out of my wallet as traffic went by.
Tony, pulling out behind me, saw me pull over and did the same. For the most part, My plan worked and cars moved to the left lane as they passed. Only a few things had flown out of my wallet and I managed to safely grab the cash and the bulk of the wallet. While I had a bunch of cards in my wallet, the only two that went flying were the bankcard and credit card. Tony managed to grab my credit card but my bankcard was nowhere to be found. We found my Blistex in three pieces, the cap, tube, and insides. We even found the retractable pen portion of my knife that I wouldn't have even noticed was missing until I next went to use it but the shiny tube caught my eye.
I had given up on finding my bank card and was just thankful that I knew what had happened and knew I wouldn't really have to worry about anyone using the card until I had a chance to cancel the old one and have a new one sent to me.
So, I finally got back in my car but even though I was probably a couple or few hundred feet from where my wallet had landed, decided to crawl along the side of the road slowly before gaining speed and pulling back into traffic. I'm glad I did. Not twenty feet in front of the car was the bankcard. It must have gotten pulled along with traffic all that distance.
So, I ended up finding everything from my wallet (as far as I know).
Then, back through Harpers Ferry and to Shepherdstown to visit with Mark and John, friends I had met last summer near the end of my stay in Harpers Ferry. It was nice to shower and change back into clean town clothes. I got a tour of their new framing for a corn crib they are reconstructing on their property and then we spent a nice evening, enjoying a great dinner with a friend of theirs who is also staying the night.
Spent some time talking with John this morning as Mark had gone off to work. Then watched the plethora of birds that visit their feeder. Sparrows, towhees, juncos, goldfinch, titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, etc.
I was trying to get out of town today, a day early, but it just didn't seem in the cards. On the way back to Harpers Ferry where I was dropping off some stuff for Skeeter to pick up on the way to the ALDHA spring meeting, I noticed the temperature gage on my car was reading high. It wasn't red-lining but it wasn't normal. So, I turned on the heat thinking that might help but even though the engine seemed warm, but I got nothing but cold air.
So, at ATC headquarters, I got recommendations from two different people for the same place in Charles Town. I gave them a call, and found out they could look at my car right away. It wasn't far so I drove right down.
There was good news and bad... On the good side, it was a hose. On the bad, Ford wanted $120 for the part. Also on the bad side, they didn't have the part in stock. But, on the good side, the hose had ruptured right at the end, near the clamp, and the mechanic said the hose was long enough and in good enough shape (except for the one bad section), that he could just cut the end off and reclamp it and it should be good to go.
Phew! Seems like I dodged a bullet there. So, for $50, my car is now fixed, has plenty of heat, and the temperature gage reading was back to normal. That $50 sure brought me a lot of piece of mind given that as I drive further and further west, help will start to be further apart. This work was done so quickly that from the time I started looking for a place to look at my car, to the time they actually finished working on my car, was probably less than 2 hours. Certainly, the car was in the shop less than an hour.
Then back to ATC headquarters...
More later but it looks like I'll be spending another night in Shepherdstown.
Fri Apr 14, 2006 4:35 pm
Don't know when or if I'll be able to transcribe more journal entries before I hit the trail but just wanted to let you know where I am and where I've been.
Left Harpers Ferry and made it to Lexington in one day. Nice drive. Want to go back to Lexington - looks like an interesting place to visit.
Visited Mammoth Caves National Park - entered central time - attended cool seder in Nashville - crashed there instead of the nearby Walmart which is the one I had stayed at last year when I got off the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Made my way to Memphis to visit thruhiker - had lunch - did laundry – hung out. Then to seder starting at 8:30pm (LATE!) So knew they were observant - orthodox/lubavitch? Oy! Ate at midnight. Seder ended at 3:00am. Crashed there instead of going back to friends house.
Felt funny leaving this morning without saying goodbye. But nobody up at 8:00 when I couldn't sleep anymore.
Now in Ozark, AR, having been driving and napping my way across AR. I'm on my way to OK City, OK tonight - maybe go to swing dance.
More when I have more on-line time.
Mon Apr 17, 2006 1:54 am
Subject: 4/10 to 4/16: Shepherdstown to Albuquerque
High folks... This is likely the last installment for a while. I doubt we'll have that much access along the trail but if I can send quick updates, I will. Transcribing may have to wait until I'm off the trail.
Tomorrow, I get picked up my our shuttle driver, then go to the airport to pick up Jim and Ginny, may partners for the hike. Then we drive south, probably as far as Deming or so. Looks like we'll hit the trail on Tuesday morning. It's about time... :-)
4/10 (continued) - Shepherdstown
After dealing with my car, I went back to Harpers Ferry to the ATC offices. The computer and phone there made it an easy place to work on lining up my next few days. I already had a seder lined up for Thursday in Memphis but was hoping to find one to attend on Wednesday in Bowling Green or Nashville.
My first two calls to the congregations in Bowling Green netted answering machines. As I'm traveling without a cell phone, I hung up without leaving a message. My third call to a synagogue in Nashville netted me an invitation to a progressive egalitarian service. Sounds cool to me.
By the time I finished all that and typed in my journal, it was mid-afternoon so I just headed back out to Mark and John's place. It was a great place to hang out and I finally got my car organized for sleeping in the back. I hadn't needed to yet but I do anticipate needing to for some portion of the rest of my road trip.
I tried to help with the cooking, but John's quite the cook so I was probably as much underfoot as a help. We cooked a couple of tarts and decorating them fell to both Mark and me. With suggestions from Mark, my strawberry tart came out looking beautiful. As did Mark's pear tart. Clay, a friend of theirs, and his 9-month-old St. Bernard puppy, were also spending time at their place. Dinner was meatloaf, corn, potatoes, all followed by the tarts. Yum!
I started reading Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell at Mark and John's place and got to chapter 4. I'll have to finish reading it sometime.
I said my goodbyes, stopped in the town center for some yummy baked goods from the cafe there, and hit the road. With no reply from the prospective rider, I'm on my own for the duration. While mapquest indicates route 81 to 40 as the most direct route, I'm opting for a route new to me... I-68 to I-79 to I-64 to I-40 (or so). I'm so glad I did. It was a really nice ride through mountains with the high points all marked with the mountain name and elevation. I chuckled as I passed a sign on I-68 for the "Eastern Continental Divide" at 2,610'. I think it was at mile marker 26 or so. There were a lot of signs for interesting attractions but with an eight hour drive, I just bypassed them. I'll have to come back at some point with more time to explore.
Once in Lexington, I found the library, got directions or the next couple of days (Walmart locations, seder, etc.) and then, looking for something to do, realized there was a program on Ecuador at the library starting just a few minutes later.
Well, it wasn't about Ecuador so much as a situation that came up in Ecuador a year or two ago... A town with almost no access to westerners had seven members die from rabies over a short period and yet nothing, seemingly had changed in their area. National Geographic went and filmed there using a Kentucky professor who had been in the area as a resource for guides, etc. He was the one giving the presentation.
They were investigating the situation, trying to figure out how the local vampire bats, present for years, would all of a sudden start infecting villagers with rabies. It was fascinating how the speculation ended up including not just scientific research, but the villagers beliefs that they might have been cursed by a neighboring village.
It was dark by the time I left the library so I didn't get to see much of the horse country I was driving through as I made my way to the westernmost Walmart near Lexington. It wasn't a 24 hour store, but they let me spend the night anyway with the only stipulation that I probably wouldn't want to park where the local teenagers were hanging out. Duh! I hadn't had anything to eat for dinner so I grabbed and egg roll and hot and sour soup from the Chinese restaurant still open in the plaza.
I slept well last night and woke up a bit early for the 7am opening of the Walmart but the McDonalds across the parking lot was doing brisk business so I made use of their bathroom. I hit the road shortly after 7:00 and had an easy time driving to Mammoth Cave, rolling back the clock an hour on the way there as I entered Central Time.
Once there, I hooked up with the 8:45 historic tour. The Visitor's Center is located at the natural entrance to the cave that was used by the Native Americans from 4000 years ago to about 2000 years ago. Then, it was rediscovered by settlers in the early 1800s and mined for gunpowder ingredients. Finally it became the second oldest tourist cave in the U.S. The historic tour went through the largest of the caverns in the cave system but these sections, capped with sandstone which seals out water, has very few of the geologic formations associated with caves.
After a lunch break I took the Frozen Niagara Tour which went to the other end of the "tourist" cave system. We entered through a huge hole and descended maybe 200 feet of stairs straight down.
From there, we walked through a dry stretch of cave remarkably similar to the historic section save the absence of signs of human activity. The end of the tour brought us to the signature cave formation, Frozen Niagara, and other "wet" elements of the cave: stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, bacon, flowstone, and more.
It was here that the algae formation was also most evident. Years of people bringing the organisms into the caved coupled with the heat from the lights used for so many years promoted such growth. But, there’s now hope that will change. The entire tourist cave system (the cave is much larger than where tourists visit) is being rewired to go from a 7000 watt system of incandescent lighting which gives off a lot of heat to a 400 watt LED system which gives off little heat. With any luck, the reduction in temperature will be enough to halt algae growth and maybe kill off what's already there.
As a result of this rewiring, the longer 4.5-hour tour, which I had hoped to take, will not be offered until this fall.
Afterwards, I had time for a hike so I went across the cable ferry and made my way to the Good Spring Church trailhead. From there, I took a 3.5-mile loop trail that was more like 5.5 miles. I think they didn't include the section of trail forming the loop that was concurrent with another trail. So, I ended up finishing the trail much later than planned.
I quickly made my way to Nashville for a 7:30 seder. I had intended to clean up and change before I got there (the National Park had showers) but I ended up not stopping and got there exactly at 7:30 to find that they had already started the seder. Ooops! I quickly changed and joined my hosts.
They were using a haggadah that they had made that was modern and egalitarian. We all got a laugh when we realized that I walked in just before they were to start looking for Elijah and Miriam to come walking through the door. My Hebrew name is Miriam.
It was a great group of people, a fairly short seder, and a marvelous meal of salmon. Even though the seder ended at a reasonable hour, I stayed up talking until 1:30. When my hosts found out I was planning on crashing at Walmart (the same one I stayed at last year, as a matter of fact), the offered their couch. So, I stayed with them.
With a short driving day, I was in no rush to get going except to make Memphis for lunch. But, an email check may end up changing my plans... Our shuttle driver who was to take the three of us from Albuquerque to the Mexican border is in intensive care after a bicycling accident. So, we're now scrambling to find a new driver. We have one offer to get us from Lordsburg to the border so we now have to find a ride to Lordsburg though there are flights and buses if necessary. But, I had to hit the road... In Memphis, I lunched with Sunny, a thruhiker that offered to put me up. Thai for lunch was great though a French bakery offering dessert was disappointing. Back at the house, I did laundry and then found out my friend in Albuquerque could take us as far as Las Cruces which is much closer to the border than Albuquerque and only a 2 hour bus ride away. Then we heard from someone who would take us all the way from Alb to the border. Cool! My friend is now off the hook.
With tonight's seder starting at 8:30, I knew it would be a late night and didn't know if I would be coming back to Sunny's house but in typical thruhiker fashion, Sunny was flexible and it didn't matter. The door would be open no matter how late I got back.
I got to this seder at 8:20 but in Jewish standard time (for some groups). I wasn't too surprised to walk into an Orthodox (or was it Lubovitch/Chabad/????) rabbi's house. I'm glad I had worn my longer (more modest) skirt. The seder didn't start until 9:30. There was a lot more hebrew than my family ever used but still a fair amount of english. A lot of discussion made it a lot more interesting on an intellectual level than our typical seder.
In some ways, I was enjoying it because of the discussion. In other ways, not. Amongst the very religious, they make a point of drinking all four cups of wine. Me, I can't stand the stuff and jut sipped at a little grape juice at the appropriate moments. Many of them were combining grape juice and wine to limit the effects. It was also a bit strange to not be included in the minyan. Coming from a Conservative background, I've been included since my Bat Mitzvah. There were lots and lots of kids there. For the most part, they were the rabbi's kids. Most of them had napped and stayed up with the adults to the end. They were sometimes unruly but not any more so than the adults who got louder and louder as the night went on.
The seder ended at 3:00am. Ugh!
Woke up at 6:00am. Went back to sleep. Got up at 8:00. Not surprisingly, nobody was stirring. I got ready and left without saying goodbye. Given their beliefs, I didn’t even leave a note as I believe writing is not allowed on the first couple of days of the holiday. So, I'll send a note from the road.
With only five hours (or less) of sleep, I ended up taking numerous naps at rest areas along the way. Arkansas and Oklahoma rest areas allow you to spend the night though I haven't needed to. Most are also set up so that you park far enough from the highway not to be bothered by the noise.
The terrain here is mostly rolling and flat fields. I did see a fox in one of the fields, though.
I stopped in the town of Ozark, Oklahoma to check email and realized for the first time that the name was from the French (Aux Arc) when I saw a sign for a park using the French spelling.
State mottos here have me wondering... Arkansas was "the natural state" and Oklahoma’s motto is "discover the excellence" - whatever.
I got to OKC just in time to find the Swing Dance Club (yes, a whole store front devoted to west coast swing.). With just half an hour to kill before the practice party, I grabbed a shredded barbecue beef sandwich from the place across the courtyard. I lucked out, many consider the place the best in OKC.
The dance was fun and there was a nice group of people there. Perhaps a bit too much cologne or scented aftershave on the guys but I managed. I was too tired to dance all out so I danced every now and then and had a good time. I didn't get out of there until 11:30.
My usual complaint on road trips is the lack of anything to do at night. Now, it's been four nights in a row of being busy. Oy!
Tonight's lodging was the local Walmart neighborhood store, a food supermarket with none of the department store. They weren't used to the requests for overnight parking (there was a supercenter a short distance away along the highway) but didn't have a problem with me staying.
[Today's entry was written at many points during the day - as the day progressed. A bit different than the retrospective look most entries take.]
Being away from the highway, last night's stay at Walmart was nice and quiet. I slept well.
In the morning, I visited the site of the Edward R. Murrah building that was bombed in 1995. There's a lot of symbolism in every element of the memorial, built on the site of the federal building. The chairs each represent one victim and each has a name etched in the base. There were smaller chairs representing the children who were killed. The gates at either end represent the time period from 9:01 to 9:03. There are etchings also for each group, agency, or business that was inhabiting the building at the time.
Then it was time to hit the road. West Oklahoma brought sightings of penned buffalo and llamas. And lots more rolling hills.
I stopped in Clinton to use the library computer and then continued through the drier grassland of "the west". It was windy and kept getting windier as the last of the forest gave way to scrub. There's dust in the air everywhere but thankfully, the only sandstorm I've seen was downwind of the highway. Fire danger remains high and with this wind, I wouldn't want to contemplate how fast it would spread.
Winds are steady at 35 gusting to 55. It's hard to drive so I have to keep both hands on the wheel most of the time. As a result, it's 2:30 and I haven’t' gotten to Amarillo yet. Albuquerque will likely have to wait until tomorrow.
The Texas Welcome Center here, 90+ miles from the border, is not restful. The wind, pressing through the planted trees and fences sounds like voices on the wind, not whistles. I can only open the window on the leeward side of the car but dust still gets in. Walking to and from the building presents its own problems. Here, the wind is steady above 40mph with gusts well over 50. It's hard to walk. My skirt, turned sail, didn't help matters so I pulled it up above my knees to lessen the area exposed to the wind. That helped. I've given up on napping here as the parked car is being buffeted too much.
While there is usually a fair bit of wind in this area, even the locals are talking about this one. The winds are dangerous. My door blew closed on me at one point. When I got gas, I needed to have someone hold my rear window to keep the wind from stressing the hinges too much (I have to release the gas cover from inside the rear of the vehicle).
Other observations not that I've hit Texas: Ranches here have decorative arches over their gates. Each state approaches speed limits differently: Ark - cars 70, trucks, 65; Ok - 70 limit, 40 minimum; Tex - 70 daytime, 65 after dark.
There are now billboards - a la Wall Drug - for a free 72 oz steak in Amarillo - assuming you can eat the entire thing in less than one hour. Yuck!
I finally pulled into Amarillo at 4:30 and almost passed it by. But then I decided to drive through town just to see it. On a Saturday afternoon, there are cars here and there but no traffic and no pedestrians.
I found the library and decided to check it out as the parking lot was full. What luck! It was open until 6:00pm. Woohoo! When I went in to use the computers, I found I that without a library card, I had to purchase a $5 card even if just to quickly check email. Boohoo! I passed on the card but did ask about the fee. They said there were too many repeat offenders who abused their computer privileges. When I pointed out that only locals who have library cards were abusers and that the visitors without the library cards were being penalized, the librarian shrugged. Once again, I've run across one of the few libraries to have stupid computer management systems. Argh!
Tumbleweeds and microweeds blowing across the road.
It's only four hours to Albuquerque from here. I'm going to keep driving and probably stop along the way. When I hit the state line, I'll gain an hour as I enter Mountain time.
Oh Cool! Driving west, I see cars pulling over on the south side frontage road. Strange. Then I see people walking into the field. Stranger. Then I see where they're heading. There are a bunch of old cars, deliberately planted in the field similarly to Carhenge. I take the next exit and backtrack to go see for myself. It turns out to be Cadillac Ranch. Ten 50/60s era cars stuck in nose first up to the rear door leaving tail fins flying. Those visitors in the know bring their own spray paint to add their own touch to the colorful cars.. The rest of us bring cameras.
I made it to Tucumcari, the first town of any significant size inside New Mexico.
More random notes...
My gas mileage today is down ot about 20mpg given the headwinds. PLus, I'm now at 4,000' plus elevation and that doesn't help, either. It figures gas prices would skyrocket this winter and spring right after I decide to make this trip. So far, the most expensive I've paid was $2.82. The least, in OK, was $2.59. But, at least the cheap states are the big miles state.
We've also had summer-like temps in the high 80s and low 90s the last few days. With any luck, the wind and temps will moderate by Tuesday, when we start hiking. In the last two hours, though, from 7:30pm to 9:30, the temps have dropped from 74 to 72.
Near the TX/NM border I'm only able to get none, one, or two radio stations. Went through Deaf Smith County and wondered what's in a name. Terrain went from horizon to horizon flat fields to distant bluffs. I've been paying attention to trying to recognize windmills drawing water as that may be our source on our hike. They're not so easy to see if they don't rise above the horizon. I've also passed a couple of windmill farms. On a day like today though, the turbines are either generating maximum energy or stopped due to winds being too high.
With no Walmart in town, I opted against the $17 motel room and drove 30 more miles west to a rest area. Lots of trucks here and a few cars, too. Situated myself under a light to maximize shade and went to sleep.
Slept really well and got a full eight hours of sleep. Organized a bit and got on the road. I got to Albuquerque in time to get to REI when it opened at 10:00 and picked up my silk sleeping bag liner and a new bite valve to replace the one left behind in the back of a pickup in maryland.
Trader Joes netted Luna bars and a few other snacks but no dried mango. Whole Foods netted dried pineapple and dried cantaloupe. Yum! Alberston's and Smith's, local supermarkets, rounded out my food shopping for the start of my hike and the first two mail drops I'm sending to myself.
All these errands were not far from where I have a contact in town. Janice, a friend of a friend, is turning into a real trail angel. I'm staying with her tonight and she's been a huge help in pointing me to resources, helping with boxes, etc.
We rounded out the evening with a trip to a wonderful Italian place. Then I finished packing and it was time for bed.
Tue Apr 25, 2006 5:19 pm
Subject: 4/17-4/21 - Albuquerque to Brockman Hills
I'm off the trail for a few days trying to figure out a skin issue that's not sunburn. I'm hoping cortisone cream, moisturizer, and four or five days out of the sun fix the problem. Jim and Ginny have hiked on from Lordsburg and I've come up to Silver City in the hopes of rejoining them once they get here.
In the meantime, I've had time to get on-line, catch up with email, and start transcribing my trail journal. Here's the last day on the road and the first four days on the trail. I'll be in town a few more days so should be able to catch up completely before heading back out on the trail.
Up early and unable to sleep, I hopped in the shower shortly after 6:00am. Janice, also an early riser, suggested breakfast. I had to do a load of laundry, so after we waited for it to wash and I put it in the dryer, we left for breakfast. Janice, also somewhat new to the area was open to suggestion so based upon a suggestion I had gotten yesterday, we went to the Range Café. What a find!
Their menu selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner all looked great. We both ended up ordering stuffed French toast which ended up being huge and spectacular. It was three 1” thick layers of cinnamon raisin bread stacked with bananas between the bottom two layers, strawberries between the top two layers, and smothered in an apple/peach/maple sauce with a good sized dollop of real whipped cream on the side. Yum!
Back at the apartment, I remembered to take the laundry out of the dryer and pack it away in the car. It’ll be nice not to have dirty laundry festering in a hot car for the duration of my hike.
Having gotten such an early start this morning, I had time to run both my necessary and unnecessary errands. I first ran out for a haircut and was able to make use of one of those, usually useless, coupons from the back of a supermarket receipt I had gotten yesterday. Then it was back to Walgreen’s to exchange some dud batteries I had bought yesterday. This time, I tried them in the store to make sure they were good. Then I did some last minute shopping for eight gallons of water for two water caches we had planned and some candy to pack.
Back at the apartment, I finished packing the last items into my maildrops and went out one more time to go back to the post office, conveniently located in the supermarket.
One last time, I returned to the apartment and packed the last of my stuff into my backpack, remembering to take all of my refrigerator stuff, too. I rearranged my car so that it was ready for Janice to drive around periodically.
Shortly after noon, Sal, out shuttle driver came by and we loaded his car and started out. We first went to the airport to pick up Jim and Ginny whose flight was a bit late. Then we took I-25 south with a stop at Wendy’s so Sal and I could eat lunch. We eventually got to Deming where we found a local Mexican restaurant for dinner and then checked into a Day’s Inn for the night.
Not unexpectedly, I was first out of bed, grabbed my last shower until Lordsburg, and finished packing. Packing didn’t take long as I had had no need to unpack much the night before. The four of us were soon downing, cereal, juice, muffins, and donuts for breakfast. Then we hit the road.
Our first stop was west of Hachita, where we cached four gallons of water. Then we soon hit the dirt roads heading for the border. We stopped at the occasional windmill checking for water and were able to skip our second planned water cache when we realized water was available there. This way, we wouldn’t end up carrying all those extra one-gallon water jugs. A few short stretches of sandy track and some trenches to straddle were the worst of the roads to get to the border. Any knowledgeable driver with a front wheel drive vehicle should be able to make it without a problem.
The border was somewhat anticlimactic. There was a barbed wire gate leading to a Mennonite community (with a large farm) on the Mexican side. There was the ubiquitous border road used by the border patrol and anyone else moving along the border. The Crazy Cooke Monument served as a sort of border marker. We took pictures of our feet under the gate, of ourselves at the gate, and at the first trail signs.
We let Sal leave ahead of us as the first three miles of our hike were on the same road we drove in on and he would have to drive out on. With all the dust raised by the vehicle, we were happy to let him get ahead and have the dust settle before we started off on our hike. It was three miles back to where we had left our water bags. We stopped there for lunch. Then it was nine more miles to Sheridan Canyon Windmill, our stop for water. While we had expected to move away for the night, when we found a nicely fenced area off limits to the cows, we stayed for the night. Plus, we had gotten there late enough that we were unlikely to be disturbing the cows that would have otherwise come by earlier in the afternoon for water.
Along the way, it was mostly old jeep road, getting older and more washed out as we went. Creosote, prickly pear, ocotillo in bloom, and chollo are the main flora of the day.
Breaks were taken where we could find shade. We found our chocolate to be melting so from now on, it’ll likely be morning snacks, giving it a chance to solidify overnight.
