Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rocky Mountain Blizzard: Day 10 Florida to PNW Cross-Country Road Trip

This shack, next to the Ojo Caliente New Mexico Post Office, looked abandoned.
This photo of it was shot in a realistic mode.
Santa Fe's leaden skies and cool temperatures and the desire to end up at my brother's in Larkspur Colorado kept us from tarrying in Santa Fe. About an hour outside Santa Fe we stopped to stretch our legs in the tiny town* of Ojo Caliente, considered part of Taos.

*If it has a post office, we consider it a town. In fact, Wayne stopped to mail something at Ojo Caliente's post office.

This dusty Ojo Caliente struck me as dreamy, so I gave it a more sepia-tone treatment when and zoomed in a bit. 
Ojo Caliente, which translates to "hot spring", (or eyeball hot) offered an interesting contrast. On the one hand, there was a dry streambed and what looked like an abandoned shack. Yet right next store, was an historic, swanky hot springs resort. Probably just as well we didn't know we could've taken a dip there for only $24 each for a day pass, $4 less than nearby 10,000 Waves, which has gotten pricier since my last visit there, when renting a private hot tub wasn't too dear. Granted, that was over 10 years ago. Now at either spa, private hot tubs start at $45/person. 

At 10,000 Waves Communal and Women's hot tub, clothing is optional. At Ojo Caliente, swimsuits are required in communal areas. Ojo Caliente was originally built as a resort in 1868. 
We kept seeing rain ahead after we left Sante Fe.....
There wasn't a whole lot of traffic as we made our way along Highway 285. It was a barren land, with rolling hills and mountains, hiding in the clouds. Ojo Caliente's high country, 6,250 feet above sea level, making Denver, "the Mile High City" at 5301, a bit of a piker, comparatively.
This San Antonio Mountain sign and pullout gave us another excuse to stop.
San Antonio's peak, a lone, volcanic mountain at nearly 11,000 feet. was not very visible in the clouds. And the wind, when I stepped out, was not only chilly, it was so wild I couldn't really see what I was taking a picture of. Wayne wisely stayed in the car for that stop! And yet, we still managed at that stage to elude the rain.
Sangre de Cristo mountains with sagebrush un the foreground.
Despite the clouds, we could still make out the dramatic snow-topped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to our right as we made our way to Colorado from Sante Fe, New Mexico. Not pictured, to our left, the Rockies were unfolding.
Alamosa Colorado train station, adjacent a Welcome Center.
As we entered Colorado, the area rapidly transformed. Rivers and irrigation gave way to farming and lush green orchards and fields. Alamosa is named for its cottonwood trees. What a difference water makes! We stopped at Alamosa Colorado's Welcome Center. The difference in wealth between the two states was also very apparent. New Mexico is one of the US's ten poorest states. Colorado is not. Alamosa Colorado's welcome center was chock full of maps and fancy brochures, and the building had two stained glass windows. When we entered New Mexico, there was... nothing.
One of many vintage trains at Alamosa Colorado.
Alamosa was formed to support Colorado's railroads. Today, it's more of a tourist town, a jump off point to places like nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. If we had more time, we'd love to explore the Sand Dunes. Unfortunately the drive alone would've been at least 1-2 hours out of our way, not counting multiple viewpoints or any hiking. All that on a cold, blustery day without great visibility.

Alamosa looked worth of exploration in its own right. For a small town, it was kinda hip. It even had a locavore restaurant, or at least I assume it is, as it is named Locavores.
From our car window, speeding past the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
We could just make out the Great Sand Dunes at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Weathered, scattered ranches of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, taken from our car window, as we drove past.
We may have escaped most of the rain, but we did not expect to encounter snow! Just a little over a week before we left Florida in 93 degree weather!
Gack! Snow! In late May, Colorado. Photo taken through our front windshield at a dry moment of our drive.
Snow it was. First, rain with snow, which melted right away, then slush, then a regular flurry of the white stuff. Eventually it stuck. Overnight, it laid down about eight inches, most of what stayed was after we stopped. Whew!
My Prius, the morning after we arrived at my brother's in Larkspur, Colorado.
We made it, well before dark, though the blizzard we drove through choked down the light, making the day seem later than it was in the dimness.

