Archive | May, 2013

Monday, May 27, 2013

31 May

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY

When we left you last Friday we were heading north from Sante Fe. Before leaving the city, we stopped at Loretta Chapel which is located on the site of a missionry school for girls run by the Loretta Sisters in the 1800’s. In the 1870’s the sisters had the chapel built which is small but the art work, statues, and stained glass windows are stunning. As typical at the time, the church choir loft was built without stairs since the choirs were mostly men and they would use a ladder to reach the loft. However, this was an all girls school and the sisters objected to the girls having to use a ladder. The architects said that a stair case would require the elimination of too many seats because the chapel was small. The sisters prayed a novena (9 days of prayer for a special intention) to St Joseph for a solution to their problem. At the end of the novena, a lone carpenter showed with only some hand tools and said he could build a stair case with minimal loss of seating below. He built a spiral staircase which makes two 360 degree turns and was supported only at the bottom step on the floor and the top step at the choir loft. It took six months to build and at the completion the carpenter disappeared and left behind no bills for labor or material. It is an engineering marvel to this day as to how the staircase supports itself. It is believed that the unknown carpenter was St Joseph! The staircase was originally built without a railing, but a railing was added later for safety.

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Our chilren should all know this story as we read it to them or they read it for several years when they were young while  waiting for Christmass Eve Mass to begin. The mission has snce been closed and the chapel was offered to the Dioceses of Sante Fe, but they declined the offer (there is a Cathilic church every few blocks in Sante Fe) so now the chapel is privately owned and operated as a museum.

We are now traveling north along the Rio Grande river and then the Charma river. The rock formations along the river valley are also stunning including camel rock. Our river tour guide yeserday said this was the inspiration for ET.

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On the road north we came upon a place marked on the map called Ghost Ranch. Since it was only a mile off the road,  we decided to stop in even though we were not sure if this was some kind of tourist trap. It turned out to be totally noncommercial and vey interesting. Ghost Ranch is a retreat and conference  center run by the Presbyterian church. In the  late 1800’s the area was controlled by some cattle rustlers who encouraged some ghostly stories about the area to keep people away and hense the name today. Artist Georgia O’Keefe had one of her homes here on the Ghost Ranch and many of her landscape paintings are of the mountains surrounding the ranch. Today, Ghost Ranch operates as a retreat center for groups or individuals and they offer hiking, horseback riding, mountain cycling. They also offer courses on archeology,  paleontology,  music, art, wholistic health, and spirituality.  They have camping and rustic lodging available along with a cafeteria serving meals 3 time a day. Over all not what we expected when we pulled off the road, but interesting and maybe a place to come back to some day.

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Continuing north toward Colorado the landscape changed from desert to green and lush as we climbed to higher elevations. As we approached the Colorado state line we got our first glimpse of snow capped mountains.

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We continued on the way to Mesa Verde passing tnru Pagossa Springs, Co. Manny remembered this town’s name from Mannheim Steamroller’s Cd called American Spirit.  The song is called Wolf Creek Pass. It is a funny song about a tractor trailer losing control hauling a load of chickens over Wolf Creek Pass. The song ends as the semi crashes into the feed store in Pagossa Springs.While our route did not take us over that pass and we did not see the feed store, we did play the song on our Ipod while we drove thru town! Continuing on thru Durango, which I did not have a song for, we made it into Mesa Verde campground just in time to set up camp before the sunset. Glad we had a reservation as the campground was full.

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The next morning, despite incorrect information, we did manage to find our tour for a 4 hour trip around Chapin Mesa. We learned much about this area as pertains to geology and anthropology. The cliff dwellings of the people who lived here, from A.D. 550 to 1300, are just mind boggling. Their engineering skills to have constructed these homes and managed the water source is an example of perseverance and survival. We toured Cliff Palace which is a 150 room dwelling sustaining approximately 125 people.

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On Sunday, we toured the Wetherill Mesa with some hiking as well as a tram which enabled us to tour Long House.