The windmill here in Sheridan Canyon is no longer functional but they now use solar power to pump water. Given that we got here late in the day, it was no longer pumping so we were relegated to taking water from the tank. The large tank filled by the pump feeds a smaller tank that the cows have access to. But even though the cows don’t have access to the large tank, the birds, bats, and plants leaning over the tank do so the water was somewhat green with algae. I’ll get water in the morning and plan to filter through a coffee filter before purifying with either Aqua Mira or iodine tablets.
As it got dark, the bats came out in surprisingly large numbers. We watched as many as perhaps 30 bats swooping over and into the water. I don’t know if they were drinking or just catching the bugs on the surface of the water.
Other wildlife we’ve seen today includes a variety of birds including hawks, vultures, morning doves, finches, wrens, and a hare. I think I heard a snake at one point moving the brush but never caught sight of it. And according to Jim and Ginny, out here, cows are considered wildlife.
I slept horribly last night. I checked my watch at least once during almost every hour. I had bizarre dreams or nightmares, except I think I was mostly awake and it was my imagination running wild. Waking dreams?
Sunrise was about 6:30 but the doves were going wild by 6:00 – racing each other in circles around the water tank.
Because of the extreme drought here in the southeast, fire danger is extremely high. At this point, no fire restrictions are in effect but since we can’t know in advance when they might start, we are hiking with stoveless foods only.
Today took us back out of the hills and back to the plains or flat desert. With Jim noting windmill locations and conditions, we’ve been visiting most windmills along the trail even when we’ve had enough water and no need to stop. The first windmill we visited today was old and dry. It had a rectangular stone holding tank – empty of water. Our windmill site last night was solar powered so we had gotten no freshly pumped water, just water from the algae filled tank.
Finally, ten miles into today’s hike, we got to our first windmill that was actually pumping. It was nice to get fresh water that needed no filtering or purifying. Even so, it tasted somewhat minerally. Unfortunately, our presence at the windmills scares the cows off so we had a quick lunch and then left so the cows could get back to the water.
It was then only six hot miles to the second windmill which was so nice, we took the opportunity to wash up a bit. Although it would have been nice to spend the night there, once again, our presence stresses the cows and other animals that have come to rely on the water there so we ate our dinner, packed water, and moved on.
We left that windmill and crossed our first paved road, route 81. Once again, the terrain was still flat and open but we soon found a good wash, invisible from the road, and made our home for the night.
I slept better last night with watch checks every two to four hours instead of one to two hours. Sandy washes are nice places to sleep with flat floors once the washes are big enough and no vegetation because the occasional floods washes growth away. No nightmares, either. Jim and Ginny are not exactly early risers so even though it’s been light, we’re just getting going at 7:00am.
We took a winding dirt road into the hills but then veered right to walk along the foothills rather than go through the hills. That meant we were crossing lots of gullies. Talk about your PUDS – pointless ups and downs. Oy!
Ginny is a hiking machine with a steady hiking pace no matter what the terrain. Jim’s pack, loaded down, is slowing him down a bit – as are his feet. I’ve also developed a couple of blisters but for me, they are more annoying than painful.
There are a lot of lizards running about today. Once again, shade dictates where and when we take our breaks.
We aimed for a windmill that didn’t seem to have any blades, just hoping it would have some other pumping mechanism. Sure enough, we soon saw power lines headed there. When I caught sight of a line of pink flagging heading in a straight line in that direction, we realized that the trail which had been newly signed so far, was now veering off and no longer signed. So, off the road we went for some cross-country travel. Not only had this portion of the trail been very newly flagged, it was so newly flagged that we could still follow the footprints of the flagger. He was wearing the same brand of boots as Jim – judging by the tread pattern of the prints.
At the windmill, we found it was on a timer, larger than, but of a mechanism similar to, that of thermostats on timers we use in our homes in the northeast. It was set for 8:00am or so. The windmill supplied a pond that would make do in an emergency.
Moving on, we followed flagging for miles – at first plumb line straight, then curving around the old mining area of Old Hachita. From a hill just past the mining town, we looked back and could see the buildings, mining areas, and tailing piles of the old mines. With Turquoise Mountain in the vicinity, we wondered if that’s what they had been mining. As we continued on, Ginny surmised that the flagger must have also been wearing shorts. His tracks avoided the worst of the scrub.
Yesterday morning, we had watched three F-15s fly over us – the first one off to the side but acknowledging our presence with a 90 degree maneuver and then back, the second flew directly over us (no coincidence, I’m sure), and the third off to the other side. Since then, we’ve been expecting the border patrol to turn up. Every time we see a dust plume behind a car in the distance, we think it might be them coming to investigate us. Yesterday afternoon two Warthogs flew over us, perhaps checking to see if we were still heading north. Until this afternoon, those were the only aircraft we had seen flying since we left. This afternoon we saw one commercial plane flying east/west to our north.
We had been watching dust devils for days. Today, we got caught in one. We were walking in a line with about 30 feet separating each of us. The dust devil first caught Jim who turned his back and shut his eyes. Then it caught me. I did the same and expected to feel pelted by sand. Instead, I felt water. Huh? I had managed to squeeze my bite valve a bit and it leaked a little. But, listening to the little dust devil made me understand why people describe the sound of tornadoes like freight trains. This wasn’t that loud, but it was surprisingly noisy for such a little event.
The flagging ended as we found some old CDT route markers. But they were much more difficult to follow. Thankfully, we could still see the footprints of the flagger and that helped us. Footprints like that don’t last very long as the wind obscures them very quickly. But, we did our best to manage and soon found ourselves on the shoulder of the hill just to the south of our water cache. Perfect!
But, along the road we could see lights flashing. Our first thought was the border patrol waiting for us but that didn’t make sense. We soon realized it was an accident. We avoided the scene and went directly to our water cache only to find about half of one of our gallons had leaked. With all the emergency vehicles around, we thought we might be able to get some more from them. So, we quickly filled up our water bags and bottles and then I took all the empties (better to have one of them take them and throw them away than carry them across the desert) to the road. There was nobody at the first state police car I came to. The first person I met was Patty, the woman who was flagging approaching cars around the scene. The victim had already been taken away in an ambulance. He had apparently lost control of the car, perhaps due to diabetic shock, and ended up swerving all over before rolling the car. Patty tried so hard to be helpful. She took my empties and tried to give me water from a cooler but them we found the cooler was almost empty and what was in there was worse than the well water we had been drinking. She did find a small bottle of water to give me though.
After a short chat, I returned to Jim and Ginny and we scrambled to get out of sight over the shoulder of the hill we were on. We found a spot on the open hillside and though we could see the road, we were far enough in so that cars on the road were unlikely to be able to see us.
Yet another new type of water source today. An artesian well feeding a fiberglass tank. Near the tank, a fenced in tree with beautiful green grass out of reach of the cows. That enclosure was a curiosity until I took a closer look and found a spigot on the ground. There was one part where a hose could be attached and one part where a tiny bit of piping could be attached. Without the piping, the pressure was strong enough so that the stream of water can be used like a drinking fountain to fill our water bottles. Perfect. It was once again nice to have clean water.
Last night, once again, I didn’t sleep well. But, I figured I got to see some stars. I finally figured out that the Milky Way is rising after 1:00am but I hadn’t been able to see it due to the waning moon rising at the about the same time and washing out the Milky Way.
Today was a lot of cross-country hiking with no marked route or guide information. Jim and Ginny are both scouting the newly proposed trail and its water sources for personal curiosity. But, they will likely make their observations available through their web site.
We climbed the butte-like Coyote Hills likely by a route not intended as the official route as it was a hand over hand climb and the route is supposed to be accessible to horses and pack stock.
Some water sources had dead birds in them.
At the end of the day, where we are camped, we can see an entire hillside being mined. Not sure for what but I suspect copper.
We got into camp early today – about 6:15. Today, there’s plenty of time to cool off and relax before trying to eat dinner before sunset.
Well, Jim and Ginny are faster hikers than me but they enjoy lots of breaks so I never feel like I fall too far behind. That said, hikes back in the Fells did a great job for getting in shape. My pack has been heavy at times but aside from two blisters and a hot spot on my right foot, I’ve had no significant body aches. I’ve even started carrying more water after getting dehydrated yesterday and hating the way it feels. So, when I filled up in the afternoon yesterday, I took six liters and drank three in the afternoon and felt better all night and day today.
Date: Wed Apr 26, 2006 5:19 pm
Subject: 4/22 - 4/25: Brockman Hills to Silver City
This entry will bring you up to date as of yesterday's journal entry.
The good news, while not completely healed, my lizard skin (or whatever it was) is now looking and feeling a lot better. Jim and Ginny are expected tomorrow but are planning a zero day so I have high hopes for getting back on the trail with them on Saturday.
As we’ve been finishing late most days, I offered to wake everyone up as soon as it was light enough to see. So, at 6:00am this morning, I spurred Jim and Ginny into getting up with “It’s 6:10am. This is your alarm clock. If you choose to snooze, please press the snooze button for an additional eight minutes.” Jim thought eight minutes was stingy. Ginny thought it more generous than her clock which gives only five minutes.
Today, we’ve mostly hiked on roads with some cross-country. Three fence crossings where we had to slip under barbed wire were made much easier with the use of my Tyvec groundsheet.. We just spread out the Tyvec, pushed half through the fence, lied down, and slid through to the other side, being very careful not to catch any important body parts as we went.
There have been roads, unmarked on our maps and roads marked in the wrong places today. Maps lie. At one point, we stopped to take compass bearing and realized we’re all a bit rusty at it.
Our water source was a cattle well that feeds a nearby trough. As we got there, a herd of cows seemed reluctant to leave. As they finally moved away, we realized why, they had at least four newborns with them. Unlike the cows on the Appalation Trail that you practically have to push off the trail, these cows are skittish and usually either give us plenty of room, or actually get frightened and run away. Once we got to the water source, the only other hitch we encountered was getting past a black widow spider. It stayed on the cover which we moved off to the side so other than keeping a watchful eye on it, it was no bother.
The Border Patrol that we had been expecting for days finally caught up with us today. While staying on public BLM land, we had passed near a ranch on private land and the ranch owner had called the Border Patrol. They had obviously stopped to look at where we had been in the rancher’s field of vision. When they found us, their only question for us was to see the bottoms of our feet. It was obvious we weren’t illegals but they wanted to make sure the tread patterns from our shoes matched that of the footprints they had seen earlier. If they hadn’t, then there might have truly been some illegals in the area. But, our tread patterns matched so they knew they weren’t looking for illegals anymore.
Aside from that, they were very nice and tried to be helpful when we inquired about our relative position on the map. It was apparent they hadn’t a clue how to read the BLM map we showed them but they were still able to help us by indicating there was a road further to the north that we thought might exist. That was the road we really wanted to be on.
As we were investigating some man made objects near the trail, Ginny flushed a heard of nine mule deer. We never got close to them. But, it turned out we did find an abandoned mine shaft, only partially covered. We kept our distance, not wanting to take any chances about falling inside.
Lunch was had in a wash, under a juniper tree, in the shade. Even though it was mostly cloudy, the tree ensured us shade even when the sun was out. One huge, hummingbird sized hornet was hanging out while we ate.
Shortly after eating, we got water from a scummy cow tank. It clogged Jim and Ginny’s filter and wouldn’t drain through a coffee filter so I just purified the water as I got it from the tank. Going cross country again, we came across a much better water source, so we dumped our scummy water, and filled up from the good source. Leaving the last water source, we saw a white pickup pull up just after we had left. Approaching this source, a white pickup left just before we got there. The same one? Who knows?
We also watched a raven and hawk fighting in mid-air. They tumbled a ways but broke apart with enough time to recover and fly away.
I played alarm clock again to a much less receptive audience. Plus, I’m getting my morning routine down so have more time to write now.
I had never done any hiking with Jim and Ginny before so none of us knew what to expect. Since I’m the one who invited myself along as third wheel, I’m fine with whatever they feel like doing. Stop short for the day, go longer, camp here, etc. While the motto for most thruhikers is “hike your own hike”, for me it’s “hike Jim and Ginny’s hike.” I’m OK with that because they are the one’s who did all the planning, prep work, map gathering, BLM calling and writing, etc. I often have no idea where we are and what the “next plan” is but when I question, I get answers. I have been given plenty of time to look at maps so any fog I have about our hike is really of my own inability to question.
Today was another day of hide and go seek with windmills and water sources. We had yet two new types of sources today – one with a generator, the one we had been listening to all night, and the other, now solar powered, but previously pumped by something that looked like a miniature oil bobbing pump. Wherever, or however, we get water, it’s almost always a challenge to figure out which valve controls which spigot and it’s absolutely imperative that we always leave the water sources as we find them.
These water sources are not here for hikers. They are here for the cows. If we leave a source off, cows die. We also can’t leave any running when we find them off as that wastes energy and depletes the water supply.
Right now, with the drought in the southwest, there are many fewer cows than normal so many of the water sources are turned off. Some we can turn on temporarily but some we just have to leave “as is” and pass by without getting water.
Today’s cross-country was rougher than usual with a lot of gullies and lot of rocks turning underfoot. After lunch, however, we hit a dirt road for our six-mile walk into town. It was about then that the wind picked up. It was reminiscent of the winds I had driving into New Mexico with sustained winds in the 20-30mph range and gusts over 40mph. Thankfully, it was blowing from the south and offered a tailwind the entire way.
We checked into the local Holiday Inn Express and quickly set about showering and doing laundry. We couldn’t believe the Laundromat had neither a change machine nor a detergent machine. Ginny ended up buying detergent at the dollar store and getting quarters at the car wash.
Dinner of burgers and fries followed by blackberry cobbler at Kranberries across the street was a welcome change from camp food.
I’ve overpacked for the conditions and have put together a bunch of extra stuff to send to Janice to put in my car.
I slept in a great bed last night but tossed and turned all night. I took a shower this morning in anticipation of four more days on the trail until I get another one. We made full use of the AYCE continental breakfast at the hotel. Bagel and cream cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, cereal, cinnamon buns, banana, juice, etc.
It was still only 7:30 and much too early to run the rest of our errands so back to the room to read the newspaper and hang out. I can only hope that the Iran crisis is resolved by the time I get back to Albuquerque. Gas prices just seem to climb and climb and I’m not looking forward to filling my tank with prices above $3/gallon.
Finally, we left for the supermarket with our packs packed…
Surprise, surprise! On the way, we ran into Mark “Carolina Cruiser” Flagler, and Underdog. He’s not thruhiking this year but is pulling together a film about the CDT, similar to his Appalachian Impressions video that has been making the rounds in both hiking circles as well as on PBS stations nationwide. We were surprised to find he was heading for the official route that we had taken as almost nobody seems to know about it. As far as we know, Jim, Ginny, and myself were the first to hike it. It’s nice to be a trailblazer even if I’m basically on a guided tour of the CDT given all the research Jim and Ginny had done. Anyway, we gave Mark some useful information about the trail and water sources.
We bought four days of food. Then we sent off extra gear or bounce boxes from the post office. I’ve been having some skin problems on the trail that seem sun related but were not sunburn, nor did it resemble the sun allergy I had experienced in Caribbean sun years earlier. In any case, I had tried to use a bandana to keep my neck out of the sun to no avail, and yesterday walking into town, I used the bandana to shield the back of my right knee from the sun.
So, our last planned stop was to the pharmacy for some cream for my leg and neck. The pharmacist recommended some cortisone for my leg and moisturizer for my neck. What a shock I was in for… The pain I experienced when using the creams was just too much. I had to sit down (the pharmacy had convenient chairs) but I couldn’t help it. I started crying. It was no surprise that Jim and Ginny didn’t realize how bad it was, but I guess I hadn’t realized how bad my skin looked. (It is really hard to see the back of your own knee.) But, all of us realized at that point, that I wouldn’t be heading out on the trail again until I figured out how to deal with my skin issues. Especially since it had only seemed to get worse overnight, when I was in town and not in the sun.
There were so many reasons why I would have been prepared – psychologically – to get off the trail. This just wasn’t one of them. Even so, I was a bit surprised at how hard this hit me.
In the meantime, Jim and Ginny were great. Even though they had to get on the trail, they took the time to wait until the pain subsided to manageable levels and ensured that I felt comfortable staying behind in town and figuring out my next move.
I’m going to be giving my knees a day or two to see if they start getting better with the use of the cream, painful as it may be. If they get better, I’ll meet Jim and Ginny in Silver City and continue from there. If not, I’ll see a doctor and figure out what to do next – which may mean getting off the trail altogether.
So, I said good-bye to Jim and Ginny and took stock of my situation. Bob, the pharmacist, allowed me to leave my pack in the pharmacy while I wandered about town figuring out what to do next. I knew there was a cheap $27 motel here in Lordsburg but I decided to see if I could find anything cheaper in Silver City. There were rumors of a hostel.
A quick trip to the library before they closed for the lunch hour got me the number for the hostel. Then lunch at the Triple Café, a place only locals would ever know about. My Chile Relleno Burrito was quite good as were the cut from real potatoes French fries that I inexplicably ordered to go with the burrito. Then a trek all the way back to the Dairy Queen to use the phone only to find out the hostel had closed years ago. I got a small Blizzard as a consolation while there.
Back to the library in the hopes of finding a hospitalityclub.org host, I actually found a Silver City host, sent an email, and then called him unsuccessfully. A couple hours later, using the phone at the pharmacy, I got through and was immediately invited to come crash in Silver City. Great! This would save me quite a bit of cash. John, my host, gave me directions and it was close to the main drag so anyone who gave me a ride to town would get me close enough to walk.
Given that almost everyone leaving town on route 90 would be going to Silver City, I thought it would be an easy hitch. Well, after half an hour of unsuccessful hitching, someone finally clued me into a road split a mile or two up the road. He then gave me a ride there so that I wouldn’t be hitching from cars heading for Arizona. The first car that came by after I started hitching again, gave me a ride to Silver City. Cool!
Two women, Bobbie Stewart and Diana Doctor, high school teachers in Lordsburg who live in Silver City, were heading home after work and had room for me and my pack. They wouldn’t even accept any gas money, notable given the gas prices these days. We had a great drive and the 45 miles went quickly. We passed a huge Phelps Dodge Copper mine in Tyrone. Like the Appalachian area mountain top mining written about in a recent National Geographic, they are taking down entire hills here in New Mexico. We had seen green hills on our hike and they weren’t green from vegetation. It was the color of copper.
Once in town, I got dropped off on the main drag. It was only a few blocks to my hosts place. How convenient. My host’s place in tiny. Even he has to duck through some of the doors. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, and one more room, a bedroom/living room/office. It’s the smallest hospitalityclub lodging I’ve been to but there’s nothing wrong with that. I just feel like I may be cramping John’s style. But, he’s a hiker, too and it “feels” OK even though he’s got a cat and the apartment isn’t all that clean.
But, after getting to know each other a bit (John’s a character who has worked as a PhD level chemist, an astrologer, and now a photographer specializing in Photoshop modifications to prints), I was hungry and went to Jalisco’s, recommended to me by my ride and conveniently located just a couple of blocks from John’s place. I ordered the tacos and the freshly made tacos shells were still sizzling out of the fryer and filled with hot ingredients. Yum! After dinner, I wandered historic downtown, found it mostly closed, but ran into Alotto Gelato, also recommended to me. It was great to get some good ice cream though it still wasn’t my hometown favorite, Toscanini’s. But at only $2.49 for a good-sized serving, I know I’m not in Boston anymore.
Once again, my host is an early riser so we’re both up around 6:00. Since I sleep by the kitchen door, it’s my duty, it seems, to let the cat out at 5:45am. I hung around the house until the local shops started opening. I started at the thrift store in the hopes of finding some cheap clothes to hang out in. No luck.
I spent an hour at the library before getting kicked off the computers. Then, it was to the college campus of Western New Mexico University with a much more liberal computer user policy. I worked here for a while, took a break to get a $6 AYCE lunch, then back to work, transcribing my journal.
I broke off in late afternoon to give myself a bit of time for more errands and to explore the historic district before taking John out to dinner at 5:00. We went back to Jalisco’s. Then TV and bed.
Thu Apr 27, 2006 6:12 pm
Subject: 4/26: Silver City
My lizard skin is clearing up quite a bit... Jim and Ginny are in town, likely taking a zero day, so I hope to be back on the trail on Saturday.
This morning, I spent scouting the town away from the Historic District. Back to route 90, I found the Post Office, Laundromat, and yet another place with free internet access, the SPS Sign shop. There's a supermarket on this stretch of the street as well as a few fast food places including Dairy Queen for those that prefer soft serve to gelato.
Around the corner, on route 180, I found the local motels. The cheap ones are in the $40 plus range and have no air-conditioning though whether or not we need it is questionable. The lobbies in these motels are smoky. The other "name brand" motels like super 8, and Econolodge, were in the $80 dollar range and offered on-site washers and dryers, and internet access. But, the premium seems a bit high.
It was early, but when I pulled into the Chinese restaurant shortly after it opened at 11:00, I found many tables already full. Since I was already hungry and headed for part of town without restaurants, I stayed for lunch. General Tsao's chicken, egg roll, fried rice, hot and sour soup all for less than $7 including tip.
I couldn't get an hour-long session at the library so got a 15-minute session just to check email. Then, on the way out, I saw a box of free books and picked one up. Then I walked back up the hill to the college and spent the rest of the afternoon there, updating my journal and playing Sudoku. While there, the novel I had just picked up got a positive nod from one of the students who thought it was a good book.
I had hoped to find a light salad without iceberg lettuce for dinner but unsuccessfully, I settled on Nancy's Silver Cafe for a cheeseburger and fries.
After dinner, I went to the coffee shop, Rejuventations, to hang out for the evening. It's the type of place with comfy couches, a partially completed jigsaw puzzle on a table, people holding informal meetings, places to plug in wireless computers, and even a few computers to use for a fee. So, as I quaffed a Sour Green Apple soda and a chocolate chip peanut butter cookie, I plowed through 180 pages of Jeffery Deavers "the Blue Nowhere", a novel about a computer MUD user who has lost grip on reality and has started killing people in real life, not just in the MUD. So far, it's pretty good.
Back at John's, I caught the end of "the Sting" and a good bit of the movie "MASH" before I fell asleep.
Fri Apr 28, 2006 3:36 pm
Subject: 4/27: Silver City
Even though my lizard skin is not quite fully healed, it is a lot better and I plan to get back on the trail tomorrow. So, this is likely my last full entry until I get off the trail. Even if I do get Internet access along the way, I will probably only have time to send quick updates and synopses but will do my best.
Heading out this morning, I ran into Jim and Ginny just as they were walking into town. They arrived much earlier in the day than I expected so it was lucky we found each other so quickly. They had walked the last six miles into town without breakfast so they were very hungry. We went to Nancy’s Silver Café, the same place I had dinner last night, for a hearty breakfast. After breakfast, they went to the Post Office and I went back to John’s place to grab my pack and thank him for hosting me.
I caught up with them along the road to the Drifter Motel. We checked in, took turns in the shower, and left to run errands and do laundry. We stopped at the Pizza Hut for AYCE pizza bar and salad bar. I had been craving crunchy greens so fully enjoyed, even that limited salad bar. We stopped at Hike and Bike so Jim and Ginny could pick up some new gear – boots for Jim, insoles for both of them, a new filter element, etc. Once again, I laughed – and groaned - at some of the very left leaning bumper stickers they had for sale.
On to the Laundromat, I stayed to oversee the laundry as I was wearing my rain jacket and tights and was too warm to wander around town. (All of my other tops were in the wash.) Jim and Ginny went off to the SPS Sign shop to make use of their free Internet access and when the laundry was done, I caught up with them there. I was surprised to find they had two terminals with internet access so I was able to get on-line there, as well.
Back through the Big Ditch, the three block town park through which Main Street had at least twice been flooded, to the Historic District. We stopped in the Army surplus store so Jim could pick up a replacement knife for the one he had dropped somewhere on the way into town.