And it was pretty. More on that in the next post.

Location Location
We arrived at our boat on the afternoon of Saturday, May 25th, Memorial weekend in Portland Oregon.  In addition to catching up on blog posts, we are busy triaging the boat, and getting reconnected with our goods sent via Greyhound.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Aliens to Ancients in the Southwest: Day 9 Cross-Country from FL to PNW

Roswell New Mexico's UFO Museum and Research Center.  Display modeled after rumored extraterrestrial visit.
You have to think if we've been visited by extraterrestrial life, it was like a zookeeper walking into the chimp enclosure: He looks around, takes some pictures, then leaves without interacting significantly with the environment. Meanwhile the chimps have no idea what the fuck just happened.
― J. Richard Singleton

Roswell is perhaps best known to it close proximity to "Area 51," a top secret spot where at one point, crashed extraterrestrials were brought for secret study, or so the story goes.

While I do believe there's a lot a hoopla and a lack of sufficient proof that Earth's been invaded by extraterrestrials, it's hard for me to believe we're the most intelligent life out there. Given that, it makes sense to me that more advanced beings than us might be interested in checking us out or seeing what treasures earth could offer them. 
Some of what Roswell's UFO museum displays is campy, like this movie poster.
While Alternative life's provided plot grist for many a book or movie, there is a more serious side to the UFO Museum & Research Center. Per their literature
The International UFO Museum & Research Center at Roswell, New Mexico was organized to inform the public about what has come to be known as "The Roswell Incident." 
Cartoon at UFO Museum and Research Center.
The majority of the museum are more  serious displays detailed audio and  visual conspiracy theory
-detail about the purported cover-up of a 1947 alien aircraft crash.
The Museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the collection and preservation of materials and information in written, audio and visual formats that are related to the 1947 Roswell Incident and other unexplained phenomena related to UFO research. The Museum endeavors to be the leading information source in history, science and research about UFO events worldwide. The International UFO Museum's constituents are committed to gathering and disbursing to all interested parties in the most qualified and up-to-date information available. 
This fun image at the UFO Museum playfully hints that 1947
isn't the only time aliens visited earth.
In any case, the UFO Museum and Research Center only costs $5 for admission. It's not big or fancy, but it's still easy to spend an hour and a half or so to get more details in the form of a compelling argument that there was a government cover-up of an alien crash. 
Mural on the side of Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center building.
Besides, I like the idea my museum dollars support at group whose purpose is to neutrally evaluate reports on whether or not the earth gets visited from beyond.

While the reporting on "The Roswell Incident" portion of the museum is very well done, I would've liked to see the most credible incidents better outlined on a timeline and also on a map.

Any life-form advanced enough to travel light-years through interstellar space would have nothing to learn by probing the rectums of farmers in Kansas.
― Dan Brown

If you're more cynical, and see aliens and nothing more than a ruse to rake in dollars, there's plenty in Roswell to reinforce that view.
Our hotel, chosen on-line by price rather than this billboard.
Most businesses featured "the aliens" prominently in their graphics in Roswell New Mexico. This restaurant was no exception.
The notion of aliens wearing a sombrero and serape seemed particular comic to me. Roswell, New Mexico.
Given the prevalence of franchises and their normal dogged insistence of consistency in brand image, it was fun to see such a notable exception in Roswell, at Dunkin' Donuts / Baskin Robbins. I did not see evidence of that at other chains, such as McDonald's, next door.
Dunkin Donuts / Baskin Robbins, Roswell New Mexico. It's different. Yay!

Aliens, aside, it was time for us to move on.

