Saturday, October 18, 2014

10/18 -- Driving Trip Review

We thought it might be fun to summarize the states we drove through on this trip.

Oregon (overnight)
Washington (overnights)
Montana (overnights)
Wyoming (overnight)
South Dakota (overnight)
Illinois (overnights)
Ohio (overnight)
New Jersey (overnights)
West Virginia
Virginia (overnight)
Tennessee (overnight)
Oklahoma (overnight)
Texas (two left wheels in the north west corner as we entered New Mexico)
New Mexico
California (again)

10/12 -- Drive Home

Because we were 800 miles from home, we had planned to take a day and a half to drive back, but we are still getting up early, and there is really no place in California between the south east border and San Francisco that we want to spend a night if we don't have to, so we hopped in the car at 7:30am and just drove. If we hadn't stopped for sushi near home, we would have made it in 12 hours.

The scenery across the southern part of the trip is all pretty stark, and it just gets more dreary as you go west. Suffice it to say that I am not a big desert fan, a short visit is interesting, but give me greenery any day. We did get to see two of the airplane mothball fleets, one in Arizona, the other at Tehachapi, CA. There was also a huge wind farm at Tehachapi that looked kind of like a white-haired and sparse crewcut across the hills.
Western Arizona scenery
Happy sign -- back in our home state

Eastern California -- hard to tell its not Arizona

Long straight road thru the desert

Plane heaven in Tehachapi. Windmills in the background.
Wind farm, creating a crewcut on the hill

Sun setting in the bay area as we near home.

We had a wonderful time, and I might actually consider another cross-country drive, but it sure feels good to get home!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

10/11 -- Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim Trail and Recovering

We are still waking up early, and it worked to our advantage today. We got to the cafe for breakfast and internet by 7am, and were ready to check out and explore by 8:15am. We were unable to reserve 2 nights in our park hotel and have another reservation just outside for this evening, but it didn't slow us down at all.  After some discussion, we decided to take the shuttle bus to the far western end of the Rim Trail, which is at least 7 miles from the western area of the Grand Canyon Village, where most of the services are.

Look at how the tree has twisted
The ride to Hermit's Rest took about 40 minutes, with lots of stops to let people off. The shuttle is the only way to get there except during winter, but works very nicely because then you can hike one way and get picked up at one of the drop off points when you get tuckered out. Although the average altitude is about 7000 feet, and we are not exactly altitude-adapted after only part of one day, it is mostly flat so it didn't seem too awful to hike several miles. Our first theory was that we could walk all the way back -- 7 miles in 2.5 hours to allow for photos and altitude. However, as we walked, we discovered that all our little side trips to view points were adding up and we had logged 5.5 miles in about 2.5 hours, and we still had at least 3 or 4 miles to go. Plus a couple up hill sections around 11, as breakfast started to wear off, really took the stuffing out of me. So we bailed and took the shuttle back. By the time we walked to a restaurant for lunch, I was running on fumes and plans for another 2-mile wander after lunch basically evaporated.

Part of the Abyss
We got to see parts of the canyon that neither of us had seen before, including an area they call the Abyss, where the walls fall straight down for 3000-4000 feet, as opposed to the more step-like decline elsewhere. The trail started out for 3 miles as a paved path, but changed to gravel after that, positioned near the rim. We spied a gravel trail in a couple places on the second part of the paved path, and started out on them, as they looked more scenic, and frankly, walking along the canyon on an asphalt path seems kind of contrary to the whole hiking concept. The first gravel section we saw was right ON the edge and sloped toward it and you had to duck a tree which forced you closer to the edge. I nixed that and we went back to the path, but later we saw another path that looked safer and headed out. Jim noticed, after we had been on it for some time, that it was heading downward consistently, and we had a target area that was much higher than we were and getting worse. We wondered if we had stumbled onto a trail that went to the bottom, which was totally beyond our capability to get back up, so we hoofed it cross country to get back to the paved path. Later, looking back the way we came, we could see where we probably were and it did not go all the way to the bottom. My guess is that it was an unauthorized trail created by people who like asphalt paths as much as we do.
A wider section of the rim-side path...