Then, Jim craving a beer, we stopped at the Silver City Brewing Company to scratch that itch. Then to La Cocina for the best burgers in town. Half a pound of meat with toppings and fresh cut French fries.
On the way back to the motel, we stopped at the supermarket. I picked up some Pop-tarts, the only food shopping I needed to do to get three days up the trail given all the shopping I had done in Lordsburg before I got off the trail.
Finally, we went back to the motel for the evening, and mostly read. I finished the 500-page book I had started yesterday.
Thu May 4, 2006 3:44 pm
Subject: Off the trail and looking to play...
I've decided my time on the CDT has come to an end. I hiked for a grand total of 9 days and maybe 140+/- miles. Believe it or not, even with all the eating I did in Silver City, I still lost about 12 pounds. Yikes! It was really hard to eat much when you're that hot.
I'll be transcribing the last week or so of my journal over the next couple of days so stay tuned.
What's next? I don't know. I do have a lot of options, though. Some of the stuff I'm thinking about includes: Carlsbad Caverns; doing trail magic for Jim and Ginny (still making their way to Canada); going back to Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico; doing some more travel in the Four Corners region (Taos, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, go back to Chaco Culture, Utah Canyonlands, etc.); heading into Colorado and taking a lot of time to see if I can acclimate to a high elevation (I couldn't get above 11,500' in California in 2003); finding another trail to do at my own pace (Ozark Highlands, or finishing the Pinhoti); etc.
With almost two full months before I plan to get home, I've got plenty of time to kill. If you've got other ideas, especially for those hidden treasures that don't pop out at you when looking at maps, let me know. Unless I hop on another trail, I'll probably have more frequent email access now.
Wed May 10, 2006 10:54 am
Subject: 4/28 - 5/2: Silver City to Gila National Monument
Adobe Wells Café for breakfast was a great option. More errands today. No SPF 30 sunscreen to be found within walking distance in town. One last Internet session at the library. Lunch at Nancy’s Silver Café for “the best Mexican in town.” Back at the motel, we hooked up with Mark “Carolina Cruiser” Flagler and Underdog. They brought us to the trail to interview us, individually, about our experiences so far on the trail. Flagler filmed and produced the recent “Appalachian Impressions” that’s been making the rounds on PBS stations nationwide. Now, Flagler is making a film about the CDT which is more of a route system than a well-defined trail like the Appalachian Trail.
The route of the CDT is a moving target and includes up to 25% temporary routes. Last year, the route from the southern border was redefined but information about the new route was not widely advertised. When Jim and Ginny heard about it, they did some research, got some information, and decided to be the first to hike it.
Flagler, using the now well out-of-date guidebook had planned on filming along the old route but now, having talked with us, he’s planning on using the newest route in his film. It’ll be interesting to see his new film.
Dinner of mediocre Salmon at the steakhouse across the street from the motel.
The real story of the day was the weather. We woke up to a cold and cloudy day. It had even rained a bit overnight. Last night’s forecast of 20% chance of showers was upgraded to 50%. While glad we are in town today, nobody is complaining about the rain. After eight years of drought, the state really needs it. With temperatures in the 50s, we are quite bundled up today.
Breakfast at the Drifter Pancake Restaurant was similar to the Adobe Spring Café, yesterday. Then it was a long road walk out of town. Jerry, Liz’s support, drove up and introduced himself. Liz and Sidewinder are a couple of days behind us.
We stopped for water and lunch at a National Forest Service picnic area. A friendly Abert’s squirrel stopped by hoping for handouts, or at least lunch crumbs. But, to no avail, it moved on. A flock of noisy Hairy Woodpeckers scolded us as we ate. More road walk after lunch. We took the wrong road at one point and bushwhacked back to the road. At first, we didn’t know which way to go once we hit the road because we didn’t even know if it was the one we were looking for. If so, we needed to go right. If not, we wanted to go left. It was headed straight into the hill so Jim thought no. Ginny thought it would turn. We almost went left to walk back to the road but with a suggestion to drop packs and walk a few minutes towards the hill, we soon found the road doubled back and looked to contour around. We went right and sure enough, it was the road we were looking for. Ginny was right.
The road twisted and wound, up and down, but eventually brought us to the first flowing water source I’ve seen on the trail (not counting the stream through the Big Ditch in Silver City.)
We’re now hiking through forest though this is still dry desert. There are Pinyons, cottonwoods, sycamore, and still, here and there, cholla and prickly pear. The stream here is flowing in some places and dry in others. We followed tracks of two ATVs on our way in. After we set up camp next to this remote road, the ATV and riders slowly made their way by on their way back out. There was one single guy on the first ATV, dressed in camo, with two shotguns mounted on a rack in the front of his handlebars. The second ATV had a guy dressed in camo and a girl in pink. That ATV only had one gun mounted on the front. It looked like they were still hunting but we were glad they went slowly. With the wind, had they gone faster, they would have picked up a lot of dust and it would have blown into our camp.
This was not a good day but it had its good features to go with the bad. We got a late start (almost 9:00am). Walking up the trail, past an old collapsed home wasn’t a problem. Devil’s Garden was spectacular. But, after that, the trail became very hard to follow. We lost it, found it, and then lost it again. While we lost the trail, we were never lost, we just couldn’t follow the trail. I do NOT like to bushwhack and we ended up bushwhacking through nasty scrub and then down a very steep slope. To top it off, my stomach was acting up and I had to dig a hole but couldn’t during the worst of the bushwhack, in the scrub or on the 60 degree slope. I’m not even sure if I was truly having stomach problems or if it was a results of having a nervous stomach from the bushwhack. In any case, we got through the worst of it and found some level ground on which to take a break. Finally, moving up the ravine, we spotted a deer and soon rejoined the trail.
We then had a great encounter with a very large rattlesnake, the first we’ve seen on this trip. It was impossible to tell how long it was because it had coiled itself before I saw it and it was noisily telling us about its presence. I moved a bit closer to get a picture but was sure to keep my distance. Just 50’ uphill from the snake, we found a wonderful spring. It was so good, I followed Jim and Ginny’s lead and didn’t bother treating the water. It was delicious.
Finally, we got to some good trail though pinyon forest and which led to slightly overgrown trail through scrub. I took what could have been a nasty flop into cactus but was very lucky and just twisted around and landed on my backpack, right on the trail. Not even a scratch.
Through this stretch and all uphills today and yesterday, I’ve realized I’m a bit slower than Jim and Ginny. I’ve felt like I’ve been constantly pushing myself to try to keep up and they’ve been taking extra breaks, even if just short ones, to allow me to catch up. If nothing else, I’ve probably been affecting Jim and Ginny’s momentum along the trail.
As a result of this constant pushing and lagging behind, I’ve been feeling somewhat down about being out there. That with the recent fall, even though I wasn’t hurt, put me in a funk. When I caught up with Jim and Ginny, taking a break at a pass, I almost felt like crying but managed to hold it together for our break. Finally, after our break, we descended on a good trail and I started feeling better.
We passed the sheep corral and kept going until we found a campsite. As we were setting up, Sidewinder caught up with us and joined us for the night. It was fun having someone else around. We swapped stories and found he, too, had gotten off trail today.
After constantly playing catch-up for the last couple of days, I’m most likely going to get off the trail in Gila. It should be easy enough to hitch out from there. Right now, Jim and Ginny are happy waiting for me and insist they would like me to stay on the trail, but I don’t like playing catch-up all the time and I also feel like their waiting for me means they are not necessarily hiking their own hike. I’ll be deciding over the next couple of days what I’ll be doing.
Today was a good day. There was only one big climb and that happened first thing in the morning before it got too warm. That was followed by a long, gradual descent, the only type of terrain where I can sometimes not only keep up with, but go faster than Jim and Ginny. It actually had me in the lead for a while.
At the bottom of the descent, we hit the Gila River. After my sketchy fords while on the Appalachian Trail, I was a bit apprehensive about the many fords we would be doing of the Gila River in the next 15 miles. But, I also tried to think about the Paria Canyon hike where I had not only been crossing the river, but walking in the river for hours at a time. I hoped the Gila would be more like the Paria. Thankfully, the Gila crossings were more like the Paria River crossings than the rivers in Maine. The water was warm enough to be pleasant on a hot day and only once did it come up to almost crotch level on me (hip level on Jim and Ginny). Most of the crossings were below knee level. The bottom of the river was usually muddy or rocky. Where rocky, the stones were covered with very slippery algae. I was glad to have two hiking poles and could always keep three points of contact stable as I made my way at each crossing. With 40+ crossings in this section, there was no changing into sandals for each crossing. We just wore our trail shoes and socks and didn’t let the water slow us down too much. That meant we had heavy shoes and socks on our feet all day. By 6:00, we were beat and setting up camp. By the looks of things, I’ll be pulling into Gila Hot Springs with almost no food left. Perfect!
It was a bit harder to get dressed this morning. The air wasn’t all that much colder that usual, but our shoes were still wet and we were faced with the prospect of morning crossings of the Gila River before we have a chance to warm up. As it turned out, we had a long enough stretch of dry trail to navigate before our first crossing so were sufficiently warmed up by the time we had to get our feet soaked again.
Today, we finished the river crossings. During one break, Ginny noted a tiny bird perched like a hawk atop a tall pine tree with the top couple of feet stripped of vegetation. We started calling it hawk bait, then bird-on-a-stick, then Jim came up with lollibird. We were getting very silly and that really had us laughing. Once again, the river crossings today, while slick, were easy assuming we took the time to place our feet carefully on the slick rocks.
Once we hit route 15, we first stopped at the Wilderness Lodge where we had sent our maildrops. At $58 for a single and $68 for a double, plus the early hour of the day, we moved on. It was too bad we couldn’t stay though… The proprietors were very friendly and made us feel quite welcome. We hung out there a little while chatting with them. They never assumed we were going to stay there and never made us feel weird about just picking up our maildrops there. If I ever go back to Copper Canyon, I’ll call them and talk with Jane (?) who has a reference for a guide there.
At Doc Campbell’s place, we stopped in for sodas, surprisingly good microwave burgers, and surprisingly mediocre (in my book) homemade ice cream. We had hoped to grab showers and do laundry there but with the water out, we moved on. It was a long, three-mile road walk to the Visitor’s Center. There, we met up with Sidewinder again who had gotten in earlier in the day and had taken the time to visit the cliff dwellings. He, Jim and Ginny got the scoop on their intended route north and I was soon saying good-bye to them, having decided I was, in fact, going to get off the trail at this point. Having been talking about it for days, nobody was surprised that I stayed behind.
Even though Jim and Ginny encouraged me to stay, it was time to get off the trail. While I can walk all day, every day, it’s never fun to keep walking while tired and constantly lagging behind.
The visitor’s center here closes at 4:30 but the bathrooms are open 24 hours. With picnic tables conveniently located at the visitor’s center, I’m hanging out here, reading, doing sudoku, catching up on my journal, and watching the multitudes of hummingbirds. Shortly before sunset, I’ll take off and walk a short distance up the trail to camp for the night – or make my way to the nearby campgrounds, perhaps a better option if I’m going to hitch out of the park tomorrow.
The hummingbirds, by the way, are feeding at the three feeders hanging outside the visitor’s center. There are quite a few varieties here which is a nice break from the one variety (ruby throated) we have in New England. There are more hummingbirds than I can count here, too, and they really let you get close while they are at the feeders. They make a racket with their chirps, squeaks, buzzes and the sound of their wings, flapping.
I woke up at my campsite along the Middle Fork of the Gila River having shared my campsite with a few mosquitoes, bats, and a snorting elk that was heard but not seen. I was packed up and back at the Visitor’s Center shortly after 7:00am and hung out until they opened at 8:00am. I ate breakfast in the company of all those noisy and squabbling hummingbirds again.
At 8:00am, I went into the Visitor’s Center, got change in anticipation of needing it for the entrance fee at the Cliff dwellings, and watched a video of the history of the cliff dwellings and the Mogollon people who had inhabited them. Wouldn’t you know, it, I got another bloody nose while watching. The air is so dry here, even fully hydrated, bloody noses aren’t unusual. I was given permission to leave my pack at the Visitor’s Center. Since 9/11, they no longer accept maildrops for thruhikers and are probably not supposed to allow us to leave packs there either, but since they are unlikely to allow us to take our packs up the ladders to visit the cliff dwellings, and I had no car in which to store my pack at the time, they made an exception for me.
I walked out to the cliff dwellings, two miles away, with a stop at lower Scorpion Campground to see some pictographs and a two-room cave dwelling. The primary cave dwellings are in a U.S. Forest Service fee area and cost $3 to enter the area. They were well worth it – again. The caves are above a small stream, the only one I’ve seen in New Mexico so far. What we would have give to have that while crossing the southern New Mexico desert a week or two ago. I walked under the caves, I was reminded how the cave ceiling act as sound reflectors. I could quite clearly hear people talking in the caves above from the stream area.
The climb to the caves makes my second story walkup apartment seem like an anthill. This time, I “found” the three main pictographs, a snake (or water symbol), a little man, and the rainbow man, thought to be a god figure.
Back at the entrance to the cave dwellings, I waited until for the next people to come out behind me and asked for a ride back to the Visitor’s Center. A nice couple, on vacation from Alberta, Canada were nice enough to give me a ride. They seemed bemused to have a hiker on board and perhaps are the type who would not normally pick up a hitchhiker. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my short ride with them to the Visitor’s Center would soon pay off.
At the Visitor’s Center, I picked up my pack and thanked the staff there as they had been very helpful not just to me, but to Jim, Ginny, and Sidewinder as well.
I went back to the intersection where I was most likely going to get a ride. It was the same area I had seen a large group of vultures roosting this morning. This time, the vultures were gone.
In short order, I was picked up by Vincent, a grad student driving a University of New Mexico pickup truck. He’s doing research into the affects of flooding on the Gila River environment. I can’t help but to wonder how the research is going given the drought, and therefore lack of rain and snow that causes flooding.
Vincent drove the pickup like a sports car so I’m glad there was a relatively slow vehicle ahead of us who kept us at a reasonable speed.
I got dropped at the intersection of routes 15 and 35. Either route would serve me well so I could hitch in both directions. There was so little traffic that after an hour or so, I was about to take a break at a local café and get some lunch and use the bathroom when a car came by. I stuck out my thumb and was surprised when that same couple that had given me the ride to the Visitor’s Center stopped to give me a ride. I had thought they had gone on and were well ahead by now. Lee and Jeannie Ventemia(?) drove me all the way to my next road, route 152.
There, I had a long wait. First, I had to walk to the “other” road into town as it was in the direction I was headed and I was likely to miss opportunities where I was. Thankfully, it was only a mile or two amd it was downhill, too. There was even a patch of shade I could wait in. Most cars going by were local and of no use. Once again, it took a long time and with long breaks between cars, I pulled out my Sudoku puzzles to keep occupied. Finally, I got a ride.
A big, industrial looking pickup pulled over and I popped my pack in the back and hopped in the cab. I couldn’t believe it, I had just gotten picked up by Jim Bob Lyon, a cowboy who works as a pipe welder for his day job and competes in team roping competition whenever he can. After seeing me worry about my pack bouncing out of the back (it was much shallower than a standard pickup), he stopped and tied it down. He didn’t want me worrying about it all the way to Albuquerque. Sure enough, he was going to get me the rest of the way to town.
Jim Bob’s truck was big and powerful (Ellison engine with 18 gears or some such) but he drove sanely on the winding mountain road so it was a very pleasant ride. With three to four hours together, he was good company. He stopped in Socorro to pick up something to eat at the local Taco Bell. I thought it a strange choice given all the good Mom and Pop Mexican restaurants around. Though he protested a bit, I managed to treat him. He wasn't going to accept any gas money for the 200+ mile hitch.
As luck would have it, he was heading for the same neighborhood in Albuquerque where I was going so I got dropped right in Janice’s complex. Cool! Who knows, if I’m still (or back) in Albuquerque on May 13 or 14, I may go watch him in a team roping competition in town.
Janice was just about to leave as I walked up so she got me settled before running her errand. It was great to shower and get out of hiker clothes for the first time in weeks.
There is a definite benefit to hiking in the desert. The air is so dry, bacteria does not thrive. So, even after four or five days of hiking, I don’t stink nearly as much as I would had I been out for even just one or two days along the Appalachian Trail or in other more humid environments. Our sweat dries so fast, it rarely drips. Our clothes get stiff with salt and after just a day or two, my hair gets so crusty, that I can’t get a brush through it without ripping my hair.
But, a shower took care of all that and Janice and I hung out for the evening. The only email I sent out was about a camera that Ginny found along the trail. We know it belongs to a CDT hiker as we know the people in the pictures. We just don’t know which hiker it belongs to. Hopefully, I’ll hear something soon.
I took it easy today. Got on-line. Yakked with Janice. Took a 2.5 hour nap and really needed it. My allergies (and it’s not just me) are acting up big time and I’ve been trying to remember to take an antihistamine each night before going to sleep. We went out for Thai and marveled at a nearby table with two women, eating plate after plate of food. It reminded me of my sister and brother-in-law, Lori and Bruce’s, poem, Erev Christmas. Back at the house, Janice caught an episode of American Idol and I crashed.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Busy day today. Janice and my plans to go to Petroglyph National Monument got derailed today when Janice decided to buy a house and invited me along for the ride. She had been house hunting yesterday, her first day of looking, and found a place. We spent the morning at the realtors putting the offer together and then went to the house so Janice could see it again and show me the inside (we had driven by it last night). While there, the realtor got the call and the offer was accepted. It was time to celebrate! After hugs both to me and the realtor, and lots of pictures on the digital camera, Janice and I celebrated her new house and Cinco de Mayo at Gardunos, a local Mexican restaurant chain.
After lunch, Janice spread the news of her new acquisition while I napped. Then we went to a Ballet of New Mexico production at the Kimo Theater of Carmen and other Spanish and Mexican dances. Once again, I’ve found I’m not a big fan of ballet but I did enjoy the flamenco and other Mexican folk dances.
Back at the house, I even caught most of NUMB3RS, the only prime time show I’ve been watching recently. It’s an FBI show using various forms of Applied Mathematics and other numbers related fields (statistics, geometry, etc.) to solve crimes.
This morning, Janice and I made it to the Rinconada section of Petroglyph National Monument.. With just a 1.5-mile hike, we scanned and “found” many glyphs along the way. Some were barely visible, others were obvious. We had fun at some of them, mimicking their poses or coming up with scenarios to describe their appearance.
After, it was back to the apartment for lunch, a shower, and laundry. I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting Allen, the man who was to have shuttled us to the border at the start of our CDT hike. He had been in a bad bicycle accident just a few days before the start of our hike and is still in a rehabilitation hospital but doing much better, is already using crutches, and will soon be moving out of the hospital into a nearby apartment. Amazingly, the apartment he and his wife, Beth, are moving to is just across the street from Janice’s place. That’ll be the third person I’ve met with connections to that neighborhood.
Janice and I caught sunset and the tram to the top of Sandia Peak. At over 2 miles long, it’s the longest tramway in the world. It takes about 15 minutes to ascend from 6,000’ to 10,000’. We had delicious nachos at the bases station while waiting for the tram and mediocre cheesecake at the aptly named High Finances Restaurant at the top. On the way back to Janice’s place, we stopped along the road to watch distant fireworks over the stadium. We guessed the local team won something.
I was up and out of Janice’s place during the morning rush hour which in my book, was nothing but an occasional slow-down. No stop and go traffic like in Boston. I made quick and easy time south to Socorro and then west on route 60. My first stop of the day was the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO), Very Large Array (VLA). It was fascinating. Ever since I started looking at maps of New Mexico a couple of years ago, I had wondered how this array of radio telescopes could be spread over such a large area. I missed stopping by two years ago and wasn’t going to miss it again.
The VLA is a series of 27, 82’ diameter dish antennas, distributed evenly along three 13-mile long tracks. These tracks radiate from the central control area through the Plains of Augustin, a 7,000’ high, large, flat plateau. The high elevation limits atmospheric disturbances and the remote location limits human disturbances.
I spent an hour or so there, learning how they work, how they can spread out the array over 27 miles or bring it in close to the center, depending on how much detail or how large and area of space they want to look at. I took the self-guided walking tour and saw one dish moving a few times (likely not observing). I also watched a good-sized dust devil pass ~25’ feet from me. On the way out, I drove through a herd of about 30 pronghorn and one was nice enough to pose for me a couple of times. Then I got more pictures of the pronghorn with some of the telescopes behind them. Interesting juxtaposition if the pictures come out.
From there, I drove through Datil (rhymes with cattle) and went looking for Jim and Ginny in Reserve (yes, that’s the town name). As far as I could tell, they either went through yesterday or haven’t gotten in yet.
From town, I could see a lot of smoke coming over a ridge. It was a prescribed burn.
Thinking that Jim and Ginny might be walking in on a road that looked like it might be a dirt road on my map, I started out on that road only to have it turn into the fire area. But the road was paved so I hope that wasn’t their route, and if so, they would have gotten a ride through the burn. I figure, if a cop was posted 10 miles out of town stopping people to tell them to roll up their windows if they encounter heavy smoke (umm, kind of obvious wasn’t that?), then they wouldn’t let anyone walk through. So, I turned around and went back to town. I took a nap in town, periodically opening an eye to see if Jim and Ginny might have wandered into town. No such luck.
After 5:00, I left for Pie Town but got sidetracked when I checked out the Apache Creek National Forest Campground. It was a nice, quiet, free, unattended, campground. I drove through looking for hikers but saw none. I did see an unattended camper, typically pulled by a fifth wheel like Jerry’s truck. It had satellite and solar panels but no sign of current occupancy. But a nearby camper in a van was carefully watching me, probably trying to make sure I wasn’t going to vandalize the rig. So, I pulled up to ask if she had seen any hikers.
I soon realized it was Pat Radney, supporting her husband, Walt, and a gaggle of other CDT thruhikers. I had met Pat three years earlier when she picked Shutterbug, Cliffhanger, and me up on the way into Idlewild when we bailed off of Fuller Ridge. We had even exchanged email earlier this spring.
I drove north on route 32 from Apache Creek to Quemado before heading east to Pie Town. While Pie Town is well out of the way from where I'm heading, the side trip was well worth it. Not only was I looking for my maildrop which had food in it, it had a bunch of gear in it, too. I could have it forwarded, but I wouldn't know where to have it sent.
But, the drive itself was worth it. On that one stretch of road, I saw pronghorn, elk, mule deer, javelina (first time I had ever seen them other than on TV), hares, cottontails, and an Aberts squirrel.
I scouted Quemado a bit and got to Pie Town an hour before the Pie-O-Neer Cafe opens. The Pie Town Cafe is closed on Mondays. I took some time to reorganize my car to get it into "road trip" mode. At 10:00, I stopped in to the Pie-O-Neer Cafe for a slice of delicious French Pear Pie a la mode. What a great breakfast! Kathy, the primary baker (and owner) and Stan, her partner (husband?) were both very friendly. I talked high altitude baking with Kathy and Stan gave me some great hints for visiting the Catwalk.
I took the same route back to Reserve but only saw pronghorn this time.
In town, I first saw Pat's van and then realized she was talking with Jim and Ginny. It was the whole crowd of PCT '03 hikers that I had met at the ADZPCTKOP* when starting the PCT in '03.
I had lunch with Jim and Ginny and then we hit the library with the barely functioning – or is that mostly non-functioning Internet access. With only one computer on a dial-up modem that kept cutting in and out, I waiting for Jim and Ginny to finish first. I can’t believe I fell asleep in the library while waiting. I don’t think anyone noticed though. When I got on, the computer was too slow to be useful so I just logged out.
We hung out in their room and I made one more library run for them to get Brian Frankle’s number at ULA equipment, the maker of Ginny’s pack. Then, we had dinner with what was probably the largest gathering of CDT hikers. There were eleven of us, eight of whom are on the trail. Wow! The group included: Floater; Tin cup; Traveling Man; Walt and Pat Radney (the Andiamo Express); Just Mike; La Zorra and Jerry; Jim and Ginny; and myself.
