Camping & Taking Photos in E. California and the SouthWest

Archive for June, 2012


Albuquerque NM and surrounding area

After Trish returned from Thailand, Doug and I decided to take a week and do some further exploring around New Mexico. When we return to Albuquerque, I’m supposed to fly to Houston to help my friends Diana and Dave. Diana is scheduled to get an experimental vaccine for her glioblastoma (recurrent brain tumors). While I’m with them, Doug will housesit for Trish while she goes to Colorado.

The first phase of our “exploration” took us to Farmington. The weather turned extremely windy. The dust was flying sideways! The sky got very dark. After driving around Farmington, we headed to Aztec. By that time the storm finally dissipated and we drove on to Dulce. It was dark when we arrived, so we found a campsite at Mundo Lake nearby. It was very peaceful and quiet until around 11pm, when we heard all kinds of loud noise – at first we thought it was someone putting up a tent, but we kept hearing sounds like pipes being thrown on something metal. We checked it out and found some guys tearing down a fence and putting the fence parts onto the bed of a very large truck. Strange time to be working…maybe they were moving it to another location for firefighting???

After they left, it was quiet again – then we heard some Native American drumming. There would be a few beats on the drum, then quiet. That happened several times, then someone started singing. It was beautiful. It started and stopped again and again. We’re not sure how long it went on; I awoke at one point and heard it again.

The next morning when we awoke, we could see the lake. What a nice place to spend the night!

We left Dulce and drove towards Ghost Ranch (where Georgia O’Keefe lived) and stopped at a natural amphitheater to have lunch. It was very hot, even though we were in the shade. We decided to check out a Benedictine Monastery near Ghost Ranch. We drove down a dirt road about 13 miles along the Chama River. There were a lot of rafters enjoying the river.

The monastery is beautiful. It fits so well with the surrounding scenery. The monks have a small gift shop and make ale and candles (also made with ale).

We drove on to Espanola to find a motel for the night. We were both exhausted from all the driving. We checked in and then drove around to find a place to eat. It was a comedy of errors. I would find something that sounded good online – we’d get there and either it was closed for good or closed because it was Sunday night. We finally found a place that looked really nice, but when we got to the door, we found out it had just closed. After an hour or so, we finally went to a Sonic drive-in. It was the largest Sonic I’ve ever seen with 3 bays. The local guys were enjoying revving their engines and speeding around the bays. What a scene!

The following morning as we were getting out of bed, the fire alarm sounded. We got dressed, grabbed our stuff and started out. As we got to the first floor where breakfast is served, the alarm went off. Apparently someone burned their toast! We were not sorry to leave Espanola!

Next stop, Taos. On our way we drove down through part of the Rio Grande Canyon – it is stunning. There were lots of rafters and a few fishermen. The canyon has quite a few campgrounds along the river with adobe shelters. We’ll definitely be back when it’s cooler.

When we got to Taos, we stopped for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants and then drove to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area about 35 miles north of Taos. What a spot. The Rio Grande and Red Rivers converge in the canyon below. The views are amazing. Very nice campgrounds with gazebos over the tables. We went back into Taos for a while, then returned to spend the night. We were the only ones there! We watched the sunset, had dinner and watched the moon come up and the stars appear.

The next morning we drove into a coffeeshop to work, had lunch and then visited the Millicent Rogers museum. What a great collection – she loved Taos and collected a lot of art, rugs and especially jewelry.



Kasha-Katuwe means white cliffs in the traditional Keresan language of the Pueblo de Cochiti. The tent shaped rocks were created by volcanic activity 6-7 million years ago. The pumice, ash and tuff deposits from the volcano are over 1,000 feet thick! Explosions from the Jemez volcano added rock fragments to the mix.
Archeologists have found evidence of human habitation over 4,000 years ago. In the 14th and 15th centuries, several large ancestral pueblos were established. In 1540, Coronado’s expeditions mentioned the Pueblo in their diaries. In 2001, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks was designated a national monument.

The roots of this tree are higher than a very tall person. Amazing what flash flooding will do. Despite this, the tree flourishes!