Jim at one of the lookouts

Tarantula? It was about 3 inches across -- small for
a tarantula, but big and hairy for a spider
We saw more deer and elk from the car and shuttles. Jim spied an eagle from the Rim Trail and we saw a really big hairy spider along the Rim Trail -- maybe a baby tarantula??

Lunch had a relatively rejuvenating effect on me, so we went to the Geology Museum and stumbled into a ranger talk about how the Grand Canyon was formed. She was really entertaining and played to the school kids in the audience. Basically, the very bottom of the canyon is 'basement rock', an igneous rock that is interleaved with granite. On top are lots of layers of sedimentary rock -- limestone, mudstone, and sandstone, that suggest the area was an inland sea 8 different times over the last 550 million years. Then the plateau was uplifted, but as a flat whole, not like the tilted rocks you see in lots of other places. There are lots of fossils in the sediment, but the top 250 million years worth of sediments have all disappeared, worn away by wind and water erosion so there are no dinosaur fossils. The Colorado river settled on its current channel about 6 million years ago, and has consistently been about 300 feet wide, cutting its way deeper and deeper into the rock. The river falls 14,000 feet from its source in the Rockies to its output in the Pacific, giving it a lot more force than the Mississippi, which only falls 2000 feet from Minnesota to Louisiana. Combined with the dessert climate, which has monsoon style rainfalls for 2 months each summer, the upper layers that river initially cut have been further eroded over the last 6 million years by wind and water to be the 10 miles wide you currently see.

After that, we drove to the main Visitor Center (kind of short on information) and walked to nearby Mather Point for our last outlook to the canyon before heading to our hotel for the night.
Hard to believe that ribbon of a river is 300 ft wide, but
it is about a mile down.

Our grand adventure is nearly over -- we are 795 miles from home and heading out tomorrow. Based on where we will probably be by 5 or 6pm, a typical stopping time, we may just tough it out and go all the way home. In some ways I am glad to be going home -- tired of living out of a suitcase and with the limited clothing selection I guessed at 7 weeks ago. But this adventure has been such a hoot in so many ways, it's a shame it is almost over.

10/10 - The Grand Canyon

In the spirit of adventure, instead of taking I-40 to the Grand Canyon, we took state roads north along the Colorado and Utah borders and drove through the enormous Navaho Nation. It was raining in Taos and some weather reports talked about locally heavy snow along our route, but the hotel staff verified we weren't taking high altitude roads, so off we went.

Rio Grande Canyon walls
At first, we drove down the Rio Grande Canyon, then set off along drier areas. The scenery was often spectacular and reminded me of Utah, but I can't imagine how people support themselves or why I would want to live there.
Rio Grande in the Taos area

Cliffs somewhere in New Mexico, above and below

Shiprock in New Mexico, in Navaho Nation

Hoodoos above, other rock formations below. In
Navaho Nation, either New Mexico or Arizona

Drawing of what the original abodes would have
looked like. What we saw were the foundations,
a couple of stones high.
Once we got to the Grand Canyon east entrance, we gained an hour and had time to spare before checking in, so we stopped at almost all the viewpoints and one museum. The museum showed the Tusayan Ruins -- parts of the walls and two kivas (ceremonial halls) of the Tusayan culture. The homes were stone built and entered from the top, as were the kivas. Not sure that would be a good place to be old in!
The Grand Canyon, looking west from the Desert
View (eastern) stop

Jim at another viewpoint, looking west

Grand Canyon eastern view
Grand Canyon eastern view at sunset

I was here for a few hours with Kristen in 1975 and nothing but the canyon itself is recognizable. Jim was here for 2 days in the late 50s and he sees stuff he saw then, but a lot has changed.  The canyons are amazing, but I'm afraid the photos will be inadequate, like they were in 1975.

We went to dinner at a different lodge and began to understand why the park emphasizes using the free shuttle. Parking was ridiculous close by, and I got all turned around when we found a parking lot, and luckily Jim prevailed and we got some help and found we were only a 7 minute walk to our restaurant. On the way driving to dinner, bunches of people near our hotel were ogling the deer near the road and I was like so 'ho-hum, another deer'. On the way back from dinner, a small herd of elk crossed the road in front of us and I fumbled with the camera to get settings to take a decent photo. So much for wildlife ennui!
Dumb camera didn't want to use flash, did multiple
photos and combined while nasty elk refused to stay
in one place. You CAN discern mother and calf, however.