Before taking off for my car camping site, I took the opportunity to grab a shower in Jim and Ginny’s room. My site, just minutes from the western end of town, was private, not visible from the road, and had no view of any artificial lights. Perfect!
After a great night’s sleep at my site just out of town, I met Jim and Ginny for breakfast at 7:00am. We went to Ella’s. So many of the food establishments in these small towns keep limited hours. There’s not enough help to stay open longer and not enough money coming in to pay them even if there was more help.
After checking out of their room, I drove Jim and Ginny 25 miles east, back to the Continental Divide Trail which just happened to coincide with the actual Continental Divide. Then I drove back west through Reserve.
My next stop was the Catwalk. In a canyon opposite Glenwood, off route 180, a pipeline had once been built through a narrow canyon to aid miners and the townspeople. A catwalk was also built and is now a U.S. Forest Service fee area ($3) tourist attraction. A portion of the canyon is a slot canyon, the water was flowing, and there was a pool I almost couldn’t resist. If the pool had been in a more remote area with fewer people around, I would have gone swimming. Remnants of the pipeline and signs of the original catwalk, long since replaced by a modern, structurally sound catwalk, were in evidence.
On my way out of the canyon, I had a very nice, loud, warning from a rattlesnake telling me that it didn’t want to tangle with me. I agreed with it and gave it wide berth. It was about 3.5 feet long but rather skinny at only 1.5” wide. The rattles were gold.
I warned a few of the nearby tourists to beware the rattlesnake and was happy that most were excited and not fearful. I had lunch at the picnic area at the mouth of the canyon and made the day of the landscapers there when I gave them one of my huge candy bars from my maildrops.
I ran errands in Silver City: a Mother’s Day card – bought, written, and mailed; mosquito netting at the Army surplus store; journal typing at the college; a book bought and more journal typing at the library; and magnets to hold the mosquito netting on my car bought at the dollar store. I checked out the Walmart lot and even though there seemed to be RVs parked for the night, the signs said no overnight camping. But, I already had a better idea for the night. I drove back up the road walk CDT route and camped at the CDT trailhead. The picnic area which would have been perfect is closed overnight. There was one other vehicle at the trailhead which left at around 7:30pm. Fewer than six vehicles went by in the couple of hours I was there before I went to sleep. I could hike in and camp but that doesn’t seem necessary. Besides, I have a group of Mule deer nearby to keep me company.
I woke up to find a white pickup parked not 20 feet away. I never heard them come in. I have no idea if they arrived late last night or early this morning. I also have no idea if they realized I was sleeping in the back of my car. The rear window was wide open with the opening covered by the mosquito netting I had bought yesterday. In any case, I guess it doesn’t matter.
A pair of bluebirds kept me company while I ate my breakfast.
Back in town, I stopped by the college yet again to finish transcribing my journal to date, sent an email to the CDT list, and got information about the tours at Carlsbad Caverns.
Moving on, I had anticipated a direct trip to Carlsbad Caverns but I kept getting sidetracked. I first stopped at the City of Rocks State Park to view some tall rock formations in the middle of the desert. While not quite as rounded, they reminded me of the Devil’s Marbles in Australia. As a matter of fact, I think they were formed the same way – by erosion after a buildup of volcanic material.
Driving long, straight, fast, two-lane, desert roads is interesting. You can see for miles – sort of. Mirages frequently get in the way. However, mirages don’t have bumps. If the mirage has a bump, don’t pass. There’s a vehicle coming. If there’s no bump, it’s safe to pass.
In Las Cruces, I intended to get gas, eat, and be on my way. But, when I pulled into the Travel America truck stop with $2.75/gallon gas, I realized they were having a blood drive. It seemed to be a good thing to do but they were just taking their lunch break. So, I got directions to the nearest Jack-in-the-Box to satisfy a long-standing craving for their Southwest Chicken Salad – greens, chicken, beans, corn, tomatoes, spicy sesame-type sticks instead of croutons, and a spicy southwest dressing. Yum!
Back at the truck stop, I gave blood in the blood mobile. It was the first time I had given blood in a blood-mobile. What a setup! The “beds” were a little short for me but otherwise, it was quick and easy. Instead of the usual bagged cookies and juice I was used to at the blood drives back home, here, they had apple juice and Krispy Kreme donuts. Then, I went back to where I had signed up to get some other goodies. They gave me a t-shirt, a pint of Dreyer’s Ice Cream (it was a “Pint for a Pint” campaign), and a coupon for a free breakfast or lunch buffet at the truck stop. The ice cream, having been kept on dry ice, was too frozen to eat so I stopped for a twenty-minute visit at the local library and came out to find my ice cream, sitting in the hot car, was a perfect consistency for eating.
My camera has been a bit flaky on this trip and yesterday, it seemed to stop working altogether. So, I decided to buy a cheapo camera from Walmart so I could have something to take pictures with along the way. Knowing they could remove the film in a dark room environment if necessary, I waited until I was in the store to try to rewind the roll of film in the camera. It rewound OK and when I asked if they had a “scrap” roll of film for me to stick back in the camera to see if it would work, I was surprised to find that it loaded and snapped pictures successfully. So, hopefully, my camera is OK and it was just that roll of film. But, I bought the $15 replacement camera just in case to keep in the car. I figure, I can always return it down the road.
I stopped at the Visitor’s Center across the border in Texas. There, I asked if there was anything to do or see in El Paso if I had a couple of hours to spend there. Was the town known for anything? The guy couldn’t come up with any reason for me to go see town. He did let me know that Texas, like other large southwest states, allows you to spend the night at roadside rest areas and picnic spots. That was useful information.
But a quick look at a map showed an interesting loop over the mountains that would allow me to avoid the city center as I aimed east. This was great as it allowed me to avoid rush hour.
On route 62-180, I stopped for an immigration booth but was waved through by an officer who just opened the door and waved me by. Perhaps a ten-year-old wagon doesn’t fit the usual description of a smuggling vehicle. Or maybe they saw my Massachusetts plates and assumed I was a tourist. Who knows?
It was a long, lonely road to Guadalupe National Park, my next interruption on the way to Carlsbad Caverns. I got there at almost sunset, much too late for a backcountry permit. There was a campground at the National Park but having just passed a roadside picnic area that I could otherwise have to myself, I opted for that instead. It was a nice place to spend the night, with a view of Guadalupe Peak – and another way to sidetrack my journey to Carlsbad Caverns came to mind.
My fears about noisy trucks keeping me up all night were unfounded. After one passed by with air brakes, none of the others used the noisy brakes after they passed me. For the most part, I slept well. I was up at 2:00am for an hour or so. I had to time a pee break between passing trucks (no facilities here at the picnic areas) and then I read for a while before going back to sleep as clouds backed in from the east. Then I slept until after 6:00am, a bit later than I had hoped.
Being so near Guadalupe Peak, at 8,749’, the highest point in Texas, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. It meant an 8.5-mile round trip hike with 3,000’ elevation gain from trailhead to summit. This after giving blood yesterday. Turns out, I really could have used that extra pint of blood today. At least, I only needed to carry my fanny pack today and not my backpack. Good thing. I almost gave up the attempt after just five or ten minutes when I was already coughing up a storm at the exertion. Even though my musculature wanted to go at a brisk 2 miles per hours, my circulatory system couldn’t handle it. I finally ended up settling on a double time rest step – inhale on one foot, exhale on the other, very slowly. I ended up hiking at a bit better than 1 mile per hour and got to the top in 3.5 hours. I had to fight thirty mile an hour winds to get to the peak. They made me a bit uncomfortable but I wasn’t really being buffeted around.
At the summit, I was surprised to be able to see the picnic area where I had spent the previous night from the summit. I knew I had been looking up near the peak but I hadn’t realized I could actually see the peak. There was a couple there (or brother and sister) that had started ahead of me and we took turns taking pictures of each other at the summit obelisk. Unlike the state high points I got during last year’s road trip, this one I earned the hard way.
2.5 hours later, I was back down at my car for a total round trip time of six hours. I hadn’t eaten much during my hike and was extremely hungry when I got down so I wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with some Fritos, an apple, some cheese, and I finished it all off with some chocolate. I am still trying my best to eat the contents of the maildrops I had sent to myself. Ten days worth of hiking food while hiking 15-20 miles per day turns into a lot more days worth of food when fairly sedentary and driving everywhere.
Then, less than an hour away, I finally reached Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It was too late for any of the guided tours and even too late to enter via the Natural Entrance, so I spent an hour and a half touring the Big Room, a 750’ elevator ride down from the Visitor’s Center. It was huge and spectacular. It was the granddaddy of all the caves I’ve visited to date (and for those of you who’ve been on this list a while or have read through the journals on my web site, you know I’ve been to quite a few caves just in the last few years). It was well worth the huge detour through southern New Mexico and Texas to get there. While other caves I’ve been in have huge rooms, or interesting geological or human histories, this one had a combination of all of that.
The trail through the Big Room was over a mile long and the room, shaped vaguely like a cross, took me over an hour and a half to slowly tour. There were places where the ceiling was over 200’ higher than the level where I was standing and there were holes that went down over 100’ as well. It was a highly decorated cave with lots of speleothems (a new word for me) which basically just means cave formations. There were stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, popcorn (sounds like a movie theater), draperies, and flowstone. And there were lots of every type of formation. I think I’m going to be spoiled for other caves now. Sigh.
When I ascended back to the Visitor’s Center and my car, I took the 9.5-mile one-way, gravel road tour through the surface of the park. In retrospect, it was rather silly of me to bother. I’ve been hiking and driving through the desert for the last few weeks. But, seeing holes eroding through the escarpment, knowing there were caves below, certainly fired the imagination.
Back at the main parking lot, I ate dinner of tuna salad and cheese with Fritos (more trail food) before heading for the amphitheater at the Natural Cave entrance. It’s from there that hundreds of thousands of Mexican Freetail Bats exit the cave each night, from spring to fall, to go in search of as much as half their weight in insects. A bonus for getting there well before sunset is the ability to watch thousands of Cave Swallows entering the cave for the night. They don’t occupy the same space though. The swallows prefer to roost closer to the cave entrance while the bats go in a quarter of a mile or more.
Tonight’s bat flight started abruptly at 7:23 when hoards of bats spiraled out from their roost, to the entrance, and finally straightened out their flight pattern after they fully exited the cave entrance area. The bulk of the bats exited by 8:30 but groups were still leaving as late as 9:00 and probably many would continue to exit all night. As is my wont, I stayed until the very end when the ranger was leaving and then stopped to talk with some Boston University students using infrared thermal imaging to digitally film the bats leaving the cave. Then, they use software to analyze and count the light streaks (that’s what the bats look like). This should result in the most accurate bat count. They are currently filming ten days in the middle of each of the months the bats are present. Eventually, they plan to install permanent cameras and get counts for every night. I hope they manage to start putting those numbers up on their web site each day.
When I finally left, it was a slow drive back down to 62-180 and a quick drive north, 3.5 miles to a side road through BLM land. I drove just far enough not to be conspicuous from the road, found a flat place to park for the night, and called it a day.
I woke up early and unable to go back to sleep, I read for a while, watched a brilliant sunrise, and then went back to Carlsbad Caverns. On the way up the hill to the parking area at the Visitor’s Center, I took the time to visit each of the pullouts with exhibits along the way. I still got there around 7:00 and was the first one there and remained the only tourist there until around 7:45 when others started showing up.
Even though the ticketing agents were supposed to be open at 8:00, today just happened to be the day that they switched over to a new ticketing program and they were having problems. Finally, I got my tickets at 8:25, just in time to get to the Natural entrance when it opened at 8:30. The engineering feat associated with building up the entrance for tourists was amazing. The paved path switchbacked over and over again as it went down into the entrance. In perhaps .15 mile, it had to drop down 750’ to arrive at the same destination as the elevators that went straight down from the Visitor’s Center. This walk is not for those afraid of heights or for the weak kneed.
Having already gone through the spectacular Big Room, I was able to go more quickly through the Natural Entrance as the formation there and descending were not nearly as spectacular as those in the Big Room. I’m glad because it still took me an hour to descend which left me enough time to visit a bathroom, eat a Luna Bar and drink a Fresca (I brought those with me). I even managed to mail a couple of postcards from “750’ underground” as the self-postmark said. That said, I was delayed at the entrance as the Cave Swallows were in full flight now that it was daylight again, and I marveled at their flight paths into and out of the cave, and their nests. I’m surprised I got past their lair without a rain of swallow guano.
The trails in Carlsbad are relatively wide (as compared with Mammoth, for example) and I only rarely had to duck.
The King’s Palace tour was spectacular. The sheer number of stalactites and stalagmites was astounding. They formed beautiful curtains in places (not to be confused with drapery formations.) Even the drapery formations were huge – one was four stories high.
As I’ve found is typical in cave tours, we sat down at one point so our guides could turn out the lights and we could experience true darkness. Nothing new to me, I was bemused at the nervous murmur of the man sitting next to me who really couldn’t believe he couldn’t see his hands in front of his face. It makes you really appreciate how much light even stars give off.
After exiting the cave, it was time to head north. Gas in the town of Carlsbad was $2.82. Too bad I couldn’t wait for Artesia where it was only $2.75. No complaints though, I was running on fumes by the time I had gotten to Carlsbad.
Having been through the Australian version of Roswell, an outback station where aliens have supposedly been sighted (and the bathrooms were painted with murals of aliens and labeled “maliens” and “femaliens”, I was glad my route took me through Roswell. Much larger than an Outback station, it was mostly a “normal” town with just one block where kitschy museums and cafes were emblazoned with alien murals and promises of secrets from Area 51 revealed.
Needing a break from driving, I stopped at the Tourist Information center to use their free Internet access. While there, I asked if there were any “valid” stops to explain Roswell’s penchant for aliens or if they were all the Kitschy places I had seen. They couldn’t recommend anything with legitimate information.
Then, it was a long, mostly straight drive back to Albuquerque. Thankfully, the road was usually 70 or 75mph and the drive went quickly. High speeds really do make 200+ mile trips go much faster.
A stop at a rest area 50 miles or so from Albuquerque yielded a mystery. There was an animal in an enclosure that seemed neither, pronghorn (too big, no prongs, and coloring wrong), deer (coloring off), or elk (coloring off). What could it be?
Here I am, back in Albuquerque for the weekend of the Team Roping competition at the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Posse arena. Jim Bob was supposed to be competing but wasn’t listed on the day’s roster when we got there. So, we hung out for the rest of the morning.
Then, we went to the fairgrounds for a different type of dog and pony show. Actually, at the fairgrounds, we skipped the horse competition and concentrated on the dog show. We caught a bit of the Westminster style show and then watch some of the most amazing obedience competition. The real draw of the show, however, was wandering around, watching the dogs get groomed, and just talking with owners and marveling at some of the dogs that were there.
Back at the apartment, I took a nap before Janice and I went to dinner. Then, I went to visit Allen again, this time in his new, temporary apartment near Janice’s place. It was great to see some obvious continued improvement. He was also psyched to finally be away from the hospital middle of the night wake up calls.
Knowing that many competitors don’t register in advance, we went back to the Team Roping competition only to find Jim Bob was, once again, not entered. Oh well. But, we spent even more time there today, not just watching the competition, but wandering the grounds and seeing what goes on in the background. Janice was in her element with her camera, and I just marveled at how the competition gets put together. The arena designed specifically for this type of competition with pens and chutes for the steers on one side, seating for the spectators on the other, padding for the horses as they back into the starting gate, timing clock, etc.
Scattered around were various training “steers” made out of everything from bales of hay, to pvc piping, to molded plastic. There were steer heads and horns so that “headers”, those that rope the head, could practice roping the horns. No similar roping aids seemed to exist for the “heelers”, those that rope the hind legs of the steers after the header ropes the horns (or neck).
Most disturbing was the manner in which the steers were treated. The whips looked like gentle aids compared to the shock prods used to separate out steers to line up for their turn getting roped. The time they spend in the pen in preparation for their next turn in the arena looked much more stressful than the actual competition.
On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at REI so I could get a replacement bite valve for the one that I had bought just before getting on the CDT. It turns out I didn’t need the whole valve, just the cover portion which had leaked. But, in the store, I realized that the covers were sold in pairs and it looks like they are designed to develop leaks. Sigh. When I get home, I think I’m going to do search for anyone who may have inventory of the old style bite valve. In about four years, I had to replace mine just once.
We had a late lunch back at the apartment and then I grabbed another nap.
We went to Crazy Noodles for dinner. It’s a place that sells a variety of noodle dishes – Asian, Italian, and American. But, there was a decidedly Asian flair to the place and Janice and I were both very happy with both the noodle dish and the salad that we shared.
Afterwards, we went to see “Take the Lead”, a movie about a ballroom dance teacher who gets a bunch of inner city high school misfits to not only embrace ballroom, but compete. He apparently inspired a whole bunch of similar programs either city wide or countrywide.
For our final meal out, we went to the Range Café for breakfast again. This time, neither of us ordered the amazingly impressive Range Stuffed Toast but rather, we both ordered the Huevos Rancheros. We had brought our cameras though and just as we were leaving, someone else was having an order of the Range Stuffed Toast delivered and we got pictures of it. You gotta see it to believe it.
I finished my laundry, packed the car, said good-bye to Janice and Jacko, and hit the road headed north. I had no problems finding Museum Hill again only to find that the museum I wanted to visit (and most of the others, too), were closed on Monday. I should have known. So, I toured the nearby National Parks Southwest Regional office building built by the CCC and now on the listing of historic buildings. It was built in traditional adobe style (as is everything in Santa Fe, it seems) and with local materials. Walls are as thick as five feet, beams are huge, and the courtyard is beautiful. If it wasn’t so cold and wet (it had rained), I would have had lunch there.
Then I went to town. I mailed some film off, signed up for a library slot, and then killed an hour in the old town, visiting galleries, while waiting until I could get on-line. Then I realized I only had a 30-minute slot. Not nearly enough time.
So, I went to the branch library and signed up for an hour slot. I had dinner in the parking lot while waiting and then got on-line for an hour. It was almost enough time. I’ll go back tomorrow.
I was wondering where to crash tonight and the reference librarian recommended the I-25 rest area over the Walmart. She didn’t know of any appropriate turnoffs on the local forest service road.
Then, wondering what to do this evening, I took a look at the local happenings type rag. Wouldn’t you know, there was a swing dance in town and for only $3. Cool! It was already 7:00 and the dance started at 7:30. Thankfully, it was nearby and I had time to get there and change before the dance started. For a small venue with a small crowd (relative to Boston), I had a great time. It was mostly East Coast Swing with some Lindy, a tiny bit of West Coast, and a fair bit of Balboa. I had a great time.
Then heading south to get back to the highway, I was passing the Walmart and turned in. There was quite a collection of RVs, vans, and other vehicles parked off to the side, obviously there for the night. I rarely see so many parked in one Walmart lot. I had found home for the night. I tucked myself in between a couple of other vehicles, and found myself in a nice dark spot – perfect for sleeping and not much noise either.
I woke up after a great night's sleep in the Walmart lot. I used the facilities there and actually bought stuff. There was no fruit as it wasn't a supercenter but I got some chocolate milk for breakfast, more tuna packets, and film.
I was back on Museum Hill at 8:00 even though the museums didn't open until 10:00. I figured I would have fewer people around as I finished my morning routine (changed clothes, brushed hair, etc.) and reorganized my car, something that needs doing every few days. I used the extra time to read.
The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture was great. I got hooked into a two hour tour as soon as I got there. Then, I took a break for lunch and went back in to see the parts of the museum that the tour didn't cover.
Then, I went back to the library and an hour later, I had finished transcribing the backlog of journal entries I had. For those wondering, when I travel for months at a time, I don't mind taking a break from seeing everything new around me and spending a day here and there, just doing some mindless typing.
Finally, I hit the road north towards Taos. Rather than taking the more direct route, Route 68, I stuck with the slow, winding, mountain roads and had a great drive. The routes were: 285 to get out of town; then 503; 76; 73; 75; and 518 to 68. It was a fantastic drive. At one point, the road petered into a one lane road winding around houses in a small town at 15mph. At the bottom, were fields to the right and a canyon with a flowing creek to the left. Beautiful! Then, I stopped to take a picture of a split, hollowed out log, aqueduct. When I turned around, there was this statue of a mare and foal. Artwork in the middle of nowhere.
I took a picture of brooding clouds over a mountain and then found myself driving through the rain. It may have been the first time I really had to use my windshield wipers in New Mexico and maybe since the start of my trip.
In Taos, I had no luck getting in touch with Janice's friend. The work number I had was wrong but when her kids gave me the correct number, she didn't answer. Then, a while later, I tried the house again a couple of times only to find the phone busy. Sigh. This is perhaps the only time that a cell phone really would have come in handy.
I grabbed some Spicy Pad Thai to go and went out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the second longest span bridge of it's kind. I'm glad I got there an hour before sunset as the sun ended up setting behind clouds, not the horizon. The span is over a 650' drop to the river below. There was no information on whether or not B.A.S.E. jumpers ever use the bridge. The gorge is narrow and there didn't seem to be many (any?) good landing spots.
At the far side of the bridge was a standard highway rest area, complete with facilities (but no phone from which I could try Debrah again.) But, the rest area was better than Walmart so I decided to spend the night.
Fri May 19, 2006 4:16 pm
Subject: 5/17 - 18: Taos to Aztec
Wow! I ran out of time at the Farmington Library so ate lunch and now I'm miles down the road in Shiprock. As soon as I saw the monolith for which this town was named, I knew I was looking at Shiprock. Anyone who has ever read a Hillerman novel (or any of the other authors who write about the Navajo Nation) have probably heard the name.
I woke up in the Rest Area parking lot to strange electronic sounds emanating from my car. Last night, when I realized one pesky light was shining on my face, I rolled my window up onto my jacket to use the jacket as a curtain. Worked great but when the jacket slipped the first time and I tried again, I forgot to pull the keys out of the ignition (my windows are electric) and I managed to drain the battery overnight. I was chagrinned at doing something so stupid but not at all concerned. My battery was fairly new and I had been talking with the guy in the next car over last night as he was also sleeping in his vehicle at the rest area. I figured it would be easy enough to get a jump from him or any of the other vehicles that would soon be stopping by to get a look at the bridge. I'm just glad I had my own jumper cables.
I was at Taos Pueblo when they opened to the public and took a tour. I learned that they prefer to go by the name Red Willow Pueblo. Many of the area pueblos are starting to forgo their Spanish names and go back to their native names.
The history of the pueblo was interesting. The Taos pueblo was the only pueblo to ever drive the Spanish away. Then the Spanish came back and brought Christianity. There was also a time when the (American?) army used howitzers on the church and killed the 150 mostly women and children in the church.
The primary buildings, the North and South buildings are thought to be 1000 years old. They are each four-story high adobe structures and are still occupied. Well, the ground floor, for the most part is still occupied, and mostly by shops though living quarters still exist. Originally, the adobe houses had no doors. Access was gained by using ladders to scale the walls and descend down holes through the roofs. Now doors are used and the ceiling holes have been converted to skylights. It's possible to go into the adobe homes that are now used as shops by the original owners. Ownership has been passed down by the generations.
Like Acoma, some still live in the historic pueblo but with no electricity or plumbing, most choose to live outside the walls and maintain their historic houses for ceremonial purposes. The pueblo walls are adobe brick and are not maintained in the same manner as the houses that are adobe brick covered in layers of adobe. Each year, they add another layer. Should the layers become too thick and start cracking, layers may be scraped off and the adobe reused.