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This cliff dwelling was one of the largest communities that has been located. It was also unique in the manner of touring as you are able to walk throughout the rooms.  Most of the other dwellings are viewed from the front and are roped off.  The many vistas seen while hiking into the cliff dwellings as well as from the road on top of the narrow mesa are vast and breathtaking!  The elevation of 7000ft or higher cerainly adds to the panoramic views.  We did find the high elevation  and low humidty of the desert to dry out our nostrils and take deeper breaths to accommodate for feeling short of breath at times. The evenings were cool at approx.45 to 50 degrees which had us pulling on our hats and long pants.

On this Memorial Day, we continued our westward journey, stopping at Four Corners just to step in all 4 States simultaneously.

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As I finish typing this we are 10 miles outside of Grand Canyon. Our destination for today!

Blessings to all as we explore this vast and varied country!

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

24 May

Yesterday we needed to occupy our time as it turned out for the entire day while our car had some repairs completed. The engine light had come on and some issues were found by the Toyota mechanics.  We did not have a great bike route for the day but decided to bike to the campus of UNM which is on the east side of Albuquerque.  We found a shady spot to chill out and read. By the time we rode back to pick up the car at least we had done 30 miles. Not a lot but at least some to get in a workout. By 6pm we were on our way an hour north on I-25 to arrive in Santa Fe. While we had a good time in Albuquerque, it was great to be back on the road.

Today, we went on a guided raft trip down the Rio Grande. The raft company, Kokopelli, is based out of Santa Fe but the trip starts an hour north where  the Rio Grande can be accessed. Our raft guide, Ned, did an amazing job bringing us down the river.The primary problem was wind, wind and more wind! Of course it was blowing up stream so forward motion was a workout! Also, only Manny, myself (who is the heaviest of the three), and Ned were in our raft which did not weigh us down into the water very well. We did have a terrific time, great views, and good conversation. It was certainly a workout for our upper body muscles, not our strong point! Manny and I enjoyed a hearty dinner and we certainly hope Ned had 3 dinnners considering all the energy and effort he expended today!

Tomorrow we head to Mesa Verde for camping over the Memorial Day weekend. We hope to stop at the Loretta Chapel in Santa Fe before we head north. While many of you may not recognize the name, you probably have heard the story of the spiral staricase. It was built by an unkown very skilled carpenter who appeared at the church to fulfill the need for a staircase to the balcony and just as quickly after the staircase was completed he disappeared.  Legend has it that it was St. Joseph.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

22 May

The past 2 days have been wonderful! Despite what would be a long drive, we decided to head west of Albuquerque to visit Sky City, El Malpais and El Morro on Monday. About an hour west, our first stop was Sky City which is The Acoma Pueblos home, atop of a mesa. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide, Matea, who imparted the cultural and history of the Acoma Pueblos.  At the end of the tour, we chose to use their rock stairway, instead of the tour bus, to return to the visitor center which is at the base of the mesa. It was a steep descent in a few areas but very interesting  and helpful to use the carved hand and footholds which had been chiseled into the rocks many years ago.

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Eric called later on in the day to wish Manny a Happy Birthday. In relaying to him what we had seen, he told us that his roommate, Theo was from Acoma and his family stilled lived there. We had remembered that Theo was from New Mexico and he had told us his family lived on top of a mesa but we did not put the information together. It would have been great to met Theo’s family. We were sorry to have missed this opportunity.

After Acoma, we traveled further west  to El Malpais which means “the badlands” in Spanish. It’s volcanic features include jagged  spatter cones, a lava tube cave system extending 17 miles, and ice caves. Lava poured out of McCartys Canyon and established a new land surface 2, 000 to 3, 000 years ago. Today there are ancient Douglas fir trees, ponderosa pines and aspen trees thriving in this landscape. This area of El Malpais is quite large so we were only able to visit one area called El Calderon. This particular area includes lava tube caves (see picture below), sink areas and the El Calderon cinder cone which is what remains of the once active volcano. The Mexican free tail bat which we had seen at Carlsbad Caverns also resides here in the caves. The 3 mile walk was easy but also beautiful.

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The picture below shows a view of the sandstone cliffs in the distance from the El Calderon area.

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As we continued on our journey west, we crossed over the Continental Divide on our way to El Morro, in Spanish – The headland. On a main east-west trail used by Native Americans long before the Spanish arrived, El Murro, a great sandstone promontory with a pool of water at its base, rises out of the land.  Over the centuries, those who traveled this trail stopped here to enjoy the shaded oasis under the cliffs. They left carved symbols, names, dates and fragments of their presence here.  Unfortunately we were unable to hike here as it closed at 4pm and we did not arrive till 5pm. Many of the National parks and Historic sites have been open till 6pm but not so in this case. We did get close enough for a picture. It will suffice for now.