The only bad part is that there is only internet access in the lobby and dining room, a hike from our room, so staying in touch will be a challenge.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

10/9 -- Capulin Volcano and Taos

Just a note to anyone considering staying overnight in Clayton, NM. Don't. Unless you have earplugs or take your hearing aids out at night (like me). The train runs right thru town and starts rolling around dinner time and a new one comes thru every hour or so, horns blaring. Apparently no one here objects. Maybe a place with double pane windows would be better. Kind of a shame, because for a dinky place in the middle of nowhere, it was actually quite nice. Except for the night trains.

A tree is growing out of one of the 'lava pimples' near
the Visitor Center.
On a cheerier note, we had an energetic day today. It was raining a bit as we headed out, but we drove out of it before we got to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. It is a cinder cone volcano that last erupted about 42,000 years ago. There are several trails and we did all but one. The parking lot of the highest hike was at 7800 feet of elevation and the rim trail went up 305 feet from there -- and partway back down and up again. It was rated as 'moderate' and it was nicely paved, but going that much up when you are not adapted to the elevation made it more like strenuous. Our other big hike, the 'Boca Trail' started out much lower, maybe 7200 feet (Endomondo hiccuped and couldn't track us on GPS, so we don't know for sure). This trail was listed as strenuous to moderate and even though it was twice as long, it was lots easier. From the top of the rim, the views of the area were spectacular. We also did a short nature trail with some interesting rock formations where lava sort of squeezed out at a week spot -- sort of a lava pimple on a flat plain.
There are a lot of extinct volcanoes in the area.

Jim hiking the rim trail with the plains far below.
 Back in the car, we headed to Taos. We went thru the Cimmaron Canyon state park, which was beyond lovely -- very steep cliffs, bubbly little river and wonderfully contrasting trees on the mountains -- lots of dark green firs interspersed with bright yellow aspens and birches -- totally spectacular.
More lovely 4-lane 70mph road in remote New Mexico
Our first view of the interspersed green and yellow trees

The aspens close up. We saw birches later with the
same bright yellow leaves.
The Taos main square
Taos itself is a bit of a disappointment. After reading about the 'Santa Fake' building style in  Santa Fe, I had expected better in Taos. Maybe all the downtown buildings are original, but I wouldn't want to bet on it. It is very touristy -- sort of a southwestern Carmel. We did have lovely lunch and walked around the downtown for an hour before heading to our hotel. This month is a big one for Taos -- apparently people come from all over to see the trees change color like going to New Hampshire or Vermont back east. So the place is totally busy -- heading north to our hotel at 3:30, we were stunned at the traffic backup going south through town. Taos does have good restaurants! Our yummy lunch was followed by an interesting dinner -- I had buffalo filet mignon -- very tasty.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

10/8 -- On to New Mexico

West Oklahoma looks more like what we expected
Today we headed off I-40 to take the sort-of backroads to north east New Mexico -- we are stopping overnight in Clayton, close to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, because it was on the way to Capulin Volcano National Monument, where we will go tomorrow. We could have taken the freeway most of the way, but decided to be bold. There were actually a couple bold choices and I took the one that arched over the Texas panhandle because on my high level paper map, it was the only road I could see all of and it looked like it was pretty good. Boy was I right! Lots of 4- and 3- lane sections (for passing uphill) and speeds of 65 and 70 mph most of the way.

Drilling for oil we think, or maybe fracking

Older storage tanks for something - natural gas?

Big wind farms with more mills being added

Some of the old windmills still work. Looks like many
are pumping water for the cattle.

Slightly hilly, but the road sure is straight.
Oklahoma flattened out a lot after we got west of Oklahoma city, and we got to see lots more oil derricks, a couple places where it looks like they are drilling, and a ton of natural gas wellheads. There were also a number of interesting looking ruined or dying buildings, which we managed to snap a few photos of -- kind of a challenge at 70+mph!
One of the charming old homes - probably could
get it cheap.
One of many derricks
With no rest areas, we traded driving duties at McDonald's and a burger/ice cream place called Braum's. We had seen Braum's in several places and decided to check it out. They serve malted milk (way better than a milk shake, IMHO) and in any flavor they had of ice cream. They had just gotten a few new ones in for the holidays, so we had a gingerbread malted. Totally great!