When I first arrived, I saw one of their ovens being fired up. They are outdoors, beehive shaped, adobe colored dome-like structures. They use red willow (cedar?) to heat the oven to temperature (4-500 degrees). When the fire is reduced to coal, they sweep the oven out and put in the bread to bake in individual round metal pans. They then seal the door and let the heat built up in the thick adobe walls bake the bread. After 35 minutes or so, they rotate the bread and seal the oven for another 10 minutes or so. The bread emerges fully baked and golden brown on the top and bottom. For $5, I bought a loaf, straight out of the oven and much too hot to handle, much less eat. As soon as I could was tearing chunks out of it to munch on in the car. It was delicious.
Then I drove to Taos Drum where Debrah, Janice's friend works. I looked around their shop and then got the two-bit tour from Janice. I was so surprised at how quickly the skins go from sopping wet, creamy white skins to the hard yellow and thin dry covering of the final product. It takes just a couple of days. Debrah and I had lunch and then I was off. I circled the Taos plaza on my way out of town and made one last stop at the bridge. One of the shopkeepers earlier in the day indicated her cousin would be selling horsehair pottery at the bridge. I found a piece that was much bigger than I was looking for but the price was right so now I'm lugging around a piece of pottery with me.
Once again, it was a day with building clouds. I was driving west on route 64 and stopped at the Brazos Cliffs Overlook for a nap. I was awakened to a strange tapping on the roof of the car and opened my eyes to a mix of rain and snow at this 10,000' rest area. Because they rarely get enough rain to wash the accumulated oil off the roads, roads here can get very slick when it starts raining. I took it easy on the way down the mountain.
In Chama, I was looking for Homebrew whose camera I've been lugging around and was hoping to return. But, it was pretty clear they hadn't gotten to town yet. Knowing they were road walking and knowing I hadn't passed them, I knew they were running later than expected. So, I drove back to the south looking for them. After a bit of investigative work, I found them in the first pub after they would have walked out of the long walk on the road through the National Forest. Figures I would find a hiker named "Homebrew" in a pub. LOL.
Even though we had never met, it was like a reunion. But that was no surprise. That's the way trail family always seems to be. I had already scouted a good campsite for myself when I found the guys and since they hadn't figured out where along the side of the road they were going to crash for the night, they were very happy to join me for the night.
When we got to the campsite, one of the guys even realized there were toilets there. That was until I investigated and found the seats on the boxes were not placed over any sort of privy hole. Yuck! One was even inscribed (with black magic marker), "The ole hillbilly shitbox". Now that gave us a good laugh.
It rained last night almost as soon as we had all gotten tucked away in our respective shelters (one tent, one tarp, and one car. ;-) What timing! From my perspective, it was nice to be spending the night in the forest.
We were up, packed, and on the road before 7:00 only to find the first breakfast place we got to closed. We never found the second one (didn't drive far enough) and went back to the first. Thankfully, it was just opening at 7:30. Phew! The omelet and the breakfast burrito were both huge. I opted for the French toast - a very normal portion.
I drove the guys back to the pub where I had found them and we scouted the six miles of road constructions they were going to have to walk through on the way. It wasn't all bad. They would be able to walk on the dirt portion away from the traffic for the most part and there was even a port-o-potty or two along the way.
After I dropped them off, I drove back north and went to Chama. This time, I found the northern part of town and ran into six hikers right away. Blister Sister and Packrat, G.I.Jane and Chuckwagon, and Leprechaun and Laura (on their bicycles and just bought land in town). As I drove Blister Sister and Packrat out of town, we passed Simply Seeking and Joyce, too. That made eight. When I dropped off Blister Sister and Packrat, I went back for Simply Seeking's and Joyce's packs. They slacked the last couple of miles up to the 10,022' Cumbres Pass. Their timing was perfect. When they got up to the pass, the threatening storm let loose. We took shelter in the porch of the train station, complete with benches. They ate lunch and I shared my Indian bread and grabbed some garbage from them and left them to wait out the storm and continue on their way.
Back in town, I caught up with Leprechaun and Laura. I had met Leprechaun on the PCT in 2003. He's now engaged to Laura who southbounded the AT in 2004.
I was disappointed to find the train wasn't running to the pass, but the reality was that the drive was probably just as spectacular.
Finally, I stopped to say 'bye' to G. I. Jane and Chuckwagon as I was leaving town. They were in town for a couple of days to give their big husky a chance to heal his paws. Then I finally got out of town. It was mid-afternoon already.
I stopped on the Jicarilla Indian Reservation for inexpensive gas. Only $2.83/gallon. Better than the $3+ prices elsewhere. When I got to Aztec, it was too late to see the ruins so I grabbed a side salad at McDonalds to supplement the food I had in the car and then started looking for a nice place to eat and maybe crash for the night. A riverside boat ramp caught my eye. I was surprised at what I found. A huge outdoors athletic complex. First there were the BMX races going on (pretty cool), then the little league practice (no surprise), and there was team roping there, too. Wow! All this plus a beautiful riverside paved walking path.
I ate dinner watching the BMX competition, went for a riverside walk, and then watched the team roping. I hadn't seen any signs against overnight parking so I hoped to stay there overnight. But, then, when I was heading for my jacket, I complimented a softball Mom on her soccer ball slippers. She was a true soccer Mom and proud of it. We got to talking and I was soon invited to her place for the night. With three kids and a plethora of cats and dogs, I opted to sleep in my car outside, but it was wonderful to be able to take a shower. Brandy Black and her family have no idea what trail angels are or what trail magic is, but I certain got some magic today.
I was up even earlier than the sun so after reading until it was light, quietly drove away from my benefactor’s house, hopefully, without waking them up. After a quick stop at a convenience store, I went back to the park to watch the river and take care of my morning routine.
I was at the Aztec Ruins National Monument before they opened at 8:00. I’m learning that early risers beat busloads of kids. It was nice to be visiting the ruins with only a few other people around.
I skipped Salmon Ruins and went straight to Farmington. It seems people in Farmington are directionally challenged. It took three tries, asking people where the library was, to find it and even then, I had to ask the third person to clarify when she pointed left and said “right.” Argh!
But, it was a beautiful library with a lot of thought in the design and construction. There was an interesting fountain outside, a marker on the floor where the sun shines through a small window at noon on the solstice, etc. The Computers start you with 30 minutes and then automatically extend you for two 15-minute session to total an hour assuming nobody else is waiting. But, only one log on per day is allowed. When I used up my time there, I drove to Shiprock and found the library there tucked into a huge Boys and Girls club building. But, the only cars in the lot were for library patrons and users. I have no idea if the rest of the building is being used or not.
The volcanic plug from which the town derives it's name is picturesque no matter from what direction it is viewed. I stopped before and after the town to get pictures of Shiprock.
I got to Four Corners an hour before they closed so got pictures of the monument with me standing in all four states at once. Of course, the area is part of the Navajo Nation and they don’t really acknowledge the state lines so it’s pretty funny that it’s administered by the Indians.
There were vendors there and I bought yet another horsehair pot. This one is smaller and the size I had hoped to find for myself initially. Now, what to do with the bigger pot? I also had a Navajo Fry Bread there, with cinnamon. What a great way to ruin my appetite for dinner. Yum! I enjoyed it while sitting with a couple of guys from Connecticut who had rented motorcycles in Pheonix to travel around the area.
It was a quick but frustrating ride to get from Four Corners to Tawaoc, passing Chimney Rock along the way. The skies have been quite dramatic and there were times when the chimney was in light and the cliffs behind it were dark. But, whenever I saw that, I couldn’t stop – no pullouts. Whenever there were pullouts, the chimney was in clouds and not likely to change anytime soon.
Trying to get to Hovenweep National Monument tomorrow, Tawaoc seemed like my best place to stop. With a Casino and truck stop/gas station there, I found a good place to park at the truck stop. But, when sunset started splashing beautiful colors on the cliffs, I drove back to Chimney rock and got some sunset shots on the cliffs and chimney.
I slept great last night. It seems I sleep well if I remember to take my antihistamine/decongestants before I go to sleep each night. But, sometimes I don’t take them if I either forget, or fear I might be asked to move in the middle of the night.
I drove to Hovenweep National Monument and spent most of the day there. The place is spread out over six or seven sites. Many of those require hikes – some up to 1.5 miles long. So, over the day, the mileage added up a bit. It was good to get exercise. Once again, I’m visiting places where 4wd is requires in my 2wd car and not having too many problems. I just take it easy and know both my vehicle’s and my own limitations.
After I left Hovenweep, I saw a dot on my map called Lowry Ruins so I went there. It was part of the newly formed Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which encompasses much of the area including (overlapping?) the Hovenweep area. This new monument has borders defined which include plenty of current farms and ranches but the monument hasn’t been fully investigated yet and the powers that be have no idea exactly what’s out there, just that there are a lot of sites that haven’t been discovered or mapped yet.
As I drove from Hovenweep to Lowry, I could see a column of smoke on one of the ridges in the Ute Reservation. I then drove to Cortez, the “gateway” town to Mesa Verde. There are a lot of restaurants, gas stations, motels, a Walmart, and a couple of really nice parks. There’s also a recreation center complete with pool where I could drop a few bucks, use the facilities, and get a shower. I might just make use of that facility.
There was a dog show in town. Very similar to the one I attended in Albuquerque. But I got there just in time to see the Best in Show awarded to an English Spaniel.
I got take out from the Chinese restaurant and went to eat at one local park only to find a bunch of the dog show people doing obedience practice. I had my own private dog show and ended up sitting with and talking with the group.
With a wetland near that park, the mosquitoes came out at sunset so I moved to the other park to write and read.
I’m torn between the bright Walmart and the Rest Area which may kick me out in the middle of the night.
I ended up opting for neither when I realized the Walmart also had signs prohibiting overnight parking. It was late, but I ended up driving to the relatively nearby San Juan National Forest. It was late and driving there I got quite discouraged. The map I had showed roads that weren't there and I made quite a few incursions off the main road before I found one that went all the way to the national Forest. I'm glad I kept trying though. The lot I found was certainly the quietest, darkest, and most private option I could have found for the night. I couldn't see any lights from where I parked. It was well worth the extra driving.
I woke up to find myself in a large cross country ski area parking lot next to a beautiful little lake.
I got to Mesa Verde early and was disappointed to find out Wetherell Mesa doesn’t open until next weekend. Argh! So, I quickly signed up for the two tours they were offering and started my day. Having been to so many ruins, I found the Mesa Verde ruins were both much the same and somewhat different. Here, there were not only the cliff dwellings but also mesa top inhabitants. There were newer kivas built on top of older kivas. There were pit houses that were the predecessor to both the kivas and the stone construction of later buildings. I managed to visit almost every open site at Mesa Verde in just one day. I skipped the long Petroglyph hike but saw everything else. Amazing what you can do in a day. But, I was tired at the end.
I went back to Cortez for dinner and ate at the park. Then I drove to Dolores to see the Galloping goose, a train built from a truck engine and chasis. A bunch of them ran in the 1920’s when the train tracks could no longer handle the heavier trains due to lack of maintenance at the time.
I stopped at a wonderful park in Dolores to do some writing. It seemed to be right along a river and had a wonderful children's playground. Then I headed back to the same parking spot in the National Forest I had used last night.
Being an early riser once more has it’s benefits. After waking up near Mancos, I drove to Durango in time to get a ticket for the day’s ride on the narrow guage railroad to Silverton. It’s an all day trip if you go round trip, which I did.
The forecast wasn’t great but I didn’t want to wait another day. Durango seems like a tourist trap type town.
I opted for the open car. The seating was tight but as the woman next to me said, it wouldn’t matter because most of us would be standing for most of the trip. She was right.
With the open sided cars, we could lean out to see the sights and take pictures. The train follows the course of the Animas River, sometimes just feet above the river, and sometimes high on the cliffs above the river. The train goes between Durango and Silverton, an old mining town now on the national register of historic places. We passed a spot where a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed. (They jumped off a cliff there. But, the landing was filmed elsewhere - I believe in another state. Go figure.)
The train stopped a couple of times to take on water. We also stopped when during a thunderstorm, the tracks got wet and the sand chutes of the train couldn't keep up and the wheels were slipping. We had to stop a couple of times so they could deal with that situation. I think they not only put sand on the tracks by hand, but also tried to clear the sand chutes so that they would start working again. With the storm, we were glad to be traveling the river valley and hoping the lightning would stay well above us. Or, in any case, we were hoping the train car would act as a Faraday cage and dissipate any nearby (or direct?) lightning strikes.
By the time we got to Silverton, the rain had stopped for a bit. Rather than head straight into the nearest restaurant like most of the other passengers, I took the time to explore the town a bit. Having found a patisserie for dessert, I asked for a restaurant recommendation at the outfitter and ended up at the Cowboy Palace, a slightly out of the way place where most train passengers don't end up. While there, it started raining again. But, I was going to get my dessert. So, I put on my rain jacket and headed out. Wouldn't you know it started pouring as I walked the two blocks back to the Creme Fraiche, the Patisserie. I had a rain jacket but my butt was soaked. Oh well.
The Chocolate Truffle cake was amazing. It was really just like eating a wedge of chocolate truffle candy without a coating. The crust was sugary and mealy and left a lot to be desired but that didn't diminish the cake eating experience too much. It was so heavy, it took effort to get each bit to unstick from the fork. Yum! It turns out the restaurant had just opened the week before and the chef was a recent graduate from the CIA (that's Culinary Institute of America - in NY). What a find!
since it was still raining, I stayed in the restaurant until it was time to board the train again.
The ride back down to Durango was even wetter than the ride up. Once again, we had to stop to add sand to the tracks so the train could get traction in places. But, with fewer people on board as many had only ridden the tain one way, those of us in the open cars were offered their, now empty, seats in the other, closed, compartments. Most took them up on the offer but some of us hardier folks stuck it out in the open car.
Back in Durango, I took a look through the railroad museum and roundhouse. It was nice to be able to climb aboard and look into some of the private cars they have for rent and see the innards of both an engine and a caboose. There was also a huge scale model setup and a lot of train related paraphernalia.
After a day on board an open car being pulled by a coal-fired engine, I was covered with soot. Even the protective glasses I had bought hadn't completely protected my eyes and twice I had to deal with cinders. Ouch! But, it had been a few days since my last shower and I was needing one. A fellow train passenger had pointed out a Laundromat with a shower but she was mistaken. I did however, find a huge recreation center where for $3.50, I could get a shower, or for $4.50, I could use the facilities all day. It was late and I was hungry, so planning on going back, I got a recommendation for cheap eats, had a huge burro (baby burrito) at Zia Taqueria, and then decided it was too late and I was too tired to make use of the recreation center so I drove up the nearest forest service road and found a trailhead. No camping at the trailhead but 5 minutes in, I found myself at a nice campsite near the southern end of the Colorado Trail.
After camping near a stream after what had been a rainy day, I wasn't at all surprised to wake up to my bag being covered in dew. I was a little surprised to realize that minute after getting out of my bag, the dew started turning to frost. My body heat had been keeping it from freezing. Knowing the Recreation Center opened at 5:30, there was no reason to dawdle today while waiting for businesses and attractions to open. It was nice to have something to do so early in the morning. I grabbed my suit and went for a swim. 70 laps and 45 minutes later, I had swam a mile for my first swim of the year. Not bad.
The facilities were great so I wasn't at all surprised to find, after rinsing my suit out, that they had a suit spinner. A few seconds in the high-speed spinner and my suit was almost dry. Certainly, it was nice knowing it wouldn't be dripping in the car.
Then I returned to the library to continue transcribing and to check email. After an hour there, I went to the local camera shop. My camera, in the off position, had been trying to turn on for a couple of days. I had been leaving the cover open to save the motor. The camera shop couldn't fix it but being a switch problem, they suggested I try the "Circuit Man" around the corner. $20 and 20 minutes later, my camera was fixed. It may have been a hack fix but if it works, who cares. It’s one less thing to worry about. I can't wait to get home, do research, and buy a digital camera. I just can't trust my film camera anymore.
Moving on to Pagosa Springs, I kept an eye out for hikers but stopped in the library to do more transcribing. When I can only get 30 minutes or an hour at a time on-line at a library, that sometimes means I end up making a lot of stops. While there, I was catching up on email when I turned around and found Simply there. Turns out, everyone was coming into town having gotten off the trail earlier than they had intended. Joyce had decided to go home but was still in town. Stacy decided to stay in town for two weeks waiting for more snow melt. Others were still in Chama or further south knowing the pressure was off, etc.
I gave them a ride back to the condo in the new part of town and they let me do laundry there. Great!
Back in the old part of town, I checked email again, and then went to the Best Western to visit with Blister Sister and Packrat, holed up there for a couple of days. Blister gave me a great suggestion for a place to spend the night.
Back at Stacy's digs, I had dinner, got my laundry, and then went on my way. The hint Blister gave me was right on! I found a wonderful spot to park near the river for the night and could sleep in the car again.
I woke up to find my car covered in frost. My body hear wasn't going to keep that off.
From the valleys, the mountains seem to have small pockets of snow on them. From talking with the hikers and seeing some of their pictures (digital cameras are wonderful), I knew otherwise. Driving over Wolf Creek Pass brought it all home. The road was clear but the trail, just off the road was covered in feet of snow. There were huge snowfields all around. No wonder people had a hard time out there. A passing truck spit a rock into my windshield and put a small crack in it. It's in the middle, near where I have another small crack and not in my field of vision so with any luck, it won't spread and it won't keep my car from passing inspection.
At Great Sands, I got a backcountry permit (free) and planned the rest of my day. I went back out of the park and hiked up to Zapata falls, an amazing falls that usually requires you to get your feet wet to see it. With my hiking poles, I managed to do it as a rock hop and keep my feet dry. You have to walk up the stream, into a crack, and around the bend to see the falls. On the wall to the left of the falls was a large sheet of ice doing its best to melt. While I was there, a duckpin bowling ball sized piece broke off and ricocheted down into the stream. I'm glad I hadn't been standing closer to the falls.
Back at the Dunes, I first went to where the creek disappeared into the sand, very early this year. Then for sunset, I hiked, slogged, and struggled my way up the soft sand to the big dune (not the biggest dune). I was there for a while and was eventually joined by eight others up to watch sunset from the viewpoint.
Coming down was much more fun than going up. For 650', it was just plunge stepping down knowing that every footfall would be soft and gentle. it took a fraction of the time going down as it had going up.
It was dark by the time I returned to my car. Then I had a .75-mile night hike to get to my campsite. With no threat of rain, I didn't even take my tent with me. It was nice to sleep out under the stars again.
I woke up this morning and finally got a good look at my campsite. It was next to a running creek and had room for one tent for one or two people only. There's a post there and I'm supposed to camp within 50 foot of the post. A quick look around and I wouldn't want to camp anywhere but in the spot I did. There was a view of the northern portion of the Dunes. It was a quick walk back to my car, a little less than a mile away. I was out before the sun started rising on the Dunes.
Last night, just before sunset, the battery in my camera gave out. It's supposed to give me warning with a low battery indicator but didn't. Argh! This morning, thinking I had an extra battery in my car, I was disappointed not to find it.
Knowing the restaurant just outside the park serves breakfast and was attached to the store, I went there looking for a battery but they don't open until 8:00, an hour an a half away still. So, I went back and just enjoyed watching the sunrise on the dunes. Once again, being an early riser paid off. On my morning forays, I saw many deer, a few pronghorn, and a smallish raptor with a brown head, mostly white chest and under tail area. It wasn't listed in the Peterson's guide to eastern birds so I have to try to find a bird book with birds of this area to figure out what it was.
After sunrise, I started north. I took a detour into Crestone, recommended to me. It was a pretty little town, seemingly occupied mostly by hippy types. I drove through town and found the National Forest Road and campground. The sites were nestled along a burbling stream. At the end was a trailhead and I did a little walk upstream along a trail that starts there.
Further north, in Salida, I stopped to use the internet access in the library. With nobody waiting, I was on-line for two hours. This time, I was the one to kick me off.
The librarian there had a suggestion for me for a car repair place. A couple of days earlier, I had noticed the trailer hitch on my car was rusting and had detached on one side. This morning, I realized it was hanging lower and hitting the ground when I went over bumps. Not wanting to start a fire with sparks or to drop it in the path of an oncoming car, I wanted to have it removed. I suspected one good kick would do the trick but not knowing cars very well, and not wanting to cause any damage to my car, I wanted to ask someone who would know how best to deal with it.
Sure enough, Brad, from Brad's Auto repair, came out to take a look. A couple of twists, turns, and a yank later, it came off in his hands with a shower of rusted metal. Phew! That was easy and didn't cost me anything. Brad even disposed of the useless hitch for me.
I stopped at the local Walmart to get some food, a camera battery, and more film. I forgot to buy a new pair of sunglasses. The ones I have still work but have a crack. I'll just have to keep looking as I travel.
I then rode west to Gunnison, a town I had driven through before but hadn't remembered. It was very "western" but a tourist trap. Nice little shops, easy parking, etc.
I was headed for Crested Butte and finally touched base with my host there, Trainwreck, a 2000 AT thruhiker.
An hour later, we were introducing ourselves to each other. Went for a walk, stopped for an incredibly delicious pizza at the Secret Stash, and then crashed. I was sleeping in a finished room with a garage door. Or, was it a garage that had been completely finished as a room. Still, I was in a the bottom bed of a bunk bed. Nobody else was in the room with me. Works for me.
After an offer from Trainwreck to spend extra time here, I took her up on it. So, I had a slow morning, reading the local paper, finishing a book, doing some Sudoku, and waiting for local establishments to open. I started at the Visitor's Center and got information on a local hike Trainwreck recommended. Then, I hit the library when they opened at 10:00.
Finally, I headed up the road - literally. The road climbed about 600' in 3 miles to get to Mt. Crested Butte, a town with lots of condos, a ski area, and no other reason I could see to stop. So, I drove straight through, hit the dirt Forest Service road, and kept going to Gothic, uphill still more. A tiny little seasonal hamlet devoted to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a research center first established in 1928. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any way to find out what they were doing there so I kept going. A short distance out of town, I stopped at the Judd Falls trailhead, ate lunch, and then hiked up one mile to the falls. With the spring runoff, they were booming. Even looking across the way at Gothic Mountain, I could see a lot of spring runoff falls. Beautiful. A twin-engine plane passed close to Gothic. They looked like they were on a sightseeing tour. Not sure though. I don't usually see twin engines doing that.
While climbing up to the falls, I was surprised at how little problem I was having with elevation. Granted, I wasn't carrying anything, and I was going slow, but still, usually, it takes me a while to find a good pace that will work. For most of this trip, I have been having problems with elevation. Usually, while in town not doing anything, I'll realize that I'm out of breath and start panting. It's very disconcerting. While hiking, at least I can expect it and force myself to go slow or else I am immediately out of breath. Well, at least here, I'm well over 9,000' while hiking (maybe 10,000') so I'm glad to be able to get this high.
Back in town, I walked up and down Elk Street, the main drag. There are a lot of nice little shops here. Then I went back to the house to take a nap.
When Trainwreck came home, she had a friend, Tanya, with her. We took Trainwreck's roommates dog, Abby, and Tanya's dog, Porter, to Lake Meridian (Long Lake?). It was a nice walk and both going and coming we bumped into a fox that had apparently denned quite near the trail and wasn't at all happy to have us wandering by. The dogs had a great time in the water. Abby was swimming after anything we would throw in the water and Porter, still only a nine month old puppy, couldn't quite figure out how to swim so stuck nearer to the shore.
Our leftover pizza wasn't going to be enough for all of us for dinner so we supplemented it with a good salad, and some pasta. All was delicious.
After dinner, we drove out to the National Forest campground (where I might have stayed had I not been staying with Trainwreck) to visit some of their friends spending the holiday weekend there. The place was packed. The Oh Be Joyful Creek is flowing this weekend and the kayakers are out in force. The campfire we shared was the first open fire I've seen on this trip. The fire danger was too high in most of the other places I've been to have an open fire. We were back in town by 11:00 so Trainwreck could get some sleep before getting up at 5:00 for work tomorrow.
Up early but not early enough to see Trainwreck off to work. Shower, laundry, breakfast, take a nap to ward off a headache. Then spent and hour at the library.