Throughout our trip, we passed many abandoned homes and businesses, the latter nearly always independent businesses. We wondered what happened, and mourn the loss. What does the future hold for these kinds of endeavors? How can we recover a sense of place when we see mostly the same businesses wherever we travel?
Ranch House Cafe was one of many quirky abandoned businesses in Vaughn, near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
There were a few motels still in business with rates as low as $38/night.
I was excited for Wayne to see Santa Fe, a place I visited many times before I met him. and he'd never been to. I love the clean, high desert plains air, (elevation is nearly 7200 feet above sea level), tinged with smoked mesquite and in fall, roasting chilis. The food, the art, the rich cultural mix of Pueblo Indian and Spanish draws visitors from around the world. 

We made our way to Santa Fe's famed square, across from the Palace of Governor's, where the local Pueblo Indians still set up shop on its sidewalk to sell their native, hand-crafted jewelry.

There was an antique car show.
I loved the period touches on the dashboard of this classic VW van at the square in Santa Fe
Antique cars are not what I normally associate with Santa Fe, but it was a fun diversion on a cold day when most of Santa Fe's shops were closed for Sunday. That and with no home to furnish and limited space on the boat, I was not as interested in looking at acquiring much of anything.
This VW surf van was not the oldest or showiest in the car collection, but it was my favorite.
There was also a beautifully preserved "unsafe at any speed" Corvair, which brought back special memories for Wayne, but that's his story to tell.

Flames were the most popular show motif, when collectors chose something other than solid colors.
Seeing a Saab with flames just struck me as funny.
Santa Fe and Albuquerque's food inspired my cooking. Coyote Cafe's thick tortilla soup is one of many Tex Mex recipes in my cooking repertoire. I once, pre 911 days, returned on the plane with a burlap sack full of Hatch green chiles picked up at farmer's market that morning. I roasted them all at home that eve.

Many years ago, I followed my nose to a wildly popular cart at the edge of Santa Fe's square where they doled out world-class carnitas for a pittance. That cart was a regular stop on my visits since then. It was a longshot to expect that cart to still be there, and, alas, it was not.

However, carts are much more popular now than they were then. There were three in the square amidst the antique car show, serving. The first cart's scents were not sufficiently fragrant. 
Tamales! the red chile pork was good. The chicken green chile was bland, though
the Suarez family's chili cheese tamales were my favorites when I was in California.
For me, tamales are the signature dish of Mexican cuisine, a gauge of whether its makers truly cut the muster. I've you've made them, you'll know they are truly a labor of love. Besides, tamales are small, cheap and hot -- the perfect hand food for a cold, leaden day. The scent of these and the crowd surrounding their booth sucked me in. That must've been the red chile pork, which I'd give a B, but the green chile chicken I'd rate C- for it blandness and texture. Ah well.

Balam's was the most fragrant and the best food cart. I wish I'd waited... though it's hard for me to resist trying tamales as the exceptional ones, which are few and far between, are truly sublime. Balam from Guatemala, was very pleasant to talk to and the complex seasonings in his lamb taco were worth every calorie. I would definitely seek him out if ever back in Santa Fe.
Balam offered six taco fillings to choose from and they all smelled delish!
Who could resist checking out a place with as incongruous a combination as Cashmere + Chocolate? Alas, as intriguing as all their merchandise was (including and intriguing selection of essential oil perfumes), only the chocolates fit my miniscule budget. 
Chocolates from Cashmere + Chocolate, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The flat brown one was chai and bland.
The blue was Earl Grey with a delicate floral essence. The red, a raspberry balsamic and
 the green pistachio caramel were recommended. My sister-in-law needs to tell me how they are.
Santa Fe passing through, on a cold, cloudy day is not as the same experience as my prior visits. I was sorry Wayne did not see the Santa Fe I remember from prior travels, though it did make it easier to stay on budget and move on. Despite this somewhat lackluster visit, I still hope to return someday.