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We stopped on the way back to Albuquerque in a town called Grant. This town is on historic Route 66. Do I need to say more? It was right in keeping with the general decline along this old route. We were able to find a restaurant serving burgers and fries. They were hot and cooked through but we needed at least 3 napkins on our plates to soak up the grease. Nonetheless, it did provide much needed nourishment. I think we would have done better at the only other choice a McDonald’s  No great meal and certainly no wheaties icing cake for Manny on his birthday but  still a great day as we returned to our B&B around 8:30 pm.

Thanks to Nathan and Eric for calling in their birthday wishes for Manny this evening. It was good talk with both of you.

Today, Tuesday, I needed a break from vacation. Who knew you could be tired from just relaxing!  Manny had some business work to complete so I took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed a book while  I stretched out on a chaise in the warm sun shining down from the Sandia Mountain. It was fabulous. Just 4 hours of relaxing , reading and reflecting on God’s astounding beauty all around me!

Manny finished his work and we headed out for a bike ride along one of the bike trails here. While we have biked parts of this particular trail earlier this week , today we were able to ride the entire trail about 45 miles round trip. While on the trail today, I was humbled but truely impressed to see a man riding a regular bicycle with a left above knee amputation and with no balance nor speed deficits. On the way back, a woman with paraplegia was riding a specialized bike using her arms to cycle. Again she was doing well with the bike and her pace.  Kudos to each of them for reaching a high level of fitness and striving to regain function. A lot of effort and determination to achieve! I will remember them when I feel exhausted and need to continue on the bike.

We enjoyed a better dinner this evening at a local bistro. Then returned to the B&B for dessert, homemade cookies, again stretched out on the chaises. This time with Manny joining me as the moon rose and the sun set behind us illuminating the Sandia Mountain.

Sunday May 19, 2013

21 May

After leaving White Sands, NM on Friday morning,  we traveled north to Albuquerque.  Much of the drive was through very dry desert area until we reached the Rio Grande river valley. The Rio Grande creates a ribbon of green in an otherwise dry and brown environment.

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In Albuquerque we are staying at the Chocolate Turtle B & B which is very comfortable and has a great view from the back of Sandis Mountains.

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Saturday morning we joined the New Mexico Touring Society for a local bike ride which was very enjoyable – a very friendly group of riders.

On Sunday morning, we visited the Norbertine Community here in Albuquerque for Mass. As many of you know our home parish is served by the Norbertine priests from the Dalyesford Abbey in Paoli. It was great to connect with the Norbertines here in Albuquerque and of course they knew many of the priests from Dalyesford Abbey. We also meet some parishioners who have moved here from Paoli. The church was simple but very beautiful and it was a small group for Mass so it was very personal. The visit to the abbey has made this stop in Albuquerque very special.

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In the afternoon, we took a ride on the tandem to Petroglyphs National Monument which has over 24, 000 petroglyphs.  How they ever determined that number remains unclear. But certainly the petroglyphs are very prevalent and easy to find.

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This artwork dates from possibly as early as 1000 BC but exact dates are unknown due to difficulty with accurate techniques for dating the petroglyphs and not just the age of the rock. These rocks came from a series of volcanoes just west of Albuquerque. Over time the surface of the rocks oxidized to make a black “varnish”. A stone chisel was used to remove the black varnish to expose the underlayer of rock to make the petroglyphs. Another interesting feature of this area is that when the volcanoes erupted the lava flowed around existing hills and filled the valleys. Again over time the original hills made of softer rock eroded away leaving behind horseshoe shaped escarpments of volcanic rock. The picture below tries to show this, but really need one of the panoramic shots to show the escarpment.

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From Petroglyphs we biked on to Old Town Albuquerque  mostly by bike trails which was great!

