Trip to New Mexico

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Albuquerque in Background from Sandia Peak Tram This picture shows Albuquerque in the background from Sandia Peak Tram.

We (Ronda and Dave) flew to Albuquerque and rented an SUV for our Southwest travels. We stayed three nights at the Pasada de Albuquerque, a nice little hotel built in the 30's by Conrad Hilton and recently restored. It has large rooms and a very nice lobby with carved wooden beams. The only disadvantage was the location of our room. On Saturday night (our first night after arriving) they had a latino band in the lobby belting out salsa etc. and we could hear them until quite late.

Aubuquerque is at 5000 feet and this tramway takes you up another 5000 in about 20 minutes. It was pretty at the top with snow still in the trees from a recent storm. We had planned to do a little hiking around, but it was very cold and windy, and the trails were snowed over. So we had hot drinks and came back down.

We liked Albuquerque. It seemed very quiet in the downtown area. Their 'oldtown' area is an attractive shopping destination with lots of shops around a town square. The city is spread out and doesn't have many high rise buildings.
Acoma Sky City Pueblo

As a day trip form Albuquerque we visited the Acoma Pueblo 'sky city', where the Indians have their ancestral homes on top of a small mesa 700+ feet above the surrounding countryside. Although there is now a dirt road to the top, you can't go on your own and have to take the tour. (We saw in the newspaper two weeks later a picture of Hillary Clinton on the same tour. Glad we missed that one.) It's an amazing place with views looking down on the world. We saw the mission that was built during Mexican rule with forced Indian labor. There is evident resentment among the Indians about their treatment by the Mexicans and later by the US. But it seemed that most of it is currently directed against the Mexicans; at least in the English language tour. We were told about the Pueblo Tribes history of organized rebellion, mass mutilation by the Spanish and Mexicans, and enslavement even during US rule, little of which seems to have made it into our school history books.
Dave in Locomotive, Madrid, NM

We drove the scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, the so-called 'turquoise trail' which winds through the foothills. The picturesque towns along the way which reminded me of the Mother Lode country in CA. We stopped briefly in Madrid; originally a coal mining town, then ghost town after the mine closed, and now a tourist boutique town. They've turned the abandoned mine into a museum of sorts, and this picture was taken in a defunct steam locomotive which was used for the mine.

In Santa Fe, we stayed at a nice B&B, quite close to the main shopping square. It was quite cold, snowing lightly for brief periods on two days. We very much enjoyed the Georgia O'Keefe museum, and the Archeological museum. We were a bit disappointed however in Santa Fe overall as it seemed less than genuine, sort of an overgrown Carmel (CA). We say mostly two kinds of people: those with lots of money to spend, and those working full time at trying to get it away from them. And the so-called Santa Fe style gets to be a bit much.
Bandolier Cliff Dwelling, Near Santa Fe

We visited Bandolier National Monument on a day trip from Santa Fe. It was a good introduction to cliff dwellings and it was fun in that they allow people to climb in and around many of the caves. There were a lot of families with kids and they were entertained by it.
Dave and Ronda in Ceremonial Cave

We didn't perform any cave ceremonies, but we did get our picture taken, I think a bit grudgingly by a woman I enlisted for that purpose.
Ladders to Ceremonial Cave, Bandolier

We hiked a bit off the beaten track to the Ceremonial Cave. We had to climb ladders up about 140 feet to reach the cave, and that in itself was quite an experience. The picture only gives a partial idea of the steepness and exposure.
Tsankawi Petroglyphs, near Bandolier

Tsankawi was at a small park we visited after Bandolier. It is administered by the Bandolier Park personnel but separated geographically and without any so-called improvements. Actually it was a bit hard to find, but we saw it from the road at the last minute and screeched into the small parking area. The trails were only partially marked, but we followed the indistinct path which lead us past the ruins and the petroglyphs. To our uneducated eyes the ruins looked like heaps of loose stones. There were lots of potshards and a few stone implements laying around. Although not photogenic, it was kind of authentic. Later on our hike we found the petroglyphs. For the ones shown in this picture, the sun was at a good angle to highlight the prehistoric grafitti set off by lichens of two colors.
Taos Pueblo

From Santa Fe we drove to Taos via the scenic route (the 'high road'). It went through the foothills and a few small towns. We liked Taos. The teenagers were cruising on Saturday night, the girls on display and primping in their little Hondas and the guys dramatically overrevving their aging Camaros. It's a lot smaller than Santa Fe and it seemed like the genuine article by comparison. The air was startlingly clear and blue.

We did the 'self guided' tour of the Taos Pueblo north of town. Among the nifty old adobe houses the indians have craft shops open. We looked at pots and jewelry and bought some. The highlight however was when we came across two ladies selling fry bread. We had them cook us some and chatted with them while we waited. They were both grandmas and one of them had a string of stories to tell about her family and their troubles. Typical family stuff but they seemed very sweet and probaly more interesting to us due to the pueblo indian context. The fry bread was great.
Square Tower House Ruins, Mesa Verde, Colorado

It took several hours to drive from Taos to Mesa Verde National Park, located in the southwest corner of Colorado. This was the beginning of their season and it was quite cold and windy at 7000 feet. The lodge is perched on top of a very large mesa and the ruins are tucked into narrow canyons. The ruin pictured here is not accessible to tourists.
Cliff Palace Ruins from mesa rim, Mesa Verde

The Cliff Palace Ruins are probably the most spectacular of the ruins in the park. This is the view from the rim road.
Cliff Palace from Below

Tourists are allowed access to this and other ruins only as part of Park Ranger-led tours. There were about 50 people in our group so it was quite a little knot of tourists that had to shuffle its way down into the canyon. The path back up required climbing a little ladder and fitting through a narrow space between rocks, and it was interesting to see how Middle America coped with the challenge. It took a while, but no one died.