Location Location
We arrived at our boat in Portland Oregon on Saturday afternoon, May 25th of Memorial Weekend. We are currently in the midst of boat triage and waiting to connect with our possessions, which were bussed from Space Coast Florida and sitting in Portland's Greyhound depot.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Carlsbad Caverns, NM: Day 8 Cross-Country Florida > PNW

Grand entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. What you can't see is the swallows zipping in and out of the cave.
Carlsbad Caverns! 

Both Wayne and I were excited to see this incredible National Park for the first time.  Early American humorist Will Rogers described its magnificence as the "[Grand Canyon] with a roof on it."
Carlsbad Caverns, NM. Looking back towards the entrance from just inside the first cavern.
Within an hour and a half of pushing out of San Angelo Texas we left the rain and flash floods the plagued the area behind. Tornadoes touched down a number of areas nearby but not where we were. Those tornado warnings worked where they needed to -- no fatalities. 
A series of saltwater lakes an hour or two before arriving at Carlsbad Caverns caught our eye. This particular one, just below one of many industrial trains cross-crossing the land was an unusual shade of green. The others were less dramatic, but clearly identifiable by the crust of salt along their shore. In case there was any doubt, we passed a salt processing facility.
Once we left Texas Hill Country, we saw oodles of oil rigs dotting the otherwise mostly barren landscape. Had we not spent so many miles driving vast stretches of unpopulated Australia, this part of the USA would've seemed like it was hell and gone from anywhere. Instead it was comparatively a walk in the park as there was always some small town within a few hours drive. 
One of many oil well pumps taken through our car window as we whizzed past. We saw them until Utah.
Eventually we approached the overpriced town of Carlsbad, then "White City,"* then Carlsbad Caverns. 

*White City, population seven, was named for Jim White, one of Carlsbad Cavern's best known early explorers.
Ladders early Carlsbad Cavern explorers used.
Today many portions of the caves are wheelchair friendly.
Carlsbad Caverns inspired us to finally purchase an annual National Parks Pass. Another two National Park visits within the year and the pass would pay for itself. We slated stops for Black Canyon of the Gunnison Arches and Canyonlands and with a loop into the Southwest this fall after Labor Day, taking in the Grand Canyon with hiking/backpacking and camping gear and without a carload of our move possessions. 
One of many naturally sculpted caverns with the cavern known as Carlsbad Caverns.
It's amazing what limestone, water and sulphur dioxide can do to an ancient fossilized seabed floor. To me it's just as stunning  that Carlsbad Cavern's magic still stands four million years after the cave's creation process stopped -- a treasure we and so many others had the privilege and good fortune to explore. 
Green Lake Room, Carlsbad Caverns. I took the cavern images in this post with my camera, without a flash.
The park website explains how these caves formed....
"Between four and six million years ago, hydrogen-sulfide-rich (H2S) waters began to migrate through fractures and faults in the Capitan limestone. This water mixed with rainwater moving downward from the surface. When the two waters mixed, the H2S combined with the oxygen carried by the rainwater and formed sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid dissolved the limestone along fractures and folds in the rock to form Carlsbad Cavern."
I imagined some grand dinosaur opening its great maw when I saw these long,
sharp-looking stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns.
We took the self-guided tour, by foot, to see as much as we could in a relatively short stretch of time. We still spent a couple hours marveling in the 2 1/2 or so mile walk.
Fairyland as this section of the caverns is called is not something I could dream up! A dispensary would do a brisk business if there was one near Carlsbad Caverns. Recreational marijuana is not legal in New Mexico.
We agree with Jim White's assessment of the caverns....

“I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it gave me … the beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur and the omniscience absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above — I forgot time, place and distance.” 