We got up early and hiked a 3 mile trail through a slot canyon, then up to the top of one of the 90-foot cliffs. By the time we were at the top, it was very hot! The rock formations varied widely in size and some of them showed many layers of different shades of pink and grey. Beautiful!

Lost at Sea

Frank Ohlinger and Mary Finnegan

I met Frank on the NOAA Ship Rainier in 1981. He was an officer in the NOAA Corps; I was working as the ship’s Yeoman Storekeeper. Mary Finnegan was our best friend.

What a blast! We spent 7 months surveying around Homer, Alaska and 4 months surveying the Big Island of Hawaii. In Alaska, we took out small boats in the evenings; fishing, kayaking, exploring, clamming. Our shore leave was in Homer – we would all go into “town” to the Salty Dog. Surveying was done in small craft so they could get into the narrow inlets.

In Hawaii, we surveyed using the ship. We spent time in the evenings on “steel beach” (the flying bridge). Shore leave was in Hilo, Kona or Lahaina; we rented cars and explored the island. We had 4 pilots on board – we would pool our money, rent a plane and fly over the mountains and islands. What a job!

Frank was larger than life. He was so at home with the elements, “going for the gusto 24/7”, always involved, always helping. And when he left the NOAA corps, he bought a sailboat and continued his explorations.

A few months ago, Frank was flying 2 police officers to photograph the remains of a boat fire when they lost communication and didn’t return on schedule. A search was started, including Paul Allen’s yacht “The Octopus” which was nearby. Frank and the officers were never found.

My heart goes out to Frank’s family and friends. I will never forget him.


Venture to Silver City

Placitas NM (outside Albuquerque)

We have been house-sitting here in Placitas and taking a few excursions to places close by. We had read a lot about Silver City, so we decided to drive down and check it out. It’s quite a trek – 295 miles one way. We left early and came back very late. Silver City is an old mining town with a historic district containing lots of coffeehouses and art shops. To get there, we drove over a pass and through the mountains with lots of hairpin curves. It was a beautiful drive.

In addition to the historic old town, there is a university and a lot of newer areas in Silver City. The Gila cliff dwellings are close by, but were closed due to the fires. We saw a lot of smoke on our way down from Albuquerque, but once we were over the mountains, it cleared up.

We saw this sign and had to take a photo:

While we were having coffee in the historic district, we heard a lot of motorcycles coming into town. I walked down the street and saw them:

The group was in town for a wedding (see the white bows on some of the bikes?)

The wedding was being held at the Buffalo Bar (where else?):

We saw these amazing plants as we were driving out of town – this one is a Century Plant (it takes years for the plant to develop enough to start flowering…but not centuries):

We also saw tons of yucca in bloom – fields of them!

Camino del Camposanto

Camino del Camposanto translates to “on the way to the graveyard”. This cemetary is so colorful and feels so intimate. There’s no doubt in my mind that these graves are visited often.

Around Placitas

It almost seems like we are in Mexico! A lot of places are still part of very old land grants; families have lived in the same place for generations. Placitas includes mostly land grant land, with some BLM and Forest Service land as well. There are 5 springs in this area. The water is controlled by a acequia. The “domestic” water comes from particular wells, while the irrigation water comes through ditches. Each piece of property has a specific day and time to open the gate from the ditch to allow water onto that property…usually once a week for an hour. The irrigation water either floods the property or the owner may have hoses set around to water specific trees and shrubs. The “major domo” makes sure that no property owner takes more than their share of the water. Last year there was very little irrigation water; this year it seems like there is plenty.
The main road to Placitas is paved. To get to Trish’s home, you turn right at the Presbyterian Church onto a dirt road, then right again when you see the Catholic Church and drive to the end.

Dogs run loose. The neighborhood is a collection of different types of homes – from new large homes to old trailers with lots of trucks and cars in the yard. Many of the homes are brightly decorated with flowers and statues. Some have artwork formed in the stucco.