During the tour and while discussing the Anasazi (the prehistoric occupants of the area), the ranger guide drew a distinction between the occupants of Mesa Verde and the occupants of Chaco Canyon. This added to an increasing number of mentions of Chaco Canyon. The guide said there was speculation that at one point during the time Mesa Verde was inhabited there was an influx of people from Chaco. I had never heard of Chaco Canyon before planning this trip, but our interest was piqued by repeated reference to it as the 'cradle of the Anasazi culture'.
Doorways in Aztec Ruins, near Farmington, NM

We left Mesa Verde a day early and reorganized the trip slightly. Dave's left eye had gotten quite swollen, probably due to dust and sand blown in earlier in the trip, and as it didn't seem to be getting any better, we got ourselves to a clinic in Farmington. We spent an afternoon waiting with the Navajos and got some antibiotic salve that did the trick.

Farmington is an authentic town spread out along the highway with lots of pawn shops. We found the world's best Navajo jewelery store (and pawn shop) in town. They had an amazing array of turquoise jewelery and we did buy some.

Fairly close to Farmington are the Aztec Ruins National Monument. They also are of Anasazi origin (not Aztec despite the name) and have been restored to great extent. We also saw the Salmon ruins which are nearby on private land. All of these ruins are remnants of a large culture that thrived in the area beginning about 1200 years ago and lasting several hundred years.
Pueblo Bonito Ruins, Chaco Canyon

As we left Farmington we drove south to Chaco Canyon. After zipping along excellent NM highways, we then travelled 16 miles over a dirt road to get to the park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The dirt road was in good shape and we were able to maintain about 50 MPH in our SUV with its balloon-like tires. There is no lodge within the park though one can camp. Someone has set up a telescope with movable dome and apparently this is a hotbed of amateur astronomy due to the distance from any city lights and relatively high elevation.

The ruins are said to be the most extensively excavated and restored of any of the Anasazi sites. They are quite impressive in their extent, and it is almost believable that at some point in (pre)history this was the center of a culture of hundreds of thousands of people. About 400 miles of prehistoric roadway have been discovered, extending in multiple directions from Chaco as the center.

Although still quite windy, it had warmed up some. We continued south out of the park on another dirt road. This one was in worse shape, keeping us to about 30 MPH. After 19 miles, at last we found the paved road and continued on to Gallup, NM.
Ronda and Navajo Guide Anna, Canyon de Chelly, AZ

From Gallup we drove to Canyon de Chelly (Dee Shay) on the eastern edge of Arizona for the day. This is a National Park within the Navajo reservation that occupies a large percentage of Arizona. The Navajos control access to the canyon and require that you visit only as part of one of their tours or with a guide. We arranged to have a guide come with us and use our own 4-wheel drive vehicle.

This picture shows Ronda with our guide Anna Carroll. Anna has lived on the reservation her entire life. She was a Navajo cop for 13 years, is a grandmother, and has close connections to the families that live in and around the canyon (this sounds like a Jeopardy introduction). She pointed out an older Navajo man who she said owns a large tract of land in the canyon and that her oldest son would eventually inherit some of this land.
Canyon de Chelly Ruins

Tucked into the side of the canyon wall are prehistoric ruins. I must admid it was great fun driving the non-PC SUV through the canyon, splashing through the river in 4-wheel-drive and climbing through places normal cars would certainly be stuck. We stopped frequently to get out and gawk at the splendid scenery. Most of the rock had the reddish cast that these pictures show.
Canyon de Chelly Riverbed

Early in our drive we saw some Navajo men working at getting their pickup unstuck, and later we came across some Navajo teenagers who apparently had their dad's new pickup out for a spin. Spin was what they were doing, having dug themselves rather deep into the riverbed. There wasn't a lot we could do without towing gear so we left them in the care of a growing number of concerned off-road motorists.
Canyon de Chelly, Spider Rock

We drove back to Gallup tired but happy after our Canyon de Chelly outing. We were looking forward to a glass of wine, ice cream, and Ronda wanted a green salad (any sequence of these items would have sufficed). Gallup however was not ready for the Colemans. Our restaurant the first night had been a disappointment but we were ready to give the city another try. This time we chose Earl's.

I was too tired to object when we were directed to our table in the middle of a major traffic pattern. Only after we were seated did the true nature of the place manifest itself. Derelict Navajos selling trinkets approached us politely but persistently time and again. Maybe I lead a sheltered existence but I haven't seen this before as a sanctioned practice in restaurants. They kept coming even after our meal arrived. The food was a disappointment also and the only ice cream was the kind extruded from a frosty machine. No wine, no real ice cream, and Ronda's salad was not what she had pictured. If this had been our last meal, it would have been tragic. Being intrepid adventurers however (or maybe effete city folk), we left as soon as possible and began laughing. It was still very windy in Gallup, the trains were still coming through town every 20 minutes, and we had not found any redeeming virtue.

The next day we were back to Albuquerque, again at the great little Posada hotel, overnight before an early flight back home.

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