I'm sure we are not alone. All but a few of the caverns explorers were quiet, speaking rarely, in hushed voices if at all. We quickly put distance between us and explorers who were noisy or used additional light or flash. We only had to do that a few times.
One of the few places in Carlsbad Caverns where we saw water.
The cavern air was not even remotely moist. 
These "folds" are often referred to as draperies.
They reminded me of tropical trees or waterfalls topped by broccolini buds.
From the national parked's website, a few more tidbits
  • Carlsbad Caverns was made a national park on May 14, 1930
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers a total area of 46,766 acres
  • The number of people visiting Carlsbad Caverns in 2017 was 520,026 *
  • The lowest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 3,596 feet at Black River
  • The highest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 6,535 feet on Guadalupe Ridge
  • The caves in Carlsbad Caverns are 56°F throughout the year, with high humidity.
  • At present there are 117 known caves in the park, and more will be discovered. The cave known as Carlsbad Cavern is only one of these.
  • The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, at 8.2 acres, is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.
  • Although Carlsbad Caverns is rightly known for its famous caves, there are also more than 50 miles of aboveground trails that explore the desert landscape.
  • There are at least 17 species of bats found in the park. The most common are Brazilian (sometimes called Mexican) free-tailed bats; they can be seen exiting Carlsbad Cavern each night.
* Complete annual visitation stats can be found at Carlsbad Caverns Visitation Statistics

Mexican Freetailed are the primary bats in Carlsbad Caverns, though 17 kinds live there.
We took the elevator out. We've heard the dusk "bat show" at Carlsbad is even more spectacular than Austin's. However, we needed to log some more miles and planned to arrive in Roswell New Mexico before dark.
White City's fuel sign also alludes to Carlsbad Cavern's bats.
BEsides the caves, the park boasts a nice interpretive center, and hiking trails. The native landscape was lovely and rife with wildflowers when we were there. 
A strong a chilling wind as much as the pressure to hit the road curtailed my wildflower photography at Carlsbad.
These cacti flowers, unlike the others we saw, were able to hold steady in the wind.
Wandering the park without taking the cavern tour is free. If you're able to set aside more time to enjoy the are than we did -- do!

Location Location

Still catching up on blog posts. Today is Saturday, Memorial weekend. We're in Irrigon, Oregon, visiting friends. We're just under 200 miles to returning home, in Portland. We'll be there today.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Texas Hill & Dale & Tornadoes: Day 6 Florida > PNW

Hippie Hollow is a local Austin Texas favorite swimming hole.
It was a little too chilly to swim but still pleasant to hang out at.
We stalled a little bit in the morn of our sixth day of cross-country travel, from Florida to the Pacific Northwest.Stalling is easy to do when you’re feeling lazy, and are blessed with a comfortable bed and a free hotel breakfast. 

We were hankering for Hippie Hollow swimming hole, about a 45-minute drive out of Austin Texas. Getting there too early didn’t make sense.

Turns out due to all the wet weather and flooding that’s plagued the Central States in recent weeks, Hippie Hollow's water level was quite high. That, coupled with a brisk wind, slippery rocks at the shoreline’s entry point and taking our cues from the locals, we didn’t dip in after all. Instead we made use of the blanket we brought “just in case” and lounged on the shore, relaxing for a good hour plus before we hit the road. We did see two locals gingerly wading thigh-high in the water on the way out, but that was it.
The Texas highways we drove were fairly consistently bordered by wildflowers in bloom.
Here in Hill Country there were trees, too.
 After Hippie Hollow, we just needed to burn some miles. 

Our goal the following day was to get to Carlsbad Caverns no later the mid-afternoon. Driving to Carlsbad from Hippie Hollow in mid-afternoon would make for a late arrival.We might’ve considered pushing to Carlsbad, but lodgings were expensive there. There were only two small hotels for less than $100. Even the Hampton started at $287. 

Between Hippie Hollow and Carlsbad, there wasn’t a whole lot of options.   

 All we needed was a place to rest our heads and a grocery store for dinner and restocking, closer to Carlsbad than Hippie Hollow. San Angelo Texas looked like our most affordable in-between option.