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This is St. Felipe de Neri Catholic Church which was served over the years by the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and the Sisters of Charity.It is still an operating Catholic parish today and is part of the Diocese of Albuquerque. It was ornately decorated with a southwest touch on the inside. The church is located on the square in Old Town which is a typial Spanish Mission arrangement with a church on one side and a series of single story buildings making up the other three side of the square. Today the other buildings on the square have been converted into retail shops for local artists and restaurants. We walked around for awhile looking at the various local (mostly native American) art work some of which was very nice. As a follow up note to our Historic Route 66 tour in Oklahoma, Old Town Albuquerque is also located on route 66 and it does make a nice stop today on the old highway.

It was a windy 10 mile ride back to the B&B, but the workout was good for us (at least that is Manny’s opinion). We stopped for a quick dinner on the way and where treated with a beautiful view of  the setting sun shining on the Sandis Mountains.

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Overall a great day in Albuquerque!

Love Marsha and Manny

Friday, May 17, 2013

19 May

We last left you as we registered for camping on the sand dunes on Thursday evening. Arriving around 6:30 pm at the appropriate parking lot, we met another couple also packing their packs to hike in the seven tenths of a mile to the sites. We both were ready within seconds of each other, so we headed off across the dunes together. The trail across the dunes was a little vague so they were hoping we would lead and we were hoping they would.  Together we all figured out fairly easily how to follow the post markers on the dunes.

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The markers came to a split depending on which site you had registered for.  At this point, we bid our best wishes to this couple who have been on the road similar to us since August of 2012.

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Our path continued on as we learned to go around some of the higher dunes as long as we could see the next post marker. The wind blown side of the dune is firmer and easier to climb but not so for the other side which is soft and deep. The campsites are actually placed in the depressions between the dunes and I use the word campsite loosely.

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The only way to know that it is a campsite is a post marker with the number denoting the spot. Each of the 10 campsites is in a different depression between the dunes and also far enough apart so when you climb to the top of “your dune” from your depression you do not look down onto another camper. This was also very practical as bathroom needs are completed by digging a hole in the sand and after use covering it back over with sand. Nice to not have another camper look down on you while taking care of this function!Camp was quickly set as we took an ultralight approach for one night. Just ground cover, tent, 1 air mattress and 2 sleeping bags and a flashlight. We wore fresh clothes in, slept in them and hiked out the next day in the same. Most importantly was water which of course we did take in but then the park service requires this as well for obvious reasons. If you do create any trash it is of course by the rule,”pack it in, pack it out”.

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Dusk came on fairly quickly and we were awed! All previous apprehension of camping on the sands disappeared as quickly as the temperature cooled. The setting sun casts varying shadows on the dunes, changing their appearance from white to shades of gray. The mountain range to the east also becomes illuminated as the sun’s rays reflect on the rock.

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Our first star appeared and we were thrilled as if we had never seen a star.  The stars continued to appear. When we settled in to sleep the light of the moon was still out shining many of the stars. During the night we awoke and the moon had set so we peaked out of the tent to look at the stars again. The brightness, the number of stars along with the arms of the milky way clearly visible was an awesome experience. Many years ago, while camping at Little Pine State Park in Central Pennsylvania, we had seen a spectacular display of stars. Every star gazing experience for the past 32 years never came close to Little Pine. But now, White Sands has far exceeded that experience. I awoke again during the night and as I gazed out at the sky, a falling star dropped across the blackness. It was over before I could awaken Manny.

The sunrise was just as inspirational and the coolness of the morning was such an oxymoron as our feet walked in the sand in complete comfort.

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We had seen people sledding the sands the day before and made sure to purchase a saucer so we could give it a try in the morning when we hiked back to the car.

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This is an experience to put on your bucket list!

Heading  to Albuquerque!

Thursday, May 16, 2013 Part II

19 May

Wow what a day of changes in scenery and temperatures!

As we drove west from Brantley  State Park, the landscape became even more desert like. There was very ittle vegetation and mostly just small patches of grass and low shrub. The day was clear and sunny and the temperature was climbing fast into the 90’s. After about 40 miles we started a slow climb into the Sacramento Mountains. The total climb over the next 30 miles was about 5000 ft and as we climbed the landscape changed from  dry desert to lush pine forests with full running streams. There are many beautiful  cattle ranches on the easy slopes heading into the mountains.