It was a relatively short driving day and we got to Clayton and our ancient hotel (Hotel Eklund) just before 3pm, except the time zone had just changed so it was way too early to check in. The desk clerk suggested we check out the local history museum, which was wonderful. Though I have to say that seeing stuff in a museum that I recognized  using in my youth was kind of humbling! We're becoming antiques! The very chatty proprietor of the museum recommended a stop at Clayton Lake State Park, which  has a very large collection of dinosaur footprints, discovered after a dam created the lake.

We headed out there through some very interesting territory and wandered out to the footprints. On the way there and back we saw lots of grasshoppers and butterflies and a praying mantis (first one I've seen in the wild since I was a kid) and a probable locust. The foot prints were hard to decipher despite the interpretive displays. I think someone must have known what they were looking at to be able to even say what they were, but it was interesting, it got us out of the car and walking (YAY) and killed enough time to let us check in.


Praying Mantis

Dino foot print -- the long, shallow depression to the
right was its tail

Several footprints, captured in mud
 Our hotel is an old one, that seems quite nice and the food is reasonably good, but the windows are single pane and there are trains going by right now that might as well be under our windows. I sure hope they stop by bedtime! Since we gained an hour today, bedtime will be arriving sooner than usual too....

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

10/7 -- Arkansas and Oklahoma

We started out later than usual, hoping the rain would taper off, but no such luck. It was heavy at times, but cleared, fortunately, before Memphis. Then it was smooth sailing over the Mississippi and into Arkansas. We were surprised at the terrain of the state. It started out kind of swampy at times on the eastern edge and grew more into a flat farming area, reminiscent of Minnesota. After we passed Little Rock and started following the Arkansas River, it changed again into lovely wooded rolling hills and we navigated between the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains.

A reservoir along I-40. Looks like they drowned some
trees recently.

Scenic overlook from western Arkansas

The star of the trip -- the new car (now a year old)
and primary driver (who is wondering what I am up to).
We also encountered a NASTY traffic jam for 10 miles, right after we re-entered the freeway when we stopped for gas. The road narrowed to one lane for 4 miles, but there was a 6 mile backup as 2 lanes of trucks and cars jockeyed for position. It added 30 minutes to our trip, and kept us from getting past Oklahoma City.

For lunch, we let Liesl (the car's GPS) help us find something and thought the Pudgy Pig BBQ sounded unique. Unfortunately, Liesl's database is a bit out of date because the pig was apparently not sustainable and no longer existed, so we opted for the Waffle House instead. We have seen them all over down here and you will be pleased to know that they serve more than waffles. Lunch options are a bit limited, and make up in volume what they lack in taste. I am still full 6 hours later and I didn't finish everything! Now we can add that to the list of places to avoid, at least for lunch.
I-40 corridor in Oklahoma, this photo and next

Reservoir along I-40
Oklahoma has also been beautiful so far -- at least up to Shawnee, where we stopped, about 30 miles out of Oklahoma City. The terrain is like western Arkansas -- rolling hills and lots of trees and greenery, with the occasional oil rig thrown in for good measure. It is also interesting on I-40 to see the litany of Indian tribes that have been relocated here. It seems like we are continually seeing signs identifying which nations we are leaving and entering. I thought it was mostly Cherokee, but we have seen signs for Seminoles, Potawatami, Sac, and Fox so far.

We are well on our way to being a day ahead of schedule getting to Taos, with no hotel room until the 9th, so today we debated our options. One thought was to go to Santa Fe and head up to Taos the next day. Jim read through the AAA Tour Book description and mostly noted the number of churches and museums highlighted to visit (neither is a focus for us) and that the architectural style is locally called "Santa Fake" because the government has decreed that all buildings will look as though they are flat-roofed adobes while allowing actual current building codes to apply. Then I remembered researching National Parks and reading about one called the Capulin Volcano in north-east New Mexico, and that was more outdoor oriented, so it looks like we'll add that to the agenda.