Along the way, we continued to stay off the interstates as much as possible, taking in small town main streets whenever we could as well as getting whatever sense we could of life in the many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns that we could at the prescribed speed limits, unless we had a reason to stop.
A nice bit of architecture in Llano,Texas, serving as the county courthouse, completed in 1893.
Neither of us had ever traveled through Texas hill country before. Given we had no expectations for it, we were all the more pleasantly surprised with the area’s simple beauty. Rolling hills, trees, a generous sprinkling of wildflowers, small town Main Streets (the ones we didn’t miss) with well-preserved buildings from 1800s. Thanks to the rains, the countryside glowed spring green.
A closer look at Llano Texas courthouse clock tower.
Llano Texas, for example, was established in 1856 and served primarily as a frontier trading center, It evolved into a ranching and farming community. We liked the architecture and decided it was worth a brief stop.

As convenient and helpful as Waze and GoogleMaps directions are, if any knows of an app out there designed to route you through rather than around small town center Main Streets let us know! We can play with the apps to go with shortest rather than fastest route, but that’s still no guarantee the app will take us where we want to go.

Many a time we felt frustrated that our apps were navigating us around Main Streets, probably because that route might take longer due to a stoplight or two. We realized we'd been route away from town centers after we passed them. 
Butcher and deer processing store in a small town in Hill Country Texas.
Impressive mural quality for such a small town.
Those few super small towns that are resourceful and creative enough to offer more than General Dollar Store of Family Dollar Store often offer unique combination businesses that would be unlikely to occur elsewhere. The general store, butcher and “process your deer here” (pictured above) was less of a stretch than most. I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the storefront as we zipped past; the  mural on the side of that retail shop was surprisingly beautiful.

We knew before we left Austin, there were tornado warnings throughout a broad swath of the Central Southeast, including San Angelo. Fortunately we made to San Angelo before the weather hit.
This H.E.B. market store brand display for their ice cream made me smile.
Also, fortuitously, there was an H.E.B. market in town. We discovered H.E.B. in Austin. They’re part of the Kroger chain (like Fred Meyer aka "Freddies" in the Pacific Northwest), so they’re well stocked with some affordable options, especially store-branded items for budget shoppers like us. H.E.B. also carried a good range of regional favorites and a healthy food options. Wayne spotted  a Southwestern shrimp / salsa / avocado salad that was enough for 2 ½ servings.
Kolaches are a food we kept coming across in Texas. They seem like what as a kid the school cafeteria called pigs-in-a-blanket -- hot dogs baked into a bready wrap.  Most of the kolaches I saw were three times as much bread
as the meat filling (they had other meat "fillings" besides hot dogs). We didn't try them.
We also didn't expect this area that seemed to exist primarily for the oil industry to also be a college town. Not much of a college town, but a college town nonetheless.

We were a bit less fortunate with our room. The price was low and true to the reviews, which warned the motel was less than fastidiously clean. Other than the exceedingly low bar set for ugliness in d├ęcor at the Eagles Nest in Concrete Washington, our room boasted the ugliest hotel couch and mirror and bed we’ve even seen in a hotel. At least we had a couch; most rooms don’t.
We always appreciate rooms that offer a couch, though this one was pretty darned ugly.
We settled in for a good night’s sleep but it was not to be. Both our phones went off four times each with local tornado emergency alert warnings between 4:20 and 6:30 am. I had the wherewithal in my groggy state to pull out my laptop and Google on my laptop for the local tornado specifics and what to do if a tornado hit. The wind was not tornado strength by us (we have some idea what strong winds sound like from sailing halfway around the world), and the bed was far from the room’s window and door. Had it got a bit worse, we could’ve gotten more shelter in the bathroom, but it didn’t come to that.
The hotel mirror "matched" the couch in style; definitely not our style.

Breakfast was well-rated and complimentary at the restaurant that shared the same building as the hotel. However the restaurant was packed plus several tables waiting so we skipped the freebies because getting miles was more important in starting our day than a leisurely breakfast in a restaurant crowded enough to give us both claustrophobia.

Besides, we figured the sooner we got going, the sooner we could put some distance between us and the storm area. Within about an hour and a half, we drove into much better weather. Carlsbad awaited....

Note: We are currently in Price Utah. I am catching up on the posts of our daily cross-country travels.