Last night after seeing an amazing amount of traffic pouring into the campsite area which is only a few miles outside of Crested Butte, the group I was with was reminded that this, being Memorial Day weekend, was the premier weekend for kayakers to run the Oh Be Joyful Creek, a class V+ creek. Today, the creek would have a lot of kayakers running it. Having seen some amazing footage of extreme kayaking when the Banff Film Festival has come to Boston, I thought this might be a great opportunity to see it first hand.
So, back to the campground only to find most of the kayakers seemed to have finished their runs and were returning to the campground. Since getting to the creek would require me to ford a very cold river, I took my time and ate lunch. Sure enough, in an hour or two, kayakers starting crossing over again.
I quickly changed into my hiking gear, grabbed my sandals and hiking poles, and stuck a few munchies in my pack and then walked over to the ford. I knew I could cross on my own steam but figured I could probably hitch a ride with a crossing vehicle. Those with high clearance vehicles could ford the river in their vehicles. Sure enough, the next truck along told me to hop on the back so I rode the bumper hanging onto the rack on top of their truck. I got no more than a quick little splash. Cool!
Another kayaker crossed the river in his kayak and was walking up to the put in point so I walked with him a ways and he told me where to catch the creek side trail that the kayakers use to scout the rapids before running the creek. Soon, I was watching crazy people going over an 18’ waterfall in little plastic boats. I can’t imagine psyching myself up for that kind of drop.
There were a couple of kayaker/photographers on the creek and the results should be in a blog on-line somewhere (if anyone finds it, please let me know – my web surfing time is limited while on the road). After watching the kayakers in three different sketchy areas of the creek, most were wrapping it up so I walked back down to the river’s edge, knowing that one of the fording vehicles had already offered me a ride across. They came down an hour later and I had an easy ride across – this time in the inside of the vehicle.
The campground, while crowded, was really nice so I decided to hang out, and spend the night rather than going back into town even though Trainwreck had said it would be OK if I went back to her place. I found a vacant campsite, moved my car to the quieter parking spot and settled in. As usual, I saw no need to set up my tent when it was so much easier to sleep in my car, but it was nice to have dinner at the picnic table. A gray/Canada/robber jay tried to steal my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I didn’t let it get close.
I woke up later than usual only to find my watch was also running late so it was even later than I thought. That said, I was still one of the earlier risers in the campground. I talked with my neighbor a bit and got some ideas for campsite which might be useful in the next day or two.
Kebler Pass, having just opened the week before, was my pass out of Crested Butte. At 10.007’, it wasn’t higher than previous passes I had been through, but it was certainly snowier. As I started out of town towards the pass, I was confused at a sign that said all snowmobiles must be removed by May 31. Then I started driving and figured it out. There were snowmobiles, seemingly discarded, here and there along the side of the road. I could only wonder if they had been left on top of lots of snow and as the snow melted away, they were left on the roadside scrub, with no snow anywhere nearby. I have to wonder how long it had been since the owners last used them.
In Crested Butte, there was only one radio station that came in, the local KBUT. Any radio that was on in town was tuned to the same station. Going over the pass, I soon lost that station and it was a while before my radio scanner found another station. When it did, I eventually heard mention of a contra dance this very afternoon. Frustratingly, it made no mention of where the dance was to be held. Argh!
My next stop was in Paonia. Someone had recommended a bakery/café called the Flying Fork. It was only 11:00 when I got there and I wasn’t ready for lunch, but the bread was coming out of the oven just as I got there. Once again, I bought a loaf of very hot bread. It was too hot to handle, much less eat. I also bought a coffee cake for later. Of course, not five minutes after getting back into my car, the odor was overwhelming and I carefully tore a hunk of bread off and starting munching. It was delicious.
Continuing down the road, the mystery of the contra dance location was solved as I drove into Hotchkiss. There was a sign by the road saying, “Wallyfest Contra Dance May 28 3:00 Memorial Hall.” Now, I just had to figure out where Memorial Hall was. One stop at a convenience store solved that problem.
I quickly found the hall but had over three hours to kill before the dance was to begin. I stopped at an artist guild’s cooperative. Then, I went to the supermarket to get some fruit to go with the cheese I had in the car and the bread I had just bought. But then, I was looking for a town park or some other nice place to eat. Hmm, a fairgrounds? What’s happening there? I turned in only to find it was a rodeo. What a surprise. Not!
I brought my lunch in with me (as always, there’s no charge for spectators) and watched a different kind of competition. This time, they released the steer, one rider rides out and ropes the head, and then a kid, already on foot in the arena, runs after the steer and pulls a tag off the tail. Then they have to run back to the starting gate on foot. Well, after seeing just three of those contestants, they went back to the usual, team roping. I watched a bit, finishing up my lunch, and then, because it was uncomfortably windy, retreated back to my car for a nap, and to change into my dance clothes.
At $14, the dance was a bit pricey but I wasn’t going to pass it up. Besides, it was a holiday weekend. Wallyfest after all… Turns out Wally is a fictitious character and they just named a weekend’s worth of activities Wallyfest just for yucks. The first 35 minutes or so was pure concert. Then, it was time for a teach and the dance. With mostly beginners on the floor, it was frustrating for all. The band wasn’t a dance band and had to get used to playing straight, square sets. The newbies on the dance floor had a hard time catching on here and there. The experienced dancers did what they could to help but it wasn’t always enough. And the caller did his best but sometimes the “practice” moves put people in the wrong place. Regardless, everyone kept moving, did their best, and had a good time.
After a hint from a local, I went back to the fairgrounds to grab a shower. It was $2. With the exception of the rodeo dirt, the place was clean and the shower hot and with good pressure.
I was planning on driving through Delta to another public lands campsite when I saw the local Walmart. I always check out the lots just in case I end up there. This one looked like a good place to crash if necessary. Then moving through town, I spied a stream of cars heading for the drive-in theater. I had already seen the “old” drive-in so was surprised to see this “new” one. Well, my timing was perfect and since I really didn’t have anything else to do, I drove in. For $6, I saw both “Over the Hedge” and “Mission Impossible III”. With sunset well after 8:00, it was a late start to the movies and a very late finish. Well after midnight. Ugh!
Back in the lowlands, as I drove through Grand Junction, I noticed most gas prices in the $2.70s range. Just as I was heading into the Colorado National Monument, I scored gas at $2.65/gallon. That was the cheapest I have seen in over a month, I think. There’s easily a difference of up to $.40/gallon for gas in the low lands and gas in the high elevation towns. Wow!
I drove through the monument twice. There are canyons and “monuments” formed by erosion. My stomach, not feeling well, kept me glued to the overlooks rather than the short hikes I would have normally done.
Moving on, I stopped in Rifle for a nap before continuing through Silt to get to Glenwood Springs. There, I finally remembered to stop at the local Walmart to buy a pair of sunglasses to replace my broken ones that I‘ve been wearing anyway.
Finally, I drove through Carbondale and following the instructions from my neighboring campers at Oh Be Joyful, I found the public lands where I could spend the night. Instead of kayakers for neighboring campers tonight, I have cows, calves, and a steer.
It was very cold when I got up this morning. So, rather than hang out, I started driving. For once, I would go to a café for breakfast. When I got to Basalt, I saw a Bagel shop. Perfect! It was only 7:00 when I got there so I enjoyed the bagel and hot chocolate made with steamed milk and sat for an hour and a half, doing Sudoku puzzles and reading through two local rags. One had an article about how cold it has been recently. Ah, so it’s not just me.
In Aspen, looking for something low-key to do (I still don’t trust my stomach), I was directed to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) at Hallam Lake. What a beautiful gem. It’s a nature preserve and rehabilitation center. With a lake, wetland, river, and forest in a 25-acre parcel of land, they offer a self-guided walking tour with numbered observation posts and a few observation decks. They have a resident Golden Eagle that cannot be rehabbed. Right before I started on my walk, a mother and young child came back from their walk, asked about the Golden Eagle’s name “Golden Eagle” and then asked about the bear’s name. What bear? They had just seen a wild bear that had been collared for a study about a month ago. It just happened to be wandering through the preserve and they thought it was one of the resident animals. It’s not.
Well, I went looking for the bear and didn’t find it. I did see magpies, a yellow warbler, redwing black birds pestering a raven, mallard ducks, a beaver dam, finches, and more. (Oh yeah, coming down from Kebler Pass, I saw a beaver at work along the roadside.)
Afterwards, I splurged and bought lunch at “The Big Wrap”. Their menu options all looked great but I finally settled on “Pesto Wrapture”. Here’s the description from the menu: “grilled chicken or tofu, jasmine rice, salsa, black beans, roasted poblano cilantro pesto, cheese, and/or sour cream in a flour wrap.” I had it with the “medium” salsa which was a corn, chipotle salsa. It was as good as it sounds.
At elevation, it can be warm in the sun even if the temperature is cool. I took the wrap to the pedestrian area and found a table to sit at. While eating, I noticed an art glass gallery nearby. After lunch, I visited the store and marveled at some of the glass. Then, wanting something sweet, I went to the Paradise café to pick up dessert. By the time I sampled both the chocolate brownie and the cream cheese brownie, I had enough so I bought a cream cheese brownie “for later.”
I visited the Aspen Forest Service building and talked with a ranger there. He made a call to a different jurisdiction for me to ensure that one of the roads I was thinking of camping along would be open this time of year. Thankfully, it would be open – at least for the first couple of miles. And, there would be plenty of dispersed campsites along the road in that stretch.
Then I got on-line, did some transcribing, and let my upcoming Colorado Springs host know that I’m still on target for tomorrow or Thursday.
Finally, I hit the road. It was a breathtaking drive up to Independence Pass. I stopped to take in the Ghost town of Independence along the way. My travels and hikes in the Appalachians paid off. I recognized the spring house, now without a roof, but still with the spring running through it and a deep section where people would have kept the perishables “refrigerated”.
The drive up to the pass would not be a good drive for those afraid of heights or for anyone who dislikes narrow roads with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. Thankfully, I’m not one of those people.
I got the Independence Pass, at 12,095’, the highest I’ve been outside of an airplane since my 1997 trip to Nepal. I took the little walkway, partly still covered in snow, to the viewpoint. The peaks all around me were still covered in snowfields. I took the time to eat dinner before starting down the other side towards my intended campsite. Eight miles along the road but without nearly as much elevation loss as I had hoped, I found the first turnoff of route 82 (unmarked) where I was to spend the night. I didn’t have to go very far. There were plenty of campsites very close to the road but still hidden from it along the raging North Fork Lake Creek. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have any significant problems with the elevation. [As it turns out it was at 10,475’. Something I figured out in Leadville while transcribing.]
A couple of other cars drove through the campsites. At least one stayed. The sheriff’s car drove through as well. It didn’t stay.
Sure enough, it was another cold night last night. I’ve got no problem with cold nights though. I’ve got my 20-degree sleeping bag, a silk liner, a wool Mexican blanket to throw on top, and plenty of warm clothes to sleep in if necessary. The only problem I have with cold nights is the cold mornings that usually follow. It’s just harder to function when it’s cold. So, like yesterday, I basically got up and just started driving. Well, I started the car, waited for the defrost to kick in, and then started driving. A few miles down the road, once both I and the car were warm, I pulled over to change into my clothes for the day, tame my crazy bedhead hair, etc. Like yesterday, it was too early to do what I wanted so I held off on breakfast until I got to Leadville, an old mining town I wanted to visit.
Once there, I found a café for some hot chocolate and a piece of coffee cake. I found a couch, pulled out my Sudoku puzzles, and made myself comfortable. It was only then that I realized that there seemed to be some sort of meeting going on at a nearby table with about 10 people present. It was soon obvious that it was some sort of town leadership meeting with the mayor, fire chief, and others. I was mostly concentrating on my puzzles but could hear them talking about everything from the new Colorado state no smoking law going into effect July 1, to fire department funding, to building permits. I can’t say I blame them for meeting there. It really was a nice place to meet – as long as you don’t mind others’ ears listening in.
Next, I spent time at the library. In Aspen, you got 30 minutes at a shot. You cold then turn around and get another machine assigned to you for another 30-minute slot. And, they didn’t care if you did this all day long. But, each time your slot time was up, you had to vacate your station because chances were slim the automated system would assign the same machine. So, for my three slots, I had to sit at three different terminals there. Crazy!
In Leadville, they took my name, I think to keep count of the number of people who use the system, and the told me to sit anywhere. There was minimal oversight, no mention anywhere of time limits, no mention of how they handle people waiting to get on-line, etc. Worked for me. I took the time I needed and then vacated.
When I first moved to Boston, I started out by getting an account at a relatively “local” bank. Three or four mergers later, my account is now with the Bank of America. Given all the travel I do now, I’ve found it very convenient to have a bank that seems to be everywhere. Even here in Leadville, my bank has an ATM in a convenience store. That’s good enough for me. I stopped by for some much needed cash.
By now, it was almost lunchtime so I found another café for a burger and fries. Then, I made my way to the Mining Museum and Hall of Fame. It was an interesting place. It showed a lot about the history of mining, especially in the local area, but not exclusively to the Colorado area. They had a large exhibit that seemed very propagandistic about how mined materials are used today. There was a lot of old mining paraphernalia. And someone did a huge series of panoramas about the history of mining in the area. The “Patience” castle, made from someone’s collection of semi-precious and precious stones was also amazing. They also had a large exhibit of stones. It reminded me very much of the geology exhibit at the Harvard University Museum. Upon closer inspection, there was a good reason why it should be reminiscent. Many of the stones had come from the Harvard collection. Go figure.
After the museum, I drove out to the Matchless Mine, named for a brand of chewing tobacco. It was there that the Tabors made their fortune mining silver and then lost it when the government stopped propping up the value of silver. “Baby Doe” Tabor eventually died in one of the miner’s cabins that she had converted to living quarters. She was staying there and waiting there in the hopes of regaining her fortune.
Next, I got some tips from a ranger at the Forest Service station. Driving south, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Granite, looking for some resident Bighorn sheep that live nearby. No luck. Then, I checked out a state wild lands campground that supposedly offered free camping. Well, it does, but it requires some sort of sticker and there was no way to get one on-site. But, since I hadn’t intended on staying there, it wasn’t a problem.
On the ranger’s recommendation, I stopped for dinner at the Coyote Cantina, in the little town just south of Buena Vista. My nacho salad was good. Wow, that meant eating out three times in one day. Something unusual for me when I’m alone.
Then I made my way up route 162. I went past Princeton Hot Springs (this is the Collegiate Peaks area) to a wildlife viewing area only to find you’re supposed to have that same sticker here, too. Argh! But, I stopped anyway, long enough to determine there weren’t any Bighorn sheep around. I hoped to find a nearby campsite and come back to watch for the sheep at dusk. It wasn’t meant to be though. Continuing on, I had expected to find distributed camping along the road after the Forest Service campgrounds. Instead, I saw sign after sign saying “no camping” or “no overnight parking” everywhere. I did check out one trailhead where I could walk in a ways and camp if necessary but decided to keep trying and drove further and further in.
I got to St. Elmo, a former ghost town, now still mostly deserted but with a few people living there again. I got a tip from one of the people living there about some good camping ahead on the road but the road had so deteriorated that I gave up on that option and kept looking elsewhere.
There was a road that had forked just before I had gotten to St. Elmo so I backtracked and tried that one. I soon passed a promising sign that said fires and camping were now permitted but then there weren’t any places to pull my car off the road. I was getting very frustrated. It was still light out but I knew if I had to backtrack all the way back to even the trailhead, it would be dark and I would have to find a campsite in the dark. Finally, I found a single site where I could get my car off the road. It was even a level site. It had a fire ring but looked like the tiny clearing was cleared from the debris of an old mining operation. But, no signs saying private property, no trespassing, or no camping, so I had found home for the night.
It wasn’t nearly as cold last night. Either the weather had warmed up, or I was parked considerably lower in elevation. Most likely, both. In the morning, after dodging all the deer in the road, I took a short hike to Agnes Vaille Falls, just off the road back to the main drag. I even had a pretty black Abert’s squirrel pose for me.
Driving east from the Arkansas River, I crossed what seemed to be high plains. It reminded me very much of scenes from shows like Ponderosa and Bonanza. (Yeah, yeah, dating myself. I know.)
I spent the rest of the morning at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. I managed to time it well to get on a tour. Fifteen foot high standing petrified wood stumps from huge redwood trees were the highlight. The lowlight? Not being able to see everything due to some vandalism a week earlier. Richardson’s ground squirrels were everywhere.
I had a late lunch and spent the afternoon at the Garden of the Gods, yet another series of rock formations that seem to defy gravity. I think all such sites have one formation titled “Balanced Rock” and the Garden of the Gods was no exception. This beautiful city parks ranks right up there with the Devil’s Marbles, the Devil’s Garden, City of Rocks, and other similar sites.
Then, it was a short trip to Colorado Springs where I met D-low, a long-distance hiker who offered me a place to stay and, more importantly, an opportunity for a shower. It was good to put a face with the name. We had dinner at Jose Muldoon’s. What is it with Irish-Mexican places?
Woke up with the sun even though I went to sleep late. Hazards of being in town, I guess. At Mike’s recommendation, I went to the Brooklyn Bagel shop only to find that the bags and cream cheese I bought all say Bruegger on them. Gotta wonder what the relationship is. The same company?
With no time to spare, I managed to get on the 9:20 cog railway up Pike’s Peak. Having been on the Mt. Washington cog railroad, "the first mountain climbing railway in the world"* and the only other cog railroad in North America, it was interesting to compare. Pike’s is the longest cog rail in the world but tops out with a 26.5% grade. Washington may be the steepest at 34%. Pikes now uses very large cars with diesel engines underneath. Mt. Washington "is the only one still in operation that runs entirely on coal-fired steam"* and may have some sort of special dispensation to continue using the special, but highly polluting coal. Mt. Washington is also the oldest cog railroad in the world. No doubt about it though, while Pike’s Peak, at 14,112 feet (two feet higher than most literature – based on recent remeasures with more accurate equipment), is certainly much higher, the weather on Mt. Washington is much worse. Pikes operates year round though they may not make the summit all the time. Washington used to stop for the winter but now makes ski runs up the lower part of the mountain. The cog rails themselves are different, too. On Pike's Peak, there are two parallel but alternating rails with teeth that the cogs use to climb. On Mt. Washington, the rail is more ladder like and the only teeth are on the cog, not on the rail.
The conductor mentioned that there are 55 cog railways in the world – most in Switzerland. I’ve been on at least one of those; In 1987, I rode the Chur-Arosa line in eastern Switzerland.
On or near the summit, I saw many very large, fat yellow-bellied marmots. The top of Pikes Peak is a huge parking lot. I do wonder why they couldn’t have put the parking lot a few feet down and left the actual siummit high point natural. Sigh. There’s a large summit building where they have a gift shop, bathrooms, cafeteria, etc. The weather was great. It was sunny and near 50. I was glad I had my gloves, but my head never got cold so didn’t need my hat.
On the train, I was seated with a large group of (middle?) school kids from Oklahoma City. They were very well behaved but surprisingly quiet for a bunch of kids. I tried to engage them but perhaps they were too shy to talk. Too bad, I would have rather been seated with others who would enjoy talking about what we were seeing.
Afterwards, since I was in the neighborhood, I went back to the Garden of the Gods to explore one area I hadn’t seen yesterday. Then, back to town where I stopped near Acacia Park to explore the stores there. Having noticed a creperie earlier, I stopped in hoping to find lunch but was surprised to find it to be an expensive upscale restaurant with very few actual crepes on the menu so I passed on that and kept walking. Then, I found Michele’s. It was a chocolatier, dessert, and ice cream place. And, they had chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick. I couldn’t resist. I enjoyed that cheesecake while sitting in the park and working on a Sudoku puzzle.
Back at Mike’s, I took a much needed two hour nap. After Mike got home, we eventually went for dinner at Everest Nepal, a supposedly Nepalese restaurant which was almost indistinguishable from an Indian restaurant save a few of the choices on the menu, such as Momos.
Back at the apartment, I pulled out my maps to try to plan some sort of route back home. At this point, I want to get back to New England on or about June 22 though I won’t be moving back into my apartment until July 1 (it’s sublet until then). Here’s what I came up with (all subject to change, of course):
Tomorrow, I head for Boulder for a couple of nights, visiting yet another long-distance hiker. I'll spend a couple of nights there and probably catch a hike on Sunday. Then, north to southeast Wyoming; east through western Nebraska; south to the geographical enter of the 48 contiguous states in Kansas; east through Kansas City; east through St. Louis (I missed the Gateway Arch during my only other visit to the city); maybe back through Lexington, KY which I wished I had more time to see on the way west; and then maybe sort of retracing my route back to New England.
Once again, it was nice to have a place to hang out in the morning. Mike was off to do some trail work so I took my time showering, packing up, and even took another nap before I left. But, that didn’t help much as I was still somewhat sleep deprived after staying up later than usual but still waking up with the sun.
I had planned to run into Denver to run an errand but decided I no longer needed to. So, I finally tracked down the Olympic Training facility and took a tour. This former military base had a few barracks style building left over from its time as a military base but those are mostly left for the administrative offices while the athletic facilities are mostly newer buildings with state-of-the-art technology. We were able to go into, or peek into, the multi-use gymnasium where we saw men’s gymnastic equipment (and caught a glimpse of the practice in a different room), an international standard basketball court with its trapezoidal free-throw lanes and a three-point line similar to the NBA standard. We also visited the shooting range, the swimming pool (currently set at 81 degrees for the synchronized swimming season – it’s much lower for the lap swimmers practicing for regular swim meets), the weight room used by most athletes for general conditioning, the wrestling facility with it’s strange dummy-like practice forms, and more. The silhouette sculpture garden was also interesting, packed with actual silhouettes from real athletes cut into flat Olympic rings colored flat forms and placed in representative playing fields, packed together along the promenade through the facilities. Descriptions and histories of each sport accompanied most, if not all, of the silhouette sculptures. A small, passing fox surprised me as it wandered the facilities in the middle of Colorado Springs.
As I drove north, out of town, I stopped at the Air Force Academy. Without enough time to do the full 2.5 hour walking tour they recommended, I looked through the museum, watched the video, and took a walk to the very distinctive chapel. The primary chapel was closed due to the five weddings scheduled there that day so I went into the “Jewish Chapel” with its Jerusalem stone floor and Holocaust torah. Unlike the two Christian denomination chapels, no regular hours for services were posted, just a phone number to call for more information.
I walked around a nearby sculpture garden of mostly statues of airplanes. There were two statues of people though. One representing the Tuskeegee airmen which was nice to see after having visited Tuskeegee last year, and one honoring the WASPs, the Women’s Air Service Pilots.
Then I drove up to Boulder to meet Mags, another long-distance hiker, this time, someone I already knew from when he also lived in New England. I had limited time so took the I-25 interstate. It was the first interstate with traffic that I had been on since I-25 further south in New Mexico. Since getting to Colorado Springs, I found myself having to get used to driving in traffic again. Some roads had as many as four lanes or so at times, not something I had seen in a while.
In Boulder, it was nice to catch up with Mags. He’ll be leaving for a southbound hike of the CDT in just a few weeks and having already given up his apartment, he’s house-sitting for a friend. So, I was able to crash there as well.
Mags is busy catching up with many of the friends he’s unlikely to see for the duration of the four month hike he’s planning. Tonight’s plan was Chinese and a movie. So, with a group of nine or so, we had dinner at P.F. Chang’s and then saw the Da Vinci Code.
CHAOS, the Colorado Hiking and Outdoor Society, an informal group of people who enjoy outdoor activities, was doing a short, social hike to Deer Peak in the Rocky Mountains National Park. Mags encouraged me to come along. So knowing I might be slow, I joined the group for the hike. At this point, I knew I could handle the elevation – SLOWLY!