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At the top we reached the resort town of Cloudcroft, NM. The temperature had dropped to 65 F. Cloudcroft is a typical resort town catering to skiers, hikers and mounain bikers with an assortment of tourist trap shops, but the views particularity to the west where spectacular. We stopped for an ice cream and a short walk to an overlook. The view west showed another sudden and damatic change in landscape back to the desert. The west side of the Sacramento Mountains are very steep and arid dropping down 4000 ft to the desert valley. In the view below from the Cloudcroft overlook you can see in the disance the white sands of the White Sand National Monument which was our destination (it may look like clouds, but it is the white sand).

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So we headed back down into the desert and White Sands. As expected it was hot and dry at White Sands, but it is quite a remarkable sight. Similiar to Carlsbad Caverns this area was once an inland sea where reefs of limestome formed from the remains of various sea creatures. About 10 million years ago the sea dried up and the earth shifted raising up the mountains and creating many caverns. As rain water filtered down through the earth the water reacted with the limestone to make gypsum.  There were some areas of gypsum in Carlsbad Caverns,  but far more dramatic are the gypsum deposits that have washed off the surface of the mountains to form the dunes of White Sands. Here we see seemingly endless dunes of white gypsum sand.

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Although there is some life in the white sand desert,  it is mosly small insects, lizards and rodents. Therefore it is extremely quiet except for the blowing wind. It is very hot on the sand this afternoon, but the forecast for this evening is clear with very mild winds so with some apprehension we make plans to camp out on the sands this evening. We’ll see how this turns out in tomorrow’s post.

Good evening from White Sands, NM.

Thursday,May 16, 2013

16 May

On Sunday, we bid our family goodbye as they traveled back to Houston to catch their flights home. Manny and I went to mass with Troy and Laura and friends. A fabulous Mother’s Day to have been together with family and friends for three days. Time together is so precious. We hugged Troy goodbye and wished him well on his own adventure. He and 4 friends from TAMU flew to Germany on Tuesday. With a day each in Frankfurt, Paris and Lourdes before beginning their journey on the El Camino or The Way of St. James. For those of you unfamilar with this spiritual pilgrimage, the movie, THE WAY gives an excellent depiction of what this group will be completing. We know they will be guided and spiritually led by God.

We carried on with our own journey, as we headed to San Antonio to visit Lynette and Jamie , friends whom we had worked with at Good Works, They had moved to San Antonio 3 years ago for work and to be closer to Lynette’s family in New Mexico. What a warm friendly visit which made us feel right at home, which was just what we needed after spending a lot of nights in hotels. There was no lack of conversation as we enjoyed abundant and over the top fresh food for dinner. The homemade salsa, guacamole and chicken burritos were the best I have ever had! After a very restful night, we headed on our way via I -10 to Carlsbad Caverns.

Since Monday we have camped at Brantly Lake, a dammed portion of the Pecos River while we toured the caverns and surrounding area. The area around the campground was very flat, desert like with a 360 degree view stretching to the horizon!  Below are a few pictures from the campground.

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Having toured Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Natural Cavarans in Texas, I felt that Carlsbad would not be very different.But surprisingly, they were different and unique! We took a fast elevator ride down 850 ft into what is known as the big room.And big it is!  A self guided tour leads you around the mile and a quarter loop but very close to many unique formations. While we were underground we also took the guided King’s Palace tour. We chose to hike out of the cave instead of taking the elevator back up. We alighted from the mouth of the cave after 4 hours underground. This is the first cave that I have been to in which the original opening is still open to the air without a sealed airgate chamber. This is because of the Mexican free tail bat population which lives in the cave.  At  dusk the bats exit the cave opening. It was an amazing site to see and a perfect evening! 

The next day we hiked 7 miles in the McKittrick Canyon which is an unusual area with water which allows growth of maple trees, some ponderosa pines as well as the madrone tree which only grows here in this canyon or in the rainforest. While this area was very dry and seemed so harsh there still were many varities of desert wildflowers. We certainly have increased our knowledge of  the names of these plants which are all new to us.

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In the McKittrick Canyon,  there was an old exposed cave with stalactites called the grotto.

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As I type, we are driving west across  New Mexico towards White Sands National Park. Out the car window, is flat, dry, brown landscape with small brush and yucca cacti. The road and the electric lines stretch on before us seemingly to infinity. The day is clear and bright and we are looking forward to our visit to White Sands.