There is a lot of yard art:

And interesting gates and fences…

We have two cats to take care of – Util and Oliver. There are also the fish and a turtle (who we rarely see; he is usually burrowed in the ground)


We are house-sitting in Placitas for Trish, while she takes a 2-week trip to Thailand to help with an elephant study. Her sister, Susan, is a climbing friend of Doug’s. Trish takes trips to 3rd world countries every year or so, helping with some kind of research. Trish has a lovely adobe home situated at the foot of the Sandia Mountains on 4 acres. It has a center courtyard complete with koi pond. I love the architecture. The thick adobe walls keep the home cool even though it’s quite hot outside. Hardwood floors and wood ceilings with log beams and a huge fireplace make it feel like a lodge. Apparently there are resident coyotes, but we haven’t heard them yet.

The home was originally a trading post. There were 2 separate buildings connected by one wall on one side and a stable on the other. When there was trouble, the women and children would gather in the courtyard while the men shot their rifles out the very narrow windows. The former stable is now the living room – it’s huge with large windows that open to the courtyard and smaller windows that face outside.

The house has a flat roof with gutters called canales. The water falls from the canales into rain barrels to store the water until needed for watering (as seen in the photo above).

The courtyard (above) is my favorite place – we sit out there whenever it is cool enough, listening to the flow of the water into the pond, the birds and the insects. Trish has lots of birdfeeders – the hummingbirds are almost always around; we’ve seen pine siskins, house wrens and titmice.

Taos & Santa Fe

We spent one night in Taos and drove up to a goji berry farm I had heard about on Craigslist when I was looking at possible places to rent this winter. It was too remote, but what a beautiful site!

The next day we drove to Santa Fe and camped at the Black Canyon campground 7 miles outside of town. Great place to camp when it’s hot because it’s located at 8,000 feet with lots of shade. We set up camp; then went to town to have lunch, visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, walk around and have dinner. We ate both meals at our favorite French restaurant – the Burro Alley Café. We were both disappointed with the Museum – we expected a lot more of O’Keefe’s artwork on display.

I love Santa Fe, and am particularly taken with the adobe homes. On the drive to the campground, we passed a lot of subdivisions, but unless you look hard, you don’t notice most of the homes because they blend in so well with the surroundings. We only spent one night as we needed to get to Albuquerque to house-sit.

Leaving Utah

We could only stay 14 days in the Fruita Campground (typical time limit for most campgrounds), so we packed up and spent one night in Torrey before leaving Utah. We stayed at Thousand Lakes Park, which has small cabins for $35/night.
From Torrey we drove to Bluff UT and stopped at a coffeehouse we passed last year – this time it was open! It immediately became one of our favorites – great coffee and food; lots of wonderful Native American art and jewelry; friendly staff and two adorable miniature burros!

After a relaxing break, we drove on to Kelly Place, our favorite B&B. It is located in McElmo Canyon, west of Cortez CO, and right next door to the Canyon of the Ancients, which has more Anasazi ruins per square inch than anywhere in the US. We were so pleased to find out that a “Road Scholars” (formerly Elder Hostel) group was there for a hiking/archeology program. We met so many interesting people! We took a short hike into the Canyon of the Ancients. It was unusually hot.

Views of Sleeping Ute Mountain

The cactus were just starting to bloom!

Cathedral Valley

Capitol Reef NP, Utah
Cathedral Valley section

Cathedral Valley is part of Capitol Reef NP, but located east of the park towards Caineville. A 4 wheel drive road goes 19 miles into the Valley to the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon; then another 20 miles to the Upper Valley where there are more monoliths, including Solomon’s Temple and the Walls of Jericho. The road continues to the top of the canyon where there is a very nice campground overlooking the Upper Valley. The entire valley is framed by these walls of these amazing rock formations. What a view!

It was a little too cold to spend the night in the campground, so we returned to Upper Valley to take photos at sunset. What a fun place to explore!

Once the light was gone, we drove back to Lower Valley and found a spot to park for the night; right next to Glass Mountain. We had a great time shining our headlamps on the surfaces – what reflections!. We slept in the back of the truck, and woke up before sunrise to take more photos.

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Moon

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain has so many different rocks and textures! This section was very reflective.