We met at the bagel shop and it was nice to see some familiar faces from the night before. With 15 of us on the hike, we quickly figured out carpools such that each car had at least one National Parks pass holder. This way, we avoided having to pay the steep $20 fee to enter the park.
With my large wagon, I drove five of us from Boulder to the Park. We hiked to Deer Peak, a nice hike with good views all the way from the parking area to the summit. The trail, as expected for a western trail, was nicely graded and well switchbacked. As usual, I was huffing and puffing heading up the trail but never fell all that far behind. On the top, Mags treated us all to strawberry shortcake make with angel food cake. Yum!
The hike down was quick and easy and without the breathing problems I had while ascending. I was actually hiking with the “fast” group on the way down the mountain. Back at the apartment, Mags and I took turns in the shower, then I did laundry, took a nap, and got ready for dinner. We met a group for Sushi – it was delicious. Once again, some of the same people were there. After dinner, we all went for cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. I couldn’t resist the positively decadent Godiva Cheesecake – chocolate crust, chocolate cheesecake with chocolate chunks. Our server having mentioned that people rarely finish a piece of the variety I ordered was duly surprised/impressed that I managed to – slowly – polish off the piece, apparently an unusual occurrence.
I then chatted with Mags until after midnight.
Tue Jun 6, 2006 4:28 pm
Subject: June 5 - The Boulder Bubble to Cheyenne, WY
I'm on the last leg of my trip now and am slowly going to be making my way roughly (very roughly) north and east at this point. If it looks like I'm headed in your direction, let me know and lets get together.
The Boulder Bubble. Many Boulderites feel they are part of an insular community. They are not far from Denver yet they feel their attitudes, politics, life outlooks, etc. have a distinctly Boulder flavor. They think nothing of driving hours west into the mountains but may balk at driving 10-15 minutes to the east, out of “the bubble.” To take advantage of some service available there, such as a movie theater. While I’m not sure if all Boulderites feel this way, I spent the weekend with a good many of those that do.
This morning, after Paul went to work, I did one more load of laundry, took one last shower (not knowing where my next one will come from), and used the phone to call my sisters in New England. Finding phones in relatively relaxed settings while traveling can be difficult so it was nice to sit and talk with them.
It was almost lunchtime when I finally left. I first went downtown to run a quick errand. There’s a kite shop there and while they do repairs, the repair guy won’t be back until tomorrow and the cost is almost as much as the kite cost to begin with. While talking with the guy, he did a minor, and temporary, fix which might just allow me to fly it a bit longer before I really need to get the repair done. In any case, I haven’t really found anywhere to fly while on this trip, so far. Perhaps while crossing the plains.
I grabbed a burrito at Illegal Pete’s and hit the road. In Loveland, I stopped at the library to use their internet access and started getting in touch with those friends I hope to see on my way home. I also took time to transcribe my weekend’s journal entries.
I then drove north through Fort Collins to Cheyenne but with a migraine developing, I had no interest in driving further. I couldn’t stay at the rest area so I made my way to the local Walmart. With a couple of RVs already in the lot, I just parked near them and took it easy for the rest of the evening. By 8:00pm, there were at least six RVs parked in the area. This is probably the most RVers I’ve seen at a Walmart since I stayed at the Santa Fe Walmart.
Wed Jun 7, 2006 12:00 pm
Subject: 6/6/6 - Cheyenne, WY to North Platte, NE
Love that date today. I hear people are betting on whether or not the apocolypse will happen today. Gotta wonder how they plan to collect if they're right.
I started off the day by visiting Panorama Point, the highest point in Nebraska. At 5,424 feet, it's up there. But, so is everything else around it. It's also only half a mile from the Tri-state confluence of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. That said, it's a seven-mile drive. While I came close (3/4 mile, I found out later), I wasn't sure where it was so I left. Oh well.
I couldn't resist doing something silly next. I stopped at the Kimball, NE Chamber of Commerce and got the certificate that proves that I summited Panorama Point. For those interested, you can no longer walk to the summit, you must drive.
For those doing the high points, stop at the Pine Bluffs info Center just off the highway (oh yeah, exit 1 in Nebraska is closed, get off using the Wyoming exit - I think it's 401) and stop in to the visitor's center right off the exit for the flyers they have there. Good detailed directions and some information about the sites. If I had done that first, I wouldn't have had any problems finding the tri-state marker. I was in the right place, I just didn't go far enough. Argh!
I then made my way north to Scotts Bluff National Monument, where the Oregon, California, and Pony Express Trails all converged to go through Mitchell Pass on their journey west. From the top of the bluff, I could see Chimney Rock, my next stop, 23 miles to the east.
Chimney Rock, my next stop was a quick photo opportunity for me. But, for the settlers and miners heading west, it was the first visual relief in months they had seen since starting across the plains. To me, it's going to mean the start of a few long days of driving with little to do or see. Thankfully, unlike the settlers who were limited to 11 miles a day, I can cover a great deal more distance than that each day.
Continuing north, and well out of my way, I couldn't resist visiting Carhenge, my second car art installation of this trip (Cadillac Ranch was the first one). It's a car art project with cars positioned in the same relative positions as the stones of Stonehenge. The cars are all painted stone gray. Does this mean I don't have to visit Stonehenge, now? Nah... Now it means I have to go see the real thing - at some point.
The Friends of Carhenge also accept other car art projects as installations at their site. There's now a dinosaur, a spawning salmon, a covered wagon (double entendre intended), and the four seasons (representing a wheat stalk in all four seasons), and more.
Then I drove back south (I said yesterday that I was going "roughly" south), got dinner in Ogallala, and then drove east at 75mph (the limit) and got to North Platte, 52 miles away, an an hour and 40 minutes. Huh? For the first time in nearly two months, I've crossed back into the Central Time zone. sunset just got an hour later.
Let's see... Today I went through both Oshkosh and Hershey but came nowhere near Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.
The weather has been hot with highs in the 90s and lows in the 60s. One bank sign showed 101 degrees and it's only supposed to get hotter for the next couple of days.
With the relatively flat relief, I'm getting and keeping radio stations for a long time. It's nice to hear entire reports on NPR again.
Oh, and in case it makes national news, I was west of the situation on I-80 in Overton when police spiked the road to stop a fugitive and were then forced to kill him when the guy came out shooting.
I found out about it at the Walmart in North Platte. There, a group of three Airsteam trailers on their way to the yearly rally in Oregon were parked and the people in them were set up on chairs in the parking lot. It's the first time I had seen people hanging out outside their vehicles. A nearby RV had their grill outside, too. People are really making themselves at home. Tonight, there are about ten RVs clustered in the lot. Wow! A whole community.
I talked with a fellow Walmart overnighter walking a puppy this morning as I made my way into Walmart. Turns out her dogs are competitive in field trials competitions and she’s on her way from Florida to Oregon for a competition. They got four labs with them. Yikes! They’re also the ones who had their grill out in the parking lot yesterday.
Yesterday, in the desert of western Nebraska, I was seeing pronghorn. This morning, in the green south central area, it was White Tailed deer, a change from all the Mule Deer I had been seeing out west.
The plains, while relatively flat, are actually rolling hills. And, right now, the corn is still only shin high so I can see beyond the edges of the roads. Even so, Kansas really IS flatter than a pancake.
That said, I stuck to secondary roads and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the interstate was likely to have been.
I do wonder at the windmills though. Here, they’re much shorter than the ones I was seeing and hiking by in New Mexico. I wonder if that has to do with the depth of the water table, the amount of wind at ground level, both, or neither.
Today I saw something that answered a long-standing question of mine… At the side of the road, near some carrion, was a dead vulture. I’ve often seen ravens and vultures reluctant to leave their meals of road kill and always wondered if they ever got hit themselves. Having never hit one myself as they’ve always managed to get out of the way, that question had remained unanswered for me. Now that I’ve seen a dead vulture road kill next to another piece of road kill, I now know the answer.
I drove south into Kansas. My first stop was near Lebanon, at the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states. There’s a monument there, a tiny chapel, an abandoned motel, a couple of picnic tables, and not much else.
From there, my drive towards Kansas City took me through Cawker City where, as I entered the town, I pass the sign, “Welcome to Cawker City, Kansas, Home of the world’s largest ball of twice” Wow! A large ball of twine. This was something I just had to see. So, I drove through town, which seemed mostly deserted, and found the storefront displaying the twine. Only it wasn’t the actual twine ball, just a display about the history of the town and since I didn’t see any signs pointing to the actual ball, I missed it. Oh well.
I stopped here and there for short breaks when I could find shady places to park but mostly, today was just a very long day of driving.
It was after 4:00 when I got to Manhattan and I was beat. With temps in the 90s, I chose a mall for my next break. The A/C was most welcome. I toured the mall, also known as the “Town Center” but didn’t go into many shops. Mostly, I sat and worked on Sudoku puzzles. By the time I finished just one puzzle, I was hungry. I left the mall, stopped at Wendy’s to get directions to the nearby City Park and something for dinner, and enjoyed a most pleasant evening at a picnic table in the park.
The local Walmart, my third in a row, will suffice for lodging tonight. Only tonight, there’s not one other obvious overnighter/RV parked here. Of course, without the interstate nearby, this makes sense.
For the most part, I’ve learned to pick my parking spots carefully. Last night was no exception. With a couple of lights out in the lot, I parked under a neighboring light, letting my car shade me from the light and yet keeping the car very visible. This also means that with the neighboring lights out, I didn’t have too much light coming it at annoying angles. Needless to say, I slept very well. While most people think it’s “strange” so sleep in my car in a parking lot, from my perspective, I get to sleep in the same “bed” every night. At 2.5” thick, my sleeping pad (the same one I use while backpacking), is very cushy and I sleep as well on it as I do on my bed at home.
This morning, I made my way to Topeka, killed some time, and then visited the Munroe School, the site of the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. While I knew of the case and what it represented, I didn’t know it had taken place in Topeka. Nor did I know that it wasn’t about inferior schools. As a matter of fact, on average, in Topeka, the quality of both the school facilities and the educators in the black schools were likely as good, if not better, than in the white schools.
But, Brown, along with four other cases, were decided as a group by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision, that separate could not be equal. OK – enough of a history lesson for now.
I stopped in the Topeka library for a quick email check and to do a bit of research about Kansas City. What an amazing place. No apparent limits on computer time, no ID checks, no sign-up sheets, just walk in, sit down, and surf to our hearts content. This complete non-oversight may be first for me in a public library. This library also had a conveyor belt for book returns, a full service café with sandwiches made to order, soups, desserts, smoothies, coffees, etc. I was in too much of a rush to explore the library further, but it certainly seemed like a nice place.
Next, I made my way to the Missouri side of Kansas City (yes, one city, two states), and got to my destination exactly at 1:00. The Harley Davidson plant offers free tours and the last one each day starts at 1:00. Not only that, but tours may be suspended when they make major plant changes. As it so happens, I happened to get there on the last day of the ’06 production and the factory will be shutting down tomorrow for 10 days or so while they switch over to their ’07 model line production. Anyway, having passed the York, PA facility twice without stopping, I’m glad I managed to make it just in time. There were only two of us on the tour.
For 15 years, I supported software that manufacturing firms used to analyze the production data. It was rare that I got to actually ever see the facilities where our software may have been used. While I don’t think Harley-Davidson was one of our customers, I could see so many applications where the software I supported, RS/1 and Cornerstone, could be used.
Having found out about some dancing in Kansas City tonight, I stopped at a local YMCA to use their showers (No charge? Cool!) Afterwards, I met friends, Monadnock Dee and Ken for dinner at Planet Sub. It was no mere copy of Subway and was delicious. I then drove up State Line Road (yes, the road borders goes right up the state line between Kansas and Missouri) to Westport Road and quickly found the spot where there was to be dancing tonight. I wasn’t too surprised to find out the 7:00 dancing was really at 9:00 (7:00 seemed a bit early). So, I drove around, found the Westport section of town with all of its restaurants, sidewalk cafés, and people milling around, and settled in for a while. I found Murray’s, a cookies and ice cream shop. I killed a couple of hours there, reading, doing Sudoku, and slowly savoring my Truffleufogus and Heavenly Hash with melted Snickers topping. Yes, melted snickers – delicious! And decadent.
Back at the bar, it was well after 9:00, smoky, the band was just thinking about starting to set up, there were tables everywhere and no dance floor, and I was beat. So, I gave up on the idea of dancing for the night.
I got back to Dee and Ken’s place about the same time that had. We chatted and then went to sleep well after midnight.
Oh yeah… They have a cat and two dogs. The cat, supposedly shy, should have hid while I was there but, not surprisingly to me, warmed right up to me, much to the bemusement of Ken and Dee.
Tue Jun 13, 2006 12:52 pm
Subject: St Louis to Louisville - quick update...
I'm still alive. I just spent three days in St. Louis and experienced everything from a true Midwest thunder and lightning storm, to the zoo, to some great dancing, and oh yeah, the Arch and the River.
Now I'm in Louisville and while planning a visit to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, I found out the horses are running today. I'm not much into racing (or betting for that matter - I didn't take all those stats classes in college for nothing), but figured it would be fun to watch so perhaps I'll get online again later or tomorrow to catch up on transcribing my journal.
From Louisville, KY (for now),
Wed Jun 14, 2006 8:00 pm
Subject: 6/9-10: Kansas City, KS to St. Louis, MO
Rather than taking four hours on the interstate to cross Missouri, I took routes 50 and 94 to cross the state. Route 50 was a fast road with very little traffic. Route 94 was a very pleasant surprise. Following the Missouri River, it’s probably the one road in the state that is truly very twisting and winding. It follows the bottomlands and there were many signs along the way warning of the potential for floods to cover the road. On occasion, it would climb some of the headlands and bluffs along the way and had an almost mountainous feel though none of the hills were very high. The road followed the route of the Lewis and Clark Trail and paralleled the Katy Trail, a long-distance rail trail with a gravel bed.
Once I got to St. Louis, the interstate was a parking lot but as soon as I got off the highway and onto the surface roads, everything moved right along. I quickly found the riverfront park with the arch but only a short time later found a park festooned with pink ribbons, pink balloons, and even the fountain had been turned pink. I realized that the next day was going to be the “Walk for the Cure” and bring 60,000 people into town. That ruined my plans to see the arch and spend the day at the riverfront.
I then made my way to “The Hill” which is the St. Louis version of Boston’s North End. But it was very different. It was mostly residential but every few streets had a corner restaurant. I finally just stopped and asked some pedestrians which restaurant they recommended and ended up at Zia’s for some delicious Chicken Parmagiana. It was a nice splurge for me.
Then it was time to make my way to the Carlos Lomas St. Louis Ballroom for a ballroom dance featuring “The Ambassadors of Swing.” The music was great. The venue, a 70+ year-old ballroom was great. The dancers were not so great. There was one couple who danced well and were dance partners. I managed to dance with him for a couple of dances but that left her without a partner. Other than that, most of the others were either new or untrained. They would do the few steps they knew to whatever dance style was being performed. Nothing like seeing box steps used with Salsa. There had been a lesson at the beginning of the night but then there were no announcements as to where those interested could get further training nor were there flyers out for local dance studios where they could go learn to dance. But, the band was good so I mostly just enjoyed the concert. The people were friendly and I frequently had people to talk with if I so chose. So, even though I was disappointed at not being able to dance more, I still had a good evening.
With no Walmarts “in” the city, I drove back west, just out of town about 10-15 minutes and found a place to park at a Walmart there for the night. Unlike other Walmarts, this one had a bunch of Semis and Semi cabs rather than RVs. Walmart generally doesn’t promote their lots at truck parking places but I’ve seen it done before.
Knowing it was going to be another scorcher, I got to Forest Park just after the zoo opened. This zoo, voted #1 in America by both Parenting Magazine and Zagat offers a lot for free. While animal enrichment activities and realistic habitat were definitely the order of the day, many of the enclosures still seemed small for the animals and I saw plenty of signs of boredom and stress. But, while the S. Louis zoo is apparently not a rehabilitation zoo, the do a great deal to educate the public about the plight of endangered and threatened species, habitat loss, and their own efforts at maintaining the gene pool of many species using a breeding program with other participating zoos.
I always have mixed feelings about zoos. I prefer seeing wild animals in the wild and while walking through the zoo; I realize just how many of these animals I have, in fact, seen in the wild. That said, I do recognize that most people will never have the same backcountry and travel experiences I’ve had and zoos can and do foster an appreciation of the wild in those that won’t go themselves. And now, preserving wild places takes a lot more public interest than just those environmentalists that actually get out in the wild. The public, whose only exposure comes from zoos, also needs to get and stay involved in preserving wild places.
Zoos may also be the last chance for some of these animals. Przewalski’s horse, an Asiatic wild ass, had, in fact, gone extinct in the wild but due to breeding programs in zoos around the world as well as habitat restoration and preservation, they have successfully been reintroduced to their native habitat. So zoos, or at least the responsible ones, do have a positive place in this world.
OK – time to get off my soapbox…
After the zoo, I thought about visiting the nearby art museum. Then I thought about taking a nap on the lawn at the park. The nap won out.
For dinner, I left the park briefly to grab my favorite salad from the nearby Jack-in-the-Box that I had passed on my way into the park and then returned to the park for a picnic dinner.
Then I changed into dance duds and made my way to Webster Grove, a 100-year old historic area west of town, for a contra dance. There, at the Monday Club, a building that houses a ladies club, 60-70 people showed up for this dance. I was impressed with the caliber of the dancing as most small town dances have a high turnover rate for new dancers. Here, most were experienced and the dancing was at a similar level to the Boston area dances I’ve been to. I had a great time but was really fading by the end of the evening.
While there, one of the locals asked one of the other locals if she would put me up for the night. I was grateful not only for the shower which is usually the highlight of many stays, but for the shelter on this particular night.
St. Louis, with a huge shortfall in rain, had a Severe Storm Warning in affect. Sure enough, just after the dance started, the thunder, lightning, and rain started. I thought “Great! It’ll be over before the dance ends.” I was wrong. It just kept coming and coming. Cell after cell after cell. The lights flickered a couple of times but never went out.
Between storm cells, I slept well. That said, every now and then, I was awakened to yet more crashes of nearby violent crashes of thunder and lightning.
Still hopeful for the Arch, I was up and showered early, the thunder being only distant rumbles at 6:30am. But then, I listened to the weather report and it wasn’t encouraging. Argh! All day rain with up to two more inches of rain expected in the area.
That meant, the arch would not be a good bet today so if I wanted to stick around St. Louis for another day, I would be scrambling to find stuff to do indoors. At least I already had plans for this evening if I was still going to be in town.
I started driving and soon came to a St. Louis Bread Company. Looking vaguely familiar, I went inside to check it out. Sure enough, it’s the same exact company known as Panera elsewhere. Panera, a spin-off of Au Bon Pain, bought the St. Louis Bread Company cafes and I guess kept the St. Louis name in the St. Louis area. Elsewhere, the cafes have the exact same look and feel as St. Louis, but just a different name.
I managed to kill a few hours there. I wrote, read the local Sunday paper, and even did the rather easy triple Sudoku within. Later in the morning when the rain had mostly subsided to mist and an occasional sprinkle, I made my way back to Forest Park and visited the Art Museum. With only limited patience for museums at this point in my trip, I toured the lower level and called it a visit.
After that, I went to see “An Inconvenient Truth.” For me, there wasn’t a lot of new information but if you’re not familiar with the current state of the world’s glaciers, polar regions, polar bear habitat, permafrost, then I definitely recommend the show. For most, it’ll be an eye opener. For those that go, I also recommend sitting through the credits for hints about practical things we can all do to start making a change.
Unfortunately, the show was only playing at one theater in the high rent part of town. It really needs to play in all theaters to allow everyone to be able to see it.
After the show, I had just enough time to change, grab dinner, and head back to the Monday Club for an evening of waltzes. At this dance, they play two waltzes followed by one of some other form of dance such as polka, schottische, ragtime, etc. It was a lot of fun even though there were a lot of extra women. As with dances in the Boston area, it’s not uncommon when there are too many of any one gender dancer for the extras to dance together. So, a couple of times, I asked other women to dance. The first time, my partner was easily as tall as I was. The second time, my partner’s name was also Mara. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever danced with another Mara.
I got to talking with one of the band members after the dance and was soon invited to join them at CJ Mugs for drinks and munchies. Like the dancers, the band was a great group of people. It was about 11:00 when I made it back to Walmart. Perfect!
Wow! What a busy day! In a way, it was making up for a couple of lazy days, I suppose.
The Walmart I stayed at both Friday and last night on Lindbergh, just off of I-44 west of town had little in the way of RVs but quite a few Semi trucks and/or Semi truck cabs. That’s something Walmart generally doesn’t encourage but I guess it happens on occasion.
From the Walmart lot, it was a surprisingly easy, traffic-free, (early?) rush hour ride downtown. I parked in the Arch garage and got to the Arch 15 minutes before it opened. Perfect! I bought tickets for both the Arch and the riverboat ride. Ascending the arch was interesting. There’s a tram/elevator-like contraption of pods. Each pod has five seats designed by Saarinen, the same man who designed the arch. The pods are tiny, completely white, and lit by lights hidden behind the seat back of the farthest back seat. Though bright, anyone with claustrophobia is likely to have problems in a pod, especially if they are crowded. I had a pod to myself both going up and coming down. Small windows in the pod doors allow you to see out into the interior of the arch. Mostly, I could just see the stairs that go up. I had asked, but was not allowed, to walk either up or down the arch. The pods, with start off at differing levels of a staircase, must go up the arch nearly vertically one above the other, but at both the top and bottom, are arranged at a diagonal to allow for entry and exit along a staircase with small landings for each pod door entrance.
Once on top of the arch, the windows are narrow and horizontal, and almost slit-like. They face diagonally down so that you have to lean out over the window in order to look out. With the top at over 600 feet, you can see as far as 30 miles away.
Upon descending, I looked through the museum of western expansion. Then it was time for my riverboat ride, one hour both up and down the Mississippi River from the arch. Mostly, the sights up and down the river were industrial. There were more barges than I could count being loaded, unloaded, or just docked for the time being. They were hauling everything from grain to concrete to sand. When being loaded or unloaded, they were always one end high, the other low. They must be loaded form one end to the other or else risk the weight of their cargo tearing the boats apart. The barges themselves are huge and then they can also be lashed together to form even larger “rafts” of up to 15 going upstream or 30 going downstream. The tugboats that maneuver these rafts are incredibly powerful. We saw one that apparently had a 6,000 hp at its disposal.
After the riverboat ride, I visited the nearby courthouse famous for the Dred and Harriet Scott case. Scott actually won the case but lost it at both the state and federal level upon appeal. Like with the Brown vs. Board of Education case, timing was everything when it came to these cases. Many slaves sued for their freedom and many, both before and after the Dred Scott case, had actually won their freedom. But, because of the timing of the Supreme Court decision as related to other national politics, it’s the Dred Scott case most of us are familiar with as one of the catalysts for the Civil War.
Laclede’s Landing, the gentrified upgrade of warehouse riverside buildings as moderate to upscale restaurants just north of the arch was a good place o have lunch out on the sidewalk on what turned out to be a beautiful day with highs around 80.
It was the riverboat ride that gave me the idea as to what to do next. From the boat, we could see the Budweiser Brewery just south of town. This brewery, home to the famous eight horse Clydesdale hitch, was open for tours. Having been on brewery tours before, I took the tour in order to see the horses. The horses were beautiful, spirited, and energetic when being exercised. The stalls were gorgeous. I could only hope to ever live in any lodging as elegant as those horses. The barn (for lack of a better word) was made of beautiful wood, brick, and stained glass construction. The rest of the tour was interesting. We learned about the process and got to see the storage tanks and bottling facilities. The two free beers at the end of the tour were wasted on me, a non-drinker. I was surprised, however, at the number of different brews available through Budweiser. They had some that looked and were named more like some microbrew beers I’ve seen.
I drove across the Eads Bridge, the first bridge to span the Mississippi in St. Louis, to get to Illinois. Looking at the map, I didn’t get far before deciding to visit yet another “brown spot” on my map. Brown spots are usually significant points of interest and include National monuments, park, historic sites, etc. The name of this one, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, while unusual, rang a bell with me. It was only once I got there that I figured out why. It’s a World Heritage site. Without trying to, I have now visited 16 of the 17 World Heritage sites in the 48 contiguous states. The one I have yet to visit, Glacier National Park, is one that I had already planned to visit at some point.
Having already visited the Emerald Mounds along the Natchez Trace last year, I knew about what to expect. But, this site was much more extensive and apparently housed a huge number of people at one point – perhaps as many as 20,000. I got there late and only had 45 minutes or so to go through the interpretive center at the Visitor’s Center before they closed. But then, the grounds were open until dusk so I had plenty of time to wander around. I spent some of that time wandering with an anthropology student, home to visit her parents from California, and her parents. It was sort of fun exploring on some trails when we had no idea where the trails were going and our maps really weren’t designed to follow the trails.
Part of this site includes Woodhenge, a circle of wooden pillars set in a circle such that at important days of the year (solstices, equinoxes, etc.), a pole, positioned near (but not in) the center would point to the sunrise when sighted along the pillars on the outer ring. After Carhenge, it was quite a change. I finished my visit by climbing Monk’s Mound, the largest mound, built entirely of earth at 100’ high. I picnicked at the nearby picnic tables for dinner.
So, this morning at 12:30am, I was awakened by bright lights and the cops asking if I was OK. Argh! I assured the cop that I was, in fact OK, and just getting some sleep. Of course, I was lot more OK when I had been peacefully sleeping, rather than rattled by the cop waking me up in the middle of REM sleep. But, I decided that pointing that out to the cop would not be in my best interest. At least I wasn’t getting kicked out. He left and I went back to sleep.
I had another big driving day today. O’Fallon is just east of St. Louis so I basically drove straight through Illinois and Indiana to get to Kentucky today. In Louisville, I wanted to visit Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I was happy to be told that the horses would be running and I could go see them. Cool. But, when I got there, I was told that the horses don’t run on Monday or Tuesday and that I wouldn’t be able to even see the track. Oh well.
So, I just beat Louisville and headed east to Lexington.
There, the visitor’s center gave me some good tips for things to do. I look a short walk to visit Thoroughbred Park which I had seen only in fading light as I had driven west in early April. The park is a wonderful tribute to the horse racing culture in the state. There are seven race horses positioned in motion which I found out later are also being ridden by seven of the premier jockeys in the industry, a foal on the steps under a bunch of roses, and on the hill, a mare and foal.
Then, I hit the library to catch up on my email. Then, I made my way to the Southland Jamboree, a free one-hour bluegrass concert followed by bluegrass jams. What else would I want to listen to in the heart of Bluegrass Country? Turns out, the jam was less than six miles from where J.D. Crowe lives. Those into bluegrass music are supposed to be jealous. I just don’t know enough about it to care.
While there, I got more tips for food and sights from the locals. It was ~11:00 when I got to Walmart. No RVs in the lot so I asked where to park. Thinking I had an RV, the guy mentioned one of the light posts even had power. What a service they provide to the RVers.
I was stymied twice this morning. The Keeneland Race Track is supposed to be open to the public for viewing of the morning exercise period which starts at dawn. I was psyched to have something to do in the early morning. But, when I got there, the track was closed until September and under major construction.
There was a sign, however, that directed people to the Thoroughbred Center for morning workout so I crossed town to get there. Once there, I had to wake up the gate attendant only to find out that while the public is welcome, we weren't welcome until 9:00am and then, only for a fee.
So, I then headed for the Kentucky Horse Park, my ultimate destination for the day. I knew it wouldn't open until 9:00am but I hoped I could at least park there to wait. Thankfully, while unattended, the gate was open and I could drive in. Unknowingly, by getting there so early, I never did have to pay the usual parking fee.
I was hanging out in my car until 8:30 when some others mentioned that some of the grounds were actually open without paying the fee so for the last half an hour, I wandered amongst the memorials and paid homage to Man O War, Secretariat, and others. By then, the park was opened so I paid my fee and started the rounds. Based on the scheduling, there was a fairly standard path to follow to see as much as possible in the park. First, I went to see the draft horses getting tacked for their daily duties. Then, it was a horse drawn ride (with the recently tacked horses) around the park to see where various parts of the park are. Then, we had to rush to the Champions barn for a presentation of both media clips of the greats followed by them actually coming into the ring to be admired. I got to see Cigar and Gypsy amongst others. The Champions barn also had John Henry, too ornery these days to be formally presented. Then, it was time for first parade of Breeds, a twice-daily event where seven breeds are presented, often with appropriate costume and tack for horse and rider, alike. After that, it was time to see the mares and foals. Then, I had time to tour the museum before the second round of a different group of the parade of breeds. Finally, I hit the Standardbred Museum.
When leaving the museum, I inquired whether or not they thought I might be able to get a shower at the campground even though I wasn’t staying at the campground. A quick phone call later and I was on my way. The facilities there were very nice except the water was too hot and there was no way to control temperature, just volume. Ouch! But, I got used to it and it was really nice to get clean again.
The bathhouse also housed a Laundromat which I was able to make use of. It was much nicer hanging around the bluegrass of the campground than it would have been the concrete of a city facility. Plus, it was only $2 for a front loader.
Back to the city, I went back to the library to use their Internet access. Then I grabbed take-out from the Taste of Thai across the street to eat in the park in front of the library. With tables, chairs, a stream like fountain, it was nicer than the sidewalk tables at the restaurant itself. The one strange thing about eating dinner was the people hanging out on the balconies above the park. There was a hotel or apartment building there and while most people on the balconies were minding their own business, one balcony had a few people, one of whom had a pair of binoculars with which he was using to observe the nearby goings on. I saw him even before I sat down so was more amused than anything and when I caught him checking me (or my dinner) out, I just smiled, laughed, and waved at him. He laughed and waved back. He wasn’t trying to make any secret of his observances but it was still rather weird.
Today was mostly a travel day. I hit the road early and got to West Virginia in good time. I stopped at the Visitor’s Center, told them my route, and asked if there was anything to do along the way that was particularly unusual or particular to the state. They came up with shopping, hiking (nowhere special), and the state capitol (only one per state but every state has one). So, I thought I would visit the capitol as I had for many other states and got on my way.
It wasn’t all that far down the road when I noticed a sign “glass factory tours” and changed my plans. I had no idea what kind of glass or what kind of factory, but I figured whatever it was, it would be a bit more unusual than the history based capitol tour. I followed the signs off the next exit, around a few turns, across the railroad tracks, and down the hill to a parking lot being patrolled by a family of Canada Geese and another family of much larger, and noisier, white geese. There, I found the Blenko Glass Factory and what a find it was.
I walked through the shop, upstairs through the exhibit, across the walkway, and into the factory. There’s no tour, just an observation area. There we could watch mass produced hand blown glass being formed into a variety of shapes. What a production.
One man would bring a globule of melted glass on the blow tube to another, seated in a chair with special arms designed to hold and roll the blow tube. The seated man would shape the globule, stand up to blow air into it, use a form to give it a ribbed shape, form the “neck”, and then climb a set of stairs so that with the help of a man below, could use another form and blow straight down to turn the globule into the body of a pumpkin.
He would sit back down and another man would come with a tiny globule, stick it to the bottom of the pumpkin and the first man would “break” the body of the pumpkin off his tube. Then the pumpkin would go back into the fire and when it came out, would go to another seated man. With yet another small globule, he would form the stem of the pumpkin.
With a pair of padded tongs, the pumpkin would then be taken away. That was as much of the process as we could see. Judging from the time it too the one man to start one pumpkin to the next pumpkin, it took about 4-5 minutes to make one pumpkin. This stop was definitely more interesting than most of the state capitol buildings I had been to.
I took a long break at the local library that was nearby.
I woke up to the beautiful site of valleys shrouded in fog. It was slow to burn off so I got to enjoy that sight for a while. The interstate driving is a lot more interesting here. The road dips and turns and I feel like I have to actually drive here rather than put the car on autopilot. Sometimes now, even outside the major population centers, there’s too much traffic to just use cruise control. Some of the turns are actually too tight to be taken at the predominant speed limit. Sight lines both along the road and of to the side are much more restrictive. The hills and bends prevent me from seeing miles down the road as was often the case in the west and on the plains. The forests that now dominate the landscape prevent me from seeing much beyond the roadway unless I get to some viewpoint.
The interstate in Maryland was a visual feast though. I came around a bend to the spectacular site of a bright red bed of poppies occupying the wide median strip. It was completely unexpected. As I drove on, there were not just poppies, but purple, white, pink, and yellow flowers and I must have caught them at peak season. What a difference these are visually compared to the shades of tan out west and the shades of tan and fields of green of the plains.
On my way west, I had seen but not stopped at some sort of interpretive center near a cut through along the highway. This time, on my way back, I could stop and take the time to visit the center. It was the Sideling Hill Interpretive Center describing the geology of the hill that was exposed when a huge cut through was opened up for the interstate. The Syncline, upturned folds of earth, were worn away as the hill eroded and when the highway was put through, it was apparent that there may have been a river bed exposed and more. The interpretive center was interesting to me, having had a college level geology class but was also geared towards those with no geology background and accessible to them, too. I think most people would find the displays at their levels and ignore the others. Some were for kids, some for people who had never heard the term or contemplated the fact that such geologic formations existed, and some gave even me too much information.
Moving on, I got the Harpers Ferry at midday and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, helping hikers, giving shuttles, etc.
At 5:00, I went to meet Mark and John at their place in Shepherdstown. I wasn’t too surprised that they weren’t there so I pulled out my blanket, spread it on their lawn in the shade and took a nap. I was surprised, however, to wake up two hours later and find they still weren’t there. Hmm, I wasn’t sure what to do. So I hung out for a little while longer and then left a note saying I would be back. I would see them later or in the morning.
I grabbed a sub and headed for the KOA where I knew a bunch of hikers were going to be hanging out for the evening. I spent a couple of hours there and then went back to the house and finally met up with John. Mark was out of town for a couple of days and John had gotten busy in town. No harm, no foul.
It was so nice to sleep in the nice, dark setting of the farmhouse in Shepherdstown. The only noises to “bother” me were the bugs and a far off peacock. If the peacock had been closer, it might really have bothered me. The only lights in the area were the multitudes of fireflies. I opened my back window to get the fresh air and didn’t even bother putting the mosquito netting over it.
John, George (the downstairs neighbor), and I had breakfast together. We had reddish fruit for breakfast – cherries, strawberries, and watermelon. With toast and cottage cheese (or yogurt), it was delicious and a welcome change from the food which I’ve been eating that keeps in the car and requires little to no refrigeration.
During the day, I once again hung out at the ATC headquarters, answering questions, shuttling hikers. This time, I even had two hikers going to Frederick, 20 miles away. One got dropped at the bus station. One got dropped at a service station near I-70. He was going to hitch back to Ohio.
Back in town, I picked up some hummus and pita bread to start our dinner. At the house, Mark was back. We were soon joined by George, another friend, Chuck, and the five of us enjoyed wonderful home-cooked meal of Moussaka, salad, and followed it up with home-baked cherry pie, still warm from the oven with ice cream. Yum!
I woke up this morning to a bit of a surprise. Last night, a bunch of flying ants swarmed. With only ten or so in the car, it wasn’t a big deal but it was really strange. I was easily able to evict the ants that had gotten into the car. They seemed somehow stupid and/or uncoordinated. They could barely walk and I never saw any fly even though some definitely had wings. The ones in the car I just grabbed and tossed outside.
When I got out of the car, the weirdness continued. All over my car were more ants. They were stuck to the condensation or dew on my car. I just left them. I knew as soon as the car dried off or I got to any speed, they would blow off.
I said my goodbyes and from there, it was a quick and easy three-hour plus drive to West Chester. I stopped just once along the way to get gas near Harrisburg whether I needed it or not. West of York, Pennsylvania, they use a cheaper formulation of gas. In that area, most gas was in the $2.70+ range but I found one station selling it for $2.68. Further east, it was mostly in the $2.90+ range. With any luck, this tank of gas will get me to New Jersey, another bastion of cheaper formula gas.
In West Chester, I hung out on Gay Street, the main thoroughfare through town with all the funky shops and sidewalk cafes until I met up with Tony. We had brunch but with temps around 90, just hung out in his apartment and caught up with each other as it was too hot to do anything else. Come mid-afternoon, we went over his parents house for their Father’s Day celebration. I had met his parents last fall but this time, I got to meet a couple of his sisters and their families.
Back in West Chester, another nephew came over to help move a table into the apartment. We hung out but it was late, Tony gets up early, so we crashed.
Wed Jun 21, 2006 9:39 am
Subject: 6/19-20: West Chester to Dublin
Happy summer solstice everyone! Even though I feel like I've already been experiencing summer for most of the last three months, summer just officially started this morning.
I may have computer access for another day or so, but then expect to be busy for a few days and may not be on-line until sometime next week. But, I'll still be traveling and at this point, I expect to be going to NH before going back to the Boston area. Things can change, though, so stay tuned.
Humidity. For nearly two months, I didn't have to deal with humidity. Now, as I've come east again, the humidity continues to rise. With temperatures in the 90s and humidity in the 70-80% level, I'm remembering what it means to be hot, sticky, and sweaty. Bacteria once again can thrive in moist areas like my armpits and anit-perspirant/deodorant is once again necessary on a daily basis. Dancing in Santa Fe had been interesting. It might have been hard to dance at elevation, but I wasn't sweating much - or at least, my clothes weren't getting wet from sweat. Dancing in St. Louis, on the other hand, reminded me of more typical east coast conditions and why, last year at Glen Echo near D.C., I routinely brought extra shirts to change into during the course of the dance.
Other areas where there's a difference in the behavior of nature associated with increased humidity: cold cans of soda form condensation here – out west, there's no condensation; after a shower, my hair now takes a while to dry - out there, it dries almost instantly; and of course, the clouds here do, relatively frequently, form rain which actually reaches the ground.
Today, looking for a cool way to spend a hot day. I started off the day reading the local paper in a nice, air-conditioned cafe while enjoying a cinnamon roll. Then, I explored Ridley Creek State Park. Liking what I saw, I left to find a grocery store to grab lunch. After grabbing a salad from a salad bar, I went back to enjoy lunch. I found a well-shaded parking lot that was nice and cool and after lunch in a covered (and hence shaded) picnic pavilion, grabbed a nap, read, reorganized, etc. Then, I drove up to meet Camo at his place. He, Camille, and I ended up gorging ourselves at a local AYCE Chinese place that not only had Chinese, but sushi, peel and eat shrimp, crab legs, crawfish, and more. Yum!
It was a good time to get up when Camo, who works third shift, returned from work. Camille came over for a while before she headed off to work and then Camo and I went for breakfast at Michael's. I then dropped Camo off and started making my way north.
I stopped at the Norristown library, took a nap in my car parked in the shade under the building, and finally went in to use their computers.
From there, I continued north, did some shopping. Didn't find anything. Eventually met Mule at his place.
After dinner, we went for a walk at the beautiful Peace Valley Nature Center. We went for a walk there and saw quite a bit of wildlife. Included in the list of wildlife was a fawn, spotted like Bambi, lots of turtles, from small ones to large snappers, fish, birds from cormorants, to Great Blue Herons, to Swallows, a downy woodpecker, catbirds, a doe, a small fox and a larger fox, and more. There's a nice little network of trails in the area and one crossed a stream at a bunch of rocks that were submerged. I wasn't wearing the right shoes to get wet so I crossed - very carefully – in my bare feet. Oh yeah, the snappers were at the lake, not at the stream crossing. I still have ten toes.
It may be the summer solstice today, but I feel like I've already been experiencing summer for most of the last three months.
This morning, when I left Mule's place, I stopped back at the Peace Valley Park to check out the Nature Center. It was more of a classroom than exhibit hall so I was quickly on my way.
My next stop was the Moravian Tile Factory. It was built in the teens and 20s and has since been turned over to the parks department. The grounds are beautiful and are used for picnicking. The factory is still being used to make tiles, but I think mostly for decorative purposes. It's possible to take tours and next time I'm in the area, I'll probably give myself time to do so.
Moving on, like the Cow Parade painted cows I had seen in Aukland, New Zealand, this area has a bunch of painted mules around town. They were painted to commemorate the mules that pulled the barges along the local canal. Sold as a fundraiser, they now decorate the lawns at a bunch of business establishments. But, they don't seem to have the same ‘pun’ny characteristics of the cows I had seen in Aukland ("Cash cow", "Moo suede shoes", "Cowch", etc.).
As a matter of fact, none of the painted animals and objects I've seen since the Cow parade are nearly as entertaining. And I've seen painted steers, horses, fish, guitars and more.
My car managed to make it almost all the way through New Jersey before needing gas. At $2.85, I anticipate it'll be the cheapest I see until Massachusetts or New Hampshire. With any luck, I'll be able to bypass the pricier New York and Connecticut gas stations.
I got to Fairfield in good time having avoided all significant traffic by driving through New York in the middle of the day. I had planned on doing another beach walk, but got sidetracked in town. The streets are lined with nice little shops and while I hate shopping, I did wander the downtown area and then hung out on the cool, shaded village green for a while before heading over to Michele and Neil’s place.
We had dinner and as we were finishing up, Michele remembered there was a concert on the green that night. So, we put all the food away, grabbed our folding chairs and headed out. Both the heat and humidity have moderated today and it was a wonderfully pleasant evening to be outside. We sat and listened to the big band and Dixieland music for an hour and a half. A perfect way to spend an evening.
Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:55 pm
Subject: 6/22-7/1: Fairfield, CT to Medford, MA
Well, my trip has been over for a couple of weeks now. I kept the journal until I got home but from my perspective, most of what remains here are reports on more normal visits for which, had I left directly from Boston, I wouldn't normally keep a journal. So, entries are a bit short from here on out.
As soon as I can, I will compile all journal reports, create a web page, and upload the journal to my web site. Unfortunately, the server where my web site was stored was recently fried by some faulty UPS equipment. So, until the server is replaced or I bite the bullet and start paying for a host elsewhere, it's likely to stay down.
I've found that when staying with friends who are up and out early to get to work, it's often easier to limit my activities around the house or apartment so as not to get underfoot and in the way in the morning. This means that I usually end up closing up the house on my way out. It also usually means that I can leave late enough to miss rush hour, once again an issue now that I'm back in the busier northeast corridor.
Today was no exception. After both Michele and Neil left for work, I then took my turn in the shower, spent some time on-line and on the phone, organizing the rest of my time away from home this month. By the time I left the house sometime after 9:30am, rush hour traffic had mostly subsided.
I took the beautiful Merritt Parkway rather than the more industrial I-91/I-95 corridor. It was a bit out of my way, but I checked out Wadsworth Falls State Park. The Falls, in the woods at one end of the park, had viewing areas both above and below the falls. Unfortunately, it was too buggy to hang out near the falls. The main portion of the park a mile or so away was pretty. It had a green lawn through which the stream leading to the falls ran, picnic tables, both in the open on the grass and in the woods, a swimming pond, and bathrooms.
Moving on, I couldn’t resist stopping for a quart of strawberries, locally grown, and unlike the best of the imports. These strawberries, while smaller than others like California grown, are flavor bombs. But, the season here is short lived so it’s nice to be back in time to partake in this treat.
I grabbed lunch at McDonalds. I think this is the only time I’ve done so on this trip, other than the occasional side salads I’ve been buying. But, I was in a rush at this point – or so I thought.
Then I went to pick up my Mom. Staying at an assisted living facility, she no longer gets around on her own so I was a bit surprised she wasn’t there when I got there. But, when I found out there was a van trip on the schedule, it all made sense. Ever the traveler, she’s always the first to jump at any opportunity to join any of the scheduled outings now that she can’t do so on her own. But, she was due back within the hour, so I settled into her room and waited.
When she came back, it didn’t take long before we headed out again. This time, to the pool at my sister’s place. We spent the afternoon there, had delicious Veal Parmagiana grinders for dinner, and then I brought my Mom home and then went to the house where I grew up to crash for the night.
I took the opportunity to do a load of laundry this morning.
Then, I took my Mom out for lunch at Panera, known in St. Louis as the St. Louis Bread Company as I found out on this trip. What goes around comes around, I guess. It was a long lunch and I was ready for a nap afterwards. I said goodbye as I dropped my Mom off knowing I would be back in a week or two, and then went back to the house. I couldn’t sleep but did rest. Then, I hung out at Michele’s place. Michele’s a friend of the family and lives just a couple of blocks away. With no phone at the house, I knew I could use the phone there. I hadn’t intended to stay very long but then the storm that had been brewing for the last couple of days finally got itself together and let loose. With thunder, lightning, and lots of rain, I had no incentive to go anywhere until I heard from my sister. When I did, the rain had mostly let up. I met my sister and her family for a late dinner at On the Border. It was fun with everyone there talking about their upcoming international trips to Israel and Mexico.
Today is the day my friend Betsy let her friends know that if we happened to be in the area of Lake Sunapee, she would be there, too. She used to have “parties” but it seemed like every scheduled party always got rained on. Maybe if it weren’t so organized, it wouldn’t rain? Well, after a few years of rain on her not-quite-a-party, perhaps she should go back to calling it a party. Once again, rain’s in the forecast but I’m going anyway. Even indoors, it’ll be nice to catch up with friends.
I got there in the early afternoon and it was still gray and misty. The trees were dripping even if it wasn’t raining. After Joan showed up, we relented to the kids demand for some beach time and went down to the dock and almost non-existent beach on this year of high water in the lake. None of us adults were all that enthusiastic about swimming in the mist.
When J.V. and his daughter showed up, we grabbed snacks and then went back down for some more time in the water. Betsy joined the kids on the water but mostly, we just caught up with each other. After dinner, J.V. and his daughter left – then Joan. I was spending the night and stayed up until 12:30 talking with Betsy. I think that may have been the latest night of my entire trip - except for the second seder.
No need to rush this morning so I helped with a French toast breakfast and then prepping for a picnic lunch and boat ride Betsy and the kids were taking. I took off at around noon before they left on their ride.
Once again, with marginal weather, I skipped the Kancamagus Highway, and drove the route past lake Winnepesauke. Traffic was light and since I hadn’t been through North Conway in over a year, I drove through town. What a mess! They’ve got their own version of the Big Dig happening through town.
I hung out at a friend’s condo while waiting for another friend to call. When she did, we made lunch plans for the next day.
Rain, rain, rain. Long breakfast at Bagels Plus killing time. Rain, rain, rain. Drive by the library. They don’t open until noon so back to the condo. Rain, rain, rain. Meet Jen for lunch and catch up with her. North Conway suits her better than New York City where she had recently spent a few years. Rain, rain, rain. Don’t go for the overnight hike I had hoped to do – too much rain. Rain, rain, rain. Use the computers at the library. Rain, rain, rain. Grocery shop for the next couple of days. Rain, rain, rain. Back to the condo. Rain, rain, rain. Eat dinner. Watch videos. Read books. Rain, rain, rain. Go to sleep. Rain, rain, rain.
Drove home, dropped a couple of things off at my apartment. Everything looks good there. Met my friend Barbara at her place where I’ll crash for a couple of days until the first when my subletters vacate and I get back into my apartment.
I spent the day with my friends David and Janet, their kids, Sam and Ethan, and my niece and nephew, Sunny and Rowan. We spent time at the Breakheart Reservation, ate at Kelly’s, and spoiled the kids with ice cream at Soc’s. Dinner with Lori and Bruce, my sister and brother-in-law, and Sunny and Rowan.
Hung out at Barbara’s...
Nothing to report… My friend’s place in Somerville is only 1.5 miles from my place in Medford.
Last updated, September 12, 2012.
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